Writer’s Workshop: Fire Drill!

Tell us about a time you were waiting nervously for something.

A time? I can think of 64 times (more or less) that I waited nervously for something: the monthly fire drill at school.

I understand the need for fire drills. Yesterday was the 63rd anniversary of the Our Lady Of The Angels School fire, where, due to lack of proper preparation and instruction, 82 children and 3 nuns perished. It led to a complete overhaul of the standards set by the school and the fire department. For one thing, it led to fire alarms being routed from schools immediately to the nearest fire station. For another, once a month, a lieutenant of the Chicago Fire Department would show up, and within half an hour, the fire alarm would sound and we would all demonstrate how well we walked out of the building and onto Loyola Avenue or Lakewood Avenue, well out of the path of fire trucks showing up.

I had no problem with the intention. I hated the bell. It was a very loud buzzer that would start out of nowhere and startle me. Which, when you come right down to it, was exactly what it was supposed to do. It probably wouldn’t bother me much if they just got on with it and sounded the alarm, but if it was cold out (which it was half the year), the principal would announce that we would be having a fire drill and that we should put on our coats. Then, it seemed to take an eternity, because the kids in the lower grades would take forever to get their coats on. I’d be sitting there, palms sweating, chewing at my nails (which on more than one occasion led to painful hangnails), waiting for the damn fire alarm.

In eighth grade, two guys were designated to assist the lieutenant. I always knew we were going to have a fire drill when they left the room. I wanted the job of the guy that turned off the connection to the fire department, then turned it back on and reset the system. The connnection was under the stage in the theater, where the fire alarm was inaudible…

When I got to high school, they had the same fire alarms. The difference was there was no way we could see the Fire Department officer, so we didn’t know it was coming. It didn’t bother me then….



We are only 24 days from Christmas, meaning Christmas songs are in play. I’ve chosen a classic Christmas song and three classic artists doing it on their respective Christmas albums.

The song is "Silent Night." The music was written by Franz Gruber to lyrics by Joseph Mohr in 1818. Legend has it that, on the Christmas Eve that it was to make its debut, the organ at St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf in the Austrian Empire was in such bad shape, it couldn’t be played, so the song was accompanied that first time by someone playing the guitar. It has become one of the most beloved Christmas carols of all time. At my parish, it’s played as the post-Communion hymn, and, at least on Christmas, the house lights are dimmed and all the light in the church is provided by the decorations. It’s quite moving.

So, that’s the song. Here are the contenders.

Bing Crosby

From his 1945 album Merry Christmas.

Andy Williams

From his 1963 album The Andy Williams Christmas Album.

Spike Jones

The comic musician did a very lovely version of the song on his 1956 album Spike Jones Presents a Xmas Spectacular.

There are our contenders for this battle. Here’s what you do:

  1. Listen to the three songs.
  2. Decide which song you like the best.
  3. Vote for your favorite by leaving me a comment with your choice. If you feel like telling us why, feel free.
  4. Then, visit the other participants and vote in their Battles:

Voting closes next Wednesday, December 8 at noon, so be sure and get your votes to me by then.

The lines are now open. Good luck to Bing, Andy, and Spike!

Song of the Day: Lou Rawls, “A Natural Man”

Singer, veteran, fundraiser, composer, actor, and producer Lou Rawls was born on this day in 1933. Lou was always proud to say that he was from Chicago, and we were all proud that he was. It’s sad that, for all the recording that he did (60 albums in his career), he never got the recognition he so richly deserved. Frank Sinatra once said that Lou had the smoothest voice he ever heard. He worked tirelessly for the United Negro College Fund, holding an annual telethon for them. He was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division of the US Army, leaving after three years as a sergeant. "A Natural Man" was written by comedian Sandy Baron and singer-songwriter Bobby Hebb (who wrote and recorded "Sunny" in 1966). Lou recorded the song in 1971, and it reached #17 on the Hot 100 and R&B chart and #14 on the Adult Contemporary chart. He won the 1972 Grammy for Best Male R&B Performance for the song.