Who Lost In Wisconsin?


“Did we lose Wisconsin? Of course we did. I’ve been a high school teacher in the Wisconsin Public Schools for 25 years. Graduated from Beloit College. B.A. in Psychology. Masters in Teaching. I started the year Liz was born. She was our first. Molly came next.

That Masters program is gone now. Just like my union bargaining rights. I used to have a union. Now I don’t. It’s really pretty simple. We lost.

I’m not saying I liked the union. No one likes writing that check for the dues every month and then hearing the stories of where that money goes. Union treasurer caught with his hand in the cookie jar of embezzled funds.

But I don’t like taking out the garbage after dinner in the winter either. I’d much rather go sit in my chair and watch basketball and have one more beer while Liz and Molly fade into their rooms and twitter or Facebook or whatever it is they do and my wife Janet talks to her sister on the phone. There’s a lot of things I don’t like. I still haven’t found an institution that’s perfect. I teach American history to high school kids, so I’m pretty sure I didn’t miss the news on any perfect institution that came before me. If I had missed one, my kids would have clued me in. Twittered me or something. Just because some of the people who run the union are idiots, that doesn’t I would stop writing that check to the union. I go to church. And a lot of people who work there are idiots too.

I wrote the check to keep the foot of guys like Scott Walker off my throat.

Now there’s no one to help me do that.

Am I mad? I don’t get mad anymore. I’m tired. And as long as it’s just you and me talking? I’m scared.

Janet gets mad enough for both of us. Once, true story, I had to pull her back from a biker in a roadhouse just outside of Whitewater. She used to dance. And there was a time when she could be standing right in front of you and connect the heel of her foot to your chin, before you could even take a breath. And that was before she took kickboxing.

Even now. She’s told me about something she calls “muscle memory.” Like the kick is still there inside. Ready for when she really needs it.

So this guy with the leather Harley vest, stringy hair, at least 260, maybe 280 pounds, arms like tree trunks, thought he should get his beers before Janet, who was first. There was almost real trouble. Janet might have killed the guy.

I was sitting with my back to the whole thing, there was a Brewers game on, and I hear the voices rising. I turn and see her right leg starting to tense, so I am there, right then, between her and mister seriously bad breath and all the years of staring down kids, well, it somehow worked. Because the guy could have done me serious damage.

I get a little mad when they started funding the PR campaign saying we teachers were the money grubbing pigs.

At first it made me laugh. When I first started, I remember the guy I student taught for. He says to me, “Kid, if you want to make some money in this job, I got two words for you. ‘Drivers Education.” That’s where the money is. Guys name, and I’m serious, was Mr. Fly.

No one teaches for the money.

And I did teach drivers ed. In addition to my regular load. During the eighties. When things got tough for awhile. Our girls were growing up. Janet sold real estate. That helped a lot. And it kept her schedule flexible for her real job—chauffer to the girls. But we did need the money.

And I’ve always coached baseball. Long as no one’s gonna read this, and I can be frank? I’ll tell you. Sometimes I forget that I even get paid for coaching baseball.

So when I heard about all this lazy, dumb teacher stuff, I started to get a little mad. Till I remembered something my Cousin Mike from Chicago told me. I call him ‘My Cousin Vinnie’ for a lotta reasons. But his name is Mike. And I remember the time Mike said to me, “Hey. Don’t get mad. Get even.” He told me he never bought that line himself. But he thought I’d like it. And I did.

Mike’s an odd duck. He’s been nothing but happy these past 15 years or so. Ever since he hooked up with Marisa. She’s Sicilian. Doesn’t look it though. On the street, in stores, people do double takes because she is a spot on identical twin of Sandra Bullock. The last time I saw her was oh maybe a year ago when they drove up from Chicago to see a Brewers game.

Mostly Mike and I talk on the phone. I don’t know what it is about him. Sometimes I think he’s freaking out of his mind. Sometimes I think he just sees things that other people don’t see. He makes connections between things that don’t seem like they connect at all. Till you think about it for awhile. Which might mean he is crazy.

But in the past few years, as things have gotten so, so tough for so many people, it seems like Mike has eased up inside. And he’s got less money every day. So figure that out.

Like yesterday. He calls and says, “Yo! I figured it out! ”He never says hello. He just starts talking. He also says “What if” a lot.

“What have you figured out Mike?”

“What if the point was to thank God for the things that are hardest for you?”

Now personally that sounded like a load of religious crap. But I let him talk.

“For Marisa and me, it gets tough sometimes. We’re always the ones that are a little bit different. Always standing on the outside. Not quite like everyone else. It’s hard for us to feel be belong. Anywhere we go. But you’ll never believe what happened. Just now. I am driving past I saw this big huge open field smack in the middle of the city. Just now!! And the open field made me feel like I belong!”

“And you are calling at 7:15 on a Saturday morning to tell me this why?”

“It’s incredible. I’m driving down Larabee. And 5 years ago I couldn’t drive through here without getting shot! It’s where Cabrini Green used to be.

I just dropped Marisa off at work, turned around to come home and I’m going through these open fields. There is nothing here. And I’m thinking, “Oh my God. Anything can happen here now. Anything. It was like the open fields became possibilities. And a possibility is something that can include anyone.

“Not following you Mike.”

“Listen Cousin John. This open field here reminded me of you. Of Wisconsin. You think you lost, right?”

“I know I lost.”

“No you didn’t. You won. Because what you got up there my favorite Cheese Head pal, is a big open field. Just like this one. You got people who care. You got people who were fooled, so now they are mad. And you got people waking up to what’s really important. You got people waking up to what it means to take care of each other! You got a possibility. Just like this field!

“ I got no union Mike.”

“John, you got people ready to rebuild one. To stop voting against their own self interest just because some whack job tells them too. You know what you got now John?

“What?

“ Possibilities. Like an open field. You got good things.”

2 Responses to “Who Lost In Wisconsin?”

  1. Tom Simeone Says:

    Leave it to you to pull some hope out of this despair, Roger. In this day and age, when most people are too busy trying to build the clouds around any silver linings they can find, you keep us grounded. It’s not what we’ve lost or that we’re left with nothing. It’s that we’ve been given the opportunity to build something even better! Count me in.

  2. Helen Gagel Says:

    Hope springs eternal, and you have expressed it with elegance.

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