Saturday, November 29, 2008

Oh What Fun. . .

Picture this. . .

Friday, November 29, 1985.

November 28 was the latest day that the fourth Thursday in November, Thanksgiving Day, could have fallen.

That, in itself, should have been a dire warning.

As usual, my immediate family members on the more social/slightly dysfunctional side of the family (i.e. "Irish") had planned to meet at my Aunt Jo’s house in Dallas Texas.

Aunt Jo had always pulled off the best Thanksgiving dinners, especially since her own four young-adult kids lived nearby in the Dallas-Ft.Worth area.

I was 26 years old at the time and was living in Austin, three hours south of Dallas. My mom and grandmother lived two hours south of Austin, so they planned on driving up to Austin and then have me drive them through the Dallas Metroplex to my aunt’s house.

Let me preface this by saying that driving across the Dallas Metroplex to visit my aunt was, by far, THE most horrifying thing for my mom EVER to attempt.

She tried it, once, when I was ten years old. She was a young, single mother and we'd never been to a big, intimidating city like Dallas before.

After blazing past the Texas School Book Depository, we ended up phoning my aunt from a pay phone somewhere near Little Rock.
Since then, a relative (me) had usually driven us to my aunt’s house.

So, we took off from Austin in my mom’s car with her in the passenger seat and my grandmother in the back.

Keep in mind that this was the Autumn of 1985. The Honda CRX’s were just out - - do you remember the Honda CRX?

Oh my goodness, the Honda CRX was JUST the totally coolest little car. It was a two-seater sports car and I was completely bonkers over this car. I was totally obsessed with them, had to have one, and very few of them were available in Texas at that time.

So, about an hour north of Austin, my mom had just finally relaxed enough from the Horrifying Trip though Austin traffic, enough to not pay attention to my driving. My grandmother was dozing off in the back seat and then - -
- - I spotted a Honda CRX traveling south on I-35.

That was not the best time for me to suddenly shriek with delight,

We ended up with a shoebox of pimento cheese sandwiches all over us after my sleeping grandmother bolted from the back seat like an F-15 pilot on an emergency maneuver. (She always traveled to Dallas with shoeboxes of homemade sandwiches and snacks -- heaven forbid we should have to stop at an over-priced Stuckey’s along the way).

That was the only time my mother ever struck me - - it was an incredibly accurate backhand across my chest, evidence of her being a champion tennis player in college. . . THWAAACK!

We made it to Dallas three hours later.

Luckily for my passengers, there were no more Honda CRXs spotted along the way.

My aunt pulled off her usual Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings.There was a giant Texas-sized turkey. My cousin’s wife brought her stuffed eggs.

My cousin, Joanna, would ONLY eat Del-Monte green beans ever since she was four years old, so they were always a holiday staple.

I brought some home-made cranberry sauce which went un-touched (only the canned stuff with the ridges would do)

It also had orange peel in it which, perhaps, raised a few eyebrows.

Orange peel by single men in Texas was not as accepted as it is nowadays.

Anyway, my aunt tried a new recipe which included some of that fake crab meat and served it an appetizer. It was new at the time and my aunt was known for trying new and interesting things; as far as Dallas suburbanite women in the 1980s went.

Most of us tried her crab salad and enjoyed it.

Well, except for Joanna and her family, who would only venture as far as Del-Monte green beans for the past 20 years.

The only other holiday tradition was that I would make a mincemeat pie for me and my Uncle Don. He loved mincemeat pie and so did I. The rest of the family would leave the mincemeat pie completely alone for me and Uncle Don.
Especially his daughter, Joanna.

I left for Austin the next day. Aunt Jo would drive my mom and grandmother down to South Texas later that weekend.

I made it to Waco, halfway back to Austin, before THE CRAB SALAD made itself known to humanity.

Oh my goodness, it’s exactly one hundred miles between Waco and Austin, and believe me, that was the longest hundred miles I’ve ever traveled.

Did you know that there were eight Stuckey’s restaurants evenly spaced between Waco and Austin along I-35 during the 1980s?

My grandmother may have kept us from stopping at any of them during the 1960s, 70s and 80s by catering food in her shoeboxes, but lordy, I hit them all on November 29, 1985.

And I hit them HARD!

I was never so glad to make it home to my little apartment in downtown Austin that night. That trip was horrible.
Just horrible.

I phoned my relatives, very weakly, back in Dallas. . . .

“Mom? ? Mom?? I’m home in Austin. . . ."

“Buck! We’re all sick!”

"Everyone's sick? Everybody?"

"Well, . . . . except for Joanna. . . "

I still shudder, thinking of Aunt Jo’s crab salad.

None of us will eat that fake crab to this day.
Tomorrow, I could call my mom or Jo and mention ‘crab salad’ and they’ll instantly remember that Thanksgiving in Dallas in 1985 when Aunt Jo poisoned us all. . .


Oh, by the way. . . .

In 1986, I purchased a Honda CRX and it was the best car EVER!.


Friday, November 28, 2008

I Made Pie

'Twas the night before Thanksgiving, and I was invited over to Jack and Steve's and Portia's house for dinner. It's always lovely to go over there. I'm very very thankful for friends like that.

It had been a long time since I had made apple strudel and seeing that it was a holiday doo-dah, I went to work.

First, you have to make the dough and then stretch it paper thin across a table. (Jack's Slovenian grandma taught me how to do this about twenty years ago.) It's quite a sight to see such a small amount of dough become so thin you can see your hands through it.

Then, you spread sliced apples across it along with lots of buttery, sugary, cinnamony breadcrumbs. Then, you roll it up, slather it with more butter and sugar, and bake it.

I made two of them. One ended up looking like a pig's hoof, but there you go. Afterward, I still had lots of sliced apples left over along with lots of the buttery breadcrumbs.

Jack's grandma would never have let that go to waste. She would even gather up the pastry trimmings from the strudel dough and fry them in butter and sugar.

So, I whipped up a pie crust and made an apple pie. My pie crust fluting needs work, but there you go. Grandma would have been pleased.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

My Favorite Food

The other day, I was walking home from the rink and found this little store along the way. I think it’s new, or I’ve just been oblivious to my surroundings. Probably the latter.

Anyway, it’s a grocery store that only sells only locally-made produce and food items. Sort of like a little indoor farmer’s market.

Seeing that it’s the latter part of November in the northern part of the Midwest, the locally-grown produce was waning quite a bit. There were pumpkins of course; a few beets, some sweet potatoes straggling in, remnants of obscure breeds of apples, but that was about it.

The owner of the store said that he closes down for the winter and re-opens in March.

There were plenty of other locally-made food items in the store and I did end up leaving with quite a few tasty things.

At one point, the owner of the store called my attention to one of his best-selling items. It was a two-pound roll of freshly made butter from an Amish community in nearby Indiana. And it was only eight bucks. (The guy said that a lot of people cut the big roll of butter in to thirds and freeze it).

I had to have it, along with a pound of homemade egg noodles, also from the Amish community.

I have to tell you that my most favorite thing to eat in the whole wide world are egg noodles with butter and parmesan cheese. Very simple, but it really is one of my favorite things to eat.

And I also have to tell you that I’ve never tasted butter like this before.

Oh my goodness, you don’t know what you’re missing until you’ve tasted butter made fresh from a nearby Amish moo-cow.

I have to admit that I often eat a little nick of it whenever I open the fridge. Actually, I wouldn’t mind just sitting down with a bowl of it and a spoon. It’s that good.

So, here it is. Perfection in a bowl.
Homemade noodles made by Christian women and butter from a happy cow nearby. (The parmesan cheese is from Trader Joe’s).

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

This is Smarmy

I’m attending a grant-writing class for a couple of days. For some reason, it’s being taught at a police academy. Subsequently, many of the attendees are big, burly, masculine and packing very intimidating weapons.

And those are the women.

Yesterday, the instructor called me ‘Brandon’ during the session. I didn't say anything about it. But since then, a couple of the other students now call me Brandon. I haven’t corrected them. Brandon’s kind of nice name.

Have any of you seen that goofy guy on TV that does those horrible commercials where he says the government has all this money and all you have to do is ask for it?

His name is Matt Lesko, he wears these suits with question marks all over them and he screams all through the commercial that you can get FREE MONEY from the government.

Apparently, the government is just throwing millions of dollars into the reflecting pool in Washington. There’s all this cash just lying around and all we have to do is ask for it.

Have any of you seen this joker?

All this cash is there for us to use to pay for rent, utilities, student loans, and unless we ask for it, it will all go to waste. Just send $39.95 for the book which lists all the sources and then you can access all this cash that’s just there for the taking.

Anyway, there’s a woman in my class who was actually on Matt Lesko’s staff. She said she lasted about six months before quitting.

That book you can get for $39.95? (which actually comes to $69.95 after all is said and done)

Here’s the thing. According to this woman, all the sources contained in the book can actually be found in the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance

It’s just a listing of potential sources where one can apply for funds. I doubt seriously that any individual who calls his phone number has the capacity to apply for and obtain these funds.

For "additional fees", you can get someone from Lesko's staff to assist you in doing so. ugh!

I'm sure there have been lots of little old ladies on fixed incomes who have fallen for this rip-off.

Isn’t that just the smarmiest thing ever?
Shame on him!

Class is about to begin again. I’ve got to put away my raisin bagel and cream cheese.

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Nowhere But Chicago

You may have heard of "wine flights."


That's where you get a small sample of several different kinds of wine to taste. Each group is called a "flight."

There's a lovely wine bar next to my apartment building that features wine flights. You can, say, get the Italian red flight and you'll be served four small glasses of various kinds of Italian red wine (2.5 oz in each glass) along with a detailed description of each wine.

You can also get a German white wine flight. Or a "Sexy Red" wine flight.
All kinds.

So, I was walking home from the skating rink on Saturday and passed by America's Dog. It's a hot dog place that features about thirty kinds of hot dogs. (Iwanski had sniffed this place out and turned me on to it).

Look at this. They were feature a "chili dog flight"
I couldn't pass that up. It was lunch time.

Just like a wine flight, you get three mini chili dogs to sample.

The Charleston Dog has chili, onions, mustard, and coleslaw.
The Santa Fe Dog has chili topped with roasted corn and black beans.
And the Berkeley Dog has (naturally) vegetarian chili.
It turns out that I really really like the Charleston Dog.

A chili dog flight.

Nowhere else but Chicago.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

The Autumn Feast

It was about six weeks ago when I went to Seattle to visit the wonderful, fabulous Lorraine and her family. It goes without saying that I had a wonderful, fabulous time there with them.

Every year, Lorraine has held an annual Autumn Feast with a select group of friends who, by the way, are all wonderful, fabulous people to be around. She and The Spouse have been doing this for about fifteen years with the same guests every year. Longtime friends like that are really a treasure.

Anyway, I was truly honored and humbled to be included in this group for the auspicious occasion this year. I had read about Lorraine’s annual Autumn feast for the past couple of years on her blog and was always amazed at the menu.

To say that the woman can cook would be the biggest understatement. Ever.

I love to cook as well, but haven’t near the talent that she does. But cooking alongside Lorraine has become one of my most favorite things to do in the whole wide world. So, it goes without saying that I was really looking forward to helping her with The Feast.

We got up early-ish on Saturday morning, thanks to her nice Cuisinart coffee maker that always seems to have incredibly good coffee in it for me while I’m there. (It’s Seattle, after all). There was the shopping to be done for The Feast, so we hit the stores, racing around Seattle’s hilly neighborhoods.

At one grocery store, they were giving out samples of these huge, ripe yellow pears. Honestly, these were the best pears I’d ever tasted so Lorraine decide on the spot to incorporate them in the salad. Besides, pears go very well with the autumnal theme for the menu.

Of course, we went to Seattle’s infamous Pike Place Market for lots of the goodies. Seattleites simply call it “The Market”.

She’s been shopping at The Market for decades and knows many of the vendors by name. That’s so neat. Of course, it’s Seattle, so everyone is always super-friendly anyway.

At a wine shop, the owner (who Lorraine knew) made some suggestions for wine to accompany the meal after hearing the menu. Bottles of wine were procured upon his recommendation. While we were there, I found a sparkling pear cider (hey, neat!) to go with the pears in the salad and bought that too.

Upon getting back to the house, we got to cooking. I was the chef’s assistant and got to work under Lorraine’s command, prepping various items.

Like I said, I like to cook and know my way around a kitchen pretty well. When Lorraine said, “Make come crepe batter,” I can do that. When she said, “Make some pastry for the tart,” I could do that too.

After a while, The Spouse gave me a new moniker - - rather than being her sous-chef, I was her "Kitchen-Bitch" - - a name I was only proud to wear.

I really enjoy cooking away in Lorraine’s well-appointed kitchen. I was a good little Kitchen-Bitch.

But when it comes down to the wire, like 30 minutes before dinner is served and there are still lots of pots bubbling on the stove and things in the oven; that's when Lorraine is truly impressive. She slips into her evening attire, emerges back into the kitchen sipping a glass of sherry and insouciantly pulls it all together.

I, however, tend to cower under a table and require sedation at that point.

The guests arrived and, as per tradition, The Boys always bring an appetizer. This time, it was an incredibly tasty wild mushroom tart and a fine bottle of crisp, fino sherry.

Like I said, I’ve always been impressed with the previous years’ Autumn Feasts and this year was pretty astounding as well.

We began with an amuse-bouche of chanterelle mushrooms sautéed in butter, served between little basil crepes, topped with a basil cream sauce.
Everyone’s bouches were duly amused.

The aforementioned pears made their appearance in the salad that followed. Here, we have salad greens, roasted walnuts, smoked blue cheese and a dressing made from shallots marinated in lingonberry vinegar and thickened with cream.

It was served with the sparkling pear cider.


The entrée was a roast loin of pork served with sautéed red onions and apples. Accompanying it was a wild mushroom custard, butternut squash gnocchi, and a tartlet with caramelized onions and goat cheese. Even the colors of this meal were reflective of the autumnal theme.
For dessert, there were little apple charlottes served with a caramel sauce infused with cream and apple juice. (not pictured).

Afterwards, we had our favorite liqueur, Sortilège, which is a lovely Canadian concoction made from maple syrup liqueur and whisky. Num-num-num.

Sigh. . .

Lovely people, wonderful food and drink, combined with an incredible talent for putting it all together - - that's just one of the many things I love about being with my friend.

I’ll be a Kitchen-Bitch any day.

Morning Scene - The Ugly New Building

This new 60-story skyscraper at 300 N. LaSalle is just about finished and already partially occupied. It’s one of those new “green” buildings you hear about. It’s construction materials are environmentally friendly and energy efficient and it’s design allows for maximum use of natural sunlight.

All well and good.

But my god, it is ugly!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Morning Scene - The Mather Tower

I think this is my favorite building in all of Chicago. (Except for the one I live in, of course.)

Completed in 1928, the Mather Tower at 75 East Wacker Drive takes up one of the smallest footprints of any skyscraper of comparable height.

Its 42 stories rise 521 feet, yet tenants on the upper floors of the octagonal, telescoping structure have a great view but only 280 square feet of space.

When it was designed, it was supposed to have an identical twin next to it. However, the stock market crash in 1929 resulted in the abortion of those plans.

The bottom half of the building is comprised of luxury office space. The octagonal section contains hotel rooms for members of a private club.

When I walk out of my apartment building every morning, this is the first building I see.
I just love this little whisp of a skyscraper.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Morning Scene - Skates

Today is the day. The ice rink at Millennium Park opens at 10 am.

Since my workplace is just a block away from the rink, I keep my skates in an office drawer at work. Then, when 5:30 rolls around, I change into some jeans (after closing my office door) pack the skates in a backpack and head for the rink.

Today, I have a project to get done by noon. Then, I’m taking a long lunch hour and heading to the rink. I can’t wait for 5:30.

I have to quote a line from South Park.

"What would Brian Boitano do?"

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I'm a Scrooge

Well, the holiday season is fast approaching. I know that because:
1. It’s cold
2. I just made plane reservations to fly home for the holidays.

Now, I’m going to sound like an old puss here; or a grinch, scrooge, take your pick.

But if you and your family have an intention of heading to a homeless shelter on Thanksgiving or Christmas day to help out, I have a word of advice:


Really. For six years, I worked in social services here in Chicago and every year in every place it was the same.

A few days before either holiday, we would be totally inundated with do-gooders wanting to volunteer to serve meals at the shelters. At one place, we even had to pull extra staff just to answer the phones and coordinate it all.

I know that lots of folks had good intentions by doing so, but most intentions were a bit misguided.

One woman called up the day before Thanksgiving and offered to volunteer. However, when she was told that she could help stock the food pantry she became pretty upset.

You see, she wanted to work with the homeless. She probably had visions of herself serving food for an hour or so while smiling benevolently at the less fortunate. She sure as hell didn’t want to be stuck in the back, anonymously stocking cans of tuna or bagging potatoes.

Another fellow called and wanted to bring his two younger sons down to help. I guess he thought it would be a good experience for them to see “the less fortunate” on Thanksgiving Day.

I wanted to tell him that we ran a housing facility - - not a zoo.

I don’t know that every shelter is the same way – only the ones I was associated with here in Chicago. But believe me, we didn’t need help on either of those days. The homeless shelters and soup kitchens often serve three meals a day, seven days a week. Thanksgiving and Christmas are not much different.

That’s not to say that volunteers are not needed at social service agencies. They are.
Big time.

We had a steady group of wonderful, selfless volunteers that showed up regularly all year round. We relied on them immensely.

But on Christian High Holy Days, it’s probably just best to stay home and eat your turkey and green bean casserole. You know, with the crunchy fried onions on top.

If you really feel the need to help, try showing up in January when it’s 10 below outside and help unload the delivery truck.

You’ll find it in the back alley by the garbage cans.

Morning View - The Balcony of Terror

JP once referred to my balcony as "The Balcony of Terror"; a name which has stuck among our blog friends.

So, this morning, I decided to take a particularly terrifying photo from the notorious balcony.

This is looking straight down while sort of reaching over between my balcony and the one next to it.

I figured this out one day -- my 49th floor balcony is 440 feet above the street.

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Monday, November 17, 2008


The other day, I looked at my checking account online and got a cold chill up my spine.

No, it wasn’t because of the balance.

I was able to click on a check I had written and see a copy of that check.

That made me realize how much banking has changed since I had my first job in a bank.

During my senior year in high school, I took a class in “Office Education” which, aside from drinking beer before every half-time marching show, turned out to be the most productive activity during my high school career.

The best part about Office Education was that I actually got to work in the local bank (First National Bank) for half the school day.

The best part about working for half the school day was that I never had to take trigonometry.

Anyway, I worked in the checking account department in the little bitty bank in my little bitty home town. Mind you, this was 1977 and, although many banking operations were computerized back then, there was not one iota of computerized anything in the bank where I worked.

Everything was all done manually.

Actually, we took sticks and rocks in and out of the vault to indicate how much money each person had in their account.

Well, practically.

Each day, one woman would take all the checks and deposits from the tellers and use a big, clunky machine to verify that they were equal.

Then, several of us would put all the checks in alphabetical order by hand. This was back in the day when many of the checks were “counter checks” - - just blank checks that everyone in town used - - no names printed on them, no account numbers.

Then, I would take all the checks to another big, clunky machine and begin “posting” them to everyone’s account. Always, with a can of Tab diet soda by my side. (To this day, I love Tab and it reminds me of working at the bank in high school).

I would take your actual bank statement (we had just switched from using papyrus) carry the balance forward, subtract the checks, add the deposits, and the machine would type in a new balance - - - automatically!

If an account didn’t have enough money, we'd hit it with a whopping overdraft fee of - - are you ready for this? - - -two dollars and fifty cents.

There was no such thing as a “bounced check.” We would just carry your balance in the negative and eventually, Mr. Dohmann from the bank would call you on the phone.

Since many of the checks weren’t personalized or had account numbers on them, we’d often have to use intuition to figure out which account to take it from.

For example, if Mr. Henderson wrote a check to the feed store, we would just know to debit his “farm account” rather than his joint account with his wife.

At the end of the day, all the checks and deposits that I posted had to balance with the lady’s totals from the first big, clunky machine.

My totals never balanced.

So, I had to go through all of my postings and find out where I made a mistake. I learned a lot about how to find errors.

For example, if my “outage” was divisible by nine, that meant that I had transposed a number somewhere.

Really. Take the number 4167. Transpose it to 7614. The difference is 3447 which can be divided equally by nine - - - 383.

A more simple one. 69 transposed to 96. The difference is 27 which, divided by 9 is 3.

See? That's a lot more useful to know than trigonometry.

After all the checks were posted, I’d file them in each account-holder’s little file which contained the signature card. As we put each check in the file, we’d compare the signature on the check to the card. - - After all, anyone could write a check on any account simply by signing it.

However, we pretty much had everyone’s signature memorized.

For example, one time my cousin wrote himself a thirty-dollar check on my grandmother’s account (which I caught while filing the checks) and oh boy, did he get in trouble!

At the end of the month, we’d fold up everyone’s statement, plunk in the cancelled checks, stuff it in an envelope and mail it to them.

That is, unless they just wanted to pick up their statement at the bank (we automatically knew who wanted to) and we’d leave their statement with the teller.

So, you can see why I was pretty amazed when I could instantly look at my cancelled check online the other day.

Banking has certainly come a long way during my lifetime.

Oh, and here’s a photo from my senior yearbook. That's moi, posting checks at the bank on the big, clunky machine.

And look what's on my desk right now

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Only Two More Days

Only two more days until the ice rink at Millennium Park opens up.

I am SO excited. I feel like a little kid again.

I went down there on my lunch hour and snapped these photos of the glistening, virgin ice, all ready and waiting for me.
Here is a view of the office building where I work, gleaming in the winter sunlight.

And look at this. The logo for Chicago's bid to host the 2016 Olympics is embedded in the ice.
I'll feel just like Brian Boitano!

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Just When You Think You've Heard It All

Here's a spa in Santa Fe that offers a cleansing mask which is made from powdered "sanitized droppings" of the nightingale.

The high nitrogen content draws out bacteria from the skin and breaks down dead skin cells more gently than acid peels. Used for centuries by geisha in Japan, the facial is “an all-natural way to brighten and smooth the skin.”

Oh, and it costs 115 bucks.

I can just hear the staff at this spa:

First staff member: "Oh my god! These people are actually paying us to smear bird poop on their faces! Can you believe this??"

Second staff member: "Let's see how much they'll pay to be pummeled with a dead weasel!"

I just have to say it. . . .

. . . . This really gives new meaning to the term "shit-faced".

Morning Scene - Vincent

Vincent is the goofy fellow that lives in my building who wears these far-out suits everyday. Apparently, we’re on the same schedule because I often see him leaving in the morning, festooned in his brightly colored suits.

I don’t know why he wears them. In the summertime, he stands on the bridge over the Chicago River and waves at the tourist boats. He also gives a little twirl as the boats go by.

I don’t know why.

He must have a closet-full of these because I can’t recall ever seeing the same one twice.

Today’s ensemble is a peach colored thing with brown stripes.

The shirt (which you can’t see) was bright green.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Friday Blues

We’ve had an unseasonably warm autumn this year in the Windy City. So much so, that the opening of the ice rink at Millennium Park has been delayed one week. That was hugely disappointing to me.

But lookie here. Right on cue, winter is arriving. It’s supposed to snow tomorrow. Then, it’ll be blustery with a low of 29 tomorrow night, just like God intended.

I’ve worked really hard this week and with more stress than I normally have to endure. Now I feel like I’m coming down with a cold or something icky.

I can’t get Enya’s ‘Amarantine’ out of my head. I
hate it when that happens.

I won’t be going back to the Starbuck’s located in the office building where I work. It’s just too much of a hassle.

This morning, the coffee makers in our break room weren’t working due to overloaded circuit breakers or something. So, I decided to head to Starbuck’s in the lobby along with everyone else who occupies the 82 other floors of the building.

The line was snaking out the door, but then again, it always is. However, they had an employee with a vireless head-set asking everyone in line what they wanted. She was relaying the orders to the staff behind the counter.

I thought that was very clever and thought I might get my coffee pretty soon. Keep in mind that I just order “coffee” at Starbuck’s; not one of their special concoctions like a mocchiano, no-fat, soy, red-eye, half-whip, double-down, with sugar-free-shot of hazelnut.

I just order “coffee.”

She took my order and relayed it in.

Well, their little scheme of taking our orders was very deceptive because when I got in the store and paid for my coffee, I discovered a venti-sized crowd of people waiting for their orders.

I waited.
And waited.
And waited.

It was utter confusion in there. I don’t know why the guy who took my money couldn’t have just reached back and dumped some coffee into a cup for me.

Finally, I just gave up and left. Starbuck’s can keep my $2.18. It wasn’t worth the hassle.

I made a big mug of hot tea. Not a chai-no-foam-soy-sugar-free cup of tea. Just a bracing mug of “Lipton.”

I think this might be a good weekend to make a big pot of soup, watch back-to-back movies on Lifetime and just be a couch-tater.


O Bama

Does anyone remember Bama peanut butter?

I remember it as a kid, not because of the peanut butter but because of its packaging.

You see, it came in a glass jar that had a handle on the side. When the peanut butter was all gone, you had a nifty glass mug with a handle on it. I remember drinking iced tea from those glasses.

Also, it did not have a screw-top lid. After all, you wouldn’t want to collect glasses that had screw tops. That would just be tacky. Instead, it had a metal lid that you just popped off with a church key - - remember those?

It no longer comes in the glasses - - just your regular plastic jars that get dumped in landfills. Alas.

Apparently, it’s only sold in the South. The glass jars with the handles on the side were probably very clever marketing. After all, what Southerner would throw away a perfectly good glass mug?

We were recycling back then and didn't even know it.


Morning Scene - Time

This big clock on the corner of Wacker and Wabash always lets me know how late I am to work

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Proposition 8

As usual, when I'm irked by something, I try to find irony and humor in it.

Gay Marriage Ban Makes California a Haven for Gay Couples

SACRAMENTO - Ever since California voters approved Proposition 8, the so-called gay marriage ban, the Golden State has become an unexpected haven for gay couples.

Against all expectations, thousands of same-sex couples from across the United States and Canada are pouring into California, seeking refuge there from the pitfalls of heterosexual-style marriage.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, divorce rates among heterosexuals in California were the some of the highest in the United States in 2007. In fact, the heterosexual divorce rate in California, 5.1 per 1,000 marriages, was 72 percent higher than the national average and nearly six times higher than that of Massachusetts.

With the majority of heterosexual marriages ending in divorce, especially among the Hollywood elite, Californians felt compelled to protect their gay citizens from the high odds of having to endure similarly painful and degrading marriage outcomes.

In a recent interview, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger noted the consequences of the increasing divorce rate among heterosexual Californians.

"The majority of children in my state come from broken homes, which I find appalling," said the governor.

"What’s even worse is that billions of our tax dollars are pocketed by divorce lawyers. That's money that could have been allocated toward things that Californians truly need and would appreciate, such as celebrity rehab centers or high-speed rail lines to Las Vegas."

"Now that Proposition 8 is the law of the land, I've realized that the majority of heterosexual Californians really do want to protect our gay citizens from the social and monetary damages caused by heterosexual-style marriages."

Mayra Robertson-Jang, a wedding consultant in Los Angeles, is also relieved by the new amendment.

"I've been in this business for twenty-seven years, and let me tell you, these weddings are getting weirder by the minute," said Robertson-Jang.

She recalled a recent outdoor wedding on Santa Monica Beach in which a recording of Enya’s 'Amarantine' was played for the wedding march and the bride insisted on wearing same cocktail dress featured by Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.

“The mother of the bride had just been released from an eating disorder rehab and showed up with a feeding tube up her nose. It really makes you wonder if there is a god.”

"And don't get me started on these couples who write their own vows! If I hear one more quote from Kahlil Gibran or the Desiderata, I'm just going to throw up."

Robertson-Jang paused, then smiled, and her tone suddenly brightened. "At least part of our society will be safe from this disgusting trend!"

"Let's face it, no one enjoys going to weddings except the bride," she continued with a wince.

"Then, these narcissistic little daddy's-girls decide that their weddings are an honor-yourself beauty pageant. They end up putting both families into debt and getting divorced within a year."
"At least gay Californians won't be in danger of incurring such god-awful resentment from their families!"

Helen Osmond-Jeffs, a long-time music director at the Westwood Mormon Temple observed: "I've provided music for hundreds of weddings and you just wouldn't believe the stuff these people want to be played!"

She remembers one particular bride who requested that the tabernacle choir perform Gretchen Wilson's Redneck Woman while the mothers were being seated.

Now that Proposition 8 has been passed," said Mrs. Osmond-Jeffs, "five-to-eight percent of our congregation won't be making requests like that. It'll make this place a little more dignified—and my job that much less embarrassing."

She sighed and gazed pensively out the window. "I just wish more of our congregation were gay."

The temple’s pastor, Reverend Warner Jeffs, agreed.

"I realize that the Latter-Day Saints have re-defined marriage at least three times during our history. But back in the 1950s, weddings were really dignified," he said. "Now you never know what to expect."

"Last week the ring bearer and flower girl were the couple's own children from their seventh and ninth marriages, -- and the damn bride wore white! You bet I voted to keep the sanctity of marriage in California."

"I'm really glad the gay members of the Westwood Temple won't be following the immoral examples that others have set."

Dan Henderson and his partner, David, recently made their way to California from Boston, where gay marriages are legal.

"Gay weddings back there were becoming such a cliché," said Mr. Henderson to a reporter at the Napa Valley Raw Food Festival.

"If I heard the theme from Brokeback Mountain at one more wedding, I thought I'd just scream. The last time that happened, I knew I couldn’t take it anymore."

"It's such a relief now that we've made it to Sausalito," said Henderson with tears welling in his eyes while grasping his partner's hand. "We'll be safe here."

Members of California’s lesbian and gay community responded with similar enthusiasm.

Actress and talk-show host, Ellen Degeneres admitted to having been relieved when Proposition 8 passed.

"I was really worried there for a while that marriage might actually remain legal for us in California," said Degeneres.

"After all, haven't my people suffered enough?"

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Morning Scene - The EL

I had to take the “EL” yesterday morning to a meeting

This is the State & Lake station which is nearest my apartment. It’s old and really doesn’t have enough room for waiting passengers. I have no idea how the CTA will go about remodeling it like they are with other stations like this one.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Things That Really Bug Me

Okay, I just have to get a few things off my chest that bug me.

1. In meetings, when someone says, “I just want to dove-tail onto what he said,” or “Just to piggy-back onto what she said. . .“

Why do they need to announce that they’re ‘dove-tailing’ and ‘piggy-backing’? I want to shout at them and say, “Well, of course you should be saying something relevant to the topic at hand!”

2. Those little waxy strips of paper that expose the sticky bit on a Netflix return-envelope. I’m never near a trash can when I end up with those things.

3. Encountering couples on a sidewalk walking toward me that insist on walking side-by-side and not making room for me to pass. Don’t they know that two-way foot traffic is allowed?

4. People that say “supposebly” and “irregardless”.

5. The doorman in my apartment building. He’s way too cheery and wants to engage in inane banter every time I enter or exit. He also mumbles so I can’t understand him anyway. What’s wrong with a simple, polite nod?

6. Why can’t PCs ask to install new updates when you turn them off rather than when you turn them on? When I turn my PC on, I’m about to DO something. By the time I let it do its little updating thing, I’ve forgotten what I wanted to do.

7. 2:30 pm on a work-day sucks. It means that you have two-and-a-half hours left to go. That’s a whole third of a work-day.

8. Forms that don’t allow enough space to write the info they’re asking for. For example, they leave a half-inch space and want you to put your email address there. This drives me absolutely bonkers.

9. Evaluation forms. After a presentation is over, the presenter hands out evaluation forms but has allowed not one iota of time to fill them out. I either don’t fill them out or I simply write, “Time was not allowed to fill this out.”

I really do.

Grrrr. Grrr.

Okay, I feel better now.

Morning Scene - Waterview Tower

The 90-story Waterview Tower has been under construction for at least the past two years. (This pic was taken from my balcony) Financial constipation has halted all construction on the project indefinitely.

Last month, the slip-form concrete molding things were even removed from the columns, leaving rebar sticking out of the top.

I really feel sorry for those residents in the buildings to the right of it and behind it. Their views were completely obliterated by a building that may not ever be completed.

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Monday, November 10, 2008


I just took an online typing test.

Check out my results:

Not bad for an old guy, eh?

Getting Lao'd

Some friends of mine and I had another feast at our favorite place, Lao Sze Chuan.

Honestly, in all my years of dining out, I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed any restaurant as much as this one. I would be devastated if it ever closed down, though there’s little chance of that. (We always go early, for there are always hoards of folks waiting for tables by the time we leave).

Here are some photos of our little feast:

We began with a jellyfish salad. We often order something from the “weird” part of the menu called “Very Chinese Special.”
Actually, the jellyfish salad is really very tasty if you can get past the mucuous, crunchy texture.

Their signature dish is “Boiled Beef in Szechuan Sauce”. Some of it was eaten by the time I got a photo of it.
I know, the term “boiled beef” sounds like bad British cuisine, but it’s actually a technique of Szechuan cooking. Instead of stir-frying, bits of meat (beef, fish, pork or even frog - your choice) are lowered into boiling stock to cook them.

In this dish, a hefty amount of spicy pickled cabbage is placed in a bowl (a first-cousin of Korean kim-chee). Then the cooked beef is placed over that and topped with lots of hot oil, Szechuan pepper, garlic, and hot chilis.

It is, hands down, my favorite menu item. I have yet to try it with frog and I doubt that I will.

Pea-pod leafs with garlic are another favorite. I’d often seen this bright green dish come out of the kitchen and finally found out what it was. We order it every time now.

We also always request “Shrimp in Mayonnaise Sauce” (again, some of it was quickly snarfed up).
It’s a weird name and one doesn’t normally associate mayonnaise with Szechuan cuisine. In this case, the shrimp are dipped in mayonnaise, fried, and served with a sweet sauce.

They are to die for.

Not pictured are Ma-Po Tofu and also Orange Beef.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. If you’re EVER in Chicago, go to Chinatown and hit Lao Sze Chuan.

And hit it hard!


Very Disappointing


The ice rink at Millennium Park was supposed to open in just two days on Wednesday, November 12. However, due to the unseasonably warm weather we’ve been having, it’s been delayed one week and won’t open until the 19th.

I am SO disappointed.

Each year, I really really really look forward to the opening of the ice rink. It usually opens around the middle of November and closes around the middle of March. I absolutely adore ice skating and try to go most evenings after work.

The ice rink is just outside the building where I work. Here’s a pic of it, taken from a window at my workplace. Notice that there’s NO ICE on it yet.

Each evening, they re-surface the ice at 5:30 and open the rink up at 5:45. I keep my skates and a change of clothes in my office and around 5:30, I change and head to the rink so I can be one of the first ones out on the newly-resurfaced ice.

I also listen to my iPod while skating and have a specific playlist just for skating. It alternates between slow and fast songs, beginning with Donna Summer’s I Feel Love. (Which, by the way, is just about the BEST song to skate to). Other songs include Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, Heart’s Barracuda, Janis Joplin’s Try Just a Little Bit Harder, The Killers Somebody Told Me and Moi playing Prokofiev’s Diabolical Suggestions.

It’s a wonderful way to unwind from the day.

But all that will have to wait another week.

I’m very disappointed.

Morning Scene - The United Building

Built in 1992, the headquarters for United Airlines at 77 West Wacker Drive rises 49 stories. However, there is no 49th floor in the elevator. It’s skipped so that the top floor can be the 50th.
I think it’s a very handsome building with its Classical Greek architecture mixed along with the modern glass.

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Friday, November 07, 2008


Here’s an incredibly tasty way to eat more veggies.

Peel and dice a big butternut squash, dice up three zucchinis, a couple of onions, toss in a big pack of cherry tomatoes. (Sweet potatoes would be good, but I don't like sweet potatoes)

Put it all in a big bowl, toss with a stick of melted butter, and two tablespoons of Knorr’s chicken bullion.

Dump it all on a NON-STICK sheet pan.
Bake at 400 for about an hour or thereabouts.

The veggies get charred.

Serve with rice if you like.

Highly addictive.

Better Late Than Never

Well, I'm a little late, but I've got some nifty pics from election night.

Needless to say, downtown Chicago was awash with happy humanity.

Here's a little constituent and her mom:
I came across this Obama look-alike.
No chance to advertise was passed up:

Or to peddle a little memorabilia:

Want a button, anyone?

No containers were allowed in Grant Park, so it all ended up here.

Morning View - Carbide & Carbon Building

The building with the gleaming gold top is the Carbide & Carbon Building.
The morning sun was catching it just right.
Built in 1927, it's pretty much the epitome of the art deco style.

It now houses the Hard Rock Cafe.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Morning Scene - South View

Here's the view from my balcony, looking south, into downtown.

It's not the impressive, expansive view from 500 feet up and 40 miles to the west, which is nice.

But I often just need to know that there's, indeed, a huge canyon of of architecture near me; a conglomerate of noisy stimulation and also, a security blanket of humanity up close, nearby, and obtrusive at all times.

That's what I really like about living in a city.

Here's my early-morning view to the south that exemplifies it.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008


As I woke up to CNN this morning, I heard news reports about complications with voting machines.

We all remember the hanging chad debacle of eight years ago. I sincerely hope that nothing happens like that again, because I have tomorrow off and want to celebrate wholeheartedly with my friends tonight. We have tickets to the Obama rally in Grant Park and I really don't want hanging chads in the way.

Anyway, I don’t have a lot of faith in the way votes are counted - - and for a very good reason.

I was once a polling official who was responsible for sending in the votes. Really. Here’s how it happened.

About three years, I was laid off from my job. (The building burned down). I’m lazy, so I got a temp job rather than dealing with the unemployment office in here in Chicago. Believe me, working a temp job is easier than dealing with the unemployment office in Chicago. It probably pays better, too.

One of my temp jobs was to set up and take town polling stations in the city. We were trained on how to set up the electronic doo-hicky where people vote, including the suck-and-puff voting thing-a-ma-jig in case anyone wanted to vote by sucking on things.

We were also trained how to take down the voting doo-dahs, remove the cartridge that recorded all the votes, stick the cartridge in this other watch-a-ma-call-it, and electronically relay the tallied votes to a central place.

When I say, “we were trained” I mean, someone demonstrated it at blinding speed within the course of 20 seconds. I suspect they were probably a temp employee from another temp agency.

Anyway, it’s a good thing that I found permanent employment within a couple of days because I would have had no idea how to operate a polling station if my life had depended on it.

There. I’m sure you are all bathed in comfort now.

Now, go vote anyway.

Morning Scene - The Jeweler's Building

When completed in 1927, this 40 story building was the tallest building outside of New York City. It was called The Jeweler's Building because it originally had a multi-story car lift inside that facilitated the safe transport of jewelery.
I’ve always been captivated by its ornate domes and columns.

See that section on the very top? Urban legend has it that Al Capone and his cronies had a secret private club up there.

Of course, this is Chicago, so Al Capone is purported to have had private clubs in the tops of most buildings in the city, including the Sears Tower.

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Monday, November 03, 2008

Professional Attire

Last Friday, I spent my final day of a six-day business trip in Springfield.

The conferences had been done; the only thing on the day's agenda was to address a panel with three state political officials. I won't say which officials these were because:

(1) I don't think it's prudent to divulge employment details on a blog and

(2) I can't remember who they were.

One panel member was an actual state representative who had a title like "honorariously".

The other was the CEO of something like The Organization of Theoretical Preposterous Higher Education Endeavors;

The other panel member was my boss.

I'll admit that I was pretty intimidated about addressing a panel of these high-powered individuals. I was ready with my Big Impressive Phrases like “workforce diagrams” and “employee tangentials” and “jobs”.

After all, these were Big State Officials that knew a whole lot more about Officious State Things than I did.

But I have to admit that my initial concern was this . . . . . . . .What would my mom think of the clothes I was wearing?

You see, while growing up, my mom’s biggest horror is that one of her sons might be under-dressed for any occasion. (Which, she got that from her mom).

My brother and I were the dorky kids who showed up at friend’s birthday parties in leisure suits. If there was a wedding rehearsal dinner, we would be the teenage boys in rented tuxedos - - and we wouldn’t even be in the wedding party.

I remember being in the marching band in high school -- I forgot to bring this little silver breast-plate that went on my uniform. It was an “out of town” game.

But upon discovering my horrible, earth-shattering, forgetting-the-breast-plate catastrophe, my mom went screaming back seventy miles, 80 mph, in our 1976 Chevrolet Caprice to retrieve that silver breast-plate. And returned in time for the half-time show.

Do any of you remember that high-speed police escort to Parkland Hospital during the Kennedy Assassination?

Those guys had nothing on my mom during my high-school band breast-plate-retrieval of 1976.

Really. You should have seen it. . . . There was a high-speed acceleration. . . She zoomed under several triple-underpasses . . . She probably reported me to the Warren Commission. But, my Super-Mom returned with a pristine breast-plate. . . .

She still reminds me of that horrible moment to this day. (We laugh about it now)

So, all this past week, for five days of conferences in Peoria and Springfield, I wore my nicest, most professional clothing. I actually sport relatively little in the way of fashionable clothing. I think I might be a shame to "my people."

Really. I show up to PBS fundraising events and they say, "No. Umm. Really, I'm sorry. Those cargo pants with sneakers just won't do. Perhaps you'll feel better as a tour guide at the Lincoln Park Zoo. (whisper) Maybe in the Southern U.S. marsupiel exhibit. . ."

I’ve got black or navy slacks that I mix with various jackets. Those get paired with light blue or dark blue shirts. Ties with vibrant blue-or-grey themes get mixed in. I'm really big on vibrant blues.

I pretty much wear navy or black socks, all of which come from various Wal-Marts in Central Illinois. Those three-pack, heavy-duty navy socks for $3.97 just rock my world, let me tell you.

For more formal things, I do have a classic charcoal-grey suit that a very annoying but efficient Asian man tailored for me. It's nice to have on hand.

Seldom do I wear my classy suit with the white-shirt-and-red-tie like you see Barack Obama or Sarah Palin doing. I usually stick my more subdued blue and grey things.

Anyway, I had worn all these mix-and-match corporate-nice-clothes things all week long. I think I looked very nice and tastefully exemplified professional attire.

By Friday afternoon in Springfield, I was tired and ready to be done with it all. I'm not sure I even shaved that morning. I thought, “The hell with it,” so I donned some navy Dockers along with a light blue shirt with a cheap-looking Mike Huckabee red-white-n-blue tie.

And I'm not talking "nice" Dockers. No, I had those Nasty-Dockers goin' on! You know, the ones with the cuffs-n-pleats.

And there I was, up front, along with this state representative, a state board CEO, . . . and my boss.

Most of the entire audience were men.
Very nice suits.
Congressional, State capital, Springfield suits.

And I was totally under-dressed!

Mary Todd Lincoln would have SO run me out of Springfield.

I really should have called my mom and said, “Mom! I am totally under-dressed! Everyone is wearing suits. Except me!
But that would have been really cruel.

Actually, if I had done that, there would have been a knock on the door in my middle of the meeting and a delivery guy would have walked in with an Armani suit - - sent from my mother. . .

. .I don't know.

I suspect a lot of those guys wished they could have been wearing my Dockers.

Don’t they know about Casual Fridays?

Morning Scene - The Octagonal Building

Honestly, I don’t know the name of this building but I wish I did.

It’s a classic, late 1920’s style of skyscraper. I imagine its octagonal shape and tall, slender build was truly impressive back in its heyday.