September 29, 2003

Kickapoo (9/29/2003: Rhet 146)

Everything I need is packed in ten-gallon pickle tubs,
to keep water from drenching food and clothes.
They’re tied into the aluminum boat
that is propelled by the river’s current
and the strength of my partner and myself.
We travel in a group,
all headed for the same destination
but at different speeds.
Sometimes we lay back
and let the water carry us at its own pace,
only exerting ourselves when we drift toward the riverbank
or a fallen tree that obstructs our path.
There are moments when we paddle with all our strength
racing to see who can reach the next bridge first.
We ram each other sometimes,
trying to capsize each other’s canoes
and dump the paddlers into the water.
There is nothing malicious about it.
It just makes the sometimes-slow journey livelier
and turns into friendly competition.
If we don’t look ahead carefully
we can easily run into rocks or trees or the bank at sharp bends
and land ourselves in the river’s cold water.
This happens often but we pull ourselves back into our boats
and our wet clothes dry quickly in the sun.
Once, two of the guys breached their canoe
against a huge fallen tree trunk.
It took the strength of the whole group
to fight it free of the river’s powerful current
that tried with all its might
to drag the boat underwater
and leave them stranded, midstream.
We all end up at the same place eventually.
And it’s not a race to see who gets there first.
What matters is that we get there
with no more than scraps and bruises and wet clothes
and good stories to tell of the journey that got us there.

Posted by dpetrella at 9:10 PM | Comments (1)

September 22, 2003

A Tale of One City: A Storied Season or Fate’s Cruel Joke?

On Tuesday, September 2, 2003, 95,233 baseball fans attended games in Chicago. They witnessed thirty-three innings, 217 at bats by 72 different players, 1023 pitches, and fifty-eight strike outs in 607 minutes of play (“95,233 Served” 10). Typically in September this would be a painful, excruciating experience for Chicagoans, watching as their beloved teams are dismantled, the Cubs in a doubleheader no less. But this season something is drastically different. These games did not send Northsiders, heads hung low, back to the L saying to themselves, “Maybe next year.” On the Southside, fans walked out of U.S. Cellular Field - lovingly nicknamed “The Cell,” or to a smaller few “The Joan” – disheartened by a loss, but not like a skinny kid on the playground whose being kicked while he’s down. This was a small blow, like the kind that makes a prizefighter shake his head and come back swinging harder than before.
Something is terribly wrong. Perhaps it has something to do with the close proximity of Mars to the Earth in recent weeks, but somehow the unfathomable has happened. In mid-September both the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox are very much alive and in the heated battle of pennant races. How is it possible that both the Windy Cities baseball teams can be succeeding simultaneously? It is unheard of for any two of its sports teams doing well in the same decade, let alone having two teams in the same sport vying for spots in the playoffs in the same season. The oldest living person in the Chicagoland area probably is not old enough to remember the last time the Cubs and Sox were in contention for division titles in the same year. In fact, the last times these teams earned a pennant in the same year was 1906 when they last met in the World Series (“Major League Baseball Statistics and History”).
Last season the Cubs lost ninety-five games and the Sox ended up thirteen and a half games out of first place. In one season these teams have transformed into formidable forces in their respective divisions. The Cubs have arguably the best starting rotation of pitchers in the National League; Mark Prior, who went six and six last year, leads the way with a seventeen and six record. The White Sox are being led by a rejuvenated Frank Thomas who, with forty-one homeruns, one-hundred runs batted in, and a .262 average, is performing better than he has in years (“Major League Baseball Statistics and History”). This kind of alignment of events is the kind of harbinger of apocalypse foretold in Revelations. If the Cubs and the Sox both make it through to the playoffs, we can all expect floods, hurricanes, locus, and frogs to follow soon after.
What could possibly lead to such a strange sequence of events? Perhaps Chicago baseball fans’ are finally being paid back for their years of tireless loyalty, their inextinguishable, starry-eyed belief that next year will be their year, their hours spent in the bleachers of Wrigley and Comiskey watching their beloved teams snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Maybe there is some sort of balance in the universe, some sense of justice that will not allow that 80 year old fan nearing the end of his days to die without ever seeing the team he has followed passionately for his entire life- through ups and downs and more downs and more downs - succeed.
Maybe the answer is as simple as magic. It could be that there is just something magical in the air of Chicago this year. The baseball spirits may have decided to turn away from New York and Atlanta and let another city have a storied season for one year. Or maybe Ron Santo didn’t really loose his legs to diabetes. Maybe he sacrificed them in some sort of ritualistic magical pact to guarantee the Cubs a shot at the fall classic. That could be why they decided to retire his number this year. It’s also possible that the toothpick Dusty Baker is always flipping around his mouth holds some sort of magical ability. On the other side of town, there’s a good chance Jerry Manuel sold his soul to the devil to save his job. He may have finally given up trying and taken the path Yankees owner George Steinbrenner took years ago. And that doesn’t mean spending the most money to get the best players. What other explanation is there for the way the Sox turned their season around so drastically?
Not everyone is comfortable with the idea that the success of these teams might be something magical. According to Chicago Tribune columnist Rick Morrissey, “Cubs fans are suspicious of the concept of magic because, let’s face it, what has it ever done for them? And they carry this fear that if magic really does exist, then all the good things happening to their team could be one big cosmic practical joke. Magic could have a six sense of humor, and this flirtation with first place just might be a mirage” (1). This outlook seems to be what Chicago fans have come to expect: whenever things are going well, these teams will find some way to mess it up. This season seems to be different. June came and the Cubs and the Sox didn’t swoon. Both teams were doing well at the All-Star break and they’ve continued their success long afterward. But what if it is all just a cruel set up by Fate? What if these teams manage to make another disappointment out of such a promising season? It would just be typical Chicago baseball.
Maybe it would be better for the city if both teams did not have their chance at the fall classic in the same year. The possibilities of what could occur if both of these teams were actually to bring the successful seasons they have been having to fruition are rather frightening. Over the past decade we have all seen the kind of drunken, orgiastic violence that can result from a victory or a loss in a professional sports championship. Chicagoans remember the riots of the early Bulls championships: the overturned cars, the fires, the millions of dollars of damage. In an article from the East Lansing Journal, columnist Robin Swartz described the mentality of rabid fans in championship situations, “We win, we riot. We lose, we riot” (1). This state of mind would present an interesting predicament for a city where two teams could hypothetically go head to head in a championship series. The Cubs and the Sox facing each other in a World Series could only mean one thing for the City of Chicago. Certain Destruction. Whatever the outcome of the series, the streets of Chicago, from 35th Street to Addison Avenue would be filled with angry and elated baseball fans beating each other senseless and destroying everything in site. This could result in the destruction of such landmarks as the Art Institute, the Sears Tower, and the Harold Washington Library. Of course, there is still a week left in the season, plenty of time for these teams to screw up. And if somehow neither of them manage to make the playoffs, we can always tell ourselves, “maybe next year.”

Posted by dpetrella at 11:35 AM | Comments (0)

September 15, 2003

Upper Peninsula (9/15/2003: Rhet 146)

The late afternoon sun casts red light
through the picture window
that overlooks the snowless slopes.
Dan and Matt are on the balcony;
inside I see the trails of smoke
and hear the pop from their bottle rockets.
I stand at the counter, knife in hand
chopping garlic and releasing its pungent smell
which soon fills the cabin,
stinging my eyes and burning my nostrils.
It sizzles in the pan with olive oil.
I add it to the sauce
and the smell grows stronger.
My mouth waters as the aroma permeates the air.
Allison sleeps in the basement,
Nick and Mike are outside
doing I don’t know what.
Stephanie is napping upstairs
and Jodi comes down
to see if I need help.
Adam calls from outside Green Bay.
They’ll be there in 3 or 4 hours.
Just in time for dinner, I say,
pick up a few bottles of wine.
I sit at the kitchen table
waiting as the sauce simmers.
Inhaling the biting air, I watch
as the sun sets fire to the deserted hill.
I breathe deeply, garlic filling my lungs
and I cherish my lack of obligation.

Posted by dpetrella at 10:18 PM | Comments (0)

September 8, 2003

SUV Owners Capture Iraqi Oil Field – U.S. Military Outnumbered (9/8/2003: Rhet 143)

This one requires a little explaining. In my intermediate expository writing class we had to draw headlines out of a hat (actually a Jolly Rancher bag) and write and "Onion" style article about it. Here it goes...

By Daniel Petrella
Foreign Correspondent

BAGHDAD – More than four months after President Bush declared the end of major fighting in Iraq, the U.S. military is overwhelmed. Since the fighting stopped the Armed Forces have lost over 100 personnel. But this time it is not car bombers or four year olds with grenade launchers that have the leaders of the world’s largest military scratching their heads. It is a group of soccer mom’s, corporate vice presidents, young celebrities, and men with overcompensation issues.
In the early hours of yesterday morning, a group of soldiers from the 3rd Infantry division stationed at an oil field near Al Basrah noticed something on the horizon.
“There was a cloud of dust to the north,” said Private Brian Hillsburg, a native of Tulsa Oklahoma. “We thought it was either a group of Iraqis fleeing the country or maybe a military vehicle bring us our shipment of mail, cigarettes, and this month’s “Girls of the Big Ten” issue of Playboy.”
Hillburg and his fellow soldiers heard what sounded like loud bass as the dust cloud moved closer. It soon became clear that the approaching dust cloud was being raised by a massive group of Sport Utility Vehicles.
“The first thing we saw was a Cadillac Escalade racing toward us,” explained Corporal Timothy Green. “It was blasting what I thought was “In Da Club” by 50 Cent. Private Hillsburg said it was “P.I.M.P. We argued for a few minutes, but when the SUV got close enough to hear the words it turned out he was right. I made him do 50 push ups.”
Within a few minutes the group of 100 soldiers guarding the oil field were surrounded by a group of 3000 Ford Expeditions, Chevy Blazers, Toyota 4Runners, H2s, and other SUVs of varying makes and sizes. The group was comprised of members of Sport Utility Vehicle Owners of America (SUVOA).
When contacted for comment the group’s Vice President of Events Andrew Spearman stated, “We’re tired of getting a bad rap for our choice of automobile. People are always saying SUV drivers guzzle gas, cause a lot of pollution, and hog the road. We wanted to do something to show we care about America. That’s why we gathered a group of SUV owners to capture that oil field. We’re going to sell the oil to Americans for half the normal price.”
The military personnel stationed at the oil field were caught off guard by the well-organized maneuver staged by the SUV owners.
“You really can never underestimate the organizational skills of PTA room moms. Anyone who can teach holiday arts and crafts to thirty snotty nosed second graders has a lot of the aptitude it takes to command and action of this sort,” commented Lt. Leon McNeal of the 3rd Infantry.
Mother of three and substitute teacher Mary Hendrickson explained her involvement in the take over, “The serious fighting ended over four months ago and we’ve yet to see a drop of cheap Iraqi oil in the U.S. Isn’t that the reason we fought this war in the first place? My Excursion only gets three miles to the gallon and I’ve got three kids to put through college.”
When asked for a comment General Frank Flack said, “Sure our humvees have machine guns mounted on them, but those H2s have 5 disc CD changers, a great sound system, leather interior, and about 36 cup holders. Ours don’t even have one.”
After the question was clarified the general said, “Well, we have to find a way to get them out of there without violence. We’ve been having discussions with many of the mother’s children and suggesting that they call their mothers and ask them to come home because they’ve gotten sick. So far responses have been mixed.”

Posted by dpetrella at 4:41 PM | Comments (2)

September 4, 2003

Birthmark (2/2003)

On her left temple
there is a small mark,
darker than her already
dark olive skin.

She hates it, I know.
A blemish
An imperfection
Detracting from
the beauty of her face.

It was one of the first things
I ever noticed about her.
That, and her Block I t-shirt.

To me it was beautiful.
It set her apart.
Separated her face from the rest.
It seemed to want to be kissed.

It is remarkably shaped like Illinois.
When she was young,
she said to her parents,
“It’s a good thing
I wasn’t born in Alaska.”

Maybe I’d be better off if she had.

Posted by dpetrella at 12:41 PM | Comments (0)

Saturday Night (9/2003: Rhet 146)

Friends near by
glass in hand
straw bent back.
Moving casually with the beat.
Eyes constantly wandering
hoping someone else’s
will meet mine.

So many beautiful faces.
All too good for me.
I tell myself all the time.
Yet I continue to look
until I’m drawn to one.
Something intrigues me,
her eyes, her smile…

Mustn’t look too long.
Have to look nonchalant.
What can I say?
Something more than “Hi.
What’s your name?
What’s your major?”
Something intersesting, memorable

Nothing comes to me.
Who am I kidding?
I’ll embarrass myself.
She’ll laugh and walk away.
I’ll feel worse than I already do.
What little confidence I have
will be completely gone.

Posted by dpetrella at 12:39 PM | Comments (0)