POST 40 Here We Are Now,,,,,,

nirvana…entertain us.


Did you read the scientific report, based on analytical data, that named Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as the most iconic song of all time?  Now I have nothing against the song. In fact, it is the ringtone for our son Michael on my cellphone, even though he hasn’t been a teenager for a dozen years. But I looked up the definition of an icon, and church images not withstanding, it means “a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol of something.” So this is the most representative symbol of music ever? Because of “analytical data”? As any SABREmatrician loving baseball fan will tell you, sometimes you just have to watch the game.

In the arts, agreeing on an icon of just about anything is a near impossible task. While it may be achievable for some one hit wonder novelty band (for example, the “Archies” will always be known for “Sugar, Sugar”)  I would think that the more successful a a particular artist is, the harder it would be to pick out the one piece that defines them. Take Frank Sinatra or the Beatles, Meryl Streep or Picasso. There is no way to agree on a single work that these artists will be eternally remembered for. Each evolved in their calling, tried on different shoes, never allowing one pair to get too comfortable. I thought  Bob Dylan might be an exception, that despite his lengthy career and varying styles, everyone would agree that “Like a Rolling Stone” was his masterpiece. But a quick Internet search turned up 10 “Best of Dylan” lists, with 10 different songs at number one.  And no mathematical formula to tell us which list is best!

So what does any of this have to do with building our house? Well, we drove through the sub-division last night, and discovered that Thorngate does have an icon. And it is…..the muntin. I can already hear some of you asking “What is a muntin?” Muntins, for the architecturally naive among you*, are the wood strips that separate the glass in a window into several smaller panes. They have been around since the 16th century, and if you live in Thorngate, you gotta have ’em on your windows. They are, and there is no other way to say it, iconic! So with the concordance of the holy trinity (Barb, our architect, and the Homeowners Review Committee), have ’em we will!

So a year from now, when I look out at a gray and rainy day like today, I will be looking past our muntins. And probably humming “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

Have a good weekend, all.

*don’t worry, before we started this project that included me.


POST 36 Sir or Madam….

beatles…..will you read my book.

Paperback Writer

The Beatles — 1966

If you are a young boy growing up in the 60’s in Chicago and you want to be a hockey player you idolize Hull and Mikita. If you dream of becoming a baseball All Star you either go to Wrigley to watch Ernie slug,  or you go to Comiskey to watch Little Luis field. Want to be in the movies?  You imitate cool Paul Newman or deadly Sean Connery. See a future as a newspaper columnist? You religiously read Holtzman and Bombeck. Wait, did he just say “Bombeck? Erma Bombeck??”

Anyone remember Erma? If you do, it is probably as a contributor to Good Morning America palling around with Joan Lunden and David Hartman. I never caught the show, being a loyal Today Show viewer, but Erma and I go way, way, back. In the 60’s Erma was a syndicated columnist whose “At Wit’s End” column appeared 3 or 4 times a week in the Chicago Sun-Times.  She was documenting the life of a suburban mom, a “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies,”  but with a little more bite. And this is what a city kid from Rogers Park wanted to read about? I must have been having visions of what my life would eventually become. Well not a suburban MOM exactly, but you know what I mean.

Certainly there were other columnists I could choose from. Jerome Holtzman was a sports writing legend. Art Buchwald pointed his finger at the odd doings in pre-Watergate Washington, D.C.  Mike Royko did the same for Chicago and the first Mayor Daley. And in contrast to Erma, Royko was always so ^&#$%^ angry. So I settled in with Mrs. Bombeck and learned about suburbia.

Instant karma’s going to get you. Barb and I, suburban parents and grandparents,  building our third home and hoping to keep a sense of humor about it. This week we are dealing with windows; picture windows are nice, but we want real windows that we can open to let a spring breeze in. We are hunting for  an exterior stone that won’t break the budget, either ours or the U.S. Treasury’s. The architect has sent a drawing entitled “Down spout other info.” If I post it here, maybe someone can tell me what all the “other info” is.

Sometimes it seems painful, but the house will get built. In the meantime, I will just keep posting to ease the pain. And wonder what Erma would have had to say about all this.

Have a great weekend.

POST 34 and Rhythm and Rhyme and Harmony…..

dobie…you’ve helped me along, makin’ me strong.

“Drift Away”, Dobie Gray, 1973

If you ask me, it is all about the rhythm. That doesn’t mean that I have a lot of it or that it comes naturally. A few years ago Barb and I took months of dance lessons from a very good dance instructor. I learned the mechanics well enough, right foot here, left foot there, give a little twirl. But when it came to Barb and I dancing the night away at Mike and Becca’s wedding, it took a drink or two before I felt the rhythm, making those steps feel natural.

Got to get the rhythm in sports too. I watched a few football games this weekend. Northwestern, trounced by Michigan, never had any rhythm at all. Every player seemed a step slow. In contrast,  the Bears played in sync on Sunday, even when trailing. They made some mistakes and had to fight hard to win the game, but they had a rhythmic flow about them, and even commented about it in post-game interviews.

In tennis, got to get that beat going. When I don’t have it, I  miss shot after shot, I am in the wrong place every time, I watch every  ground stroke whiz past me. But then, if it is one of the good days, the rhythm starts to flow. It starts with a song bouncing around in my head.  It might be a new song that I have just heard on the radio. Or maybe it is an old favorite from Bruce, or from Bono and the boys.  I start to hum along, and my game starts humming too. The play slows down for me. I feel like every incoming shot is guided to my racket, every lob I hit just kisses the edge of the base line. I gain  confidence at the net. My partner and I sync up, just like Torvill & Dean winning the gold. The feeling doesn’t last for long, and it doesn’t make up for my lack of skill, but it does remind me why I keep playing tennis.

Surprisingly, rhythm is part of writing too. Barb says she always recognizes anything that I have written, and I think that is because everyone writes with a rhythm as individual as a fingerprint.  It’s more than the word choices or the subject matter.  It’s the way the puzzle pieces fit together, different from how anyone else would have placed them. It is why a dialogue written by Aaron Sorkin or a song by Neil Diamond is so recognizable. When I write, I always try to be true to that rhythm in my head. Just as in tennis or dancing,  I don’t always hear or feel it easily. I have learned that it can take a lot of rewrites to say what I want to say in the way that I want to say it. Back in the pre-computer age when I was typing term papers on my manual typewriter, I would really grumble about those rewrites. Good thing I wasn’t trying to write blogs then too!

On the house front (didn’t think I would get to that, did you) we have gotten the go ahead from the Homeowners Association! A few changes required, some costly, some not, but nothing that will slow us down. Now it is the hands of the Village to get us permits before the first frost hits. Pick up the rhythm; pick up the pace.

A good week to all of you.

Oh give me the beat boy and free my soul..gotta get lost in your rock’n’roll

And drift away

POST 32 Teach…

csny…Your Children Well

Graham Nash/Crosby Stills Nash and Young

Deja Vu, 1970

The first email in my inbox this morning was from a former employee, telling me about her new career in environmental science. I got out my scalpel and cut another notch on the doorpost.

We hire a lot of young people here as laboratory assistants. Since we require a Bachelor’s Degree in a science field, but don’t pay a “scientist’s” salary most of our recruits have just earned their college diploma, are planning on grad school, and just guessing what their future careers will be. We know coming in that they won’t be long-timers here. I guess it can be considered a paid internship. While here, they transition from a college life style to the discipline of being at a job at 5:15 every morning.  They handle a wide and constantly growing set of duties. They learn to troubleshoot. And the best of them teach us a few things too.

I help these “kids” with grad school applications and am always pleased when down the road they ask me to be a reference for their first professional job application. The roster of careers our alumni have moved to is quite impressive. Our first lab hire is now a Masters trained Pathologist Assistant. Since then we have nurtured future physicians, nurses, pharmacists, nurse practitioners, research scientists,  and as of today, two environmentalists! Of course Barb and I are proud of our own kids, but I am also very proud of these young men and women. I hope to keep chopping notches in the door for a long time to come.

On to the music. A CSNY concert in the early ’70s is the first “real” concert I ever attended. I remember sitting in the very furthest reaches of the old Chicago Stadium. The marijuana smoke was so thick I could barely see the stage. The band sounded pretty good that night, but I don’t think they have aged very well.  David Crosby may be thriving since  his liver transplant, but can someone please create a voice transplant for Stephen Stills?

“What about the house?”, you ask. The pictures in the right column of the blog now include a rendering of the exterior, along with a comment from the architect. And Barb meets today with our interior designer. The house will only look as good as the things we put into it, but with Barb’s eye and taste, I think style and class are a given. I hope the designer can keep up with her!

As for tonight, even this unrepentant Sox fan can cheer on the Cubs. Any readers remember the “Go Go Cubs” buttons with Hebrew style lettering we sold back in the 60’s as a temple fundraiser? Wonder what one of those is worth today!

POST 31 Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind…

…you pick up on spoonfulone and leave the other behind.

The Lovin’ Spoonful — 1965

No looking back now. We crossed our Rubicon last week when we signed the “build” contract. Now all efforts are on moving forward. It really is a life changing decision. Just having made it is a relief, which is not to say there won’t be any doubts along the way! But it made me thinking about decisions that I have made, either with or without Barb, through the years. And since lists are always fun, and since I don’t have to compete with David Letterman any more, here we go.

Top Ten Decisions

10. Pushing the button: This blog is fun to write and hopefully fun to read too. But there is a button at the bottom of the WordPress app that reads “Publish.” The decision to press that button is never made lightly. Every word is read and reread. Does this say what I mean? Is there a better way to get a point a cross? Is it “who” or “whom”?

9. Go Go White Sox:  I remember when I was 5  years old being asked by my dad if I was a Cubs or White Sox fan. I have absolutely no idea how I made the decision, but for some reason I squeaked out “White Sox.”  More than fifty years later I have been able to celebrate one more World Championship than I would have if I had decided the other way. Of course, the next few years may easily change the balance of those scales. Despite my loyalty to the Pale Hose, I was not able to convince Michael to follow in my footsteps, as Sammy Sosa enticed him into becoming a Cub fan. At least we share a love of the 5-0, 13th ranked  NU ‘Cats!

8. Evanston vs. Champaign: Speaking of Northwestern, my college choice is still something I wonder about. For financial reasons, I could either go to University of Illinois in Champaign, or go to Northwestern and live at home. Northwestern won out, and I value the education I got there, but I do have regrets that I did not experience campus life. Who knows, I might even have met Barb a few years earlier and we could be closing in on our 40th anniversary! (More on that choice coming up.)

7. What do you want to do with your life?: Lots of science courses, and a few role models here and there, made the decision to go into medicine pretty straight forward. Journalism lost out, as did computer science. I still wonder what Silicon Valley might have held for me.

6. Really? Really?: My turning to Pathology caught a lot of people by surprise. Weren’t pathologists nerdy people who couldn’t talk to people and were most happy cutting things up in the hospital basement? Well, um yeah! Sign me up! Actually, it has been a great decision, allowing me to practice medicine and have a wonderful family life. I have always had time to be with Barb, to enjoy time with the kids, and to treasure being a grandpa.  No regrets on this one.

5.  Can I start a lab?:  Hard to believe that it is more than 10 years since my career changed dramatically as I left hospital pathology to create a laboratory for UroPartners. Many factors influenced that decision, and a lot of sleepless nights (actually sleepless months) followed, but I am very proud of what we have here. Each step, from layout, to hiring, to getting up and running brought new challenges, but I have to say that we are looking good!

4. The Sandwich Generation: While we parent our children, we reach the point where we parent our parents as well. The decision to insist that my mother and her sister relocate to a senior living home was a distressful one for them, but it was necessary and provided each of them with several years in the appropriate environment. This was a big one, and one that I could never have accomplished without Barb’s help. She really dug in and got it done.

3. The middle school is losing its lease, something has to be done!: This one probably had more unforeseen consequences than any other. Twenty six years ago the grammar school district was creating an advisory committee — community members needed to help make a decision about building a new school. Volunteering for that committee led to a cascade of events culminating in 16 years on the Stevenson High School Board of Education, 6 years as Board President, the proud moments of winning numerous awards, and the even prouder moments of presenting both Laury and Michael with their diplomas. And wonderful connections with people who inspire me still, connections that developed well before the time of  LinkedIn.

2. Riveredance!!!  (oops, I mean Riverwoods!!!): Yes, this new home is a big decision. But I know it is a good one.

And the number one big decision: Ok, this is obvious. Asking Barb to marry me has been the best decision I ever made. Except,,,,I didn’t ask her, she asked me!  But I was the one who asked Barb out for our first date (polo and pizza) and got the ball rolling, so I will consider this my decision. For all our years, thanks, Babe.


Since we started with a Lovin’ Spoonful song I will end with my favorite.

Can you guess what it will be?  Click and find out.

POST 30 Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha! You Can’t Fool Me ….

marx….. There ain’t no Sanity Clause!

Fiorello (Chico Marx)–A Night at the Opera, 1935

Pop the cork and pour the champagne, Wednesday night it finally happened. Picture the moment. Barb and I stare down the builder and architect, eye to eye and face to face. We pull out our pens, they pull out their pens. A last moment of hesitation. Finally, we all sign on the dotted lines. Shazam! We have a contract to build our semi-jumbo-downsizer.

Of note, unlike the iconic bargaining scene between producer Groucho and agent Chico, our negotiations did not consist of cutting and cutting and cutting (on either the house OR the contract.) The original document presented by the builder ran 17 pages. Then we added 2 pages of specifications and 6 pages of drawings that all needed to be referenced. Finally our attorney protected us with 43 numbered clarifications and additional points. I am surprised there ISN’T a reference to Santa Clause, or the Easter Bunny for that matter.

So are we pleased with the product of all our work? I think so. We managed to keep all the spaces we wanted, though some are a bit tighter than we had hoped. We tend to live in the kitchen, and the new one will be designed for  both our daily needs and  for all the guests who like to hang out with Barb when  she prepares for a dinner party. There are enough bedrooms and playrooms, AND space for a first floor litter box for Princess, Kitten, Phoebe.

Now the plans are off to the Homeowners Association Architectural Board for their review and approval. No one seems to know quite how long this will take, and if any revisions will be necessary. So far, all the Board has asked is that we keep the “lawn” mowed. I like easy requirements! After the Homeowners agree that we are in compliance with their dreaded monotony code (yawn) it will be the Village’s turn to sift through the plans and give the final go ahead. At least we don’t need state approval. I suspect Illinois hasn’t been paying many of its inspectors lately!

Who has a favorite “home” song? Now that things are moving along I am working on a mix tape to play at next years move in open house celebration,  to which you are of course all invited. I’ll start with Crosby Stills and Nash’s “Our House.” What comes next? Leave your suggestions in the Comment box.

Have a great weekend everyone.

“……there is always a schmuck with a pen.”—A. Simon, circa 1988

POST 29 Truckin, I’m a Goin’ Home….

truckin…whoa oh baby, back where I belong.

Grateful Dead-1970

A pharmaceutical company provided the laboratory and business office with breakfast via a  food truck this morning. Lots of great looking pancake combos on the menu, but I opted for the overly sweet “healthy” choice of the yogurt- granola-  fruit parfait. Healthy–right, who am I kidding! At least it gave me enough energy to write a blog post, and led to an obvious opening line to boot.

As far as “goin’ home,” is concerned, yesterday we took a break from the design process. Barb and I spent part of the evening at a joyous celebration,  a “brit milah” or ritual circumcision. Mazel Tov to the baby’s family, particularly the  grandma,  a fellow pathologist and theater lover. She and I have plans to co-write a musical set in a morgue. If you don’t subscribe to Variety, just read future installments of this blog to know when the show makes its off-off Broadway debut. I will have free tickets for all our readers.

This morning the house project got back on track. AT 7 a.m. we received a revised set of exterior drawings from the architect,  and a meeting with the him and the builder is scheduled for this evening. One thing that I have had difficulties with is taking the two dimensional drawings and translating them in my head into a full widescreen 3D rendition.  It is hard for me to look at the outside elevations and recognize what will be in the foreground and what will recede and how the various roof lines will interact. Fortunately, Barb has a good grasp of the spatial arrangements, and has even lent the architect a guiding hand. So  with enough Keurig K-Cups and a fresh cinnamon coffee cake to keep everyone comfortably buzzed, I think might finally get to the starting line tonight, and maybe, maybe, catch a glimmer of the finish line in the distant haze.  Barb and I will have to be The Marathon Men. Better that than being The Mad Men, a designation I believe I have heard from some of you!

Time to wrap this up, as I just noticed that the leftover pancakes were delivered to our break room. Got to get some while they are still warm. No gluten issues here. Dine on!

gdSometimes the lights all shinin’ on me

Other times I can barely see

Lately it occurs to me

What a long, strange trip its been!

POST 28 There Ought to be Clowns…..

sondheim….well maybe next year.

Stephen Sondheim, A Little Night Music

With Barb and a friend in  New York City this weekend,  I had an opportunity to do some multi-tasking. So while watching the 4-0 NU Wildcats squeak out a victory over a very determined Ball Stat team  I was was also noodling around with my new (thank you UroPartners) tablet. I downloaded the HBO Go Ap and looked for something to stream.

I scrolled through the HBO Documentary section and came across a 2013 film called  “Six by Sondheim.” Those of you who know me well are aware that I am a Broadway Baby, with my list of favorite musicals, organized alphabetically and by decade. We have given spirited renditions of a few Broadway tunes on our baseball buddy trips. But I don’t think you will find much Sondheim on my Must See/Must Sing list. Sondheim doesn’t write many “typical” musicals. He tackles topics such as men who kill Presidents (Assassins, a big flop) and barbers who kill men (Sweeney Todd, a big hit.)

I like the way this doc was put together. It contained almost no new material. Instead, the film makers spliced together bits and pieces of 12 or 15 previous Sondheim television interviews spanning 50 years of his career, taking him from an up and comer to an honored veteran. This was interspersed with new performances of a six of his compositions. The best of these pieces started with a dozen YouTube clips of everyone from Collins (Judy) to Sinatra (Frank) to Streisand (Barbra) singing Send in the Clowns. This segued into an amazing rendition of the song by Audra McDonald. All I can say is that if you don’t know Audra McDonald, you should.

So does any of this have anything to do with our home building project? I guess what  learned while watching was the degree of collaboration, the multitude of moving parts, that need to come together for a successful Broadway show. It will be the same for our new house. The architect can write the music, the builder can pen the words, the decorator can be the set designer, and Barb and I can play the leading roles. I can already see Neil Patrick Harris handing us our Tonys….

In closing, we are quickly approaching our 30th post. Don’t you all think it is time for Barb to write one? If you believe Barb should write a post, clap your hands. No tinkwait, I can’t hear you. If you believe Barb should write a post, answer the poll below, or if you are on a site that doesn’t show the poll, send me an email at I bet that if we get 50 or more positive responses, I will be able to convince Barb you really want to hear from her.



POST 27 When You Come to the Fork in the Road…..

…TAKE IT! yogiAttributed to Lawrence Peter (Yogi) Berra 1925-2015.

Not a music quote today. Instead, we honor the recently passed Hall of Fame ballplayer and travel down a couple of forked roads.

The path to Riverwoods continues to gain momentum, although we are still not under contract. I think next week will be the “point of no return,” and I cannot conceive of anything that will keep us from going forward. I suspect (hope?) the next few months  will be filled with visions of foundation (concrete), insulation (pink), and countertops (marble redux?) This should be the fun part, though I am sure there will be stress and tempers and unprintables. Well, at least we are experienced with all that, aren’t we, Mr. Bank Officer!

My other fork today? What to do with this blog. Any of you reading from the beginning know that the origins were in the off-hand remark of a former boss of Barb’s. “Why not document building the house in a blog. Share it with your friends.” Barb passed that on to me, and here we are, 27 posts later. Along the way, we have covered a lot of ephemera, a lot of riff-raff. Housebuilding? Not so much. But I have had a blast, and have qvelled (y’all know that word, right?) at some of the comments.

Anyway, ChicagoNow, a subsidiary of Tribune Publications, was taking “pitches” to run blogs on their website.  It would mean a little more exposure, maybe some more readers, and potentially  some revenue. I spent a lot of time speaking with the manager of the site, as well as some of the other writers  who have brought their work to ChicagoNow. I was sorely tempted, but it would have meant turning blogging into a part-time job, with a need for posts on a very regular basis. Since I have committed to  house building as my part-time job for the next year, I have decided to leave downsizemaybe right here on WordPress where it was conceived and born. I know it is a decision Barb prefers as well. Of course I would love to increase readership, so as I keep blogging you can always feel free to like, share and spread the word, be it on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or at your dining room table. We have had readers from  10 or 12 different countries and four continents, but that leaves plenty more. And as always, after you are done reading, leave a comment or say hi!

I think I can find a closing song after all.

Another turning point a fork stuck in the road. Time grabs you by the wrist directs you wear to go……green day

….I hope you had the time of your life.

POST 26 I Can Call you Betty, And Betty When You Call Me…

paul simon –Paul Simon, the Graceland album, 1986.

The timing was just right. While Barb and I wait for the final drawings, and consult with our attorney on the building contract, I enjoyed  the previously advertised baseball buddy trip. Having the attorney along as one of my traveling companions was just an added benefit.

We had a great time, catching a near perfect gem of a baseball game, visiting the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village complex outside Detroit, and eating at two  Michigan restaurant renowned in the Raff household, Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor and Redamak’s Tavern in New Buffalo. I haven’t had a chance to write any Yelp! reviews, but if you head for Zingerman’s, just close your eyes and hand over your wallet to the cashier!

But as always on these trips, it was the conversation and the camaraderie that made the miles and days zoom by.  As we told our stories for the second or third time, I recognized all the old nicknames. Now I have never had a nickname. I don’t think Barb ever has either, though nicknaming seems less common in women. So I got to thinking, what kind of person gets a  nickname and who spends their lives as “Les”, or in worst case scenarios, “Lester.” My observations:

If you were the wide receiver in all the grammar school pick-up football games, you get a nickname. If you were the holder for place kicks, you don’t.

If you were a wild and crazy guy in your college fraternity, you get cool wooden paddles with your secret nickname. If you lived at home for college and worked at the Jewel, you get a plastic laminated name tag with you first initial, last name and a red X because you aren’t old enough to sell liquor.

If you were called “Rock and Roll’s future” when you were 25 years old, you get called “The Boss.” If the dog howls when you sing in the shower, you get called the hot water waster.

If you are on a bowling team, your bowling shirt has your nickname. If you play mixed doubles tennis, your tennis shirt doesn’t even have your real name, unless your name is Wilson, or even more troubling, Prince.

If you are a  pawnbroker or duck hunter on a TV reality show, you get an authentic redneck nickname. If you are on Jeopardy!, Alex Trebek uses your real name, as in “Wrong again, Les”.

If you are a hot shot  surgeon, you get a nickname from the nurses. If you are a pathologist, no one can remember your name.

So my challenge between now and the time the house gets built is to do something worthy of earning a nickname. I will keep trying, but in the meantime, you can call me Al!