Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Yes, he was the President; but above all, he was a Michigan man!

Above all else, Gerald R. Ford, the 38th President of the United States, was a Michigan man. And damn proud of it, too.
He was the most valuable player (as a center) on the 1934 University of Michigan Wolverine squad, one that charitably can be called the worst in school history. But much of Ford’s life reflected that – being the best person in a bad situation. It summed up his Presidency as being the only American never to be elected vice president or president, yet serving in both capacities.
He oversaw the end of the Vietnam War (although to many it lacked any measure of satisfaction), pardoned Richard Nixon is the name of unified healing (although to many it lacked the proper closure and truthfulness to that entire episode) and battled a wave of inflation that would remain at high tide for the rest of the decade.
He lost his effort to win voters’ approval in 1976 to a relatively unknown Georgia governor, Jimmy Carter, but it also can be documented as perhaps the last American presidential election that did not produce mass animosity and vitriolic verbiage.
Ford served his hometown of Grand Rapids for 25 years before the fickle finger of fate anointed him to move to historic heights.
People made fun of his alleged klutziness, bumping into things and falling on occasion, but he also survived two assassination attempts, one by former Manson family member Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme. His golfing foibles were legendary but that only meant he was ordinary at things like the rest of us. When our drives go awry, they hit squirrels; his struck spectators lined up … often to be hit.
But in Ann Arbor, he was well-loved as a strong supporter of his university. Until he moved into the White House, Ford was a regular spectator of Michigan football at Michigan Stadium, just one of 105,000 every home game Saturday. Without luxury boxes and other expensive isolation booths, all fans were equal among the masses.
On occasion, Ford would be seen in the press box, greeting university officials and other old friends. Obviously, when he became President, that kind of folksiness ceased – probably much to Ford’s dislike.
His friends called him “Jerry,” and he insisted on it, even as President … with those he considered friends. While I was working for the U-M Sports Information Department, headed by SID Will Perry, I answered the office phone one morning during the 1975 season, and was told, “This is the White House calling; please hold …”
I gulped slightly and then a voice came on the line.
“Hi, is Will (Perry) there? This is Jerry.” Yes, it was the President of the United States and all I could say, “Yes, sire, I’ll transfer you.”
Among the many Michigan groups was a semi-secret society called Michigauma, consisting of the top U-M athletes and other connected with the athletic department (coaches, sports writers, trainers, etc.). Initiations of a selected group of athletes were held in public, but meetings were not disclosed to anyone.
Once a year, a major blowout reunion was held, also in secrecy, and always among the regulars was (reportedly) Jerry Ford, Class of 1935 – 1934 football MVP.
For the Michigan family, this is the second major death in the last 45 days. Arguably, a former President makes you the school’s most important alumni. U-M has had men become President, walk on the moon, win multiple Super Bowls and lead many of the nation’s biggest industries.
Gerald Ford was honored to be President; he loved being a Wolverine.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

A case of the "gramps"

The following column appeared in the Aledo Community News on Friday, Dec. 8, 2006 issue.
The phone call that worries you most comes in the middle of the night … or as early as late in the evening – any time after you go to sleep. When you’re shocked out of a snoring slumber, you have the same thought that something has happened to your children – provided you HAVE children.
I always fear the same thing – hearing the words, “Mr. Bloom, we hate to tell you this, but … ” It is every parent’s worse nightmare.
I got that phone call a year ago, while driving at 2:30 a.m. for the birth of our first granddaughter. The darkness and the solitude on Interstate-45, for the next 2 ½ hours, made it worse. So when I got a call nine month ago that our daughter-in-law, Amanda, was pregnant again, each late-night call – even the wrong numbers of fax spam calls – brought with them an inherent fear.
But there was ONE phone call that I eagerly awaited and it came on a Wednesday morning.
It was my youngest daughter, Kelsey, with the simple words, “We have baby.” In the background, I hear the strong sound of newborn seeking nourishment – right away, Yep, it was a Bloom , alright.
When the wrong call happened before, my initial reaction was, “Chuck, you’re right. Nothing good can come with a phone call in the middle of the night.” But instantly, a sense of euphoria swept over me. Amanda would be deprived of being a mother, Robert was not going to be a father and I, the most unlikely of candidates, would not become something I had always dreamed of being – a grandfather.
I hold a special place in my heart for grandparents, especially grandfathers for a personal reason. I never had any as a child. Both of my parents’ fathers died before they were married. I never got the benefit of their experiences, their wisdom, their love or their nurturing.
My grandmothers lived until I got to college, but it wasn’t the same. They were Sunday night dinners, canasta games and that certain grandmotherly smell (the almond scent of Jergens lotion). They provided money for me to buy toys and visiting their apartments meant swimming or meeting former baseball players who lived down the hall.
Otherwise, it seemed that they existed to aggravate, in some sense, their own children. I was told stories about my grandfathers, but they had no relevance for me.
Unfortunately, my own children have suffered in a similar manner. My late father only saw his grandson twice in his lifetime and never, regretfully, saw his two granddaughters before his death. Dad always had some cockamamie tale about his failing health preventing him from playing with them. But they didn’t need him to be a playmate; they needed a mentor.
If an elderly man or woman can physically keep up with the incredible energy of a child, then a tip of the cap to them. However, all their knowledge and experience needs to be sent along the river of life. Oral history needs to be preserved in order to learn about the future, from what occurred in the past.
In modern times, both parents often must spend a significant portion of the day as wage earners, so caring grandparents can often fill the nurturing gap. All of it will benefit and positively influence our children.
I also worried that I was too young to earn the grandparent label. Nope, my driver’s license says I am 54 and while going to see U2 in concert still gets me jazzed, there is far more gray in my beard than any other color.
I am ready. I am pumped. I plan to be the Grandfather Man for the World Tomorrow. I’ve given myself until month six before I invade Babys ‘R Us.
I’ll be there for Robert and Amanda and start my grandfatherly duty of spoiling this kid rotten from the opening moment of baby Riley’s life.
Just try to stop me.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Top 10 Favorite Christmas songs (non-traditional)

Here are my top 10 favorite Christmas songs of the non-traditional (mainly rock) variety (in no particular order)
"2000 Miles" by the Pretenders. Sorrowful tune by Chrissie Hynde and beautiful melody.
"Santa Claus Back in Town" by Elvis. As nasty a rock song as there is, period, Christmas or not. We ALL know what Santa is looking for.
Happy Christmas (War is Over) by John Lennon. I consider this to be as classic as "White Christmas" or any hymn.
"I Believe in Father Christmas" by Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Actually this is Greg Palmer's song all the way and it builds to a greaat crescendo.
"Christmastime is Here" by Vince Guaraldi Trio. It's part of the "Charlie Brown Christmas" score and along with "Linus and Lucy" comprise the best stuff ever done on television.
"Run Run Rudolph" by Chuck Berry. The greatest poet of his time fashions a rock tune that bee-bops right Santa Claus lane. Bryan Adams' remake is better than Bon Jovi's.
"Rockin' 'Round the Christmas Tree" by Brenda Lee. Done when she was not yet a teenager. Great combination of old time country, rockabilly and rock and roll.
"Sleigh Ride" by the Ronettes. An older song given the Phil Spector sound update in 1962. Off the greatest rock Christmas album ever.
"The Bells of St. Mary" by Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans. Also off that Spector album and as powerful a song as could be recorded by a group no one heard from again.
"Nothin' But a Chlld" by Steve Earle. The last song on "Copperhead Road" and it will make you cry because of its tenderness from such a renegade.
Your list is solicited.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Some pennies for my thoughts

This column was published in the Dec. 7 edition of teh Dallas Mroning News Collin County Opinion pages.
Beginning from this moment forward, I will assume new grandfatherly duties now that my granddaughter, Riley Claire, has arrived on this earth (born on Wednesday, Nov. 29 in Kingwood, Texas, weighing 6 pounds, 12 ½ ounces and a nice 18 ¾ inches long). She comes almost to the year after an excruciatingly painful episode when her sister was stillborn last December.
And I pray that we will spend the next 100 years (I wish) catching up on all those grandfather-granddaughter things that I wished I could have started with Payton. I hope to be the best “Grandpa” to her despite a chasm of great distance between the two of us (Plano to Houston).
When we meet, we’ll spend time watching baseball games (explaining the intricacies of middle relief and the designated hitter), watch a few funny movies (without the words, “Saw” or “Chainsaw Massacre” in the title, but anything with Groucho Marx in it) and play board games (that I long ago put in the closet).
I will tell her why becoming a nun will be a positive career move at 14, when boys begin knocking on the door, and she will, no doubt, laugh at me. I’ll just play the part of some kind of bewildered old coot – Uncle Jesse in “The Dukes of Hazzard” without the horsepower in that Dodge.
We will go shopping and I’ll continue to shake my head in bewilderment about what they term as “cool” clothing. I will never understand why tattoos, tongue piercings and black satin pants with flames down the sides are thought to be “fashionable.” We will try to eat something that doesn’t contain crusts, cheese or two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame bun.
And ... I will also collect, for her, a piggy bank full of pennies ... as I have since 1992 when divorce separated me from my three children. From that point in my life, I became a major fan of the little copper Lincoln head. It’s not a useless coin to be discarded or decommissioned; for this man, each coin has special meaning.
I stop to pick up pennies off the ground and off the floor. My eye spots them like an accountant finds tax loopholes or a politician smells out a donor’s check. I dig through the folds of sofas; I comb through the floor of my car and shake out my pants pockets. Every penny is a thrill to me.
In the past, it made my two daughters happy. They loved playing with them, loading and reloading them from various banks and then depositing them in a huge multi-gallon water jug in their room. I knew that their collection would never put them through college, but, at best, I hoped my youngest, Kelsey would get her horse.
To them, each penny was a constant reminder of me, or so they told me if for no other reason than to make poor old Dad feel good. I thought of it as a nest egg. Of course, the nest wasn’t real big and it wouldn’t hatch any time soon.
It was the best I could do, considering less-than-favorable financial circumstances. Not all of us had the resources of a Donald Trump; we couldn’t always clean out Toys ‘R Us at a moment’s notice.
All too often, too many of us can only produce pennies – either from heaven or from the ground. And most little girls will hopefully think that’s as wonderful as getting a Barbie doll … or a new red Mustang … for Christmas.
I do not want to hear reports that Congress, or the U.S. Treasury, will eventually remove the penny from circulation. It has a proud heritage from the old, large units to the Indian heads to the Lincoln heads. Who in his right mind would refuse to own a “1909 S VDB” penny, worth thousands of dollars and is perhaps the most famous coin ever cast in this country?
Each penny I retrieve or collect, in some strange sense, will remind me of my son, of Riley, the grand¬daughter I won’t see as often as my heart would wish, or the daughters I couldn’t see each night before they went to sleep. And I will regularly put a few pennies on the headstone of Riley’s sister as a reminder of what might have been (as I did the day after Riley was born).
I’ll do it for the memories, because, sometimes, that’s all we grandfathers have.