Things you can buy, pay for, do, or underwrite for the cost of Jay Cutler’s $126.7 million contract

Heck, we’re all excited about the Bears-Vikings game this weekend here in Chicagoland. Win or lose, we’ll know that we’re taking part in the grand American experiment in income redistribution, in this case to Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who signed a $126.7 million, multi-year deal not long ago, only to lead the team to a 3-6 record.

If you are with the Bears management—or are simply a billionaire seeking ways to burn through excess cash—here are my suggestions for getting rid of your next $126.7 million.

Backfill: Without bothering to Google this, I’m sure this idea isn’t original. This is just my contribution to an important discussion of the day.

  1. Make the movie “Gravity” ($110 million)

Bonus: meeting Sandra Bullock. Downside: meeting George Clooney, the only person on earth more irksome to the majority of American males than Cutler.

  1. Send a probe to Mars, with the help of India ($74 million)

“Our program stands out as the most cost-effective,” gloats Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who no doubt has lived at some point in Green Bay. “There is this story of our Mars mission costing less than the Hollywood movie ‘Gravity.’”

Downside: this doesn’t clean out nearly enough of that $127 million you’re trying to get rid of. You’ll have to hire a crew of “undocumented immigrants” to work around the clock flushing the remaining $53 million down the toilet. Noted Chicagoan Barack Obama promises they will be getting their social security cards and work permits within a week or so.

  1. Buy Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” ($120 million)

Then go sit alone a barely lighted room and shriek at it after every Bears loss.

  1. Buy the Maltese Falcon ($120 million).

No, not the prop from the Bogart movie. I mean the yacht owned by Elena Ambrosiadou, co-founder and chief executive of Ikos Partners (whatever that is). Sail it out to sea, torpedo it, and sink it. Surely you can find a torpedo for $7 million.

  1. Cover the $120 million in retirement and disability benefits paid out in perpetuity to dead federal employees

“The Inspector General for the U.S. Office of Personnel management found that ‘the amount of post-death improper payments is consistently $100 million – $150 million annually, totaling over $601 million in the last five years.’”

Sort of like the way we’re stuck with Cutler’s salary until he dies, and, probably, forever thereafter.

  1. Buy the De Beers Centenary Diamond ($100 million)

Diamonds are incredibly hard. Most likely they aren’t easy to hammer into dust, like the hopes of Bears fans. But buy this, and with your remaining $20 million, you’ll have plenty of money to take a luxury cruise to Reykjavik, find a volcano, and hurl your precious gem into the fiery cauldron of molten rock. Bring your suitcase with the rest of your cash and shake it out over the inferno. Watch the bills burst into tongues of flame that float away like a hopeless Pentecost without any apostles.

  1. Buy 1.8 million goats for needy Congolese

Samaritan’s Purse, the organization whose brave doctors and nurses are fighting Ebola, also has other relief work around the world. Why not buy a couple million goats for needy Congolese displaced by the ruthless Lord’s Resistance Army?

The best thing is, this is far more purposeful than running after a failed NFL quarterback and begging him to please take more of the cash you’re trying to stuff into his pockets. Plus, you can graze your herd on the rich Astrotuf at Halas Hall while you wait to ship them abroad.

  1. Equip an army of 2.47 million with potato cannons (at $51.21 apiece)

“Never underestimate the power of the City Slicker. Its [sic] actually the world’s most popular potato gun. Why? Because it’s easy to handle, easy to carry and easy to store. But it still packs a powerful punch. Due to the City Slicker’s compact size, it has a very loud discharge and shoots an 18″ flame out the end! If you use your tennis ball attachment in the city, you might never see your tennis ball again. The Quarter Mile Cannon City Slicker is perfect for the backyard, park, and field.”

“Packs a powerful punch.” We’re optimistic that these words will describe the Bears’ play this weekend. But if not, here’s what your money would do: arm the better part of the population of Chicago to launch a potato cannon assault on Soldier Field tomorrow as the Bears slink off the field after giving up another fifty-odd points.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Beheading in Islam: What would Muhammad do?

The news that the Islamic State is threatening an Indiana man with beheading, and that a Muslim convert in Oklahoma beheaded a coworker has again raised the question: Why do people keep decapitating others in the name of Islam?

The question has made the news periodically ever since the death of Daniel Pearl, and more recently amid the carnage in Iraq and Syria under the Islamic State. David Cameron (“They are not Muslims, they are monsters“) and Barrack Obama (“ISIL is not Islamic“) seem to believe that such actions are without precedent in Islam. Besides, to their credit, some “Muslim groups condemned the violence and offered condolences to the families of its victims.” In the light of this, it would be ridiculously unfair to suggest that Muslims as a whole condone such brutality. No doubt the vast majority worldwide are disgusted by the brutality in Syria and Iraq. Anyway, Mexican narco-terrorists also behead their victims and the biblical prophet Samuel hewed the Amelakite king Agag to pieces, so Muslims are not alone in committing such crimes.

And yet. Is it possible to ask about Muhammad’s position on decapitation without getting one’s own head lopped off by those who believe the act is consistent with their religion? Allah states in the Quran (8.12:), “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.”

Quoted out of context? Then let’s look to the medieval biography, “The Life of Muhammad,” where author Ibn Ishq (704-767? A.D.) offers clues about the Apostle’s thoughts on beheading. I quote from the Alfred Guillaume translation (Karachi: Oxford University Press, pg. 464):

Then they [the Banu Qurayza, a Jewish tribe in Medina] surrendered, and the apostle confined them in Medina in the quarter of d. al-Harith, a woman of B. al-Najjar. Then the apostle went out to the market of Medina (which is still its market today) and dug trenches in it. Then he sent for them and struck off their heads in those trenches as they were brought out to him in batches. Among them was the enemy of Allah Huyayy b. Akhtab and Ka`b b. Asad their chief. There were 600 or 700 in all, though some put the figure as high as 800 or 900. As they were being taken out in batches to the apostle they asked Ka`b what he thought would be done with them. He replied, “Will you never understand? Don’t you see that the summoner never stops and those who are taken away do not return? By Allah it is death!” This went on until the apostle made an end of them.

Huyayy was brought out wearing a flowered robe in which he had made holes about the size of the finger-tips in every part so that it should not be taken from him as spoil, with his hands bound to his neck by a rope. When he saw the apostle he said, “By God, I do not blame myself for opposing you, but he who forsakes God will be forsaken.” Then he went to the men and said, “God’s command is right. A book and a decree, and massacre have been written against the Sons of Israel.” Then he sat down and his head was struck off.”

A Jewish woman was also killed. She seemed to find the slaughter of her kinsmen funny, so said Aisha, child wife of Muhammad. “I will not forget that she was laughing extremely although she knew that she would be killed.” A cheerful optimist, able to look at the bright side of the massacre, perhaps. Then again, maybe she went mad. The rest of the women and children were distributed among the Muslims as slaves.

As The New Republic argues, “If ISIS is not Islamic, then the Inquisition was not Catholic.”

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Surviving a bears game

Da Bears? Those bums! But here’s what I did during the game yesterday to avoid that feeling I have that I’ve wasted 3+ hours whenever I watch them play:

1. Early lunch with Nonna and Russian-Ukrainian friend while discussing the situation in her homeland. (TV off until 12:30.)

2. Work out in front of the tube while Lev draws picture of Jay Cutler with stickers on his helmet that read “I’m stupid” and “Total Failure.”

3. Clean gerbil cages while Cutler throws another interception. Lev says, “I can’t stand this anymore!” and rushes outside to see if his friends are around.

4. Trim warts on bottom of foot and dribble them in Dr. Scholl’s wart acid as Bears collapse in overtime.

Great afternoon.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Self featured in new edition of Crab Orchard Review

While I’m tooting my own horn, the latest issue of the Crab Orchard Review is just out, with a story of mine on a disabled Korean-American day laborer. It’s not online but can be found the old-fashioned way, at your local bookstore.

Here’s the award announcement from the Illinois literary journal:

We are pleased to announce the winners of last year’s Special Issue Feature Awards for our special issue “The West Coast and Beyond,” CRAB ORCHARD REVIEW, Volume 19, Number 2 (Summer/Fall 2014). The winners were selected by the editors of Crab Orchard Review.

In poetry, our winner is Terry Lucas of Mill Valley, California, for his poem “Contra Costa.” In fiction, the winner is Russell Working of Oak Park, Illinois, for his story “The Day Job.” And in literary nonfiction, the winner is Debra Gwartney of Finn Rock, Oregon, for her essay “Her Hair.” The winner in each genre category—Poetry, Fiction, and Literary Nonfiction—is published in “The West Coast and Beyond,” CRAB ORCHARD REVIEW, Volume 19, Number 2 (Summer/Fall 2014) and received a $2,000.00 award.

Congratulations to my fellow winners, and thank you to Managing Editor Jon Tribble and everyone at Crab Orchard for the chance to publish in their great review.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

‘Us’ listed as ‘notable’ among Best American Essays

This was a nice surprise to learn via a tweet from Narrative: A memoir of mine is listed as notable by Best American Essays 2014. Thanks to Narrative for publishing the piece, a new direction in my literary writing (my first stab at memoir).

Here’s the beginning of the essay “Us,” about my parents’ adoption of my Korean brother:

The boy was small, his knees sharply cornered by the hinges of the braces he wore under his jeans, as if he had pulled his pants on over the legs of a robot. He walked with aluminum crutches that had a pistol grip and holes lining each side so that one could adjust their length. If you took off the rubber tips they doubled as army rifles. He had only two of these weapons and needed them to walk, so we, his new brothers, did not expect to get in a lot of firing practice, but they would afford him a martial aura among the boys of Bishop Lane in Walnut Creek, California. Also, he had broad shoulders and a powerful right arm, although he could not step into a throw. He could launch a dirt grenade farther than any of us, and scare a crow, cawing and shedding feathers, from a branch. It was 1965. He was five years old. So was I.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The bum who quoted Shakespeare

A new video from a Florida advocacy group features homeless people holding up signs that describe themselves, such as “I speak 4 languages” or “I was on the Buffalo Bills practice squad from 1998-2000.” It brings to mind an encounter I had with a homeless man more than thirty years ago in Spokane, where I went to college.

One night we were downtown at a rock club or jazz bar, and as we left the joint, a homeless panhandler in his fifties approached us. We gave the guy some change. He was perseverating, something about a suitcase. Nonsensically and unkindly, I started reciting from Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part II, as I had recently memorized a good chunk of it.

I quoted Prince Hal, “Why doth the crown lie there upon his pillow, / Being so troublesome a bedfellow? / O polish’d perturbation! golden care! / That keep’st the ports of slumber open wide / To many a watchful night! sleep with it now!”

When I paused, glancing around for yucks among my friends, the bum responded with Henry VI’s words: “Thy wish was father, Harry, to that thought: / I stay too long by thee, I weary thee. / Dost thou so hunger for mine empty chair / That thou wilt needs invest thee with my honours / Before thy hour be ripe? O foolish youth!”

He recited the entire soliloquy.

We punks looked at each other in amazement. I replied, “O, pardon me, my liege!”

We took the guy out for a midnight dinner at Denny’s. Maybe a Denver omelet and hash browns. That’s what I would have ordered in those days, if I’d had the money. The waitress shot hateful looks at us for crowding a smelly bum into our booth, but she didn’t kick us out. She slammed his silverware down, slopped the coffee cups in place. Then again, she was working night shift, maybe her feet were tired, and it’s not impossible she was only a couple rungs above homelessness herself. It turned out our panhandler had been some kind of electronics engineer in Minnesota, so he said. He told us he was mentally ill or had suffered a brain trauma (I can’t recall which) that prevented him from working. Lost his job. Drank to self-medicate. He wasn’t an actor, had just memorized Shakespeare.

We brought him back to our dorm and put him up in an empty room for the night. Crazy of us in retrospect, as it was a co-ed dorm and we knew nothing about the guy. But we figured he would appreciate a night off the streets. He kept talking about that suitcase, and we realized he really had lost it, his only possession other than a plastic bag with a few trinkets inside.

The next morning one of us with a car took the bum back downtown and bought him breakfast. I think they checked with the cops for the lost suitcase, but nothing turned up. That’s the last any of us saw of him.

I am touched by the lives revealed in the video. I doubt that most homeless people are former robot makers or NFL practice squad players, but some of the more modest signs are equally touching, telling of giving up one’s kids to keep them off the streets. As a reporter I would seek documentation for whatever claim a source might make, or leave it out of the story. But I know that, now in my fifties, if a college punk with a few beers in him threw some Shakespeare at me, I couldn’t respond as well as that panhandler.

Bless his soul, our poor tormented engineer, wherever he is, in the grave or still, improbably, on the earth.

4 Comments

Filed under Drama, Plays and screenplays, Poetry, Shakespeare, Theater

Life after a newspaper layoff: Sometimes it’s not a disaster

A former Tribune Co. reporter—laid off and struggling with cancer—writes to Romenesko about the pain of being having a career in journalism ended at age 45. She ripped through the 401K and ended up without a calling and feeling lost and betrayed.

I have tried to recover but am still bitter and angry at the dirty pool that was played. So many people I considered good friends, whose weddings and baby showers I attended, stabbed me right in the back.

I’m hardly alone. It was journalist against journalist when the rounds of layoffs happened, and people did vile things. I’m sure we all know some total sociopaths who have managed to hold onto their journalism jobs by beheading all their “friends.”

I have no idea where most of my coworkers went. Some have gone on to other jobs or lives, and some have just sunk to the bottom. One guy, this total straight arrow, has spent many nights in the drunk tank. I know another who is drugging himself to death. Others are just trying to live in a world that is diminished in every way—less money, less purpose, less reason to be here. I wonder how many involuntarily ex-journalists have attempted or committed suicide? That’s another story you’ll never see.

This is a poignant and bitter piece, and my hat is off to Charlie Madigan for calling it to my attention and reaching out to the author.

In reading it, however, I realize how lucky I am. What the ex-reporter describes was not my experience when I was laid off nearly five years ago at age 49. The day I was told to clear out my desk, I felt exhilarated. (Admittedly, I did not have cancer.) The sole supporter of a family can’t just up and quit a job, but, hell, when you’re thrown out, there’s no choice. And after you walk the plank, the horizons are limitless.

As I watched the SS Chicago Tribune sail along, circling at sea, listing to starboard, smoke pouring from the portholes as the bosses frantically shoved people off, I thought, I’m better off out here. It was bracing. No sharks. My family and I could go anywhere. I had just backed out of what probably would have turned into a job offer teaching journalism in India, and I could have called them back, but my reasons for not going hadn’t changed.

Nonna was great. She said, “We lived through far worse in Russia. We can get through this. Remember the ruble crisis?” Of course. The value of our wages collapsed. Shelves were bare in the stores. People were panicking and buying massive bags of flour in Vladivostok. But nobody starved, and a few weeks later, the papers were chock full of recipes for pancakes, dumplings and other flour-heavy foods.

I don’t share this journalist’s sense that backstabbers played any role in costing me my job. I was middle-aged and better paid than someone two decades younger would have been. In every industry, mid- and late-career people are the most expensive and the first to go.

The Trib is a paper with a great history, talented staff, and many strengths, but it also was in decline. And it always was an editors’ paper. I worked for several great editors there, but the Trib was also a hard place to sell a story idea to. (Or maybe it was just me.) I had many ideas turned down that I could easily have sold when I was freelancing, starting with day one in 2003, when I wanted to write an op-ed about our move to Chicago. A TSA agent had yanked our 10-day-old baby out of Nonna’s hands and patted the newborn down for explosives. No, thanks, I was told. Not of interest. The New York Times, which published something like seven op-eds of mine, would have taken it.

Like the Romenesko contributor, I found it a little unsettling no longer to receive invitations to social events from some journalist friends, but I had expected that, too, having once been one of those pariahs known as a boss. Then again, the Elmhurst Press Club–a jokey name for a group of reporters who gathered for a beer every once in a while, continued to invite me and other out-of-work ex-Tribsters along. I faded out only because I didn’t like driving back to Oak Park after drinking.

In the end, I was lucky. I finished a novel and found an agent (if not yet a publisher). I taught a graduate workshop in fiction and mentored students for a semester. I freelanced and did a fiction residency. Right now, for four weeks, I am again a writer-in-residence, this time with a literary organization in Brussels, and delivering journalism lectures to two universities while I’m at it. I’m taking the train to London this weekend to interview a former investor in the Russian shipping industry for a nonfiction book I’m working on.

As for my full-time job, I ended up at a great company at Ragan Communications—a place that (go figure) likes the way I write. We produce trade publications for people in PR and corporate communications. The job may not be as sexy as reporting for the Chicago Tribune, but it’s a good place to work, with colleagues I greatly admire. Two years ago, I made an ill-advised lurch into PR, mainly because I wanted to get closer to my parents in California, who are full-time caregivers for my disabled younger brother. I hated the job and was lousy at it. How had I not seen that coming? Maybe because I got the job offer the day before Christmas and had to start Jan. 4, leaving no time for thoughtful consideraton.

Never mind; I quit PR within weeks. Unemployed again! But our CEO Mark Ragan forgave all and hired me back. We turned around and moved back to Chicagoland. Few wives would have tolerated two cross-country moves in three months, so again, I lucked out. And Ragan has its perks. In December, I got to go on a reporting junket to Rome, something I couldn’t have done at the Trib.

Forgive me if it sounds heartless to mention all that in response to an ex-journalist’s cri de coeur. I have had many down times, too, if nothing like the nightmares this reporter lays out. I bring all this up only to offer a different perspective to those journalists living in fear of the next round of layoffs. Sometimes, as this writer makes clear, a layoff is a disaster. But often something better awaits you.

I welcome comments from anyone who has a different perspective, but as I am traveling this weekend, it may take a day or so before I approve them.

Leave a comment

Filed under Media