Monday, October 30, 2006

My Back-Pack Died

It was inevitable.

The back-pack that I'd had for six years finally died yesterday. First, a zipper broke, then a small tear kept getting bigger.

It couldn't be depended upon to transport an i-Pod or cell phone or Chinese food.

I had really put this back-pack to lots of use during these past six years and he had served me very well. Last winter, he carried my hockey skates so that I could get in an hour's skating after work on cold, dark nights.

Whenever I flew, he carried everything I'd need just in case the airline lost my baggage.

He carried countless lunches to work, many of which I'd forgotten to eat for a few days. I'm bad about that.

And now, I had to say good-bye. I felt really sad, sort of like the Tom Hanks character felt about Wilson-the-volleyball in Castaway.

I couldn't just throw him away, willy nilly. So, I wrapped him in a shroud (a plastic bag from Target) and ceremoniously dropped him down the trash chute.

Sigh . . .

Daylight Saving Time Ends

The sun was setting early yesterday and I got a nice pic of it from my balcony.

Ground Zero

I stopped by Ground Zero (my workplace) yesterday. It's been six days since the fire and the place is still smoldering. We can occupy our building (the white one on the left) once the burnt building is removed. It really looks ugly.



My internet service is out again in the apartment building.

Bear with me . . .

Sunday, October 29, 2006


The internets is out again in my building. If you've read my most recent post, you'll see that I have no office either.

The building next to where I work is still smoldering, the entire city block is still surrounded by police tape and we can't occupy our building until the burnt building is torn down.

All the residents have been farmed out to various shelters and YMCA's (Thank you, YMCA).

I'll post more when my internets returns.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Um . . . My Office is on Fire . . . Really.

I was on the phone this afternoon with my mom in Texas. I'm outside, bundled up in a heavy coat on the balcony of my apartment because Mom rang just as I'd darted in.

As we were talking, she was watching CNN and said, "Oh, there's is big fire in Chicago." I didn't think anything of it.

A little while later, I was taking down the pinwheel from my balcony that the wind had shredded to pieces (see previous post) and noticed lots of smoke billowing up from the south side of downtown.

"Huh," thought I.
"That's close to where I work," as I freed the mangled pinwheel from the railing with a chef's knife and a pair of vice grips.

I was very busy with school work and didn't give it a second thought. I was busy completing two papers, studying for a mid-term, and had a presentation to present in tonight's class.

After two separate trips to Starbuck's, five hours of writing, two hours of studying, I was prepared for my evening class. One of my classmates mentioned that he was almost late because the EL had been closed down due to a big fire on S. Wabash Ave.

"Hey," said I.
"I work on South Wabash. Where was the fire?"

"On the 600 block," said he. "Next to Harold's Fried Chicken."

"Next to Harold's?!" exclaimed I.
"That's where I work! Their wings are incredible!"

"Ssshh! said Instructor.

The mid-term was then handed out.

At the break during class, I wanted to call my workplace to see if, well, to see if it was still there. I didn't have my cell phone with me -- I'd left it in my desk at work!

I borrowed a classmate's phone. No one answered at work.
Not even the security guards. . .

. . . Not a good sign.

I had to go back into class because I was scheduled to give my presentations on Moderation Management meetings (they're like Alcoholics Anonymous, only you can drink in moderation) and Debtors Anonymous meetings.

Meanwhile, I was worried about my clients who were probably homeless again, my office, my means of earning a living, my direct-deposit.

Hell, I'd just bought a pound of Starbuck's Italian Roast and had stashed it in my desk!
Oh my God!

(BTW - I'm a substance abuse counselor for a public housing facility that contains 170 little apartments for the disabled, the homeless and those that are really f**ked up, to use clinical terms)

The moment class was over, I hauled it, seven blocks to my workplace. I couldn't get very close to it because of all the smoke, fire engines, police tape and emergency personnel. . .

. . . Not a good sign.

I got close as I could and there was the large brick building connected to our facility, still burning away. It had been on fire for hours and the firefighters couldn't put it out. It was a very old, abandoned building and the fire was, apparently, blazing within the walls of the building.

My office on the top floor, my beautiful little glass office on the roof deck, was being inundated with uncontrolled hurricane-like billows of black smoke. Lots of blinking fire trucks were blasting the sides of our building with screaming water, trying to keep the fire at bay and the common wall saturated with water.

It really was pretty incredible to see my office engulfed in water and smoke like that. It was so quiet and dark, yet so violent. That's the first thing I saw.

No. The worst part was that I couldn't see any lights on in the whole building. All 170 apartments were completely dark.

I managed to pull aside a young police officer -- (which is always just a smidge bit of fun in my book) -- and told him that I was a counselor in the building. He was jocular and said that I might look forward to a few days off from work.

I then got awfully serious with the young police officer -- (which is always just a smidge bit more fun in my book) -- and he said that no one was hurt, but they were trying to find shelters for the residents. Would I be able to put up a couple of people?

I told him I couldn't. (As their counselor, I can't even give the clients my home phone number, much less, have them stay in my home).

So, I'll be going into work at our main office tomorrow. We have a temporary shelter there and, hopefully, most of "my babies" have ended up there. I'm sure that many of my f**cked-up have ended up there, too, and will be demanding hotel reimbursements from the Hilton on Wabash.

Oh yeah. I went online and found the news report of the five-alarm fire.

(BTW - I just got an email -- the resident's apartments are fine and they'll be able to return the day after tomorrow.)

Here is a pic of it from Fox News Chicago. My office is the little glass knob on top of the building to the right. I've isolated it in the second pic; my office is toward the left, hidden by the smoke.

But, yes, that's my office. The one with the pound of Starbuck's Italian Roast jumping to its death.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Figure This One Out . . .

Last night, I had a very vivid dream where I was with a group of people and we stopped for lunch in this tiny ghost town. I had the lunch special which consisted of pancakes with brown gravy and a side of steamed kale.

So weird . . .

I've often wondered if our dreams mean anything. However, I think it's just our brains having fun.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Agony of Victory

"What's that noise outside?" I said to myself as I awoke this morning. Drumming. Yelling. Mayhem.

I looked down below and instantly saw what it was. The Chicago Marathon.

Here's a happy snap of it from my apartment.

Big Congratulations to my friend, Jack, who is running in it. (He is one of Portia's owners). This is his fortieth marathon to run in. Wow. That's truly impressive.

Yesterday, he told me that the first prize was $125,000. I told him, "Well, run really fast!"

Saturday, October 21, 2006

It's Almost Time!

I'm getting excited. No, not because of the elections, silly bean, but because the public ice rink at Millenium Park here in Chicago opens on November 15.

I'm excited because I love ice skating. I'm just nuts over it. I really wish I was better at it, but as it is, I can hold my own out on the rink pretty well.

The rink at Millenium Park is also very convenient to where I live and work. Last year, I'd just keep my hockey skates in my back pack and get in an hour of skating on my way home from work.

I also love ice skating because it's really about the only exercise I get. You see, I don't like to sweat. At all. But ice and winter in Chicago are usually pretty cold, thus keeping any sweat at bay.

Last year, Santa Claus brought me an Ipod for Christmas. I must have been a very good boy that year. I try. (Thanks, Mom)

Anyway, skating with an Ipod is just a slice of heaven. I made a playlist that's just perfect for skating. It alternates between kick-ass pieces and really beautiful, languid Classical things. That way, I can alternate between being Elvis Stojko and Nancy Kerrigan.

Well, in my imagination anyway. In reality, I'm a 6'3" 220 lb guy in size 11 hockey skates, so you better stay outta my way, especially when I'm trying to be Elvis or Nancy. But I adore it.

Here's my playlist: (feel free to suggest any additions!)

Donna Summer: I Feel Love
Albinoni: Largo from Concerto for Oboe in D minor
Heart: Barracuda
Enya: Orinoco Flow
Bach: Air on a G String
Janis Joplin: Get it while you can
Jefferson Airplane: White Rabbit
Vivaldi: "Winter" from The Four Seasons
Queen: Tie Your Mother Down
Handel: Ombre mai fu
Janis Joplin: Try, Just a Little Bit Harder
Vivaldi: Nisi Dominus
Heart: Kick It Out
Orff: "O Fortuna" from Carmina Burana

Any suggestions on what I should add?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Where the Hell is Mark Foley Anyway?

Yeah, he claimed he was an alcoholic and was checking himself into a treatment center. I've yet to see this substantiated though.

I've worked in treatment centers and, believe me, one of the other patients would have notified the media by now had Foley been there. The patients in treatment centers are bored out of their minds, climbing the walls and gossip is the only thing keeping them going. Trust me on this one.

Foley is SO not in treatment. The GOP has him squirreled away somewhere until after the elections. Mark my words, Foley will then appear, all "rehabilitated".

The little worm.

My Happy Windmill

Since my balcony faces due West, it really does bear the brunt of the winter winds. I recently obtained this decorative windmill for the balcony and, boy, you should see that sucker spin.

Whenever I've looked at my apartment building from the west, I never could really tell which apartment was mine. The apartment building is sixty stories, so I'd count down eleven from the top to find mine. It looked like all the rest.

Now, I can identify my balcony by my happy little windmill.

Well, in the daytime anyway.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Grocery Carts

I went to the grocery store today and couldn't find a grocery cart. They were all out in the parking lot.

In Toronto, they've solved this problem very cleverly. All the grocery carts are locked into one another at the front of the store. In order to unhook one, you have to stick a dollar coin in a slot on the handle of your cart, and the cart releases. Your dollar stays locked in the slot until the grocery cart is poked back with the others. Clink. You get your dollar back.

If you want to leave your cart in the parking lot, you lose a dollar.

No problem. There are always homeless people willing to poke the carts back for a buck.

I think that's awfully clever because:

1. The grocery store doesn't have to pay their workers to round up carts in the parking lot (which is no fun on a winter day in Toronto.)

2. The homeless obtain the revenue of the lazy. That's always a good thing.

3. The parking lot is kept clear of kamikaze grocery carts.

I wonder how that would go over in the U.S.?

Canada rules.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Nagasaki, Gomorrah, and Apollo 12

I think Nagasaki has always been shortchanged. Whenever you hear about a powerful bomb, an earthquake or any catastrophic event, they're always compared to the Hiroshima bomb, never Nagasaki.

It's not really fair. Just once, I'd love to hear news anchor say something like, "Today, North Korea exploded a nuclear bomb ten times the size of the bomb that fell on Nagasaki. Meanwhile at the White House, top speech therapists have given up in their attempts to teach President Bush not to say 'nucular.'"

The evangelical right wingers are always bringing up the biblical account of Lot visiting Sodom when they're talking about gay marriage. They're always calling people Sodomites. Even the Bible has everything take place in Sodom. What about Gomorrah? Poor, little Gomorrah. You never hear about Gomorrahites. My friend, Danny, once wrote a song about Sodom and Gomorrah using the tune of Mr. Sandman:

Mr. Sandman, you are so mean
For putting sand in my Vaseline
I once was the toast of Gomorrah and Sodom
Now I have trouble with being a bottom. . .

I thought it was pretty cool that he switched the cities like that, giving Gomorrah top billing for once.

We're always hearing about Neil Armstrong's walking on the moon during Apollo 11. And yes, it was a huge event. Then there's the ill-fated flight of Apollo 13 which was even made into a movie. But can anyone tell me about Apollo 12? Or was there an Apollo 12 at all?

I say that we remedy this and have a national holiday commemorating the citizens of Nagasaki, Gomorrah and Apollo 12.

They've been overlooked long enough.

My Apartment Building is a Whore

My apartment building is such a whore. Once again, it let itself be used by film production crew waving lots of money.

I'm being faceteous. It's kinda cool living in a building that's used so often for movie or commercial scenes.

I was walking to work the other morning and the whole block was inundated by a film crew. They had just driven a car off the 16th level of the parking lot and into the Chicago river below. Cool! I had gotten there after the fact, but was able to take a few snaps of the car as it was floating around in the river. I watched for a while as police boats would speed up to the car, drive away, and speed up to the car again.

The TV commercial is for Allstate Insurance Co. and is supposed to air sometime next month.

So, watch for the Allstate commercial. When you see the car fly out of the 16th level of the parking lot, you can know that I'm on the 49th floor above, oversleeping, and should have been at work.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

I Heart Ludmilla

Way back in 1972, I got hooked on womens' gymnastics. That was the year of Olga Korbut if you recall. I was in eighth grade and the Russian gymnasts just amazed me.

Yes, Olga Korbut was cute and sensational, but I think Ludmilla Tourischeva really didn't get the credit she was due. Tourischeva was known for her perfection, being steadfast, being incredibly focused. She was the one who came though for the team in '68, '72, and '76.

Anyway, I remember this one performance of hers in the '75 World Cup. She was competing on the uneven bars and just as she was completing the routine, the entire apparatus came apart and crumbled just as she nailed the dismount and walked away. She didn't even look back! There was all this noise as the uneven bars came crashing down behind her, but she didn't even acknowledge it. The commentator noted that, "She really didn't look back at the bars, because as far as she was concerned, that really wasn't relevant to the perfomance she'd just completed."

Wowwww! I really, really admire that.

I admire that because I wish I could be like that. I'm definitely not the most focused person in the world. Ask anyone who's been a passenger while I was driving (especially my dad). Yes, I'm a good driver, really. It's just that I can't converse with anyone or have the radio playing while doing so. I admire Ludmilla.

Every time I ignore disgusting people on the subway, I've thought of Ludmilla and her performance on those uneven bars. Disgusting people are just not relevant to me being a passenger on the subway. Period. Thank you, Ludmilla.

I need to be more like that at my job and at school. A little more Ludmilla-ness in my habits would serve me well.

I've thought about that performance of hers so many times and had wished I could find a video of it. I googled and U-tubed to no avail.

However, Google just introduced google videos. Cool. Within a few seconds, I found it!

So my friends, click here to watch that inspirational performace of dear Ludmilla. click click

Isn't that just the greatest thing ever?

She should be president.

Iwo Jima

Ever since I was a kid, I've thought that the guy on the left should be taken out of the photograph. He's not doing anything to raise the flag, just trying to hog some of the glory. The guy on the right is doing all the work.
Has anyone else ever thought this?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Portia the Pianist -- See the Video Here!

For those of you who have read my previous posts, you probably recall that I'm very fond of my friend's chocolate Labrador, Portia.
Portia is probably THE most affectionate, happiest, smartest dog in the whole wide world. She just exudes a lovely, appealing spirit. Anyone who's met her can well attest to that. See her exuding in the pic? What a sweet dog she is.

When Portia's owners go out of town on vacation or business, I'd get the dog. We'd have a lovely time, chasing balls, going on walks, having me retrieve her droppings. She really is very smart and, like most Labs, responds very well to rewards.

I had taught piano for years, so I tried my hand at teaching her to play. It involved many small steps and lots and lots of treats (raw carrots are her favorite) but she was a very apt pupil.

When her owners returned from vacation, Portia was able to perform for them. As you can see, she actually does perform the same song over and over.

Next, I'll teach her to play the oboe.

Click here to watch the video.

Friday, October 13, 2006

"Like, whatever . . . "

Today as I was walking to work, there were a couple of young women behind me, chatting away. They were your typical, garden-variety twenty-somethings. We were keeping the same pace and I couldn't help but overhear their conversation. One of them was using the word, "like," so often that it really amazed me. The use of the word "like" as a discourse marker bugs the hell out of me, especially since these kids use it so very much:

"He said he was, like, going to the store to, like, get me, like, a wine cooler. And I was, like, whatever."

So I began keeping count how many times she used the word.

Two blocks later, . . . thirty-five . . . forty . . . forty-five . . .

Finally, I peeled away. I couldn't take it anymore. I was wanting to wheel around and smack her with my back-pack.

As far as I can tell, such rampant use of the word, "like" is limited mostly to caucasian American females in their teens and twenties. It got me to thinking along the lines of grammatical anthropology: "What is it about their little world that causes them to use so many pauses in their communication; to speak so damn hesitantly?

Are they not getting enough nourishment? Have their little brains atrophied so much that they cannot think fast enough to speak correctly? Does Leonardo diCaprio have anything to do with it?

I was envisioning myself as a college professor and announcing on the first day of class that the word, "like" would not be allowed in my classroom.

Every time one of these students would try to speak, I'd stop them every time they used that word and have them start over.

I think they'd all explode after a while.

I know I can be a pompous ass. But seriously, what has caused this?

Do any of you have any, like, ideas?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

This morning when I woke up, things looked kind of strange outside.

It was snowing!

I still get excited over snow because it hardly ever happened where I grew up. For so long, I wanted to get out of Texas, the land of George Bush and high school football. I finally did on July 23, 1997 when I moved to New York and later to Toronto.

So, for me, snow underlines the fact that I did make it out of Texas. The more it snows, the more I feel like I've really accomplished something. I know it's silly, but there you go.

For five years, I lived in a house here in Chicago. When it snowed, I'd have to shovel the stuff which wasn't much fun. I'd happily pay a kid twenty bucks to do it. Still, I much prefer winter over summer. I'd much rather shovel snow in Chicago than mow a lawn in Texas.

Now that I live in a high rise, I take comfort in the fact that all snow removal is taking place fifty floors below me.

The hottest I've ever been was, suprisingly, not in Texas. Sure, I remember it getting up to 119 one day in 1980, but everything is air-conditioned down there. No, the hottest I've ever been was in Des Moines. I was there on a roller coaster riding vacation with a buddy at some small amusement park. It was 98 degrees and so humid that the air felt like split pea soup. All that corn in Iowa gives off tons of humidity. Nothing was air conditioned except one terribly smokey bingo parlor. It was horrible. We stank. Everything stank.

The coldest I've ever been was on a skiing vacation in Keystone, Colorado. It was minus 22 F that morning. There was a sign saying that the wind chill at the top of the mountain was minus 65. Zoom! Up we go. They weren't lying.

I don't think I'd like to live in a place like San Francisco where it's cool all the time. It's as if the weather has been put on bi-polar medication -- all the extremes have been whittled away. Boring.

Chicago is pretty nice. The summers are clement and if it does get really hot, it's not for very long. The winters can be pretty edgy here which is fun for a southern boy like me. There's nothing quite like standing on an EL platform with that winter wind howling off the icy lake to remind me that, indeed, I'm not in Kansas anymore.

The world came to an end yesterday

My Internet service went out yesterday and I've been banging on my high-chair. Thankfully, the whole apartment building is affected and it's not just my computer. They said they'd have it fixed sometime today, but I'm not holding my breath. I think it was the high winds and blowing snow that did it.

You'd think that the Internet people would be prepared for high winds and blowing snow. I mean, what city is this? It's Chicago. It's not as though high winds and blowing snow are an extraordinary event.

It's horrible not having Internet access! Just horrible. I couldn't check the weather to see when it would abate. I couldn't check my usual blogs to keep up with you guys. By the way, how did we get anywhere before Mapquest? I could soon be wandering aimlessly all over Chicago if I don't get my Internet back soon.

What's worse is that I use a broadband phone service which is really, really cool until the broadband goes kaputt. My cell phone doesn't get any reception in this apartment building. None do. I tried them all. If I go on the roof to make a phone call, I might get blown away.

I'm at work now, using company time to post this. Let's all say a prayer that Internet service is restored by the time I get home. It may get ugly, otherwise.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Can't Sleep

I was up late last night. Couldn't sleep. Flipping around on the TV found me watching an infomercial for a food dehydrator. The overly-enthusiastic host was explaining how it could make beef jerky for just a fraction of the cost of store-bought jerky.

Gee. Come to think of it, my monthly beef jerky expenditures have been excessively high lately. . . .

Monday, October 09, 2006

This really bugs me

Why can't George W. Bush learn to say "nuclear" correctly? Hasn't anyone ever sat him down and explained how ridiculous he appears every time he says "nucular?"

I was just watching CNN and he did a classic:
"We will not stand by and watch the nucularzation of the Korean peninchula."

Yep. That's what our leader said to the world.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Shopping for a Dress

Miss Healthypants (also known as "The Hag" and "Poodle" and "Poo") and I had been looking forward to this day for a couple of weeks. I even took a personal day off work for this occasion. Finally, The Day arrived. We were shopping for a new dress for her to wear to a friend's wedding.

This is the type of activity The Hag and I live for.

I met Miss HP and her husband, Iwanski, for lunch yesterday at a Cajun place. We had been there before and I hadn't liked the fried oysters they had. Miss HP reminded me that they had lots of other things besides fried oysters. Iwanski was fond of the Angry Chicken, for example.

So, of course, I order the fried oyster Po' Boy. Miss HP ordered a shrimp salad from the Healthy-Pants menu and Iwanski ordered the Angry Chicken which he let me taste. Indeed, I could readily sense the anger in this chicken.

After sending back my fried oyster Po' Boy for a shrimp one, we were on our way. Iwanski thanked me a lot for taking his wife shopping for a dress as this was something with which he really didn't want to be involved. He even bought my lunch out of gratitude. Nice guy. I told him, "This is what I'm here for. No, really. Existentially, this is why I am here."

Miss HP and I headed for a nearby Ann Taylor shop, a suggestion by Lorraine. (hi, wave) who was also looking forward to our dress-shopping expedition.

Outside the Ann Taylor shop, I did a couple of deep knee bends, some shoulder rolls and said, "Okay, Poo. Let's do it. . . ."

"Hey! Gauchos are back!" I was so excited over that. But we weren't there for gauchos. There were some nice things, and like Lorraine had told us, the things that were on sale were really great buys. The dress we tried on was just a little too plain, though. Gosh, did I just say, "we?"

Onward. Macy's was next. (Iwanski, I'm just kidding!) Macy's had recently bought out Marshall Fields, a Chicago institution. Since Iwanski was born and raised in Chicago, Macy's was verboten. Frankly, I've no problem with it since I had lived in New York City before coming to Chicago. Mark my words. The first time Macy's has their bargain-basement sale, lots of Chicagoans will be there. Maybe even Iwanski.

We headed to Carson's where we found lots of nice things. I parked myself in a chair right outside the dressing room and ushered Miss HP in and out with various dresses, applying witty comments. I had my camera with me and you can see the pics here. (Unfortunately, I had the flash turned off on my camera, so the pics came out a little blurry).

We were having a ball. I had perfected my Karen Walker, "Oh, honey. No!" response pretty well, mainly to other women besides Miss HP.

Then we found it. When she walked out, I swear I heard angels in three part harmony, Aaaaaahh, Aaaaahhh. A very nice dress, perfect for a wedding and most importantly, perfect for dancing after the wedding. It was black with a nice snug white lace cummerbund type of thing around the waist, dotted ever so tastefully with a few sequins. Since the wedding is at the Planetarium, Miss HP will be continuing the stars-in-the-universe theme with her killer dress. It also has a sheer black gauze-type of overlay that hangs down about an inch below the hem line, giving the hem a shadow. See that in the pic? Click on the pic! It's almost an optical illusion which is so cool. The cummerbund (I don't know what else to call it) also gives just the right amount of push-up to "the girls." It's as if this dress was made for Miss HP.

We head back to their apartment to model it for Iwanski. (It's so nice living downtown where everything is within walking distance). As soon as Miss HP came out in the dress, The Cat immediately found a great deal of interest in the gauze-type overlay and leaped up with claws splayed. Bad cat! Bad cat! No damage was done, but I held The Cat in a half-nelson while Miss HP spun around in the dress. Wow! It's a perfect dress for twirling. As Lorraine said, she'll be known as Miss Dancey-Pants in this thing.

We headed out for shoes after getting something to drink. It's important to stay hydrated during vigorous activity, you know. While at Sears, I hit the motherload: Dockers sweater-vests were on sale! I don't think anything says "me" more than Dockers sweater-vests. God, that's sad.

No shoes there. We try Pay-Less. None there but I did find a hilarious pair and took a pic. See previous post.

We decided to put off the shoe shopping for a while. It had been such an exciting day. We headed to Target as a cool-down. Iwanski wanted Kashi bars and Miss Dancey-Pants needed some jeans. I went for underpants but found a nice pair of khakis.

After Target, we went to the grocery store for more essentials. This was a different store than where we usually go. This one was was very close to my workplace. I was concerned that some of my clients might see me there with an attractive woman and make incorrect assumptions about me. Mind you, I'm not "out" with my clients about anything in my personal life (as a counselor, that's as it should be). Still, I kept a look-out, being there with a woman and all. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But still. . .

It was a great day. I wore new shoes and my doggies are really sore today. Looking back on it, I'm reminded of a line from my favorite film, Babette's Feast:

Throughout the ages, there exists a great cry from the soul of an artist: 'Just once, give me the chance to do my very best!'

Just for Bunny-Lynn

While shopping with The Hag yesterday, I couldn't help but notice these shoes. When I saw them, I immediately thought of Bunny Lynn Boofay from the Oak Ridge Trailer Park. Thank the Lord I had my digital camera with me in my back-pack 'cause I'd just hate to pass this up. Hopefully, Miss Bunny will get a whiff of these shoes and come over here to say hello to us all.

I highly advise keeping a digital camera with you 'cause you never know when you might come across a little jewels such as these.

BTW - if'n y'all want a good laugh, be sure to take a look at her site.

Friday, October 06, 2006

A Hallmark Moment

When I was a wee lad of sixteen in my little-bitty hometown in Texas, I learned that the South Texas American Thespian Society was offering a theatre tour for high school students. The tour lasted two weeks and included three nights in Washington D.C., five nights in New York City and two days at the Shakespear festival in Stratford, Ontario. My speech & drama teacher was taking names of those who wanted to go. Transportation, hotels, and theatre tickets were all included for (are you ready for this?) five hundred bucks. Would I want to go? Yes!

I was working at the local Dairy Queen at the time. (Stop laughing). Having been raised in a little-bitty town in South Texas, I had always wanted to visit New York City. I ended up slinging a ton of Dairy Queen burgers that year in order to go. I also failed Algebra II.

Finally, it was time for the trip. June 1975, and off we go on the Greyhound bus, (stop laughing) headed for Washington. The first play we saw was Death of a Salesman with George C. Scott playing Willie Loman. Wow! It was heaven. Sheer heaven.

While in New York, we saw Grease, Pippin, Equus, Chicago, The King and I, and a little-known performer named Bette Midler in The Divine Miss M. (How providential. And they say there isn't a god. . . )

Of course, we saw as many sights as possible. One day while at Rockefeller Plaza, we slipped into St. Patrick's Cathedral across the street on 5th Avenue. I had never seen anything like it. Better yet, the organist was giving a concert on the huge pipe organ. I'd never heard anything like it. The only organ I'd ever played was the cheesy little Hammond at my local Baptist church. Now, I was getting to hear the organ of all organs. It was glorious. I even cried a little.

I didn't want to leave, but we had lots of more things to squeeze in that day. As we were leaving, I was thinking that I'd probably never get to visit New York again, much less hear that magnificent organ. I had to work so hard at the Dairy Queen for this experience (and flunk Algebra II) and the bus ride made New York seem like a million miles away. . . .

Flash forward 23 years to September 1998. I was now a Franciscan Friar in a province based out of New York City. The province was about to celebrate its 100th anniversary and the Centennial Mass was being held at . . . guess where . . . St. Patrick's Cathedral.

By that time, I'd had about twenty years of experience as an organist so I suggested to the priest in charge, "Wouldn't it be nice to have one of our own Friars play the organ for the Mass?"
He was an angry, prissy thing, and replied, "Just to even touch the organ at St. Patrick's, one has to be a member of the American Guild of Organists!"

I scowled and replied, "What makes you assume that I'm not a member of the A.G.O???"
I wanted to give three snaps up at that point.

(Actually, I had been a long-time member of the A.G.O while in Dallas but had let my membership lapse. I quickly joined the New York chapter.)

I wanted to play something really big for the postlude so I worked long and hard on a 4-part Bach Fugue.

Finally, the day of the mass arrived. The organist at St. Patrick's let me in and turned on the monster motors for me.

That thing was incredible. It was tucked way behind the altar; so far away that it required closed-circuit television to see the goings-on at the altar. The pipes were at the other end of the cathedral; so far away that there was about a 1.25 second delay from the time you pressed a key until you heard the sound. It made it very difficult. That thing was really a monster. It was like flying a jet with a Rolls Royce engine.

As I was examining all one hundred sixty of the "stops", I noticed it: A sixty-four foot Bombarde stop. I couldn't believe it. I thought the 64' Bombarde was merely an organ urban legend! It actually had one.

The monster and I got along pretty well. During the big Bach Fugue, I yanked out that Bombarde for the closing measures. I know that was not an authentic way to play Bach, but I did it anyway. As my mom says, "No guts, no glory."

There were about 2,700 people in attendance that day along with lots of Bishops and some Cardinals. Hopefully, a cardinal or two got their pointy hats blown off during my fugue.

But I wasn't playing for any of them. I was playing for a certain 16 year old kid who once thought he'd never get back to New York, much less ever hear that pipe organ at St. Patrick's Cathedral again. Much less, play it.

PS: That spot on the front of my habit was sweat, baybee!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Life on Public Transportation

I'm so glad I live in the middle of a big city so that I don't have to own a car. Within two blocks of my apartment are over a dozen bus lines and access to every single train/subway line in Chicago. Needless to say, I ride the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) a lot.

There are always lots of irritating people on the train. Always. I usually adopt the following modes of defense: (1) Ignore everyone, even if a homocide is occuring (2) Never make eye contact with anyone (3) Avoid sitting in urine.

However, a couple of days ago I was on my way to the North side of town, taking the red line to meet a friend for lunch. There was an elderly, blind man standing in the car, announcing to all the passengers that he was blind, that he'd had such a hard life, would we all find it in our hearts to donate a few coins, blah, blah, blah! Now, mind you, there's a $200 fine for soliciting on CTA property. I really get annoyed at these people who still do that, because they know we're a captive audience.

I could tell that this fellow really was blind, you know, he had those spooky, grey, non-eyes. He also kept tap-tap-tapping our feet with his damn stick.

So, when he got near me, I stood up and quietly told him:

"Sir, I'm Officer Wheat with the Chicago Police. It's illegal to solicit on CTA property and I'm going to have to ask you to stop. Now, can I help you to a seat?"

He was all, "Okay, okay, okay, yes sir."

I helped him get seated and everyone on the train was staring at me, probably wondering what I did to get him to stop.

I loved it!

Yes, I have all the sympathy in the world for him. But he was violating a law and annoying all of us captives. It's also dangerous for him to be walking around in a train that's lurching about. He could have hurt himself, or worse, fallen on a little one.

For the rest of my ride, he remained quiet and seated.

Yay! I love being in control like that.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Foley Foils GOP Plans

Under mounting criticism resulting from the Mark Foley scandal, the GOP headed by Sen. Rick Santorum, was forced to halt production of their newest motivational video,
Pages Gone Wild!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Fifty-Three Things

Okay, once again, I've been feeling that this site isn't about ME enough.
Narcissitic personality disorder? No.
Just a little bored and too lazy to schlepp down to Starbucks.
And even numbers really bug me.
(Afterwards, I'd really like for each of you to tell me seven things about yourself.)

1. I have an uncanny ability to memorize numbers.
2. I have an uncanny disability to remember names.
3. My favorite snack is frozen grapes.
4. I have a real phobia of Bigfoot.
5. I've completed 69 hours of graduate school. No graduate degree.
6. I was a monk for three years and studied for the Priesthood for four.
7. Seven years celibate. Dang.
8. I had three stitches in my lip when I was five without anasthesia.
9. I was the tallest guy in my graduating class.
10. I can milk a cow. It takes a really long time.
11. I still have most of my hair
12. I totally suck at bowling.
13. Class of 77
14. I wear boxer-briefs. Grey, Navy, Black and White.
15. I was born and raised in South Texas. Caucasian. I was a minority. Good.
16. I never learned to speak Spanish. Bad.
17. I had to milk a horse when I was nine. They have small teats.
18. I've ridden horses way more than I cared to.
19. I love, love, love to ice skate.
20.I've never seen an entire football game.
21. I've never gambled.
22. I tried crystal meth once. I was 21.
23. I was an organist for a mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York.
24. I've never played golf. Except for the miniature variety.
25. I probably have only ten grey hairs. Really. I'll show you. . .
26. My first car was a new 1976 Honda Civic.
27. Four guys placed my Honda Civic in a pick-up truck and drove off with it.
28. I've smoked grass only five times. I hate it.
29. The loan number to my 1976 Honda Civic was DE-A108-GHF-2
30. I cannot pronouce the Spanish rr's. No way.
31. I lived in Toronto for three years. Canada rules.
32. I'm lousy at making bread.
33. I told my five-year-old brother that Santa Claus died after he was born.
34. I've ridden 168 different roller coasters.
35. I love downhill skiing. It's like a roller coaster.
36. I hate radishes.
37. I fall flat on my face every time I try to return a volley ball. It hurts.
38. I've never seen a single episode of "Star Trek"
39. I've seen every single episode of "Mary Tyler Moore." Many times.
40. I've never had any desire to go "drag". Ever.
41. I performed as "The Church Lady" at a club in Austin TX for two weeks.
42. I wear size 10 1/2 EEEE shoes. Size 14 in Church-Lady shoes.
43. I conquered a fear of flying. Valium rocks.
44. I told a bully to "shut your fucking mouth" in the 5th grade.
45. I was sent to the principal's office in the 5th grade. The bully ratted on me.
46. I broke my collar bone when I was two, falling head-first into a garbage can.
47. I had a Beagle named Snoopy for eight years.
48. The milk-man ran over my Snoopy when I was fifteen.
49. I secretly bought a copy of "The Exorcist" when I was fourteen.
50. I thought I was possessed after reading "The Exorcist" when I was fourteen.
51. I shot a gun only once. I was ten. I missed the turtle. Good.
52. I took harpsichord lessons for one year in college.
53. I'd always rather laugh at a situation than get stressed over it.

Okay, now tell me at least seven things about yourself. C'mon. It'll be fun. . . .

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The First Time it Snowed

I was in the eighth grade the first time I ever saw snow in my little-bitty home town in Texas. My little-bitty home town is near the Texas gulf coast, sort of half-way between Corpus Christi and Houston. There are only two seasons there: Summer and January.

It was January of 1973 and we actually had a snowfall during the night. (The previous snowfall had been in 1961 so that tells you how often we got the stuff). The next morning, everything was covered in white and we just went bonkers even though there was only about two inches of snow on the ground.

It was a school day and a lots of us got to school early to play in the snow. None of us had gloves to wear (it seldom ever got below freezing) so we put socks on our hands as makeshift mittens. We were having a real, live snowball fight just like regular kids on TV. The school principal, Mr. Peacock, was perched at the top of the school steps, supervising the fun and mayhem.

Like I said, we were just going nuts. I let loose with a big snowball and whop! just plastered my friend, Judy, on the side of the head. Her glasses went flying and she ran off crying.

"Mr. Wheat! Can I see you in my office!" called Mr. Peacock.

Oh my god. I was so scared. (Mind you, this was 1973 Texas when a trip to the principal's office meant a corporal assault). My heart was beating, my face was burning. I trudged into the school building behind Mr. Peacock, leaving the snow behind.

Mr. Peacock was known to be very stern but he was also best friends with my grandparents. He also coached my mom in basketball when she was in high school. He was the music leader at my church and had watched me grow up behind the piano. Surely, I'll get off easy.

"That's quite an arm you've got there," he said.

I'm thinking, "You've got to be kidding. For ten years I've tried, unsuccessfully, not to throw like a girl!"

He reached into his desk drawer and pulled out a piece of sheet music.


It turns out he wanted me to play the processional and recessional at our 8th grade graduation in May.

Bless him. In all his wisdom, he knew that I had always been labeled as the quiet kid who played the piano and threw like a girl. He knew that, for years, I had always been the last kid chosen when team members were selected in phys. ed. Even though he had been an athletic coach, he knew I needed a big boost of self-esteem.

The music was a big piano score to "The Bells of St. Mary's." It had lots of octaves and big, huge chords which would be quite a challenge for my developing abilities as a pianist. It was the perfect means of showing off my talent and he knew that. He was also giving me five months to work on it.

"Do you think you can manage this?" he asked.

"Yes, sir"

"Good. I thought you could. Well, run along now. . . . And try to watch it with those snowballs."

What a wise man. Five months later at graduation, I was up there on the stage, just me and the big grand piano, in front of hundreds of people. I was nervous but played really well. It was probably the first time many of my classmates had seen me play. Mr. Peacock had done wonders for my self-esteem.

And five months earlier during a rare snowfall, he had scared the living shit out of me too!

Epilogue: It was thirty years later and I was back in my little-bitty home town. Sadly, it was for my grandmother's funeral. My best friend had quietly passed at the age of 92. The church was packed and I was sitting with my family and relatives.

Mr. Peacock and his family were there, too. He had long since retired, both as principal and as the song leader at the church. However, my grandmother had requested that Mr. Peacock lead the music to the closing hymn at her funeral.

As he was at the podium, he mentioned how much he loved my grandmother, how humbled he was with her request and recounted the days when I first began playing the piano there at the age of ten as he led the music.

I was so moved. So I stood up and announced, "Mr. Peacock, we can do it again!" and walked over to the piano. After shooing away the pianist, he and I led the congregation in a rousing hymn for my grandmother.

I don't think there was a dry eye in the crowd.

As I was playing, "Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus" I was still thinking about the time he scared the bejeezus out of me when it snowed in '73. And how much I loved him.