Monday, September 14, 2015

You Just Have To Keep Going

August 21st.

This year I wasn’t thinking about it. Some years, I can’t think of anything but it, but other years the date just slips past me among the business of late August. I thought about it earlier in the week, when we were in Wisconsin Dells. It was hard not to think of it up there, after years of family vacations, riding the Ducks, camping, Circus world, go-karts and mini golf. I spend most of the trip trying to remember what we did as family up there when I was a kid, trying to picture what it looked like then. It’s coming up soon, I said to myself. But then vacation ended, and it was back to work, trying to catch up, and I forgot about it.
Then my sister posted this on Facebook:
“I don’t really believe it ever gets easier. You just have to keep going.”
She tagged my brother and me in the post. Most people didn’t understand the cryptic post. I did. My brother did. A few others did.
The ‘It’ in my sister’s post happened on August 21, 1983.  I’ve written about it before, but thirty two years later maybe it doesn’t get easier. Do you ever truly get over the death of a parent, especially if you were only a kid when it happened?
Because of my sister’s post multiple people asked me if I was okay that day. I didn’t understand their concern until they reminded me about the post. And I was okay that day. Really, I was. In fact it was a little jarring to hear people be concerned for me, maybe they didn’t know why.
When someone brings something up, though, maybe you’re not okay anymore.
I’m forty now. I’ve outlived my father, who did at thirty-nine when I was eight years old. For six weeks this year, I was thirty-nine while my son was eight. They are just numbers. People look for meaning in numbers, sometimes even when there is no meaning behind them. I was nervous those six weeks, hoping history wouldn’t repeat itself.  Hell, I even look more like him now than I ever did.  Just look at the picture.-
May 8th, 1980. My fifth birthday. One of the few pictures with both my father and me; he was always taking them. Thanks goes to my brother for taking this one.
Earlier this year my two older children watch Field of Dreams with me. While these days there are plenty of movies that make me cry, there isn’t one that makes me cry harder than at the end of Field of Dreams when Ray Kinsella asks his father, a ghost who has appeared out of an Iowa cornfield to play baseball, for a game of catch. Waterfall. Hell, I start crying the second Ray realizes that the man playing ball is his father.
My oldest has played baseball the last couple of years, but he isn’t into nearly as much as I was when I was a kid. There is nothing I loved more than baseball when I was younger. I would spend hours in the backyard throwing the ball of the fence in our backyard, or hitting balls off a tee. Most fathers want their kids to love the things they themselves loved as kids. I’ve tried my best not to push them into things. After a season that included more rainouts then games played and my son getting hit by pitches about six times, he was ready to be done with baseball for a while and enjoy his summer. Then one night, a night I had worked late and had a million things to do around the house he asked me, “Dad can we go play baseball?”
I’d been waiting for him to ask me that forever. I dropped whatever meaningless task I was working on that could be completed later and we went down the street to the park, my son and daughter and I, and we played baseball. We threw the ball around, took turns batting and pitching and made every hit a homerun. It lasted maybe twenty minutes before they tired of it, but for me it was the best twenty minutes of the summer.
Those are the days I think about it. The days I wish I could play catch with my dad, even though he was the one who wasn’t as interested in it as I was as a kid. The days I’m glad I’m still around. I plan on staying around, too, for a long time. So they won’t have to go through it all like I did, like my brother and sister did.  Because my sister was right: it doesn’t get easier. But you just keep going.
We've kept going for 32 years now.  It wasn't easy but we are better people for it. My mom, my sister, my brother, we are still here. So, not matter what it is, keep going.
Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

NHL Stanely Cup Playoffs 2015- Second Round

Yes, this should have been posted last week, but you know, little league, t-ball, work.  Stuff got in the way. Well, that was a fun first round. How did we do?  Well, Jax and I would be leading if you added our correct guesses together (and Jax usually wins this thing). After the first round, here are the standings.


Expert                 Number Correct
Bob                     6
Jarrett                 6
Mike                   4
Jax                       3

Now on to Round Two

Eastern Conference

Capitals vs. Rangers

I don’t like either of these teams. The Rangers looked good in the first round, the Caps survived against a scrappy Islanders team (games 5 through 7 of that series were awesome).  I just don’t think the Caps have enough to get past the Rangers.  Rangers in 7.

Lightning vs. Canadians

It seems like the Red Wings blow a three games to two lead every year now.  The Lightening battled back against the Wings to win the series.  The Canadians toyed with Ottawa, letting them win a couple games after take a 3-0 lead before ending the series. The Canadians will win this one, too, in 6.

Western Conference

Flames vs. Ducks

Really?  The Flames beat Vancouver?  I guess it doesn’t matter who is in goal for Vancouver.  The Ducks destroyed the Jets, outscoring them 16-10 in their four game sweep. Look for a similar outcome in this series. Ducks in 5.  Did I mention Corey Perry is a beast?

Blackhawks vs. Wild

The Hawks were the only team all of us picked in the first round who actually won their series (Seriously, St. Louis?).  We all picked them in round two as well, although some Chicago locals are thinking the Wild are the team to beat in the West.  The Wild are better than the previous version the Hawks eliminated the last two years.  The Hawks were inconsistent in their first round series against the Predators, both giving up and scoring goals in bunches, commit dumb penalties and suffering defensive lapses.  The Wild didn’t play a close game in their first series.  Hawks in 7.

Series Mike Jax Jarrett Bob
Capitals vs Rangers Rangers in 7 Rangers in 6 Rangers in 6 Rangers in 6
Lightning vs Canadians Canadians in 6 Canadians in 6 Canadians in 7 Lightining in 7
Flames vs Ducks Ducks in 5 Ducks in 6 Ducks in 6 Ducks in 5
Wild vs Blackhawks Hawks in 7 Hawks in 6 Hawks in 7 Hawks in 5

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2015 - First Round Predictions

April is here already?  But the snow just finished melting (hell, when I was in Minneapolis last week and it snowed two days in a row).  The good news is the weather is improving and the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs are starting. What I can say for sure is the Los Angeles Kings will not repeat as champs, as they become the first Stanley Cup champs to fail to make the playoffs the next year since the Carolina Hurricanes ten years ago. And it’s really weird not seeing the San Jose Sharks in the playoffs ready to make their annual first round exit. So, let’s get right to the First Round preview. I've again assembled my crack panel of NHL experts. 

Eastern Conference (The OK conference)

New York Rangers vs Pittsburgh Penguins

The Rangers were the top team in the East pretty much the whole season, even when Hendrik Lunquist missed some serious time with an injury. They are a much better team going into the playoffs this year than they were last year when they made their run to the Stanley Cups finals.  The Penguins?  Not so much.  They barely made it and have had some injuries to key players, Like Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang.  The Penguins have done little in the playoffs the last five years. Don’t expect them to do much this year either.  Rangers in 6.

Montreal vs Ottawa

Montreal was one of the top teams in the East all season long Carey Price will likely be a Hart finalist.  The Senators were in a deep hole as recently as January until goaltender Andrew Hammond came to the rescue.  The Senators come into the playoffs in fire and again, I just don’t think the Habs are that much better than then.  Senators in 6.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs Detroit (sucks) Red Wings

Tampa Bay lead the league in scoring and was second in goal differential.  Detroit somehow managed to keep their playoff streak alive as some of their younger players finally stepped up and produced.  But who will start in goal for them.  It doesn’t matter.  They hit the golf course by May 1st.  Lightening in 6 (Sorry McKee).

Washington Capitals vs New York Islanders

These two teams tied with 101 points in the regular season but the Caps secured home ice on the tie breaker.  Alexander Ovechkin bounced back from a subpar season last year to lead the league on goals.  The Islanders are fun to watch but struggled a bit the last ten games or so.  I’m bucking the trend and going with the Islanders in seven.

Western Conference (The good conference)

Anaheim Ducks vs Winnipeg Jets

The Ducks were the best of the west all season long.  Good goaltending, solid defense and a lot of scoring will help you win a lot of games.  The Jets have a very talented team and have been on the cusp of the playoffs the last few years.  Jets fans will be going nuts at home games, but they might only have two of them.  The Ducks are good and deep.  Ducks in 5.

Vancouver Canucks vs Calgary Flames

The Canucks had a good season, minus the traded Ryan Kesler, as the Sedin twins put up their normal numbers and Ryan Miller played solid, if not spectacular, in goal.  The Flames made the playoffs?  Really?  The Flames finished third in their division even though they had the fewest points of the eight teams that qualified in the West.  They overachieved all season long and were supposed to lose out to the Kings, but the Kings forgot to win and the Flames forgot to lose.  They were supposed to be rebuilding.  They will be done quickly.  Vancouver in 6.

St. Louis Blues v Minnesota Wild

The Blues finished strong to nap the top spot in the Central, the best division in hockey, which sent five teams to the playoffs.  They caught Nashville and kept ahead of the Hawks and their reward is the Wild, who have been the best of the West the last two months since they traded for Devan Dubnyk.  Who will start in goal for the Blues, Brian Elliot who struggled down the stretch (costing me a fantasy hockey championship) or Jake Allen, who has little playoff experience?  This most will be a fun series to watch.  Blues in 7.

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Nashville Predators

The Predators lead the division most of the season but only garnered two points in their last six games.  The Blackhawks ended the season with four straight losses, which cost them home ice in this series.  Patrick Kane is expected back from his shoulder injury, which is great news for the Hawks who have struggled to score the last month of the season.  You don’t want to be struggling to score when you are up against Pekka Rinne.  As long as Corey Crawford plays well, this is the Hawks series to win.  Hawks in 7.
Here’s the predictions from my panel of experts.  I like how the only thing we agree on is the Hawks and Blues (we are all either Hawks or Blues fans).

Rangers vs PenguinsRangers in 6Rangers in 6Rangers in 5Rangers in 5
Canadians vs SenatorsSenators in 6Canadians in 6Canadians in 5Canadians in 7
Lightning vs Red WingsLightning in 6Red Wings in 7Lightning in 7Lightning in 5
Capitals vs IslandersIslanders in 7Islanders in 6Islanders in 7Capitals in 6
Ducks vs JetsDucks in 5Jets in 6Ducks in 6Ducks in 4
Canucks vs FlamesCanucks in 6Canucks in 6Flames in 7Canucks in 6
Blues vs WildBlues in 7Blues in 7Blues in 7Blues in 6
Blackhawks vs PredatorsHawks in 7Hawks in 6Hawks in 6Hawks in 5

Check in again after the first round  to see how we did and to see the second round preview.


Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Porcelain Palace

My parents moved us out of the city to the suburbs in 1977 when I was only two years old.  I don’t think they really wanted to but my father’s company had moved their headquarters from a downtown office building to a suburban office park, just like so many other companies had, and the commute was wearing on him.  They had hoped to stay in the city, on the far north side in the Sauganash neighborhood but when compared to the size of the new houses we could afford in the northwest suburbs, Sauganash lost out to Arlington Heights.

For the most part, my parent’s families had stayed in the city on the south side where they grew up (or reasonably close: Oak Lawn is barely a suburb).  By second grade I had memorized the roads to get to my both of my grandparent’s house after the countless number of trips there.
There were certain things on the south side my parents missed.  The drive through liquor store, that sporting goods store on Harlem by the Daily Southtown office, the bowling alley my dad supposedly rolled a 300 game when he was fifteen or sixteen, the CTA buses my mother favored because she didn’t drive.  There were things they didn’t miss, like living next to my mother’s mother.  But every trip to the south side ended with a visit to the place.  A place many of you have maybe only gone to after drinking, but a place I’d gone to a hundred times by the time I was eight years old.
White Castle.  Sliders.  The Porcelain Palace.  Whitey’s.  Call it what you want, just don’t call it Krystal’s.  It might have been my dad’s favorite thing in the world, or at least that’s the way I like to remember it.  
I like the black and white logo better
While other people were stuffing themselves with second helpings of turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce on thanksgiving, our family was saving room for the stop at the White Castle at 63rd Street and Cicero, probably best known as the White Castle so close to Midway Airport, you can reach out and pull a sack of sliders from the drive thru as your plane lands.  And there was a routine.

How We Ordered
The White Castle menu has grown to over twenty five items over the last few years, but we only ever order one thing: the classic White Castle hamburger. Usually somewhere between twenty and thirty of them.
On the way to White Castle my dad would ask everyone how many they wanted with the total added up before we pulled into the lot.  My mom would stay in the car.  One or all three of us kids would go in with my dad.  He’d get in line and order.  Us kids would press our faces up to the glass and watch them cook.  Every White Castle had a window where you could watch the grill master work.   First, he’d scatter a layer of finely chopped onions across the grill.  Then, from a frozen stack he’d shuffle out the iconic five holed beef patties, super thin, tiny squares. Once the patties were on the grill, the bun, both top and bottom, would be placed onto of the patties, to steam up.  Once the patties were cooked, no flipping involved, they were lifted by a spatula, bottom bun slide underneath, a pickle added atop the patty before being capped by the top of the bun and stuffed into the famous White Castle boxes.
The magic is in the holes

Once the order was complete and my dad had the sack in his hands, we headed back to the car (you see kids, there weren’t many drive through windows back in my day).  My dad would hand the bag to my mom and start driving.  Mom was in charge of handing out sliders to everyone and she also controlled the pickle box.  My brother and sister both didn’t like pickles but they weren’t allowed to order them without them.  Unwanted pickles were removed and placed in the pickle box for the rest of us pickle eaters to eat or to add to our own sliders.  (Note: As adults, my brother and sister are finally allowed to order them without pickles.)  Most of the time, all the burgers would be gone before we made it onto the highway to head back to Arlington Heights, leaving only the smell of onions and pickles a stack of folded White Castle boxes in a bag. 
How famous are the boxes?  In Kindergarten, I brought a back of empty White Castle boxes to preschool.  My teacher, Mrs. Corday, sent a note home to my parents thanking me after she smelled the inside of the boxes.  She was a White Castle fan.

The Next Generation
My mom tells me sliders were my fist solid food, although they are barely solid.  All three of my children ate White Castles at an early age.  And they like them.  My daughter especially.

One night after we had returned home from a family party on the south side where neither kid at much, they both complained about being hungry.  We found a box of frozen White Castles from the grocery store.  My son asked for those.  Then so did my daughter.  But there were only two left.  She started to whine.  She gets cranky when she is hungry.  We call it being hangry.  You don’t want to make her hangry.  You wouldn’t like it if she was hangry.
We ate these
“I want White Castles, too,” I said.  “Let’s go get some.”
There are three White Castles within two miles of our house, My daughter and I climbed in the car and drove to the nearest one.  On the way there, we figured out how many we wanted.  I ordered.  We went to the window and I lifted her up so she could watch them cook on the grill.  First the onions, then the patties, then the buns steaming on top.  We watched them put them together, slide them in to the boxes then they handed us the bag.  We each ate one on the short drive home.  We brought them in the house and shared them with everyone.
The next morning when I opened my car door the smell was still there.  It reminds me of everything good about being younger.  Looking forward to family events, not just to see my cousins but knowing that on the way home I was going to get White Castles. Hell, it was probably the reason my parents looked forward to going to the south side.

Thanks for reading.