A Chicago Christmas

Although I only spent 5 years in the city of my birth…I remember it well!  There was a snow on the ground and more in the air, as mom announced that she had retrieved Laughing Santa…and that I must come to see him!

Before me was the little, stuffed, Chief Elf…with his brightly painted face and the crank on his back.  The more that mom turned the crank…the more heartily Old St. Nick laughed.  I watched his antics and reveled in his laughter and wondered how he was able to be so human and yet…seemed not to be so?

There were many, uniquely wrapped, gifts under the 8 foot aluminum Christmas Tree.   Pointing at the shiny artificial  Tannenbaum was a rotating light with a cover of multi-colors that diffused the spectrum of color of the subsequent glow of the beam.

We had returned from our excursion into the city where we saw the new release of Walt Disney’s movie, Lady and the Tramp.  And, the information overload for me, at 3 years old, was tremendous…and ‘visions of sugarplums danced in my head!’

Soon dad and me and mom sat under the Tree as a, mysterious visitor, took our photo…’and that is the rest of the story.’

It was after dark and our outside Christmas lights were lit…and we heard a terrible commotion on the roof of our house in Sauk Village.  It sounded like someone had been on the roof and fell off.  As dad answered the door, I heard him proclaim…’Why come right in!’  There before us…was Santa Claus in all of his red suited, and white bearded, and pipe smoking glory!

Santa laughed, a lesser laugh, than what I had expected…and he wondered if he could use our phone to call Mrs. Claus?  He went on to say that he and the Missus had been involved in a spat when he left and he needed to ensure that there was a home for him to return to…when the Christmas Eve work was completed.  Dad showed him our one phone in the hall…and he began to dial.  We gave him his privacy…he looked like that he needed it.  We heard him say, ‘but…but…but,’ on several occasions, and then he joined us in the living room.  Santa said that he had patched things up and inquired was there anything that he could do for us…before he resumed his journey.  Mom responded that she would like for him to snap a family photo of us under the Christmas Tree.  Santa took her camera and took two pictures…in case the first one did not come out right.

Dad poured the, ‘spritely old elf,’ some eggnog and asked if he wanted something stronger in it…and he smiled with the rosiest of cheeks and said, ‘absolutely!’

As Santa left, on our carport were the reindeer and a bright red glow…from Rudolph’s nose.  Donner and Vixen called out to Santa and asked, ‘where’s ours?’ referring to the spiked eggnog.

So, that is how the Brooks Family Photo…was taken.


‘Waiting For Godot’

‘Waiting for Godot is a play by Samuel Beckett.’    Wikipedia

”The play is a typical example of the Theatre of the Absurd, and people use the phrase ‘waiting for Godot’ to describe a situation where they are waiting for something to happen, but it probably never will…’    Wikipedia

So, I often say that I am, ‘waiting for Godot!’


Aren’t we all waiting for many things in our lives…that have not exhibited themselves ever…or at least not on a semi-regular basis We wait for Godot when we seek justice and fair treatment for all peoples…not just the majority or those who are favored by the political class.  We wait patiently for our elected leaders to care more about their constituents than their own interests.  What a treat it would be to witness a concerted focus to address global warming!

sky earth galaxy universe

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We live in a country that, by all available measurable criteria, live in multiple realities.  There was a famous book, many years ago, that was entitled, Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus.  This book demonstrated the difficulty in men and women communicating with each other and understanding and empathizing with each others point of view.  Today points of view are dictated by the television news network that you receive your news from.

When I was a teenager, men simply understood that they were going to be drafted and be sent to Vietnam.  My cousin, Billy, was drafted.  The only reason that I was not drafted was due to President Carter abolishing the draft before I became of age to go!

We all watched Walter Cronkite on CBS or Huntley and Brinkley on NBC and we basically received the same news.

We wept when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963 at 12:30 pm, central standard time.  Somehow, we understood that we would never be the same…and we have not!

We are told by our parents and our elders to work hard and ‘pay-our-dues’ and seek to excel in our careers!  We are assured that if we will apply ourselves…we will climb the ladder of success…and we will be another example of the American Dream!  We are told that anyone can be President of the United States and anyone can be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company…the Horatio Alger story of rags to riches…is ours for the taking….

But, what if the person who is doing the hiring…does not play by the rules?  What if it is not…what you know…but who you know….?

Institutions agonize regarding their low morale.  They engage is studies….and consultants….and large committees…too investigate and conduct in depth research into the quandary of ebbing excitement about the work-place!

The answer is simple….we all wait….much as our Jewish friends wait for the Messiah…or justice and equity and fairness…and recognition of consistent hard work and a passion for the job….and someone who has placed their heart and soul into their career….being recognized for their efforts…rather than being passed over for a friend of the boss!

We are still, ‘Waiting for Godot!’



A Desire For Fantasy

Snow clouds are gathering. There is a forecast for snow tomorrow. I noticed on my campus walk today that the clouds look promising for some snowflakes. I was thinking that we live in a time like I have not experienced in my 63 years. We are surrounded by grim reality while many of us seek fantastical fantasy. I have been watching and listening and reading of the logistical challenges surrounding administering 1 million Covid 19 vaccinations a day in the United States. The goal of President Biden is to administer 1. 5 million per day. Life is full of the intricate hard work of making things function and operate. It is not like the actress Elizabeth Montgomery did in the 1960’s sitcom Bewitched…where when there was something difficult to be done she wiggled her nose and it was accomplished by witchcraft.

Over my 32 years and 2 months and 3 weeks as a member of the Building Services department at SIUC I encountered on innumerable occasions the opinion that our customers believed that housekeeping was easy and that they could obviously do a better job than the professional staff. Living in a physical world requires an appreciation of physical reality.

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Simply put fantasy has never put food on our families table nor paid our bills or placed a roof over our head. Three weeks ago, tomorrow, a riotous mob stormed our Capitol and desecrated the People’s House…and caused death and destruction. This insurrectionist political action was not fantasy…it was reality.

When our pandemic began in 2020 I saw postings on social media asking if anyone knew a person that had Covid 19. Others said that the fake virus would be over after the election. Workman like conduct is not as exciting as conspiracy theories…’truth is still putting its trousers on while a lie runs around the block.’ Gossip spreads like a fire in standing corn.

Truth is kind. Truth is freeing and liberating and creates a real road to travel on. To be prepared for reality it is important to accept reality. We witness political courage so seldom that it seems strange and unusual to our sensibilities. When leaders do what is best for the people that they have been elected to lead…rather than doing what is politically expedient for them the unusual altruistic action is deemed by many as…not smart. Our culture of capitalism and accruing as much money and power as we can…as a barometer of our wisdom and success had blinded us to the lone voices in the wilderness…that respect us enough to tell us the truth.

Have you ever been lied to and both you and the person telling you the lie understood that they were lying? One of the insidious elements of public speech is the obfuscation and lies that are not even creatively told to the listening public. Somehow we have changed the parameters of honest communication. I first saw the usage of the artful masking of truth in sales. Much as the magician creates his illusion by causing his audience to focus on one area while he is performing his magic in the place that you are not looking. When our leaders are singularly focused on what is best for their political career and thus democracy is negotiable…we must be able to critically think about the outcome.

When I first watched Lady and The Tramp at a theatre in Chicago when I was 3 or 4…I identified with the happy band of canines. I thought of the Disney film often and still do today. It portrayed a fantasy that was comforting and uplifting to my childhood…especially with some of the reversals that I was soon to experience when my mother and father divorced… and mom and I experienced some significant hard times. Fiction and fantasy and prose and poetry is a tremendous assistant in navigating the rocky shores of our challenging human existence. I love Santa Claus and now have a Laughing Santa that is just like the one that I had as a child…courtesy of Jonathon. However when our leaders, either in our jobs or government or faith communities, tell us lies and falsehoods and insult our intelligence…we sheep are dealing with wolves in sheep’s clothing…

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Political/Religious extremism is frightening and a hydra headed creature that it is extremely difficult to stay in the good graces of. Have you ever attempted to stay in the good graces and have the benevolent favor of a narcissistic dictatorial leader? The Blues Brothers were on a comical mission from God and were wonderful entertainment for Chicago Blues fans. True believers in the dark fantasy of conspiracy of Religious/Political leaders are difficult to deal with…as they are on a mission from god…

A Travel Boom is Coming — The Jazz Man

So we have all been sitting at home for a year. For many of us travel is a high point of our life and especially so for we retirees. MJ and I are discussing travel plans for later in 2021…and hoping for the best. A few years ago we enjoyed visiting Europe and the United […]

A Travel Boom is Coming — The Jazz Man

Healing Words

Words matter. Speech is powerful. Oratory moves nations to both war and peace. The 271 words of the Gettysburg Address spoken by President Lincoln. ‘While it is Lincoln’s short speech that has gone down in history as one of the finest examples of English public oratory, it was Everett’s two hour oration that was slated to be the ‘Gettysburg Address’ that day.’ Wikipedia

President John F. Kennedy asked the question, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.’ These words inspired a generation to the Peace Corps and other public service.

Jesus Christ is referred to as the word, ‘And the word became flesh, and dwelt among us; and we saw His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.’ John 1:14

Words have a magical and mystical power. They have the power to uplift and encourage and give the energy and vision to carry on… Words can also deceive and discourage and demoralize. Words created Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Words created our United States democracy.

Throughout my life I have noticed that what people say to me affects me. I am moved by kind and inspirational words and I am hurt by hateful and unkind comments. I have labored under a leader’s comments that were chaotic and divisive and I have been the recipient of healing words that are applied like a balm on the wounds of life. Neither is guaranteed…it is up to us which we choose…

Forty-one years ago when I became a crew supervisor at Southern Illinois University in Building Services…I set my heart and purpose to be a healer rather than a destroyer. I had been wounded by the slings and arrows of callous comments that the speaker neither considered or cared what the affect of their words would be on the person that they were directing them at. I understood what it was like to work 16 or more hours per day and be labeled as ‘lazy.’ I understood how a person’s best efforts could be marginalized and discounted in favor of another preferred person. I wondered if my plight was my poor appearance or my lack of formal education or simply the luck of the draw? When I become a supervisor and later a manager/administrator…I decided to treat people like I wanted to be treated. I had noticed how the American term of ‘Horseplay’ had hurt many people that I had witnessed receiving this supposedly innocent American practice. Rather than being funny or good natured humor…I felt the pain that the practice caused. I had been the recipient of and had mentally recorded on numerous occasions the arrogance of, just a little power, and the deleterious demoralization it had on the poor employees that had to absorb it or be without a means of feeding their family.

Bullying is not a normal right of passage. It is a perversion practiced by insecure individuals who want to bolster their lack of confidence by tearing down those around them.

There is a saying that power corrupts and ultimate power corrupts ultimately. It does not have to be that way. I shared a stanza from Amanda Gorman’s tremendous Inaugural Poem that spoke of, ‘We are striving to forge our union with purpose.

To compose a country committed to all cultures, characters and conditions of man.

And so we lift our gazes, not to what stands between us.

We close the divide because we know to put our future first.

We must put our differences aside.

We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another.’

‘He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.’ Isaiah 2:4

The Poet’s admonition is not about the right to bear arms…it about the learning of war no more. As long as we see each other as two dimensional characterizations and not as fully formed creatures of the God that we attribute our creation to…we will hide in our houses and peek out of our windows and wonder when the others…are going to go away…

God’s Grace

It is a cold and beautiful day in Little Egypt. Winter is a month old. I am watching our Blue Heron forage for fish on our pond. He is a patient hunter. The students are back at our University and it is good to see them. They are preparing themselves for their entrance into the world of young adult hood with all of its pleasures and perks and trials and tribulations. I was young once…as were we all…and it did not seem to me to be a bowl of cherries. Or as the well known author,

Erma Bombeck, wrote, ‘If life is a bowl of cherries, what am I doing in the pits.’ I remember the struggles of working to make a decent living and life in the midwest. I also wonder how I did not consider the gift of life and health and how fleeting each can be. We all sit with the sword of Damocles above our heads…and act as if we are permanent fixtures on his planet.

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Each of us have a limited amount of time to make a difference. We think that we will, tear down our barns and build bigger…’ when we have no promise that we will be here tomorrow. Finally it dawns on some of old folks that each day is a gift…that is better than Christmas. A young poet captured my heart at the Inauguration Wednesday. Amanda Gorman wrote and read one of the most timely and moving poems that I have heard. One passage was: There is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.’

Share your gift! Our lonely and tired and sad world needs it badly. Our church choir director and magnificent singer, Carlyn, sings and I feel better. Each time that I am a recipient of her wonderful gift of singing, I think…how blessed that I am to hear such beautiful words.

I received a text message from a member of my family and my good friend, Ira Kaye, expressing her happiness that I received a good medical report. Her care and concern made my day! As the Bible tells us, ‘A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.’

We must guard ourselves against wishing our lives away. When older people told me that life was short, when I was young, I thought that they must be exaggerating the point. I discovered that they were not. Whatever we are immersed in at the moment tends to identify our thoughts. When we are young and in school it seems that we will always be a student. When we are middle aged and in the midst of our career it seems that we will always work and climb the corporate ladder. If a little money falls into our hands we plan for a richer future…and the gathering of material pleasures. Then…when we become old we learn that position and houses and lands are a mirage… Only those whom we have loved and have loved us have meaning and value in a our world that returns to entropy…dust…

Forward — The Jazz Man

Memory is a wonderful component of our human experience. However there is a time that we cannot live in the past but in the present and the future. Memories have the ability to become somewhat distorted by time. We may remember the good old days when in reality when we were living them, we did […]

Forward — The Jazz Man


Stress can make you hold your breath. At times you may not be aware of this visceral physical reaction. It has been said that we Americans are not deep breathers on a good day. Many of us have not taken a deep breath…for sometime. It seems that life has thrown the kitchen sink at us. You can become so nervous and oppressed and sad and lonely…that you fail to realize how depressed and disconnected that you are… The Stockholm Syndrome is where abuse victims bond with their captors.

As long as there is breath there is hope…I have read. It is possible to be so engulfed by sadness and oppression and grimness…that we begin to feel that this is the new normal. We can see so many breaks in what we are expecting from our leaders that we become hardened to our new temporary reality. It seems that perhaps all of our fellow travelers in this life have changed directions and we are the minority when it comes to the new way of thinking and being and a good citizen of our country and a christian in the model of Christ’s example and teaching. When suddenly that paradigm changes…our emotions are shaken! Tears come to our sad eyes and we weep for joy at the possibility that the principles that we were reared upon and the Jesus of the Gospels is still relevant and still in charge…

Amanda Gorman read the most moving poem that I have ever heard at today’s Inaugural. She is 23 years old and African American and she has the wisdom of Solomon. It feels good to breathe deep…and to weep…and to consider the future…

We are exhausted with fighting and division and name calling and strife stirred up in our family. We are weary of our families being separated and our friends disowning us. We mourn for the 400 thousand Americans who have succumbed to the pandemic. We fear how many more… We embrace the diversity of our nation. We wept at the lighting of the 400 lights aligning the Reflecting Pool in Washington D.C. The singing of my favorite song, Amazing Grace, by a nurse at the event moved us in a substantial and revealing manner. There are more deaths each day than occurred on 9/11. We all know someone or have loved ones who have been taken by covid-19. I was in the hospital recently and I realized first hand how precious and to be honored are the magnificent nurses are that care for us in this unprecedented of times. Last evening…we all began to breathe as President Elect Biden and Vice President Elect Harris led a recognition and remembrance for the the most devastating crisis that our nation has seen… By their official recognition and the listening to the songs of Amazing Grace and Hallelujah and watching the mystical and magical beauty of the four hundred lights and the Reflecting Pool…we began to breathe…

We weep for the hidden possibilities…that have revealed themselves. We breathe deeply…and the realization of our renewed oxygen…is humbling and renewing. We seek to mend the wounds of our familial unity and purpose and to understand each other. Democracy is difficult and it is divine…


There was a heavy fog this morning. Fog is disconcerting in that it takes a clear view and makes it obscure. What we saw in crystal clarity the day before is now hidden in a cloud of obscure and diminished visual acuity. It is difficult to make plans for a journey in the fog and even to see the road ahead.

Fog has been engulfing our world for a year now. The pandemic has altered our way of life and taken over 2 millions lives worldwide. I was listening to a news program this morning and heard a commentator give one of the clearest explanations of why people leave what we agree is the truth and embrace alternative renditions of ‘truth.’ He traced how our pandemic has devastated small businesses and uprooted the lives and upended the reality of so many people. Millions of our fellow human beings are wondering where they are going to get their next meal from and how they are going to pay their mortgage or their rent…or they have been displaced already… What about the families who have lost 1 or more family members while at the same time they have been laid off due to the closing of their restaurant or bar or service industry? So many had a clear and fog free path before them prior to Covid-19 and now have no idea where to go or what lies ahead or if the reality that they counted on is even a viable path forward! For desperate people looking for an answer…conspiracy theories are…at times comforting…and an answer to a world shrouded in the fog of desperation and doubt.

I have been in many meetings where it was clear that there is a great chasm of understanding between those who have enjoyed a middle class life and those who have had to ‘scrape with the chickens.’ There really is a different reality for the marginalized and the forgotten as compared with those who have connections and friends in high places and safety nets. Many of us have been blessed to be able to work at home…but many have not. I understand hardscrabble people…that is where I come from. I have many friends that the church was the refuge and the succor for them and that no one who had means and resources seemed to know that they existed. People that were searching for someone that gave a damn about them. Alternative reality has some appeal to those who have never felt acceptance in the popular society and have never been the recipient of its blessings and perks.

Imagine with me, if you will, that you have lost your home and are standing in a food line for you and your families dinner…and someone promises you a better society and a more equal distribution of wealth and power and privilege…and a front row seat for you in the new government? This is how democracies fall… How would you feel if you had lost your life’s work and dream and the blood sweat and tears that you had placed in your restaurant for over 20 years? How would you feel if you had used all of your savings to pay your staff during the forced closing of your restaurant…and yet the pandemic continues and your government has not seen fit to help you through the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression?

Crisis are real and we are in the midst of the most terrible one that I have seen in my 63 years. We will finally be able to lift the coronavirus blanket that has smothered our livelihoods and our health and our psyche…but the Fog of War will leave millions around our world with lasting damage and who’s ancillary effects will be felt for generations.

Walking Toward The Light

The sun is shinning brilliantly in our neck of the woods. The temperature is in the high 40’s and the walkers are out with their children. Before I began taking a lot of photographs I did not realize what an influence that the sun has on colors and shades and hues of the great outdoors. Sunlight can make a good picture a great one. As MJ would say, ‘The days are getting longer!’ Of course when walking around campus lake I see the occasional runner. One passed me today with a forlorn look on her face when she saw me put on my mask. I wonder if she was thinking how difficult it is to run with a face mask on?

I recall my years of working the 3rd shift at SIUC. I went to work in the dark and many times came home without the sun’s influence. Then in order to facilitate sleep in the daytime I would darken my bedroom as much as I could or the sun’s rays would alight upon my closed eyelids and inform my body clock that it was time to arise. Or as my mother-in-law would telephone me, shortly after I had achieved slumber, and when I answered she would proclaim, ‘You are not still in the bed, are you?’

Sunlight brings many benefits that cannot be realized in the dark. We can see where we are going. We can see where we have been. Monsters that are skulking behind trees or bushes are illuminated by the prisms of light. Shadows that seemed so frightening in the night…evaporate in the light of day. It is easier to read and therefore to understand. The smile of friends is readily apparent. The enemies that we were sure that we saw at midnight….are gone in the morning.

Walking after dark is somewhat frightening. There is difficulty in discerning the path. At times you may stumble on a stone or Gnome… Night with its blanket of darkness…sometimes…accidentally covers our head and with that our eyes. It is hard to see…unless you have a good flashlight… We know that there is a creature that lives under our bed…or in our closet…of behind the bedroom door. We may not be able to see the intruders but we believe that they are there by virtue of what the darkness has told us. Morning shows no such creatures…and we feel better…for awhile.

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Darkness lives in places in Social Media. We are made afraid. We seek closed doors and dim lights and the sun….seems to be a grinning Halloween Pumpkin. Depression and despair and discouragement are the clothes that we adorn ourself with. We wonder how things got so bad…and where were we while it was happening? Then we open our front door and step outside into the warming rays of our benevolent friend…and we are renewed…

Understanding Others — The Jazz Man

We are surrounded by a kaleidoscope of diversity…while many of us seek a world of monochrome. I am an avid amateur photographer. The emphasis is on amateur. I enjoy posting the photos that I take on Facebook due to my small but dedicated following. Some enjoy the black and white photos while others prefer those […]

Understanding Others — The Jazz Man


Jonathon and I visited our favorite LP Emporium, Plaza Records, in Carbondale and found to our dismay and delight…3 new John Prine records. They were reissues of Mr. Prine’s 1st and 2nd LP and a 1976 reissue of his greatest hits. We lost John Prine to Covid19 in 2020. He is often referred to as the Mark Twain of song writing. His lyrics are like none that I have ever heard. It is a cold day to walk but I persisted in my attempt to walk the lengths that I formally did in my younger years. I simply feel better when I walk…but then again I feel better when I can attend the theatre 2 or 3 times per week…but that is another story.

All of us have been wronged at one time or another…or at many times…as far as we see it. Our feelings are hurt and our hearts are darkened. We know what it feels like to be marginalized and demonized and treated with a wink and a nod of faux acceptance. Then we carry those hurts and slings and arrows as badges of honor of the battles that we have fought and the reasons that we have not succeeded to our expectations. If it had not been for our detractors and our enemies and how our parents mistreated us and our friends deserted us and our colleagues left us in the dust bin of unrealized expectations. Soon we have become a product of our grievances the caustic depression of the wrongs that we have undergone. I have known many people that take some pleasure in their identity of victimhood. The identity of a member of ‘ The Society of the Unusually Wronged’ is a club that many have taken out charter membership.

Forgive and forget is the cry of the righteous for the great unwashed in our society. Forgiveness is attainable…forgetting is nebulous at best. Since I was a child I have been able to forgive. It almost seems to be genetic. My mother was a wonderful woman for who forgiveness came easily. Forgetting is somewhat elusive. Probably my dad leaving mom and I was the first and largest occurrence in my young mind was my mother and father’s divorce when I was 5 years old. I could not conceive how he left mom and I and the ensuing poverty that resulted from his painful decision. I was an adult before I achieved forgiveness for this life changing event. Most forgiveness comes quickly for me. I am upset for a few hours and then the wrong that has been perpetrated agains me…looses its sting. Whenever I forgive I loose the animosity and bitter gaul and sour stomach that hate and hurt brings…

Who is the beneficiary of forgiveness? I would say it is the person who forgives. Our human journey back to Jerusalem is laden with stony ground and deep valleys and hight mountains. The Bully will say that those whom he bullies are sensitive or ‘snowflakes’ when in reality the Bully is probably more sensitive than anyone with whom he perpetrates his hurtful craft. Forgiveness is freeing! Forgiveness is the Balm of Gilead and healing that can not be found in modern medicine.