Friday, February 29, 2008

It's Leap Day

February 29th. Leap Day.

I can understand the need for a leap day every four years (you know, the earth’s rotation doesn’t exactly sync with 365 days to circumnavigate the sun, blah, blah, blah)

But who thought of this calendar where some months get thirty days and some get thirty one? I can never keep track of which month has which.

So, I’ve come up with the following calendar to even it all up.

You ready?

First of all, get rid of Mondays. All of them. Mondays suck.

Now that each week has six days, put five weeks in each month. Each month will now have 30 days. Twelve months makes 360 days.

“But there are 365 days in the year,” you say.

Right. I’ve thought of that.

Each year, after Dec. 30th, there will be Day A,B,C,D and E (Day F on leap years)

Those five days will be holidays leading up to January 1st of each year. Everyone will have those days off (with pay, of course). That way, there’ll be no more fighting over who has the days off between Christmas and New Year's.

Oh, and on each of those days, every food establishment will be required by law to be “All You Can Eat” for the low price of ten dollars per person. Otherwise, their operating licenses would be revoked.

I should be president.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

This is cute

I probably don’t have to tell you that Chicago’s O’Hare International is an extremely busy airport. Probably every reader here has flown in and out of it at one time.

So, to ease congestion, O’Hare has implemented a drop off point outside the airport for departing passengers. You drop them off there, they can hop right onto the airport’s transport system, thus eliminating the need to drive all the way to the (very congested) terminals.

This drop-off point is called “Kiss ‘n’ Fly”. Isn’t that just the cutest name? How many times have you been dropped off by a loved-one, you give them a little kiss and you’re on your way.

Sometimes, if the weather’s really bad I’ll take a taxi to O’Hare rather than the train. I’ve noticed this exit but have yet to ask a cab driver to do the Kiss ‘n’ Fly thing.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

It's All Relative

Over the Christmas holidays, I was home visiting with lots of family members and the subject of “first cousins, once removed” and “second cousins” came up.

Having attended a Catholic seminary and having to know who-and-who-cannot get married in the church, I arose as the expert.

Actually, I know everything, but my friends and family keep forgetting this.

So, here’s how it works.

My first cousin is Patrick. His kids are my “first cousins, once removed.”

First cousins, once removed, are always one generation apart.

If I had kids, then my kids and Patrick’s kids would be “second cousins.”

(All of their kids would be third cousins).

Second cousins are always of the same generation.

Patrick’s grandchildren would be my first cousins, twice removed.

Double First Cousins

Let’s say my brother and I married two sisters from another family. All of our kids would be “double first cousins.” Genetically, double first cousins are the same relation as half-siblings.

Legally, one cannot marry one’s double first cousin.

The children of double first cousins (double second cousins) cannot get married either because they are related just as closely as first cousins.

My paternal grandmother had double first cousins. It happened more frequently back in the old days when more folks lived on isolated farms.

Siblings from one farm would pair up with siblings from the neighboring farm. After all, who else would have been available?

If two identical twins marry two other identical twins, then their children are double first cousins but are genetically related just as closely as brothers and sisters.

They certainly can’t get married.
Their kids would be squash.

I once knew of a guy who found out that he was pretty closely related to his wife after they’d had three kids.

It turns out that his grandfather had had an affair with the neighbor. This guy married the daughter of this neighbor – the child that resulted from his grandpa’s illicit tryst. He didn’t know that his wife was actually his “half-aunt” until after they’d had three children.

(Cue up banjos playing in background. . . )


Awhile back, I posted that I didn’t like to waste anything, so I would take the little shampoos from my hotel rooms after I used them rather than have the cleaning staff throw them away.

Well, a friend of mine turned me on to an even better idea.

Her mom stays in lots of hotels, too. She collects all the shampoos, body lotions, little soapies and then donates them all to a local women’s shelter.

I am SO going to start doing that.

Better yet, I can bring my own shampoo and liquid soap along in 3-oz. containers and, that way, I won’t even be using the hotel’s soap and shampoo. That’ll make my donations even bigger.

I love this idea because, in my opinion, 95 percent of business travel is the epitome of evil capitalism. And I have to stay in hotels a LOT.

So, I might as well utilize this activity to help out a women’s shelter. (I mention women’s shelters because hotels often supply body lotions, hand moisturizers and sometimes even feminine hoo-hoo items). So, it might as well all go to a women’s shelter.

Isn’t that just the greatest idea EVER? It warms the cockles of my socialist, steal-from-the-rich-give-to-the-poor heart.

Here’s my little collection so far. Soon, I'll have a big box to donate. (I have to go to Springfield next week. Again.)
Oh, and to make myself sound even MORE holier-than-thou, please know that I always leave the cleaning staff a nice tip out of my own pocket. They work their tails off for a paltry wage and deserve it more than anyone.

I want a bumper sticker that says WWHD (What Would Hillary Do?)

Little Treasures from Budgie

My grandmother, Budgie would have easily won, hands down, the title of "World’s Best Grandmother." A kinder, funnier, more loving person you’d be hard pressed to meet. She and my mom also raised me and my brother from the time I was ten years old.

We were soul mates.

She passed away six years ago at the age of 92.

I have a couple of little treasures from her kitchen.

Here is an old, aluminum note pad holder she always had by the phone. It’s from the local grocery store in my little bitty home town in Texas. Note the phone number of the grocery store: 201.

When I say that my home town was little-bitty, I mean little-bitty.

Up until the mid sixties, you only had to dial three numbers for a local call. Then, all hell broke loose and we had to dial FIVE numbers.

By the way, the “53191” in my blog name was Budgie’s phone number. This way, I get to keep using it.

Next is her old stock-pot. She had a “deep-well” on her stove top in which this stock pot fit. Many a pot of soup, of red beans, of chicken and dumplings were made in this pot.

Having raised her own children during The Depression, Budgie hated to waste anything. A food item could be moldy enough to produce penicillin and she’d remark, “Oh, just scrape off that moldy part. It’ll be fine.”

One time, she was boiling potatoes in this stock pot and completely forgot about them. We came home to find the house filled with smoke, the stock pot completely dry, and the potatoes on fire, looking like charcoal briquettes.

My mom grabbed the stock pot and in a very dramatic movement, ran to the back door and flung the flaming contents into the yard.

My brother poked one of the potato briquettes with his shoe and in a mocking Budgie-voice said, “Oh, just scrape off that burnt part. They’ll be fine!”

It was definitely a funny "family moment."

Budgie had lots of sayings she’d often convey. One of her favorites was, “If you ain’t lovin’, you ain’t livin’!”

The woman knew how to live.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Some Excitement at Work Today

Guess who was at my workplace today?

Our governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich.

I wanted to ask him what sort of shampoo he uses to get his hair so fluffy, but his pesky secret service guy was in the way.

I asked our receptionist to tell Blagojevich to stop by my office before he left, but he didn't.


Who's Your Candidate?

Here's a cool little test for you all to take.

Click on the answers (and be honest) and it will tell you which candidate you actually favor.

Clinton was my winner. Big suprise.
I had zero points for Huckabee (which bathed me in relief).

Try it!

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Monday, February 25, 2008

A Wonderful Meal - - With Sortilege

My friends Jack and Steve and Portia put on a grand dinner last night for seven folks. Our friends, Richard and Karen (no, their name isn’t Carpenter) brought lots of tasty treats to eat beforehand.

Karen also supplied the appetizer which consisted of mini-crab cakes on a salad of greens with a sesame dressing. To. Die. For.

She also make crème brulée for dessert, and who doesn’t like crème brulée?

Jack and Steve made an incredible, juicy roast pork with rosemary, a mushroom risotto and fresh asparagus with a lemon-thyme vinaigrette.

Whose two really know how to put on a spread. (Thanks guys!)

Of course, the infamous Sortilege liqueur was served with dessert. Most of the guests had never tasted it, so they were duly wowed by it. Sortilege is the difficult-to-obtain liqueur from Canada that’s a blend of Canadian whiskey and maple syrup liqueur.

I recently tried to place another order of Sortilege with the place I’d found online last time, but they no longer carried it!


However, I found another place that had it at almost half the price, only $11.99 a bottle.

My order should be here by the end of the week.

Anyway, I wrote a song about Sortilege.
It's sung to the tune of O Canada.

First, here are the words to O Canada:

O Canada!
Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!
From far and wide, O Canada,
We stand on guard for thee.

God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

And then here are my words to O Sortilege:

O Sortilege!
We drink a toast to thee.
Sipping liqueur imbued with maple trees.
With glowing hearts, O Canada
With each glass we partake;
We Americans do love thee more
The elixir our neighbors make!
O Canada, free up your stores
With Sortilege upon our nation’s shores;
With Sortilege upon our nation’s shores!

Isn't that clever?


Friday, February 22, 2008

Special Memories

See the geeky kid playing the piano at church?

That’s me when I was about nineteen years old. My grandmother was over at the organ and we were rehearsing a piano/organ duo to play during the Sunday service at the Baptist church where she was an organist.

My grandmother began teaching me piano lessons when I was about eight years old. (She also tried teaching me violin lessons but I didn’t like the violin). Anyway, I continued on with lessons and even got a little bitty music scholarship.

So, my grandmother had mailed this music to me for us to “wow” the congregation with. I drove down from college and my dad snapped this photo while we were rehearsing. My grandmother was a pretty incredible organist. It was one of my most special memories.

Gosh, I had pretty hair. . . .

I'm Cheap -- Sometimes

I hate to see anything go to waste. Sometimes, I find myself being pretty cheap.

For example, I stay in lots of hotel rooms while traveling for work. You know those little bitty shampoos and bars of soap that are on hand?
I save them.

After all, I use the little shampoo and bar of soap only once and you know the maid service will just throw it all away when they clean the room.

I don’t take the conditioner or body lotion. I don’t use them so I seriously doubt that it gets thrown away if it’s unused. But I just hate knowing that my once-used shampoo will be thrown away, so I take it and pour it into a big bottle of shampoo when I get home.

However, there is one thing I won’t scrimp on:

Tickets to see Bette Midler. (Please refrain from saying anything about gay stereotypes. . . .

Okay, go ahead. It’s too easy).

I first saw Bette Midler in The Divine Miss M in New York City when I was only sixteen years old. I was with a group of high school students on a theatre tour sponsored by the American Thespian Society.

Her show wasn’t on our pre-paid itinerary but our sponsor said we could go if we wanted to. However, we’d have to shell out the exorbitant sum of (are you ready for this?) twenty-five dollars. Gasp!

I had saved up for this trip by working a lot of hours at the Dairy Queen after school for $2.20 and hour. I didn’t hesitate one moment to see Bette. Somehow, even though I was only sixteen, I knew that paying lots of money to see her was what My People do.

In 1993, I was living in Dallas and Bette was performing in Austin. A good friend of mine lived in Austin and we were both big fans of Bette. She and I had even performed several Bette Midler tunes together over the years. So, naturally, we had to go.

We paid for the best seats in the house. I think we paid about eighty bucks for our seats. As a matter of fact, while we were waiting for the show to begin, this woman with big, platinum blonde hair sat right in front of us. It was Governor Ann Richards, who I might add, thoroughly enjoyed the show.

The same friend called me last night. “You have to promise me something,” she said immediately.

“Umm. Okay.”

Apparently, Bette Midler’s new show, The Showgirl Must Go On, had just opened in Las Vegas at the same huge theatre that Celine Dion had just finished using. (It seats 3,400 people). Bette will be performing there for the next two years.

So, I promised we’d go to Las Vegas even though neither of have any interest, whatsoever, in ever going to Las Vegas.

I checked it out and the best seats in the house are about three hundred bucks.

No problem. We’ll be sitting in them.

After all, it’s Bette Midler. You don’t scrimp when it comes to Bette Midler.

(Okay, you may begin with the gay stereotype jokes now).

Oh, and I’ll be returning from Vegas with the little bottles of shampoo from the hotel.

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My Rubber Thingie

See that pink foam rubber thingie on my pen?

There’s a story behind that. Want to hear it?

Okay, I’ll tell you.

When I moved to Chicago seven years ago, I got a temp job while I was looking for a Real Job. The temp job was in the accounting department at a well-known agency here in Chicago.

My boss at the agency was this horrible, mean, evil, wicked woman.

I’m kidding. My boss was actually none other than Miss Healthypants. That’s how we met. Isn’t that sweet?

Anyway, she noticed that I liked to use these foam rubber thingies on my pen. I say that ‘she noticed it’ because one day, someone made off with my pen that had MY foam rubber thingie on it.

I lost it. I went ballistic. I HAVE to have my foam rubber thingie on my pen in order to write well. She probably thought I was some kind of nut.

Anyway, the next day, Miss Healthypants presented me with a packet of five foam rubber thingies and I was able to settle down.

So, the foam rubber thingie in this photo (which I just took) is the first one from the pack that Miss Healthypants gave me seven years ago. I have the other four at home.

Isn’t that something? I’ve managed to keep this one for seven years.

Epilogue: I worked as a temp in Miss Healthypant’s accounting department for only three months and then I got a Real Job managing a different department at the same company. We were able to become friends since she was no longer my boss.

I’ll admit that I’m not exactly the most adept person when it comes to detailed work like accounting. Miss Healthypants would come to me two years later and say, “Dude! I’m STILL finding mistakes from when you were in accounting!”

It’s nice to have my rubber thingie. And good friends like Miss Healthypants.

Chicago on Ice

Lake Michigan always freezes over every winter, but for some reason it's pretty rare for the Chicago River to freeze over.

Here's a pic of it while I was walking to work this morning.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Forty Nine, dear.

My brother, who’s two years younger than I, emailed a birthday wish to me today. He commented on how old we’re getting (and that I’ll always be older).

Yes, I’m hanging onto my forties by the tiniest thread now. That’s okay. I’ve got a lot be happy about. I also realized two things about being 49 years old:

When my dad was the age I am now, I was 28 years old.
My grandmother, Budgie, was 49 when I was born.

Like I said, I don’t mind it. To be honest, several friends of mine back in the 80s and 90s never got the chance to be 49. So, although my youth is gone, I feel like I’m getting to do something that eleven friends of mine never got to do.

Even if my life ended right now, I doubt that anyone who knew me could say I haven’t lived a very full life; one that has been filled with a myriad of experiences.

I’ve been a musician, a banker, a restaurant manager, a monk, a friar, a substance abuse counselor, a writer and columnist, and now I supervise a statewide program that serves people with disabilities and get to travel the great expanses of Illinois every month.

I've also wanted to be a truck driver or a court reporter. I haven't done that yet.

Maybe someday I’ll decide what I want to be when I grow up.

Life has been tough at times. Sometimes, really tough. But I’ve always tried to grow from those experiences and, if anything, it’s caused me to look at life with a certain amount of humor. After all, what are the other options?

I have a good job, a nice place to live in a great city, the most wonderful friends one could hope for and Tivo. I'm single and that's perfectly fine. (Frankly, I can't imagine sharing my Tivo with anyone).

I've recently discovered that I love tomato juice.

I'd like to think I've gained a lot of wisdom along the way. I need to get to the gym and lose about 25 pounds.

Wouldn’t you know it?
I finally get my head together and my ass falls apart . . .

A Few Good Touch-Ups

John McCain's wife, Cindy, would make a scary First Lady.

The woman certainly looks like she's had a few facial enhancements.

See that smile? It's probably causing her ankles to cross.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Obama Country

I'm in Springfield for a couple of days. (Again).

Whenever I come here, I'm always tied up with business-related matters and have yet to visit the Abraham Lincoln museum and and Mary Todd Lincoln exhibit.

And, again, this time I have to scoot back to Chicago as soon as our meetings are finished.
Am I ever going to have the opportunity to pay tribute to one of my favorite insane, tragic women?

Question: Why can't all hotels place CNN on the same channel? In every hotel I stay in, I have to hunt for CNN. Why can't all hotels place it, say, on channel 10?

Anyway, I'm watching the primary results. I have to say this -- I'm no longer on board for Obama.

Clinton has busted her butt for the past 30 years and yet, this white guy comes along and steals the show.

Yes, I'm referring to Obama as a white guy. I'm tired of him being referred to as African American when he's just as much a white guy.

It's time we have someone besides a white guy in the White House.

There. I said it.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

The UFO Church

About three blocks from my apartment is the Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist. It's truly an unusual building, for it seems to resemble a UFO both inside and out. (Well, I've never seen the inside of a UFO, but who of you have seen the outside of one?)
Anyway. . .

You might know the denomination as the Christian Science church. It's the denomination known for its followers not taking medicine of any kind.

Actually, I grew up around several followers of Christian Science in my little bitty hometown in Texas. My Baptist grandmother's best friends were all followers of the faith. My piano teacher was as well and was also the organist at the local Christian Science church. So, whenever she needed a Sunday off, I would substitute there while I was growing up.

The fact that they don't take medicine of any kind is, actually, untrue. The fundamentalist followers of the faith are known for that and, like all fundamentalists, give any faith a bad name.

I've sort of been a closeted follower Christian Science. I've studied it quite a bit during seminary and a lot of its theology rings true for me. The teachings are all very logical: If "this" then "this" type of statements. On occasion, I'll go to Sunday services here. It also has a nice pipe organ, like God intended.

So, this windowless church is a perfect example of the Christian Science faith. No need for stained glass, windows, or external stimuli since "the mind and spirit" is truly what exists for them.

All Christian Science churches are simply numbered in each city -- never named after "physical" people or places.

I was walking by this church recently with the Iwanskis and there is the name of this church carved along the outside: Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist.

Iwanski, true to form, said that whenever he sees that name, he can't help but picture Jesus in a white lab coat, holding a beaker.
Love it!


Poor Moo-Cows

Did you read where 183 millions pounds of ground beef was recalled?

That’s a lot of ground up moo-cows.

And then, there were videos of poor, sick, moo-cows being dragged around by chains and shoved around by forklifts.

This goes on every day at slaughterhouses but nary a protest is ever made. If this were being done to cute little kitties or puppies, they’d be arrested on the spot for animal cruelty.

Just ask Michael Vick.

I don’t understand the inconsistency of laws like this.

I’m not a vegetarian but I easily could be. I’m just lazy. Shoving a frozen pepperoni pizza in the oven is a lot easier than preparing a healthy, vegetarian dinner from scratch and I don’t like green peppers on pizza.

I guess, you could say that, politically, I’m a vegetarian, but not actually.

Yet, the poor moo-cows . . .

I’m going home to make a big pot of parsnip soup for dinner.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Three Octaves

While I was on my trip to Peoria and Rockford, Illinois, I discovered that my singing voice has a three-octave range.

Really. Here's how it happened.

While in college, I majored in piano performance. (I even had a tuition-paid scholarship, albeit at a little-bitty music department at a state college, but still).

All piano majors had to "minor" in another performance instrument, be it vocal or instrumental. I was a disaster at the French horn which I played in high school band, so it my minor instrument had to be voice. As a pianist, I made extra money as an accompanist for vocalists. I was a damn good accompanist (i.e. "piano whore") so I was able to procure one of the better voice teachers to supply me with the requisite four semesters of voice lessons.

I had always sung the tenor parts in high school choir. I was really a "high baritone" but tenors were always in short supply, so I sang the part. My voice teacher in college had me develop my tenor range with some success. However, he also tried me out with some bona-fide bass solos and it worked.

One semester during my senior year, I even sang in a vocal competition in Austin as a bass soloist, singing the bass aria from Mozart's Die Zauberflote "Isis unt Osiris." It goes down to a low F, which is definitely the lower part of a bass range. I didn't do well at the competition -- after all, I was a pianist, not a vocalist. One of the judges eeked out a somewhat complementary note: "You have an innately pleasant voice." - - Ouch!

Here's a video of "Isis un Osiris" from Die Zauberflote. Note the low note at the end. I can do that. (Without the drama, mind you).

While I was driving to Peoria, I sang along with this solo and I could still hit those low F's. And in German.
It was fun.

Now then. My voice teacher also noted that I could also do a "counter tenor" voice. Some might call it "falsetto" but a counter-tenor voice has more . . . well . . . balls . . . especially in the lower, alto, range.

So, just for grins, he also had me sing this counter-tenor solo by Handel, Ombra Mai Fu. I never sang it in public, but just as a vocal exercise. And I did it pretty well. The vocal line goes up to a high F in the soprano range.

However, Handel did NOT write this solo for a female soprano;

And not for a boy soprano;

Nor did he write it for a "castratto" (those were the male singers in the 16th century who were castrated at puberty so that they could continue to sing soprano when women weren't allowed to do so in the Catholic Church).

No, this solo was written for a counter-tenor; a post-pubescent, unaltered, male vocalist.

My voice teacher in college had me singing these high F's. Ombra Mai Fu was the only counter-tenor solo I ever performed and I did a passable job of it.

And while I was driving to Peoria, I sang Ombra Mai Fu a couple of times along with a soloist on my iPod and I could still hit those high F's -- the ones three octaves higher than Mozart bass solo.

Here's a real counter-tenor, Andreas Scholl, singing it as God and Handel had intended.
You have to admit, it's pretty gorgeous.

Just to prove this story, I'm going to get Iwanski over here to video me singing the bass solo as well as the counter-tenor solo. I'll post the video soon. (I promise I won't perform as "affected" as the opera singer did, but I will hit the notes.)

A three-octave vocal range.

Pretty damn good for a piano major.

See what happens when you drive to Peoria over and over?

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Creature of habit

I've just returned from visiting staff members in Peoria and Rockford, Illinois.

It's becoming routine. Too routine.

I always reserve the same Zip car: The navy blue Scion. I'm familiar with all its controls, it has a built-in iPod adapter and I even have its identification number memorized for when I have to fill up at a gas station. (947227)

The drive between Chicago and Peoria is awfully boring. The interchange from Interstate 55 to 74 is the high-point of the drive. So, I always listen to the obscure Prokofiev 2nd Piano Concerto, twice, on my iPod. The piece is forty minutes long and is so awfully weird and intense. Listening to it twice is the perfect antedote to the hugely boring drive.

I stayed at the same Comfort Inn in Peoria where I stayed last time.

I didn't mean to. I just exited at the same exit. You know, it's one of those freeway exits that happens to be festooned with just about every chain hotel + restaurant + service station that exists.

I pulled into a convenient hotel and when I walked into the lobby, I realized it was the same Comfort Inn that I'd been to three months before. I think I even parked in the same parking space.

I had a subsequent dinner at the same Ruby Tuesday across the parking lot. Their grilled salmon thingie is light and tasty. Eating lunch alone is fine, but I feel conspicuous eating dinner by myself so I always bring a book to read. Last time while at Ruby Tuesday, it was a biography of Abraham Lincoln. This time, it was of Mary Todd Lincoln.

On my way out of Peoria the following morning, I took highway 24 as a shortcut to Interstate 39 just as I did last time. There's a McDonalds just as you're leaving Peoria and, just like last time, I was hungry for breakfast.

You know I don't like to eat anything greasy or messy with my hands, so the bacon & egg bagel at that McDonalds on Hwy 24 serves my purpose. (McMuffins have that cornmeal on the outside that just freaks me out -- and don't EVEN get me started on any breakfast sandwich containing sausage . . . ).

Two and a half hours later, I was in Rockford for lunch. There's a Denny's on Hwy 20 that's not too crowded and I have to admit that my favorite lunch can be found at Denny's: A grilled chicken salad with blue cheese dressing with a large glass of tomato juice. The salad comes with lots of grape tomatoes which is a big plus. Also, I like the side of squishy garlic bread that accompanies it (eaten with a knife and fork, of course).

On the way back to Chicago from Rockford is one of those Super-Duper Highway stops that has everything: A very accessible BP gas station aside a huge mall that has a Starbucks and a men's room with large partitions between the urinals.

Large partitions between the urinals are appreciated; I don't care if you're gay, straight or whatever. All men enjoy large partitions when we have to pee next to one another. Believe me, ladies, we all hate it when whe enter those those public washrooms that have urinals closely lined up next to each other; the ones that appear like gravestones at Arlington cemetery. Large urinal partitions should be a law.

On the way back from Rockford, there are three toll booths. I wish Zipcar had a means of zipping us through the E-Z Pass things, but they don't. So, I've become used to have the dollar-fifty on hand for the first booth and the eighty cents for the subsequent ones.

I just make sure to collect the required toll-booth change from paying for the breakfast at McDonald's and lunch at Denny's along the way. Isn't my routine and efficiency just the most astounding thing?

Next week, I have to go to Springfield.

On the way, I'll be sure to have the patty melt at the restaurant at exit 97 on Interstate 55, request a room on the second floor at the Northfield Inn, and be sure to hit the breakfast buffet early because . . . .

(Pointing index finger at temple)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Flights for ten dollars? You bet!

Have you heard about the new discount airline called Skybus? It’s a super-discount airline that sells ten seats on every flight for ten bucks.

I just checked it out. I wanted to fly from Chicago to Toronto. And, yes, I found a seat for ten dollars.

Here’s the catch: The reason they can sell tickets so cheap is that they fly out of these out-of-the-way airports. For example, my flight from Chicago did not leave from O’Hare,
or Midway,

but from Gary, Indiana.

Now, how the hell am I going to get to the little airport Gary Indiana? (Take the commuter train, then hope to find a taxi to go to the airport is the answer).

Here’s another catch. The only destination out of Gary is to Greensboro, North Carolina.

That’s it.

From there, I’d have to take a connection to their hub in Columbus, Ohio. Then from there, I’d have to take another flight to Toronto.

Here’s another catch. It doesn’t actually fly to Toronto, but to Niagra, Ontario. Again, one would have to take a taxi to the commuter train that goes to Toronto.


It’s definitely “no frills.” My guess is that the passengers have to take turns flying the damn plane.


Beagles Rule

I have to admit that I got teary-eyed when Uno, the beagle, won Best in Show at the Westiminster Kennel Club Dog Show last night.

Yesterday, I posted that a beagle hasn't won Best in Show since 1939.

Correction: A beagle has never won Best in Show. It hasn't been since 1939 that a beagle won Best in Group.

Uno also snatched the title away from two foo-foo poodles, elitist bitches that they are.

I'm sure that my beagle named Snoopy is smiling from dog heaven right now.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Rooting for the Underdog

Obama, Clinton, McCain. . . Whatever.

Wanna know who I’m most excited over?

It’s Uno, the Beagle.

I’m recording the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show tonight because this adorable Beagle named Uno won Best in Group and has a chance to win Best in Show tonight.

The reason I’m so excited is because:
1) I love Beagles. I used to have one.
2) A Beagle hasn’t won in 69 years. (That's 483 in dog years)

I enjoy rooting for the underdog.

He’s the cutest thing you’ve ever seen and has a personality to match. I hope he blows that foofey poodle out of the water.

I sort of keep up with dog shows because a good friend of mine, John, used to be very involved in the dog show curcuit. He showed Akitas and, at one time, had ten winners on his hands. His prize dog was a stud named Tigger and was truly an impressive beast.

John was a pretty impressive dog handler too. He's six-foot-eight.

John and I used to watch “Best in Show” together. (Love that movie!) He actually knew some of the judges that were featured in the movie. Once, I asked him if the dog owners were actually that eccentric.

“They’re much worse,” he said.

"Why do the judges feel the dog's testicles?"

"To make sure there's two of them."


Preparing an Akita for a show was quite a process. They have two coats a heavy fur and the under-coat needs to be thinned out. The process involved bathing the dogs in really warm water (dog-bathing facilities were located in his basement). Then, you take them in the yard and hit ‘em with the leaf blower. After that, the trees in the entire neighborhood would be festooned with dog fur.

His prize stud commanded quite a fee for his services. It was either cash or “pick of the litter.” That’s how John ended up with ten champion Akitas.

Oh, and sometimes Tigger’s studly donations could be procured without the recipient actually being there. (Don’t ask).

Yes, the dog show world is pretty strange.

Anyway, here’s hoping that dear little Uno wins Best in Show tonight.

I’m excited.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

The Rocket

I’ve been a roller coaster nut ever since I was five years old and saw my first coaster.

Playland Park was an old-fashioned amusement park near downtown San Antonio, Texas, where we were often taken as kids on weekends. At the end of the midway was the crown jewel of Playland Park: A wooden roller coaster named “The Rocket.”

The Rocket had been built in 1947 and stood about 80 feet tall; not a huge coaster by today’s standards, but it was definitely the main feature of the park. My dad had ridden it many times as a teenager and obviously had fond memories of it. I remember being about five years old when he took me around to the back of it where we could stand close to the first drop. A train of riders came clink-clink-clinking over the lift which seemed enormously high to me at the time. Then, whoooosh! It sped down the hill with everyone screaming and coasted up to the next. I stood there transfixed, in amazement. My dad then explained how the train gathered just enough speed from the first drop to make it to the top of the next hill; my first lesson in inertia. We stood there watching train after train speed around the wooden track.

I was hooked.

Of course, Dad asked if I wanted to ride it.

“Are you kidding me?” I thought. It looked absolutely terrifying. The ride seemed full of Big Kids; teenagers and the like. It was obviously too intense for the likes of a little kid like me. I'd ride the carousel, the little Ferris wheel and other kiddie rides, but the roller coaster was for Big Kids.

In my mind, nine years old seemed like a Big Kid, so I promised my dad I would ride it when I was nine.

Nine years old came and went. I was still too chicken to ride it then even though my dad reminded me that I’d promised to tackle it at that age.

When I was in the eighth grade, my mom took me and some friends for a day at Playland Park. Again, I was still too intimidated to ride the Rocket with all my friends. I remained watching them ride it over and over, seated on the same park bench where my dad and I had sat many years earlier.

However, I asked my best friend, Tim, if he’d take my little pocket camera and snap a photo from the front seat of the ride. It still have that photo to this day:

When I saw this terrifying sight, I knew I’d never ride The Rocket.

No way!

Flash forward to my junior year in college. . . .

I’d been visiting some friends in San Antonio for the weekend. That Saturday afternoon, we drove by Playland Park and just for fun, I suggested we head in for a while.

There it was. The Rocket. It didn’t look as big as when I was a little kid or in the eighth grade.

I was definitely a Big Kid now. . .

I bought a ticket and climbed on. . . .

That ride on the old, rickety roller coaster was one of the happiest, most exhilarating experiences I’d ever had. I remember cresting the top of the lift hill and looking down at that same park bench where I’d spent so many hours watching everyone else ride it.

It turned out that that summer was the last season for Playland Park. It closed just a couple of months after I’d finally conquered my beloved Rocket. The park was abandoned but the Rocket stood there for several years after that, silent and falling apart among the weeds.

I’d never get to ride it again. I’m so glad I finally did that one summer day in 1980.

Here are some pics of Playland Park having been abandoned many years ago: And the remnants of the carousel I rode as a little kid:

It turns out that The Rocket was quite a popular coaster. In 1985, a small amusement park in Pennsylvania bought The Rocket, moved it piece by piece, re-assembled it, and re-named it “The Phoenix.”

The Rocket lives! It’s been thrilling riders ever since and, from what I hear, runs faster than ever.

If I ever make it to Pennsylvania, I’ll be sure to ride it. I’ll be the one waving to the little kid on the park bench; the one too afraid to ride.

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It was, like, a grillion degrees below zero outside this weekend so I certainly didn’t feel like going out to get groceries. Time to take stock of the pantry and see what I could come up with.

Our grandmothers were awfully good at doing that, it seems. They could be presented with what were seemingly bare cupboards, have a bunch of hungry tummies to feed, and emerge with a substantial meal to feed the family. All without using measuring cups or microwaves.

So I took stock. I had one frozen chicken breast. I had some frozen Asian-style mixed vegetables. Then, I remembered that about two years ago I had gone a little overboard with ordering Thai spice pastes and had about a dozen little tins of them in various varieties. I also had the requisite can of coconut milk and I always have plenty of fish sauce on hand. (Who doesn’t?)

Fifteen minutes later. . . . Ta-daahhh. . . Chicken Prik King.
To die for.

There seems to be a lot of Prik-style menu items at Thai restaurants. I always feel a little self-conscious ordering Prik-whatever. Does anyone know what “Prik” refers to?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

How Cold Is It?

It's zero degrees outside and the wind is howling. When the wind is this strong, it makes a really weird, bass, rumbling sound against all the balcony railings. You can feel the big, concrete structure rumble up here in the 49th floor.

It's pretty cool.

They say you can see the water swaying in the toilet bowl, but I haven't detected it yet. And I got tired of staring into the toilet.

Here's a screen capture of today's forecast:

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Whiteout in Chicago

Here's what a real white-out looks like from my apartment window.

Is this "retro chique" or what?

I love my apartment because it was designed in 1959 and completed in 1964. Anyone who's been here can tell you that it just screams 1960's.

Here's a pic of the apartment building I live in. I'm on the 49th floor in the tower on the left. Can you see me waving?

Anyway, my kitchen has yellow metal cabinets. I guess that back in '64 it was all the rage.

There's a space for a wall phone in the kitchen and so I decided to go completely "retro" with a phone. I found this little jewel on eBay. A Trimline wall phone with a rotary dial. In Harvest Gold!

I love it. I absolutely love it.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Superfood Micronutrient Drink

I’m back at work but I still feel pretty crappy. This flu thing really kicked me in the butt.

I went a little overboard when ordering juices and things from Peapod. I’ve consumed one half-gallon of the Odwalla Superfood Micronutrient Drink and I’ve got three half-gallons to go as well as three half-gallons of carrot juice.

When I ordered all the stuff online, I was feeling soooo horrible. I thought all this healthy stuff would make me better but I didn’t take into account that one can only drink so much of Superfood Micronutrient Drink before one wants to throw it off the balcony.

Do you know what makes it “Superfood” and what the “Micronutrients” are?

No? Okay, I’ll tell you.

It’s spirulina and wheat grass juice.

Spirulina is an dark green algae that’s powdered and produced in Thailand. Wheat grass juice is, well, the juice from wheat grass. It’s also dark green.

So, I’m basically consuming pond scum and juiced lawn clippings. They make it taste good by adding lots of apple juice and mango puree.

The result is a thick, dark, meconium-like green-gray goo. I’ve got a gallon and a half of the stuff to consume.

On the other hand, I was smart enough to order lots of bananas and vanilla yogurt. It goes down pretty good with a Gatorade chaser.

Last night, I did finally feel well enough to set up my new computer which had been sitting in a box for a week. I’m still wondering what to do with the old one. I’ll probably just take it apart and toss it down the trash chute.

It will probably be accompanied by a gallon of the Superfood Micronutrient Drink.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Thank God for Peapod

We have this nifty grocery delivery service here in downtown Chicago called Peapod. You just sign up with your info, go online to, do all your online grocery shopping and they deliver it to you within a two-hour window that you specify.

It's really pretty cool. The delivery fees are quite reasonable and they have everything you could ever want.

My illness continues, though there are signs of improvement. Anyway, the only things that seemed appetizing to me are still juices of various sorts.

So, I went online with dear Peapod and went a little overboard with the sickie foods. Here's what I've got coming tonight:

3 half-gallons of carrot juice

4 half-gallons of Odwalla Superfood Micronutrient Fruit Juice Drink

4 gallons of Gatorade

One dozen bananas

4 pints of vanilla yogurt

That should do me for a while.

Thanks to everyone for their well-wishes.

Oh, and be sure to get your flu shots. I'm never going to skip one again.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Calling in Sick

We've all done it before.

"Hi, Mr. Boss. I won't be coming in today. I came down with a really bad cold over the weekend."

Well, I won't be going into work today but my boss knows that I really am quite ill. You see, I called her from the emergency room at Northwestern hospital while I was there for six hours on Saturday night. (My boss used to be a nurse) Isn't that dramatic?

I had finally made it home Saturday morning from my trip, but was feeling awful. Then, I began running a temperature that afternoon. By 7 pm, it was 103.2.

I also had really bad pains in my lower back which I've never had before. So, I headed to the E.R. and they were able to see me right away (big surprise).

They began running tests. They were concerned about the lower back pain and the fever so they took blood and urine samples. Then, a really sweet nurse stuck a giant Q-tip up my nose which tested positive for influenza. One they determined I had the flu, I had to wear a surgical mask.

Also, after they determined I had the flu, the really sweet nurse hooked me up to an I.V. by jamming what looked like a knitting needle in my arm.

Then, they wanted to do a CAT-scan on my abdomen but there were several people ahead of me. So I had to wait. And wait. Finally, I had the CAT-scan done (Boy, that was a rush, let me tell you).

Then after the CAT-scan, I had to wait and wait and wait.

I just wanted to go home.

Finally, the CAT-scan results came in (no doubt having been evaluated by someone in India) and it was fine. They gave me a prescription and I was on my way, feeling a good bit better after having the I.V. and a whopping dose of Advil.

So, I'm sick with the flu. My friend, Jack, came over the next morning, got my prescription filled, and stocked me up with flu-type provisions that I requested: Gatorade, bananas, canned soup (clam chowder and minestrone) and tomato juice.

Portia came along for the ride and said hello.

I'm still running a fever. I feel horrible. I won't be blogging much.

Even though the polling place is in the lobby of my building, I shouldn't be going there and possibly infecting one of the many elderly Jewish women that live in my building.

I'm sure Obama will do fine here in Illinois without my vote.


Friday, February 01, 2008

Snowbound in Hogtown

Well, I’m snowbound somewhere in Hogtown, Illinois.

I was conducting my round-the-state tour to visit with the staff members and, yesterday, saw that the weather was going to be getting pretty bad. I was about two and a half hours west of Chicago.

I cancelled my appointment in Peoria and began heading toward Interstate 80 down a farm-to-market road. The weather was deteriorating really fast. My windshield wipers began freezing as the wind and snow intensified. It was difficult to see.

I knew it would only be worse as the day continued so when I got to Hogtown, I checked into the Bates Motel.

That was yesterday. It snowed all night. Today, all the Interstates are 100 percent covered with snow and ice and it’s still snowing in Chicago. I’m stuck for another day. Rats!

I had nothing with me except business attire. After Norman checked me into my room I headed to the Wal-Mart and procured some jeans and a casual shirt – all At Everyday Low Prices – also lots of Diet Coke, fruit, and snacks.

This little town is known for (I’m not making this up) having more hogs than people. See? I’m being pretty accurate by calling it Hogtown. The TV in the room seems to play nothing but wrestling, that super-fighting type stuff, and truck competitions.

There is no CNN.

There is no pizza delivery.

Wireless internet is iffy at best.

I SO wish I was back home. I have a new computer waiting for me there and my weekend plans were to set it up and look at questionable material at blinding speeds.

Instead, I’m in a boring hotel room. I was going to post a pic of the huge Farm King store across the street but the wireless internet can't handle the uploading of photos.

Pray for me. . .