John Roach: The Favorites

John Roach: The Favorites

The winter has been long. The raw cold of January. The snows of February.

The winter storm warnings that continue to be posted through late March into early April.

Winters are a struggle, and none so much as this one. The ice on our lake up north is over two feet thick. I have been wearing a winter coat all my life.

The news doesn’t help. Television adds only the color of blood to liven up the final gray days of the cold season.

CNN is a depressing drone.

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Recently a person close to me had a serious cancer scare. In the midst of trying to garner the medical information that would eventually help us determine that things would be scary, but end happily, we had one of those conversations where you talk about everything that matters.

Near the end of the visit, this person got down to the heart of it.

“I don’t want to die yet,” she started wryly. “I haven’t even figured out if there’s an afterlife!”

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The early spring night is cool, but holds the promise of warmer evenings. The trees long to bud and leaf, if given half a warm chance. The disc player purrs in the background, as my wife and I tool along on a quiet street that runs parallel to Mineral Point Road on Madison’s west side.

We are on our way to visit my parents. They live in a charming condo development. This community houses almost every couple who ever raised their children on the near west side of Madison in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. the living spaces are perfectly designed just enough room for the kids and grandkids to visit and too little room for any of them to move back home.

We are nearing the entrance to the development when I see him.

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There are times when sport isn’t sport. It is a metaphor.

When a millionaire athlete strangles his coach, it confirms our worst fears about our society.

When a pampered college athlete plays four years, never graduates and can’t read, it merely proves our suspicions.

When a former professional athlete slashes his wife’s throat and leaves her and an acquaintance to die bleeding on the ground, yet he is exonerated because he could run with a football, we despair.

But then a kid from Middleton High School inbounds a basketball with six seconds left in the Wisconsin State High School basketball tournament.

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INTERIOR DAY An Air France jet somewhere over the Atlantic. A Midwestern couple is seated in business class eating dinner. JOHN is a faded middle-aged high school athlete desperately trying to keep a second chin at bay. He is seated next to his wife, the beautiful and charming DIANE.

DIANE: Boy, can you believe it? You and Mary Sweeney write a screenplay called The Straight Story and now we are going to the Cannes Film Festival.

Amazing! I sure hope my gown fits.

JOHN (mouth full): Gee, this French cheese is really good.

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For the last several springs a mom robin has chosen to make her nest above a porch light just to the right of our front door. In early spring, while it is still cold, she flutters madly about with small wisps of grass until her nest is made.

Shortly thereafter you can peek over the edge of her construction effort to spy baby robins chirping blindly. I assume Ma and Pa Robin prefer the warmth provided by the light and the shelter from spring winds that the porch provides.

The perch also offers haven from the neighborhood cats, who sit in predatory stillness in the driveway and stare up at the nest, waiting for a single misstep by the robin family.

The baby birds grow quickly. By late spring they have flown away. The nest is vacated.

It all happens so fast.

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It has not been a good year for trust. Or the major institutions that once held it.

Accounting firms. Stock brokerages. The Catholic Church.

The news keeps getting worse for the Roman Catholic religion into which I was born. Charges are being filed. Sentences are being assessed. Heads are rolling. Such is the paycheck when decades of abuse and arrogance come due.

None of this is a surprise to me. Although I was never subjected to any inappropriate advances, I have friends who were. One friend’s mother, a teacher in a Catholic school, warned the pastor of an assistant priest who was acting inappropriately with children.

The pastor fired her instead of the child molester.

I have a unique view on this issue. For a few years in my late teens, I answered phones in the office of the priests’ house of our parish. I had an inside look at the lives these men lived. It changed forever the way I viewed the Church and its pronouncements.

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I awoke this weekend with a stunning realization. The heavy, biblical rains that have hammered Dane County were at it again. Ergo, no golf and male camaraderie, but, on the other hand, five reclaimed hours.

Also, no long bike ride to Mt. Horeb to keep the thumper strong. Two more hours found.

I sip my morning coffee and listen to easy morning music and come to the giddy conclusion that for the next two days, my schedule is totally, utterly empty. To make things even simpler, the bride is up north with her sisters. I will miss dear woman, but it means one less opinion concerning agenda, and thus a simpler day.

By the time my youngest makes his way down the stairs mid-morning, as 16-year-olds will do on a dark, rainy morning, I am ready to pose a question for which I have become famous in our household.

“Mornin’, Dad.”

“Mornin’, Son. Guess what we have on the schedule this weekend?”

JT smiles at the query, waits a beat, then asks, “Nothing?”

I nod gravely. “Exactly.”

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Before Ving Rhames made the news due to the fact that his dogs ate his gardener, the Hollywood actor of Pulp Fiction and Mission Impossible fame was known for something else.

This is what happened.

 In 1998, Rhames was a Golden Globe nominee for his portrayal of boxing promoter Don King. And he won.

Then he did something remarkable.

He called to the stage one of the other nominees, Jack Lemmon, and gave his award to him.

And I would suggest, after Money magazine’s recent poll ranking Middleton, Wisconsin as the most livable city in America, that this is exactly what the mayor of Middleton, whoever that is, should do.

He should drive over to Mayor Dave’s house and give the award to him.


Most livable?

Excuse me?

Giving Middleton the Most Livable Award over Madison is like giving Bubba Franks the NFL MVP over Brett Favre. 

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Even now, six weeks later, it is difficult to write about it.

The pain, the shock, the horrifying fall. The huddled paramedics and harsh light of the emergency room.

But that was not the worst. The worst was the sound that echoed for days after and resonates still.

The laughter of the bees.

Our lake up north is small and humble. No outboard motors are allowed to roar. All we have is a little pontoon boat pushed quietly on the surface of our still pond by a battery-powered trolling motor.

Beginning on the Fourth of July weekend we noticed the bees. First there were a few harmlessly buzzing around the boat. But as summer wore on, their numbers grew.

That fateful day, summer was on the wane. The bride and I took an evening cruise, only to be greeted upon our return to the dock by a handful of agitated bees. I was stung twice. Enough was enough.  All living creatures deserve respect, but this problem had to be solved.

I am, after all, a man. And territorial imperative must be observed.

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Last year, while wandering around the web, I came across a stirring video.

It told the tale of the graduating class of Englewood Prep in Chicago. The story wasn’t just that all 107 graduating seniors had received college acceptance letters.

No, what caught my eye, and moved me damn near to tears was that all 107 members of the Englewood Prep class were young, black and male. These were boys who came from difficult circumstances and tough neighborhoods. Few people, if any, had lofty expectations for them.

But now here they were, celebrating their college acceptance letters. The video showed them in the gym bleachers, dressed in jackets and ties, standing and applauding each other as their astounding achievement was announced.

Their shared pride was powerful to see. And you wanted to believe in the story, if for no other reason than someone was finally trying something different.

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Margaret, our middle child, came to me in the late afternoon.

Perhaps I should have seen it coming then, but she betrayed no artifice.

“Dad” she said, “Mom needs a wine cruise. The activity is too much for her.” This was not a request. It was a directive.

Truth is, things were a little crazy.

Our three children and twenty of their closest friends had joined us for the annual Fourth at the Lake. The youngsters are in fact adults, recent college grads turned working stiffs. This makes the weekend both jailbreak and marathon. Many of the kids are Badger alums, and thus magna cum social. The weekend is a nonstop parade of beer pong, singing, guitar playing, short- attention-span iPoding, charades, fishing, bonfires and an hour of sleeping in any spot where they happen to stop moving when the sun comes up.

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