Thursday, April 23, 2009

Take It To the Fridge

The Fridge is in the hospital. According to news reports, William “the Refrigerator” Perry, former Chicago Bear and famed Super Bowl Shuffler, is being treated for the effects of Guillain-Barre Syndrome. He’s expected to recover and I wish him the best. I’m especially fond of Fridge because he gave me one of my most memorable interviews. It was memorable not so much because of anything he said, but because it required me calling him on the phone at his home in the middle of the night.

I was working on a story for GQ about the 1985 Chicago Bears, and Fridge was one of the Bears I had to get. After a couple tries, I was able to reach him by phone at his house in South Carolina, but he told me he couldn’t talk right then and suggested I call him back at 5 the next morning. I didn’t ask him why he wanted me to call at 5 in the morning, I just agreed to make the call. Only later did I realize that 5 o’clock Fridge time was 4 a.m. my time. So I set my alarm for 3:30 a.m., to give myself enough time to wake up and muster the courage to call this very large professional athlete’s home phone number before the sun had risen.

The call went fine. His wife answered. It was obvious that I’d woken her. She put the Fridge on. It was obvious that I’d woken him. But he said he was ready to do the interview. So we did. We talked for about a half-hour, he gave me some good stuff for the story, and when we finished I thanked him for talking with me. But I never did ask him why he'd wanted to talk at 5 in the morning.

Not that I’m complaining. I’m not here to start no trouble. I’m just here to do the Super Bowl Shuffle.

Get well, Fridge.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Joy of Vacuuming

I wouldn’t necessarily want this to get around—and I certainly don’t need my wife to find out—but I kinda like vacuuming the house. It’s not that I run and get the Hoover out every time I have the place to myself. But as putatively odious indoor domestic tasks go, I’ll take vacuuming over just about any other. I’d much rather vacuum the family room, for example, than get stuck doing the dinner dishes.

So I had to sit up and take notice when I read this from Joyce Carol Oates in the New York Times Magazine: “I go into a very happy state of mind when I’m vacuuming. I think some of my male colleagues, like Philip Roth and Don DeLillo, are completely denied this pleasure.”

I know what she means about the “happy state of mind.” What’s not to like? Vacuuming is a mindless job and it asks so little of us in the way of motor skills or hand-eye coordination. And the payoff is immediate and obvious. Those goldfish cracker crumbs the kid left in his wake, those bits of dried mud from the garden, those little curlicues of paper that fall loose when you tear a sheet from a spiral notebook: all of it vanishes and the carpet is left looking as pristine as a putting green. And when you really get in a vacuuming groove, you start to move with the machine like it’s a dance partner. Sort of.

But is Oates right to assume that male writers are “denied this pleasure?” Granted, maybe it’s hard to imagine Roth or DeLillo getting too domestic. But why bring gender into it? I don’t really see Joan Didion making a quick pass over the rec room before company drops by, either. Are there any major American writers—besides Oates, of course—who really know their way around a Hoover? Jonathan Franzen? T.C. Boyle? Cynthia Ozick? Or are the domestic arts and the literary arts mutually exclusive?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

School Plane

I went to the kind of big suburban Chicago-area public high school that John Hughes couldn’t seem to stop making movies about. Ours was a sprawling campus and, oh, the tax dollars that were lavished on our learning environment. We had, I think, five gyms and a field house. Radio and TV studios. An auto repair shop. No library, but a “Learning Resource Center” that featured a sunken “conversation pit” where we could sit down and "level with each other.”

It was an impressive facility. Too bad it was mostly wasted on me and my Def Leppard-concert-tshirt-wearing classmates.

No less impressive is this airplane-turned-classroom in a school in (I love this name) Stoke-on-Trent. The 30-seat commuter plane is to be converted into a geography classroom with desks, laptops and video screen. The cockpit will become a recording studio, because, after all, what classroom is complete without audio recording facilities?
The school’s headmaster gives his students credit for the idea. Whaddya suppose Molly Ringwald and Judd Nelson would think of this?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Growing tired of your geographical reality? Change it without moving an inch by checking out this NewGeography essay about alternative maps. It worked for me. All these years, I thought I’ve been living in Illinois. But it turns out that, according to at least one of the maps discussed, I’ve been living in Foundry, one of the “nine nations of North America.”

Or better yet, refer to the Surrealist Map of the World, which does away with most of us altogether.

Monday, April 6, 2009

I Confess

Time to come clean: My piece on the impulse to confess is online at Notre Dame Magazine.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The (Occasionally Bratty) Boys of Summer

We're just one practice into the season for the Cardinals, my son's pee-wee baseball team of highly distractable first- and second-graders, and already I've encountered my first youth-coaching dilemma. We're doing some base-running, mostly to work off some of the kids' manic energy, and it falls to me to demonstrate the proper way to round first base and make the turn toward second. I'm trotting through my demonstration when I hear from the team assembled behind me one of the kids say, "Faster, grandpa!"

Do I:

a) Take the occasion to remind the team about the importance of supporting and respecting each other?

b) Challenge the kid to a foot race?

c) Have him drop and do 20 pushups?

d) Reassign him to our team's minor-league affiliate in Rockford?

Or are there other options I haven't considered? All who respond win free admission to the Cardinals' season opener on April 19.