Intersecting minds

“Officer, I’d like to report a theft.”

“Uh, huh. Name?”

“Peter Pollack.”

“Address?”

“37 Schmuck Lane, Oak Lawn.”

“And when did you first notice the theft?”

“Last night, driving to White Castle.”

“Had you been drinking or partying at the time?”

“What?”

“Never mind. Go on. What is it that was stolen?”

“An intersection. Several of them, in fact.”

“A what?”

“An intersection. You see, when two non-parallel roads are local to each other, there is a high likelihood that they might cross, and…”

“I know what an intersection is. I’d like to know how someone can steal one.”

“All I know is, one day I’m driving convenient side streets to the quickie mart, the next day there are dead end signs all over the place, the intersection is blockaded, and I have to take Cicero Avenue to buy potato chips. As far as I can tell, it must be done under the cover of darkness. The thieving scum wouldn’t dare show their faces in the light of day. So, what are you going to do about it?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing? What about stakeouts? Dusting for prints? DNA matching? Surely there must be some technology you can use to track down the perps.”

“I don’t have to track down the perps. I know who did it.”

“Who?”

“We did.”

“You did?”

“Not me personally. Actually, it was my brother-in-law, Frank.”

“What is he, some kind of a nutcase?”

“Yeah, he works for the village.”

“A likely story. Why would he do this?”

“He was told to.”

“Ah, yes. The Nuremberg defense. A classic. Why would someone tell him to do this?”

“Gangs.”

“Gangs?”

“Well, gangs and terrorists.”

“What does closing streets and making it hard to drive around my neighborhood have to do with gangs and terrorists?”

“We believe that, if it’s harder for them to get around, our streets will be safer.”

“What about making it harder for me to get around?”

“What about it?”

“Don’t I get a say in whether or not I want to be safer?”

“Why wouldn’t you want to be safer?”

“Well, for one thing, I’ve lived in this town most of my life, and I’ve never seen a gang member or a terrorist in my neighborhood.”

“Have you been specially trained to spot gang members and terrorists?”

“Well…no.”

“Then how do you know you haven’t seen them?”

“You’re right, I don’t. Have you been specially trained to spot gang members and terrorists?”

“No, but trust me, they’re out there.”

“Sure they are, but are they here?”

“Not since we closed those intersections.”

“But anyone can walk right around the barriers.”

“Gang members and terrorists drive cars, sir. This is 2005.”

“What prevents them from driving the roads that are still open? Or are you planning on closing every street in town?”

“They can’t enter a neighborhood if they can’t find the entrance.”

“But I can’t find the entrance.”

“That’s not my problem. Why don’t you get a map?”

“Can’t the bad guys get maps?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because.”

“Look, this is obviously going nowhere. Is there someone I could talk to about closing the intersections?”

“The intersections have already been closed.”

“Okay, is there someone I could talk to about reopening the intersections?”

“You could talk to your neighbors.”

“What do they have to do with it?”

“They’re the ones who requested the intersections be closed.”

“Why would they do that?”

“Because they’re scared of gang members and terrorists.”

“But that makes no sense. What would any of those people do around here? This town isn’t perfect, but there’s not much to steal or shoot or blow up. I suppose someone could terrorize me by spray painting my garage door, but then again, it might be an improvement.”

“Maybe they’re looking to buy some real estate. Did you consider that?”

“Do you really think evildoers might be thinking of buying in my neighborhood?”

“Are you kidding? Who would want to live there? It’s a pain in the butt. None of the streets go through.”

“What would you say if we lived in a world where people could drive their cars wherever they wanted?”

“I’d say the terrorists have already won.”

Sox in Series, bully for them

The White Sox are going to the World Series. Yikes. At least it turns out that they aren’t playing the heinous Cardinals, which to my Cubs-fan senses might not have exactly rated as hell on earth, but would have been an ample substitute until the real deal came along.

When I was a kid, the White Sox were Chicago’s team. Bill Veeck owned them at the time, and he spared neither effort nor goofy scheme to put a fan in every seat. He imported the popular St. Louis announcer Harry Caray to do play-by-play, and Comiskey Park (the blue-collar original, not the baseball mall that replaced it) was nightly filled with drunken south-siders watching their favorite team. The hapless Cubs were Chicago’s also-rans–a bunch of perennial losers playing day baseball for bleacher bums on the north side. In fact, the original bleacher bums were pretty much just that: people with no jobs and lean prospects, who had nothing else to do during the day but buy a ticket in the cheap seats, drink beer, and watch the game.

Things changed in the eighties. Harry Caray was let go by the White Sox and drove across town to work his magic for the north-siders. WGN, which broadcast all the Cubs games, rode an exploding cable TV market to superstation success. Although they never made it to the World Series, winning seasons in 1984 and 1989 pushed everyone’s favorite underdog into the national spotlight. The Cubs became Chicago’s team, then America’s team. Wrigley Field became a tourist destination for yuppies everywhere. White Sox fans mutated into cranky old men. Even the young ones. Even the women.

I am something of an anomaly–a Cubs fan from the south side. The Cubs’ popularity has made that more common than it once was, which compels me to state that my affection for the Cubs is not transient, but genetic. My dad was a Cubs fan. My grandfather was a Cubs fan. My childhood baseball mitt had Billy Williams’ name on it. In short, I’m one of the natives.

Growing up a Cubs fan on the south side meant getting odd stares. Nevertheless, I learned to make peace with the concept. I allowed the White Sox their existence, and formed no hatred of them. Occasionally, I even went to the games and cheered them on. Their fans were my friends, and though I preferred the National Leaguers, the White Sox were from Chicago and I had no intention of rooting against the local boys.

I’ve recently heard other Cubs fans express similar sentiments. It’s good that the White Sox are doing well, more power to ‘em, support the Chicago team, rah rah rah.

Bunk. I used to feel that way, but no longer. Once, I could support or at least tolerate the White Sox, but I’ve heard too many insults from their fans to continue down that road. I have friends who laughed out loud at the Bartman incident. I know people who can’t drive through Wrigleyville without some sort of snide comment. I’ve been hassled about yuppies, ivy, rooftops, 1969, and Todd Hundley. One too many times, I’ve heard Sox fans tell us Cub fans to take our neighborly show of support and stick it. Well, I’ve stuck it. It’s high time to either reign in the hatred or embrace it with zeal, and I’m looking for a hug. I hope the White Sox fail, miserably and spectacularly. I want them to break the hearts of every Sox fan who ever turned to me and said “Sammy Sosa.” How I long to see Mayor Daley writhing in pain on the ground, wrinkled fingers grasping at the Comiskey Park home plate marker, tears welling in the cracks of the asphalt.

When it is all over, and the players have packed up their bats and balls and returned home to distant lands, I will find a Sox fan–a lowly, pitiful, broken thing. I will offer him my shoulder. I will look at him with sympathy and deep understanding, pat him on the back, and say the following words: “Wait till next year.”

Energy hogs are wrong kind of tough

The Ad Council brought us a new ad campaign the other day: the Energy Hog. It appears that energy is being wasted and President Bush has finally decided enough is enough. Decisive action needed to be taken, so the Ad Council, having done a fine job in the past with Smokey the Bear and McGruff the Crime Dog, unveiled a new character for the darker side of the twenty-first century. Actually, they’ve outdone themselves and given us not one, but eight new characters.

Unlike the friendly bear and crime dog, this new bunch does not coax our inner saint into preventing us from wrecking the world around us. These guys mean business–dressed in black leather, with punk hairdos, shades, facial hair, and other anti-social anomalies. They maraud and waste energy, taking long showers and getting in your way as you innocently try to lay down some attic blanket.

Now, I’m not planning on taking a poke at the Energy Hogs or the fine people who created them. There are plenty of others standing in line to do that. Truth be told, you’ve got to like any ad campaign that comes complete with a web site where kids can learn about the importance of window caulk. I probably didn’t learn the truth about window caulk until I was fourteen years old, and I had to pick it up on the streets.

My problem with the Energy Hogs is that, unlike the older characters I mentioned, these guys are negative stereotypes, presented in a negative way. Smokey wore a ranger hat and taught us how to not burn down trees. That was inspirational for kids in the 1960s, but appealing to the good angels sitting on our shoulders is far too twentieth century for the kids of today. The Energy Hogs come at us like a street gang, which the Ad Council obviously means to be scary, but what they fail to grasp is that kids today find that lifestyle alluring.

I’m not trying to say that the average kid living in the suburbs has a desire to deal drugs and spray innocent moms and children with gunfire. At least, I hope not. Similarly, the average kid growing up in the inner city, where gangs are a part of the environment, is probably more worried about avoiding them than emulating them. That’s not the point. Kids love to rebel–a fact of life which is a lot older than anyone reading this. If “gangsta” rappers and video games like Grand Theft Auto have demonstrated anything in the last few years, it’s that the grab-what-you-can, give-nothin’-back attitude is something that modern kids find attractive, even if it’s a little scary.

With that in mind, I would like to propose the following change to the Energy Hogs: Turn them into the good guys. Instead of frightening young children with their wasteful ways, they should be beating the living tar out of people who leave the TV on for their pets. Instead of peering into un-caulked windows, they should be shattering them and stealing DVD players. The Hogs’ leader, the Boss, who looks kind of like the biker love-child of Dick Cheney and Miss Piggy, already has the sort of scary charisma that could get children to turn in their no-good, non-recycling parents to the Department of Energy or SWAT or whoever handles such things.

In fact, I’d take the whole campaign one step further. Instead of the Energy Hogs being characters in a game on a web site, let’s make them real. We can solve unemployment and save the environment at the same time. I envision a day when reformed gang members, dressed as giant pigs, stand at every street corner, waiting for someone to drive by in a Hummer. First offense, they surround the thing and rip out its battery cables. Second offense, they brand an Energy Star logo to the driver’s forehead. In the unlikely event that the person driving the Hummer actually needs it for something other than ferrying groceries, we’ll grant dispensation if the vehicle has mud anywhere on it.

Now that’s a conservation program I can support.

Beware of the blog

I don’t consider myself to be a trendy person. More importantly, no one else considers me to be a trendy person. Yet, here I sit, typing the first words into my new blog. The question begs itself, simply because nobody else is around to do so: Why?

I have finally decided what I want to do when I grow up. I want to be a writer. I say this with some irony, since technically I am a writer, or more precisely, a technical writer. However, that’s not the type of writer I want to be. I want to be the type of writer who lives in Vermont, wears a turtle neck sweater, and smokes a pipe. I’d have a ‘60s-era Corvette in my garage (for the times when my publisher wasn’t sending a limo), and a large stereo in my living room playing classical music to inspire my wordy wisdom.

Scratch that. I have no interest in being that kind of writer either. Except for the Corvette, perhaps. And the stereo. And the limo, I suppose, although it would have to be a small one, because I don’t want to be ostentatious. Usually. Fresh maple syrup aside, I’m much happier in Chicago than I suspect I would be in Vermont, I find turtle neck sweaters uncomfortable, and don’t get me started on pipes.

Which leads me to this blog. After years or months or whatever of viewing such exercises with suspicion, I have finally broken down and find myself on the trailing edge of trendy. Yes, it turns out that I can’t even get trendy right, because the rest of the world has already moved on to podcasting, and I have absolutely no intention of getting involved in that. I have my pride, after all. For now.

So, what does writing a blog have to do with being a professional writer? The me of a few months back would claim almost nothing. I would have said (and probably did say) that if you want to write, great, but if you’re good enough, you’ll get paid and if you’re not good enough, you’ll write a blog.

And I do want to get paid. I’m not quite good enough for that yet, I suppose. Seems that my degree in audio arts and acoustics doesn’t exactly jibe with my goal of a writing career. I also lack a portfolio, or at least much of one. The blog allows me to cover two needs at once–I can practice my intended craft, and perhaps create a large enough pile of chaff to cull a few grains of literary wheat with which to demonstrate my impending greatness.

Pride forces me to mention that I have had a web site for around ten years as of this writing. Honesty forces me to point out that laziness has led to that web site being neglected for long periods of time. Using blog software allows me to now focus on writing instead of markup codes, even as realism forces me to confront the fact that almost no one will read these words.

It doesn’t matter. I have a blog now, and only myself to blame if I can’t keep it updated. I plan to spend a certain percentage of the space here detailing my attempts at jump-starting my writing career. Those who know me can probably guess that I won’t shy away from politics either, although I do not plan to turn this into some sort of rant fest. I have lots of other interests as well, like music, science, history, aikido, photography, coin collecting…well, you get the idea. Many of those things will probably show up here sooner or later, along with the occasional bit of fiction.

As an aside, it occurs to me that, however unlikely, my current employer could end up reading this article. I’d like to point out that, even in the best of circumstances, it could take a very long time for my writing career to take off, and there are no guarantees that I won’t fall on my face. Don’t fire me now, and I’ll try to remember you when I don’t need you anymore.

War Notes, part 1

Saddam Hussein had it coming.

There’s no mistake about that. He’s had it coming since he decided to invade Kuwait, maybe even before. It’s hard to say. Before Kuwait, we never really heard much about the guy.

I’ll go on record here and tell you that I was against Operation Desert Storm, as we called it back then. Now we call it the Persian Gulf War, or just the Gulf War, but I suppose we’ll have to come up with a new name, like GW1. Before that, it was Operation Desert Shield, but I digress. Desert Shield consisted of blockades and embargoes and sanctions that were supposed to spank Saddam Hussein for being a bad neighbor. It was my opinion at the time that all we needed to do was wait him out. His government would collapse and the Kuwaiti flag would fly again, with the additional bonus of minimal loss of life on either side. We’ll never know if I was right.

The flip side to my opinion was that if we went in, we had to go all the way. No stopping at the border with a slap on the wrist. Saddam was a troublemaker and if we committed to military action we had to take him out or we’d regret it later.

Well, it’s later, and here we are again. When the fighting started in 1991, there was a rush of adrenalin all around. It was like the cavalry coming over the hill. We were the good guys (and gals), taking on the evil Iraqis in the black hats. Riding in the name of freedom for all the oppressed, it was a scene straight out of a John Wayne movie. Even those of us who were against the war could feel a surge of pride as our proud Patriot missiles fought off the vile Scuds.

Now, I’m not so naive as to think that the liberation of Kuwait was done for purely altruistic reasons. There have been plenty of hot spots in the world that we did very little about — places that weren’t floating on an ocean of oil — but it felt good to be doing the right thing, no matter what other factors may have been involved.

This time, it doesn’t feel good at all.

This time, our army is wearing black hats.

We’re finally going in, doing what perhaps we should have done 12 years ago, but it isn’t the same. For one thing, as evil dictatorships go, Hussein’s has been relatively quiet for the last decade. Now, I don’t doubt for a minute that he has violated the UN sanctions. I’m sure he sprinkles anthrax in his coffee and brushes his teeth with chemical weapons. But he hasn’t invaded anyone lately. He hasn’t even lobbed any missiles into the Sea of Japan. If you start to think I find him sympathetic, please reread the first line of this essay.

But it does make me wonder why we’re invading Iraq. Because that’s what this is — an invasion. I know the president was on TV calling it a “disarmament,” but invasion is the proper word. We’re disarming Iraq by moving thousands of soldiers and a large percentage of our military hardware into it. On the way, we’re hoping to topple the government and replace it with one more friendly to us. For security reasons.

I know, terrorism is the real reason behind this. More precisely, the fear of terrorism. It seems to be the reason we do everything these days. The theory is that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. The terrorists, Al-Qaeda in particular, want weapons of mass destruction. They both hate us, so it’s logical to assume that Hussein will give his weapons to them for use on us.

Sounds good, but experts on fundamentalist Islam like to point out that if there’s a runner-up to the United States on Al-Qaeda’s “most-despised” list, it’s secular leaders of Muslim countries like Saddam Hussein. Furthermore, Hussein isn’t likely to give his precious weapons away. He’d much rather save them for use on his neighbors or those pesky Kurds.

So, it comes down to this. I have no idea why invading Iraq suddenly became such a priority. Well, I have my opinions, but it doesn’t really matter any more any way. For better or worse, the invasion has begun, and it will just have to play itself out.

The point is, history shows us that it takes years to figure out all the ramifications of complex events like this. Who would have thought that the CIA encouraging Islamic fundamentalism in Afghanistan during the eighties would ever spin out of control? You remember Afghanistan, don’t you? The Soviet Union invaded it. For security reasons.

You have our attention…

77-11-175-93

nyc

Grade school in the early ’70s. My walk-home routine often consisted of watching over my shoulder for bullies. They’d usually follow you, so you knew they were coming. Half of your fear (and their fun) was just waiting for the assault. Rarely on the school grounds, of course, unless they were so mad about something that they couldn’t hold back. The usual method was to trail you by forty or fifty feet until you were out of sight of teachers and patrol kids, then come up behind you with the attack of the day, sometimes pushing and name calling, often spitting or tossing your books. You knew they were coming, but you couldn’t run. Running would just get their attention if they weren’t already out to get you, and for some reason bullies were always good runners. Perhaps being unencumbered by schoolbooks had something to do with it. Anyway, even if you managed to get away, you’d just end up being labled as a coward or worse.

It was fifth grade or so before I had my first successful interaction with a bully. “You’re dead after school” was the usual youthful exaggeration, and I was informed of this fact sometime about halfway through the school day. Fed up with living in fear, and this being one of the lesser bullies, I mustered the courage to look him in the eyes. “Okay, you can fight me, and we both know you’ll probably win,” I said, “but I have to be honest, I’m not going to stand there and let you pound on me. I’ll fight you back as best I can.” I left the school that day through my usual door at my usual time. I can’t lie–I was scared, but I was ready. I looked for him in the schoolyard. I looked for him all the way home. I never saw him. He never bothered me again, and I had finally learned something at school that didn’t involve math or geography.

I thought about these things yesterday. Someone, still unidentified, decided to strike fear into the hearts and guts of Americans by destroying some airplanes and buildings with people in them. No one has taken credit for this act, and they probably won’t. That’s just perfect, and so typical of a bully. On a macrocosmic scale, it’s still the same old schoolyard attitude–cowardice cloaked in violence. Somewhere in the world, a brain, if you can call it that, conceived of this operation. Now it hides, smugly believing it has achieved whatever unfathomable goals it set. In reality, it struck out blindly and wildly, convincing someone else to do the actual work, die the actual death.

No doubt, upset with it’s lot in life, it chose this as some obscene way to rectify the things it finds wrong on this planet. I have news for it: The people you killed yesterday had no more thought for you or your lot in life than a forest does for a leaf. Moreover, they weren’t the source of your problems. Almost all of them were regular schmoes like me who go to work in the morning and return home in the evening to the family and the mortgage payment. Now they’re gone, and you can’t even scrape together the courage to tell us why.

Perhaps if you had tried to stand up and speak out for yourself and your cause, you might have achieved justice or whatever it is you’re looking for. Americans are a caring people–we proved that yesterday–and we just might have paid attention to you. That’s the beauty of a free society. We can listen even if our leaders don’t.

Instead, we stand here now in the schoolyard of the world. You, the bully, successfully blindsided us. Congratulations. We didn’t see it coming and we weren’t ready. You gave us your best shot and hit us with an assault that was obviously years in the planning and of epic proportions.

We took the punch. We’re still standing. This isn’t over.

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Editor’s note: this post originally appeared on one of the earliest versions of BigNoisyBug.com, several years before it became a “blog” in the current sense of the word.

Welcome to Big Noisy Bug–an outlet for various activities I am associated with and projects that lend themselves to publication on the World Wide Web. This is a new site, and as such, is still mostly unfinished. Not that “finished” ever tends to mean anything in internet terms, but with a little luck and brain grease on my part, you should see an ever growing and evolving body of content. With even more luck, what you discover here may actually hold your interest from time to time.

In the righthand column you will find a series of links. These are the various divisions of the site. Cicada Sound is the name I use to refer to my various audio projects. I have recorded musical and theatrical performances, as well as designed canned sound and Foley effects for theatre shows. This area will contain samples of my work, and perhaps some anecdotes about my experiences.

One of my more intense interests in life is Music. I have, at various stages (and on various stages), played guitar and trombone, but the bass guitar has been the focus of most of my adult life. I have played and am a fan of many different types of music. In that spirit, rather than give you a neatly organized collection of musical tidbits, I will be lumping everything together, including samples of my stuff and plugs for music I enjoy.

Moebius Theatre is a non-profit theatre company of which I am lucky (lucky???) enough to be current president. I have hosted the organization’s website for about three years, so of course, here it is.

Finally, the Personal Portal sounds much more exciting than it is. Since every website seems to contain an obligatory “links” section and I’m never one to stand against a trend, I have decided to just post my personal link page. If you bounce between browsers as I sometimes do, you may find it difficult to keep bookmarks in sync. I prefer to write an HTML page of sites I visit, and set that page to load when the browser opens. Feel free to explore–you may figure out some of my interests. I should also give credit where it is due: Although I have written my own link page for years, I swiped the basic look for the current version from John Dvorak of PC Magazine.

Thanks for coming over to play,
Pete Pollack