Two empty chairs.

Two notable deaths this weekend, neither of them tragedies — Chuck Berry and Jimmy Breslin. Of each, I can only say that they were appreciated at this end. I saw approximately one million tweets that mentioned he could play a guitar just like ringing a bell, but for my money, I’m partial to “Nadine.” Not his biggest hits or quite the rave-up, but it has some wonderful rhymes in the lyrics. (I’m a writer, I notice the lyrics.) My two faves:

I saw her from the corner when she turned and doubled back
And started walking toward a coffee colored Cadillac
I was pushing through the crowd to get to where she’s at
And I was campaign shouting like a southern diplomat


She move around like a wayward summer breeze,
Go, driver, go go on, catch her for me please
Moving through the traffic like a mounted cavalier
Leaning out the taxi window trying to make her hear

“Campaign shouting like a southern diplomat” — that’s a phrase we should hear more often.

And then there’s “Brown Eyed Handsome Man,” can’t forget this one:

Milo Venus was a beautiful lass
She had the world in the palm of her hand
But she lost both her arms in a wrestling match
To get brown eyed handsome man

That made me laugh on many a bike ride when it came up on the iPod.

Berry was 90. Breslin was 88. Deaths at this age, after long and fruitful careers, aren’t tragedies. The tragedy is the decline in the newspaper business that makes it impossible for another Jimmy Breslin to emerge from its wreckage. Yes, there are wonderful new writers that we never would have found without the internet, but a moment of silence for what we’ve lost. Like this:

Here is how, in one of the columns that won the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, he focused on a single man, David Camacho, to humanize the AIDS epidemic, which was widely misunderstood at the time:

“He had two good weeks in July and then the fever returned and he was back in the hospital for half of last August. He got out again and returned to Eighth Street. The date this time doesn’t count. By now, he measured nothing around him. Week, month, day, night, summer heat, fall chill, the color of the sky, the sound of the street, clothes, music, lights, wealth dwindled in meaning.”

That’s a good obit I linked to, up there. Dan Barry. Can’t go wrong with him, either.

Sorry I’m just noodling around here. Long weekend, good weekend. Finished “The Underground Railroad,” finally. Schvitzed. Hit the Eastern Market for the first time in weeks, where I saw this:

I think it’s a writing center. But not a bad motto. Since we’re talking about writers today.

Happy week ahead, all.

Posted at 9:26 pm in Current events |

43 responses to “Two empty chairs.”

  1. coozledad said on March 19, 2017 at 10:09 pm

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  2. coozledad said on March 19, 2017 at 10:59 pm

    Also, them Beatles were straight up dada, and ran counter to dipshit expectations. They were, and will always be allies of the young, no matter what people who want to monetize their work or associate them with that fundamentally sleazy 60’s Americana.
    That’s why they keep going. They didn’t make car songs or fuck Manson’s child brides. They had an ethic that superseded what kind of guitar you had or how you strung it.
    War babies.

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  3. jcburns said on March 20, 2017 at 12:10 am

    That Jimmy Breslin could play a typewriter just like ringing a bell. Also, those little cigars.

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  4. candlepick said on March 20, 2017 at 1:45 am

    Word after a word …. That’s Margaret Atwood, in this poem:

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  5. LAMary said on March 20, 2017 at 3:29 am

    My car has a slot for a media card and I have nearly every Beatle album on that card. They don’t play in order or by album. Sitting in traffic and having a song like And Your Bird Can Sing or I Will pop up reminds you how amazing the Beatles were.

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  6. Deborah said on March 20, 2017 at 8:55 am

    Candlepick, wow, that’s one strong poem. And thanks for mentioning Mister Monkey a while back, I finished it on the plane ride back to Chicago. Very entertaining. Next I start Lab Girl, also suggested by you, as you know.

    We had a thunderstorm in the wee hours this morning in Chicago. This week is all over the map, weather wise.

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  7. Danny said on March 20, 2017 at 9:25 am

    One of the reasons the Beatles will always endure is that Love was the ethic of their songs. McCartney has said as much in interviews.

    I read a few months back that Phil Collins, of all people, does not like Paul McCartney. I guess there was some slight or perceived slight when he met him the first time. To which I thought, man, if you have a problem with Sir Paul, you have a problem with me.

    My wife and I set up a surround sound system at our humble abode this weekend and to test it out, we queued up the concert DVD “Pulse” by Pink Floyd which is sadly after Roger Waters split (though it is still aural candy). And in the vein of thinking about Love, I commented to Robin that it was a crying shame that Roger, who purports to care so friggin much about his fellow man, could never find it in his heart to bury the hatchet with Gilmour and the boys.

    We know the Bealtkes split and that whole story, but for them, they all continued in their own creative endeavors and I’ve always felt that their individual catalogues augmented theirs as a group. Not so with The Pink Floyd whose sum of parts was always greater than the individuals.

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  8. Icarus said on March 20, 2017 at 9:27 am

    “We had a thunderstorm in the wee hours this morning in Chicago.”

    yep, it woke my daughter up who came into our room at 2:47am and i have been up ever since. What a great way to start first day back at work from week long vacation in Tennessee.

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  9. Deborah said on March 20, 2017 at 9:31 am

    Sounds like a long shot but I can dream I googled Chaffetz’s challenger, she’s someone I could get behind, Dr. Kathryn Allen. Chaffetz has always bugged me.

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  10. brian stouder said on March 20, 2017 at 11:36 am

    So, as our un-hinged president’s new administration continues to delaminate, my question is, why on Earth would ANY major political leader do the Tweet-thing?

    I ask, because now the Congressional leaders (D and R) are doing the Tweet-thing, and strikes me as politically short-sighted, and ultimately ill-advised.

    The American Gold Standard president – President Lincoln – would do his “public opinion baths” and meet lots of folks, of all sorts, and have a word or two with them……but written comments or commentary were always revised and re-thought.

    By way of saying, Twitter’s whole raison d’être seems to be snap-shots of impulsive thoughts – which runs directly counter to the sort of deliberative thought process one would LIKE to believe our elected leaders would engage in.

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  11. Sherri said on March 20, 2017 at 2:27 pm

    Because of selection bias, you may not realize it, but there are many political leaders who are grownups and use Twitter as simply another means of communication with entirely vetted and appropriate statements, rather than crazy attacks without evidence. I follow many of my electeds on Twitter so that I know their positions on issues, since newsletters are rather rare. Almost all the tweets are clearly written by a staffer and not just sent out impulsively. Some, like Patty Murray, distinguish tweets written personally by her by adding her initials.

    Impulsive tweeters are people who are likely to say impulsive things generally, and something said on video or audio impulsively today is pretty much as public and long lasting as a tweet. Even something said in an ostensibly private meeting may be public when everyone is carrying a video camera in their pocket.

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  12. brian stouder said on March 20, 2017 at 2:33 pm

    Good points, Sherri.

    Indeed, our new president’s ‘set-piece’ speeches tend to riff into incoherent declarations, too….except for his speech before congress

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  13. Sherri said on March 20, 2017 at 2:56 pm

    I want to share a recent experience with you here because it’s still bugging me and I need to vent.

    I had a situation recently where I was running a meeting and a man did something to undermine me. He didn’t do it intentionally, I don’t think he realized it, but it was one of those things that he simply wouldn’t have done had I been a man. I know this not because he’s an asshole, but because I’m a woman, and I’ve seen this kind of situation many times. Anyway, he’s a friend, we had a discussion about process, without discussing the gender thing, we never resolved it completely, I moved on. It happens. That’s just the background.

    I was chatting with another friend of mine, a man, who had been in the meeting. He and I get together regularly to have coffee and chat. He agreed that the first man had undermined me, but took issue with gender having anything to do with it. He told me that I should not keep gender issues at the forefront of my mind, and stop assuming that gender is behind everything.

    This is what bugs me. He’s not an asshole. He’s the father of two daughters, generally pretty aware and sensitive to feminist issues. Yet, when I shared my feelings, he felt it was his place to (a) invalidate them and (b) teach me the right way to handle things.

    Men, I’m speaking to you here: Don’t Do This! Never invalidate someone else’s feelings, first, and second, don’t tell them the right way to do something unless you’re asked. And even then, accept that what your solution is might not work for a woman, simply because she is a woman! We don’t get to ignore our gender because you don’t. And when we remind you of this, you get defensive.

    I’m friends with both these men, I respect both these men, and it is mutual. Both are more sensitive than average to issues regarding gender. That’s what makes the situation so frustrating.

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  14. Danny said on March 20, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    Sherri, your argument would be a little stronger if it wasn’t for the fact that you are such a promoter of identity politics yourself, especially in regard to your oft-shared views on white men and that most societal issues have their roots in patriarchy. The other week when you shared about being able to bench press more than the average, mediocre white male led me to envision the obvious light-bulb joke. Q: How many mediocre white males does it take to screw in a light bulb? A: None, Sherri will bench press it into place.

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  15. Sherri said on March 20, 2017 at 3:20 pm

    Fuck off, Danny.

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  16. Icarus said on March 20, 2017 at 3:21 pm

    Sherri, there’s an app for that

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  17. brian stouder said on March 20, 2017 at 3:27 pm

    Well, tonight is the public hearing wherein prospective replacement school-board members will make their statements, and then take questions…and Sherri’s reminder about “Don’t say stupid things” (and/or, when in a hole, stop digging!) is quite timely!

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  18. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 20, 2017 at 3:46 pm

    I’m told that this is the first recorded visual record of mansplainin’, and the look on her face supports that theory:

    More seriously: I have been often chastened and am still learning about my own privilege and racism when it comes to American Indian people. I’m stuck visually looking like an ad for Hitler Youth, but want to act in ways that undermine that assumption . . . but in working with Native American people, I learn again and again how much I don’t know that I’m doing, that when it’s shown to me, I see I really did do. And still stumble into from time to time.

    What’s awkward as all heck is when in a general meeting the issue of sexist behavior comes up. Traditional culture among most tribes & nations is as sexist as many traditional cultures are, only more so, and Indian women often let stuff pass that makes me cringe, saying later “he’s never gonna get it, but he’s a good elder in many ways.”

    So Sherri, I hear your frustration. Don’t ever feel like you have to let stuff pass; I’m interested in what you’re trying to do and how you see things, even when we are pages (let alone genders) apart on what needs to happen next and what has to happen right now. Right now, I need some coffee.

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  19. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 20, 2017 at 3:47 pm

    And good luck, Brian! Hope the right choices are made all around.

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  20. Sherri said on March 20, 2017 at 3:59 pm

    Jeff(tmmo), we may disagree, but I know we’re always engaging honestly.

    I have a print of this Norman Rockwell painting on the wall of my office at home:

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  21. Danny said on March 20, 2017 at 4:02 pm

    Sherri, I too hear your frustrations and have some interest in what you are trying to do and how you see things, but it gets a bit thick at times and you of all people should realize that when you have a disagreement with someone, it isn’t always because they are wrong and if they happen to be of the opposite sex, it isn’t always that they are pulling some privilege card.

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  22. A. Riley said on March 20, 2017 at 4:20 pm

    I second what Sherri said to Danny the first time.

    Any man who takes it on himself to explain to a woman that something she perceived as an exercise of sexism really wasn’t sexism at all is (1.) not going to persuade her or anyone else to his point of view and (2.) really making himself look like an asshole.

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  23. Sherri said on March 20, 2017 at 4:29 pm

    Just in case I wasn’t clear.

    Never invalidate someone else’s feelings

    That’s just a good rule of human interaction, regardless of gender.

    Danny, if you had heard my frustrations, you wouldn’t have responded the way you did. I’m not interested in explaining this to you any further. This is the more polite version of my previous response, but it means the same thing.

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  24. basset said on March 20, 2017 at 4:36 pm

    Mediocre white male here. Southern and almost-senior as well, which devalues my opinions even further in some circles… if I try to get in on this conversation someone’s bound to tell me that I have no standing so I’m just gonna watch.

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  25. Heather said on March 20, 2017 at 4:48 pm

    Give me a break Danny. Almost every woman who’s had a job knows what Sherri is talking about. For instance, our male boss regularly asks me and another woman to do assistant-type things that aren’t our jobs–like to locate a file he can’t be bothered to search for in the server or to update him on a project (we have project managers to do that). He doesn’t ask the male employees to do that. It’s GENDER. It’s unconscious, but it’s still gender.

    I’ve also been told in the past that I’m too aggressive and brusque. I’m actually pretty soft-spoken and have certainly never spoken as aggressively as many of the men at work, who get rewarded for it. Why do I get singled out? Because I don’t bracket every single communication with a please and thank you and a smile.

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  26. Heather said on March 20, 2017 at 4:48 pm

    Also, I can’t complain about it because I’ll get the same bullshit response that Sherri got.

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  27. Charlotte said on March 20, 2017 at 4:49 pm

    Same thing happened to me Sherri with an old college friend — can’t even remember what the trigger was — but he decided to tell me why my reaction to something on Facebook was inappropriate, and when I told him he was mansplaining, he then mansplained why he couldn’t be mansplaining with a double dose of “but I’m the father of daughters.” Now — again, someone I like, and this was entirely coherent with our college experience together (thus also triggering a whole bunch o’rage at 1980s bullshit). Took several rounds before he seemed to get it.

    Doing a project on Audre Lorde today, and oh, heartbreaking how timely she still is. I really had hoped that essays from the 1970s would still be so relevant.

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  28. Danny said on March 20, 2017 at 4:51 pm

    Fine Sherri, but my point still stands. Maybe your perception was true, but alternatively, maybe it was also a case of none of us being able to escape seeing the world through our own biases. I mean, when you have people who you respect and who were privy to the interchange telling you that they saw it differently, gender should not axiomatically invalidate their view.

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  29. Sherri said on March 20, 2017 at 4:53 pm

    One thing I’d like to clarify: this was not a work situation, and neither of these men are in any kind of supervisory capacity over me, we are peers and colleagues. Neither was there any significant age difference or difference in experience.

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  30. Heather said on March 20, 2017 at 4:55 pm

    Maybe, Danny, when you have several women telling you they can empathize with Sherri’s experience, that should tell you something about men’s biases?

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  31. Sherri said on March 20, 2017 at 4:59 pm

    Working while female:

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  32. Deborah said on March 20, 2017 at 5:08 pm

    Changing the subject for a minute here, but first let me say as a woman who used to be in a lot of business meetings, Sherri is right it happens all the time. My husband does it a lot too. He isn’t aware that he’s doing it when it happens but you better believe I tell him about it.

    So today I was reading an excellent article in the latest New Yorker, that’s a fascinating, in-depth report about something Rachel mentioned a few weeks ago on her show about Trump’s involvement in a dirty money deal in Baku, Azerbaijan. (there’s a paywall but I don’t know if you get some free clicks first). Anyway, a shocking thing came up in the article and that is an old friend of ours is mentioned in the article and is probably up to some no good in the deal too. The article is basically about a building in Baku that was going to have the Trump name and Trump’s organization was up to their eyeballs involved in it’s construction (and probably lots and lots of the dirty money), especially Ivanka. The old friend of ours is an architect in London that my husband and I worked with there back in the late 80s. This guy worked in St. Louis with us before we worked together in London for the same company. He stayed in London and eventually married (he was quite a ladies man before that). We kept in touch mainly through the grape vine but when we visited London last, we got together with he and his family a couple of times. This guy started his own firm in the mid-oughts and we kinda lost touch with him. The building in the article is really ugly, it was initially designed by a local Azerbaijan architect but at some point the building was somewhat redesigned (“softened”) by our friend. He is quoted in the NYer article a couple of times, and not in a good way, and not because it’s a bad design, but bad business. Wow, was that upsetting to read that and to now know this about our friend.

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  33. LAMary said on March 20, 2017 at 5:09 pm

    Add my name to the Sherri/Heather team. It happens to me and I bet it’s happened to all women at one time or another.

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  34. Deborah said on March 20, 2017 at 5:11 pm

    Oops, Sherri, your comment #29 went up while I was typing my comment. It happens in all kinds of situations not just business meetings.

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  35. Sherri said on March 20, 2017 at 5:26 pm

    The first time I remember it happening to me, I was about 14 and was working at the local Little League as a scorer. I had been doing this for a couple of years, so I knew what I was doing, and I had been a baseball fan for longer than that. I was working a tournament, and after an inning, I announced the score, per usual. One of the coaches, a grown man who was a math professor at the local university, went ballistic, convinced I was wrong. He lit into me, and despite the fact that I could show my work and exactly how the inning had gone down, kept yelling. Fortunately, that game was being umpired by one of the better umps, and he got the coach under control and backed me up. I’ll also never forget how coaches treated the one female ump.

    I’ve spent a lot of time in environments where men vastly outnumbered women. Maybe the behaviors I’ve noticed are all because I’m just a nasty woman, but there’s a pattern validated by every other woman I’ve ever talked to.

    And basset, nobody called you a mediocre white man. I didn’t call anyone a mediocre white man; I made it clear that I don’t think either of the men I was talking to were mediocre, and one of them isn’t white, for that matter.

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  36. Andrea said on March 20, 2017 at 5:29 pm

    Sherri — happens all the time! I am a CEO and it still happens to me with colleagues (not employees though!). I’ve learned a little how to push back in the moment, but that definitely goes against my instinct and I have to steel myself to do it. It gets easier over time, but I still have a physical reaction — racing heartbeat, sweaty palms, etc. It’s hard to care less about whether people think of me as a bitch.

    On a separate topic, we have talked a lot here about the white working class, Republicans, and Trump. Frank Rich has a long and depressing piece about the futility of empathy.

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  37. Deborah said on March 20, 2017 at 5:58 pm

    This is the best thing I’ve read yet about Bannon,

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  38. Sherri said on March 20, 2017 at 6:19 pm

    Yes, women can be jerks, too:

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  39. Sherri said on March 20, 2017 at 6:24 pm

    I don’t see how this makes any sense. A smartphone is less dangerous than a Kindle or a Nintendo DS? This just seems like another part of the administration’s randomly make life difficult for the people we don’t like strategy.

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  40. Rana said on March 20, 2017 at 6:41 pm

    Sherri, my friends are all up in arms over the ridiculous arrogance of that new ban. And, yes, it makes no sense to ban a digital camera while allowing a cell phone (which, hello, not only has a camera but is able to be connected to the internet and has a ton of processing power). So I think it’s either entirely punitive, or they want to be able to search all incoming cell phones and don’t want to make getting access to them harder, safety be damned.

    I think that the people who came up with this should be sentenced to fly a bunch of 14-hour transoceanic flights with a bunch of small, bored children deprived of their electronics, and the only in-flight movies things that are terrible enough on one viewing, let alone several.

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  41. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 20, 2017 at 7:28 pm

    Basset, I think of you as rather mild-mannered, actually.

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  42. basset said on March 20, 2017 at 9:28 pm

    I try to be, that’s why I’m staying out of that argument. I’ve been in enough similar ones where I was told because I’m male, or white, or both, I couldn’t possibly understand the issue so STFU. Looked like there was a good chance of happening here, so I pass.

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  43. Dexter said on March 21, 2017 at 2:09 am

    I have an autographed book by Jimmy Breslin…sorta. One of those deals where if ya pre-order you get an autographed business-card type thing pasted/glued onto the cover page. 1991 Damon Runyon: A Life ISBN 0-89919-984-4

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