Friday, August 10, 2018

O Brother, Where Art Thy Heart? Wish I Could Get You a New One

Family Reunion: My Brother Lonnie, Sister Jacqui (Umi), and Me.  
I'll wager even most of my closest friends don't know that I have an older brother.

There are at least two very good reasons for this.

One, to the best of my recollection, none of my friends have ever met him.

And two, I was raised as an only child.

I'm sure those explanations require their own explanations, but before I get to that let me get to this: my brother, Lionel – or Lonnie, or Limabean to his besties – is in desperate need of a heart transplant.

He was diagnosed with congestive heart failure two years ago and currently is on the transplant waiting list at Spectrum Hospital in Grand Rapids. Even when a match is found, however, he still will need additional funds to pay for the hospital expenses and medications his insurance will not cover.

So a GoFundMe account has been established on his behalf in hopes of raising at least $10,000 for his medical bills.

Click here for the link to Lonnie's GoFundMe page. Please give if you can, and generously. Any amount at all is deeply appreciated. And as always, I would never ask you to do something I wouldn't do myself.

And do you find it bizarre and incredible, as I do, that two siblings should grow up to both need organ transplants –– for different organs? What is that, bad blood? Weak cells? Damaged DNA? Whatever the cause, I only pray that my brother may find an organ donor as perfectly matched and life restoring as I did.

And soon.

Which kind of brings us back to where Mr. (Lima) Bean has been all my life. Now, I don't know if this story is completely accurate, but it's the one I was told growing up:

Lonnie and my sister, Jacqui –– better known as Umi (OO-mee) to practically everyone in and around Muskegon, Mich., including her 19 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren –– were very young when our father walked out on them and my birth mother, Josephine. Only Josephine wasn't technically my birth mother at the time, since she was still pregnant with me.
Lonnie and Jacqui. Notice who's not in the shot.

Josephine could barely afford the two kids she had, much less a new rugrat. And while I stand foursquare in favor of a woman's right to choose, I am sooo thankful she made the choice she did, else I would not be here telling you this story. Rather than flush me away, she delivered me and almost immediately put me up for adoption to a wonderful older couple in tiny Spring Lake, Mich., about 15 miles from Muskegon. These were the McFarlins, my Mom and Dad, and a better set of parents you would be hard-pressed to find.

(I never knew my birth father. Wouldn't recognize him if he came into my office right now and poked me in the eye. Although if he tried, since he'd have to be pushing 90 these days, I'm pretty sure I could dodge him.)

Now, here's where a curious thing happened. Because our two towns were so close, and because the McFarlins knew Josephine's parents, my maternal grandparents, very well (that's kind of how the adoption was arranged, practically through a handshake deal), I grew up knowing my birth family, unlike many adopted children. Indeed, we often gathered together to share birthdays, holidays and other special occasions. And for about a week every summer vacation, we would alternate: I would go to Muskegon and stay with Josephine and Jacqui, or Jacqui would come to Spring Lake and visit with us. When you're a little kid, you can't have enough people loving you.

Where is Lionel in all this, you ask? Well, Lonnie was the oldest sibling, the man of the house, and I don't know how much time he spent playing with Jacqui growing up but I know he didn't much have much tolerance for a bespectacled little nerd who showed up once a year, baby brother or no. And Spring Lake was way too slow for his speed. Like most kids, he much preferred to be in the streets, running with his boys, than babysitting some intruder.

So I didn't see much of him. I totally got it. But I remember my "vacation" weeks in Muskegon as terrifying. Josephine was a single mother and had to go to work every day, leaving me in the custody of Jacqui and Lonnie. They weren't what you'd call homebodies.

They had to take me with them, and I recall being left in alleys, stores, strange houses full of people I didn't know...for sheltered Little Jimmy, who'd rather be reading a book through his Coke-bottle glasses or watching cartoons in the living room.... I may still have PTSD.
My brother, Lonnie, today: Take heart. 

But now that we're all old folks, I've grown to respect Lonnie a great deal and the man he's become. He absolutely loves to hunt and fish (how can we possibly be related?), and can no longer fully pursue his passions. His quality of life, indeed the joy of life itself, has been seriously curtailed by his illness and reduced activity level.

My brother has a good heart, emotionally speaking, but the original equipment in his chest is failing him. He needs a new heart, quickly, and the ability to afford all the ancillary equipment and supplies that a transplant requires.

Again, here is the link to the GoFundMe page to support Lionel. Please give if you can; any amount is appreciated.

I know you may not know him, but I do. And he's a good man.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Remembering The Day That Alan Trammell Changed My Life

No. 3 is Now No. 1: Tigers Legend Alan Trammell. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
On Sunday, July 29, at about 2:32 p.m. or so EST, Alan Trammell will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Finally.

But Alan Stuart Trammell has been a Hall of Famer in my book for a long, long time before that. 

Not just because he is undeniably the greatest shortstop in the history of my beloved home (state) team, the Detroit Tigers. Not only because of his .285 lifetime batting average, 185 home runs, four Gold Gloves or six All-Star appearances. Not because he spent his entire 20-season career in Detroit, or because he led the squad that brought a World Series championship to Motown in the Roar of '84, capturing Series MVP honors in the process.

No, Alan Trammell will always be a hero to me because of a brief, easily forgotten, on-field exchange at least 35 years ago that impacted me so dramatically that I believe it altered my basic outlook on life.

Perhaps I should explain.

But first, please understand that Trammell and his double-play partner, Lou Whitaker (whose omission from Hall of Fame consideration is nothing short of criminal, IMHO) were my Boys of Summer. We were young, ambitious men at the same time in life. I still vividly remember that iconic (in Detroit) photo of the fledgling double-play combo, side by side and grinning like kids at a carnival, just called up from Toledo and preparing to make their major league debuts together on Sept. 9, 1977.

Tram and Sweet Lou were more than just extraordinary ballplayers I followed every day of baseball season on radio, TV or in person; they were contemporaries. We grew up in Detroit together. So when my friend Larry Kaplan, who was then one of the city's best-known freelance photographers, told me he had wheedled an extra media pass for Tiger Stadium and asked if I wanted to join him on the field during batting practice, of course I said no.
This isn't the "iconic" photo, but you get the idea. (Getty Images)

Are you kidding? 

At the time I was working as the pop music critic for The Detroit News, which at the time was the largest evening daily newspaper in America. I had interviewed countless rock 'n' roll icons face to face, been backstage at hundreds of concerts, but nothing had geeked me up quite as much as this opportunity. Now I was grinning like a kid at a carnival.

The shifting sands of time have pounded my brain to the point that I cannot remember the date or the opponent, but I recall it was a day game and I'm guessing it happened sometime in 1983, the year before the Tigers magical championship run. I completely remember the look and feel of the Tiger Stadium grass beneath my feet, the tingling sensation all over my body. Sportswriters do this every day. I felt like I had been granted special access to the Taj Majal.

The first player we saw on the field was Trammell, casually waiting his turn in the batting cage. Kaplan walked me up to him and asked me, "I guess you know who this is, huh?"

I was trying to be cool, but if I'd had an autograph book with me I totally would have made a gushing idiot out of myself. I was so awestruck it never occurred to me to ask the photographer with cameras around his neck to take a picture of the two of us. I may have stuttered.

Then came the moment. "Jim is the rock critic for the News," Kaplan explained. 

Alan Trammell's face brightened. His eyes opened wide. "Rock critic? Really? So, do you go to all the concerts? Do you go backstage? Do you get to talk to the musicians? Who have you seen lately? Who do you like?"

Suddenly, my hero, my baseball idol, is peppering me with questions about my job and how I did what I did. I was shocked! I'm sure I blurted out answers as best as I could, but this unexpected role reversal caught me totally by surprise. After a few moments, Trammell and I shook hands and Kaplan walked me away. 

I think I needed the assistance.

That encounter, while just seconds long, left me with some valuable insights I've kept to this day:

• No matter what your job may be, there is somebody out there who thinks it's really cool.

• Don't take your work for granted.

• Be gracious to others, especially when you can detect that they're nervous.

• Even a momentary encounter can change somebody's life – for better or worse.

• Strangers may only meet you once in life. Strive to leave a great first impression.

Back then I'm pretty sure my ego was inflated beyond all logical proportions. For a guy from little Spring Lake, Mich., to work his way up to becoming music critic at a major daily newspaper, in his home state, and a person of color at that...I probably believed my feces had no odor. But then for a man I believed could be justified to feel that way, to treat me like he did for those few moments...decades later, I've never forgotten it. I still use those principles today as I travel the country on speaking engagements and stand as an advocate for kidney disease prevention, peritoneal dialysis and organ transplantation. 

As big a baseball freak as I am, I never have had the urge to travel to Cooperstown, N.Y., for a Hall of Fame induction ceremony. I seriously thought about going this year, but I also work as a wedding officiant these days and accidentally scheduled a vow renewal ceremony in Chicago this weekend.

Rats.

Jack Morris, the dominant right-handed pitcher of his era and a longtime Tiger as well, also is being inducted to the Hall of Fame on Sunday. It's a well-deserved honor. But even Morris admits now that back in his heyday he was kind of an ass. Wonder how my outlook on life might have changed had I met him first?

No, if I was in Cooperstown this weekend it would be for Tram and Tram alone. I am there in spirit. 

Thanks for the memories, Alan Trammell. All the memories.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

I Oughta Be in Pictures? For a Cause as Great as This, of Course!

Before we begin...to all my besties, acquaintances, and anyone else who knows me as a proud native son of Michigan, I apologize in advance. But please allow me to explain.

What you're about to see on this embedded video may give you pause to believe I have turned my back –– and the sweatshirt that covers it –– on the Great Lakes State. Nothing could be further from correct. I was born in Muskegon, raised in Spring Lake, summered in Grand Haven, matriculated in Holland, and spent the majority of my adult life in Detroit. The blood that courses through my veins is Pure Michigan.

However, in the video you're about to click, you will see Jim McFarlin clad in (I can hardly bring myself to write it) a University of Illinois hoodie. While it's true I have lived outside of Chicago for the better part of a decade, I assure you I have not crossed over to the dark side of the Big Ten Conference.



This was clearly a "when in Rome" –– or in this case, Champaign-Urbana –– situation.

You see, I am a member of a committee called Life Goes On Champaign, an outgrowth of legendary Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and his passion to increase the number of Land of Lincoln residents who register to be organ and tissue donors. White's obsession was fueled when his sister received a life-saving kidney transplant many years ago. And since I received the identical miraculous gift in 2011, I'm a big fan of the effort myself.

(For more information, go to LifeGoesOn.com.)

Since April is Donate Life Month (you did know that, right?), White and his people unveiled a new ad campaign and video highlighting the fact that as of January, 16- and 17-year-olds are permitted to register as donors in the state of Illinois.

Liz Hager, White's wondrous right-hand woman and our committee chair, connected with a delightful University of Illinois undergrad named Bridgette Rasmussen who volunteered to help produce a separate public service announcement on behalf of Illinois Student Government, specifically for the U of I Union. It would alternate with the official Life Goes On PSA and air continuously throughout the Union, to be seen by thousands of collegians.

Since I am one of the few men on the committee, and by far the biggest ham in the room, I happily volunteered to participate.

Because it was going to be shown exclusively on campus, I decided to dress the part for the video shoot. All right, yes, I was sucking up...but for a good cause!

I donned my orange-and-blue-on-gray Illinois hoodie –– the only piece of Illini apparel I possess, and I only wear it to work out, I swear! –– and drove to the university's creative services office for the taping. I would be joined by my fellow committee members, Lauri Umbarger and Robyn Deterding.

Now let me say at this point that I enjoy many things about growing older gracefully, but total loss of memory is not one of them. I elected to run a few quick errands before driving to the U of I studio, ensuring I would arrive early for our 4 o'clock taping.

That is, until I casually glanced at my calendar while stopped at a red light. The taping was set for 3 o'clock! I forgot! Instead of being comfortably early, I stood to be nearly an hour late!

I raced to campus, found a parking place several blocks away –– looking for parking at a major university in mid-afternoon can bring a grown man to tears –– then ran to the studio, arriving flustered and out of breath. My only saving grace was, as I knew from experience and hoped in this instance, that video shoots almost never start on time.

Thankfully, I was right. And by the grace of God I was scheduled to be the last person taped, which gave me time to right myself. The script, loaded onto a TelePrompTer, was simple and straightforward, which meant I could read it slowly and give it some sincerity. I wasn't half bad, if I say so myself, but you be the judge.

Apparently, the video crew thought so. When we were finished, the director stared at me and asked, "Have...you...done this before?" I explained that yes, I used to do some voiceover work in Detroit and hosted shows both on TV and radio.

He asked for my business card.

Wouldn't it be a hoot if volunteering to play a part for a cause I feel so strongly about led to getting some paying work as well? Talk about paying it forward!

But hey, like they say: Life Goes On.