Monthly Archives: June 2010

The Cost of an Education

Just over a week ago, we held a little graduation party for my son Alex and his cousin Lucy.  Not wanting to be left out, we also included Molly, but it still did not feel right to me.  Sure, she was technically moving up from her current school to the next level, but making it out of the fifth grade and into the sixth just doesn’t seem like much of an accomplishment to me.  Don’t get me wrong, Molly is smart.  Very smart.  She has been in the advanced program since second grade, and I expect her to continue getting good grades in the Honors Program at her new middle school.  But there is the whole problem.  In my brain, sixth grade is still grammar school. 

Back in the day, I attended Lincoln School for my grade school education.  I started there in the third grade when my family moved to Wheaton.  Prior to that I attended Washington School in Villa Park which used to reside in the shadow of the old Ovaltine factory.  Both the factory and the school are long gone, but the memories of my first grade teacher Mrs. Eaton are forever branded on my young psyche.  Even way back in 1971, Mrs. Eaton was a throwback to a long gone era.  She was in fact the meanest teacher to ever set foot in any teaching institution.  And she was crazy too.  Years after we had moved, Mrs. Eaton had to be removed from her classroom.  The story as I heard it was that she just snapped and started finger painting all the children in her classroom.  Oh, the good old days.

But back in those days, an elementary school was in fact grades one to six, with either a morning or afternoon kindergarten program to help the very young student adjust to the next twelve years by getting their feet wet on just half a day of structured learning.  Back then, full day kindergarten was unheard of, and the idea of pre-school was still in its infancy as most moms stayed home to take care of the young children.  So when I was suddenly presented with the idea that Molly was “graduating” the whole idea just seemed, well, strange.

Even her school didn’t call it a graduation.  They had an advancement breakfast that was basically donuts, juice, and coffee in the cafeteria where every fifth grader got multiple awards.  And the principal allowed parents to stop and take pictures of each kid receiving their awards.  Amazingly, 119 of the almost 150 fifth graders received an award for getting better than a 3.5 grade point average over their years at the school.  Really amazing given that half of them couldn’t figure out how to get up to the podium once their names were called.   The whole thing took almost three hours, much longer than the actual graduation ceremony at Alex’s school.   That is his Middle School.  See, we don’t call then Jr. High Schools anymore.  

I attended Edison Jr. High, and although the building is still in the same spot, it is indeed now Edison Middle School and serves sixth through eighth grades as opposed to just seventh and eighth grades as it did back in the late seventies.  I am not really sure when this whole Middle school thing began, but it seems to be a by-product of overcrowding at the elementary school level.  Although I do find it strange that most private schools still consider elementary school to consist of grades one to eight.  And I have been told that many private schools have created kindergarten and pre-school programs that keep kids in the same school for up to 10 years.  Certainly these schools don’t celebrate a graduation at any level except for 8th, so why should we who have to deal with the public school overcrowding have to celebrate more often just because our system in unable to keep the kids confined to one building for the entire eight years. 

All that being said, we had a little graduation party just over a week ago.  And the kids made out much better than I would have expected.  Being a good dad, I instantly told both Alex and Molly that we were going to open bank accounts with all this new-found money.  Insert groans here.  I allowed each of them keep a set amount, and last night we opened new bank accounts with the rest.  This was most difficult for Alex, because his friend Chris was buying a guitar and amp with the money he got from his graduation party.  I asked if Chris knew how to play the guitar and the answer was of course no.  I don’t want this to come out wrong, but I have my doubts that Chris will ever learn how to play the guitar, and I would really like Alex to learn how to save money before he gets in too much trouble as an adult.  I explained to him the importance of looking to the future and not spending all your money now, just the same way my father tried to instill the same ideas in me.  And this led us down a road I wasn’t ready for.

After explaining to Alex all about savings accounts and CDs (Certificates of Deposits not Compact Discs) and how when he has more money saved we may want to talk to his Uncle Dave and set up a money market account to get a better return on his money, he suddenly turned to me and said quite innocently, “If you know so much about saving money, why are you so poor?”  I didn’t know what to say at first, so I explained that I had actually done quite well with investments in the past, but that the economy had effected me quite poorly, and that it would still take a few years for me to get back to where I was.  But that just like him, I was working on paying down my debt and hoped to be able start saving more very soon.

The truth is a little bit more difficult to explain, and it is not what he needed to hear in that moment.  Because the truth is that no matter how hard we try to plan for the future, things happen.  Getting a divorce puts a strain on the finances, especially when both parties cannot come to an agreement.  I was actually quite good at setting money aside for the future, and I kept debt to a minimum.  It seems like such a long time ago, but I do remember a time when my dad didn’t have to call me to tell me that this collector or that bill had somehow reached him because we happen to have the same name.  He helped bail me out of some very tight spots, and he has always managed to not be judgmental about it.  I don’t know how I will ever be able to pay him back for that.  And I am not just talking about the money.  I have been working for almost a year and a half on fixing the mistakes made to my mortgage after the divorce, and I am just now starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  My credit is basically ruined and I sometimes fear that I may be pulling Maureen down with me. 

I want my kids to learn the value of money, and what it can and can’t do.  Our economy took a dump because too many people lived in the here and now, and didn’t think about what all that spending was going to do to their future.  It is a difficult lesson to teach when our society has become all about the newest cell phone or video games or I-pod technology, but the price of this lesson is too expensive not to teach.  I know there are no guaranties, but I don’t want my kids to learn this lesson the hard way.  I can only hope they can avoid the mistakes I made.

I didn’t tell Alex and Molly this, but each payday I plan to put $5 in Molly’s account and $10 in Alex’s.  I know it’s not much, but it is a start.  Then in four years when Alex has his next graduation party, we can look back and see what he has saved and make real plans for how to use the money for his future.  And if he still has his doubts about the whole “A penny saved is a penny earned” thing, I will have just one question for him.

What is that guitar Chris bought worth now?

The Cheese Stands Alone

I didn’t expect this to happen as fast as it did, but I had already anticipated it when I wrote my last entry.  The Chicago sporting world has turned on the Cubs.  As proof I present the following cartoon from the Chicago Tribune.

Please, do not send me any Sox hating messages because of this.  I am not posting this as a slap in the face towards Cubs fans, but rather to make a point about the state of sports in the city of Chicago.  As I have very openly stated in the past, both baseball teams in this city this season are on a one way ride to Stinkerville.  Both have sub 500 records, both have pitching and hitting problems, and both have superstar players with big contracts that are not living up to the expectations of their mega salaries.  The only plus the Sox seem to have right now is that they appear to be on an upward swing, winning three of their last four games, two of them against the Cubs who are falling even farther down into the cellar. 

To the dismay of many a Sox fan, Chicago has almost always been a Cubs town.  When the Tribune Company started broadcasting Cubs games over WGN in the super station format in the late 70’s, the Cubs also became America’s team as far as baseball was concerned.  The Loveable Losers as they became known, had grown a following through the 80’s that was next to none.  Then came that infamous home run chase in 1998, and the mega turnstile clicking Cubs have been a marketing Goliath ever since.  That is until now.

The Blackhawk victory in the Stanley Cup has opened up a gaping wound in what was just a picked at scab for many years in the Cubs fan base.  Even before the Blackhawks finished their final game in Philadelphia, one of my favorite sports reporters from the Chicago Sun-Time was comparing the Cubs to a fart in an elevator that nobody wanted to lay claim to.  It was in fact that article by Rick Telander that gave title to this entry, as he used the old nursery rhyme to express the current state of the Cubs organisation.  But it should not be used to express the state of the Cubs fans.  Unlike the cheesy team, the fans do not stink, but they certainly are aware of where the stench is coming from.

When the White Sox won the World Series in 2005, the Cubs fans still had a little bite to them.  After watching both the Red Sox and White Sox snap long championship droughts, they were certain that their time had come, and the team responded with back to back Division Championships in 2007 and 2008, but they were unable to win even a single playoff game those two years.  And now with a new championship team in town, the press and the fans are even more despondent about the 100 plus years without a World Series ring.  Although distracted by the Blackhawk victory for a few days, I have heard the growing grumblings from more than just a few Cubs fans.  There was very little spark in this past weekends crosstown series over at Wrigley Field, and White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle commented that the games had lost the excitement from the past few seasons. He was surprised that there were very few hecklers throwing jabs his way from the stands.  Usually he gets a double dose since his home town is St. Louis and he grew up a Cardinals fan.  The Cubs fans just seemed so defeated, and the Sox fans seemed to take pity on them.  Did Hell freeze over or something?  Or have both sides of town just found peace in their combined substandard performance this year?

In a town that was the Cubs for the taking, there is very little blue being worn around these days.  Year One has quickly turned into Year None, and the new owners of the team will be looking at a whole new market next year unless there is some sort of miracle in the stars.  If not, the Friendly Confines will be turning over some of its ticket revenue to the Madhouse on Madison in the upcoming seasons, and God only help the ballparks should the Bulls win the Lebron sweepstakes.  Because as I have said before, everyone loves a winner. 

And once the crowd has had the sweet taste of victory, those losers are just not so loveable anymore.


I so wish I had seen this yesterday.  It would have so fit in with the rest of the story.  Below is a new statue/art that has been added to the outside of Wrigley Field.  Now this piece of cheese should stand alone!

Congrats Tennessee

In the city of Chicago, the celebration is in full swing.  For a city that has long been associated with its losing ways, it is good to see that we are getting better at this whole winning thing.  Although there is still that other team that has yet to win a championship, the city of Chicago how holds claim to an unusual honor that no other city can brag about.  Within the last 25 years, Chicago is the only city to win all four major championships.  The Bears won the Super Bowl in January of 1986, the Bulls won six NBA Championships in the 90’s, the White Sox won the World Series in 2005, and now the Blackhawks have brought home the Stanley Cup.

But lost in all of the hoopla that comes with winning is the fact that another team has now risen in the ranks.  Prior to Wednesday night, the Blackhawks held the number ten spot on the list of longest current sports teams without a championship.  They have eagerly given up that spot.  I won’t repost the entire list, but here is the new number ten spot.

10  –  Tennessee Titans  –  December 24, 1961

The Titans began their sports life as the Houston Oilers in 1960 as a charter member of the American Football League.  And they started off with a bang, winning the AFL Championship in both 1960 and 1961.  In 1970 when the AFL was absorbed by the existing NFL, the Oilers fell on hard times, and they would not see another post season appearance until 1978.  Turmoil with ownership and the decrepit start of the Astrodome led to the threat of moving the Oilers to Jacksonville, Florida, but a band-aid agreement kept the team in Houston.  But the agreement did not last for long.  When Houston refused to build a new stadium for the team, it was announced that the Oilers would be moving to Nashville for the 1997-98 season.  They played to very small but packed crowds at their temporary home while a new stadium was being built, and in 1999 they were re-named the Tennessee Titans just in time to move into their new home.  That same year they also made an unlikely post season run and made it all the way to the Super Bowl, but lost to the St. Louis Rams.  Since then, they have made it back to the playoffs five time, but have still not won that elusive title.

So congratulations to the Tennessee Titans.  You are officially in the top ten, and the Blackhawks are now in the cellar.  Where we really hope they stay. 

For a very, very long time.

Off the Wagon

Let’s face it, the only thing keeping Chicago baseball fans from taking a long walk off the short end of Navy Pier is the fact that the Blackhawks have captured the attention of most sports fans in this city.  It is very apparent everywhere you look.  The street vendors and the retail shops are stocked full of merchandise, and it seems just about everyone is wearing some sort of Blackhawks memorabilia.  It is actually quite strange.  Because as little as just three years ago, the United Center was a ghost town when the Hawks were in town.  They had to run specials like $8 tickets for college and high school students just to put bodies in the seats.  But that was then, and this is now, and everybody loves a winner so the crowd is back, and paying full price.

The band wagon is in full stride here in Chicago, and with the possibility of the first Stanley Cup in this city since 1961 just one win away, people are just clamoring to hop on board.  But not me.  Don’t get the wrong idea, I have been watching and enjoying these playoffs, and I do hope the Hawks get to raise Lord Stanley’s Cup, but I will take my place on the sideline and watch the excitement from a safe distance.  The main reason is that I do not consider myself a die-hard Blackhawks fan, and I don’t want to step on the toes of those who are more deserving of this victory.  Sure, I have written about the Hawks right here in this blog, and my picture at the top of this page actually shows me wearing a Blackhawks hat.  My very first ever sports autograph ever was from Tony Esposito.  It had to be in around 1971 or 72, and my dad took me to a sports night at Washington School back in Villa Park.  Mr. Esposito talked to the crowd and answered questions, and then afterwords we all lined up to get a signed picture.  Sad to say, I don’t know what happened to that picture, but I am betting my dad still has his.

You see, even with all that, I am not a dire hard Hawks fan.  The true fans are the rough blue-collar crowd that hangs out in the upper level of the United Center and cheer louder than any of the fans stuck in those more expensive seats next to the glass.  They are the old-time fans who used to line up at the old Chicago Stadium to buy tickets just a week in advance.  They are the guys who stuck with the team even through the TV blackout years and some really rotten teams.  They are the guys who used to belly up at Cheli’s Chili Bar just east of the United Center during the 1992 season when the Blackhawks last made it to the Stanley Cup, only to be swept by Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins.  And those are the fans that will get shut out of these playoffs.

I have seen it happen before, just five years ago on the south side of town.  Prior to 2005, the White Sox had only managed to break a season attendance of two million tickets a year just a handful of time, but since that World Series victory, the club has surpassed two million every year, with a record attendance of 2,957,414 in 2006, the year after the won it all.  Because everyone loves a winner, and the promise of future playoffs help sell those additional tickets.  Now that the team has fallen on tough times, the crowds have started to dwindle, and the two million tickets may not be as easy to sell.

During the White Sox 2005 World Series run, lifelong Sox fans started to come out of the woodwork.  People who hadn’t been to a ballgame in years suddenly “had” to be there, and they were willing to pay a pretty high price to StubHub or Ebay or any number of ticket brokers to get there.  And once again the average fan was cut out of the excitement.  This is where the Hawks are now.  It’s the Stanley Cup, and people want to be a part of the excitement.  The famous want to get their face time, so suddenly Jim Belushi and Vince Vaughn and John Cusack are at the games.  The big wigs from all over the city are converging on the United Center to be a part of the crowd.  To show that they too are fans.  But in reality, they are really just better connected.

In my lifetime I have been very lucky.  I have met the right people and made the right connections, and I have seen some tremendous things.  I have been to two All Star games, in Milwaukee in 2002, and here in Chicago in 2003.  I have seen the Bull play in a Championship game in 1998, and was lucky enough to attend all four World Series games in 2005 in both Chicago and Houston.  I could have placed a call, and I could have attended a game or two of the Stanley Cup, but then what would that say about me?  I have only been to a couple of Hawks over the past five years and although I did enjoy them, it would not be fair of me to snatch a ticket away from someone who is a dire hard fan.  Someone who has put in his time and deserves to be a part of the fanfare there in person.

Maybe I am being a little bit delusional.  The ticket I choose not to take will surely end up in the hands of some other person calling in a favor.  But at least I feel better about myself.  I’m not one of those people who has to be a part of the “in” crowd.  Tomorrow night while the Blackhawks are possibly clinching the Stanley Cup in Philadelphia, I will be where I belong.  At a White Sox game with my son and his baseball team.  Sure, I will find a spot to keep an eye on the game.  Cheer where I can, boo where I must.  And if they should win it all during the game, I am sure Gene Honda the White Sox field announcer will call it out for everyone to hear and cheer together.  And maybe the White Sox will be so inspired that they too will bring home a victory.  Well, let’s not get too carried away.

Looks like it’s going to be a long baseball season.  Good thing we had the Blackhawks to keep our minds off all of the bad baseball in town.

Football should be right around the corner.