Friday, August 29, 2014

Absence Makes the Heart . . .

The geezer never has been much of a fan of poetry, and a few attempts to write in that format have ended in dismal failure. Over the past year of so, however, I've been delighted almost daily by the creations of Marc Leavitt, who posts his work at

Marc occasionally puts together a lengthy work. I enjoy those, but prefer his briefer offerings. He has a gift for conveying a big message in a little poem.

My beautiful wife Sandy has been away for several weeks visiting friends and relatives in Wisconsin. These trips have been an annual event for a long time. Lake Michigan waters permitting, she'll be back in our Michigan home in two days, just in time to celebrate our 53rd wedding anniversary. 

Inspired by Mr. Leavitt and the impending occasion and despite my numerous previous failures, I've decided to go for it. I hereby publish my first (and perhaps only) poem:

            Your trip was barely under way
            When life here ceased to be OK
            How many times must I learn
            When you are gone
            I soon yearn for your return

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

"Don't Do Stupid" Ain't Stupid

The usual chorus of President Obama detractors got a boost from an unusual source recently. Fellow Democratic Party leader and presidential candidate in waiting, Hillary Rodham Clinton, attacked Mr. Obama's foreign policy on the grounds it is a non-policy.

The president's policy earlier got a strange name. Staffers leaked the news that inner circles have taken to defining it as, "Don't do stupid shit." For the more sensitive masses, the policy is being redefined as, "Don't do stupid stuff."

Ms. Clinton said "Don't do stupid" is not an organizing principle, and great nations need organizing principles worthy of their leadership role. I beg to differ. Ms. Clinton, in my opinion, did an acceptable job as secretary of state, but she got this one wrong.
If you win, please don't do stupid stuff, Ms. Clinton (Wikipedia)

It's about time a U.S. president decided to set aside lofty rhetoric smacking of egotistical American "exceptionalism" and adopted a realistic foreign policy standard. Remember how we fought  to "Make the world safe for democracy" and not may years later to establish the "Four Freedoms" on the planet? How are those types of policy statements working for us lately?  

We could make "Don't do stupid" prettier, of course. Something like, "Carefully analyze every foreign conflict and intervene only when it is clearly in our national interest" says the same thing, and obviously states what President Obama tries to do, but certainly there's nothing catchy about it. In this case, I like the negative "don't do" better than the positive "do." For one thing, it's more fun.

Mr. Obama, with Ms. Clinton as a top foreign policy advisor, has made some boo boos, as all presidents have. A recent one was prematurely declaring, "It's time for Assad to go." He forgot that Goldilocks could be leading Syria and it would have little effect on American interests. He also forgot that displacing strong dictators in the Muslim world often creates chaos. Is that part of the world more tranquil now than it was when Saddam ruled Iraq with an iron fist? Hardly. How's the serenity index looking in Libya nowadays?

We did what was in our interest in Syria. With Russian cooperation and good work by our more usual allies Assad's weapons of mass destruction--lethal poison gases--a true threat to the world and thus us, have been destroyed. We finally did what was in our interest in Iraq--we got out. We're back now in a limited way, a far cry from the days when we invaded the place with massive force over a pretext. 

Soon we'll be out of Afghanistan, leaving the kids to fight it out in their sandbox as they always have. In a strange turn of events, Assad may become part of a new coalition including the U.S. to help stabilize the Middle East. Things might actually work out well for a change now that the horrifically bad guys have come out of their closets and staked out some territory where the good people can shoot and bomb the crap out of them.

"Don't do stupid stuff" has saved a lot of American lives, and quite a bit of cash we can use to better advantage elsewhere. The policy isn't a return to isolationism. It's simply a venture into reality.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Golf for the Footloose

Our Lake Doster Golf Course has come up with a new ploy to increase play. Every Sunday afternoon, half the layout is available for a different kind of game. Players need only bring a soccer ball and their feet. They kick their ball around the course much as normal golfers move their small ball around with clubs.

We've lived in homes adjacent to fairways for 35 years, a long time to observe golfers in action. A few of them should be great Footgolf players. They've had lots of practice kicking their ball into an improved position when they thought no one was watching.

Beautiful wife Sandy for several years got special chuckles observing an older man who played the course by himself very early in the morning. He would look around to ensure he was alone, and then drop a ball down the inside of his pants leg into a good spot for his next shot. If it wasn't just right, he improved the lie with a foot nudge or two.

Of course, Footgolf hadn't been invented when the old duffer entertained Sandy by practicing cheating. He would have to wear extremely baggy trousers to be able to drop a soccer ball down one leg. But he might be a champion foot nudger.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Old Beer Drinkers Just Fade . . .

Being able to "hold your beer" in Wisconsin, land of many breweries, when I was a teenager was a badge of honor. That meant you could down quite a few lagers, the only beer readily available in most places, and act as though you were cold sober.

"Quite a few" was a bunch when an eight-ounce glass from the tap cost a dime. A dollar financed a fairly long night out at a beer bar. The legal drinking age was 18 back then, but it wasn't difficult to find bar owners who weren't at all concerned about winking at a fake draft card altered to prove a 15- or 16-year-old was really 18 or 19. Sometimes, they just took your word for it. Pete Zemlis served me my first beer at his Half Moon Lodge near Tomahawk, Wisconsin, when I was 14.

Practice may well make perfect in the beer guzzling world. By the time my real 18th birthday came around, I could walk a straight line after downing seven or eight short (eight ounce) beers. Later, I held my own at several bars during Mexican vacations at a level that would have made Jimmy Buffett proud.

I took to drinking dark ales, which had much more robust taste than the pale lagers. Ales also had slightly higher alcohol contents. I could no longer drain as many glasses without major consequences, but I still liked to think I was pretty good at "holding my ale."

Along with other things that faded with advanced age, my beer and ale capacity declined considerably. I retreated from dark ales back to light lagers. Even then, two beers became my limit. Perhaps that was good, because now I get full well before I get loaded.
Three Two Hearteds are two too many for me!
Nevertheless, there is room for adventure at any age. I began to take notice of "Two Hearted Ale," an India Pale Ale produced by Bell Brewery, a local brewer in our area. A newspaper article pointed out that the Beer Advocate Society gave Two Hearted a 95 rating, which translates to "world class." Another rating agency called it "outstanding." Yet another group concerned with such things announced Two Hearted Ale was the best beer in the world. After seeing that claim, I just had to try the stuff.

About then, the brewer announced that Two Hearted was being made available in cans for the first time. I found a four-pack, just enough for a trial drink or two, at the local supermarket. My son was coming over for a meal, and I thought two cans for him and two for me would be just right.

Each can held 16 ounces, four more than the usual amount. The ale tasted great, but I  barely made it through one can. A check of the label showed Two Hearted had an alcohol content of 7 percent. No wonder all those raters gave it such outrageously high marks; they probably quaffed one small glass and experienced what happens late at night to many tavern patrons when all the girls suddenly are beautiful.

Incidentally, the ale is named after the Two Hearted River in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. That probably is of little or no significance, but it's the kind of thing one might ponder after downing a couple.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Sign Writers Wanted?

If only one stone is loose, wouldn't it make more sense to pick it up rather than putting up a sign?

This sort of thing, however, does point out a possible opportunity.With a continuing tight job market for English majors and journalists, the  unemployed might do well to check with organizations such as the Michigan Department of Transportation. They might consider upgrading their writing staffs. 

Friday, August 01, 2014

Progress in Packerland

Jumbotrons hadn't been invented when I first saw the Packers' stadium in 1957.

By luck of the draw, in 1957 I occupied a seat high in the stands on the 40-yard line at Lambeau Field (it was known as New City Stadium then) when the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears played the first game in what television announcers now are fond of calling "that historic stadium."

I was working at my first full-time job as city editor of the De Pere Journal-Democrat. Although as a weekly newspaper, we were the smallest of the media in the Green Bay area and didn't attempt to cover professional sports, the Packers sent us two season tickets. We drew straws to see who would get to use the comps for which games. I drew the long straw for the opener. I returned for a tour last week.

Professional football in Green Bay was not prospering in the 1950s. After 37 years in the National Football League, six of them championship seasons, the franchise was in trouble. The team was on a losing streak that started in the late 40s. In 1950, a stock sale was needed to raise $118,000, basically to keep meeting operating expenses. City Stadium, which the Packers shared with East High School, had become completely inadequate as a pro football venue. The Packers compensated by playing half their home schedule, three games, in Milwaukee where they could seat more paying spectators. NFL club owners threatened to force a move of the franchise to Milwaukee unless a new stadium was built in the club's home city.

Green Bay residents in 1956 voted to finance a new stadium. The city bought farmland in the nearby Village of Ashwaubenon as a site. New City Stadium was built in less than a year. It was the first modern stadium designed exclusively for professional football. Many other NFL teams at the time played in stadiums built for baseball, and some strange configurations and seats with poor views resulted when 100-yard playing fields were laid out over the diamonds and outfields.

The new Green Bay structure was renamed Lambeau Field in 1965 shortly after the death of E. L. "Curly" Lambeau, the team's cofounder and long-time coach. When I first saw it in 1957, there wasn't a bad seat in the place. It was a perfectly symmetrical oval, although one end zone was open and the other had only a few rows of seats. No one had to peer around posts or watch the game from a nook or cranny with their view partially obscured.  The Packers' home field was a great place to watch football, and it still is. Initially, the stadium seated 32,150. People were amazed that a city of 50,000 would support a sports structure that big.
Our tour group traveled way up to view the big picture.

When I revisited the place with our son Lee last week, more than a half century after opening day, many expansions and major renovations had altered Lambeau Field. The most recent, a huge $295 million project, was getting a few finishing touches. The good features of the original structure were intact, but a whole lot of improvements were in place. The seating capacity had been increased to 80,978, second highest of the 31 NFL stadiums (two New York teams share a stadium). Some people are amazed that a city whose population now is 104,868 supports a sports structure that big.

Packers fan support is legendary. Every game since 1960 at Lambeau Field has been sold out. At the moment, more than 105,000 are on the waiting list to buy a season ticket (yes, that is several hundred more than Green Bay's population). Only about 100 season tickets are not renewed each year. So if you got on the waiting list right now, you could expect your chance to buy a ticket to arrive in about 955 years. One might think the Packers would be eager to cash in on that kind of demand, but they keep the faith with their fans. Ticket prices are average for the NFL, 17th in the 32-team league.

One of the good things present last week that wasn't there in 1957 was our tour guide, Dave Devenport.  Dave and I attended the same high school in northern Wisconsin. We were teammates on the school baseball team, and also played together one summer as teenage boys with and against men in our county baseball league. That's all our athletic backgrounds have in common.
Old teammates reunite. Dave is the good-looking one.
Dave was a star performer in baseball, basketball, and football, the only sports our school offered. He earned multiple MVP, Captain, and All-Conference honors. Dave played football and baseball at the University of Wisconsin--Stevens Point before transferring to the UW flagship campus at Madison to join the Badgers' football program. Unfortunately, a knee injury prematurely ended his athletic career. 

Dave is a member of the Athletic Hall of Fame in our hometown. The only way I'll get into a hall of fame is to buy a ticket! I fully intend to do that next year at Lambeau Field (see photo at the end of this post).

Our tour guide added to his football knowledge in years of observing the Packers scene. He worked his way up in a 35-year career at the Green Bay Press-Gazette, as a reporter, state and city editor, sportswriter, and finally news editor. Along the way, Dave served as a NFL statistician for the Packers for 23 years.  He comes fully equipped with a lot of interesting Packers stories and reliable numbers. Our tour with Dave and his genial partner guide, Grant Turner, was entertaining and informative. It should have been; Dave has been guiding tours at Lambeau for 15 years and Grant has been at it 18 years.

A tour starts at Lambeau every half-hour from 10:15 a.m. to 4 p.m. most days throughout the year. We paid $37 total for a senior and adult ticket. A day later, Lee and I paid nearly three times that for a far less interesting and much lower quality tour at Taliesin, the estate of famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Our 16-member group assembled in the new Lambeau Atrium at 10:15. Dave started us off with some get-acquainted questions, working our information into statistics about tours and observations as to why the Atrium and we were there.

Dave said Lambeau has hosted a million tour visitors since 2003 when the present tour program began. They came from every state in the U.S. and 122 other countries. Many, but not all, had some interest in American football, but they weren't necessarily Packers fans. Our group included men and women from six states, and one born in France. Fans of the Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Detroit Lions were present.

Lee and I each own one share of Green Bay Packers stock. So did three others in our group. "Where else can you take a tour with owners?" Dave asked.
We rested in a Skybox; Dave kept on working.

About 300,000 people are shareholders in the non-profit corporation. The Packers are the only major professional sports team in the U.S. owned by its fans. The shareholders get no dividends and can't gain by selling their holdings; profits are plowed back into the physical facilities and personnel compensation.

Unlike the other franchises, the Packers have no billionaire owner. Their shareholder rules prohibit any individual from gaining control.  "That's why this Atrium is here and why we sold you a tour ticket today--we need the money." Dave said. "There's no way we could compete with big spenders running teams in big cities with just the income from television revenue and ticket sales for eight home games a year."

The Packers have done a good job developing things at Lambeau to create a diversified attraction. The Atrium, attached to a corner of the stadium, is open to the public 365 days a year. The giant structure includes the Packers Hall of Fame, the 21,500 square foot Pro Shop, a first-class restaurant (Curly's Pub), and a main floor patterned after a football field that can be used to host conventions and large business meetings or other gatherings. Those who want to get married at Lambeau Field, as 40 couples did last year, can arrange a reception for a few hundred of their close acquaintances. The first day Lee and I visited the Atrium it was set up for a dinner group of several hundred. The next day, the tables were gone and the floor open for other activities.

We visited the Pro Shop before our tour. It recently reopened after a remodeling that doubled its size. It looks like a large department store, with merchandise for sale ranging from the famous cheeseheads in several sizes to a portable picnic table complete with Packers logos. Some high-end apparel is available without Packers identification for visitors who may favor other teams.
We couldn't resist a Pro Shop selfie with a "cheesy" No. 12.
The Lambeau Field area was quiet during our stay in a motel within easy walking distance--the annual stockholders meeting, always attended by thousands, was two days away and the opening of training camp nearly a week ahead. Yet, the Pro Shop was crowded with visitors snapping up goods. That kind of activity helped the Packers take in $136.4 million in local revenue last year, ninth best in the NFL. That's remarkable for an organization in a small market that has not sold its stadium name for millions of advertising dollars and holds average ticket prices down.

Massive changes in the stadium and areas nearby have contributed to the Packers rosy financial picture. The relatively small, compact oval surrounded by farm fields I visited in 1957 is no more. An Associated Press writer this week said of Lambeau Field and environs, "the franchise has bought up land, razed nearby houses, and expanded its stadium more than 20 stories into the sky as part of what can only be described as massive physical growth."

The skyward expansion refers to a development in the south end zone that added 7,000 seats in four levels and rises 232 feet into the air (about the height of a 21-story office building). Complete with a huge "G" on the roof, Lambeau Field can be seen from miles away. From a new observation terrace at the roofline, our tour group could see major structures in Green Bay and locate De Pere and other suburban areas. De Pere is about 5 miles away.

"Skyboxes" provide outstanding views of the field and good financial returns for the Packers. Each holds 16 or 20 people. Our group visited one of the larger ones and took a sit-down break while guide Dave held forth with a stunning panorama of the field for background. If a skybox was available in one of the best locations for a prime regular season game, an unlikely situation, our group could lease it for around $14,000 (food and drink extra).
E.L."Curly" Lambeau and R.J."Dick" Klade point to Curly's Pub.

For something really plush, and also probably not available, it's sometimes possible to lease one of 168 luxury suites for the season for a mere $85,000. Most of those are taken by corporations, but about a fourth are leased by individuals, a few of whom are Packers players. Luxury suites have their own bars and kitchens, and the owners can play host in them every day during their lease period if they choose.

"High-class" could apply to luxury boxes and other refinements, but we think it pretty well sums up everything about Lambeau Field and the Atrium. Lee is a stickler for quality in his stained glass art business. I was surprised by how many times during our visit he marveled at the expert construction and the way a special feeling was created by designs and decorations. I shared his appreciation for the high-quality ambience of the place.

Isn't a walking tour of a facility that covers 2.1 million square feet on many levels a bit taxing? Not at all. Most of the time we traveled by elevator with stops to rest in the Skybox, Champions Lounge, and, finally, the lowest level some 25 feet below ground. We ventured out onto the playing field to learn how grass (don't step on it, Dave cautioned) grows in December with the aid of a sophisticated heating system. It was an awesome feeling to look up at the names of famous players and dates of championships that ring the stadium.

Twenty-two Packers are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. In my newspaper days, I had lengthy conversations with two of them. Of course, they also are in the Packers Hall of Fame with 130 other stars. The Packers hall was closed during our visit as a major remodeling was being completed. I want to know how those two famous guys I met so long ago are portrayed in the hall. Lee and I have a 2015 return trip to Lambeau already in the planning stages to satisfy my curiosity.
We walked out the tunnel where champions have trod.

Well, after all, many of us have visited big stadiums and we can get a lot of information about football teams on the internet. Why should anyone bother going to Lambeau Field and paying for a tour? Because you have to be there to have your small group's "Go, Pack, Go" cheer clearly heard by other tourists far below you on the field. And you must be there to hear Lambeau Field answer you back. You also can't use a computer to match the experience of walking out onto the field through the tunnel so many great pro players have trotted through for a half century, while astute tour managers play recorded roars of a Lambeau crowd to urge you on.

What a coincidence! Names of two of the finest players in NFL history I met years ago are side-by-side high above Lambeau Field turf.  In 2015, Lee Klade and I will return to learn how the Packers Hall of Fame tells their stories.
There's a lot to take in at Lambeau Field that is available nowhere else. And the Packers need your money. Go there, and perhaps you can coax Dave Devenport or another expert tour guide into telling you how "God" told superstar defensive player Reggie White to go to Green Bay when White was a free agent courted by almost every team in the league. "God" was right. It's a good place to go to.