Safe at ‘home’

I used to live a few blocks away from Wrigley Field.

Not anymore, though. This summer, I’ve decided to just move into the place.

Seems like I spend most of my time there anyways.

So, it’s back to the bleachers again.

(I know, rough life, right?)

Remarkably, the weather is even nice.

So, two days after drinking this at Thursday’s night game – on May-frickin’-29th! – I’m planning today to instead have one of these.

Or, maybe, two.

And, who knows, maybe the Cubs will rally from 10 down today.

Now, you can’t Bee serious

I’m a good speller.

Heck, probably a great speller.

But after stumbling to a somewhat-disappointing 4th-place finish in the districtwide finals as a first grader (I flubbed “lyric,” a word I’d simply never heard before. I think I misplaced the “i” and threw in a “k”), I never competed in a schoolwide spelling bee again.

That’s still weird to me, as I’m certain I was — after, you know, learning what a lyric is — a better speller than almost every other student in my grade. Whereas numbers, basketball or, well, detentions were the forté of some kids in school, my strength was words.

Still is.

Now, letters, on the other hand, well they belonged strictly to my childhood buddy Thoufiq Kutty.

Along with his brothers Malik and Rafiq before him, Thoufiq — now an attorney and alumnus of Northwestern University and University of Chicago — was part of a spelling dynasty at Bourbonnais Upper Grade Center during the 1980s.

Back then, the Kuttys did one thing: They won spelling bees.

And by the time Thoufiq rolled into junior high in 1988, it was simply expected that he would sweep the 6th, 7th and 8th grade bees over the next three years.

Just as his brothers had before him.

Really, I don’t know he had any other choice.

The pressure was on.

And I certainly didn’t want to add to it.

So, each spring during a schoolwide assembly, I’d sit up in the gymnasium balcony, twiddling my thumbs and spelling to myself while watching other classmates drop like flies during the bee, misspelling an “allusion” here or a “conscience” there.

And every year, at bee’s end, Thoufiq stood alone. Victorious.

And, I’m certain, relieved.

Now, it’s not that I would have surely beaten Thoufiq (in fact, it’s unlikely I would have), but never once did I even enter our school’s spelling bee during junior high.

I believe I may have claimed stage fright as my excuse, and perhaps that did have something to do with it. But I think even more of a reason for ducking the bee was I feared I’d actually win the thing.

And beat my buddy, snapping his family’s cherished streak.

I didn’t even want to try.

In any case, the only reason why I’m sharing this little tale with you today is to display the strong respect that I have for spelling.

And bees.

That said, however, I still had to laugh this morning when I read a “BREAKING NEWS” e-mail alert sent by my hometown newspaper, the Kankakee Daily Journal (where I have friends, and once interviewed for an editor job).

Because, while spelling bees are great and all, I’m still not sure they’re quite this buzzworthy … 🙂

Sent: Thursday, May 29, 2008 8:33 AM

Ajay Chatrath, an eighth-grader at Grace Baptist Academy in Kankakee, correctly spelled his first word this morning in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.More on this story will be posted on as details are available.

Heat Waive

Chicago Summer R.I.P.

May 26, 2008 – May 26, 2008

Wednesday afternoon update: Well, at least the sun is out today. But, still, people simply should not be wearing parkas and scarves on “L” platforms three days before the start of June.

This happens next year and the CTA is going to have to start keeping those heat lamps at my Red Line station active until May 31.

Or July 31.

The current shut-off date of March 31 is not cutting it anymore. Not even close.

Of, course … ahem, I’m guessing CTA officials probably have other things on their minds today besides the Chicago chill.)

Ten years, Ten thoughts

Last Saturday marked the 3,653rd day since I graduated from college.

Ten full years.

Yes, some how, some way an entire decade has slipped off the calendars since May 17, 1998, the day I strolled onstage inside the University of Illinois’ Foellinger Auditorium wearing a stuffy cap and gown, and then strolled off it with my diploma in tow.

(Too bad a 10-year projection of the print newspaper industry didn’t come tucked inside it.)

A day after graduating, I turned 22 years old.

And, apparently, one day after that some gizmo called the Galaxy IV communications satellite failed while orbiting Earth, resulting in a loss of service to about 90 percent of the world’s pagers.


Jeez, how old am I, anyways?

In any case, with a decade of life in the real world now under my belt, I got to thinking this week about how much things changed since that sunny day in ’98 when I morphed from Joe College into Joe Journalist.

And headed out on my own.
In honor the 10-year anniversary, I came up 10 things I was doing in 1998.

That I don’t do any longer.

1. In 1998, I didn’t own a cell phone.

I think I knew exactly one person who did.Besides this guy.

2. In 1998, I wore a watch.

Now I just use my cell phone.

3. In 1998, I had an alarm clock.

Now I just use my cell phone.

4. And in 1998, I had a landline phone.

Now — you guessed it — I just use my cell phone.

5. In 1998, I didn’t have an ATM card.

I actually went up to a bank teller to withdraw 20 bucks.

Either that, or I wrote a check out to myself and cashed it at a grocery store service counter.


6. In 1998, I didn’t have a home computer.

And my newspaper office had just one with Internet service.

Dial-up, of course.

I checked e-mail one time a day.

Now, I check it, about one time a second.

7. In 1998, I thought Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa hit home runs naturally.

They just, you know, worked out really, really hard in the offseason, drank milk and took their vitamins.

8. In 1998, I was an idiot.

9. In 1998, I was more likely to HotBot than I was to Google.

If you don’t know what HotBot is, well, try Googling it.

10. In 1998, I could buy a gallon of gas for 97 cents at the
Speedway station in Ottawa, Ill.

I am so not kidding.

Told ya things have changed.

And I don’t think they’re changing back.

NBA Draft may be Bull, but make Rose one too

Okay, so the Chicago Bulls — coincidentally located in the NBA’s third-largest market, without a head coach, and, hmm … with fan interest waning once again in the Post-MJ Era — had a 1.7 percent chance to win the NBA Draft Lottery on Tuesday night.

So, naturally, the Chicago Bulls won the NBA Draft Lottery on Tuesday night.

Yeah, so maybe the NBA Draft is fixed.

But if that is the case, I suppose I won’t complain too much this year.

After all, if Bulls GM John Paxson uses this miracle pick to draft miracle point guard Derrick Rose, I might even — will miracles never cease? — start regularly watching NBA games again.

Over the next several weeks, some people no doubt will call for the Bulls to take Kansas State power forward Michael Beasley with the first pick.

Beasley, the nation’s leading rebounder and a 26-point-per-game scorer as a freshman, is ridiculously talented, and will almost certainly be a fabulous NBA player. But if the Bulls don’t take Rose, they’re crazy.

Because, believe me, you’re more likely to uncover a Beasley elsewhere in the NBA than you are to dig up another Rose.

Back in the days before I was a newspaper columnist, I spent seven years as a sports writer.

I’ve seen more prep basketball games than I can count, watching hundreds of kids hoop it up in both cavernous big-city arenas and crackerbox gymnasiums in towns where you probably didn’t even know there was a high school.

Or a town.

Most of the players I’ve seen were mediocre. Some were good. A few were even great.

But only one of them was Derrick Rose.

Most of the world got to know Rose this past March when the fab frosh came within a whisker of leading the University of Memphis to a national title. I first got to know Rose, however, back in December 2004 when he was a high school sophomore playing in the Pontiac Holiday Tournament.

On that winter night, the wiry point guard from Chicago Simeon was as raw as could be — Rose committed eight turnovers in the game — but he also flashed athletic gifts beyond belief.

Rose’s first step off the dribble was the quickest I’d ever witnessed in person — and that includes Big Ten college players.

And during the game — while on a fast break with a defender attached to his hip — Rose appeared that he’d go in for a layup, maybe a one-handed dunk attempt, but instead erupted off the floor for the most shocking two-handed slam that I’ve ever seen.

So startled was the crowd that the entire Pontiac High gymnasium gasped in unison.

During this year’s NBA playoffs, precocious point guards Chris Paul and Deron Williams have showed how important a talented, young quarterback is for today’s NBA game.

And, while Beasley will no doubt be great, Rose is the guy who can take your breath away.

Just ask the folks in Pontiac.

Rose is a perfect fit for the true-point-guardless Bulls.

So, don’t think twice, Pax.

Draft the kid No. 1.


So, it’s true.

The camera really DOES add 10 pounds…

No, seriously, it was pretty cool – and a little surreal – seeing myself on national television tonight talking about convicted con artist Hillard Jay Quint during the E! Network’s episode of “THS Investigates: Dating Nightmares.”

(In case you missed it, I’m pretty sure the show will rerun next week. And probably the week after that.)

After turning off E! tonight, I was thinking that I’ve now written sports, features, columns and hard news for papers. I’ve worked as a reporter, an editor, a columnist and a blogger. I’ve written a book, I’ve done radio and now I’ve been on TV.

When it comes to media, I’m not too sure what’s left.

Movies, I guess?

Yeah, well, I don’t expect that I’ll be getting a star on a sidewalk in Hollywood anytime soon.

A spot on “True Hollywood Stories Investigates” will suffice.

Thanks, by the way, to everyone who sent me e-mails, text messages and posted online comments today. It was much appreciated, great hearing from everyone and fun finding myself back in the writing game.

Thanks again.

Alright, with that, I need to get myself some rest.

I’ve got two Cubs games and one birthday this weekend, you know.