Thursday, December 31, 2009

2010 At Last

We were warned, and braced ourselves for a rough 2009. We knew the economy would remain rickety and jobs would be lost. We knew we'd have a long fight ahead of us, after the initial glow of the Obama inauguration wore off, when it came to reforming health care, making choices when it came to war in Afghanistan, and wrestling with the many other formidable challenges confronting the nation. For these struggles, we hunkered down and prepared to tough it out.

What was less expected this year, and what brought some of us to our knees intermittently (including this blogger) was the daunting glut of personal tragedies that seemed to pop up every eight weeks or so. It was enough to endure my husband's job loss, the deferring of our dreams of home ownership for another year, and the shaking of our faith in the consistent growth of the American economy. Add to it the death of loved ones (twice), infidelity, a sick niece, the mental collapse of a father, swine flu and well, you get the picture. 2009 was unkind on more than one occasion.

But as of midnight tonight, or so I keep telling myself, all that bad ju ju is behind us and the world gets a fresh start. The best news is that for all the punches 2009 was able to pull, she has a shelf life, just like every other year. Tomorrow morning when we wake up, not only is it a new annum, but a whole new decade. The Winter Olympics will dominate your television screens in a couple weeks, a fresh reminder of that unifying, competitive spirit that can elicit beauty from international cooperation (not just the groans of agony from another fruitless climate summit). 2010 feels positively pregnant with promise.

New Year's Eve is typically the night for binge drinking and partying, at least for the urban, childless set, but I am going with a quieter welcome this round. Instead, I'll be eating pizza in the 'burbs with Max, Jen, KK and Rosebud, cherishing my family and basking in the warm feeling of belonging. No fabulous downtown soiree can compete with cuddling my nieces.

Happy New Year everyone. Be safe, be warm, be loved and join me in welcoming a new beginning.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Isn't There Room for Both?

Admittedly, I am writing this post whilst a little hot under the collar. I was affronted in one of the worst ways, according to me, by my partner Sam this morning. Sammy and I are teammates on the Chicago Office of Tourism Neighborhood Mapping Project, and normally get on famously. One of the hallmarks of our dynamic however, is a little good natured intellectual sparring now and then.

We were having one such debate over the war in Afghanistan. Sammy, just flat-out anti-conflict no matter the situation, feels we ought to pull every U.S. troop out of the region, like yesterday. I am a bit more gray in my approach, believing that leaving Afghanistan without a plan will cause further terrorist chaos locally and internationally in the long run.

At some point, Sammy made what I thought to be a rather judgmental, narrow comment, and by way of dismissal, I turned my eyes to the pages of the most recent Us magazine. This was both my way of announcing a break in the argument, as well as distracting my attention with something a little lighter. However, Sam dove upon me immediately, insinuating that perhaps my naive international opinions were influenced by my substandard literary tastes.

Now we come to the point: I am an avid reader, but I have very few rules as to what is considered "literature" in my lexicon. Who is to tell me that celebrity gossip and other airier fare do not have their own merits? Isn't one of the goals of reading and literary consumption to be entertained? I have an International Baccalaureate diploma from my high school days, and an MA in English Literature. I have read the "great" books, but am not such an ivory tower snob that I wish to be out of touch with what turns the masses on. After all, I am a member of that mass. And I state proudly here and now that chick lit., Entertainment Weekly and Perez Hilton do it for me every bit as much as Jane Austen, Edgar Allan Poe and Wordsworth.

I hate to be pigeonholed, but when it comes to an activity like reading, which I hold so dear as one of the ultimate coping tools provided for us, I cannot abide labeling. I am neither the stuffy bookworm nor the vapid gossip rag connoisseur. I am both, and I wouldn't have it any other way. It is people like me who made a mashup like Pride, Prejudice and Zombies such a hit in 2009.

I abhor the overall "dumbing down" of our culture every bit as much as Sammy. We are absolutely on the same page there. I will never accept the Red Eye a real newspaper, the way some of my other contemporaries have. But at the same time, I console myself that at least people are reading the paper in some form. It may not be a day far off when I am mourning the loss of even this abbreviated tabloid. I have picked up the Red Eye once or twice myself, as my thinking is that you cannot condemn that which you do not understand.

The act of reading, in any form other than off a computer monitor, becomes more a lost art with each passing year. Those who cherish the antiquated form of entertainment found in books and periodicals should not be so cynical as to start cannibalizing each other. I realize this argument is far from over, and I may be called upon to defend my love of The Devil Wears Prada again. So be it. I will do so gladly.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

How Flying Will Suck Even More

So now this crazy bastard from Nigeria creates headaches for the rest of us, just in time for the post-holiday airport rush. What a humbug. Among some of the new hassles mentioned in the above report are extra pat downs, more restrictions on carry on permissions, and a new rule that keeps passengers in their seats for the last hour of the flight, no matter what the conditions. I suppose I understand why this has to be after what that loser tried to pull, but it doesn't chafe me any less. Air travel was already no joy as it was.

One of the possible new restrictions mentioned last night on CNN is the outlawing of snow globe souvenirs in carry on baggage. As it happens, KK keeps a pretty impressive snow globe collection, largely made up of gifts I have brought her from the various countries and cities I have visited. It's one of our things. Now this harmless and cute hobby between an aunt and her niece is imperiled. The day a terrorist uses a snow globe as an object of blunt force trauma, humanity has really lost its way.

I think I am switching to Amtrak, at least for domestic travel. It's very freeing and the only real way to see the landscape.

Will the new rules and regulations affect the way YOU travel?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas Y'all!

Part of the reason Jen and I appreciate the new ABC comedy Modern Family so much, besides its being a touching sidesplitter, is because we are living it. Jen has been happily married for years to a wonderful husband and father, Max, the absolute real deal in terms of representing the Islamic faith in its truest and best form. Patient, loving, tolerant and honest, anyone who wants to learn a little more about what Muslim men are really like should spend the day with my brother-in-law.

Then there's my own hubby, the embodiment of Hindu male strength and pride. We have been together nearly four years. These long term relationships have led to some fabulously interesting holiday mashups. Like today for example, when Max, Jen, Eddie, Rosebud and I went to a Mediterranean restuarant for our Christmas Eve meal. Yes, that's right. Two WASPs, a Muslim and a Hindu (that sounds like the beginning of a really great joke) walk into a continental buffet to celebrate, not the birth of the baby Jesus, but the good fortune to have survived the year together, tough as it was, with our family relationship stronger than ever.

God (or whomever) bless us everyone!

Happy holidays peeps - whatever your faith, or even if you have no faith at all. A new year is upon us.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The 2009 Celebrity Death Parade Continues

  • Steve McNair*

  • Michael Jackson*

  • Ed McMahon

  • Billy Mays*

  • Farrah Fawcett

  • David Carradine

  • Dom Deluise

  • Bea Arthur

  • Jack Kemp

  • Marilyn Chambers*

  • Natasha Richardson*

  • Jett Travolta*

  • Jade Goody*

  • Karl Malden

  • Oscar Mayer

  • Robert McNamara

  • Chuck Daly

  • John Hughes*

  • Eunice Kennedy Shriver

  • Walter Cronkite

  • Don Hewitt

  • Les Paul

  • Ted Kennedy

  • Adam "DJ AM" Goldstein*

  • Patrick Swayze

  • Brittany Murphy* (pictured above)

* Denotes calendar age of 50 or less at time of death

I think we all know by now what I think of 2009 - i.e. a veritable suckfest with limited bright spots. But among other negatives for which this year will be forever remembered, it has also been the year of death. On a personal level, as you know, I endured the loss of a best friend, Jesika, as well as Snuggy, a beloved pet.

Celebrity deaths typically capture the national imagination, for however brief a time, due to the impact these cultural figures have had on most, if not all of us, at some point or another. Well-known people are lost to us every year, only to be repackaged and paraded through the Academy's "In Memoriam" montage annually at the Oscar telecast. However, two very unusual circumstances make this year's "death" list more atypical than most.

In the first place, the volume of timeless icons who passed away is more than noteworthy. From 70s pinup girl and Charlie's Angel Farrah Fawcett, to King of Pop Michael Jackson, to trusted newsman Walter Cronkite, it was impossible to go through this year as a member of Generation X without feeling the loss of some piece of your childhood.

Perhaps most disturbing though is the overwhelming number of folks who died in the prime of their lives, usually the result of drug abuse. For arbitrary convention's sake, I have chosen age 50 as the barometer. Not too many years ago, 50 years seemed rather ancient to me, but as life goes, the older I get (and the more immature I remain) half a century doesn't appear as geezerly as it once did.

The latest and hopefully the last of these shocking celebrity passings, is actress Brittany Murphy who perished from "natural causes" at the age of 32. For now I will sidestep my opinion that 32 year olds do not go about dropping dead without a rather unnatural reason (longterm cocaine abuse?), and focus on the cultural void left behind.

Murphy's career had slowed in recent years, but for those of my generation, her turns, especially in Clueless, but also 8 Mile and Girl Interrupted (for which the case could be made that she stole the show from Angelina) will never be forgotten.

The high death rate of both public and private figures has naturally had me contemplating my own mortality throughout the year. Do I like the legacy I am leaving behind? If my life ended tomorrow, would I be satisfied with the body of work, love and living I left behind? Reassuringly, I find that answer, for the most part, to be a resounding "yes." I hope I have many years of troublemaking left in this body, but 2009 has trained me not to count on it. It's cliche, but I plan to make every moment of 2010, and hereafter, count.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Fat One

Two years ago when we took in our younger cat, Jordan, now 5 years old, Eddie had a habit of not being able to tell him apart from Snuggy, the elder statesman, at least not when the two of them were whizzing by, running for the food bowl, or chasing each other around the furniture. To make things easier (and you can't really grasp the full extent from the recent picture above), Eddie began to distinguish them by labeling Snuggy, "The Fat One," as he once weighed in at 16 pounds. Jordan, the slighter and more agile of the two, became, "The Little One." This naming system was so apropos that it stuck, and in time, both cats began to recognize and respond to these monikers.

Regular readers of this blog are aware of both my 15 year devotion to Snuggy, as well as his ongoing health problems which began this Fall. I regret to inform you that this past Thursday afternoon, Snuggles Inky lost the battle for his life. For the last three months, after surgery was done to remove the remainder of Snuggy's teeth, I have nursed him like an infant. If sheer will were enough to keep someone alive, the combination of my efforts (thrice daily feedings, wiping his mouth after meals, twice weekly baths, medicines and a lot of cuddles) and Snuggy's magnetism would have beat down any possible illness.

For the last 10-12 days, I knew something was terribly wrong. Snuggy, the feline version of a gluttonous foodie, loved nothing more than to chow down. Suddenly, he wasn't so interested anymore and his meals grew smaller and smaller. His eyes began to take on a peculiar, leaky glaze and he spent more time sleeping soundly than awake. Jordan backed off their daily games. Snuggy lost weight. However, I must now admit that I was guilty of denial, of shutting my eyes to the truth, somehow lulling myself into the belief that if I didn't say it aloud, it couldn't be true. For those of you who know me, confrontation and businesslike steeliness is my usual MO, so this fleeing from reality was a strange anomaly. All I can say is that my love for this animal is not at all typical.

On Thursday morning, I could afford to bury my head no longer when it came to Snuggy's obvious pain. Those sad eyes will haunt my dreams for weeks to come. He continued to refuse food, though he genuinely seemed hungry. He was consistently whimpering and then, most heartbreakingly of all, an unexplained bloody discharge began to leak from his mouth. Unwillingly, I left for work that day, but not before instructing Eddie to say his goodbyes. I knew, one way or the other, that Thursday had to be Snuggy's last day on Earth - for his own sake if not at all for mine.

However it took a conversation with Jen to fully make me understand the suffering Snugs was enduring and that I absolutely HAD to let go. As I have said already, it is most unlike me to require a verbal shake before taking necessary action. I was paralyzed with fear and grief, which may seem odd as I have arguably been through worse situations than the death of a cat. But this was not a cat by any regular definition. This was Snuggy, my main man, the constant in my life for the last 15 years, those precious moments from ages 16-31 when it seems like everything important and crazy happens.

If I can say nothing else positive about Thursday, I must mention how wonderful the staff at Uptown Animal Hospital is. I called the office at 2:30 PM and briefly explained the situation to the woman who answered. Though I had no appointment, and was clearly on the brink of madness, she empathetically told me to come in right away and they would "make it work." When I arrived cluthching Snuggy in my arms (I had neither the time, nor the inclination for a cat carrier), the staff did not make me stand in a queue, though they were quite busy. Snuggy and I were shown to Exam Room 1.

From there, everything was low cost, efficient and terribly compassionate. Snuggy nearly passed away after the first shot, the one given to numb the body. That's how weak and small "The Lion King" (another Eddie bestowed nickname) had become. His profound sickeness did not, however, stop him from charming and giving affection to everyone encountered until the last second. It is a testament to his beguiling nature that one of the nurses continued to try to feed treats to an old man with a gigantic throat tumor (Snuggy's unfortunate cause of death). I dare anyone who ever met this cat not to love him (and that goes for you too Theresa!).

The tumor had commenced by growing under Snuggy's tongue. I asked the doctor how in the world this could have happened so fast when he had just seen a vet in September? One of those cruel, terrible things that can go down in elderly cats I was told. The bloody discharge was from the growth, which had also prevented him from eating in his final weeks. I was nearly overcome as it hit me how miserable the last few days in particular must have been for him. The guilt of knowing I had prolonged his suffering, as he bled and starved to death, was almost too much to take.

I regrouped enough to cuddle him and say the things I needed to say to Snuggy before the doctors began their work. I told him what a great life we had together, and how we both (I) needed to be strong to face the next steps. I said that I had had other pets, and would again, but none would ever be as special to the course of my entire life as he was - and I meant it. I held him close in my arms before the final shot was adminsistered, and I could not stop myself from picking him up again after it was all over.

I wept with Snuggy's lifeless body in my arms, cradling him like the baby he was to me. I cried for his emaciated frame, the end of new memories together, and for Eddie's inability to be there with me to say goodbye. But Snuggy had one last surprise. He made me laugh, even in death, by releasing his bowels down the front of my clothes. One more for the road, eh Snug? I have never treasured being soiled more.

How can I decsribe the overwhelming sadness of trying to resume normal life without my guy? The awfulness of performing the morning routine with just Jordan, who also seems at odds without his playmate? The weird sense of deja vu, as I have already tried to endure this process once this year when I lost Jesika?

The outpouring of grief and sympathy from friends who met Snuggy over the course of his long life has been a great source of comfort. It has been gratifying to hear how many lives he touched besides mine.

But there can be no argument that this cat and his unique ways did the most for me. In so many dark times over the last decade and a half, Snuggy was my touchstone, patiently allowing me to weep into the soft, black fur on his back. He was there for the good times too - for everything of any importance. Snuggles Inky Bluemel Sarwate was one of a kind, a truly irreplaceable original.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Illinois to take Gitmo detainees - U.S. to buy state prison in Thomson, source says,0,5054354.story

I know we have a tendency to adopt a "Not in My Backyard" attitude (or "NIMBY" as the late, great George Carlin once called it) when it comes to bringing criminals and other hazardous materials into our environment, but I have never been a big proponent of passing the buck. We need to close Guantanamo, and with the Thomson State prison sitting virtually empty, this seems like a good solution.

It will resolve an international PR debacle, create jobs in the State, and really, with our last two Governors either in the clink, or on their way shortly, it seems disingenuous for the citizens of Illinois to scream about wanting to protect ourselves from "felons."

I know nothing is finalized yet and plans may yet changed, but as locals of our fair Midwestern State, I'd like to know what you think of the plan?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Colder than the Mood at Tiger's House

Before any of you wiseacres post comments, yes, I realize how phallic this image is. Hee hee. Beavis and Butthead would be proud.

Well now, winter has arrived hasn't it? There can be no doubt about that. As I headed into work this morning wearing tights, jeans, wool socks, boots, my ski jacket, a hat, scarf and gloves (which still wasn't enough), I told myself for the millionth time that I will, in fact, get out of here one day and move to Miami. Chicago has me caught in such a terrible Catch-22. From a culture, cleanliness and population density perspective, nothing can beat the Windy City. It's just unfortunate that the damned place is uninhabitable for seven months a year. Though I do love to take the piss out of the elderly, I will likely join them before I turn 40. Each year I grow less tolerant of shivering.

I am sure all of us have some cold snap snafu stories for the day, but here are a couple of anecdotes from my end:

1. Eddie drove our car to the office in Oakbrook this morning. I had a bad feeling before he left the house. Call me the trivial psychic. Sure enough, he popped a tire on I-294 near the O'Hare Oasis. That was at 8:30 AM. It is now 3:35 - seven hours later. He had to wait two hours for a tow truck and three hours for the garage to have time to change the tire. A whole's day lost plus $500 in towing and replacement expenses.

2. It may have cost less money, but it was no easier for those of us on the CTA (is it ever?). The Brown Line train I took downtown stopped several times due to "equipment failure" - i.e. a frozen door. The train then decided to turn into an Orange Line bound for Midway at Merchandise Mart. A whole herd of the frozen cattle (including myself) disembarked to huddle together for the next approaching Brown Line. I was relatively blase about this. However, many of my fellow commuters had choice words for the conductor as we alighted. I silently cheered them on. I try to behave with some decorum, but am a nostalgic anarchist in my heart of hearts.

I hope all of you are staying warm somehow, whether that involves calling in sick to work or ambling over to the nearest happy hour spot for an old fashioned hot toddy. Snuggle a loved one tonight. Start a blaze if you are lucky enough to have a fireplace. Or if not, grab your partner and make some sparks of your own (see image above). Frigidity lends itself to loving. Can I get an amen?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

In the 21st Century, You Know You're on the Right Track When...

I know it's really small, but look! My name autocompletes on Google!

This caused me a considerable degree of excitement last night, because, as recently as a month ago, this was not the case. This development in my writing name recognition is purely the result of my work for the Edge, as a theater and book critic. Not only do I get "hits" for my reviews posted on the site, but my writings are in turn repackaged and requoted on other websites such as Beacon Press, Theater in Chicago, the Drury Lane and the Auditorium Theater.

Though I have recently been nominated for two awards by the Illinois Women's Press Association in their "Features" category for my work for StreetWise on the topic of urban agriculture, StreetWise does not have an online edition. Though my reporting for the publication certainly boosts my chops and credentials, this does not raise my profile digitally. The awards will not be handed out until May, 2010, but I will be sure to post the outcome when the time comes (like you could stop me anyway).

I have had a lot to be dour about this year, and I have certainly struggled to feel "accomplished" at many intervals. The New York Times has not come a'knockin' yet, but I left the corporate world just seven months ago to try and make a name for myself as a writer. According to the folks at Google, I am on my way.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Weekend Headlines

While I was away at the Renaissance hotel on State and Wacker last night with Eddie, living like a lucky princess: (room on a restricted access floor, steam room and jacuzzi, deep tissue massage - I guess there are some perks after all to having a husband who traveled all year and earned enough Marriott points to settle the national debt), I awoke from the lazy haze of anniversary pampering long enough to pay attention to the following:

1. 'SNL' criticized for Tiger Woods skit

Like anything could be more "insensitive" than portraying yourself as the ultimate stable family man to millions of fans, while in fact being a dirty, shameless, immature manwhore. I thought Jon Gosselin had an absolute lock on being the sleaziest husband/father in the public eye this year. But in a photo finish, it appears Tiger Boy may upset the poster boy for Ed Hardy after all.

2. Cutler stumbles after fast start but Bears earn must-win over lowly Rams

The Bears managed to win one. Yeah! Dubiously, they are decalred by CBS broadcasters to be "in the hunt" for a playoff berth. Not with Lovie in charge and our superstar quarterback calling plays. I never thought I'd miss Rex Grosssman. Ever. But at least he sucked without eating too much of the payroll.

3. Slew of tax, fee, fine hikes across the city - GOING UP City taxes and fees on everything from booze to museum admissions have soared since '04,CST-NWS-taxes06.article

When will we the citizens of Cook County let Daley (pick any one) and Stroger (pick any one) stop violating us? I am so tired of it.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Newlyweds No More

Tomorrow, December 5th, will mark my second wedding anniversary with my husband Eddie. Beginning from the four day affair which united us in Raipur, India, it seems to have been one crazy event to the next leading us to this milestone. This year, 2009, was particularly beset with obstacles and tests.

We began the year with Eddie's layoff and spent most of the rest of it separated by the constant travel required to keep him employed. Then there was the parental invasion from India over the summer, a giant strain if overall a positive bonding experience. Jesika passed. I had the swine flu. We experienced a crisis of loyalty over the summer, and now, the recent illness and hospitalization of my father.

Though some of these issues are still in the process of resolution, it seemed fitting and necessary to take a "day off" from regular life and appreciate the fact that we have made it. We are still here. For right now, that is more than enough to celebrate.

Monday, November 30, 2009


Its been a trying year, to say the least, for many of us. The laundry list of mine and Boop's trials and tribulations is to lengthy and even bother with at this point. So I decided to start a new list. Instead of "Woe is Me", I am calling it "Cheers to Me". I hope you all will join me and post your list in the comments section. Because, frankly, who else knows better just how great you really are.

  • Cheers to me for endlessly advocating for my kids and getting the results that have lead to improving their lives.
  • Cheers to me for having the BEST job in the world (still don't know how I got that lucky)
  • Cheers to me for being a good daughter
  • Cheers to me for being the better person
  • Cheers to me for finding a husband who finds me worthy of worship :)
  • Cheers to me for having a sister who understands all of it. ALL OF IT! She's the only one who could.
  • Cheers to me for being able to make people laugh even when the situation is not at all funny
  • Cheers to me for at least attempting to work my "curves" aka: 10 Rosebud pounds I can't seem to shake
  • Cheers to me for convincing my hubby to be proactive about his health
  • Cheers to me for taking time to say "CHEERS!" to myself. I rock.

Now its up to you. Go forth and toast to your own awesomeness!!!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Some Obvious Advice for Tiger Woods: If You Are Weary of "Rumors" and "Speculation", Tell the Cops What Happened Already

I was over this story the moment I first heard about it Friday morning. Yes, I am aware that I am nonethless blogging about it. It is not my fault. My hand has been forced by the nonstop chatter of media personalities, including one hyperbolic CNN correspondent who referred to the golfing great as "the most recognizable face in the world...maybe ever." I have a feeling Elvis, the Beatles, Michael Jackson and Madonna (not to mention Gandhi, Churchill and Hitler) would beg to differ. The man has a minor fender bender and the world stops. Blame it on a slow news cycle I guess. Last year at this time, we were on the edge of our seats watching the outcome of the Mumbai terrorist attacks. Now that was news.

So fine, Tiger is rich, famous and talented, so any story about him is bound to get some play. But what never ceases to amaze me about celebrities is that they whine about unwanted media attention, whilst fanning the flames of curious fury themselves.

Case in point: Woods postponed the requisite police interview for the third day in a row. Whatcha hiding Tiger? A DUI? A domestic dispute gone horribly awry? If so, you wouldn't be the first, so out with it already. If any of us plebians refused to speak to the Federales after wrecking our vehicles, we'd have some time in lock up to think about it.

Call me cynical, but if ever there was a blood alcohol level issue, it is far too late to determine it now. Meanwhile Mr. and Mrs. Woods have had leisurely days to get their respective stories straight. Conventional wisdom tells me Tiger Boy had one too many, got lippy with his wife, and tried to peel out of his driveway on Thanksgiving night, muttering something about, "showing them all." Fine, it happens to the best of us.

If you want the story to die, own up, tell the 5-0 the truth. Take a page out of the book of President Barack Obama, who when asked on the campaign trail if he had ever smoked dope and inhaled, famously replied, "I thought that was the point." Have you heard a thing about it since?


Friday, November 27, 2009

Jen's Black Friday

When Jen announced her plan to take KK (who wanted the "experience" - la dee da) and head out to Old Navy at 3 AM today, my jaw hit the floor. Jen has a hectic life, but yet and still, the woman likes her sleep when she can get it. We're talking about a lady who could hibernate for 10-12 hours anytime, even while lying down for a nap, in high school. Work, household, KK and Rosebud leave little time for such indulgences now, but surely I belived Jen would have a bit of a lie in the day after Thanksgiving.

As it turns out, in a year of spiraling medical bills, a declining economy and little retail therapy for my baby sis, the pull of low cost schwag was a siren's call too loud to ignore. She ran down the great list of items, in perfectly plotted coordinates, that she planned to score from Old Navy and Traget for less than $120, while we munched our Thanksgiving turkey. The variety was too much for my poor memory to handle, but I know a slow cooker, pajamas and an air mattress were in there. Door busters make stange bedfellows.

I will grant Jen that she did actually need all of these items, and I certainly admire her pluck, as well as KK's in venturing out, to save some money. It was a witch's tit of a windy morning too, the first bonafide winter day we've had this month.

Jen was kind enough to provide me fodder for this post by adding FaceBook status updates from her iPhone whilst wrestling with the chilly masses:

  • Yesterday at 10:39am: Mapped out my black Friday plan. Old Navy at 3 am, Target by 4am, then Kohls and maybe Wal Mart if I don't receive any injuries before that.
  • 15 hours ago: NOT enjoying my first doorbuster shopping experience. I spearheaded a 20+ person fight to get in line.
  • 13 hours ago: Done!

Now by my calculations, since it's 7:40pm now, Jen and KK briefed us on their initial doorbuster disaster at at 4:40am. Once I realized this, I felt a tremendous shudder of sympathy for my little lambs. Then I got angry.

My question is this: Why must retailers put people through this crap? If they can afford to introduce some loss leaders to bring foot traffic into the store, where they always offset the finacial hit, why can't they do so on a normal day? And for Christ's sakes, not at 4 AM. I have a funny feeling they enjoy the sight of us acting like desperate mice, saving the dollars that matter for our families and willing to do anything to get it. It's like the ultimate reality show for the fat cats.

People are on hard times this Christmas season of 2009, more so than most of us can recall in recent memory. If the retailers want our consumer confidence back, the one we lost with the collapse of the nation's financial institutions, job market and housing sector, throw us a bone. Let us get stuff we need at reasonable prices all year round. We will pay more for some luxuries than others granted, and that seems like a fair market practice. But let us get some rest too. Lord knows we all need it.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


The bloggers of Which End is Up?! wish you and yours a satisfying Thanksgiving, no matter what form that takes.
Eat up!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Foiled Again

Granted, my recent posts have been a little dark, but it's not always gloom and doom in Boop's World. For the last four years, I have been competitively involved in my friend Wayne's annual Pick a Winner football pool (better known as "PAW" by fanatics). For those of you who have never participated in this type of exercise, the premise is pretty simple. Pick one, and only one team to win their match each week. The catch is that you may use each franchise only once. So this year, when I used the New Orleans' Saints in Week 1, who have gone on to dominate their division, they were lost to me for the ensuing 16 weeks. The game is pretty easy the first few rounds, but about Week 8 or 9, when you have used a lot of the best teams and have to start dipping your toe into the chaff, things can get messy. All it takes is one bad pick and you're done. There are no second chances in PAW.

Here is a recap of my history in the pool. Needless to say, I have an aptitude for the game:

2006 - Made it to the final 5 competitors in Week 12.
2007 - Out in Week 2 (obviously, an unfortunate anomaly)
2008 - Final 3 in Week 17, only to be cruelly, painfully undone by that grey haired pig fu*&er better known as Brett Favre. There is still a lot of pain here.
2009 - ?

Yesterday was Week 11 of the NFL season, and I did something I normally do not: solicit advice. Up to now, my strategy has been to go with my gut, after a little bit of research. But lately my instincts appear to be on the fritz, so I thought I'd reach out. There is after all, $1800 at stake. My Yale-educated co-worker, a delightfully odd little man named Ned, provided me with his best calculations, based on my pick history and available teams. He not only selected the club I ought to have gone with this past weekend, Arizona, but suggested picks for the next two weeks as well. How lovely.

Only I went with my gut and picked Cinncinati. The rest, as they say, is now history.

Dammit! Wait 'til next year? What's the point of soliciting Ivy League advice Boop (I ask myself) if it is not to be followed?!

I am quite the competitive one. After the game ended, with a pick thrown by Bengals' QB Carson Palmer in the last seconds, my husband came and hugged me solemnly, whispering the words "I'm sorry" in my ear as though I'd just been laid off. I tend to distort loss/failures on my part under any circumstances, but when it comes to sports and money, my trauma can adopt epic proportions. Just ask Eddie about my Week 17 meltdown last year (Brett must die).

So I am hurt today. But will I ride again in 2010? You betcha! Come to think of it, PAW might just be the most appropriate metaphor for my life as a whole at the moment.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Holiday Chaos

Admittedly, I have always been a humbug about the holiday season, that blurry boundary between mid-November and the first week of January. Although if I am being fair to myself, I have good reasons for going Scrooge when the weather turns cold. An inordinate amount of bad juju, calamity and misery seems to creep it's way into Boop's World like clockwork every Christmas annum.

I foolishly lulled myself into the complacent assumption that I had already had enough this year: Eddie's unemployment to ring in 2009, Jesika's untimely and tragic death, the near implosion of my marriage over the summer and the ups and downs of youngest niece Rosebud's health. 2009, by any personal measure has been trauma personified. But the 4th quarter of this year started peacefully enough, personally and professionally, and I wanted to believe I had been tested my quota.

I guess not because even after confronting all those aforementioned crises, Jen and I sit in the middle of the biggest shit storm yet. Whenever I make a claim like that you, dear readers, can always be sure it has something to do with our parents, the larger than life, Gloria and Gregg. You may notice that though I tend to be quite open with my personal struggles, in large part because it is free therapy for myself, I tend to shy away from mentions of my progenitors. There is good reason for this. The truth of mine and Jen's upbringing is stranger than fiction, not to mention painful. Jen and I have both tried, as much as we are able, to leave the past where it belongs and move forward with our own reasonably successful lives.

But it seems one can never run from their past entirely. As long as the players are still living, the ghosts of afore will always rear their ugly heads. Jen and I are in the weird position of being simultaneously shocked and completely unsurprised by the fatherly mess we are trying to dig our way out of this month. Again, out of respect for loved one impacted, I am being purposely vague. Suffice it to say, I posted Shakespeare's "Seven Stages of Man" speech a couple days ago because it is highly reflective of where things stand.
Is it 2010 yet?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Post One Fiddy

The Seven Ages of Man
William Shakespeare
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players,
They have their exits and entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
Then, the whining schoolboy with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice
In fair round belly, with good capon lin'd,
With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws, and modern instances,
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon
,With spectacles on nose, and pouch on side,
His youthful hose well sav'd, a world too wide,
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again towards childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Friday, November 13, 2009

CTA: The Chicago Threatening Authority

I seriously cannot believe the gall of these people.

This is not an exact figure but I think the last few days represent roughly the 10,000th time in the last two years that the CTA has threatened a "Doomsday" scenario without the aid of some immediate cash. Of course this bloated, corrupt, inefficent and retarded agency would never once consider pulling its head out of its ass as a cost saving measure. Do they truly think anyone would pay $3 for the "privilege" of riding that rickety, undependable shit in the first place? I know the good citizens of Chicago depend, in many cases, entirely on public transportation, which only makes this continuous extortionist chain yanking the more criminal. Be that as it may people, the time is upon us when we must declare "enough! We will endure no more!"

Where I ask you, does the hard earned cash that so many of us spend on fare cards even go? Does anyone actually work for the CTA anymore? Ah yes, I remember: as the #30 South Chicago bus driver Richard W. Linn, a 25 year veteran of the outfit (word used purposely), told me, upper management is so packed with Daley patrons, there is little left in the till for full-time, trained staff. You know, the kind that actually give a shit when you have an issue and don't just yank your 30-day pass two days early (I remain fumed about this incident at the Damen Brown Line stop)?

What I love the most about this farce is that our fine Mayor would have you believe that despite the department being named the CHICAGO Transit Authority, rather than the State of Illinois Transit Authority, the City is in no way culpable for this mess. There is nothing the King does better than blame shift, and he is ever ready to place the villain's mantel on Governor Pat Quinn. Our highly educated leader had this to say about the two year fare freeze compromise:

"They don't permanent fix too much in Washington, D.C. or Springfield. They don't permanent fix it."

Um what? I am not even going to touch upon the rampant illiteracy of that statement. It's fish in a barrel. Getting past that however, I actually have to give Pat Quinn a small hand. The two year fare hike at the very least gives us a 24-month reprieve from any more blackmail about hitting transit riders harder than they already are. And Governor Quinn accomplished this without yanking the free ride privilege from seniors, which if I may, was one of the few things ex-Governor Blago did right. Daley and his cronies were ready to charge Granny and Gramps full price again as long as the wheels continue greasing. Sickening.

This is a rhetorical question of course, but why is the answer never to fix the way the goddamned CTA operates? This fare freeze has not silenced the agency a whit when it comes to service cuts and layoffs. I say, let the layoffs start at the top. Let's start with Daley.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Which End is Up?

This week, I feel the appropriateness of the title of mine and Jen's blog more than ever. For both of us, the last 5-7 days have been immensely trying, on family, personal and parental levels. Many of the experiences of the last few should provide inspirational fodder for my writing, and yet I find myself perversely wordless at the moment. I believe Jen, as I am, to be walking around in a dense fog of shame, confusion and of course, that good old standby, anger.

If it were only about myself, I'd go into detail. My goal is not to titillate with the dangling carrot of hot gossip, only to hold back. But with respect to current situations, there are too many people I love involved who might be hurt by my characteristic openness, so I will depart from the usual and remain mum for now.

For those of you out in the blogosphere who check in with us now and then, we need your strength and support to get through the rest of this week. Many more challenges lie ahead before we greet the next Monday morning. Jen and I need to hunker down, grit our teeth and pull out the ferocious tenacity that has gotten us both where we are today, but there will be plenty moments of weakness too. That's when we'll need each other the most.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Sky Falls (Literally) on the Old School

Jen and I have had an interesting day. About 3:00 this afternoon, I received a FaceBook message from an old grade school pal by the name of Barry Burman (the erstwhile Brad as he wished to be called at Pilgrim Lutheran Grade School). Barry is kind of a dorky name (I kid!). Has anyone read or heard this new story today?

The house above and to the right is the unfortunate home slammed with the errant refuse. Guess what dwelling this is? The abode of the maternal grandparents of your very own Boop and Jen. Excuse me, WTF?! What kind of weird karmic fuckery is this?

Most people are quite familiar with their grandparents homes, no doubt, but it is not an exaggeration to state that Jen and I lived here for 16 years. With two working parents who lived on the Northwest Side, and our grade school a mere block and a half from Nanni and Poppa's house at 4242 N. Wolcott, we spent far more time in Ravenswood that we ever did in our home neighborhood (which in truth, I am not even sure the name). And what a bumping block the 4200 block of Wolcott was back in the day. Yes, I am about to go all retro on your asses. But it must be said: we Pilgrim kids who lived on that street were a bunch of bad mamma jammas.

Take for example, the time myself, Jen and Becky Jo Lauderdale from across the street (a little white blond pipsqueak of a thing) choreographed our own dance, complete with cartwheels and pelvic thrusts, to the Salt and Pepa classic, "Push It." Or the 25,000 games of tag we played with Becky Jo, J.B. from next door, and two out of the three Burman boys from down the street. My first "french"kiss occured on that block (with Latin hottie Martin Aramburu - seriously, meow!). Jen got hit by a bike once right in front of the house, on the sidewalk, as my humongous Poppa, all 420 pounds, former ball turret gunner of him, put down his fly swatter and glass of homemade sweet tea (a most unusual turn of events) to cuss out the little "son of a bitch" who hit his granddaughter. Too many good times people.

So I can't tell you the flashbacks I endured, and I know Jen went through the same, as we looked at the smoldering wreckage of our grandparents' roof. True it has been 10 years since either of them lived there. They were renters and Poppa, with his morbid obesity, passed away in 1994. There was never, mark my words, a finer man. In fact I owe it to him to write more on that another time. Nanni moved into a retirement home in 1999 and died there. But even after the long passage of time, it was like stepping right back into the mid 80s when I clicked that hyperlink today. Jen and I are sitting side by side on those unmistakably tall steps that led to Nanni and Poppa's second floor apartment. Then we were running down those same steps as fast as our little legs would carry us to overtake the ice cream truck. We rarely missed.

Thankfully, the current families who live there were unharmed. The roof will be patched up and life will go on. They will likely sue some airline or another. But for two little girls at heart today, a random news oddity literally hit too close to home.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Bronzeville with Ms. Catherine

On leave today from our normal Monday-Thursday routine of hitting the streets to play tourist detective, Sam and I were sent out into the field with one of the volunteers from The Chicago Neighborhood Greeters' Tour, operated by the Department of Cultural Affairs. It's a pretty neat program actually. Visitors, new residents or simply people looking to learn something new can go out for 2-4 hours with a layman expert in their neighborhood of interest. That person will show you the insider's guide to what's what. Sam and I are assigned to research Bronzeville next week and the Powers that Be thought it might be a useful exercise to take one of these tours to assist us with our fact finding. And it was. But what Sammy and I found out was that Ms. Catherine, the formidable 70 year-old woman who showed us the sights today, was about to educate the two of us about a lot more than Bronzeville history. She was about to school us in the game of life.

Ms. Catherine Williams is a 19-year resident of Bronzeville, a retired employee of many years with the City Colleges. She has raised two sons succesfully, both Ivy League educated and living in New York doing fabulous things. Her eldest granddaughter, 21 years old, is about to graduate from Harvard. She interned with former Senator, now Secretary Clinton, and Ms. Catherine has a photo of this child in her living room casually posing with President Barack Obama. How do I know this? The first stop on the Bronzeville tour, Ms. Catherine-style, was her living room, a fantastic apartment on the 19th floor of a Lakefront building. She wanted to show us the breathtaking view she has of both downtown as well as Gary, Indiana. The latter is a mixed blessing, but you get the point. I felt like such an ambitionless underachiever after listening to Ms. Catherine recount her brood's lengthy list of accomplishments. Did I mention that the superstar granddaughter is also a gorgeous classical ballerina? Come on!

Ms. Catherine is once divorced, once widowed. Her husband is gone and her family lives on the East Coast. Do you think Ms. Catherine is sitting around feeling old and sorry for herself? As Whitney Houston famously said on the television classic, Being Bobby Brown, hell to the naw! She is too busy. In addition to being involved with the Chicago Greeters' Program, she is also a jetsetter. She just returned from a four-day trip with some girlfriends to Hilton Head Island, and she's headed to South Beach with another galpal in March. Ms. Catherine is well groomed, chic and expensive looking without being dated or overtly gaudy. She is active in her Church.

Best of all, Ms. Catherine can't turn off being a mother - not ever. Friends, I am 31 years old and I got sent to the bathroom before we took our trip, "just in case because there's a lot of walking." And I went. Such was the command of the 5'3" granny. Apparently, Ms. Catherine is superhuman and never bothers with silly things like bodily needs or sustenance herself, though it was nice of her to think of us. She walked step for step with Sammy and I throughout the day - three miles easily, yet she never used the restroom, ate or drank, or appeared tired at all. In fact, after she dropped Sammy and I back the Cultural Center, she was off to the Mag Mile for a little shopping. Meanwhile, come 2:00 PM I am nursing a hunger headache, and my bladder was heavier than the burden on Bears' coach Lovie Smith to hold onto his job. Do you think I was saying anything? Whining about fatigue in front of a 70 year-old lady in high heels?

What a day. Oh and Bronzeville was pretty cool too. For all my intense fear of aging, if Ms. Catherine and her indefatiguable energy are what retirement look like, I want some of that.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Kick it Like KK

I am, quite possibly, the biggest softie in the entire free world. Now I know that may come as a surprise given that my tough side equally represents. I can be a hard ass when I need to be, certainly. However, to bring the point home, let me hearken back to my 8th grade graduation. The teachers at Pilgrim Lutheran Grade School got together every year to do a comedy sketch, lampooning that year's crop of graduates. The teacher chosen to play me, Mrs. Halter, a flaming red haired, pale skinned woman (admittedly, the best physical choice for the role), hammed up two elements when fashioning my character: huge green glasses, and a whole lotta crying. Her portrayal stung with the humiliating brand of truth that 13 year-old girls cannot endure in front of their peers. I wished I could scream that it was horribly off base to depict me as a nonstop water works, but I knew even then that the basis for any good roasting is a healthy dose of reality.

I have grown somewhat of a thicker skin over the years, but I am still pretty damned weepy. How many times have I bawled after a particularly moving routine on So You Think You Can Dance? Jennifer Hudson, when she competed on her season of American Idol (her 7th place finish was a travesty that has since been exposed), brought tears to me eyes every time she lifted that beautiful voice toward the sky. This year's episode of The Office which finally inaugurated the marriage of Jim and Pam choked me up in the extreme.

But as 10 year-old KK was reminded anew today, Aunt Becky's tears are not limited to the privacy of her living room and television stimulation. Yes, even though KK is Jen's daughter, I reserve the right to play the proud Aunty and write about this kid. KK and I have always had a special bond - dating back to when I lived with her and Jen for nearly the entire first two years of her life. I changed KK diapers, gave her a bath and put her to bed while Jen toiled away at night school. These were the young crazy days before Jen and I settled down with our husbands, and KK was an adorable light in our bachelorette lives. The connection I have with my now almost 10 year-old niece has always been something I treasure (note: I hope to have this same bond with the more discriminating Rosebud if she ever decides I make the grade).

KK has been involved in quite a few activities over the years, and I am proud to say is a two-time beauty pageant victor among other accomplishments. But my girl is much more than just a pretty face. In recent months, KK has taken to karate like nothing else she has tried before. To know my niece, this idea would instantly bring a smile to your face. KK is the skinniest mini in the world, a relatively tall gal, but appears to weigh all of 10 pounds soaking wet. The karate gi she wore today looked like a parachute, and she had trouble keeping her hard won green belt (fourth level) around her tiny hips.

But you know what? KK might look like a sweet and delicate flower, but she can kick some booty! For reasons that remain unclear, all of the girls in her regular class except she chose not to enroll in the tournament out in Naperville today. There are some reasons I could suggest but that is not my business right now. Thankfully, Max and Jen have no problem allowing their darling daughter to toughen herself up and take a knock now and then. It truly does build character and if I may say, KK apparently took some hard practice shots to the face that left her stunned and red, but she neither quit nor cried.

Instead it was KK's opponent in the first heat who needed the tissues. My little niece brought the pain. Fine, I may be using a bit of hyperbole here. It was not an ultimate fight or anything and the kids were well padded, but there was definite contact. At one point, KK illegally, but mistakenly, connected with her sparring partner's face, and I am sure it didn't tickle. She was not awarded a point for this, but is it sick if I admit it was nearly my proudest moment?

Ultimately, KK took second place in her group, the only girl competing against four boys. Her final opponent, the first place victor, had at least three inches, not to mention 25 pounds on my kid. She held her own amidst the backdrop of the whooping of myself, one of her cousins, Jen, and especially Daddy Max. She was steely and focused. Man did I like what I saw today.

I felt a swelling in my heart as I snapped photos and watched KK receive her rather large 2nd place trophy. But it was the quick victory of her very first heat that set me off in a fit of verklemption that even Jen found surprising. I maintain that she should know by now that Aunt Becky is elated almost to the point of physical pain by her nieces' triumphs. I reminded her again that they ought to know better than to invite me to these things. I realize I am a tremendous embarassment, but I literally can't help myself. Once again, watching KK punch little boys on her way to victory, I experienced what has been known since August of this year as the "Westminster Effect." What can I say Jen? Blame your fabulous daughter.

Friday, October 30, 2009

A Halloween Limerick

Listen to my tale, if you dare
of a Hallow's Eve Chicago scare.
The City is broke.
Our Mayor's a joke.
He'll be tossed in 2011 if life is fair.
Happy Halloween trick-or-treaters! Stay safe and eat lots of candy!
Becky Boop

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Walking in Roseland

The far South Side neighborhood of Roseland was founded as a suburb of Chicago in the 1860s, by Dutch immigrants who nicknamed it "High Prairie" due to its elevated situation. The area enjoyed a booming heyday in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when it served as a satellite community for the nearby Pullman factory. South Michigan Avenue was once a veritable warehouse of big name, flashy department stores and businesses, a multicultural Magnificent Mile that serviced residents and employees of the local steel mills and railroad workers.

However in the 1960s, Roseland fell upon hard times with the exodus of steel plants and the slow disintegration of Pullman's operations. The tremendous loss of jobs caused a "white flight" from the area that only exacerbated Roseland's downward economic fortunes. Sadly, in recent years, Roseland has gained notoriety for more violent headlines such as these:

It was to Roseland that Sam and I were sent this week in our work with the Chicago Office of Tourism. The decision makers on the Neighborhood Mapping Project mean absolute business when they say they want to bring marketing and tourist attention to ALL of Chicago and I applaud them. Truth be told, perhaps I am being terribly naive, but I had no real qualms about going to the neighborhood. The residents of Roseland are people like anybody else and I wasn't planning on being stupid. Yesterday we rode the Metra Electric to 115th Street, and today we opted to take the Red Line all the way to 95th. Both days we stuck to the main streets.

Anyway, the point of this post is this: why is that the people who have the least in terms of resources are often the most welcoming? I cannot tell you how many times I have been treated like crap, or flat out ignored in the most well to do trendy neighborhoods on the North Side - and this bad attitude permeates every walk of North Side life: bus drivers, shop workers, etc.

As Sam and I walked along South Michigan near 113th St., a concerned passerby actually asked us what we were doing there. I didn't take the time to explain the whole project, but I assured this kindly elder gentleman that we knew what we were doing.

While patronizing Old Fashioned Donuts, a truly original and authentic local hangout with cheap and delicious cinnamon rolls (I know from experience), a few of the customers spent a minute or two checking Sam and I out, but not in any rude or derisive way. And once they had a good look, one of the men seated at a table nearby asked me how I was enjoying my doughnut. After I relayed my enthusiastic opinion that my treat was pretty damned good, he proudly declared the shop, "the best in the City" as if he owned the place.

It was then I realized what is missing in large degree from the North Side - a sense of ownership. Has gentrification stripped Lakefront Northerners of the ability to feel community? Is there just one too many Starbucks or Whole Foods stores in the way of neighborhood identity?

I am by no means recommending that you pack up the car and take the kids down to Roseland for a Saturday good time. It's not quite ready for that yet. But if King Daley spread the stolen wealth around a bit instead of keeping it downtown and along the North Lake Shore exclusively, I think he'd find Roseland and neighborhoods like it have all the raw materials a great destination needs. People in this place actually care. Imagine that.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Diary of A Mad H1N1

Wednesday, October 14, 2009:

After a day spent walking in that annoying, light, drizzly rain, the kind that chills you to the bone without really getting you wet, I have come down with a nasty case of the sniffles. I have two reviews to write for the Edge, but I can't. I am going to bed.

Thursday, October 15, 2009:

Holy crap. My body hurts. I just finished taking my morning pee pee, a release that usually feels so refreshing, yet I am doubled over with cramps. What the hell? I am not going to work. I can't walk around South Deering in the rain again. I hope I don't lose my job. It's only my second week.

Friday, October 16, 2009:

Eddie is home. That would be awesome if I hadn't been up all night alternately stripping down and bundling up, each movement cloaked in a dense and slimy covering of chilly sweat. I took Tylenol, Nyquil, anything I could swallow and my fever unswervingly clocks in at 102. Shit - I cannot miss work again. Can I? Wait a minute. My alarm clock is broken. No, on second thought the power is out in the whole house. It's 6:30 AM already? Fuck - why is the power out? I had better wake Eddie.

(2:00 PM that day) The goddamned power is still out. I can't breathe. My body is breaking out in red splotches. I am irrational and bored. That's it. I am going for a run.

(2:15 PM) What just happened? My chest exploded at block 2. I tried to go farther but ultimately turned around to come home when my left side felt like it needed to create an opening to let my ever swollen and painful organs out. I feel worse than before. Eddie is going to be so mad at me. The freaking power is still out. I have already made two hysterical calls to my property manager.

Saturday, October 17, 2009:

It's 5 AM. The power didn't come back on until 8:30 PM. I am going to kill my landlord - once I can stand. Fever still just under 102 and it appears there is nothing in the world I can do to bring it down. I am afraid to go to the bathroom for any reason. Any attempt by my body to eliminate waste feels like I am Mel Gibson bravely enduring death torture, a la the final scene in Brave Heart. I am starting to get an inkling I might have the swine flu, especially after some clandestine middle of the night research. I had better wake Eddie up so we can go to the doctor. Shit. I hate doctors. I hope they don't draw blood. Oh crap - I hope Eddie doesn't get it. Maybe I have pneumonia. My lungs hurt like hell.

(10:00 AM that morning) Oh mother f''er. It is the swine flu. I called Jen from the doctor's office. I am starting a steady diet of Claritin and Advil. I had to laugh though when the doctor broke up one of mine and Eddie's usual mini-power struggles. He told him this was my flu, not his. LOL. Ow - it hurts to laugh. I need to lie down.

Sunday, October 18, 2009:

The fever is down to a manageable 100. A steady diet of medicine and Eddie's TLC (an unexpected blessing) has done some good. I wish I could exercise. It's been days now. Maybe tomorrow. It still hurts to pee. Man, what is that?

Monday, October 19, 2009:

I am going back to work no matter what. I feel mostly alright. No more fever. The cold has moved from my head to my chest. I sort of feel like any other person with the flu now. Cool. The worst is over.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009:

Riding the el home from the office, I grab a backward facing seat. This unexpectedly triggers a raging case of motion sickness right around Sedgwick that takes until late Friday evening to completely subside. I feel nauseous and sick the rest of the week and wonder if the swine flu qualifies for a medical marijuana prescription. It should.

Saturday October 24, 2009:

Ok, I am back in the saddle. I finally conducted the interview with Chad Bliss of the Cob Connection that I had to cancel last Saturday. I spent 90 minutes standing in community gardens in Humboldt Park. It's raining again. I try to run when I come home but my left side almost explodes anew. I make it to my 3:00 hair appointment, badly needed as it has now been 7 weeks since I touched up my roots. Right before I leave, around 5:00, I develop a twinge of a headache. I assume I need to eat.

(6:00 PM that evening) All the lights are off in the house, as is the TV. It is a sensory free zone and I am huddled on my bed with a full blown migraine. I haven't had one of these in four years, since before I started dating Eddie. WTF? I have to make a lame phone call to my best friend Gary, due to arrive in 45 minutes, to tell him I can't make it to Brandon's party tonight. I hope I don't puke up the dried cranberries I just ate. Both Gary and Brandon are probably mad at me. Shit. Nothing I can do about it. I am taking four Excedrin migraine tablets. Why the hell aren't they working? I wish Eddie would shut off that Hindi movie and come to bed.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum, I Smell a Good Pout

This morning, around 10 AM, I and my partner Sam were aboard the #30 CTA bus headed for the far South Side neighborhood of Hegewisch. Sam is my partner for the duration of my stint as a Field Researcher with the Chicago Office of Tourism. Initially, upon learning I was being paired with a 22 year-old male, I rolled my eyes as far back in my head as they would go. I had visions of a Viagra Triangle fraternity moron dancing in my head. Instead, to my surprise, young Sammy is the most idiosyncratic, salt and pepper graying, yoga class going, would be writer that I have ever encountered. His is a nerd supremo, rather than a randy idiot crushing beer cans against his skull. In other words, Sam and I are peas and carrots - a perfect match.

So anyway, we're on the bus, the same one at roughly the same time that we have ridden the three days prior, while exploring East Side and Hegewisch. Our driver, a lively, witty and informed man by the name of Richard W. Linn, noticed our continued appearance on his route and struck up a conversation with Sam and I. It's an hour's ride from the 69th St. Red Line station where we boarded, to 135th and Brainard, where we alighted. Richard was kind enough to let us into the soon to be lost world of the salt of the earth, blue collar lifer with the CTA.

Why will this be lost? Well as Richard explains it, our terrific Mayor (and those of you who are regular readers know I mean this in NO way) has completely padded the Chicago Transit Authority with oodles of his cronies (the shock!!). Years ago, where Richard and his fellow shiftmates answered to one guy, they now owe allegiance to seven. These paper pushers mill around all day, and in order to give them something important to do, King Daley has deputized some of them with the authority to write parking tickets to violators on CTA property. That's right. The next time you don't pay your dollar at the Kiss N' Ride, your fine may be issued, not be a uniformed police officer, or even a meter maid, but instead the guy who is in charge of writing the repetitive "Doomsday" press releases declaring imminent CTA death. Of course. And now we'll pay $3 a ride to keep all these managers on the payroll. Best of all, the CTA has almost entirely stopped hiring full-time bus drivers and train conductors. This is because they can pay part-time workers half the hourly rate, without the expense of those pesky other perks like health insurance which would put a crimp in all the kickback payments. This cost saving measure might explain the higher incidence of train accidents in recent years, as high turnover and poor training, coupled with a lack of personal investment, lead to lazier job performance.

So anyway, this line of conversation was enough to get my blood boiling. The CTA clearly has its head irretrievably up its ass, compromising service to passengers while wallowing in enough graft and corruption to make Al Capone blush in his grave. I was both thrilled and appalled to be getting this insider information. Richard, a 47 year-old, 25 year veteran of the CTA with three young children, bears the King nearly as much ill will as I do. We bonded.

From these issues, the dialogue turned to some of the King's other glaring transgressions, that to my everlasting frustration, citizens of Chicago seem to have a bottomless stomach for. How else to explain why there has never been a serious challenge mounted to set term limits or toss this a-hole?

But now we get this:

I am not playing semantic games with the King. To invoke fiscal responsibility as his motivation for anything is beyond the pale. He has robbed City coffers illegally, and cancelled Venetian Night for good measure out of nothing more than power hungry, vindictive spite. I am now convinced that this man can do anything he wants. I think he could bonk midgets on the head, and trip old ladies right in the middle of the Thompson Center and no one would utter a word.

So King Daley can't bring the Olympics to Chicago? We'll he'll show us and the world dammit! He's gonna, gonna, gonna...cancel Venetian Night, a beautiful festival that everyone enjoys. Yeah, that's the ticket - just because he can. That 1.1 billion that was supposed to sit in a reserve for the next 99 years while this shitty parking meter lease plays out, just in case we ever really need it? We'll let's just pull a third of that out before a year is even up. Why? Because Chicago is struggling man. Mayor Daley, if you indeed feel so emasculated by your undeniable show of international powerlessness that you must needs destroy something, please do not make it the Windy City's financial future.

Meanwhile, crime rates are shooting through the roof in disgruntled, impoverished communities, children are killing children and the rest of us, the ones without Daley as our last name, watch OUR City slip away from our control a little more each year.

Please Chicago readers. Comments? Questions? Concerns? Anyone willing to run for Mayor this next round? Little C? Richard W. Linn?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


I try at all costs to avoid political discussions in any social setting - it just equals baaaad business. It really never ends well. I save it for my husband and my sister because 1) we agree for the most part AND 2) even if we don't we know it will all be okay. That being said, I need to put that general rule aside to discuss a highly debated topic that hits me really close to home; health care. The blog post to follow will be a combo effort between Boop and myself. I will lay out the facts of my story and touch upon a few others I have heard and Boop, in her political savviness, will get into the nitty gritty of what's wrong with the following picture and what should be done about it.

Its no secret to anyone who reads this blog that I have two little pricesses, one of whom was very sick for most of the last 12 months. 2 year-old Rosebud had a mystery illness that took us 9 months to diagnose. That diagnosis resulted in a much needed surgery. Sparing the details of what she had, and what we went through, if she was to be cured of what ailed her there was no other option. This after nearly a dozen specialists weighed in on what was wrong and an extensive battery of tests was run. Strictly by medical standards, the surgery was a routine 1 hour procedure, required a 23 hour hospital stay (considered out-patient) and no other follow up or medication. It seemed such an easy solution and a huge relief to the saga. Until the bills started rolling in....

Rosebud also underwent some occupational therapy over a period of about 4 months. More bills...

Prior to that, Rosebud had an unfortunate incident with coffee table that ended in 6 stitches to the lip. Evil Knevil she is not. Another bill...

Princess number one, nine year-old KK needed physical therapy for a period of 12 months for an eye issue. Huge, whopping bill...

The nicest thing about all of this is, my children are in a much better place health-wise than many other children, who unfortunately deal every day with life-threatening or debilitating illnesses. Their health is what keeps me going. Looking at the financial repercussions of having children that require medical care of any type beyond "preventive" you need that postive thing to focus on so you don't succumb to the pressure.

This calendar year alone, here is what my husband and I have had to shell out of pocket just to put our children on a level playing field:

  • KK's therapy sessions: once a week at $115 a pop - completely out of pocket with a very slow partial reimbursement by insurance. Even at that, we were capped at 25 appointments. After that, 100% our burden.

  • Rosebud's stitches: $1100 total out of pocket

  • Rosebud's occupational therapy: once a week for four months at $30 per session (bargain!!)

  • Rosebud's surgery after paying the surgeon, the anesthesiologist, and the hospital: nearly $4,000 out of pocket

You may be wondering "what kind of crap insurance do these people have?" but I can say its probably quite representative of what most employers offer. I have a $210 monthly premium, and as long as we aren't sick, everything is covered. If I wanted less out of pocket cost, my monthly premium would be $1100. That's more than half of my mortgage. Clearly, that is not an option financially. So I am forced to take the risk that all will be okay most of the time, then take it in the you-know-where if things go wrong. This past year things most definitely went wrong.

Hubby and I both work for a living and are extremely middle class. Perhaps lower middle class. Not exactly sure what the standards are for that. We have a small but sufficient house, but beyond feeding and clothing our family has few luxuries. Just enough to feel a sense of spoiling ourselves now and again, but not anything beyond our means. We don't vacation, just mini getaways on occasion. We have one car payment due to an upgrade in size when Rosebud arrived. But even at that, there just isn't room to comfortably shell out an estimated $8,500 in medical expenses this year. That does not include my monthly premium. If I can't afford the upgraded $1,100 premium....seriously, come on people!!! Can't the American people get better coverage than this??

My story is representative of so many others, many of them much more severe. I saw a piece on about a woman who had breast cancer, was dropped from her insurance and is now $80,000 in debt. She refuses to file for bankruptcy becuase she won't let the system beat her. I have heard several stories about loving spouses divorcing in order for the mother of a child to qualify for public aid to help pay for her son's long term health care. This is just simply, unacceptable.
Luckily, some in Congress agree

Boop says:

Let me first of all state for the record that Jen both gives me too much credit, and herself too short a shrift. She is not my sister for nothing and I think you will all agree she's no slouch in the writing department. And clearly, the topic of health care hits home, for lack of a better word. Jen has studied up and her passion and relatability is one of the reasons I urged her to get political for once in a blogtime.

It occurred to me when I set about framing my part of this rant, Jen sort of gift wrapped me the tools I needed to get to the heart of what I think is the problem here. Allow me to quote Jen twice:

1. "I have a $210 monthly premium, and as long as we aren't sick, everything is covered."

2. "Hubby and I both work for a living and are extremely middle class. Perhaps lower middle class. Not exactly sure what the standards are for that. "

Now in case any of you are wondering, Jen was not being remotely ironic when she wrote either of these lines. This is what the brainwashing of our American health care system does to regular Joes and Janes. It engenders a sort of odd security where none is derserved, while at the same time causing hardworking, white collar Americans to go so far into debt, they don't even know where the line bewteen just making it and affluency actually lies anymore. For the record Jen, according to Wikipedia, lower middle class status is arrived at when a family of four generates between $32,000 - $60,000 annually.

But I digress. When summing up the egregious wreckage of the American health care system, nothing says it better than, "As long we we aren't sick, everything is covered." Well excuse me! I thought the point of health insurance was to help you out and prevent you from financial ruin if you DO get sick? When did this change, and a better question: why did we let it? Will this long trip to Crazy Town where we give up 25% of our salaries and get nothing in return never end?

Secondly, heaven, the Dalai Llama, the Luck of the Irish and a rabbit's foot help you and your loved ones if you do have the nerve to come down with something. Look no further than Jen's example above. I don't want to belabor the point. It doesn't need it. It kills me that my hardworking sister and brother-in-law had to make the initial choice between take home pay and enough coverage for their children. Now they also have to explain to KK and Rosebud that there won't be any trips to Disney World in their futures because they had the bad luck to need minor help with non life threatening iproblems. How many different ways must the system make paupers out of us? Why does anyone have to untangle the logic for their brethren, confused that a trip to the doctor could do anything but make them better?

Can we all as a nation agree we're collectively tired of this? Change now! Bring health care back into the headlines and let's get something done.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

South Side!

As a near lifelong resident of the City of Chicago, I have an embarassing confession to make. Though I have driven around over the years, the only neighborhood on the South Side that I could ever lay any real claim to knowing was Hyde Park. This is due to my involvement with the Chicago Children's Choir in the mid-90s, when home base was still at a progressive Jewish synagogue in that neighborhood (so progressive in fact that the Temple held its worship services on Sundays). Some may be tempted to level accusations at me of not caring much what goes on outside the upper middle class North Side lakefront that I have called home for quite some time. I will not try to defend the indefensible because my lack of South Side awareness is just pathetic. However, rather than a lack of interest or concern, I have been guilty of laziness.

However, I am pleased to report that my ignorance has been somewhat reduced in the course of the last week, through my work with the Chicago Office of Tourism. I have fully explored no fewer than four neighborhoods in the last five working days, and three of them were almost entirely new to me: Chinatown, South Chicago and Pullman - all to the South.

I had eaten dim sum with my family in Chinatown a time or two as a youth, but I hardly think this qualifies as real experience in the neighborhood. Let me tell you, I used to think I knew a good deal about this City, but a wonderful new world has opened up to me. How could I never have been to Pullman? Such a rich history as the first planned industrial town. A place of gorgeous architecture and culture. Did I mention you can actually call yourself the owner of a gut rehabbed Pullman row house, a national historical landmark, for the price of about $150,000? You can't buy a rundown shack on the North Side for anything close to that. Talk of a possible Red Line extension out to 135th street only sweetens the eventual return on your investment.

In South Chicago, and I can hardly believe I never knew this, there are 576 acres of lakefront shoreline, sitting, undeveloped, since 1992. The former site of the massive (and now defunct) U.S. Steel plant, the empty space is enough to fit the whole of Chicago's downtown inside with a little room to spare. Can you imagine!? And it's just been sitting there for the last 17 years. When I think of how vital the lakefront is downtown, on the North Side and in the parts of the South where beaches are prevalent, this is literally mind boggling. Certainly efforts to do something with the space would trickle out and benefit the economically depressed South Chicago neighborhood.

But not content to wait for the City or Big Business to make something happen, South Chicago is perfecting its own cottage industry. I was surprised to learn that the area is one of the "greenest" neighborhoods to be found in our town. Low income, modern, ecologically sound housing sprouts left and right, community gardens pepper the area - I know my good friend Kevin is laughing right about now, marveling at my naivete.

If you read Kevin's blog, he just finished waxing poetic on his own love for the South and consequent ignorance of the North. We are like the geographic gift of the magi, me making him come to Lincoln Park for hot dogs, him whetting my whistle for the South Side with promises of a Indian fried chicken place. No, that is not an oxymoron. Such a magical place apparently exists and Kev says it does booming business.

It's 2009. Why is there still such a divisive imaginary line between the North and South Sides?

Tomorrow, I make my way to South Deering. I love my job, in no small part because it is turning me into a more whole Windy City citizen, as I always should have been.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

And the Nobel Prize for Most Cynical Nation Goes to...The United States!

There's a really insidious group of people I have come to detest in 2009. Shamefully, this group includes members of my own household more often than I can stomach. These folks are the ones who rallied behind Obama in the early Summer of 2008, when his cultural zeitgeist was at its absolute trendiest peak. They wanted "change" and followed Candidate Obama's every move, infected despite themselves with a heady rush of "Yes we can!" euphoria.

However, the inevitable crash from the drug that was the Fall 2008 campaign came hard and fast for a section of the populace in January of this year. That's when the camera ready events came to an end - the awe inspiring Grant Park Rally, the flashy and momentous Inauguration. When the dust settled and the pilgrims left down, it was time to get to work. And oh what work there was to be done! Two wars, a soul scraping economic and housing crash, the corporate mayday of so many huge America brands, layoffs - just to name a few of the challenges our new President had waiting for him on Day One.

And this is where so many of Obama's former supporters began to show their true colors. Because all along they mistook our President's intelligence and passion for some sort of promise of quick returns. They wanted results and they wanted them now. So what if Iraq and Afghanistan had been underway long before the President was a Senator from Illinois? He had better have our troops out (and security in the region, naturally) within six months. So what if the economic crisis had been in part triggered by years of bad policy and deregulation, of generations of people living beyond their means? Let's right this thing and put people back to work before the holiday season - or else. Who cares if health care reform is taking longer than expected because of an unparalelled political quagmire on Capitol Hill, as well as at the American breakfast table? It matters not that our ambitious President has tackled all of these problems, often without the will or support of members of Congress, including members of his own party.

No, these fair weather friends awoke Friday morning to learn that President Barack Obama had won the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize with only one question on their minds: What has he done? And I know from personal experience this weekend that the question does not only relate to foreign policy.

Obama won the prize for 3 reasons:

1. No one, and I mean no one, had inspired more people, in more places, in the last 12 months. I know many folks choose to interpret the award as more of a lifetime achievement kind of thing, and I suppose that's their right. Be that as it may, and no matter what side of the political fence you sit, it cannot be ignored that the man's charisma and genuine likability is a powerful tool. Just ask John McCain. Or the screaming throngs in Europe that have turned out at every one of his public appearances.

2. He is not Bush. Do not underestimate the power those words carry internationally. It is the benefit of short term memory that we can barely recall the time, just a few months ago, when America was isolated and virtually friendless around the globe. Eight years of "Bring 'em on!" and "Axis of Evil" imperialism had made America and the world less safe (do you hear me Republicans?!), not more. I do accept that in part, the Nobel Committee has bestowed the prize on a clean break with the unhelpful, shall we say, attitudes of the past.

3. It's only been 9 months, but wow. I am paraphrasing here, and I wish I could remember whom to credit, but I heard it said best last Sunday on "Meet the Press." Obama's approach to the international community is rather revolutionary. In the past, America has prided itself on its strength, it's ability not to need anybody, its stoic resolve. Obama is subtly and slowly trying to change that mindset for American citizens. What's cool in the 21st century is cooperation, information sharing. America is still the only superpower, no doubt about that, but we don't need to ground that into everyone's coffee. We are now a partner rather than a dominator, no longer the distant and stern grandfather. It may very well be political (and what decision, if we're being honest, isnt?) but yes, I think the Nobel panel wanted to recognize this tectonic shift in Western diplomacy. And by the way, why the hell not? Doesn't this create peace, which is the point of the Nobel Prize?

Can you imagine Bush, or any other President for that matter, ever going on Al Jazeera and speaking to the Muslim world in a believable way, that conveys a recognition of people of all religions and beliefs systems as equally human? Neither can I. That hardly means that WASPs and Muslim militants will be exchanging friendly emails anytime soon, but Obama definitely opened some lines of communication that were down before.

But to return to the earlier point of my post. What has really injured my spirit the last few days are the jeers and derision by a healthy dose of our citizenry towards the President's winning the Nobel Peace Prize at all. Some have even gone so far as to suggest he decline to accept it. Please tell me when we became so jaded that we could look at the bestowing of such an honor on our sitting President with anything but pride? 2009 has been such a suck ass year (you can quote me on that), why aren't we unified in finding this pretty cool?

It makes me sad. Is there anything this country can collectively celebrate anymore? You don't have to agree with everything Obama has done in order to find joy in the Nobel Peace Prize. That's for all of us man, for the better, stronger and more tolerant America that we are supposedly on the path toward becoming. Let's act like we deserve it.