Life’s work.

Time to Settle Accounts

October 11, 2011: Life’s work.

I was standing in the kitchen telling New Jack about my great meeting at the Sun-Times when his phone buzzed. “Whoa,” he said.

“What’s up?”

“Steve Jobs died.”

“Holy shit!” I said, and stared at him. “Really?”

“Just got a text.”

“Holy shit!” I said, and dashed from the kitchen through the tea room through the TV room through the fireplace room over the couch to my desk. I opened my computer, rubbed the track pad, pulled up Internet Explorer, and there it was on BBC News: Steve Jobs, Apple ‘visionary’, dies aged 56. “Holy shit…” I muttered.

“He was sick, you know,” New Jack said when I got back to the kitchen.

“I did not know that.”

“That’s why he left last year.”

“It’s just crazy,” I said. “He has this quote about how ‘people with passion can change the world,’ and just this morning I was thinking about how I should track him down and do a People With Passion interview with him, how it’d be really cool because of who he is, and because of the quote. When you google ‘people with passion,’ we both come up on the first page…”

I hopped over to twitter where, to no one’s surprise, “Steve Jobs” was trending. I saw “iSad” a few times, while others just posted the little apple symbol. I had a late flag football game, and it was now time to get dressed and pack my cleats. On the North Ave. bus, we passed the Apple store. A few months earlier I’d stood outside that store speaking with protesters angry that Apple was among the corporations skirting their taxes, but no one cared about that now. The store was full of customers and Mac geniuses, while outside, people were laying flowers and handwritten notes along the wall. It was 8:30 p.m., October 5, 2011.

On the bus, iPhones were plentiful. They always are. We lost our football game, and a teammate drove me to Marie’s Golden Cue where I met up with Ricky, G, and our pals Al and Elliott. The discussions round the table concerned professional wide receivers of recent years and which ones belonged in the Hall of Fame (Cris Carter? Yes. Isaac Bruce? Probably. Terrell Owens? Split decision.) We talked about Jobs, and about pool strategy for successful breaks. Elliott wanted to know what people thought about the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York that had made their way to Chicago, but I hadn’t read much about it so we kept the talk within the four cozy corners of the football field, the billiards table, and the iPad.

October 6. More iPhones. Counted seven on the four stops between Damen and Clark/Lake. He’s everywhere. After work I went to the W Grocer on North and Hoyne and bought four yogurts, two bottled cokes, two bottles of apple juice, and some organic chicken breast.

Still no word from the Sun-Times upon my arrival home. I’d had a great meeting about becoming Chicago’s sportswriting oral historian, a fusing of my two greatest journalistic pursuits. Fascinating work, I thought…

…but after making and eating dinner, doubt crept in. Elliott’s question was digging at me, so now, with food digesting, I began searching for protest news. I found on-the-ground protest video. I found tweets. I found a journalist named Luke Rudkowski and his site We Are Change, and the backlash that has already started against Rudkowski concerning alleged misuse of charitable donations to his organization. I saw clips of NYPD cracking protesters with their batons, Rudkowski yelling “I’m a fucking journalist, you motherfucker!” as the black stick struck his head.

I took a look at occupywallstreet.org. I did some googling and found a New York Times article by Anne-Marie Slaughter about the “mainstream media’s” slow crawl to covering the protests, and from there I linked to a site called “We are the 99 percent” that Slaughter described as “the Mohamed Bouazizis of the United States,” referring to the 26-year-old Tunisian man whose self-immolation on December 17th is widely cited as a catalyst for the Arab Spring protests.

Instead of lighting themselves on fire, the “99 percent” are protesting by writing handwritten notes about their financial situations, usually debt-ridden, and taking photos of themselves holding these notes. They then upload their photos to the site. This is a combination of journalism, activism, and protest, all made possible by user-generated content, social media, and post-9/11 technology. The faces were desperate, sad, determined, furious.

I stood from my desk and walked to the mirror. I looked in the mirror. I looked at myself. I looked at my book shelf. I looked at my row of Studs Terkel. I looked at The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons. I looked at my collections of great sportswriting. It was coming up on midnight. The windows in front of my desk were open. The warm air smelled like spring. I needed a break. I decided to head out to the neighborhood with the time journal and write a letter to my great-grandchildren. I pulled on my Chucks, put on my hat, turned off the lights, and headed for the door.

I administered my usual three-step check. The homeless test. Phone? Check. Keys? Check. Wallet? In my desk drawer where I purposefully left it so I would not spend money. I stepped outside – warm in October – and heard a purring. I looked down, and there in the shadow was a cat.

The cat was smooth, jet-black, clean, collarless, with no I.D. or markings or human accessories. It had big Disney heroine eyes that stared at me. It purred and meowed and brushed its back against my ankle. I looked around and saw no one looking for a cat. I’ve never owned a cat. The most time I’ve spent with cats was in 2004 when my girlfriend and her sister unofficially adopted a stray who kept leaving the house and then returning with kittens in her belly. At one point, there were eight little meowing, purring, furry things roaming the basement. That was ages ago. Not many cats in my life since then.

“Whose cat is this?” I demanded. The cat wandered down the sidewalk and walked underneath a parked car. It purred, and I was reminded of The Third Man. Two people walked by, and the woman heard the purring cat and looked beneath the car. You could not see the cat. The cat moseyed out from under the car. The woman pet it as her friend watched. “Is this your cat?” she asked.

“No. I just stepped outside and it was on my stoop.” She pet it one more time and they walked away. I looked at the cat. “What now cat?” I asked it. I walked back to the stoop and it walked with me. I slumped down and it sat by me, rubbing itself back and forth against my legs, and then pawing at my knees and reaching its head up toward mine. I set the time journal down next to me. “No!” I said in protest. “Don’t step on that.” I pulled out my Droid and called my friends who knew about cats. No one answered. I texted. No one responded. “I don’t know what to do for you cat,” I said.

Could I take it in? I didn’t have a litter box. How do cats go without litter boxes? What would it eat? Where would it sleep? Plus, I would need to talk to Justin and New Jack before adopting a cat. “Just wait right here, cat,” I said, and went upstairs to fill a bowl with water. I carried the bowl back downstairs and set it on the stoop. “Drink the water, cat,” I said to it. I thought about what I might name it if I kept it, and then reminded myself that naming a cat was a surefire way to get attached to it, and that I had no litter box.

No one called. I googled ‘animal shelters 60622.’ I found PAWS on 1997 N. Clybourn, which claimed to be “Chicago’s largest No Kill humane organization.” I called, but they didn’t answer. It was after 12:30 a.m. “What if I give you a couch for the night, cat?” I said. I was unquestionably rattled at this point. I opened the door and the cat, desperate and sweet and skeptical, followed me in, but no further. I walked halfway up the stairs and sat on a step. The cat followed me up. I then went the rest of the way. “Come on cat,” I said kindly. The cat followed me up.

The door was open from my water run. I walked inside and sat on the couch, and the cat followed me in. It began exploring my place. My phone rang. It was Kristin in North Carolina. I’d called her while searching the Occupy Wall Street material; I wanted to see what she’d heard and discuss the issues at hand of protests and debt and journalism and moral duties, but now I had bigger problems.

“There’s a cat in my house,” I said.

“How did that happen honey?” she said.

“I don’t know.” The cat was walking into the bathroom, and I rushed over to shut the door. “I walked outside and there was just this cat sitting there purring. It seemed sweet and afraid, so I called everyone I knew who knew anything about cats.”

“I don’t know anything about cats.”

“Yeah, but I called you before I found the cat. We were going to talk about journalism and the Wall Street protests and whether or not sports journalism is a valuable use of my skills, but now this cat is here and I don’t know what to do.”

“What’s its name?”

“Apple.”

“So it’s a girl.”

“That’s just the name I gave it. It doesn’t have a collar. It’s a black cat.”

“It sounds like you brought a stray cat into your apartment and then named it.”

“Yeah…”

“Are you okay?”

“It just went behind the couch.” I shook my head. “There is a cat behind my couch.”

“It’s a big responsibility dear,” Kris said. “Do you think you’re ready?”

“I have to talk to Justin and New Jack first. But even so, we don’t have a litter box.”

“You know,” she said sweetly, “if you wanted, you could bring Apple back outside.”

“Yeah?” I asked.

“Sure dear. If you’re not ready for a cat, take it outside.”

“I gave it some water earlier,” I said.

“That was sweet of you. Do you have any milk?”

“I think so. Yeah,” I said. “Cats like milk. Right?”

“I don’t know anything about cats,” she said. “Just that they’re a big responsibility.”

“Okay,” I said, composing myself, “I’m going to bring the cat back outside. I will bring it some milk. I will keep an eye on it for the night. And we’ll just hope for the best.”

And we did.

NEXT: Because we’re dogs. (10.20.11)

PREVIOUS: The end of a season. (9.16.11)

STORIES, LINKS, AND SITES REFERENCED ABOVE

Steve Jobs obituary at BBC

NFL receiving leaders

We Are Change

Anne-Marie Slaughter’s NYT story about Occupy Wall Street

We Are The 99%

The Third Man, Harry Lime introduction

PAWS Chicago

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