The Antique Crutch

(A repeat from November 7, 2011)

Shortly after Donna and I were married, we took a drive out to Western Illinois. We stopped at an antique shop outside of a small town. After wandering around – and finding nothing – we strolled outside and headed to the car. Suddenly we heard shouts and yells from the store. The door banged open and a man – running – burst out covering his head. He was being chased and pummeled by another man with an antique crutch(!!). Whack! Whack!

Having no clue what to do – if anything – I pointed and yelled “YOU’RE UNDER ARREST!” The two stopped – one in mid-swing – and turned toward me. Like deer in the headlights. I yelled and pointed “YOU – OVER THERE. AND YOU – OVER THERE.” The two parted and began babbling animatedly – and angrily – what the other had done (“he was. . . .” “no you were. . . .”). A woman came out on the porch of a house – I pointed at her and yelled “YOU – CALL THE POLICE.” She immediately popped back into the house. The two men continued to explain whatever the issue was. But I sensed they were starting to wonder – “who is this guy?”

After a few minutes, and off in the distance, I saw a police car – emergency lights flickering – speeding down the road. Under my breath I hissed to Donna “get in the car.” She did. And I calmly walked to the car got in and we drove away – just as the police car pulled into the driveway. I really had zero curiosity about staying – to find out how it all turned out.

Peggy Noonan

[Correction (my first ever) – In my last post, I suggested that Sweden’s decision to remain “open” did not result in significant adverse reaction.  That is incorrect.  Sweden has a higher death rate percentage-wise than other countries that have “closed.”  Covid stats are available at ]   Now . . . .  

I enjoy reading Peggy Noonan’s columns on Saturday in The Wall Street Journal.  She is always incisive and smart in her offerings.  Her column today (4/25-26/20) inspires me to provide some of her salient observations.

What will hurt us is secretly rooting for disaster for those who don’t share our priors.  Everyone is trying to live.  It doesn’t help to be a Northerner who looks down on Southerners, or a securely employed professional . . . who has no clue what it means when a small-town business crashes.  People who can work remotely probably don’t feel the same urgency to reopen as those who must be physically present, in retail and at diner counters.  

Conspiracy nuts who think the virus was a hoax to bring down Donald Trump will always be with us.  So will grim leftists who take pleasure in every death of a guy who called the threat overblown. . . . 

We forget we are 50 different states with different histories, ways and attitudes, even different cultures.  New Jersey isn’t Wyoming; Colorado isn’t Arkansas.  This used to be called ‘regional differences.’  We can’t tamp them all down, and we don’t want to.   So people will do things at different speeds in different ways.  The thing is to watch, judge fairly and move to countermand what proves dangerous.”  

Wise counsel.  There are good people on both sides of the Covid-19 issue.  And religion.  And politics. . . . .


The Renaissance Hombre’s Questions about Covid-19

China (and Russia) have laboratories which study and generate biological weapons.  Might something have gotten loose?

The issue has become heavily politicized.  Is the Coronavirus pandemic being overplayed by politicians?  The media?     

Why are businesses designated “essential” or “non essential” to determine if they can open?  Why not “safe” and “risky”?  And simply encourage social distancing.  I mean parks?  Golf courses?  

Plaintiff’s lawyers (one of nature’s lowest life forms) are lining up to capitalize on the pain of the Coronavirus.  Targeting everyone in sight.  Should these efforts be disallowed from the get go? 

Trump was criticized for saying he had authority to make the decision on reopening.  Then he was criticized for saying governors can decide.  Regardless of one’s stripe, should politics stay out of this dilemma?   Trump is a jerk; Democrats are evil; and Republicans are stupid.   There.  Now can we get back to work?  And put politics aside?    

Should we allow states and even municipalities to reopen when they want?  Given that each area has its own unique affect, contagion and demographics?  Sweden – which has not closed anything so far – fares better than everywhere else. 

Jim Cramer on “Mad Money” (CNBC) said we are fast approaching an economic tipping point (a la Malcolm Gladwell).  He warned of what happened to Europe in the 1920’s (depression, unemployment, famine, etc.).  It could happen here.  Does this risk outweigh the reward of ongoing incarceration of citizens?    

Movement, financial incentive and activity have been stifled.  Some in government are giddy over the prospects of continuing and increasing heavy regulation, control and domination.  Do we want this? 

You tell me. . . . . 


Old Dutch Grape Juice

[A repeat from December 11, 2016]  When I was a State’s Attorney at 26th & California, Friday lunches and dinner when a jury was “out” were usually enjoyed away from the Criminal Court Building.  States Attorneys, Public Defenders, judges, police officers and politicians would head over to the wonderful enclave of Italian restaurants at 23rd and Oakley.       

Those were the days. Marconi’s. La Fontanella. Febo’s. Toscana Bakery. And others. All offering wonderful fish, meat and pasta dishes.  A commodity sadly lacking from the menu of one restaurant was wine. Vino rosso. The restaurant did not have a liquor license and thus could not – technically – sell wine (or other alcoholic beverages).

 But as stated on Febo’s menu – Un pranzo senza vino, e come un giorno senza sole (a day without wine is like a day without sunshine). So, to remedy the situation, this restaurant offered “Old Dutch grape juice.”  Yep.  If you wanted a glass of wine with lunch or dinner, you would look at the waitress and say “I will have some Old Dutch grape juice.”  The waitress would nod.  And disappear into the kitchen.  She’d fill an Old Dutch grape juice bottle to the brim.  With superb red wine from a keg in back. 

Now you’re probably asking if they ever got in trouble – no liquor license and all.  Answer?  Never.  Not with police, judges, lawyers and even Alderman (and occasionally the Mayor – Richard J. Daley who I saw on two occasions) all sitting there – asking for “Old Dutch grape juice” (har har hardy har har).  Toward the end of my stretch – the restaurant did get a liquor license.  But they still served Old Dutch.  For old time’s sake . . . .    

Hunkered Down

Donna and I are “hunkered down” — like everyone else.   Our daily protocol has included sleeping in, drinking that 3d or 4th cup of coffee, doing Sudoku puzzles (Scott), bridge columns (Donna), taking looooong walks (3 plus miles/10,000 steps), ordering dinner two or three times a week from small local restaurants (that we want to survive), ordering food to be delivered from Instacart [though just between us, I have on occasion gone . . . . never mind] and we are being creative in our meal selection on other days.   While neither of us watch much in the way of television, we do watch the “Nightly News” on NBC and we are into the fifth season of “A French Village” — a depressing but historical Netflix offering on Occupied France during World War II.  

I continue to work remotely (and frankly, work has slowed).   I’ve gone to the office on a few occasions though Donna urges – I kid you not – that I take off my clothes in the garage when I get home (to be promptly washed).  I then scramble up the stairs for my second shower of the day.  Yeah – you could sell seats for that. . . . .    

Neither of us have gained weight.  We enjoy occasional vino with dinner though I have been knocking back Diet Coke (a beverage I swore off many years ago).  We continue to have things to talk about.   I’m growing a mustache (I’m often mistaken for Brad Pitt when we go for walks).  I play my guitar and sing while Donna swoons, applauds and yells “Encore!  Encore!  But the big “minus” is not being able to hang out with our granddaughters.  We see them, blow kisses and high five through the glass door, wave, talk and FaceTime.  I write them a letter every day – with my hand-drawn cartoons.  But it just ain’t the same.   

A Prayer

I’ve been walking to the train station every weekday for 40 years. As I walk, I don’t listen to music. Or books on tape. I ponder the day ahead.   Plan.  Think.  And I normally say a prayer. Over the years, the words have evolved a bit – but it is always the same in tone and tenor.  

Lord – thank you for this day.  Forgive my sins and hear my prayer. I pray Lord that you will bless this world and your children who live in it.  I ask you to help, heal, comfort, feed and defend the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the sick, the dying, those who are victims of abuse, hatred and violence, those who are lonely and depressed, those who are disabled and disfigured, those who can’t hear, those who can’t see, those who have MS or are paralyzed, those who suffer.

Speak to each one of us Lord and remind us of your presence, your Divinity and your Holy Word.  

Speak to me Lord and let me know how to use my time for the greatest good.  Guide me, lead me, push me – but whatever you do use me to Thy service. 

Bless my family.  Bless them all with health, safety, happiness, wisdom and faith in You.  Help our grandchildren to grow up straight, strong and good.  Let them love and be loved.   And let them be remembered for their contributions to this world, to thy Kingdom, to their families and to humanity.   Amen.  

And then I add a few words for friends and relatives who are ill or struggling.  I don’t need a script for this.  It’s hardwired.   We all deal with challenges, stress and now a pandemic that knows no bounds.  At this holy time of year, perhaps some of the words above can be used – and give comfort.    

The Seder

[A timely repeat at this special time of year]  Years ago, I was asked to teach Sunday School at our church.  A September to May obligation.  I said “sure” and was promptly given the 6th grade class.  We had a textbook which I was to use religiously (no pun intended).   But I have to confess that from the beginning I often ad libbed.  Uh oh – Petersen is going rogue . . . . .

While I stayed with the basics of the curriculum, I took liberty to discuss relevant questions within the context of the day’s chapter.  And I would bring in occasional people and things to enhance the one hour class.  The most memorable improv was when I conducted a Seder at the time of Passover.  I enlisted the help of two Jewish friends for guidance.   One gave me the blue Haggadah (the order of the Seder) which was in English and in Hebrew (I still have it).  And both tutored me in this solemn ritual.  They wanted to make sure I had the protocol down to a tev (or “t”).

Donna helped prepare the kosher meal.  And I set the table in the 6th grade area.  Plates, platters and potables (grape juice instead of wine).   Then the students began to arrive.  They looked around like – whoa! Mister Petersen is off the grid.  And they sat down – and I began with an explanation of Passover.  And the Seder.  And its significance.  And a Passover prayer.  The hour went quickly.  Elijah made his obligatory appearance.  The food was consumed.  And I did the cleanup.  I guess I did okay because the next year I was asked to continue teaching 6th grade Sunday School.  I did so until finally one year I said “no mas.”   

Fast forward twenty plus years.  The Sunday School Seder was long forgotten.  Until we saw some old friends from church.  And their son Eric.  He walked right up to me “hello Mister Petersen!”  And he immediately began to bubble about the Seder being the most memorable time of his Sunday School career.  Gosh.  Kinda makes me wish I hadn’t said “no mas.”      

My Grandmother

My grandmother – Ruth – would occasionally speak of the Great Depression – an agonizing time when unemployment skyrocketed and nearly everyone had financial problems. She said that periodically there would be a knock at the door. And a man would be standing there wearing coat and tie – with his “hat in hand.” Or it might be a lady in a dress.  “Ma’am, I’m just wondering if you have any food that you can spare.”

My grandparents did not have much.  But they went to Church every Sunday and they believed in charity — however small.  My grandfather – Frank – volunteered his time and scarce dollars to the venerable Pacific Garden Mission in downtown Chicago while my grandmother was busy raising three children.  But Grandma said that she would always answer that knock on the door.  She would tell the stranger to wait.  She would go to the kitchen, take a slice of bread and smear it with butter. Then sprinkle it with sugar. She would put it in a paper bag with an apple (if she had any) and give it to the grateful stranger.

We are going through unprecedented times. Many economists say that we are entering a recession. Some say it could be worse. . . .  Regardless of our means, I tend to think that each one of us will be receiving a “knock on the door.”  Whether from a charitable or religious organization, a family member or from a stranger.  The question is – will we answer the door. . . . ?   

So this little old lady. . . .

[I need a smile.  Here’s a chuckle from May 4, 2016]

So this little old lady is working in a hardware store. She is dusting and cleaning and fussing. In walks a large workman wearing bib overalls and high-top boots.
She smiles “Can I help you?”
Lady, I need to buy a file.”
She puts her hands together “Oh my – we have all sorts of files.” She turns and points to the array of tools.  “We have these.  And these.  And these. . . . .”
I really need a bastard file,” he says.

The little old lady puts her hand to her mouth and runs to the manager. She glares sternly and points “that man used a bad word in front of me.  He said he wanted a ‘bastard’ file.”
The manager smiled and said “it’s not a bad word. There are wood files and metal files and a ‘bastard’ file is actually a type of file for metalworking [this is true]. Why not go back and sell him the file.”
So she did.

A few days later another big workman came in. He said “Ma’am, I need a file.”
She smiled and held one up. “Would you like this bastard here?”
“No” he thought. “I’ll take that SOB* over there. . . . ”                             

*This term is subject to personal preference