Sept. 9, 2007

After spending a week at home with my family, I have come to speculate that the joys of being a happy 3-year-old, and the joys of being around a happy 3-year-old, could very well be the reason God came up with people in the first place.

There are many adorable things my nephew does. He picks flowers for people. He makes cell-phone calls to his uncle at the dinner table. He goes pee-pee in the woods, and then beckons loved ones to come admire the wetness on the stump.

But the most adorable thing he does comes when he is doing something he really likes, such as playing in the park or eating a cookie. He'll ask, in his whispered, lispy voice, to tell him the story of whatever it is he's doing.

"Will you tell me about when we had ice cream, pwease?" he will say, said ice cream not even finished yet. And so you will tell him about how you drove downtown, played with the pigeons, walked to the ice cream parlor, asked about what flavors there were ... and so on.

He will sit rapt during the telling. And if it's an especially good time, he will ask you to tell it to him again. (Suzie tells me he did this even before he could speak. To hear a story, a story about the present, he would lean over and pat his fingers on her mouth.)

Stories about cookies and trips to the park don't have much in the way of plot development, but they make up for it with the characters, strokes of genius each.

Photo taken: Sept. 3, 2007


Dec. 4, 2006

Mom, from behind a model plant in the children's room at the Garfield Park Conservatory.

Photo taken: Dec. 4, 2006


July 22, 2006

Family portrait.

Photo taken: July 17, 2006


July 18, 2006

My nephew is not yet talking, but he has a large vocabulary of signs and gestures. Drawing a circle in his palm is for cookie, and that's good enough for me.

Photo taken: July 15, 2006


June 5, 2006

Happy birthday, Malcolm. May two be twice as fun as one.

Photos taken: June 5, 2005, through June 5, 2006


April 12, 2006

My nephew sensed I needed some direction.

Photo taken: April 11, 2006


April 11, 2006

Photo taken: April 8, 2006


April 8, 2006

On three, smile.

Something you may not know about my father is that he was an accomplished ice fisherman back in Minnesota. His secret was to use a baseball bat and a can of peas. What he'd do was, he'd cut a hole in the ice, line up the peas around the edge, and then when a fish came up to take a pea -- BAM! -- he'd hit it in the head with the baseball bat.

OK, so maybe you've heard that one. If you knew him, you probably did. If you shared an elevator or a grocery line with him, you probably did.

He loved to make people laugh, or at least to laugh himself in the attempt. What his humor may have lacked in sophistication, it made up for in repetition and gusto.

Has favorite gag was to ask a woman, whether he knew her or not, why she was wearing only one earring. As she reached to her ears in horror, he'd start giggling like a child.

The rest of us would cringe. It led to the Dad tax. Whenever we left a restaurant, I would run back in and leave a few extra bucks for the waitress, my way of saying, "Sorry he made you look." And so, to all the women in the room, I say, “Sorry he made you look.”

He loved laughter, and he loved newspapers. The elbows on his bathrobes were soiled black with ink stains from leaning on the kitchen table. Each morning he would read three newspapers cover to cover. Then he would go online and read a dozen more, starting with his hometown Minneapolis Star-Tribune. When we talked on the phone he would tell me about the Chicago weather, which he'd just gotten from the Tribune Web site. "Yeah, Dad, I know. I'm here."

Our mother says she knew his health was bad when, as of a few weeks ago, he lacked the strength to go outside for the morning papers.

He loved laughter. He loved newspapers. And he loved his students.

I fondly remember when The Lumberjack editors would come to our house each semester for dinner. Dad would put on some Woody Herman -- the later, funkier stuff -- especially the arrangement of "Fanfare for the Common Man." I never knew him as a music fan, but I figured this selection, a mixture of big-band jazz and contemporary funk, was his way to bridge the generations.

I once read that at the end of his career, Woody Herman couldn't afford the best musicians for his Thundering Herd, so he would hire college students. Instead of paying them much, he would be generous in allowing them to solo. I think of Dad's hands-off approach to teaching in the same way. He let his students solo. Sometimes they'd be flat, but when they were “on” under his direction, boy could they thunder.

I never heard him called Professor Seemann. He was always Howard or Howie. When I went off to journalism school myself, it was strange to not be on a first-name basis with any of my professors. There wasn't a single one with whom I could casually belch and fart. I transferred as soon as I could.

An aside: About that flatulence. He was full of it, was he not? I have no qualms about saying this because as the journalists here know, you cannot libel the dead. And, as you know, truth is a defense against libel.

Our house was full of, he would claim, barking spiders. Talk about a thundering herd! It drove us nuts. He never seemed to acknowledge our upturned noses. But if you yourself let one rip, he would smirk and laugh, as if to say, "Good one, my boy."

This week I went through his address book to find his former students. It was a roll call of the country's best newspapers. San Francisco Chronicle. L.A. Times. Honolulu Advertiser. The Chicago Tribune. He taught us everything he knew, and we still don't know anything, but we turned out OK, and he was so proud.

He loved his Macintosh. This week Apple announced that Macs would be able to run the Windows operating system. I'm somewhat relieved Dad never had to see that.

He was a pioneer in introducing the Macintosh into the newsroom. The Lumberjack was one of the first five college newspapers to do layout on a Mac, years before it became the industry standard. Later he was quick to embrace the Internet and digital photography. His foresight jumpstarted hundreds of successful careers, including my own.

He was his students' toughest critic, but also their biggest fan. He never complained about grading, no matter how high the stack of papers, no matter how much red ink was spilled. He attacked mistakes like a pigeon attacking a pile of seed. He was determined to show them that if a job was worth doing, it was worth doing right.

Wednesday afternoons were spent poring over that day’s Lumberjack. Between handfuls of popcorn he would scribble and circle, turning the newspaper into something that truly was black, white and red all over. Afterward, he would write his homilies -- "All the views fit to print" -- and fix himself a martini before dinner.

We will remember him as an apostrophe cop. A slayer of the comma splice. A vigilant defender of the dash. A brave soldier in the war for subject-verb agreement.

I suspect there are opportunists in the audience who think that now, finally, they can start using the plural "they" when it should be the singular "it" just because it sounds better that way. You do so at your own peril. Professor Seemann -- Howard, Howie -- will still be hovering over your shoulders, hoping you get it right, and admiring you when you do.


Photo taken: April 8, 2006


April 6, 2006

Teacher man.

Photo taken: 1976


April 4, 2006

Six recent moments:



On April Fool's Day, a 73-year-old man suffering a range of maladies is hospitalized. One possible diagnosis is hinted at when he is handed a brochure titled, "Living with Heart Failure."

For three days I laugh at the oxymoron. "Living with Heart Failure." Its wit is in its brevity, as it's a topic you would prefer not to be such a quick read. More comforting than a flimsy brochure would be a bound, 10-volume manual, perhaps with an inscription on the title page: "Take your time, Mr. Seemann. No hurry here."



How strange. My brother is calling from my parents' phone.



It's midnight. I don't know what I have to say, but I need to be talking to someone.

For a few moments, the accented voice of a United ticket agent is strangely soothing. He is awkward and uncomfortable but polite and helpful, and his English is outstanding. Twice, however, he stumbles when his script would have him chirp, "Thank you, Mr. Seemann, and have a great evening." Across the world and across the cultures, he seems to realize how thin on gravitas this salutation is to someone who is calling for bereavement fares, and he sounds apologetic.

And then I start calling West Coast friends.



Now more than ever I thank God for having given me the prudence to have set my phone to vibrate and not "La Cucaracha."



It's 3:30 a.m. and I can't sleep. I don't know whether to drink wine to bring myself down or whether to make coffee to wake myself up. I decide on coffee and spend the hours before sunrise writing and flatulating and reading the news and playing poker. So begins the period of tribute.

At 4 I trade e-mail with my sister in Greece.

At 5 I start calling East Coast friends.

At 7 I go for a ride. I self-time myself on a practice time trial. I don't do well.

At 10 I start calling my Midwestern friends.

At 11 I go to work. They send me home.

"I wanted to work today."

"Go home."

"He was a journalist. He'd want me to put out the paper."

"Go home."

I go to Greektown and buy a bottle of retsina for a toast to come.



I pull a suit from the back of the closet. I own two: one blue, one gray. I can't remember which one actually fits, so I examine their breast pockets and grab the one containing the most recent wedding programs.


Feb. 15, 2006

Union Station, where I catch the Van Galder bus whenever I visit family in Madison.

Did I ever tell you about the time I got kicked off a Greyhound bus?

This was in 2002. I was headed to Wisconsin to celebrate my grandmother's 80th birthday. The plan was to take a bus early Saturday morning to Milwaukee, where a cousin would pick me up and drive me to the party.

I've always taken pride in my patience and even keel, but there were a few extenuating details to irritate my temperament on this morning. I'd worked the late shift the night before, so it was on 4 hours sleep that I left my apartment around 6:30 a.m. to go downtown. A few weeks earlier I had broken my wrist and was still in a cast, making it difficult to get around with my bags. And the Greyhound bus terminal? A Zen garden it's not, what with all the winos and the children and the screaming and the Funyuns wrappers, and neither is it a pleasant place to sit waiting to board a bus that is 45 minutes late.

When we finally board I'm worried about my cousin Peggy and whether she'll still be waiting for me in Milwaukee. This is the era before cell phones -- read as, more than five weeks ago -- so I have no way to reach her.

The bus is packed. It's another 10 minutes before the bus driver boards. Instead of apologizing for the delay and getting on his way, he stands at the front of the aisle and in a mournful dirge reads the rules.

"There will be no eating on this bus."

Mournful pause.

"There will be no loud talking or radio playing on this bus."

Mournful pause.

"You'll see that I'm standing on a yellow line."

Mournful pause.

"There will be no crossing of the yellow line."

He's like "Cool Hand Luke"'s Carr on valium, detailing the infractions that will result in a night in the box, and just like Cool Hand Luke, I'm exasperated. I throw up my arms -- one broken, one whole -- and moan, "Can we go already?"

The driver pauses again. Mournfully. He stares me down. In the tone of a junior high disciplinarean he asks a question that, as the clown in many a junior high class, I knew well growing up: "Is there something you'd like to share with the rest of us?"

I immediately realize I'm in trouble and that any further dissent is just going to delay us more. "No, no. I'm sorry, sir. Please go on."

And that's when I got kicked off the Greyhound bus. I was in disbelief and continued to apologize, hoping to suck up enough to change his mind. When he motioned for the three Somali security guards it became clear he wasn't bluffing. Together the guards were as intimidating as a coat rack, but I left peacefully, making a big show of struggling with my cast so that the driver could feel guilty about doing this to a cripple.

I'd just started dating a gal and thought about calling to borrow her car, but I didn't want her to think I was the kind of maniac who gets kicked off public buses, so I rented one instead. I got to the party in time and told Grandma and cousin Peggy that I'd overslept.

I've never taken Greyhound since, and the worst to happen on a Van Galder bus has been a corny joke from the folksy, sing-song driver.

Photo taken: Feb. 11, 2006


Feb. 13, 2006

Photo taken: Feb. 12, 2006


Dec. 13, 2005

My nephew's egg scrambling technique is unstoppable.

Photo taken: Dec. 12, 2005


Aug. 11, 2005

It usually takes about 14 months for me to make a good impression. Right on schedule, then, a great stride was made last week with my nephew, 14 months after I first met him: At the beginning of the trip he would cry as soon as I entered the room. By the end of the trip he'd cry when I left it. (It helped that I would sometimes leave the room carrying his favorite toys. It's a dirty trick to make an uncle feel wanted, but I love him so; all is fair and all that.)

On the trip's last night I stood around the campfire after my brother's ranger talk. He was chatting with visitors and mentioned he was from Wisconsin. Two young women next to me started tittering.

Do you think it's him? He said he's from Wisconsin. It's gotta be. Let's ask him. Yeah, ask him. No, you ask him. No, you ask him.

Hank looked their way and they were silent for a beat, then burst together: "Are you Malcolm's dad!?! He's the GREATEST!"

They'd apparently waited for a shuttle bus with Malcolm and his mother and become big fans.

They were sort of cute, too, but I resisted the urge to point out that I was Malcolm's uncle and, unlike his father, single. Still, it reminded of what great company Malcolm could be around Chicago. Prop him up on the bar and so long as he keeps his fingers out of my Schlitz I'm set.

It wouldn't even have to stop once he's too big to carry. I'm imagining a scene in 20 years when I am 50 and he is 21 and he visits his doddering, still-single uncle in the city. We'll ride our hoverbikes through the park. "This is my nephew," I'll say to the fawning women, "with whom I have common DNA. He pooped today!"

Or maybe I'll just buy a puppy.

Photo taken: Aug. 4, 2005


July 28, 2005

My mother possesses a pure heart, a heart incapable of entendre or suggestive language. How else could she e-mail this sentence regarding my brother and his wife:

S&M are their days off.


June 26, 2005

Madison Mallards 5, Lacrosse Loggers 4.

My cousin Mike, at bat above, plays for the Mallards of the Northwoods League, a summer league for college players who either haven't been drafted yet or haven't been drafted high enough to justify leaving college.

It so happened that he was playing in Lacrosse while I was camping nearby, so I took in a game. He went 2 for 4 with a two-run home run that turned out to be the difference.

A few days earlier I had seen him play in Madison and he went 4 for 4, though it was hard to tell with all the loud music, promotions and sound effects, apparently designed to distract fans from any baseball that was going on. I felt like I had gone to Mancow's Morning Madhouse and a baseball game had broken out.

He is the third generation on that side of the family to find success in baseball, all beginning with my grandfather, who coached amateur ball for decades. Thus I found something natural and comforting in seeing "ROHDE" on the back of a jersey, like pulling up to your driveway after a long absence and seeing your name on the mailbox.

Photo taken: June 21, 2005


June 13, 2005

Suzie was having trouble feeding Macolm yogurt without a spoon when I remembered an anecdote Hank told more than 10 years ago. He was at a baseball game where a boy nearby was having the same trouble, so his father whittled a spoon from a carrot. Problem solved.

I asked Hank whether he remembered this. Of course he did. And this reminded Suzie that there happened to be a bag of carrots in the cooler.

So like the pretty girl at the bar who ties a cherry stem into a knot with her tongue, Hank put a baby carrot into his mouth and a minute later withdrew a baby spoon. Voila.

Photo taken: June 11, 2005


June 6, 2005

You've come a long way, Sweet Baby Malcolm.

Photos taken: June 5, 2004, through June 5, 2005


June 5, 2005

Photo taken: June 4, 2005


May 6, 2005

Young blue eyes.

Photo taken: May 1, 2005


March 19, 2005

Good morning.

Photo taken: March 13, 2005


March 15, 2005

Separated at birth?

I worry about his lung capacity, however, and what it means for his trumpet career. He didn't cry or wail once over the weekend. Instead he expresses distress with series of hoarse bleats. Sounds like a ton-ton from "Empire Strikes Back."

Photo taken: March 12, 2005


March 14, 2005

This is how my nephew Malcolm occupies himelf when he isn't blogging.

He's not quite crawling. When he pursues an objective -- his father is a frequent one -- he rolls over and over until he reaches it. Or he'll do a five-point army crawl, with his elbows, thighs and belly touching the ground. He tends to favor one of his legs when he does this, so it's as if he's a wounded soulder dragging a bum leg across no-man's land, except with more giggling.

Photo taken: March 12, 2005


March 7, 2005

Mom at the Art Institute.

Photo taken: March 5, 2005


Feb. 4, 2005

Near Foster Avenue Beach, with fake Lomo affect applied afterward.

In all things purity, and for me that includes photography. I'm suspicious of photos that have been manipulated in the lab in Photoshop. It speaks to my journalism background: I believe that any photo, whether a .jpg or a print, should faithfully depict what the photographer saw through her viewfinder.

Add some extra contrast here and some masking there and a photo ceases to be a photo and starts to be an illustration or a drawing or a lie. For this reason I tend to be dismissive of the Flickr group Technique: Too many of the threads have to do with aftereffects. For me, technique stops once the shutter is released.

But this photo needed some help. I'd accidentally been overexposing everything I shot at the rocks on this day but I was keen on salvaging this shot. Thus the fake Lomo effect, which I hope elevates a bad photo to an average one.

Photo taken: Jan. 27, 2005


Jan. 20, 2005

It's Mom's birthday today, and this is perhaps my favorite picture of her. She's holding her grandson Malcolm, and there's something about it that captures her essence, equal parts focus, empathy and skill.

I've cycled 160 miles in one day and run 26 miles on several others, but when it comes to feats of endurance and strength I have nothing on her.

Photo taken: Aug. 27, 2004