Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The MTM Kitten

One of my favorite memories as a kid was of our family eating on TV trays in a semi-circle and watching the Mary Tyler Moore show during the early seventies. That has to be, hands down, one of my favorite programs of all time. I recently learned that all six seasons are available on Netflix so I’ve got every one of them queued up and have just finished the 13 episodes of Season One. It’s brilliant.

Do you remember the cute little orange kitten that mews at the very end of each episode?

I remember the first time I saw that kitten back in 1970. At the end of the program the M - T - M letters appeared and then . . ."meow" . . . the cute little kitten was shown. Even back then I remember wondering what had happened to that kitten.

Who did it belong to?

What was its name?

Where did it live?

As I was watching these 13 episodes forty years later, I still found myself wondering about that kitten. Well, here’s the story. . .

When Mary Tyler Moore Productions was founded in 1969, they wanted to use a kitten to mew as opposed to the MGM lion roaring. So, they went to a local animal shelter and selected this particular orange kitten because of its really loud mew.

After filming it for the segment, the kitten was wandering around the set and was accidentally electrocuted on an exposed lighting wire.

I’m kidding! Such an incident would have “urban legend” written all over it.

No, the kitten was named “Mimsie”, was adopted by one of the crew members and lived a long and happy life in San Bernardino.

Mimsie died in 1988, almost twenty years old.

Sigh . . . so there you have it. The story of the MTM kitten.

And, of course, now I want to go to the animal shelter and adopt an orange cat just so I can name it Mimsie.

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Monday, June 28, 2010

The Out-Of-Towners

This past weekend, I played tour-guide to some nice folks visiting from Texas. Frankly, it was quite an eye-opener for me in many ways, for most of the things we saw and did were things I’d never done before.

I’ve lived in Chicago for ten years and haven’t been to the Sears Tower until now. (Yes, it’s the Willis Tower, I know.) Here’s a photo I took, looking through the glass floor, 103 stories down.

What an incredible experience!

Every day, I walk across the Chicago River and barely notice the tour boats. We took the river tour that also went out into Lake Michigan. Oh my goodness, what a great skyline Chicago has! Who knew?

As the boat was waiting to go through the lock (a lock? There’s a lock between the river and the lake? I didn’t know that.) a mommy-duck and six baby ducks came swimming up to our boat. Sooo cute.

I had some Sun Chips with me and began feeding them to her – she liked the cheddar flavored ones – and a seagull swooped down. In a flash, that little mommy duck’s protective instincts kicked in and she bolted two feet up out of the water, snapping at the seagull. Quacking and squawking ensued. The seagull flew off and is probably afraid to venture any closer than Gary, Indiana now.

By the way, I get seasick at the drop of a hat and managed to get pretty queasy on the lake tour. Maybe I shouldn’t eat cheddar Sun Chips while boating.

I had never been out to eat Chicago deep-dish pizza before – only had it delivered.

Even though the Cloudgate sculpture (The Bean) is across the street from my workplace, I’d never been inside of the darn thing. It was really impressive.

I probably haven’t been on the roof of my apartment building in over a year. I took them up there and the full moon was shining across Lake Michigan. What a sight!

I should go up there more often. It’s really pretty.

I really should get out more. How many nights have I had deep-dish pizza delivered and sat at home watching the Science Channel? With the blinds closed.

Who knew this was such a fantastic city to live in?

I definitely need me some more out-of-towners around here. . .

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Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Ledge

Today, I took some out-of-town guests sightseeing around Chicago. It was a beautiful, clear day so, of course, we went to the top of the Sears Tower. (Yes, it really is called the Willis Tower now, I know.)

Here is a pretty picture from the top. See? What a gorgeous day.

There’s a new feature at the top called “The Ledge” which is a glass box that hangs out over the side. Yes, you are actually standing on glass, 103 floors up. I thought it would be exciting and I’ve been wanting to experience this thing since it opened last year.

I began recording it with my video camera. I walked up to the edge of the glass. A huge wave of adrenaline shot through me - - and I couldn’t do it!

It was really one of the most intense experiences I’ve ever gone through. Words cannot explain how frightening this thing is. (And I’m not afraid of heights.)

The friend I was with said I was incredible pale. I don’t doubt it. I felt pale.

Here is the video of my attempt:

Well, after a few more attempts, I finally got out on The Ledge. I really did it. For twenty bucks, they will even take your photo of you and your friends. So here we are, 1,400 feet up, standing on glass.

I can't wait to do it again.

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Laundry Room

The laundry room in my apartment building was recently refurbished with fancy new technological technology. We now have these fancy, modern front-loading washers that barely make any noise and dryers with instrument panels that resemble those in the space shuttle.

These new washers and dryers don’t use cash – oh, heavens, no. We now have to use these smart cards which is all well and good. In the laundry room, there’s a little ATM-type of device where you can load your smart card with money, either with an ATM card or with a credit card.

And it never works.

You’d get a message like “unable to make connection” or "temporarily out of service" or "All-natural male enhancement" or something like that.

Well, shouldn’t say, never. It’s worked once during the three times I’ve tried it. The last time, I had already washed my clothes and needed to re-load the card in order to dry them. And it didn’t work. I tried my ATM card, a couple of credit cards, and still, “unable to make connection.”

So, I had to traipse all the way over to the twin building’s laundry room and, fortunately, that one worked. Thank god. Otherwise, I would have been left with a bunch of wet UnderRoos.

Since it was working, I wanted to load my card up with as much money as possible, like about a thousand dollars. After all, who knew when this stupid thing would be working again? I certainly didn’t want to be stuck with a bunch of wet underpants again.

The maximum it would take was fifty dollars.

Yes, all these fancy upgrades can be nice. But like with all technology meant to enhance our lives, sometimes you end up just wanting to beat your underpants against a rock.

Evening View

Yesterday evening, we had some whopper thunderstorms here in Chicago. The tornado sirens sounded off twice as the storms passed through and it got pretty rambunctious up here on the 50th floor. The sun was setting just as things were clearing up, causing it to reflect pretty brilliantly on the remaining clouds. I'd really never seen anything quite like it.

Here's what it looked like from my living room:

Looking to the northeast:

Due north:

Toward the building across the street:

Toward the twin building beside me:

And, finally, the setting sun:

My grandmother, Budgie, always loved sunsets and city life. She would have really loved the sights this evening.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Kid Farm

It's no secret that I enjoy watching the Duggar family on 19 Kids and Counting. And I enjoy satire. So I thought this spoof on them called Kid Farm was particularly hilarious.

(The language is a bit rough so it may not be appropriate to watch at work. NSFW or whatever. I'm horrible at acronyms.)

Click here to watch.

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Monday, June 21, 2010


Sunday night, I made a full-on Julia Child meal for six. All recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Chicken Sautéed with Herbs and Garlic, Egg Yolk and Butter Sauce
Roast Potatoes (including purple ones)
Baked Tomatoes Provencale
Braised Asparagus
Petit Choux aux Fromage (which we call Cheesy Poofs, a specialty of my friend, Steve.)

Dessert: Almond Praline Bavarian Cream

Needless to say, Julia Child was a supernatural being.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Missing My Chance at Fame

Do you remember those kiddy programs that would be broadcast from the local TV station every weekday afternoon when you were growing up? They were usually hosted by a local personality that kids adored, such as a clown, a Mister Rogers type, or in my case, a captain of a ship.

Captain Gus came on every afternoon at 4:00 pm and was broadcast from KENS-TV Channel 5 out of San Antonio. He had bright red hair, red mustache, would sit on this ship in the studio and begin the program with, “Ahoy there, little mateys!” Cartoons like Popeye and Bugs Bunny would be interspersed with Captain Gus entertaining us “little mateys” throughout the hour.

Of course, my younger brother and I loved to watch Captain Gus. It was like kiddie crack.

Next to Captain Gus’s ship  would be a dozen or so little kids sitting on bales of hay throughout the program. At one part, he would announce that we were going to “meet the mateys” and he would come around to each kid, one by one. Each “matey” would get to say their name, where they were from, and Captain Gus would usually ask them an interactive question or two.

At the end of each program, the good captain would let us know how we could be a matey on his show.

Oh my gosh, I wanted to be a matey! The kids looked like they were having such a good time and I wanted to be one of them. More than anything in the whole wide world, I wanted to be a matey on The Captain Gus Show.

After begging and pleading, my mom or my dad did manage to get me a “matey reservation” on the program. I was SO excited. I was five or six years old and I think my younger brother was too little to be a matey.

So, we drove the 70 miles to San Antonio and my dad took me inside the TV station. I was going to be a matey!

I remember it like it was yesterday. We walked into the studio and there was Captain Gus’s ship, the bales of hay where the matey’s sat, the bright lights, the TV cameras. . . .

. . . . And I totally freaked. I just lost it.

I wouldn’t let go of my dad’s hand. Tears and wailing ensued. I just couldn’t go through with it. It was all too much.

Maybe it never occurred to me that my dad would be in another room and I’d be alone with the mateys. Maybe I was afraid my dad wouldn’t be able to find me afterward and I’d be cast adrift on Captain Gus’s ship forever. Maybe the bright lights and big studio frightened me. Maybe I was shy and didn’t know any of these other kids. But whatever it was, there was no way I was letting go of my dad’s hand and sit on those bales of hay.

Anyway, I missed my big chance to be on TV. Afterward, I’d watch Captain Gus and his mateys with a pang of regret.

These were much braver kids than I.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Flipper Traffic

The new 50 km (31 mi) Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge will be a series of bridges, tunnels and man-made islands connecting Hong Kong with China. A huge, colossal project, no doubt.

But remember, Hong Kong drives on the left (the "wrong side") while China drives on the right.

One of the more striking features will be the "flipper bridge" section which is designed to flip drivers from one side to the other. Although this could have been achieved with one simple overpass on land, the architects want to "celebrate" the change in traffic with this more elaborate feature.

I think it's pretty cool, though I would probably want a designated driver.


Friday, June 11, 2010

The Duggar Family

I’ll admit it: I’m hooked on watching the Duggar family on TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting (Formerly 18 Kids and Counting, formerly 17 Kids and Counting, formerly 16 Kids and Counting). I don’t know what it is about that family that fascinates me so, but I look forward to every episode as if it was a soap opera.

The oldest child, Josh, is 22 years old, married, has a kid of his own and lives nearby the family homestead in northwest Arkansas. The rest of the kids, from age 20 on down, all live at home.

The four oldest girls, ages 20, 19, 17, and 16, seem to be responsible for most of the cooking, cleaning, and endless baby sitting. From the commentaries I’ve read about the Duggars, a lot of folks think it’s horribly unfair for the older girls to have to shoulder so much of the parents' duties.

I agree with that for the most part. I would hate to think that any of the over-18 girls in this family felt it was their duty to remain at home and raise these kids rather than go off to college or get a job.
I’m not them, so I don’t know.

On the other hand, they are over 18, live at home and aren’t employed. I say, if you’re over 18 and aren't in college, you work for your food and shelter. No free rides. (The older boy is 20 and has his own towing business.)

I could say a lot more about the Duggars here and have a ball with it, but I won’t. They are kids after all and I wish them the best.

Currently, the entire family is renting a house in Little Rock because the 19th child was born 3 months prematurely and they want to remain near the medical facilities.

A friend of mine in Arkansas was in Little Rock the other day and took this photo of the Duggar’s rental house --  just for me.

Wow. Isn’t that cool? It looks just like it does on TV!

I wish I could have been there. It would be like visiting a really historical site -- like the Book Depository and the Grassy Knoll in Dallas.

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Thursday, June 10, 2010


Just some random thoughts about cities:

This is so clever: There’s a Starbuck’s next to every subway station in downtown Toronto. You come out of the subway, boom, there’s your coffee. BTW, “Tall, Grande and Venti” are the same in metric.

I’ve always wanted to live in Minneapolis. Maybe it’s because Mary Tyler Moore made it look so hip and glamorous when I was growing up. To me, “Minneapolis” means “cosmopolitan.”

I usually have a really good sense of direction and generally know which way I'm facing at all times. I come out of a subway, boom, east is that way. Except for when I’m in Seattle. I never know where I am or where I’m headed in Seattle. “The airport’s that way?”

Fifth Avenue in New York City and Michigan Avenue in Chicago are analogs of each other. Both of them run along the right side, lengthwise, of each city’s big parks as your heading out of town (Central Park and Millennium Park). Both have the ritzy stores where tourists like to shop.

I was born in San Antonio and spent a lot of time there growing up. It has the craziest layout of downtown streets of any city in America.

I still don’t know how to find my way around downtown San Antonio. It’s a miracle that the Mexican army was able to find the Alamo. I still have no idea where it is.

Chicago is laid out in a perfect grid with each city block measuring exactly one-tenth of a mile. If you’re at 6300 N. Clark, you’re exactly 63 blocks and 6.3 miles north of the center of downtown. If you’re at 4200 W. Division, you’re 42 blocks and 4.2 miles west of the center. That makes things easy. However, two main streets in Chicago are named “Chicago” and “Illinois.” Which is stupid.

I think Albany, NY has one of the most interesting skylines of any city in the U.S. It has these four, identical tall buildings and a flying-saucer shaped event center that is so very unique.

I used to drive through it quite often and would often find myself looking at its skyline rather than the highway.

The main part of Kansas City lies in Missouri. Only a small, scrubby suburb lies in Kansas.

Even though I grew up in Texas, I think the hottest I’ve ever been was in Des Moines while visiting an amusement park. It was 95 degrees, not a single breeze, and all that corn makes it extremely humid. Oh, and nothing is air conditioned in Des Moines. Nothing.

Even though I’ve traveled a lot, I’ve never been to any city in California. I’ve absolutely no desire to change that and can’t really say why.

I'd much rather go to Minneapolis. In January. Just like Mary Tyler Moore.

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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Environmental Catastrophe

Billions of innocent birds doused in oil:


Monday, June 07, 2010

Glass Houses


Friday, June 04, 2010

Carry-On Luggage

Now that airlines are practically charging more to check your luggage than they are for the actual ticket, many passengers are trying to bring WAY too much in their carry-on. I’ve also noticed that the airline staff never enforce the size limit of your carry-on luggage.

You see, the problem all began with the luggage industry’s discovery of the wheel. This enables tiny, attractive, narcissistic daddy’s girls to pull carry-ons the size and weight of sleeper sofas onto the plane. And, yes, I understand that men and women have different needs when they go on a trip. As a guy, my packing generally involves stuffing two pair of clean underpants in my laptop case. That’s pretty much it.

I have a solution.

No more wheels on carry-on luggage. Wheels on carry-ons should be as illegal as guns on an airplane.

After all, it’s a carry-on piece of luggage – not a wheel-on.

If you’re unable to CARRY your carry-on from the shuttle to gate K-42, then you don’t need to be hogging all the overhead bin with it.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

A Most Difficult Piano Solo

One of my favorite works for the piano is Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor. It’s one of the few pieces I’ll find myself listening to over and over and over. It’s a pity that one needs an orchestra to play it with, for I’d love to spend the next couple of years learning it and playing it badly.

In the first movement, there’s a five-minute piano solo (a cadenza) that is one of the most difficult passages in all of piano repertoire to play. A portion of it contains a melody hidden among incredibly rapid passages in both hands. The printed music for that section requires three clefs – a bass clef and treble clef and an additional one for that melody – and humans only have two hands.

This solo just continues to grow in intensity. Just when you think it can’t get anymore difficult, it takes off from there. The orchestra re-enters with huge, rumbling bass horns and shrieking woodwinds. That part always thrills me.

Here’s one of the best recordings I’ve ever seen of that five-minute solo. It’s pretty astounding:

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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

What They Look Like Now

You've probably seen those specials on VH1 where they show child actors who've faded into obscurity (or become murderers or addicts) and then what they're up to now and what they look like.

With the help of the Interwebs, I've decided to show a few on whom you've probably never seen updates. See if you can guess who they are.

Here's one from a heartwarming movie from the early nineties:

It's Ross Malinger. He played the little kid in Sleepless in Seattle.

How about this one:

It's little Cary Guffey from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

How about these two people:

Remember Pugsley and Wednesday from The Addams Family?
(Ken Weatherwax and Lisa Loring)

Here are two more:

It's Dennis the Menace and his gal-pal, Margaret.
(Jay North and Jeannie Russell)

Here are two more. Do they look familiar?

Chip and Earnie from My Three Sons.
(Stanley and Barry Livingston)

Here is, perhaps the most famous child actor of all.
I'll give you a hint: "He likes it!"

Yes, it's little Mikey from the Life cereal commercial.

Sigh. . . Life marches on. . . .