Sorry, We're Closed

Monday, May 29, 2006

Run Dusty Run

I suppose there isn't anything else Dusty Baker could be doing with the Chicago Cubs' offense but try Tony Womack, a 36-year-old journeyman who's washed out of six organizations in four years.

Since slugging first baseman Derrek Lee's injury, Baker--normally not prone to shifting players around in the lineup--has tried everything to score a few runs. Baker has hit Aramis Ramirez fourth, fifth, and sixth, while Michael Barrett batted third today and has hit cleanup often. Todd Walker has batted second, third, and fourth already this year. Matt Murton has hit second, sixth, and seventh. Ronny Cedeno, not to mention Neifi Perez, has hit at both the top and bottom of the order.

But with the exception of the surprisingly cold Ramirez, who has simply looked lost all year, the problem isn't all those guys. It's the big-name acquirees, outfielders Juan Pierre and Jacque Jones.

Pierre, brought over from Florida, was expected to recover at least most of the 50 points of batting average he dropped in 2005 and add a pesky dimension to the Cubs attack. Liked and admired both for his demeanor and his legendary work ethic, Pierre can disrupt a defense when he's on base.

Chicago management also felt that Jones, a veteran who had played his whole career in Minnesota, would respond to a new opportunity by getting back some of what he has lost.

Unfortunately, both have performed very poorly in Chicago. While Jones has, of late, showed some punch after an absolutely brutal start, he has also 1) played poor defense, 2) shown a throwing arm completely unsuited for right field, and 3) run the bases like a blindfolded ten-year-old hopping around barefoot on a hot beach.

When the Cubs signed the 31-year-old Jones to a three-year deal over the winter, it was spoken among various baseball people that the Cubs were essentially bidding against themselves in the process. Score another one for the smart guys in the front office.

Pierre, on the other hand, hasn't even had a hot streak; since the start of the season, he has been a complete disaster. Nobody expected his defense to be perfect, but it hasn't even been very good. And the less said about his offense...

Well, we have to. Pierre has made 160 outs, the third highest total in baseball, and in doing using up those outs has compiled a ridiculously awful .269 on-base percentage and a .301 slugging percentage to give him an OPS of .570, among the worst in the game. (Others, like Joey Gathright, Dan Johnson, and Vinny Castilla, who are even worse, just can't stay in the lineup enough to play.)

(The other players with more outs made than Pierre are Jeff Francoeur of the Braves, who at least has hit 11 homers, and Jose Reyes of the Mets, whose OPS of .719 is far better than that of Pierre.)

Pierre's never walked much, and therefore HAS to hit for high average to compile even a decent OBP. That puts a lot of pressure on a hitter. So far this season, Pierre has continued his decline into free fall.

And without Lee, and as Pierre, Jones, and Ramirez struggle, the weaknesses of the other hitters come forth. Todd Walker doesn't have enough power to play first base; Ronny Cedeno's impatience at the plate means a .300 OBP; Matt Murton, while patient and gifted, is still finding his way.

And in addition, the bench has been simply miserable, one of the most terrible performances, collectively, that I can recall by a corps of reserves. Neifi Perez has been so ineffably terrible that even Dusty Baker just can't pencil his name into the lineup that often. The same can be said of Jerry Hairston and John Mabry. Just think of how good it'll get when Henry Blanco is catching once Michael Barrett goes on his suspension.

And this is where Tony Womack comes in. After playing terribly for the Yankees in 2005, he signed with the Reds in 2006, but was cut as soon as Brandon Phillips hit well enough to take over at second base. Womack, 36 years old and in his second tour of duty with the Cubs, is still blessed with excellent speed.

And, like Neifi Perez before him, Womack is poised to take advantage of a hot start. Guys like Womack--and, to be fair, John Mabry, Jerry Hairston, Perez, and even Jones--have already proven that the only thing they can do by hitting well in a few at-bats is to fool you into playing them more and more until they completely stop hitting. And boom, you've wasted 200 at-bats.

So watch Womack closely. Maybe he'll end up hitting leadoff with Pierre demoted to eighth or something.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Saturday Night Limerick

This popped into my head late last night and I figured I'd be remiss not post it.

I knew that he'd gotten Knox College-y
When he said that he'd studied proctology.
I wish that the fool
Was in semin'ry school
Where he could work on his doxology.

I have no idea what it means. I've never been to Knox College and hadn't thought of the doxology for fifteen years.

Your weird limericks welcome.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

and your life changes in an instant

Nearly three weeks ago, I was mugged.

It happened on a Wednesday night. A friend and I went walking on the beach near where I live. Usually the beach, even at night, is crowded enough to be safe. This night, about 10:00, it suddenly thinned out, and we were triangled by three young men.

We immediately knew we had been targeted and would soon be acosted. Which we were. The triangle got smaller, and we were prey.

My friend says he heard nothing the young men said, but they made odd, inappropriate conversation ("Hey, we're from New York...we're just trying to talk to you..."). My friend and I tried to walk away, but were hit from behind.

I was punched, really hard, in the back, and knocked over. One guy held me down and the other began reaching for my wallet. I heard my friend yelling, "Stop it! Stop it!" before he was, himself, hit in the face with a blunt object (possibly a brick) by the third assailant.

When the two young men grabbed and held me, I immediately went limp, not moving at all, not even to help make it easier for them to take my wallet. Too shocked to fight back, I just mentally blacked out. My friend, stunned by the blow he'd received, said nothing.

Once the three young men had taken our wallets, they ran away. I instinctively got up and chased them, ignoring my friend's pleas not to.

I chased the three attackers a couple of blocks' worth of beach before giving up at the corner of Sheridan and Thorndale.

At that point, I began to realize just how badly I'd been hurt. My back was throbbing. I was furious and desperate, knowing that the next day I was supposed to get on an airplane to go to my brother's wedding. What would I do without a wallet?

Some guy on the beach, who I'd screamed at to stop the thieves while I was chasing them (but hadn't), was still there. As I walked back toward my friend on the beach, hoping to find him okay, I passed the guy. He asked me what was wrong, and I began cursing at him. We nearly got into it right there.

My friend was no longer there. I had left him, probably badly hurt, to chase these three morons, and nearly gotten into another altercation.

I found my wallet in the path of where the thieves had run. It was emptied of the FIVE DOLLARS that had been inside. None of my cards or ID were gone.

Thoroughly confused, angry, sad, and in a lot of pain, I gathered up my sandy wallet and walked back toward my house. My wife was out of town, but maybe my friend had made his way back there. Maybe I'd run into a cop. God, my back hurt, and I could barely see straight.

The first thing I thought was, maybe I'll see these three punks. So I'd better be equipped. I walked into an alley on Thorndale between Sheridan and Kenmore and picked up three sharp rocks. If I didn't see them, at least in my delirious anger, I'd at least be able to break a window or a street light or something.

When I got to Broadway and Thorndale, I saw two cops bugging two young gay men about something or other. When I staggered up to them, the cops realized that my case was probably more serious and let the young fellas go.

These two cops, both ladies, were kind and solicitous, but as soon as I got into the car, they hardly listened to a word I said. I told them where the young punks had gone, and they drove in the opposite direction. I told them where I'd been hurt, and they drove the other way. Finally, I heard my friend's last name over the police radio, along with an address on Sheridan. I assumed that my friend had gone there to report the crime, and asked the cops to drop me off.

This they did. I saw my friend sitting on a chair in the lobby of a high-rise condo holding a huge towel to his face. The towel was covered in blood. I immediately began to cry in sadness and guilt, not having realized how badly he was hurt.

At least he was able to walk, but he knew his nose had been broken. The policemen on the scene took a statement from me as I lay curled on the ground in a fetal position, and we were then herded into an ambulance.

The ambulance personnel appeared to be stoned, as they were even less competent than the cops who had picked me up. They didn't even realize that I was hurt, asking only my friend for his bio information.

Unfortunately, they then took us to Weiss, a hospital in Uptown, and the nightmare continued. We sat in a waiting room for 30 minutes as the few staff who were actually there couldn't admit us, because there was no room in the ER. My friend continued to bleed profusely and I still couldn't be comfortable unless I lay on the floor.

A young black man was obviously overdosing on something, as he slid out of his chair in the waiting room and began to vomit yellow, flourescent-colored liquid. My friend and I realized that we had to get the FUCK out of there, and tried calling other area hospitals. Ravenswood Hospital? Full ER. Northwestern Memorial? Full ER.

We finally called St. Francis in Evanston, and they had space. So we took a cab all the way up to Evanston.

They took care of us there. My friend was diagnosed with a broken nose, for which he had surgery two days later. I got a prescription for Ibuprofen (I didn't want anything stronger, as I know that it would be easy for me to become addicted to painkillers).

The next day, my friend got his wallet back, minus $60. He had already cancelled all his credit cards and such.

My friend went through his process of anger and grief in his own way. He has a spiritual path and used it. I wouldn't claim to know where he is in the process, though; you can say you're one place with reckoning, but the next day you may feel different.

Along with pain in my back (and, increasingly, my right hip), I am clearly suffering from PTSD. I've been replaying the incident in my head since it happened, although a bit less of late, always hoping for a better outcome, one in which I beat the crap out of these punk kids. I've been angry, very depressed, and physically low.

My brother's wedding was difficult. I was feeling physically like crap, and emotionally worse, but had to be kind and attentive and, besides, I wanted to be there. The wedding was beautiful, and I love my brother's wife and her family and friends.

But family things are often stressful, and it wasn't relaxing. Two days after coming home, our band had an acoustic show, and that wore me out as well. There's been a lot to do of late, and I haven't taken much time to recover.

What I'm realizing is that I generally have no idea of how to respond to serious trauma, be it emotional or physical--and especially when it's both. I am so driven and so full of creative energy that not being physically well tends to devastate me. Add to that the random feelings of anger, violence, helplessness, and depression that have popped up...

Of course, I'm happy to be alive. I'm happy my friend is alive. They could have hit me a few inches to the left and cracked my spine. They could have ruptured my kidney. But when you have to be thankful just that your attackers didn't hurt you worse, you're obviously dealing with a fucked-up situation.

It's not as if we can really afford to pay hospital bills. I've lost time from working, lost two weeks to the emotional drain of recovery, lost some of my faith in the people who I live with and near. This is my neighborhood. I live in the city. I put my tax dollars into the city, and I buy locally, and to be beaten up and robbed by three little fuckheads...

It's not the first time in my life I've been beat up. I was sexually assaulted when I was a child. For a large portion of my younger years, I was physically abused at school. I've often been bullied in work situations, even sometimes by friends. And the first thing I wanted to do after getting off that beach was to beat the hell out of somebody. Preferably the creeps who robbed and beat us, but SOMEBODY.

And that's the kind of anger I've been going through. Yes, I know that poor city kids have a tough life. I understand that; I see it every day. But when anyone harms you physically, they've crossed a line. They've removed any sympathy that I might give to their cause. And I don't care what happens to them.

And for me, that may be the worst thing: that I no longer care about what happens to these kids. That will probably be what I'm left with at the end. Not the physical pain, although it's taking its sweet time going away; not the financial loss, which is certainly not as bad as it could have been.

No, what I'm afraid might happen is that I end up like many idealists burned once too many times. I don't want to be one of those sour people who hate cities, hate kids, hate "minorities," hate everything.

God, please don't let me become that.

It's a struggle. And I'm fighting. But the whole point is that I don't want to fight.

For those of you who are hearing about this event for the first time in this blog, please accept my apology. It's hard to talk about it in person--it's hard to even write about it--and this seemed the best way to explain the basic facts of the event.

Love and Peace.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Birdwatching, 4/29/06

Saturday April 29 was cool and cloudy. It wasn't an ideal day for birdwatching, but I met my dad and stepmom for a good walk through North Park Nature Center near Pulaski and Peterson in Chicago.

Two fairly large groups of birders took alternate routes through the park. Our group ran into a pair of deer, who watched us intently before padding off deeper into the woods...that was pretty cool. Despite the chill in the air, the birds were out and singing. Here are the different birds that I saw that day:

Northern Cardinal
Canada Goose (including a male and female walking their little goslings along the riverbed!)
American Robin
Wood Pewee
Yellow-Rumped Warbler
Palm Warbler
Ruby-Crowned Kinglet (female)
Lesser Sandpiper
Red-Winged Blackbird (male and female)
Black Duck
Brown-Headed Cowbird (male and female)
Solitary Sandpiper
American Goldfinch

Mix that with breakfast at Tre Kronor and...well, it was a good morning.