Thursday, August 30, 2007

Liberty Caged

I came across this item on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol in Austin yesterday.

The image is pregnant with unintentional symbolism.

More photos and video from Austin, including a visit to the LBJ Library and Museum on the campus of the University of Texas, will be posted soon (well ... eventually).

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Thomas N. Brennan, S.J.

It is with sadness that I pass along the news of the death of one of my favorite teachers.

During the recent Marquette University High School 150th anniversary commemoration in Milwaukee, I searched in vain for Father Thomas N. "T" Brennan, S.J., who had been listed in the program as a concelebrant at the anniversary Mass at the Al McGuire Center. I wanted to speak with him and thank him for being such a terrific teacher. Only now have I learned that he was seriously ill.

Here is the text of a letter that was sent out by the president of MUHS, Father Warren Sazama, S.J., to faculty, students, and alumni:

Let us pray in thanksgiving for our brother, Fr. Thomas N. Brennan, who was called to eternal life this morning, August 28. He was 75 years old.

Fr. “T” Brennan was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on August 6, 1932. After graduation from Marquette University High School (MUHS) he entered the Society of Jesus at Florissant, Missouri, on August 7, 1950. “T” received an A.B. degree in philosophy from St. Louis University (SLU) in 1956 and then taught Latin, history, and theology at MUHS. In 1961 he received a M.A. degree in history and in 1965 a S.T.B. in theology, both from SLU. After theology studies he taught Latin, history and drama at MUHS for one year, before doing tertianship in Decatur, Illinois, under the direction of Fr. Charles Hunter, S.J. Returning to MUHS, he taught history, drama and theology from 1966 through 1980. During the sabbatical year that followed he did studies at the Jesuit School of Theology in Chicago, Illinois, the Goodman School of Drama in Chicago, and at the Gild Hall School of Drama in London, England. He took time also for study at the Center for Ignatian Spirituality in Rome. From 1981 to 1988 he was again teaching theology, history and drama at MUHS. In 1988 he was assigned to Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where until 1996 he was chaplain to, and taught theology in, the school of Business Administration. After a year of sick leave, he returned to the same ministry until February of 2005, when he moved to St. Camillus due to failing heath.

Visitation will take place starting at 5:00 p.m. on Friday, August 31 in the first floor chapel of San Camillo (10200 West Blue Mound Road) followed by mass at 7:00 p.m. Burial will be at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, September 1, at Calvary Cemetery.
T Brennan was one of the most influential teachers I encountered in 18 years of formal education. At Marquette High, he taught me theology and AP European History. In the latter class, he raised the bar for me and my classmates, teaching us not only the subject matter but also how to do historical research effectively and how to present one's findings in a comprehensible and analytical manner.

Moreover, as the director of Senior Follies and the Prep Players, T deepened in me my already burgeoning love for the theatre. His instructions about how best to create a character, how to project vocally and physically across a large auditorium, and how to maintain one's dignity before, during, and after a performance have stayed with me for more than 30 years. Working under him as a member of the Follies writing committee was a whirlwind course in sketch writing, parody, and the structure of musical comedy. His standards (no scatological humor, no drag characters in Follies, no condescension) may seem quaint today but they are nonetheless enduring.

Father Brennan was an excellent academic counselor: He was one of the teachers who wrote letters of recommendation for me to apply to Georgetown University, but beyond that he undergirded my confidence so that I would take the risk of seeking a place at a highly-selective institution rather than play it safe by applying to schools closer to home with lower standards. I took his advice in these matters seriously ("Learn French," he said wryly, upon learning of my plans to study at Georgetown's School of Foreign Service; wry, of course, was his metier) and the lessons he taught served me well in college, graduate school, and beyond.

He was also a spiritual guide. A small group of us students often gathered in his office, overlooking the stage in the MUHS auditorium, for a short Mass during lunch hour. (So short it made Freeze's Breeze, which I later encountered at Georgetown, seem like War and Peace.) These quiet quarter-hours were welcome during the hectic and often anxious months of senior year.

Earlier this year I posted the videos of Guys & Dolls and the Class of 1977's Senior Follies on YouTube and on this blog. In tribute to T Brennan, here again are excerpts from Blazing Seniors. (You'll see him, in his usual seat in the middle of the auditorium, at 00:18 on the first video.)

If the world had more teachers of T Brennan's caliber, it would be such a much better place -- more literate, more erudite, more appreciative of light, beauty, and laughter. He will be missed by the thousands of students who passed through his classroom, and by thousands more who may never have met him but who feel his influence indirectly.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Another Anniversary

August was a big month for weddings in my family.

A few days ago was my parents' 50th wedding anniversary.

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the wedding of my grandparents (my mother's parents), Chester and Josephine Michalak.

Of course, I have photographs. There are benefits to being a pack rat.

Few people are likely to remember, but -- for reasons that are unclear to me -- my parents had to cancel their original honeymoon plans to take a trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota. Instead, they traveled to Northern Wisconsin for a vacation among the myriad lakes. My grandparents had already planned to travel "up north" at the same time, in part to celebrate their own 20th wedding anniversary.

For years afterward, my father was able to joke about being the only man ever accompanied on his honeymoon by his in-laws.

Friday, August 24, 2007

A Special Anniversary

Were they still with us, today would be my parents' 50th wedding anniversary.

Reproduced below (in two sections, scanned from a tabloid page) is the nicely-detailed wedding announcement that appeared in the Brookfield News (in Brookfield, Wisconsin) on September 12, 1957, just short of three weeks after the ceremony.

Half a century ago, apparently, the bridegroom was an afterthought in a news story about a wedding, relegated to a short sentence at the end and unworthy of inclusion in the accompanying photograph. Things have changed; now Jay Leno regularly puts articles about weddings in his "Headlines" segments on The Tonight Show, and the bit simply wouldn't work if the bridegroom was not featured on an equal basis with the bride.

Click to embiggen, then read down through both JPEGs, returning to the top again for the full story.

A good number of members of the wedding party listed above were able to attend my sister's wedding three years ago in Las Vegas. That was quite a reunion!

Speaking of my sister, she has the official wedding photos from August 24, 1957, in her possession. But I was able to dig up a few snapshots taken by an unknown photographer.

Fortunately, she (I can tell by the handwriting that the Unknown Photog was female) wrote captions on the back of each photograph, which I transcribe below:

"Joanne with Jug Girouard in background, Camille in foreground - Maria way back, Miriam real close, and Theresa to the side"

"Dick & Joanne immediately after ceremony"

"Dick & Joanne
Have you ever seen Richard so happy?"

Sunday, August 12, 2007

US Airways Sucks

Perhaps I should be bemused by the smidgen of irony attached to having read, earlier this evening, a Newsweek article about the newfound prosperity of various U.S. airlines -- in spite of increasing late arrivals, lost baggage, and other passenger complaints.

In the article (not easily available on line, it seems), Daniel Gross writes:

For frequent fliers, it is clearly the worst of times. In the first quarter of 2007, only 71.4 percent of flights arrived on time, and 19,260 passengers were involuntarily bumped -- up 13 percent from the year before. In July, 16,988 flights were canceled, up 54 percent from July 2006, according to

And yet for airline companies, these are the best of times. The industry was laid low by 9/11 and the 2001 recession, as giants like United, US Airways, and Delta filed for Chapter 11. But the airlines' winter of despair has given way to a spring of hope. In a recent conference call, American Airlines CEO Gerard Arpey crowed about "the largest quarterly profit [$317 million] since we launched the turnaround plan more than four years ago." Last week Northwest Airlines, tanned and rested after its sojourn in Club Bankruptcy, reported a healthy pretax quarterly profit of $273 million, despite rising fuel costs. The Amex Airline stock index is up 79 percent since March 2003.
At the moment, I am sitting at gate D11 of Charlotte Douglas International Airport, when I thought I would be home relaxing more than four hours ago. Instead of arriving in Charlottesville at about 5:00 p.m., I am waiting to embark on a flight to Richmond that will -- God willing -- arrive at RIC sometime past 11:15 p.m.

My journey began this morning in New Orleans. I was scheduled to take a flight leaving Louis Armstrong International Airport at 2:20 p.m., but when I arrived at the ticketing desk, I was given the option -- for a $25 fee -- to take an earlier flight that, combined with an earlier connection, would bring me to Charlottesville at 5:05 p.m., instead of my originally-scheduled arrival time of 7:43 p.m.

I gladly accepted the option. This seems to have been the hubris that brought me to my current state.

The earlier flight had a slight delay on the tarmac in New Orleans, so it arrived in Charlotte at 3:45, giving me fewer than 15 minutes to make my connecting flight on another concourse. When I arrived, breathless, the gate had been closed, although I was five minutes earlier than the announced departure time of 4:05 p.m.

When a gate attendant finally arrived back at her post, she explained that the gate is closed 10 minutes prior to departure. If that is the case, I wondered -- that is, if that is the policy -- then why not announce the departure time as 10 minutes earlier? Since passengers would be unable to board later than that time, it is effectively the departure time.

Knowing that my originally scheduled flight to Charlottesville was still in the future, I did not fret. But I thought I might try to obtain a refund of the $25 fee I paid at the New Orleans airport.

No dice. The $25 fee, I was told at the customer service desk, was to pay for the earlier departure. It could only be refunded if the flight it purchased was canceled at the airport of origination. It carried no guarantee of making a connection or arriving early.

This was not explained to me by the computer kiosk on which I had purchased the ticket change. Consequently, I plan to write to US Airways management and explain that, since the restrictions in the implied contract were not indicated at the time of purchase, no implied contract exists other than my understanding that I was purchasing an early arrival as well as an early departure.

Then, it turns out, my 6:43 flight to Charlottesville was delayed until 7:42 for lack of an available crew. Then the crew did not show up at all, leading to the flight's cancellation at about 8:30 p.m.

I was rebooked for a 9:45 flight. At first, I thought, that's not so bad -- I'll only get home about two hours late. Then I read more closely: the ticket was for 9:45 a.m. on August 13, tomorrow. (The US Airways staffer at the gate did not say anything about that, nor did he offer options for hotel accommodations or rebooking to a different airline or airport.)

As soon as I discovered this tiny detail, I headed back to the customer service counter to ask for a hotel voucher. Overhearing another passenger on my CHO flight requesting to be rebooked to Richmond, I asked if that alternative was available to me, as well. It was. So here I am at the passenger waiting area, hoping to arrive home sometime before dawn.

It is with some equanimity that I take to heart one of the points Daniel Gross makes in his Newsweek article:
Customers cut airlines slack in part because they can blame other forces for their misery. The Federal Aviation Administration's creaky, vintage system causes many delays. The Transportation Security Administration oversees the Soviet-like security lines. Weather-related problems can be attributed to a higher power.

The overwhelming majority of Americans lack an efficient alternative to the unfriendly skies. Even if a six-hour flight from New York to Los Angeles turns into an 11-hour Hieronymous Bosch-like ordeal, it's still light-years faster than a cross-country train or car ride.
Keeping that in mind, taking a detour through Richmond seemed the least bad of a list of unsavory alternatives. And American airports are not such bad places as they used to be -- this one, for instance, has free wireless internet access.

So, rather than fuming, I am blogging.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Return to Kwik-E-Mart

After posting a few photographs and comments about my visit to the Kwik-E-Mart in Maryland last month, I was able to talk about it with Coy Barefoot on his WINA-AM radio program.

One of the ideas that emerged from that conversation was what a brilliant marketing concept this was for 7-Eleven. It took what was, in essence, a negative image of itself from The Simpsons TV show and adapted that kritik into a positive, linking 7-Eleven to the opening of a popular animated film and generating loads of free media from the MSM and bloggers alike.

During my recent visit to Southern California (part of a two-week, five-state vacation), I was able to seek out another of the dozen Kwik-E-Marts in North America (one of two in the Los Angeles area). On the day after The Simpsons Movie opened, I trekked to the transfigured 7-Eleven at the corner of Olive and Verdugo in Burbank, California, where a queue of customers had formed. I was able to take some midday video footage -- an improvement over the still photos I took just past midnight in Bladensburg.

Of course, I took a few photographs of Kwik-E-Mart as well. There was no long line of waiting customers in Bladensburg, but there was one in Burbank, along with a security guard controlling the front entrance like a bouncer at Studio 54.

I didn't venture inside the store this time, leaving that to my traveling companion, Richard Morrison, who bought a couple of cloyingly sweet Squishies, a dozen Sprinklicious donuts, and a six-pack of Buzz Cola. (The store had run out of Krusty-O's.)

Watch this blog for more posts about my continent-wide travels between July 18 and August 1. You'll see photos and videos from Milwaukee, Madison, Wausau, and Hurley in Wisconsin; Ironwood and Copper Peak in Michigan; Interstate 35 in Minnesota; the Reagan Library, Hollywood, and Santa Monica in California; and my nephew's first birthday party, with a Cookie Monster theme, in Encino.

For those of you who now, having seen the excitement, wish to visit a Kwik-E-Mart near your homes, I am afraid it's too late. As the trade publication Convenience Store Decisions put it on Tuesday, the curtain has closed on Kwik-E-Mart. I wonder, however, if blogger Doug Mataconis was able to visit more than one with his family?