Category: The Rockford Files

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If We Make It Through December

From oracles to astrology to double predestination, men throughout history have sought hope in a glimpse of their future.  As the Greeks well understood, however, foreknowledge is usually at the root of tragedy, and even Saint Augustine warned against consulting

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Bleeding Red, Feeling Blue

When I started this column back in January 2001 (as a “Letter From Rockford”), the United States had just emerged from a presidential election that made this country look anything but united.  Red and Blue, until then simply convenient colors

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Becoming Native to This Place

This fall has been especially beautiful here in Rockford.  There is some truth, however, in the old adage that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” so I am not certain whether a year’s worth of rain and sun

Polka Can’t Die
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Polka Can’t Die

Rockford’s annual On the Waterfront festival is just the sort of thing I should like—in theory, at least.  Held every Labor Day weekend since 1985, On the Waterfront is the largest community event in Rockford and features both local and

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Rolling Home to Rockford

According to the official website of the Lake Michigan Circle Tour, if we had stuck to the prescribed route, our excursion would have taken us approximately 1,160 miles.  Here on our 12th day out, however, we have just logged our

One Moment in Time
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One Moment in Time

“You mean,” said Marina, “you mean that we’re sitting here over Hell?”

“Over a hell, conceivably.  There are many hells, and the same place may be Hell or Purgatory, depending upon the situation.  Most of them are private.”

Those words

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The End of the Innocence

This town ain’t big

This town ain’t small.

It’s a little of both they say.

And our ball club may be minor league

But at least it’s Triple A. . . .

We don’t worry ’bout the pennant much

We

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Strictly Business

The other day, driving through North End Commons (a neighborhood a bit north of the Chronicles offices and to the west of our house), I noticed a florist, a friend of mine, out in front of another flower shop, chatting

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Last Ride

Every city needs cemeteries, and not just for the obvious reason.  Like public buildings and monuments, they are a visible—and spiritual—link to the city’s past, a reminder that others have traveled the path that we trod, and still others will

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This Is the Time to Remember

Every city is made up of innumerable stories, some overlapping, most not.  And, thus, every city needs many storytellers to provide a full account of its life, because—humans being finite—no one is likely to be able to encompass all of

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One City, No Leaders

Regionalism has been the chief buzzword of the Rockford Register Star for several years now, and, for once, on a rather limited level, I actually agree with the local Gannett paper.  There are certain problems facing Rockford that require coordination

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The Road to Hell

It’s been a rough three months for St. Mary’s Oratory here in Rockford.  First, over Labor Day weekend, some Republican members of the Winnebago County Board, in collusion with certain Republican county officials, hatched a plan to try to include

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Always Dead Downtowns. Always.

In late October, federal agents committed blasphemy against one third of the libertarian trinity of Microsoft, McDonald’s, and Wal-Mart.  In a coordinated raid on Wal-Mart headquarters and 60 Wal-Mart stores in 21 states, the feds arrest 245 illegal aliens, 235

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Calling Bill Donohue

When cities trumpet the glories of their downtowns, they normally talk about such things as the number and variety of restaurants and stores, easy access from other parts of the city, even the availability of parking places.  Here, however, we

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The Perfect Storm

The chain saw screams as it hits the wood, then slides through the first few branches as if they were butter.  I toss them aside, and Jacob and Stephen each grab hold of one, dragging it, struggling, over to the

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WWMD?

I want to speak to you today about war and empire.

Killing, or at least the worst of it, is over in Iraq.  Although blood will continue to spill—theirs and ours—be prepared for this.  For we are embarking on an

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Giving the Devil His Due

Early in the morning factory whistle blows,

Man rises from bed and puts on his clothes,

Man takes his lunch, walks out in the morning light,

It’s the working, the working, just the working life . . .

One of

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Where the Blacktop Ends

It’s springtime once again in Rockford, when a young man’s fancy turns to bailing out his basement.  The old downtown and the residential neighborhoods built up through the 1940’s sit on clay soil, on top of rock.  The effect, when

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War Is Hell on the Homefront, Too

Depending on whether you like them thin and greasy or thick and meaty, the two best purveyors of french fries in Rockford are Uncle Nick’s Gyros on East State Street and Altamore’s Ristorante on North Main.  Neither the mythical Uncle

A Road to Nowhere
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A Road to Nowhere

“That’s my toll booth,” Tom Ditzler says, laughing when his wife, Jan, mentions the portable toilet that the county has left stationed on an island in the road.  “Every car has to drop a quarter in as they pass by.”

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We Are All Socialists Now

Rockford has long been a Republican city, which is not surprising considering that industry—at least through the 1980’s and, to a lesser extent, even now—has formed the basis of her economy.  Today, however, Rockford is becoming increasingly Democratic.  I do

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I’m Not a Number

I stepped through the metal detector and walked down the long hallway to the old entrance to the Winnebago County Court-house, a monument to less security-conscious days.  In Room 502, I joined about 200 other citizens, waiting to do our

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The Cohn Zone

I suppose it was appropriate that I first heard the commercial just as we crossed into Winnebago County, returning from a whirlwind weekend trip to Michigan.  At first, the words didn’t register; it was only when I heard the voice

The Bells of St. Mary’s
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The Bells of St. Mary’s

P. Introibo ad altare Dei.

R. Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam.

From the outside, St. Mary’s Oratory in Rockford resembles scores of other Catholic churches built in the Midwest in the late 19th century, with its red-brick exterior, steep

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One More Such Victory . . .

June 30, 2002, arrived with little fanfare, an odd ending to 13 years of judicial tyranny here in Rockford.  Perhaps that’s because the Rockford school-desegregation lawsuit officially ended on a Sunday; more likely, it’s because most Rockfordians didn’t realize the

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Ethnic Cleansing

Family traditions often get started by accident—especially, perhaps, those that center on food.  On the second New Year’s Eve after we were married, my wife and I found ourselves trapped in our apartment in Vienna, Virginia, victims of a freak

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Cui Bono?

You cannot hope to bribe or twist / (thank God!) the British journalist.
But, seeing what the man will do / unbribed, there’s no occasion to.

—Humbert Wolfe

The June issue of Chronicles was literally on the press on May

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De Profundis

In recent months, as horrifying allegations of homosexual and pedophiliac activities among Catholic priests in the United States have multiplied, the response of the American Church has been, to say the least, disheartening.  Remarks by Bernard Cardinal Law of Boston,

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Giuseppe Sure Knows How To Live

The train winds its way slowly through the Tuscan countryside, stopping at every small station between Siena and Florence.  I don’t mind, because Tuscany in mid-March is like Rockford in mid-to late-May—an explosion of greenery, a profusion of brilliant yellow

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Through A Glass, Darkly

“We have an Islamic school in Rockford?” my friend said in surprise.  His reaction was typical.  Rockford, as the local Gannett paper never ceases to remind us, is stubbornly average—in population, ethnic composition, income level—with a few notable exceptions, particularly

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Robbing Paul to Pay Paul

After 12 years under federal rule, Rockfordians are looking forward to the end of the People Who Care school-desegregation lawsuit on June 30, 2002.  If the district administration and the school board have their way, however, the fat lady may

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Consuming Ourselves

When my wife and I were searching for a house in 1996, we had a few basic requirements: We wanted an older home with a decent-sized yard for our children; we wanted to live in an actual neighborhood, not a

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From Here to Eternity

“Weapons—guns, knives, brass knuckles, cigarette lighters . . . ” The young man’s voice trails off. If he were not waving his metal-detector wand at us, I might think that he was offering to sell us a gun or two,

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Just Another Tequila Sunrise

It may be several years before the results of Census 2000 are available in anyy usable form, but certain trends have already begun to emerge from the raw data. Most significantly, as Chilton Williamson, Jr., and Roger McGrath have pointed

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The Tower of Babble

The first call comes late on a Friday night. “Welcome back,” says Mark Dahlgren, the organist at St. Mary’s Shrine, who is nine months through the one year of probation he received for hugging a tree at Tom and Jan

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Free at Last

The Rockford school-desegregation lawsuit is finally over—or at least it will be, on Sunday, June 30, 2002. Yesterday—Wednesday, April 18—the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit overruled federal Magistrate P. Michael Mahoney and granted the school district

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Not in Your Back Yard

“Why is the traffic stopped?”

“Is that a cop car?”

“Yeah, there must’ve been an accident.”

“No, he’s directing traffic. They’re all waiting to get in the parking lot! The gym’s going to be packed!”

“He’s not letting anyone else

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I’ve Got a Secret

Back in November and December, while Republicans across the country were writing letters, calling in to talk radio, and even taking to the streets to protest Al Gore’s attempt to steal the election in Florida, their fellow party members in

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Chaos and Community

I tune the radio to WLS, and the insistent voice of Tony Brown breaks me out of my trance. It’s Saturday, December 9, the day after a bitterly divided Florida Supreme Court stretched (and possibly broke) Florida law in order

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It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over

October 26, 2000, dawned pretty much like every other day here in Rockford, Illinois. After ten years of living under the dictatorship of a federal magistrate, we had decided that nothing would ever change. And then something did.

On that