unPHILtered – Phil Ponce's Blog

It’s What Grown-ups Do

I was fascinated to see the picture of President Obama and Mitt Romney when they met for lunch yesterday at the White House.  One can only imagine what Romney was thinking as he posed with the president in the Oval Office.

It’s hard to forget that there appeared to be no love lost between the two during the campaign itself.  At one point, President Obama was quoted as saying that Romney was a “bull*******” and the White House did not refute the report.  And Romney’s comments after the election about the president having “bought” the election reflected no great affection for Mr. Obama, either.

Even so, the two men had lunch and later said they would stay in touch.  Was it window dressing or a real exchange of ideas about “leadership” as the White House later reported?  Who knows?  And, to my mind, who cares?

It’s the optics of the situation that matter to me:  after a contentious campaign it is helpful to have the combatants break bread — even if they don’t love each other.  And if they can put a good face on things and be civil to each other, then maybe the rest of the country can do the same.  After an election like the one we just had, I’ll take good window dressing over a brick through a window any day.

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An Updated Look

I had a speaking engagement recently and the printed program included an outdated picture of me that the event sponsors had tracked down on their own.  In it, my hair was still all black and it looked like my first communion picture.  It embarrassed me to think people might have thought I had provided the picture and thought that’s what I still looked like.  (“Who’s he trying to kid?”)  So I’m in the process of updating my public photos.

This new one to the right was taken by my colleague, Ash-har Quraishi, in front of Channel 11.  And there is one thing he changed (that I know of!)  A few hours before he took the picture, I had been working in the yard and got poked in the eye with a branch on a bush.  I had a red ring of blood in my right eye.  Ash-har graciously fixed it through the magic of Photoshop.  So, I’ll keep an eye out for you and hope you keep checking in, too.  Here’s looking at you.

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New School “Nutcracker”

Clara and the Rat King, photo courtesy of House Theatre

Living in one of the great theater cities in the world, I really should go to more shows.  But as my wife is quick to point out, there is nothing better than good live theater…and nothing worse than bad live theater;  so I am a little gun shy –particularly since I sometimes have a problem with the whole “suspension-of-disbelief” thing.

But, on Saturday morning, I read Chris Jones’ Chicago Tribune review of the House Theater’s production of The Nutcracker and it piqued my interest.  The same company’s production several years ago of The Sparrow had blown me away so, quick like a bunny, I got tickets for that night.

I’m so glad I did.  The review says it well.  It’s fresh, playful and hip–and it has a nice wow factor at the end.  But it also taps into the loss we feel when someone we love is no longer with us — especially on special occasions.   I wasn’t expecting to experience the range of emotions the play bracingly evoked —  much like Christmas itself.   Anyway, I’m no Chris Jones (or Hedy Weiss!), but I give this production a big thumbs up.  It is a perfect (and affordable) seasonal outing for you and anyone whose holiday company you value.

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The Answer to Monday’s Etiquette Quiz

Having been in this situation before (years ago when I sat next to an extra-loud popcorn eater at a movie theater), I knew this about myself:  once I complained, even if the offender stopped the offending conduct, I would be so self-conscious about having made a fuss that I would not have enjoyed the rest of the performance.  So I chose the path of least resistance, moved to an empty seat several rows back and salvaged the rest of the concert.  Cowardly, yes, but at least give me points for self-awareness!

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A Thing We Have Never Done Before

We interviewed comedian and Curb Your Enthusiasm star Jeff Garlin last night and did something we’ve never done before. Jeff is in town to appear at Steppenwolf Theatre and happened to have his charming and lovely mother, Carole, with him when he came to Channel 11 to be interviewed. So just before the interview was to begin, we asked if his mother would like to be a part of it; they both agreed, so it was off to the races!

Mother and son regaled viewers with stories ranging from his early, bath-tub comedy routines to her reaction to the sometimes taste-pushing, jaw-droppingly awkward themes on Curb Your Enthusiasm (regular viewers of that HBO comedy series need no explanation).

Jeff’s mother was the perfect “straight man” for her son’s comic observations.  Jeff is a gifted improvisational comedian/actor and one can see where he got his poise.  Why did we extend the invitation?  It just seemed like it would work.  We’ve never invited the parent of a guest to appear on the show along with the guest at the last minute–and probably won’t again.  But check out this segment for a comedy duo that is just waiting for a television producer to make the act official.

Editor’s note: check in tomorrow for the answer to yesterday’s etiquette quiz.

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What Would YOU Have Done?

Say you were an audience member at a performance of vocal music in a fairly intimate theater (not a big arena setting).  Say you’d spent about $75 for a ticket, had to pay for valet parking because there was no street parking, and that it was a special Saturday night outing for you.  The performers are singing songs, many of which are familiar to the audience.  And before each song, one of the singers discreetly uses a pitch pipe to make sure the group is on key.

But soon into the concert, you realize the singing isn’t just coming from the stage:  the stranger sitting right next to you is not only singing along with the performers on stage, he is actually humming the pitch before each song, along with the singers!

Do you:

A.  Tell the person that he may not be aware of what he’s doing and to kindly stop?

B.  Tell him he has a lovely voice and should join the singers on stage so that the rest of the audience is not deprived of his performance?

C.  Say nothing and let his singing and pitch-humming be a distraction throughout the concert?

D.  Say nothing during the concert but something sarcastic to him afterwards such as:  “I’m surprised you didn’t take a curtain call and sing an encore, too.”

In a future post, I’ll tell you what I did.  In the meantime, I’d love to hear what YOU would have done!

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Who Did the Painting in the Mayor’s Office?

When I saw a picture of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office in the Chicago Tribune this morning, I was struck by the painting hanging behind his desk. It looks like an Anselm Kiefer, doesn’t it?  Click on this link to see a piece by Kiefer that seems similar to the painting in the mayor’s office.  Kiefer’s work is known to be smart, edgy, complex and confrontational.  Sound like anyone you know of?

* * *

Later in the day:  busted, I was wrong!  I received an email from the mayor’s political director, Thomas Bowen, identifying the artist and the piece. Click here for the correct answer!

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A Tale of Two Walters

I interviewed Eddie Payton last night; he’s Walter Payton’s brother.  Eddie Payton was on to discuss his new book, Walter and Me:  Standing in the Shadow of Sweetness.  The book is a big brother’s look at his life with his famous younger brother and is an attempted refutation of a book that came out last year.  That book was Sweetness:  The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton, by Sports Illustrated writer Jeff Pearlman, a book which was heavily praised for its thoroughness (the author says his research included interviews with almost 700 people) and the complete picture it gave of its subject.  But it was also heavily criticized by some people in Walter’s camp for including assertions that Payton suffered depression, thoughts of suicide, drug addiction, and had fathered a son whom he supported financially, but chose never to meet.

Eddie Payton’s book was a direct response to the Pearlman book.  It focuses on Eddie and Walter as brothers growing up in the south, their playing days together and Walter’s glory days with the Bears.  It denies that Walter had an addiction problem and doesn’t address the issue of his illegitimate son.  And Eddie Payton argues that Walter’s depression and suicidal musings were caused by CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain condition believed to be caused by repeated concussions.  Eddie’s book is based, not on hundreds of interviews, but on his memories.

Which book captures the real Walter?  The one that was done by a seasoned journalist or the one done by a loving brother?  Good question, and one that might best be answered by another:  aren’t there some people whose essence cannot be captured by just one book?

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Random Monday Morning Musings

1.  There was a phone message waiting for me when I came into the office today.  It was from a person who said he was a priest and long-time military chaplain.  He implored me to be “gentle, gentle, gentle” if we discussed the case of General Petraeus.  He said he felt the general’s overall record was exemplary and should not be judged by an episode of human frailty.

2.  When I watched that hit on Jay Cutler last night, it made me sick to my stomach.  The news that he has a concussion underscored my revulsion that our collective need for entertainment can take precedence over the future health of young athletes.  This, on a day when former Bears quarterback Jim McMahon announced a new phase of treatment for his early-onset dementia — believed to have been caused by numerous concussions.

3.  Nate Silver is a sweet guy.  Whether you love him or pillory him, the political statistics guru is an unassuming person who is comfortable in his own skin–and seems genuinely flummoxed over his celebrity status.  I hope you watch my interview with him on Chicago Tonight.

4.  Lastly, for the defining comment on the state of local TV news, check out this performance by my sons, Dan and Anthony, Saturday night at Roe Conn’s Newsapalooza (a benefit for people with developmental disabilities):

YouTube Preview Image



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Some Random Post-Election Thoughts

The President’s parenthetical:  during his victory speech, President Obama had a throwaway line referring to people who waited in line for hours to vote saying that was a problem that needed to be fixed.  He should be held to that.

Gracious concession speeches:  why is it that some losing presidential candidates (Al Gore, John McCain, to name two) sometimes reveal appealing qualities when they lose that may not have been fully on display during the campaign itself — like authenticity and modesty?

Overseas precincts:  interesting that in opinion polls in other countries, only people surveyed in Israel and Pakistan would have preferred Romney over Obama.  I’ll have to run that last one by our former colleague, Mansoor Ali Khan, but U.S. drone attacks were clearly a factor.

Clarity:  as a citizen I am grateful that this campaign had a beginning, a middle and a timely end.  One may not be happy with the result, but at least the country has been spared the added strife of a contentious, acrimonious and belated resolution in the courts.

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