In a speech in Cape Town, South Africa, Robert Kennedy said, “There is a Chinese curse which says, ‘May he live in interesting times.’ Like it or not, we live in interesting times…” It is a nice saying. I like the saying. I will get to why in a moment. First, I must tell you there is a problem with the saying—other than the saying being a curse, of course. This is the problem. No one uttered it. It escaped Chinese literature without ever being written. The possibility of a pair of feckless translations from Chinese to English and back again does exist. However, I find that an unlikely explanation. Truth has rarely stood in the way of powerful rhetoric.
Still the sentiment has some merit, even if the attribution is misleading. I think most people would like to stand at a place and time in which others take interest: to go to a fabled town, to witness an historic event, to meet someone famous, to accomplish the astounding. The more one does this, the better. To travel an entire lifetime this manner would be the pinnacle. In sum– to always live in interesting times. To think that would also mean forgetting the curse. Curses are selfish. Curses are brutal. Curses are nasty. Curses have a way of settling things. This leaves us with a paradox. Interesting times are simultaneously the best and worst of what life has to offer.
If you have stayed with me this long, I will hazard a guess that you are asking something like this question: That’s great, Bingo, and Merry Christmas to you, too. But what the hell does that have to do with anything? And a second thing, why are you writing me this in a Christmas letter?
I will answer: For Whirl and me, 2005 was interesting times.
In no particular order our 2005 included:
The Chicago White Sox won the World Series. Eighty-eight years have come and gone since the last time that statement was both true and relevant. I love baseball. I cannot say that I have always loved baseball. I played baseball as a boy. I was not particularly good at baseball. My fondest boyhood baseball memory is of hitting a triple. I did that once—in three seasons. I fell in love with baseball when I moved to Chicago. I have never been a big fan of the game’s politics. I do not care about contracts. I do not care about collective bargaining agreements. I do not particularly care for pre-game predictions or post-game comments. I just love the game. I love the timeless nature of the sport: a game built on the magic of three, a game without a clock. Football, basketball, hockey and soccer all use a clock. Baseball has no clock. You cannot win by “killing the clock”. You cannot win without getting the last batter out. Rallies are not constrained by time. The game lasts just as long as it lasts. That may be two hours; that may be six. It may be nine innings; it may be fourteen.
I made friends with lifelong baseball fans, Chicago natives who had grown up with one team or the other. They taught me about the game. They provided me insight and explanation about the sport and the business surrounding it. They taught me how to score it. I began reading more about the game. I began watching more than just the television broadcasts from April to October: Why Life Begins on Opening Day, Bull Durham, Flying Sock, Eight Men Out, The Wrecking of Old Comiskey Park, Jerry Remy, and John Rooney.
I have been asked about my favorite moment in the last twelve games a number of times. Some of the various interrogators have offered suggestions. Paul Konerko’s Grand Slam in Game 2 against the Astros? No. Scott Podsednik’s walk-off home run? No. The 1-0 shutout against the Astros in Game 4? No. Four complete games against the Angels? No. The rookie, Bobby Jenks, closing Game 1 against the Astros with two strikeouts? No.
All of these suggestions were outstanding moments. I remember them with excitement and no small amount of happiness. They are not my favorite moment. My favorite moment came in Game 3 of the Divisional Series against the defending champion Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. The White Sox have a two-run lead in the bottom of the 6th inning. Starting pitcher, Freddy Garcia gives up a home run to Manny Ramirez. Ozzie Guillen replaces Garcia with left-hander, Damaco Marte. Trot Nixon singles. Bill Mueller walks. Jason Olerud walks. With no outs, Marte loads the bases. Ozzie Guillen comes to the mound and replaces Marte with Orlando Hernandez. Hernandez pitches brilliantly. Hernandez pitches defiantly. Hernandez pitches ferociously. Hernandez gets pinch-hitter Jason Varitek to pop up shallow with no play at home. He does it again with Tony Graffanino. And finally, “El Duque” ends the inning with a strikeout on Johnny Damon. The White Sox retain their one-run lead. Three runners on base and nobody out– the White Sox find a way. I am describing that wrong. The White Sox did not find a way. — The White Sox created a way. The White Sox earned a solution. The White Sox produced the greatest win of the season.
I witnessed situations like this many times during the 162 games of the regular season. The definitive test of that capacity in the playoffs came in Game 3’s challenge at Fenway. With skill, grace and unwavering tenacity, the White Sox passed the test. At that moment, I became entirely convinced that anything was possible. They could have lost the game in the bottom of the 9th, and I would have remained convinced. Hernandez goes on to pitch two more innings: three strikeouts, no walks and a lone single. The top of the ninth adds a manufactured insurance run out of a Pierzynski double, a Crede sacrifice and a Juan Uribe suicide squeeze. Bobby Jenks comes in to turn out the lights. White Sox win their first playoff series since 1959 over the Red Sox.
At that moment, the World Championship White Sox became possible. That moment, that stand by Hernandez in the 6th—that was the moment I believe made the World Series win possible. I believed it as it happened, and I believe it now. The White Sox won the World Series.
For my part in this, I would like to concentrate on the ticker-tape parade element of the win. Bingo left for Europe in the late afternoon two days after the Sox won. I planned this. As the Sox entered the World Series, I simply told them, telepathically, that my husband was leaving for Europe on Friday and might it not be best if they won by Wednesday so that he could have a full night’s rest on Thursday before leaving. Fortunately for them, they complied. As a bonus, Bingo got a proper send-off to Europe. Ticker-tape parades are both exhilarating and weird – who knew shredded paper could be that exciting? It was a nice way to see Bingo off.
I suffered a serious brain injury. On January 29th, while Whirl was in Washington State with cousin Tim, I spent the afternoon over in Wicker Park with my friend Mick . It was a nice visit until the moment came when I left for home. On the way to the train station, I was struck violently by a bicyclist. I suffered a critical closed-skull brain injury. Police arrived within a few minutes. They took me to the hospital. I was rushed into surgery. Doctors put a drain in my skull, kept me in a coma, and stuffed feeding and breathing tubes down my nose and throat. I maintained the coma for nine days. After I awoke, doctors removed the various breathing and feeding tubes, as well as the pressure drain from my skull. Conveniently, my memory starts to return on these days. Or shortly thereafter. Family came out from Colorado: my parents, Whirl’s mom, my sister. Whirl came back from Washington as soon as she heard.
I have gotten a tremendous amount of love and support from everyone. And for that, I know I will have a lot to do to explain how I feel. For now, please allow me to say – very simply and very sincerely – “Thank you. All of you.” It has been a wonderful aide.
I had a second brain surgery in late February. I had been suffering incredible headaches since shortly before I was released from the hospital. My neurosurgeon determined that the cause of my mind-splitting headaches was a build-up of fluid inside my skull caused by the original injury. He decided to perform a procedure to drain this fluid and reduce the pressure it was causing. This was all fine and good—and it worked. But I must tell you that the sensations of having someone apply a power drill to your skull while you are still awake are some of the most bizarre things I have ever experienced. For my trouble in all of this, I now have several new scars and can honestly report that there was a time in my life when I needed another hole in my head.
Me again. Did I tell you all? I am in love. Don’t know if you’ve noticed the glow. His name is Sean—you probably know him as Bingo. I was in Washington to spend a few days with my cousin Tim. If you knew Tim, he was your hero. If you didn’t, I trust you will take my word on this. Tim spent a year battling brain cancer. He died on February 13th. I spent two days with him, with my Aunt Marty and her husband Alfonzo before my panicked flight home to Chicago. I am not sure I am in the right place to put this all into words, so I am going to be brief. Please understand that my brevity indicates nothing with regard to the depth of my feelings. Sean and Tim faced a similar enemy at the same time – in that, together, as family should be. I stood between them and marveled at how bravely each of them fought and how gracefully each of them dealt with the hardships of the fight. The fact that the love of my life still crawls into bed with me at night, greets me at the door, and makes me coffee in the mornings—this fills me with overwhelming joy. The fact that the Original Cousin Band is 5 of 6 fills me with grief. I love them both deeply. Their courage astounds me.
Midway sent me to London, Newcastle and Munich for two weeks. I left on October 28th after attending the White Sox victory parade. From that moment on, it was work that completely dominated my time for the next two weeks. Despite the best of intentions I did not spend a great deal of time sightseeing or experiencing the culture. True, I got a few brief opportunities. Nevertheless, the most of my time was spent inside various office buildings, hotel rooms, trains and airplane cabins working on stubborn contests and curiously tenacious projects. Before departing I considered that work was sending me in to solve a litany of problems. I fashioned myself a professional troubleshooter. This trip would be my way to redeem myself. It would be my way to rise to a challenge and succeed: alone, in foreign lands, and against unforeseen adversity. My humorous anecdotes and observations are mostly limited to the margins of my stay. In no way complete, some of my thoughts:
An English pub is a charming place to go and watch a football match. It has the twofold benefit of introducing you to the beauty and taste that are “real ales” as well as challenging you to explain baseball to an audience of delightfully besotted Englishmen—a state arrived at by the intake of said real ales; both on my part and theirs. For the morbidly curious, I ended up in a pub called “The Duke” and spent the evening watching Manchester United lose to Lille Metropole in the off-season European tournament before embarking upon the Sisyphean task of explaining America’s Pastime.
Despite my best attempts, I was unable to locate Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross Station. In retrospect I suspect this is a blessing as it aided me in avoiding any further injuries this year: here brought on through the unreflected act of crashing into a wall through which Muggles are not permitted.
On the London Eye—that gigantic Ferris Wheel on the River Thames. I did not ride it. I do not think it was operational while I was in town. I never saw it move. It just glowed there like some baleful omen: Sauron is watching.
People are generally kind. Be you lost, confused, misunderstanding or simply lonely, others will take you in and surprise you with their consideration. In Germany this manifests as a kneipe with gemütlichkeit. In England, greeting you with ‘Sir’ and engaging you in animated conversations ranging from sport to politics to the women in our lives.
Whirl and I celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary in Springfield, Illinois. I realize this is an odd choice for a romantic anniversary weekend. There were restrictions on our travels. Due to the head injury, I was not allowed to fly for almost a year. We do not own a car. Whirl does not drive at all. The last time I drove a car was shortly before the injury. We traveled downstate to help paint my grandfather’s house.
So airplanes were out; automobiles were out. That left trains and boats. We looked into the various possibilities of destinations. As it was just going to be a three-day vacation, we did not want the travel component to be particularly long. Three or four hours to get to where we were going would be about the limit. That yielded a short list of rail destinations that included Joliet, Galesburg, Quincy, South Bend, Milwaukee, Kalamazoo and Springfield. – We did not find anything remotely reasonable as far as boat trips on Lake Michigan. I suppose we could have taken a bus. Nothing says romance like Greyhound.
We decided on the train.
Whirl had never been to our state capital. I have been there with my family and grandparents, but it was years ago. I think I was eleven. As we have done on several of our anniversaries, we stayed in a bed and breakfast. My child bride selected our particular choice primarily due to the rumors that it is one of the most haunted buildings in the entire state. While we did not encounter any ghosts, specters or poltergeists, others apparently have.
The time in Springfield was quiet and quite relaxing. We toured many of the historical sites, including the Illinois Statehouse, the old Illinois Statehouse, the Lincoln Home, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum and the Illinois State Museum.
I got up at 3AM a couple of times and wandered the halls in a friendly, inviting manner. Alas. No ghosts. Lincolnapalooza was cool, though.
Whirl and I lost Elijah. On August 30th, Whirl and I put our cat, Elijah, down. Elijah was suffering from a highly aggressive carcinoma in his gut. Symptoms developed rapidly over three short weeks. He would not have survived treatment. I do not want to be overly maudlin or angry in telling you this. It was tough—is tough. I miss him. I was with him until he died and then stayed for a long, cumbersome time after, to remove his bandages and to say goodbye. To say thank you. Just a few months earlier he helped me. He stayed with me and watched over me while I struggled to get back on my own feet. He has been with us for ten years. Only weeks after Whirl moved to Chicago we adopted Elijah and his brother from the Harmony House for Cats. These two cats have been an extraordinary part of our family. We have nursed him when he was sick or injured; we played with him when his fickle, feline demeanor permitted us to. He loved to curl up next to me on the couch. I miss him so very much.
Gosh, how Christmasy is this?!? Seriously, everyone, we are doing fine. Just being very honest about our year, here. From the time Sean got home from the hospital, Elijah stayed by his side. Some of the first smiles I saw from Sean happened because of the gray man. The three of us miss him every day.
My sister came to visit for my 35th birthday . In June I entered what my wife, Whirl, called my ‘Dante year.’ She derived the name from the age Dante claims to have been when he started his metaphysical journey documented in Divina Commedia. Dante entered the Dark Woods of Error on Good Friday, 1300, midway through his allotted three score and ten years—as determined by Psalms 90:10. You can look it up. For my birthday, my sister flew out from Colorado and spent the weekend with us here in Chicago. The weekend was busy in the neighborhood, marking the beginning of the summer festivals. The Printer’s Row Book Fair and the Chicago Blues Festival were going on all weekend. The former in our front yard; the latter in our back yard of Grant Park.
Just to note, I am in the first half of my “Free-Market Year.” This happens at 38, due to the fact that 38 year-olds are no longer relevant to mass marketing. Mass-marketing caters to the 18-37 crowd. Can’t say that I’ve taken full advantage of the first part of my year of freedom, but from now on I intend to conspicuously avoid any new flavor of Doritos, cola or gaming systems until I am 39 – at which point I will purchase an Xbox 360 and gorge on Spicy Hot Chipotle Wasabi Cool Ranch Fritos with Self-Heating Nacho Dipping Sauce. It’s a year. It isn’t that long.
On another note, the pairing of Sean’s Dante year and Sean’s sister’s visit was in no way related. Her visit was about as far from any circle of Hell that I can imagine. It was not only a delight, but a source of constant, wonderful memories
This, then, is our curse of interesting times. I write it down to help myself get a grasp on everything that has happened, and to inform you of where we are—what we are doing. I hope it is not overly dark or dire. That was not my intention. If anything this year’s challenges have brought me closer to Whirl, thankful for her love and unwavering support. They have made me stronger, tested me– given me strength, courage and inspiration. They have drawn me closer to you, my family and friends—without you I would be lost.
May you have a wonderful Christmas and a beautiful New Year!
I second that motion. I sentence you all to a 2006 filled with joy, harmony, good luck, good friends and wonderful family – I happily, and luckily, share that sentence. I love you all. Thank you for everything this year
Bingo and Whirl (and Q!)