Sunday, November 27, 2011


Little neighborhood restaurants are such a priceless gem. I had my first meal at Bacchanalia in Chicago almost twenty-five years ago and have loved it every since. My friend, Jack, and his family have been dining there much longer. It's just a tiny slip of a place; a family-owned establishment nestled in a little, out-of-the-way Italian enclave.

The food cannot be beaten. It's hearty, Southern Italian fare but about as far away from Olive Garden as one can get.
Our waitress knew us; she'd been working there for decades. A complementary platter of pasta with vodka sauce appeared. It's that kind of place.

Antipasto for everyone:

Calamari stuffed with pork:

Eggplant Parmesan with meat sauce:

Stuffed mussels with linguini and white clam sauce:

Scallops Diavolo:
These are just a few of the gorgeous samplings there. 

By all means, order their fried calamari. It's buttery, tender, and light as a feather. Their penne arrabiata is to die for. Tons of garlic, olives, and a touch of allspice lace the fiery tomato sauce. But only the cognoscenti order it; it's not even on the menu.

If you really want a treat, order their Porterhouse Vesuvio; a char-grilled monster served in a robust, garlicky brown sauce. 

Desserts came, coffee came, another carafe of red wine followed, and laughter ensued among old friends. 

The waitress who'd been there for decades got a kiss on the cheek from each of us.

It's that kind of place.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Cheerful Holiday Message

It’s the holiday season and that means one thing: News reports showing political officials serving Thanksgiving dinners at soup kitchens and homeless shelters. Very few things get me as upset as this.

Folks, if you want to do a good deed on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day, please don’t pester your local homeless shelter. Stay home and enjoy your turkey and football and family dysfunction.

Several years ago, I was a supervisor in a large housing facility in Chicago that provided hundreds of hot meals every day. Every year at Thanksgiving or Christmas, we would be inundated with folks wanting to volunteer and serve meals on those days. We had to assign extra staff just to take care of all the phone calls.

I remember one woman who got very upset when she showed up to volunteer and it was suggested she help stock the shelves in the kitchen. Oh no! She wanted to work “with” the unfortunate homeless people. I’m sure she envisioned herself benevolently smiling to the less fortunate as she handed them a plate of food.

And yes, city officials made their appearance for the news teams. They’d crowd into the serving line and dish up green beans for half an hour, disrupting the entire operation, and then leave. All for show. They were serving their needs; not their constituents. 

Parents would drag their teenage children there to show them the unfortunate, homeless people in hopes of providing them with a lesson on how good they had it. (The Duggars did the same while visiting Washington D.C. last year.) Then, the parents would get upset when we didn’t have anything for them to do. I really wanted to tell these parents that our facility provided multiple services, but being a zoo wasn’t one of them. (Jim Bob Duggar, take note.)

Yes, volunteers are severely needed at these facilities – year round. There were wonderful people who faithfully showed up all year long to help out and I don’t know what we would have done without them. They answered phones, stocked shelves, unloaded delivery trucks – all behind the scenes.

These facilities serve meals every day and they have their routine down really well. Homeless people are hungry every day. It’s not like there’s a huge surge of them requiring sustenance just because it's a holiday.

If you want your teenager to volunteer, great. Have the little darlings show up every Monday at 7:00 am before school, without fail, so they can unload the delivery truck in the back alley.

On Thanksgiving as you’re enjoying your turkey and gravy and find yourself wanting to help, do your local shelter a real favor.  Stay home, watch the game, and write a check.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Best Water Ever

If you want a great example of how gullible the American consumer is, I have only two words for you: 
Bottled water.

I don’t know how they did it, but the bottled water people really pulled one over on us. Go to any grocery store, convenience store, and the stuff is flying off the shelves. They’ve caused our society to have a huge aversion to drinking the horrible, nasty water out of the tap.

How did the bottled water people pull that off? All of a sudden, many of us shun tap water as if it was from Mexico or Oklahoma.

We didn’t use to be like this. After all, how many of us grew up gulping water from a garden hose on a hot summer’s day?

And why don’t these bottled water drinkers have an aversion to ice? Do they think the ice in their soft drinks was made from Desani? Newsflash: It was made from tap water pushed through the mildewed tubes of an ice machine that hadn't been cleaned in a decade.

I remember my grade school in Texas. During recess, we had to remain out there on the hot, dusty playground until the bell rang. We’d be out there in 100-degree heat growing thirstier by the minute, just dying for a drink of water.

The moment the bell rang, a hoard of us would hurtle toward the outdoor water fountain which consisted of nothing more than a pipe with holes in it laying over a cement trough; a long, rusty flute with tepid water spurting out of it. A dozen of us sweaty kids would suck on it for dear life, like a dozen piglets on the teat of a sow.

Best. Water. Ever!

I remember working in my grandparent’s non air-conditioned dry cleaning establishment on hot Saturday afternoons. The place would be filled with steam from the presses and the humid air would be thick with the smell of dry-cleaning fluid. We had an ancient 1940s refrigerator in the back that held pitchers of water filled from the taps of the old, wooden rinse tubs in the back.

You’d be sweating all day from the steam and machinery, building up a mighty thirst. Upon hoisting one of those pitchers, you’d notice the thin film of ice that was always covering that wonderfully cold water from the old fridge.

Best. Water. Ever!

Yes, I keep a gallon of designer water in my fridge at home for drinking and for offering to guests. I refill it just about every day from the tap.

No, it’s not designer water from some glacier in Iceland – just good ‘ol dihydrogen monoxide from Lake Michigan.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Pain of Au Bon Pain

I’ve come to dread going into Au Bon Pain for my bagel each morning. Apparently, some clueless upper-level manager has instructed the managers and staff to be super-friendly and give every customer a hearty “hello!” and “good morning!” upon entering. 

Every time I swing in there, I'm suddenly pelted with an onslaught of enthusiastic greetings. It's a bit much. 

I’m a friendly guy, but there’s a limit. I just want my bagel.

Having been in the restaurant business, I can tell you that this directive came from higher-up. Some upper-level manager behind a desk thought it would be a good idea to set Au Bon Pain apart by having their staff double as breakfast-cheerleaders.

I love their asiago cheese bagels, but I’m about to give up on braving the good-morning-gauntlet every time I want one.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Smelly Cat / Soft Kitty

Remember the Friends episode where Phoebe sings "Smelly Cat"?

And the episodes from The Big Bang Theory where they sing "Soft Kitty":

Here's another episode where they sing it. Obviously, "Soft Kitty" had caught on with the audience.

Well, did you know that both songs can be sung at the same time? 

It's true! 

I figured this out while riding on the bus the other day. 

Here are Miss Healthypants and I in a brilliant performance of Soft Kitty and Smelly Cat. The audience is her cat, Autumn.

You ready?

Finally, my four years of music theory, composition, form & analysis, and counterpoint came into good use.

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Afternoon Scene - Autumn

Here's a pretty tree in the plaza of my workplace. Autumn has arrived in Chicago -- which meant that we had snow squalls yesterday.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

20 Kids and Counting

I’m sure many of you are familiar with The Duggar Family and their super-sized family featured on 19 Kids and Counting. Just yesterday, they announced that Mama-Duggar was pregnant with their twentieth child, thus sending television producers scrambling to change the name of the reality series once again.

Go to any website or blog about the Duggar Family, and you’ll see thousands of comments from folks weighing in and expressing their opinion about this family. The bottom line is, we love to hate the Duggars.

I’m no different.

A friend of mine and I often watch the program together over the phone (she lives in Tulsa) and I’m usually there making snide comments. Yes, I’ll admit it.

I would love to see one of the older boys go off to Africa to be a missionary and then return with a same-sex partner named Umbutu. I can’t wait for one of the girls to grow up and write a torrid, tell-all best seller, Growing Up Duggar. I secretly want Daddy-Duggar to be caught having an affair with a stripper in Little Rock, get divorced, and be slapped with a fifteen-thousand-dollars-a-month child support order.

I’m bad.

I couldn’t help but to caption this photo of them:

But in reality, I had to take an honest look at why I love to hate the Duggars. The honest truth is, I’m jealous of them.

Yes, the four older girls are adults now, still living at home with no career and most of the child care duties falls on their shoulders. But they also get to tour the country on book tours, meet lots of adoring fans, and let’s face it: Jana, Jessa, Jinger, and Jill are celebrities. What’s not to like?

I’m jealous.

The older boy, John-David, is 22, still lives at home and putters around with a towing business. He's got it easy. When I was that age, I eked out a living as a keypunch operator and had to supplement that paltry salary with another part-time job.

I’m jealous.

I’m sure we see a very sanitized view of their life each week. I’m sure they have their share of dysfunction we never get to see. For one thing, that bedroom with ten boys in it is bound to smell like a rotting weasel.

Yes, all the Duggar kids seem to live in isolation from the real world, aren’t allowed to date or watch TV, and appear to be brainwashed by their parent’s super-conservative religious views.

And didn’t I join a freaking monastery for seven years back in 1994?

So, yes, whenever I find myself criticizing the Duggars for their lifestyle, I usually just have to say two words to myself:

“Glass houses. . .”

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Friday, November 04, 2011

The Envelope

Growing up in my Little Bitty Home Town in Texas, we attended church every Sunday at the local Baptist church. I really didn’t enjoy it at all which is strange considering how it’s something I look forward to now. (Now, it's Episcopalian.)

Anyway, for a while when I was about nine or ten years old, we gave this elderly woman a ride to church every Sunday. Her name was Mrs. Clark and she lived on a really run-down farm located on a dirt road a few miles outside of town.

Every Sunday morning, we would drive up to the gate at the edge of her property and either my younger brother or I would have to get out of the car, open the gate and stand there while my grandmother, Budgie, drove up to the dilapidated old farm house to fetch Mrs. Clark. We’d stand there with the gate open, being eyed by threatening cows, until Budgie would return with Mrs. Clark in hand, close the gate and hop back in the car.

Every Sunday, it was the same. Soon before we got to the gate, my brother and I would begin arguing over whose turn it was for gate duty. There was a reason for this. Mrs. Clark would always give the gatekeeper a whole quarter for doing the job. Twenty-five cents! That was 25 percent of my whole weekly allowance; quite a haul for opening and closing a gate, perilous cows notwithstanding.

Yes, it was great to have a shiny quarter given to you for such an easy job. But you see, Mrs. Clark’s huge payroll came with a strings attached. It was meant, not for our benefit, but as earnings destined for the church collection.

We were only in possession of our cash for an entire fifteen minutes. Once we got to Sunday school, it had to go into the Official Sunday School Collection Envelope. I’m sure that anyone who grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition has seen one of these dreadful things:

Not only did The Envelope gobble up your earnings, but it documented your dedication to Sunday school (or lack thereof) and graded it. Here’s what it graded you on:

Present? (20%) That was easy. Was I present at Sunday school? Was I there? Check.

On Time? (10%) Oh my goodness; well if I was on time, I was also present. Check

Bible? (10%) Southern Baptists shouldn’t be without their bible. And it had better be a King James Version, too. None of these high-falutin’ International versions. Check

Offering? (10%) Well, it was an offering envelope after all. Yeah, my hard-earned quarter’s in there. Check.

Lesson? (30%) This was the kicker. Did you study your Sunday school lesson ahead of time? No way! That’s like homework. Yes, they call it Sunday school, but don’t expect me to do homework.

Preaching? (20%) That meant “Are you attending church afterward to hear the preaching?” No small feat since Southern Baptist sermons often ran 45 minutes, if not more. Check.

So, I’d always get a paltry grade of 70 on these things. It also asked you how many people you invited to church, how many phone calls you made, etc. (Yeah, right, like I’m gonna invite any of my friends to come to a place that expects extra homework.)

So, yes, Sunday school sucked. You were graded, had homework, had to give up your money, and were imperiled by cows.

I could never understand why Mrs. Clark actually wanted to be taken there every week.

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