Eagles, Kings & Royals

September 5, 2020

West of you was trouble, turf battled over by Latin Eagles, Latin Kings, and a hillbilly gang called the Simon City Royals. Most every garage was tagged with graffito. It got worse every block. When the Cubs nearly did something right in 1969, Wrigleyville was a war zone. Latino gangsters literally stood on the sidewalks taunting fans or worse. If there wasn’t a game there was no reason to be there. If and when you ventured that direction, to catch a bus or visit the arcade, you stashed lunch money in your sock and a few bills in your pocket to pay off the muggers.

You’d accumulated a hodge-podge of friends, misfits like you, who hid in books and hobbies, and still others more doomed by their circumstances. Some would join gangs or defy them, always fighting or fleeing. Together you were a group of electrons in an unstable atom. Catching fish in the lake. Avoiding being caught in an alley. God only knows what glue held you together. Comic books. Films. Music. But soon came liquor, pills and weed; those false prophets that caused you so much pain while pretending to soften it. And through it all, those alluring and delirious creatures from distant, unobtainable shores, sirens that beckoned you to this day: Women.

More soon…

Two Flats and Butterflies

September 3, 2020

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Yet, you were inquisitive in other ways, always wanting to know why. You liked to talk with adults and easily made them laugh. You got Woody Allen. You had a superb vocabulary and received high marks at school. Less physical and more sensitive than the average boy, you preferred nature to the man-made and pursued hobbies over sports. You collected rocks, raised guppies and caught butterflies, managed to find numerous species darting and flitting amid the small backyards on your block.

Your father was Jewish and your mother Catholic. But neither practiced their faith, nor pretended to, and so neither did you. Your folks were frantically creating the “Me” generation. Religion played no part. The only time you entered church or temple was for confirmations or a bat mitzvah. Like any kid, you couldn’t wait to leave. God wasn’t good or bad. God wasn’t anything.

You lived off Lincoln Park, in what was then called New Town, only then it was an old feeling place, with rows of decaying apartments and two-flats, their facades crumbling and peeling, yellow and grey bricks stacked up from the sidewalks. Some had front yards, more just plots, comprised mostly of crabgrass and pissed-upon Junipers, or courtyards, hard packed with dust and rubble. After a vigorous rain, you found night crawlers there by the hundreds, collecting them for fishing or merely regarding them in awe. Hard ground saturated, they came from below to mate, sticking to one another like spaghetti. In a decade, gay people would transform the neighborhood, seeking community, and after them would come everyone else. But for now it was an uneasy mix of Latinos, Asians and a handful of others, like you. Bohemians. Nicer was just east, a two-block sliver of grand homes, opulent apartment buildings and modern high-rises facing Lake Michigan. Living so close, you took advantage of the park by the lake and caught perch from its shore, bringing stringers home to fillet and cook in hot oil. The lake was vast, like an ocean.

To be continued…

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Given everything going on in the world, I cannot phantom how and why these cruel and offensive names still exist. Yet, they do. I wrote the first version of this post in 2014! Unbelievable it is even more relevant now…

The righteous drum continues to beat louder, calling for the termination of the Washington Redskins nickname, which got a huge assist when the United States Patent Office rescinded trademark rights for the moniker, deeming it offensive to Native Americans. Recently, the above commercial ran during the NBA playoffs.

The name is offensive. Period.

Anyone who believes otherwise, consider if the Redskins played a game against a team called the Seattle Slant Eyes or Miami Wetbacks. Why we took so long coming to this painfully obvious conclusion is the only issue worth debating.

Perhaps the biggest grotesque is that Washington DC is literally where, once upon a time, the orders were given to marginalize, if not wipe out, Native Americans. Naming one’s biggest sporting franchise after a people our forefathers nearly crushed out of existence is sick.

And yet the team’s owner, Dan Snyder is steadfast in fighting the injunction and any other measures demanding the team change its name. Claiming the term Redskins is a “badge of honor,” Snyder is not backing down.

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Dan, here’s an idea for a name.

I know the bar stool defense. Old timers rail at political correctness. They bellow: Where does it end? The Fighting Irish? Chief Wahoo? Maybe those do go away. So what? The University of Illinois got rid of their mascot, Chief Illiniwek in 2007, deeming it “hostile and abusive.” The games are still packed with fans. Life went on.

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Chief Wahoo. Ouch.

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Piss off!

Not long ago, Jacksonville named their NFL team the Jaguars –an animal that is all but extinct in Florida. I think that’s kind of gross. Yet, I hadn’t thought about it until now. Maybe they don’t change the name but a dollar for every ticket goes to helping this endangered animal? New thinking comes from new ideas, even bad ones. New ideas rile people up. And that’s good.

But let’s get off the soapbox and into the boardroom.

Snyder is a businessman. Does he not see the huge financial upside in making a name change? All new jerseys symbolizing doing the right thing: like those wouldn’t sell. Please. As for all that old merch it would immediately become collectible. Moreover, can he not picture the marketing potential such a move would engender? Social media was made for an “event” like this. Fans could be solicited to help create a new moniker, or vote on one. Even if the selection process were contentious the freaking proverbial “conversation” would be radioactive.

I know a thing or two about popular culture and the influence young people have on it. New fans are not beholden to tradition, even when they should be. You can’t tell me the multitudes of young people, who voted for a black president (twice) and adore and follow the multicultural mainstream wouldn’t embrace a new look Washington football team.

Look around you, Mr. Snyder. Athletes are coming out of the closet. Pot is legal. More and more so is gay marriage. The world is moving on. Evolving. Adaptation is sound strategy. Making a name change transcends political correctness; it’s just good business.

The Bogeyman

March 12, 2020

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A virus was in the air long before this one. Canceling people, places and things anonymously and viciously. It was in our politics. Infecting belief systems. Pitting race against race. Few were immune. Yet, the more we suffered the more we had to hide, suppressing our anxieties, burying our fears. For fear of being canceled, shunned or worse. Humanity was plagued…is plagued.

The zeitgeist is a petri dish. Ground zero could have been anywhere…is everywhere.

But at last we have a villain: COVID–19 aka the Coronavirus! This glorified flu virus, which has killed very few healthy people, a mere handful actually. Most of its victims were “elderly with underlying health issues.” No matter. COVID-19 has found the perfect storm in which to spread. Not by creating actual new sickness but seizing upon the one that was already here. So let’s cancel classes. The NBA. Cancel conventions. And meetings. And all work in general.

Social distance is the new normal. But hasn’t it been that way for years?

How to save a life.

February 23, 2020

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My philosophy as it relates to recovery has evolved since I first became clean and sober in 2003. While I began (and continue) my path to recovery as a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, I have never completely accepted a number of its foundational tenants. For example, I remain uncomfortable ascribing to the disease model espoused by AA (and elsewhere). I believe each person with a substance use disorder has played as major a role in their problem (routinizing bad decisions), as they will in their recovery (changing the behavior). However, I recognize the usefulness in calling alcoholism a disease in terms of framing the therapeutic aspects of 12-step recovery models and in determining healthcare policies, qualifying for insurance, etc. Like with any disease, I also believe that alcoholism and drug addiction are progressive in nature.

What I most cherish about the program of Alcoholics Anonymous and what I will carry with me into counseling is the knowledge (contrary to some medical opinion) that nothing aids in the recovery of an addict or an alcoholic like another addict or alcoholic. (It’s why I want to be a counselor.) I know there are other modalities and practitioners capable of accomplishing the task. But one is hard-pressed to find a better ally than experience, strength and hope. I am a big believer of therapeutic self-disclosure. As a drug and alcohol counselor, I will establish empathy with my clients while establishing reasonable boundaries.

What I will leave behind from 12-Step recovery vocabulary is the utter reliance on a Higher Power to achieve sobriety. For one thing it would be hypocritical! Additionally, I will be open-minded to harm reduction as an option for certain patients as opposed to total abstinence. And so on. The point is I intend to be a therapist in the modern world… not a book-thumping old timer.

Having been clean and sober for nearly twenty years, I am deeply familiar with the 12-step model for recovery (I actively participate in Alcoholics Anonymous and am grateful for the program) but I also recognize that AA and NA are not treatment programs and that there are other modalities and therapies for helping patients achieve long-term sobriety.

Though I am middle-aged, I feel my message resonates with young people and I am interested in helping them in particular. Part of this reasoning has to do with my own recovery journey and how I have always endeavored to tailor my message to those still raw in their recovery, or even still using. I feel a kinship with individuals who struggle accepting AA’s first step: that of being powerless over drugs and alcohol and accepting that their lives have become unmanageable. Powerlessness is a cop out. We do have power to change the things we can. I did. And I can help others to do so as well. Part of my message will be about healthy replacement strategies for drugs and alcohol, of which there are many.

Additionally, I have always had a tenuous belief in the concept of a Higher Power, let alone one being necessary to achieve sobriety. I have seen too many addicts and alcoholics (and those still not sure) simply turn away from 12-step programs because of the “God thing.” I was and am able to “work around” my own agnosticism and I do not necessarily believe that a spiritual component is critical to recovery. Redefining spirituality for every patient is the start of a discussion not the end of one. Along those lines, I can help patients see the wisdom of 12-Step programs, despite their ambivalence. Statements like this: AA helped me despite my qualms; it might be able to do the same for you. Not this: Without a Higher Power, your chances for sobriety are nil.

As a counselor, I will adhere to the five ethical principles: Autonomy, Beneficence, Fidelity, Justice and Nonmaleficence. Realizing that while each has specificities all are beholden to the other. Indeed, one may be in conflict with another, such as confidentiality and the potential for imminent harm. Untangling a sticky ball requires a measured hand. In a given situation, if right and wrong are not crystal clear, my intent will be to discuss options and scenarios with my peers before acting. I look forward to that collaboration.

In college, I studied journalism. The first thing I learned was that there is always two sides two a story. Likewise there are multiple stories for every individual who suffers from alcohol or chemical dependency. A person’s drug narrative is often shaped by their genealogy as well as environment. Things like family structure (or lack thereof), social groups, ethnic and cultural norms and other issues almost always play a role in the formation of a substance use disorder. How could they not? Therefore, a counselor worth his or her salt must be culturally competent beyond what passes for acceptable in today’s divisive political climate. As I ready myself for work in the field I know this is an area I must continue to develop, letting go preconceived notions I may still harbor and would be harmful to providing exemplary care and therapy.