Sunday, September 30, 2007

White Sox cheer now a September song


Late September brings the merger of nature and man — the evening breeze under the street lamp — in its most focused form, the major-league ballpark. It's a bittersweet merger for Chicago White Sox fans.

Fall came too quickly this year, the ballpark lighting up before the first pitch. We covered our team jerseys with nondescript windbreakers and ordered hot coffee instead of cold beer. No wonder the singing Miller man from first base had replaced the gravel-voiced beer dude that had made third base his territory.

Jon Garland pitched a three-hitter, a reminder of another cold evening when Mark Buehrle pitched a no-hitter. New seatmates were there to follow the pitcher's cat-and-mouse games, some only for an inning as they left for vacant seats nearer home plate. Sometimes I was left with my own thoughts.

This weekend my fellow season ticket holders came for the last game under the lights before our wait till next year. Cubs fans now will have their day under the lights. We know how fleeting it can be.

Monday, September 03, 2007

A penguin's tale

It seemed like love at first sight, but was it really? Antarctica can be pitch-black for months at a time.

His crisp prom-tuxedo look could not have been what attracted her. The lady-bird pretty much dressed the same way. All penguins do.

It could have been prom king's cute Andy Rooney eyebrows. Or maybe it was his lapel. He matched the feather behind his ear with a bright-orange crustacean.

There is something romantic about Emperor penguins. When they're featured on television shows, my wife starts cooing. "They mate for life," she says. She looks me in the eye when she says this. Maybe this is why I thought of penguins to tell a story with a moral.

Or perhaps everyone seems to be drawing lessons from penguins. The movies find them inspiring -- who knew they could tap-dance! And the Chicago Tribune's lobby display uses penguins' response to climate change as symbol of transformative workplace change.

A newspaper cohort called me breathless awhile back. "There are penguins in the Baltimore Sun's lobby!" she said. It sounded like a bit far to range in a flight from global warming. But the Tribune sibling was just relating a
common business fable on seeing adversity as opportunity. And what captain of industry wouldn't want to face change by striking out in a bold new direction? If he could only chart a course.

Our prom-king penguin was a goal setter. He wanted to escape the stifling quiet, where he could hear the permafrost crunch under his well-insulated feet. And it was time to make a break from his parents. At this time of year penguins would be flocking to the colony, and these love-birds couldn't imagine living at home till they were 6!

So they struck out for a new, independent life. But by the time King got to that young-adult hangout, the historic Rookery, it was dawning on him (and dawning can take quite a while in Antarctica) that starting a family was more than just hatching an egg.

For one, the open sea was another 50 miles away, and with a hatchling on the way the love-birds couldn't just order takeout squid every night. One of them had to go on the hunt, and if lady-bird was to raise her chick she needed to make the deep dive now. That left the prom king to babysit her egg for two months, while fending off wild winds.

So King huddled with his buddies, not to talk about hunting but as an avian windbreak. They'd take turns standing in the center of the huddle for warmth. This is where baby fat comes in handy: They were balancing eggs on their feet to heat them, and no one was going to be going out any time soon for a cold one.

One of them in fact was woozy and did not look like he would last the winter -- could it have been the bird flu? -- and this cold made it no time to be unsteady on one's feet. When his buddy swooned, King scooped up the egg and kept it warm as one of his own offspring.

By the time lady-bird returned with a bellyful of food, she would have two young mouths to feed, and King would have the sure knowledge that life was not about striking out on your own as he had thought, but relying on and being reliable for others. It's a lesson those who flock to the city often fail to recognize, but these are the cold facts.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Workin' and steamin' at the Chicago Jazz Festival

Jazz musicians have been working up a sweat at the Chicago Jazz Festival this weekend. This is physical labor, with rhythm sections banging away at their instruments in 80-degree heat.

Clark Sommers, playing upright bass in he Dan Cray Trio, arrived with a sunburn, attacked his instrument like a demon, then went tourist and darted about Grant Park catching the remaining acts. Just watching was fatiguing.

Charlie Haden stopped to hear the cicadas leading a pickup band from the far end of the Jackson Boulevard stage. Paul Wertico was physically the frontman, sun shining on his drum set just beyond the stage monitors. The laid-back set was a marked contrast with New Orleans' high-energy Astral Project.

It was hard not to enjoy the small stage, where you could sit close enough to hear the instruments over the public-address speakers. But no one seemed to be enjoying himself more than Ted Hogarth, a baritone sax sideman getting to step out with friends and a stack of Gerry Mulligan big band charts, a Labor Day labor of love.