Friday, June 29, 2007

This is exciting

I'm excited.
In just a few hours, I'll be picking Lorraine and her family up at Midway airport. We've been blog-buddies for over a year now but have never met in person. It's the 21st century equivalent of meeting your pen pal, face to face, for the first time.

A while back, Lorraine mentioned that she and her family were thinking about a vacation to Chicago to hook up with blog-buddies, sort of a blog-buddy union. I offered to let them stay at my place downtown in hopes that the savings would prompt them to go ahead with the vacation.

It worked. They'll be staying at my place for the week and I'm just tickled to death about that. I'll get to meet Lorraine, The Spouse and The Child. They'll get to hang with Iwanski and Miss Healthypants and it looks like City Mouse might come to our 4th of July party as well.

I've rented a Mini Cooper Convertible for tomorrow with the plan of taking The Child and Portia (a chocolate Lab) on a picture-taking excursion around Chicago. The Child and a chocolate Lab in a Mini Cooper Convertible -- Won't that just be the cutest thing ever?

Lorraine will make one of her gorgeous meals tomorrow night for twelve of us. (I'll be her sous-chef). I think we shall giggle a lot in the kitchen together.

So folks, get ready for the Great Blog Union of '07.

(Damn! I just checked Southwest Airlines. Their flight has already been delayed)

I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Fried Oyster Place

Awhile back, I wrote that Iwanksi and Miss Healthypants and I often eat at “the fried oyster place” which is a Cajun restaurant in downtown Chicago. I call it “the fried oyster place” because I ordered the fried oysters there once and they were tasteless. Then, the next time we went there I ordered them again even though Iwanski tried to talk me out of it. Again, they were a disappointment.

He recently wrote about this restaurant, saying that it's NOT an oyster place, and listed its entire menu, because I’ve been referring to it as “the fried oyster place.”

Well, Miss Healthypants and I went to eat there last night. And after all of Iwanski’s ribbing about the fried oysters, I just had to do it.

I ordered ONE fried oyster. (It wasn’t very good either)

Then, I noticed that they had oysters on the half shell as an appetizer. I LOVE oysters on the half shell so I ordered them. They were excellent. Best I’ve ever had.

Then I ordered an appetizer portion of coconut shrimp with a red curry sauce and mango puree. The red curry sauce was served in half a coconut, most of which I ate too (I love coconut). The shrimp were fantastic. They were huge! (Also, there's rice and garlic mashed potatoes under the coconut there).
And look how many hot sauces are offered on each table. Ya gotta love this place!
It was one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time.

At one point, another diner came over and wondered what all the picture-taking was about. He was very friendly, so I told him about Iwanski, the fried oysters, our blogs, etc. He thought it was pretty funny. Which it is.

I’m SO glad I didn’t order the fried oysters. (Well, just one, but just for its comedic potential).

Since I enjoyed their oysters on the half shell so much, Miss Healthypants christened it:
"The RAW Oyster Place."
We'll be going there a lot.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007


February, 1967

It was the Saturday before my eighth birthday and, as usual, I was watching cartoons and eating cereal from those little boxes of variety packs. Sugar Pops, Alpha Bits, Cocoa Puffs. Mom and Dad appeared at the door and Dad had something behind his back. . .

. . . it was a seven-week old Beagle puppy! Dad sat it down and it ambled over toward me.

I was stunned! I was overwhelmed and I started crying which surprised me. Up until that time, I had only shed tears when I got hurt or was upset. I didn't know one could cry due to sheer happiness.

I hadn't even asked for a puppy, but there it was. A Beagle; just about the puppiest puppy one could ever want.

Having been a big fan of Charlie Brown, of course I named it Snoopy.

Snoopy and I became best buds. I loved that dog with all my heart.

Soon after that, Mom and Dad went through a separation and my brother and I were sent to live with my paternal grandmother for about eight months. Feelings of abandonment, home-sickness and loneliness were all comforted by the constant and happy presence of dear Snoops.

Things settled down and we grew up, my brother and I, into our teenage years. Snoopy was always there to meet me when I got home from school with lots of happy wiggles and yelping. No matter what, Snoopy would hardly be able to contain herself over the simple fact that I had returned home.

Our next-door neighbor, Mrs. Bruchmiller, was not particularly fond of Snoopy because, like all Beagles, Snoopy bayed quite a bit at night. Such a good watchdog, but not conducive to friendly neighbor relations.

Every morning, Snoopy would dash out the back door, down the alley and chase the milkman's truck. Snoopy probably thought she was being a good watchdog. We bought our milk at the store and as far as she was concerned, she was just being successful at making the milk truck go away.

One morning, she apparently didn't get out of the way in time and I was awakened by my mom with the devastating news.

I was sixteen, and was surprised to learn, once again, how intensely one could cry.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Snakes on a Plane

Today at work, I gave a presentation on service animals (including the benefits of “Service Ponies”).

In doing the research for my presentation, I also learned about Emotional Support Animals. These are animals that provide psychological and emotional support for people with disorders such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Agoraphobia, etc.

If one is traveling with an Emotional Support Animal (ESA), airlines must allow the animal to board the plane as long as documentation from a qualified mental health professional indicating the need for the animal can be provided.

But are you ready for this? Some people keep snakes as Emotional Support Animals.

Really. I'm not making this up!

Have you even been on a plane and have a little toddler pop his head up over the seat in front of you?

It’s cute. I like that.

But can you imagine sitting there, listening to your i-Pod, eating your little-bitty bag of peanuts and a snake slithers over the seat?

I used to be afraid of flying, but I got over it. Now that I’ve been on some really turbulent flights, I’m pretty much inured to them.

But I really don’t know how I’d react if a Support Snake came at me on a plane.

Bing Bong! (That’s me, pushing the button to summon a flight attendant)

“Umm. There’s a snake on my tray-table.”

“It’s not your snake?”

“No. And it ate my peanuts. May I have some more please?”

I’ve been seated next to some pretty strange people on a plane. (I try to deflect conversations with them by reading a book or being plugged to an i-Pod). But it would be just my luck to be seated next to someone requiring an Emotional Support Snake.

I’d want to ask them, in my best Dr. Phil voice, “What the hell did your parents do to you???”

So, if you encounter a snake on your next flight, now you'll know that it's only there for emotional support.

And if you encounter a Support Weasel, it's mine.


Monday, June 25, 2007


I have to admit it, I'm a big fan of all the UFO documentaries on TV. If there's a program about UFOs on the Science Channel, National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel and the like (I call them my "Geek Channels"), my Tivo knows that I love that stuff and will record it for me.

It also records Judge Judy and anything with Margaret Cho, but that's another story.

I'm sure there are countless civilizations way more advanced than ours throughout the universe. Our little human minds can't even begin to fathom how vast the universe is, so we've no business even thinking for a moment that we're the only ones around.

If aliens are coming here then they've obviously got brains way more advanced than ours. The nearest solar systems are hundreds of light years away. One light year is 5,878,625,373,184 miles. That takes some mighty advanced know-how to travel that far.

So why the hell are they going to New Mexico of all places? Have you ever been to New Mexico? I've driven across it a couple of times and it's pretty boring. Aside from the fact that everything's made of adobe and there's a few tasty places to eat, there's not a lot going on there.

If I was traveling 98 quadrillion miles, I'd want to visit somewhere a little more interesting like, I dunno, New York perhaps? Take in a Broadway show? Stay at the Plaza?

But no. Our alien friends have yet to be seen there. They seem to favor New Mexico and small villages in Siberia instead.

I can just see it, a dinner party back on planet Gork:

"Hey Zontar, you guys went to Earth last year, didn't you? We were thinking of going to Paris for our vacation this time."

"Oh no! Paris is crawling with tourists and the Euro is sky high right now. Go to Roswell! It's just gorgeous this time of year!"

"Whaddya think, honey. Shall we take the kids to Roswell instead? . . Yeah?. . . Then, Roswell it is!"

"But whatever you do, don't drink the water."

Sort of makes you wonder. . .

I guess it's all in the perspective.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Here's the Sandwich

Lorraine over at Here's the Thing has truly inspired me with her new food blog, Here's the Dish. Her recipes, cooking tips and insights are so impressive and to top it all off, her writing is so appealing to read as well.

Recently, I've been trying to eat healthy at lunch while at work. It's difficult to do because I'm not the most disciplined person in the world and it takes a bit of that to prepare a lunch to take with you. Also, there are SO many good places to eat where I work which makes it all the more tempting just to schlep down to the food court in the building rather than exercise a bit of self restraint.

So, awhile back I was a little intrigued by the Raw Food movement and poked a tentative toe in its pool. I was impressed by the idea of eating a vegan diet and even more so with the idea of eating only uncooked foods.

So, I developed a vegan, raw food sandwich spread that actually tastes good. Mighty good, in fact. And it's good for you. And it's inexpensive, easy to prepare and easy to pack along as a lunch. Yay.

It's made from soaked split peas. I like it as a sandwich spread with mayo and little grape tomatoes. (I know, mayo isn't vegan, but you can buy "Vegannaise" if you want.) If you want to go total Raw Food, stuff it inside half a yellow bell pepper, top it with grape tomatoes, shredded carrots and purple cabbage. Very colorful.

And no, I'm not some health-food, vegan, salad-head either. I had fried chicken for lunch today with a side of Tater-Babies.

Here's my sandwich spread:

1 16-0z pkg dried green split peas
Juice of 2 limes
2 tsp salt
4 tsp sugar
1/2 cup oil (olive oil or half olive and half flaxseed)

Cover split peas with water and soak overnight in the fridge.
Drain water off split peas.
Combine all ingredients in a food processor until smooth.

Serve on whole grain bread, mayo and grape tomatoes.

Here's a pretty pic with a side of fresh mango.

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As seen on TV!

How many of you have ever ordered any of those products advertised on TV? You know the ones I'm talking about . . . The ones that usually cost $19.95 and the commercial says, "But wait! Order now and you'll get a second one free!"

Okay. Show of hands. How many of you have called that toll-free number?

(My hand, sheepishly, is raised)

A few years ago, I ordered the automatic egg peeler. I don't know why. Of course, it was a piece of crap. You had to boil the eggs a certain way, cool them a certain way for it to work and then, only about half the time. The other eggs ended up smashed into a pile of mush.

The thing is, if you boil an egg the way they tell you to, the shell will practically slip off by itself anyway.

I've also ordered the Juiceman which cost 99 bucks. It works fine, except I've broken the same plastic piece on it twice and it won't work without it. I replaced that piece once and it cost $24.00 to do so. Mister Juiceman is going down the trash chute. Now, I buy my carrot juice in a plastic container at the market the way God intended.

A friend of mine's mother falls for ALL those products. She gets 'em all. Of course, they come with a "free" one so John, my friend, ends up with a LOT of this free crap. Tongs that double for a whisk (which don't pick up anything), Ginsu knives, vegetable slicers and dicers, you name it, his mom buys it. The minute those commercials come on, her eyes glaze over and she's got the phone in hand.

Here's the thing. If you feel you MUST buy a certain product, go to the internet and look up some reviews on it. Just google the name of the product and "reviews" and you'll probably save yourself $19.95. Plus shipping and handling.

Also, when they're giving away an additional one "free" that usually translates to: "We've got huge warehouses of this worthless crap that we need to get rid of."

Again, go to the internet and order ONE for $9.95. It's always available that way.

And look out for those that will send you free replacements for a lifetime. Look and the shipping and handling fees. They're huge. Again, the product is worthless and they're just making money off the S&H fees.

Okay, Billy Mays is screaming at me to buy some Oxy-Clean. I gotta have it. . . .

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Dinner at Lao Sze Chuan

Another fantastic meal was had at Lao Sze Chuan last night. A friend of ours was with us who now lives in Thailand and has spent a lot of time in China. He said he had never had a meal this good anywhere in China.

Here are a couple of pics:
1. La La Spicy Fish
2. Beef in Szechuan Sauce
Keep in mind, these are single servings!


Friday, June 22, 2007

Sidewalk Taxi

Aren't these adorable??

These are sidewalk taxis here in Chicago that will take you and a guest anywhere along the bike paths. They're pedaled by the taxi driver. For example, they'll take you from Navy Pier to Millenium Park for ten bucks.

The thing is, I want to drive one myself but they won't let you.


San Antonio Texas, 1981
The college I attended back in the late 70’s and early 80’s was in a small town halfway between San Antonio and Austin. So, on Friday or Saturday nights we’d hit the clubs in either city. There were more clubs in Austin but San Antonio clubs were a little more laid back, a little less pretentious.

Anyway, when the clubs would close at 2:00 AM in San Antonio, everyone would descend upon a restaurant named Earl Abel’s for after-hours nourishment, coffee, and general hell-raising. Earl Abel’s had been a long-time fixture in San Antonio since 1933 and would become quite the after-hours scene, let me tell you.

There was this one waitress named Arlene. She was a salty old thing who I suspect had also been a fixture since the place had opened. Arlene was always there and didn’t put up with crap from anyone. She had this big hair, dyed to a dark burnt sienna and highly-arched penciled in eyebrows. Arlene was quite the sight, and also, horribly entertaining for us all, especially after a night of clubbing.

So, we’re all there on a typical after-hours gathering. The place is loud and hopping and Arlene is workin’ her poor tail off.

At the booth behind us, we hear this pissy guy with his britches all in a snit telling Arlene, “I told you I didn’t want any pickles!!!”

Arlene snatched his plate up and as she’s walking by our table we hear her mumbling a classic Arlene retort in her Texan accent:

". . . God-damn queen’ll stick a filthy peter in his mouth but won’t eat a god-damned pickle!!"

We were howling with laughter until I thought we were going to faint. . .

. . . To this day, I can still call my friend, Ron who lives in Florida, and we can quote dear old Arlene.

By the way, Earl Abel’s closed last year.
Arlene probably hit the lights on her way out.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Name Change

Those of you who read my blog (all five of you) may have noticed that I changed its name.

When I first found out about blogging, I thought, "Oooh, what a great way to express my leftist political views!"

I quickly learned that lots of people do that. Besides, now that I'm firmly planted in middle age, my passion for anything political is waning. Life is short. Mine is a bit shorter now. What time I have left, I don't want to spend it being serious.

I've done "serious." Believe me!

Seven years in a monastery is "serious."
Ten years in the field of substance abuse counseling is "serious."
Six years in social services with Chicago Housing Authority is "serious."

I've got "serious" comp-time coming out the wazoo!

So, my past blog name of 'Lefty Tude' was cute. I chose that after hearing a friend of mine tell his 16-year-old daughter, "Hey, don't give me any 'tude."
That was so cute!

Sure, I still have my political leanings to the left.
Yes, I'm a card-carrying member of the Illinois Socialist Party, but I don't attend any meetings. I need to go to the gym now. Middle-age, remember?
I contribute to my local PBS station, but I watch "The Office" instead.
"Don't Ask Don't Tell?" I'm a pacifist and don't think anyone should be in the military.
Gay Marriage? Of course. But not for me. I'm already feeling that my two tomato plants are encroaching on my freedom, so why would I want a spouse for crying out loud.

So, yes, I still have my leftist leanings, but now that I'm older, I simply find that humor is a healthy outlet for me. Like I said, I've done "serious."

So, my new title is a take-off from the philosopher, Descartes, "Cogito ergo sum" (I think, therefore, I am.)

I thought about using the Latin, "Rideo ergo sum" (I laugh, therefore, I am) but that sounded too Catholic-ey (been there, done that) and besides, no one would know what it meant. Also, I couldn't fit the English translation in the title.

"I laugh, therefore, I am" just about sums up my life's principles at this juncture.

For the few of you that have me on your links, change the name if you want. If you don't, that's fine too. I can mess up a website pretty fast with HTML, so I know how tedious that can be.

In the meantime, say a prayer for my tomato plants. They're probably sensing my resentment by now.

Newlywed Game Urban Legend

You may have heard about the Newlywed Game urban legend regarding the famous answer.

Well, it's not an urban legend. It really happened.

Click here

Just think. This woman's parents were probably watching!
What's worse, is that her kids are probably watching this today.
What's even worse, is that her grandchildren will be playing it for their friends.
"Look what grandma said on a game show back in the 1970's!"

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I just found out that I have to attend a conference in Minneapolis. I’m so excited!!

I’ve never been to Minneapolis and as I kid, my dream was to live there one day.

Basically, it’s all Mary Tyler Moore’s fault.

You see, I grew up in a town of 1,700 people in South Texas where it’s always hot and humid. The nearest city was San Antonio, eighty miles away.

I loved going to the big city of San Antonio, Houston, or Dallas and it was always so depressing to come back to this little bitty town whose culture revolved Friday night football games.

It was always hot and humid there. The school wasn’t air conditioned, and our house, only barely. I hated the heat. I hated it so much that I used to pay my brother a major portion of my allowance just to mow my half of the lawn. We had a good thing going until mom wised up to our unsanctioned arrangement.

Once when I was in the eighth grade, it snowed. It was incredible. Snow! Just like the rest of the civilized world got to experience. For one glorious morning, I got to walk to school in the snow just like Mary walked to work in downtown Minneapolis. God, I loved it!

So, I’d watch the Mary Tyler Moore show and would be so jealous of her. She was this hip, single young woman, out on her own, living the big “city life” in Minneapolis where it snowed all the time. She’d wear these really cool clothes, walk among the big buildings downtown, and meet Rhoda for lunch a lot.

Mary loved her life in Minneapolis so much that she just couldn’t contain her happiness. She ended up throwing her hat in the air with unbridled glee.

I wanted to live there someday. I really did!

Life in Minneapolis was everything mine wasn’t.

So, I get to go to Minneapolis now. And no, I’m not going to throw my hat in the air while I’m downtown. Geez! I wonder how many tourists are seen doing that?

. . . Well, I might. . . . Just a little.

It would be awfully nice to meet Rhoda for lunch though.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Wednesday's Whining -- Subway Hogs

I just hate it when I get on a crowded subway where there's standing room only and some inconsiderate lout is taking up two seats, or seated on the aisle seat, or taking up an extra seat with their belongings.

That is just SO inconsiderate. There can be little old ladies having to stand up around them, but there they'll be, all sprawled out over both seats.

I want to walk over and smack them on the back of the head, just like my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Ladewig, did to me once. (I was seated in the front row and she gave each of us front-row kids a stack of papers to take one and pass it back. I just sat there not knowing what to do and she smacked me! The thing is, I had yet to be taught the complicated "take-one-and-pass-it-back" procedure. No fair!)

So, I want to smack! these people on the subway. I really do. They SO deserve it.

One time, though, there was this punk kid sitting sideways across the two seats as the rest of us were standing in the aisle, hanging onto the poles. He was listening to a portable CD player with headphones, head bobbing in and out like a spastic pigeon.

So I just stood there next to him, staring at the CD player in his lap with a little grin on my face, never making eye contact. I'm sure that made him a little nervous; this guy just staring and smiling at his lap.

Finally, he turned away, leaving the extra seat vacant. HA!!! Gotcha!
I didn't even have to smack him.

I got off at the next stop.
Stupid punk.


Morning View -- Trump Tower

Here's a pic of Donald Trump's new endeavor in Chicago, the new Trump International Hotel and Tower. When completed, it'll be the second tallest building in Chicago at 1,362 feet tall unless Rosie O'Donnell gets mad and tears it down. (I'll bet she could, too)
Here it is at 36 stories -- only sixty more to go.

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I made a tomato!

Awhile back, I posted that I decided to try my hand at growing tomatoes on my balcony. I went to Home Depot (God, I hate that place) and purchased two big pots, super-nutritious potting soil, tomato plants and various herbs.
I planted the little tomato plants, watered them faithfully and waited.
They didn't even grow very much. I figured it was because it's been so cool outside and tomato plants prefer warmer weather. I don't know why, but they do.
Finally, they started growing just a little bit. Yay.
However, my balcony faces west and this is the Windy City after all. They were just getting the crap kicked out of them.
Then, some blooms appeared even though the plants were only about a foot tall.
Lo and behold, alas and alack, a baby tomato! A real, live baby tomato.
They say only God can make a tomato, but that's not true. Well, maybe just a little true, but according to Aristotelian philosophy, I was definitely the Effective Cause of this tomato.
It'll probably get blown off the balcony, strike a toddler in the eye, and I'll get sued.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Helpful Hint

I just bought a new camera and have been enjoying taking lots of pics. Here's a helpful hint: Carefully wrap the camera strap around your wrist when taking pics off a 49th story balcony. I'd be the first one to drop the little sucker. And it's a long way down.

Eating Out

I'm meeting Miss Healthypants and Iwanski after work tonight for dinner. We do this a lot.

Every time, though, there's always the difficult question of where to go. That's silly because one would think that living in downtown Chicago would provide us with a huge selection of places to eat.

Here are some of the places we frequent:

"The Brown Gravy Place" is a actually a Thai restaurant that's one block from each of our apartments. It's awfully convenient and we've been there a lot. I call it "The Brown Gravy Place" because (1) I can't remember the names of places and (2) it seems that several of the dishes I've ordered came in the same type of brown sauce.

"The British Place" serves British fare and it's really good, contrary to what one would think of British food. (They've Americanized everything, actually). It also has Guinness which is always a good selling point. Again, I can't remember the name of it, so it's just "The British Place."

"The Fried Oyster Place" is where I ordered fried oysters which is actually one of my all-time favorite food items. They were tasteless. So, naturally, I ordered them again the next time. Iwanski tried to talk me out of it but I didn't listen. And they were horrible.

"The Mexican Place" has just about the closest equivalent to Tex-Mex food that I've found up here. It's mighty tasty. The waiter had an attitude problem last time we were there. He was kind of snarly.

"Chili's" -- yes, we go to Chili's quite often. Considering what Chicago has to offer within a one-mile radius, it's really sad that we go there so frequently.

One time, Miss Healthypants and I went to "The Brazilian Place" where lots of Brazilian waiters walk around with at least thirteen varieties of delectable roasted meats on skewers. You just keep eating until you explode. (The baby-lamb-chop guy hides -- you have to flush him out and make sure he doesn't get away.) It also has a salad bar that contains lots of really expensive food items, all for the taking. Iwanski would love "The Brazilian Place" because of all the tasty meat items. But he didn't go because it's expensive -- the equivalent of three month's of cable TV with HBO.

I wonder where we'll end up tonight? I have a hankering for fried oysters. . .

Breakfast with view

I had a breakfast meeting at the Mid-America Club which is on the top floor (80th) of the building where I work. I took a couple of happy snaps from up there.

In the first pic, you can see Marina Towers where I live (the two round buildings). It seems strange to be looking down on them.

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Monday, June 18, 2007


This morning, it was really warm outside on my way to work. Granted, it's only five blocks, but I still don't like it.

I don't like hot weather. Never have. Never will.

I've figured out a route to work that keeps me in the shade most of the way, and then I dart into an air-conditioned tunnel a couple of blocks from my building. I really don't like the act of sweating or the way it makes me feel, so God did a good thing when He created air-conditioned tunnels.

Strangely enough, the hottest I've ever been was an afternoon in Des Moines, Iowa of all places.
Go figure.

It was the Summer of 1990 and a buddy and I were on a roller-coaster vacation to see how many coasters we could ride in a two week period. (The result was 48 coasters and four tired, blistered feet).

Anyway, we were at Wonderland Park in Des Moines and it was 95 degrees outside. It was also about 95 percent humidity due to the fact that there's nothing in Iowa except corn. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, not a breeze anywhere and nothing in the park was air conditioned. Well, except for a bingo parlor filled with elderly, chain-smoking women.

It was horrible. I never want to go to Des Moines again.

The public school I attended in South Texas wasn't air conditioned. Can you believe that? I don't know how we survived it, but we did.

It's air conditioned nowadays. Those kids are gonna grow up to be wimps, let me tell you.

Speaking of my high school, I just received an invitation in the mail to attend my (gulp!) 30-year reunion.

I won't be going because it's being held outside.
In July.
In South Texas.

Get real!

Friday, June 15, 2007


“Keep it simple, stupid.”

That’s a saying that’s often used in Alcoholics Anonymous but there’s a lot of truth to it.

When I was in the monastery, every summer about five of us would spend a week at this lovely mountain home near Crested Butte, Colorado that one of the (wealthy) benefactors would let us use.

It was a beautiful place: A four-bedroom, split level modern log cabin with huge bay windows that sat next to a mountain stream surrounded by the mountains; a veritable slice of heaven-on-earth.

Each year, I would be the cook for the trip. I love to cook and, besides, it got me out of having to go on these god-forsaken mountain hikes that the others seemed to enjoy.

I loathe the outdoors, by the way. Heat, bugs, unconditioned air.

You can have it.

So, nothing was more pleasing to me than to spend afternoons by myself in this beautiful kitchen, puttering away and making tasty meals.

Brother Paul was about my age and loved to go fly-fishing. He wasn't very successful at it, but he enjoyed it. One afternoon, he actually caught quite a few rainbow trout and presented a satchel full of them to me in hopes that they could be turned into a meal.

Did I know how to clean fish? Paul wanted to know.

My mom and grandfather were avid anglers and hunters. I refused to fish (it's outdoors you know) or shoot a gun so, subsequently, I grew up cleaning fish. Lots of fish. Also quails, doves and the occasional rabbit.

Fresh rainbow trout? Some of which were still alive?

Let me at ‘em!

Paul was watching as I wielded the knife like a letter opener, fish guts tumbling out. He feigned sickness, hand over his mouth, and exited.

A short while later, there were rainbow trout broiling in the oven with just a kiss of lemon and butter.

Let me tell you, there is nothing in this whole world quite like eating rainbow trout that fresh. As each person took a first bite, there were looks of utter astonishment on each of their faces, including mine. Even a fish-hater would have been weeping tears of ecstasy over these morsels.

It would have been a crime to make a fancy French sauce to use on these fish or, heaven forbid, to batter and fry them, fish-n-chips style.

There have been meals where I’ve busted my butt, making fancy ‘this’ or impressive ‘that’ and, more often than not, with disastrous results.

When you have quality, real quality, it's best to keep it simple.

Morning View -- Aon Building

I'm still having fun with my new camera.

Here's a pic taken this morning from the roof of my apartment building, looking at the Aon Building. (That's where I work). It's the second tallest building in Chicago (yes, sixteen feet taller than the John Hancock.)

Completed in 1973, it's design and floor layout is very similar to the World Trade Towers in New York City and only 220 feet shorter.
By the way, I'm only on the 22nd floor. But there are occasions when I have to attend functions at the private club thingie on the top floor and that feels kind of oogie.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Room With A View

I'm often in my boss's office for this and that. She's the CEO of the company and gets an office with a nice view. Here it is.

Service Ponies

At work, I manage a state-wide program of agencies that promotes the hiring of people with disabilities. Part of my job is to stay current of services for people with disabilities. It's really interesting, especially with what technology has to offer and how fast it changes.

In a couple of weeks, I'm giving a presentation on service animals. We're used to seeing service dogs assist people with disabilities but have you heard of service ponies?

Yes! Little-bitty service ponies. Apparently, if a horse in a herd goes blind, other horses will guide the blind horse and assist them. They just naturally do this. Isn't that sweet?

Service ponies have several benefits. First, they're great for people with allergies to dogs. They're really small at only 22 inches in height and weigh about fifty pounds. They have a greater field of vision than dogs, less expensive to train, and live a lot longer too.

And yes, you can house train them. When they need to go outside, they go to the door and neigh.

One of my co-workers uses a guide dog and he's agreed to be a "show and tell" for my presentation.

I'd love to find someone who uses a service pony, though, and have them visit during the presentation. Wouldn't that be great?


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Spam and Poutain at Burger King

I just read where Burger Kings in Hawaii are using Spam in their breakfast items in order to appeal to Hawaiians who seem to love the stuff.
It reminded me of the Burger Kings in Canada. They serve a concoction called "Poutain" which is actually (are you ready for this?)
French fries
with cheese curds
covered with brown gravy.
I had forgotten all about Poutain. You actually have to ask for plain fries at Burger Kings in Toronto. Otherwise, you'll get Poutain.
I'll bet Iwanski is salivating already.

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Wednesday's Whinings -- "The Year" 2000

One hundred seven years ago, did we call it "the year one thousand nine hundred?"

Two hundred seven years ago, was it "the year one thousand eight hundred?"

No. It was simply "nineteen hundred" and "eighteen hundred."

Why, oh why, do we insist on calling the first years in the 21st century "two thousand?"

It should simply be twenty hundred. This year would be twenty-0-seven, just like we call it nineteen-0-seven.

In 150 years, are we going to be saying "two thousand one hundred fifty seven?" In 355,460 years are we going to be calling it "three hundred fifty-five thousand four hundred sixty-seven?"

No. It'll be twenty-one fifty seven and three fifty-five four sixty-seven.
You just wait and see!

But somehow, we insist on calling it "the year two thousand."

"Hey what kind of car is that?"

"Oh, it's a 'the year two thousand' Honda Civic."

Additionally when writing the number 2,007, you put a comma in it. The year is different; no comma. So calling it something different is perfectly consistent as well.

Actually, I've had this pet peeve for quite a while. Back in 1990, I called into a local radio talk show hosted by Paula LeRocque, writing coach for the Dallas Morning News. It was a Public Radio program on grammar and writing. I called in and brought this to her attention.

It was 1990 and she said, "Oh, the year 2000 is so far away. I don't think we need to be concerned with this just yet."


New Camera

My previous digital camera had served me very well. I had bought it, gosh, probably over four years ago. Somehow, I broke the lens thingie that goes in and out to focus. It was all wobbly and doing goofy things with the pics. So, it was time for a new one, especially since Lorraine and her family will be coming to Chicago for the week of the 4th. Lots of pics will need to be taken of this auspicious occasion.

Anyway, I got my new camera all up and running. I was kind of dreading it, you know, learning all the new stuff, getting frustrated because I couldn't learn all the new stuff on it. It takes photos in all kinds of modes and even Quicktime movies with sound. Up to 30 minutes long. Wow.

So, I did what I usually do. I left it, unopened, in the box for a few days and stared at it ever so often.

That's silly. I finally opened it up to find nice, concise, easy to follow directions. I had this puppy up and running in no time!

So, here are my first photos, taken from my balcony this morning. See that building that has the blue "Condos" banner on it? That's where Iwanski and Miss Healthypants lives!

I'll bet if you blow up this pic a whole bunch, you could probably see Miss Healthypants (aka The Hideous Yogurt Beast) eating her morning yogurt and Iwanski hitting the snooze alarm with the cat. See? Look really close. There on the 21st floor. . . .

Monday, June 11, 2007

Time Flies

Halloween, Dallas Texas, 1987
I stopped by my friend, Danny's, apartment to see what he's up to for Halloween.
In the middle of the living room of his apartment, he's constructed a cardboard water well about five feet in diameter, complete with realistic looking stones painted on the outside. It even had a wooden winch and crank on the top of it.
Danny's a big guy. Really big. And the funniest person I've ever known. He still is.
For example, once I was baking bread and he had stopped by. I explained to him that I was kneading the dough, then I'd let it rise and then knead it again.
Danny begins singing the hymn, I Need Thee Every Hour. . . .
Later, I banged my head really hard on a kitchen cabinet I'd left open. Looking very alarmed, he said, "Oh my god, you'll never be able to play in A-flat again!"
Danny comes up with stuff like that all the time. He really has the quickest wit of anyone I've ever known. We've been friends for almost 25 years now.
So, I wasn't surprised to see a big cardboard water well in his living room for Halloween (this was twenty years ago).
"Danny, what's this big water well for?" I queried.
He showed me a big diaper. He was going to wear the water well and go as Baby Jessica. . . .
Danny, Danny, Danny. . . .
Baby Jessica McClure Morales is now 21 and recently appeared on the Today show.

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Coke or Pepsi? -- Neither. I'm a Tabby Boy.

Having grown up in the South, I've always preferred Coke over Pepsi because Coke was just what you drank down there. As a matter of fact, "coke" was synonymous with any carbonated beverage.
"What kind of a coke do you want?"
"I'll have a root beer, please."
Now that I live up North, I'm among a lot of avid Pepsi drinkers. Frankly, I can go either way. I like the spikey taste of Coke, but the minty undertaste of Pepsi is okay too. (Either way, I always drink the diet version).
It's definitely more PC to drink Pepsi. Did you know that? They're known for hiring and promoting more people with disabilities and having a more diverse workforce.
So there's that.
But recently I've changed. I now drink (are you ready for this?) . . .
Yes, Tab. That forerunner of sugar-free beverages from the sixties.
Actually, it's spelled with a capital B -- TaB
I first drank TaB when I was in high school and working part time at the local bank. It was the only sugar-free soft drink available and the break room there always kept it on hand. So, there's some nostalgia going on there for me.
There's something about it's in-your-face artificiality, that saccharin aftertaste that's awfully appealing to me. It's got a 60's kitsch factor and you know how I love anything with a 60's kitsch factor.
I don't like TaB straight from a can -- it's gotta be in a glass, no ice. As a matter of fact, at this very moment, I'm eating lunch (a chipotle chicken wrap and an artichoke salad from the Horribly Expensive Food Court downstairs) and drinking a glass of TaB at my desk.
Yes, TaB is produced by the Coca Cola Company and it's not as PC as Pepsi. But I figure I've built up a lot of PC comp time to make up for my TaB purchases.
I wonder how a rum & TaB would taste?

So, what's your favorite soft drink?


Sunday, June 10, 2007

Book Review -- "Marley and Me"

I cannot think of enough superlatives to describe John Grogan's, Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog.

I had just finished a really tough week at work. During two days, I had interviewed thirteen people, back-to-back. I was drained.

I had been reading Marley and Me here and there on the train, but settled down to read most of it this weekend. I don't know if it was because I had been interviewing so many people and having been so exhausted, but the poignancy of this book hit me like a ton of bricks.

I had a good old cry. Not just misty eyes, but one of those good-old, home-style, boo-hoos.

It was great.
Get the book!

I could relate to the book because I often doggie-sit for Portia, a chocolate Lab, who happens to be the World's Best Dog.
Really. She is.
You'll never find a more loving, giving, happy, intelligent, dog than Portia.

In Marley and Me, the author recounted the many misgivings and misdeeds of Marley. At one point he mentioned, "At least he didn't eat feces."

Well, dear Portia does.

It's one of the little proclivities of the breed, but they do eat droppings. I think it has something to do with canine breeds from northern and Arctic climes (like Labrador.) Something about being fed a seafood diet, and sporadically at that. So, they eat poo to compensate.

Anyway, when taking Portia out to do her business, you have to stay right with her with the plastic bag. Otherwise, she'll gobble that steaming pile right from the snow as if it were the most prime cut of filet mignon. Then it makes her sick or gives her diarrhea and, well, a never-ending story ensues.

So, one time I had her for a couple of weeks at the house where I used to live. A friend of mine was over and I had just taken Portia in the back yard for her daily offering which I had neatly
deposited in the "poo-bucket" on the back porch.

My friend's car wouldn't start, so we were in the garage getting it jump-started. It was taking quite a while since I'm about as adept with a pair of jumper cables as a two year old. Portia was only-too-happy to be out and about while this activity was taking place.

Afterward, I was watching TV all nice and couch-potatoey. Portia was behind the sofa, fast asleep.

Then, I heard it. . . .

Gaaaack! Glorpp!

I was afraid to look. . . .

The last time I'd heard that sound was when Portia had gotten under the bathroom sink, ate a whole bar of Dove soap and hurled up a slimy, albeit slightly perfumed mess all over the stairs.

This time, it was much worse. . .

Apparently, while we had been in the garage, Portia had gotten in the poo-bucket and had helped herself to an enormous All-You-Can-Eat buffet.

And threw it up.
In the house.
On the carpet.

Out come the Playtex gloves, a dustpan, many cleaning supplies, carpet cleaner. Frankly, what I really needed was a realtor to just sell the place.

So, yes, I could certainly relate to some of the misdeeds that a Lab can present. But the happiness and pleasure that Portia provides far outweigh any and all Lab-related mishaps.

And as you can see, that can be a lot.

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Friday, June 08, 2007

Holding Hands

I've noticed something lately. Which is rare, because I'm usually pretty oblivious to my surroundings.

Whenever I'm walking around downtown Chicago and notice two people holding hands, it's almost always a same-sex couple.

Out of the corner of my eye, I'll notice two humans mandibly entwined and almost every time there's a guy-guy or a gal-gal thing going on. I can't think of the last time I saw a straight couple doing this.

I thought about this for a while and here's what I think is going on. . . .

In the not-so-distant past, I had often heard gay or lesbian people crying over the fact that they can't show public displays of affection.

"I should be able to walk down the street and hold hands with my lover like anyone else. Boo-hoo-hoo. Hey, where'd you get that fuschia LaCoste?"

Now that society has become much more accepting of gays and lesbians, same-sex public displays of affection are no big deal in big cities like Chicago.
So they hold hands.
Because they can.

It reminds me of cordless phones in the early eighties. Remember when they were all the rage? It was supposed to make a phone call so much more convenient because you wouldn't have to get up and walk to answer the phone.

But the phone would ring and we'd be there in our comfy chair. We'd reach over and grab the cordless phone. And what's the first thing we'd do? We'd get up and walk! Because we could.

Hey, look at me! I'm on a cordless phone and can walk around!

Hey, look at us! We're gay and we can hold hands!

The thing is, who the hell wants to hold hands with your loved-one in public? God, I certainly don't! I don't care who it is. I have enough trouble just managing my own ambulatory endeavors, much less being distracted by hand-holding for crying out loud.

When gays and lesbians don't feel the need to hold hands, just like the heterosexuals, then I'll know we've indeed come a long way.


Today, I couldn't think of anything to write about in my usual Dave Barry/Erma Bombeck style, so I'm going to offer some views on (gasp!) Christianity.

I just read where a large Presbyterian church in Pennsylvania has split because they couldn't agree on the role of the Trinity and the inerrancy of the Biblical scriptures.

That's pretty pompous if you ask me.

Having gone to grad school in theology and philosophy for longer than I care to remember, I've got a lot of studies under my belt along these lines. I'm not an expert by any means, but I can at least claim to be educated in this area.

I first attended the University of Dallas, a private Roman Catholic institution that had an extremely conservative slant on their studies. Opus Dei was very influential and they'd have these clandestine Latin Masses quite frequently. As far as the theology faculty at U.D. was concerned, Vatican II was just a vicious rumor.

At the University of Dallas, the Bible was the inspired word of God.

Then I did most of my studies at St. Michael's College at the University of Toronto. Very progressive as all things Canadian tend to be.

At the University of Toronto, the Bible was a record of human inspiration.

I had a Jesuit professor in Toronto who taught New Testament studies. I had him for a course on the Gospel of Matthew. Regarding if what was recorded in the gospels was really what Jesus said, he'd simply say, "When you get to heaven, ask him."

I like that.

Now, having completed all these studies, I no longer adhere to Christianity the way I used to. It's changed. It's deepened in some ways because it's been challenged.

The new Christian right wing, Bush included, has made much of Christianity repugnant to me and that's kind of sad. I don't view them as Christians, but rather, Christianists.

Having studied so much theology and philosophy, I realize that there's so much we don't know about the Creator, the Un-caused Cause, if you will. I think it's pretty arrogant to make such claims as the Trinity or whether the Bible is inerrant. I certainly don't pray to God for this and that. I don't know if God intervenes in our lives; I just don't.

I think that agnosticism is, actually, highly underrated.

I do believe that we humans have a supernatural ability, given from God if you will, to make use of affliction. My favorite philosopher, Simone Weil, says it best:
"The beauty in Christianity lies not in the fact that it provides a supernatural remedy for suffering, but a supernatural use of it."

Now, I'll go along with that.
I guess you could say I'm a Christian Agnostic.

I think a lot of the "Christianists" could certainly benefit by a healthy dose of agnosticism.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Wednesdays Whinings -- New Versions

Every time I go to iTunes to listen to music, up pops the notice:
"A new version of iTunes is available. Do you want to install it now?"

Every time!

"No! Don't ask me again!" is what I click on.

Well, it doesn't have the exclamation points, but I mash the mouse really hard when I click on that option.

Why is it that every time you go to use a program, they're always coming up with a new version? Just once I'd like to listen to my music without having to negotiate my way through their new little new version offers

Oh, I downloaded the new version once. And the very next time, boom, there's a new version.

Can't they get it right? Get they put out a good enough version that will be adequate for a while?

I know what's going on. It's these geek-toid software designers, having their little circle-jerk and once they come up with some new little enhancement, they're just so proud of themselves that they just can't wait to get it out there.

We don't need a new version every week, but the Giant Corporations make us think we do. It's evil capitalism and consumerism at its very worst.

Back when I was in the monastery, I think it was around 1995 or so, one of the elderly monks was having trouble getting his stuff to print. He asked for my help and I quickly saw the problem -- -- He was using Word 1.0 !! Version one-point-0!!

And I thought: Good for you!!!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Lucky Boy

I really am a lucky guy. I get to live in a really big pretty city. While most people who get to live in really big pretty cities have to commute a really long way or spend lots of money on train fares, my commute to work consists of:

Five blocks.

I took this pic on the way to work this morning, just as I stepped out of my apartment building. The building I work in is the really tall white one in the center.

I'm writing this at home. I walked home for lunch. Is that disgusting or what?

Whole Foods Market - R.I.P.

I went to my friendly neighborhood Whole Foods Market the other day to notice they've done a Horrible Thing. They removed the bulk item section!!

That's really the last straw. The bulk item section is, to me, what always epitomized Whole Foods Market. That's where you could really save some money. Not to mention, reducing packaging, waste, and cutting out the middle-man. That's what Whole Foods Market has always been about.

I moved to Austin Texas in 1984 where Whole Foods Market had its beginnings. I remember shopping at the Original, One-and-Only Whole Foods Market before they expanded, got all full of themselves and high-falutin'.

It was one single store near downtown Austin on North Lamar street. (see pic) It had old, wooden floors. All the grains and beans and things were in these wooden pull-out drawers or in wooden barrels on the floor. The tofu was in one-pound blocks just sitting in a plastic bucket of water in the cooler. Probably not the most sanitary thing, but at fifty cents a pound, it was really a bargain.

The employees were all left-over Hippies from the sixties, the women wearing full-length skirts probably made from old curtains. The veggies were really organic; gnarly, dirt-covered carrots just donated from someone's garden like God intended.

The place had character.
It had a purpose.
You felt good just being there.

I used to be happy that Whole Foods had expanded everywhere; it was like seeing an old friend.
But now I have no reason to go there.

Gone are the good deals now that the bulk items, the last vestige of the original WFM, have been replaced by packaged truffels and the like.

Gone are the nice Hippie cashiers with names like "Coriander" who've been replaced by kids with way too many tattoos and no concept of customer service.

Gone are the VW buses in the parking lot that have been replaced by gas-guzzling SUVs plastered with Support the Troops bumper stickers (which is a horrible case of irony in itself).

Boy, what I wouldn't give for a simple parsnip, preferably with clods of dirt still hanging on the root hairs.


I want this too

Here's another rotary dial cell phone.

I still get the giggles when I think about using this in public, like on the train or bus.

Wouldn't everyone just be amazed?

Monday, June 04, 2007

Greeting Cards, Birthday or Otherwise

The building where I work has a greeting card store in the lower level. That makes it convenient for those of us (i.e. guys) who want to expend as little energy as possible when buying a card for a loved one.

Women love to buy cards. They will spend hours reading all the cards to find just the right one, usually for a guy.

Me, I usually look at the ones with a big puppy-face on it first. Beagle and basset hound puppies are best. Can't go wrong with a puppy-face.

So, I was in the convenient card store in my building, looking for a birthday card for Miss Healthypants. She should feel so honored.

Let me tell you, this card store had the stupidest cards I've ever seen. All of them seemed to have these really lame puns and jokes on them. At one point, after reading a particularly dumb card, I couldn't contain myself and loudly blurted out, "Oh, you gotta be kidding me!"

I had to work very hard to find a card that wasn't lame or stupid for Miss Healthypant's birthday. She should feel so honored.

Cards for our grandmothers are hard to come by. Not because the Card People don't make enough of them, but because they all say things like, "For you, Grandmother, on your. . . "

Who the hell actually calls their grandmothers "Grandmother"?? Probably the last person to do so was a guy named Percy in Victorian England. And then his schoolmates soundly trounced him.

My grandmothers were called Granny and Budgie. My great-grandmothers (are you ready for this) were Big-Mama and Grandmama-mama.

My mom is called Garanny. Not Granny, but GA-ranny.

My friend, Madeline, called her grandmothers Coco and Wowo (pronouced woah-woah).

So, where are the cards that acknowledge Budgie, Coco, Wowo, Garanny and Grandmama-mama?
"Grandmother" indeed!

An appropriate Father's Day card is hard to find too. They're wayyy too sappy. Sure, I love my Dad and easily say so when we end a phone conversation. He's a loveable guy. But I don't want to send a card that has a silhouette of a father and son fishing with "Throughout my life you were always there to . . . . "

Stop! I'm trying to keep my lunch down, okay? Geez!

There should just be a whole section of cards with basset hound puppies on the front and blank insides. Like this one here. On the inside I'd write,
"I have to pee."

Now that would be a good card for any occasion!

By the way, what did you call your grandmothers?

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

Spring Cleaning

Yes, I do think Spring has sprung itself here in Chicago.

We reached a whopping 88 degrees (31 C) yesterday. My nascent plum-tomato plants to which I've so carefully tended on my 49th floor balcony have finally decided to grow a bit, thus indicating that I've not actually killed them. Yet.

I have these floor-to-ceiling windows which span twenty feet wide. Since my little-bitty sky-condo faces west, I usually only open the blinds at night after the sun goes down, or when there's a snowstorm, or when I want to impress someone with the night view.

Other than that, they generally stay shut. 49th floor view notwithstanding.

But it was a pretty, sunny morning, so I opened the blinds.

Oh my god!, That's a lot of horrible grungy glass to see!
Eight months of snow and cold-fronts had assaulted my morning views.

I remember having to scrub the windows of my grandparent's dry-cleaning store with vinegar, water and newspapers. My grandmother (Budgie) always told me that nothing cleaned windows better than vinegar, water and old newspapers.

The only vinegar I had was some expensive Balsamic imported stuff from Modeno.
I read all my news online.
I recycle everything I can.

Times have, indeed, changed a bit.

So I substituted my window-cleaning solution with KaBoom, warm water, and a new, white, terry-cloth towel that I'd bought at Bed, Bath, & Beyond-Your-Budget, specifically for when Lorraine will be here.
(She knows how I feel about towels, so don't get me started.)

I scrubbed and scrubbed with the hot water and KaBoom.

It's a darn good thing that I'm a good six-foot-three and can reach to nine feet above with a KaBoomed terry-cloth towel on my tippy-toes!

And bare-footed. In my shorts. While everyone across the street, from the 50th floor up, was probably drinking coffee and laughing at me. . .

Afterward, I took a look at the view from my living room windows!
No more snow-grunge!

One can practically see Des Moines while watching my Tivo. (Click on that pic. Really. Just to see how clean my windows are!)

I also took a pic of my neat-o apartment building, looking up from the plaza.

See the balcony just ten floors from the top?

With the nascent tomato plants peeking over the the balcony? . .

No? You can't see that? (Click on the pic)

It's wayyyy up at the top.
Look closer.

See? No?

Shucks, I'm just messin with ya!

My balcony is completely on the other side. . .

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¡Desea vivo el Ratón! (Long Live the Mouse!)

I didn't purchase a Season Pass to Six Flags this year.

That's the first time I've not done so in the past six years. The nearest park is "Six Flags Great America" which serves the Chicago area and I've gone there faithfully for the past six years.

I'm an avid roller coaster buff. I've been a card-carrying member with the American Coaster Enthusiasts for over twenty years. I still follow all the new record-breaking coasters every season and try to ride them all.

The only record-breaker for 2007 seems to be Cedar Point's Maverick which features a first drop at 95 degrees -- five degrees inside the vertical. While I'm now feeling my age just a little bit on some coasters, I can already feel the lap-bar and shoulder harnesses digging in after a few consecutive rides on this rambunctious puppy-of-a-coaster. I'll pass on the Maverick and catch it next season.

The Six Flags that serves Chicago hasn't installed a new coaster in several years. They've got some great ones, but us coaster-hounds need new ones to keep us coming back. I won't be spending my buckaroos on a season pass this year. Sorry

Then, I saw this pic of Iwanski's nephew, Jarun, that was displayed on the their fridge. . . .

Now, THAT, is what theme park enjoyment should be all about!

Yay, Jarun! You go fella!

That definitely reminds me of what it means to be a kid again.

Kid-Power! Mickey-Mouse Fun!
Costumes Rule!

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