Monday, August 31, 2009

The End of an Era

I realize I am a few days late on this. I have been on a post-London crash: fatigue, flu, trying to catch up on "real" life while pining away for a return to the UK as soon as possible. I did not watch much TV, nor read a paper while I was away, somewhat unusual for me. Therefore I couldn't really dive into the import surrounding the death of this last Kennedy Lion until Saturday morning, as I watched his televised funeral while running on the treadmill at the gym.

The point of this post is neither to canonize nor eulogize Teddy Kennedy (1932-2009). There has been enough of that going on in recent days, and as we know, there's no such thing as a saint, and certainly not amongst the Kennedys. But, as I tried to explain to Eddie over the weekend, Ted's death means a lot more than just an open Democratic Senate seat at a critical time for healthcare reform. In some post or another, there has been a Kennedy in American government since the end of World War II - well over 60 years. With the demise of Caroline Schlossberg Kennedy's quest for the New York Senate seat vacated this year by Hillary Rodham Clinton, we may have finally witnessed the end of the Kennedy political dynasty. As I explained to Eddie, it is a rare feat for a family to put that long of a political imprint on a nation, especially when there are no kings or queens involved.

This may go without saying, but there has never been a time in my life when Ted Kennedy was not the Senator from Masschusetts. When I was a young girl, most of the talk I heard was derision: Ted was just a poor man's Jack or Bobby, a pretender who couldn't get elected President because of his overt womanizing, drinking and personal problems. I think in Ted's case respect was earned by the force of sheer longevity and tenacity. I get the feeling that the Senator knew what was being said in the 80s, and purposely spent the next two decades with his head down, working hard and reaching across the aisle in ways that are often aped but never duplicated. It is arguably true that Senator Kennedy's endorsement of Barack Obama during the 2008 Democratic primary put the nail in the coffin on Hill's run, and breathed new life into the "Yes, we can" man. We have 50 senators in this country, yet it cannot be denied that the words of Ted Kennedy carried a hell of a lot more weight than say, Roland Burris.

It is ironic and tragic (depending on which side of the issue you stand) that Senator Kennedy passed away during a tense time for his passion issue: health care reform. Leaders on both sides of the aisle are stating that getting a bill out, in any sort of partisan way, may be more difficult without the input and diplomacy of Massachusett's senior Senator. As if reform needed any other obstacles. Is it naive of me to hope that the harsh partisan rhetoric might get a breather out of everyone's mutual respect for Ted Kennedy? I think we have a shot of getting through to Orrin Hatch and John McCain.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Home Sweet Home?

This is very odd. My return flight from London landed bang on time at 7:30 PM last night. As luck would have it, Eddie had just touched down from South Carolina and walked over to my arrival area just as I was walking out. I was glad to see him and we had so much to talk about on the cab ride home.

I was feeling a little rough after the long flight. I developed a touch of the flu the night before I left London that worsened by the following morning. I tried to rest and relax on the plane, but of course, that is often easier said than done. Still, my euphoria kept me going and I gave my cats a hug and started setting my dusty and hairball filled apartment to rights. In so many respects, it is good to be back. There's just one problem.

It doesn't feel right. I wonder if this will start to wear off with the passing of the days, and as my jetlag subsides, but something has changed and I can't quite put my finger on it. I have always said that Chicago is the greatest City in the world, and in many respects it is. But there's now a competitor on the board for me, and I connected with London so very deeply that it really did at times feel like I was exactly where I am supposed to be.

Can you feel homesick for a place in which you have only spent four days? A town where you were not born, but maybe feel you should have been? Because in thinking more about my Westminster meltdown, the feeling I come away with is one of deja vu, as if I have been there before, and if not, than at least the mothership was pulling me in with her tractor beam.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Westminster Abbey

On Wednesday, August 26, 2009, at approximately 1:00 PM, Becky Boop realized a daydream - to see the place with so much history, a site of religious pilgrimage for Christians everywhere, that had been established in 1090. But it is not so much the spirituality of the Abbey that appealed to me, though there's no denying the awesome beauty of the accoutrements of this house of worship. No, what really quickened my pulse all this years was the sheer weight of the historical and literary importance of the site: the burial place of countless kings, queens and other important government persons, scientific figures, as well as scholarly geniuses by the dozens.

It was a stereotypically rainy and cool London day. Jessica and I rose at the Park Plaza Victoria and prepared to check out and swap locations. Eddie had been kind enough to book us a last evening's stay at the Marriott London County Hall, a 5-star palace of a place inches away from the London Eye, and a few short paces from Big Ben and the Abbey. My husband is a Platinum Marriott Rewards member, one of the few benefits of all his weekly traveling, so the ostentation in which we found ourselves was absolutely free. Both Jessica and I grew up relatively lower middle class, so try as we might, we could hardly contain ourselves when the benefits of our Platinum stay were listed for us: turndown service, evening chocolates, access to the spa and the 4th floor executive lounge, where we were able to get snacks, drinks and frothy hot chocolate 24 hours a day. The hotel, as the name might imply, is a former seat of government in the City, and a breathtaking piece of architecture, inside and out.

Once we were able to subdue our joy in our new surroundings (sated by a cup of the aforementioned hot chocolate), we regrouped to head toward the Abbey. I had not yet recovered from my keen disappointment in missing it the day before, and I would not be denied again.

I knew in advance that touring Westminster Abbey was likely to be the highlight of my London visit, and yet, even I was surprised as I found myself getting choked up before we even reached the ticket counter. No sooner did I cross the threshold than I was greeted with monuments as far as the eye could travel in either direction. The weight of the importance of the place began instantly to impress itself upon me. Jessica looked at me as I prepared to pay our entrance fees and asked, "Are you crying?" There was no denying that I was, but I collected myself quickly as we headed toward the booth to pickup our audio guides.

I cannot do justice in describing the feast for the eyes that awaits a visitor to the Abbey, whatever your religion, or even if you have none at all. In America, where nearly everything is less than 100 years old, we simply have no frame of reference for a Millennium’s worth of figures, events, coronations, decrees, bombings and wars. It's everywhere, in every pore of the site, and to walk through the Abbey, it is impossible not to feel the presence of all those who walked the halls and chapels before. I was reverent and subdued as I listened intently to all that was described in my headphones. I lost another tear or two when I happened upon the graves of Queen Elizabeth I, a figure who reigned during many of Shakespeare's greatest years, as well as King Henry V, the subject of one of the Bard's plays, and a personal favorite of mine. But these silent tears were subtle, few and easily wiped away.

Finally, we made our way over to Poet's Corner, the famed burial and monument section of so many great literary figures. I started to feel an adrenaline rush as we moved that direction, but my heart, quite literally, burst as at last I stood on top and in front of the tangible evidence of centuries of authorial greatness: the Bronte sisters, Keats, Shelley, Blake, Jane Austen, and so many others. Curiously enough, it was the realization that I stood atop Charles Dickens that finally triggered my breakdown. I started crying copiously, actually having to make an effort to choke back my own sobs. Again folks, I am not writing this for dramatic effect. It is, I assure you, quite accurate. Just ask Jessica who I noticed inching away from me subtly as my breakdown continued. I am sure I looked either a) crazy or b) as though I were having a truly miserable time. I may be nuts, but the latter half of that presumption could not be further from the truth. I was overwhelmed with awe and joy on a level I have never experienced to this point in my life. Even if I wanted to put an end to my display, I couldn't. Heavy loads of pain and disappointment I know how to compartmentalize, but obviously, a large rush of elation was a shock to my jaded system. I may have been embarrassed myself if I were not so engrossed.

I have called myself a writer for awhile now, but it wasn't until this moment that I truly realized how much I love reading, and my utmost worship for those who have the gift of the pen. I am adequate at times, but my smallness was never more apparent than it was standing before figures I have adored all my life, the people who have entertained, inspired and kept me company as I grew and matured. It was at that moment, as the tears rushed from my eyes, that I swore to rededicate myself to the craft. After a rough summer, it was the kick in the pants I sorely needed, a refocusing of purpose.

As I tried to compose myself, Jessica rejoined me in front of the Abbey's museum. Tears continued to fall though, and even I began to find it a bit much, but there was nothing to be done. As I looked at some of the funeral effigies of deceased monarchs, Jessica sneaked off to purchase me a souvenir: a book entitled Kings, Queens, Bones and Bastards, a shorthand guide to the history of the British monarchy. Touched by my friend's tremendous thoughtfulness, even after the humiliation I had just put her through in Poet's Corner, I told her I couldn't look inside the bag until after we left, or I might possibly die.

We finished the tour and departed the building at last, but my heart continued to pound and for hours after the visit. I couldn't think or speak of it without welling up again. I am not sure I will ever be able to describe what I saw and felt without tearing up. Although Jessica declared me "the biggest nerd" she had ever seen, and took several photos of my puffy and streaked face as we walked out of the Abbey, she was nonetheless completely understood that I had just had what amounted to a religious experience for me.

The day continued with a walk along the Thames where we saw street performers, gambling, families, beaches and stalls of old books we had the pleasure of rifling through. In the evening, I had dinner at a fabulous Cuban restaurant in Islington with Jessica and her adorable husband Nick. Afterward, we met some old friends, Kedda and Tiade, choirmates of mine and Jessica's from our high school days, for drinks. I hadn't seen these gals in 13 years and in moments, we were laughing and remembering as old chums do.

It was a perfect day. I know I am cynical and tend to spread a fair amount of pessimism and gloom on this blog. But yesterday was one of the happiest days I have ever known. The frustrations and disappointments of Tuesday were utterly forgotten. Had I gone through this experience with a lesser friend, I might have felt shame. But as it was, I felt so comfortable with Jess, I was able to laugh at myself, just let go for once and stop being a control freak.

I am to fly home today. In a few short hours, I will hop the Tube for the ride back to Heathrow. I am not ready to go, even if I miss my husband, cats and home. But I will be back. London and I are one. I am not sure how I know this, but I do, and I know it somewhere deep inside. We are not finished with each other yet.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Big Bus Bust

Today definitely did not go as planned, but I am trying to regroup and move forward. After a somewhat raucous night of drinking with Jessica until 3 AM that culminated with yours truly relieving herself in a public park in Piccadilly Square, the morning came on like a cruel blow to the head. I am not as young as I used to be and I really ought to learn to remember that. We enjoyed the companionship of a 33 year-old German dude and two 18 year-olds in a band from Belgium. The five of us ended up at a lame club that Jessica said reminded her of the opening scene in Blade, minus all the vampires, but with an equally urgent smell of death. We hung out with these guys for four hours and do not recall their names whatsoever. We were wrecks.

Jessica managed to hoist herself up at about 9:30, but I lay in a painful semi-coma until around 10:45. The problem is that we were due to get to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard, by 11:00 AM. This is done only every other day in August, and since I fly home on Thursday, I have missed my shot this time around. Seriously a pity, but all my own fault.

We dragged our dehydrated and exhausted carcasses to a nearby restaurant for a meal of fish and chips and then went to pick up the Big Bus Tour in front of Victoria Station. After a long wait, we boarded the bus. I wanted to see at least the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace. These were quite a few stops away, so we settled into our seats snugly to listen to the audio tour of places we passed. The problem is that the big Bus Tour Company does not have their act together. First we were told there would be a two hour wait to get into the Tower of London, so that was scratched. The employees are rude and disorganized. It seemed every stop we reached, we were asked to disembark and switch buses so our current driver could go on break. Then there was the pouring rain and the bad traffic. These constant interruptions in our sightseeing momentum finlly took their toll on our weary bodies, and right in front of Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, we both fell into a post-lunch salt coma that lasted at least 30 minutes.

When we came to, we were in front of Westminster Abbey. Well great! We got off the bus and headed toward the building. It was only 3:30 in the afternoon and I finally felt somewhat alert. We made our way to the entrance of the magnificent facility and were greeted with locked doors. Guess what time Westminster closed? Yep - 3:30. Jessica got a great candid shot of me (which I do not condone) wearing the face of crushing disappointment.

She had to tell me to get over it for the next 30 minutes, because there was time enough to fit it in after we swap hotels tomorrow at noon. Boop hates itinerary changes, but she hates the idea of missing Westminster even more. So we walked over to Buckingham Palace to have a look, see the guards and do a little souvenir shopping. That made me feel better, as did the scrumptious smoked salmon sandwich I ate from Pret-A-Manger, my new favorite chain restaurant (otherwise, the rumors you hear about sucky British food are, sadly, mostly true).

Upon our return to the hotel, there was a message waiting for me from Premium Tours, the company that is hosting the Jack the Ripper crime tour we had tickets for tomorrow evening. Naturally, the tour has been cancelled due to low attendance. The good natured customer service rep. graciously offerred to reschedule me, but tomorrow is my last evening in London. This, my friends, is truly a devastating blow. Even the ever blase Jessica took it hard. Ever since reading Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper - Case Closed by Patricia Cornwell a few years back, I have been obsessed. This situation cannot be salvaged and I must console myself with the idea that at least I have plenty of time now for Westminster Abbey tomorrow, the Globe Theater, and a ride on the London Eye. Seriously though, no Jack the Ripper sucks big time.

I am definitely not having any pints tonight, and am on my way to the gym in an effort to feel less like I have nothing to show for Day 3 in London. Well, that couldn't be true anyway. A stronger bond and a lot of laughs with an old, dear friend in a fabulous world city ought to be gift enough, right?

Monday, August 24, 2009

London - Day 2: Adventures with 4 Star Hotel Alarms and Other Vignettes

I slept hard through the night last night, only waking up for a few brief minutes to talk to Jessica. It is quiet around my hotel and I was so bloody exhausted from my movie marathon on the plane, it was all I could do to make it to 9 PM. In the end, it seems my entertainment gluttony en route was a blessing in diguise.

I thought I'd start the day off right with a workout in the hotel gym, which would involve getting up around 7 AM. I wanted to leave plenty of time to catch the Tube to Temple Station, where my planned Shakespeare walking tour would depart. However, as I looked about my hotel room, I couldn't seem to find an alarm clock. Strange. So I had two options. The first was setting up a wakeup call with the front desk. However, these are notoriously unreliable, and I hate talking to strangers on the phone when I am drowsy. My voice sounds mannish. My second option was to use my cell phone, which has an alarm.

I set the alarm for 7 AM, but in my sleepiness, I forgot an important issue: my need to adjust for the time difference. My cell phone plan is not set up for international calling and therefore, I get no service. The clock on the phone is still on Chicago time. D'oh! Somehow, I woke on my own around 8:45 AM. Not enough time for the gym, but just the moment to shower, dress and make a dash for the Victoria Station. Do you like how I name drop different Tube stations now as though I were a seasoned expert?

One of many things I adore about British English: you know how when you take a CTA train, each stop has a recorded message along the lines of, "This is Belmont. Transfer to Red, Brown and Purple Line trains at Belmont?" Well in London, you get that too, but you also receive tourist minded recommendations that let you know points of interest just outside each locale. Here's the part that really tickles me. Instead of saying "Get off here to see ___" as we might in the USA with our lazy English, the Brits ask you to "alight" at a various stop to see a particular place of note. I am quite sure that 95% of Americans don't even know what "alight" means and yet, it is common parlance here. That sigh you just heard is Boop's involuntary reaction of pleasure from hearing "proper" English spoken with familiarity.

Anywhoo, it turns out I was the only one to book a ticket for the Shakespeare Walking Tour today. Lucky me! I had the guide, a fast-walking, poetry slinging, tiny Irish guy named Declan, to myself. This gentleman knew his shit and since I was the only customer, I could ask him as many questions as I could think of, which was quite a few. This tour was not your standard Globe Theater, etc. cliche. Instead, this was a 90-minute excusrion designed to show you the secrets: where Bill lived and worked, his friends, his lovers, out of the way, but important monuments that no longer exist.

Do I even need to say that I loved it? I had about 4 inches on Declan, but had to run to keep up with him, figuratively and literally. I let him know right off the bat that I had a Master's in English Lit. (of course), but ended up wishing I hadn't been so quick to toot my own horn. The sheer amount of things I never knew was simply embarassing. For example, I have always bought into the oft-repeated legend of Shakespeare as a starving artist. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although he never earned much for the writing of his plays, and there was no modern copyright law to ensure the payment of future royalties, William made a killing at each and every performance, being a 1/8 owner of the Globe, and a 1/6 owner of the Black Friars 'theater, a second location where plays were performed for the titled and wealthy (never knew this either). So then, as now with modern rock stars, all the money was in the tour, the show, the performance. Shakespeare was one of the richest and most famous laymen of his day, at a time when London only had 300,000 residents.

Other secrets exposed: Shakespeare was a secret Catholic, he was bisexual (this I knew from reading his sonnets during undergrad), that famous line, "Neither a borrower, nor a lender be" was taken from his own life experience as a creditor to many friends and associates.

Declan delivered three monologues during the course of the tour, with plenty of emotion and expression - to my utter delight. I am on the verge of an epileptic fit of joy. Jessica should arrive shortly bearing store bought alcohol (the price of a pint in the pub can be insane, but I'll get around to that anyway - how could I not?). Let's see if my plans to run on the treadmill later hold up.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

American Airlines Conspiracy to Keep me From Sleeping, the Tube and Other Day 1 London Tidbits

I am here playas! I am sitting in my hotel room at the Victoria Park Plaza London, having just returned from scoring my evening meal of yogurt and mango (it is a Hindu fast day and I refuse to let travel logistics provide my mother-in-law with further reason to question my devotion), at Pret-A-Manger, a delightful organic cafe chain that appears on almost every block in the City. I was a rank, sweaty mess when I finally arrived, but after dinner, a long bath and a short nap, I am invigorated. I just can't believe this is real. London baby!

My flight left O'Hare at 9:45 PM sharp last night. I had dutifully ingested my Dramamine, as well as several glasses of red wine, telling myself it would be best to go right to sleep and adjust to the time changes ASAP. But even as I reminded myself over and again the last week, my words rang false - even to my ears. I have traveled overseas on American Airlines before, and was well aware of their fabulous personal entertainment options. Blast it! I slept nary a wink and instead watched the following four movies in rapid succession:
  • The Hangover (sick and twisted in the best way and how much more do I now love Ed Helms?)
  • Grey Gardens (both Drew Barrymorer and Jessica Lange were something fierce, and who knew Daniel Baldwin actually still worked as an "actor?")
  • Easy Virtue (so-so, but I typically hate Jessica Biel, and did not in this one)
  • The Proposal (What can I say? I am a sucker for Sandy Bullock, not to mention Ryan Reynolds is smokin'.)

I was in a state of semi-remorse for my childish refusal to turn off the TV and go to sleep by the time the flight landed. But somehow I found my second wind when turning to the business of getting myself some GBP (that's British pounds for you layfolk) and figuring out how the hell to get to my first hotel via the Tube. Boop did not come here for taxis, y'all and I was determined to do this the way Londoners do. Except...

1. Taking the Heathrow Express train and connecting to the Tube cost me 20 GBP, or roughly $30. Wow! I was warned that London was pricey, but seriously? The Heathrow Express is sort of like the Metra and the Tube reminscent of the CTA. Who in God's name would spend $30 to take the CTA? How do blue collar Londoners afford the commute?

2. If anyone ever thought getting around the various CTA rail lines was a challenge, please see the map of London's system above. I am proud that I got to my destination in one piece and without any obvious wrong turns, but that is only because I swallowed my little tourist pride and asked for help - more than once.

3. Access for the disabled on the Tube - just doesn't exist, at least not on the Circle Line, the one I took to Victoria Station. No escalators or elevators, just old fashioned stone steps. Boop did not have energy for the gym today, but after lugging 45 pounds of crap and two jackets all over town for over an hour, I think I am good.

So tomorrow is the Shakespeare walking tour at 11 AM. One good sleep, a workout in the hotel gym, and I am ready! And are you all behaving yourselves Stateside?

Friday, August 21, 2009

An American Boop in London

So tomorrow night is the night lambs. I am on a plane overseas. As my good friend Jessica so crudely puts it, "Becky Does Britain." Now, now, in the film of my life (what, you don't imagine your existence as one long art house picture too?), it's not going to be THAT kind of scene.

Jessica moved to London a few months back to join her new husband Nick. I will be spending my days and nights catching up with my old friend, including a meetup with two other gals that toured South Africa with Jess and I in 1996, as part of the Chicago Children's Choir. In the past, Jessica and I going out for a night on the town was akin to waving grain alcohol in front of an open flame - plenty of danger of spontaneous combustion. But we are older married ladies now and our kicks have taken on a new form.

As our loyal readers may or may not know by this point, Boop has both a BA as well as an MA in English Literature. What this means is that I dedicated seven years of my life to studying the history, geography and literary culture of a land which I have never seen. While some might find this odd, I must own that for awhile I found it to be one of my more amusing biographical idiosyncracies. There have been a few near misses in the past, but as of Sunday, the suspense will finally end.

I have no doubt I will love the place and everything I do to amuse myself: a Shakespeare walking tour, morning jogs along the Thames, a Jack the Ripper nighttime crime excursion - even one of those red, double decker bus rides. I have heard London is a painfully expensive place to visit, but as my plane ticket, hotel and tours are already paid for, I think I'll be able to watch my funds. I want to live as Londoners do: taking the Tube rather than taxis, fish and chips and warm beer at hole-in-the-wall neighborhood pubs. This, my friends, is life.

If I run into Amy Winehouse or the Queen (equally appealing to me), I will be sure to send your regards. I am bringing my laptop with me overseas, and provided my hotels have free WiFi, I will be able to post some of my photos, thoughts and notes, as I did when I went to Israel in April.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I Hate Brett Favre

I have never been a Green Bay Packers fan, and I never will be. As a lifelong Chicago Bear, I have done my duty to repudiate cheeseheads in green jerseys for as long as I can remember.

However, I have plenty of respect and understanding for the angry Packer fans everywhere today. Is this guy a tool or what?

I have watched this clown "retire" for the last two NFL seasons. The first of these decisions came with a bucketful of manly tears, and vows to withdraw from football before the tarnishing of his legacy (a Vicodin addiction and a complete lack of SuperBowl titles). The body was falling apart, even if the spirit was willing, blah, blah, blah.

Of course that was all shit, and you may recall that last year, old Brett (emphasis on the old) played for the NY Jets. I liked Favre's work in There's Something About Mary, and found him otherwise benign, but toward the end of his brief tenure in New York, my disinterest turned into a burning rage.

For the last few years, I have participated in a football pool each season run by my friend Wayne. It is called Pick-A-Winner (or PAW for those in the know). Basically, all the players start the season fresh. You may pick one winning team, and only one, from the week's matchups. The tricky part is that once you have selected a team, you may not reuse them again. So if you are lucky enough to continue surviving each week, you must select your winner from a diminishing pool of available teams. It's a science. You don't want to use all the good teams upfront. So, in 2008, Boop found herself in the driver's seat, heading toward the last week of the NFL season with only two competitors to outwit and outlast.

Favre had had a pretty good first half with the Jets, and even after he started to come apart at the seams a bit, I took a look at what I had left to play. In a move that I now wish wholeheartedly I could undo, I put my misplaced trust in Brett Favre for the final game, Jets vs. Dolphins. If I could emerge out the other side with a New York victory, I would be $1500 richer the day before Christmas. What a touching story right?

Wrong. As succinctly stated by Don Banks at Sports Illustrated. com:

"Favre won some big games with New York last season, particularly those back-to-back road wins at New England and Tennessee in Weeks 11-12, but in the end, the 2008 Jets will be remembered for losing four of their last five games and collapsing from an 8-3 Super Bowl contender to a 9-7 non-playoff finisher. Favre threw nine interceptions and two touchdown passes over the course of those final five games, and in the most ironic twist of all, was beaten head-to-head by former Jets quarterback Chad Pennington in Week 17 in the Meadowlands, sending downtrodden Miami into the playoffs as the AFC East champion."

So instead of riding to victory, Boop sat in a hotel room in Phoenix with Eddie, tears streaming down her face, vowing to get Brett Favre, if it took the last breath in my body. When he retired again after this disastrous season, I was lulled into the belief that the sports world was finally rid of this chucklehead. But alas, he will reappear again this season, this time in the Midwest with the Minnesota Vikings. The unmitigated nerve of it all. Sir, just how many franchises and their fans do you hope to tear apart?

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Birthday That Should Have Been

This is Jesika Brooke Thompson (1978-2009) last year on her 30th birthday, at the home of her partner Kevin's mother, behaving like any healthy and carefree young woman ought: pretending to be embarassed, but secretly thrilled that her future mother-in-law thought enough of her to bake a her a cake and sing "Happy Birthday" to her, as if she were one of Mama Smith's own children. It was a beautiful, forward looking and happy time in Jesika's life.

What a difference a year makes. Today mine and Kevin's monthly lunch debate took on a more serious mission: making the long drive out to Lemont to visit our girl on the occasion of her 31st birthday. It had been awhile since I last saw Kevin, more than six weeks, and though I worry about him - tired, worn, sad, I marvel each time that he gets out of bed each day, showers, dresses and goes to work in world that stopped making sense for him almost four months ago.

The day began, appropriately enough, with a downpour. I woke with Jesika on my mind, thinking shamefully of my own aging pity party of two weeks ago. At least I still have birthdays right? I drove over to the house where Kevin now lives with his Mom, slightly South of Hyde Park, thinking as I looked for a parking spot, of the day, less than a year ago, when Jesika drove me down the same road, showing me the houses she'd like to buy with Kevin when they were "grown."

There was a pretty long break in the day's rain, long enough for Kevin and I to track down the familiar headstone that neither of us had seen since mid-May. Jesika's family still hasn't placed her permanant marker, and the temporary one has had time to become overgrown with weeds, grass and the like. For reasons that only a shrink would understand, this made me mad and I spent the first several minutes of my visit pulling greenery in an effort to re-expose Jesika's name. Yes, she is there - more than a plot of sod that seems not to want to mesh with the rest of the pasture around it.

Kevin and I both agreed that once my furious errand of exposing Jesika's marker was complete, neither of us quite knew what to say. It was easier somehow in May when the newness of Jesika's absence still made it possible to fool oneself into the belief that this was a temporary situation. 120 days, plenty of pain and sleeplessness later, the many times I wanted to reach for the phone and ask Jesika's advice, make her laugh with one of my famous trainwreck stories - I know that her absence is permanent. Because nothing short of inability could have breached our loyalty to one another.

I left the house this morning with the notion that I was simply going to celebrate the day Jesika was born, the day that made it possible for her to befriend me on the steps of the Lincoln Park High School Mall almost 17 years ago exactly. But my stubborn heart would not rejoice. Instead I left Kevin to "have a moment alone" at Jesika's grave, while I wandered the narrow gravel roads of the cemetary with tears streaming down my left cheek. It's not fair, and it will never be fair that such a vivid and beautiful light went out on me, on so many of us, long before anyone was ready. I do not know who to blame and perhaps the worst and most painful part, is that there is no one to fault. These things happen. You tell yourself that, but it doesn't help.

I am not sure what happens to use once we die. I am not ashamed to admit that. It's frightening and I often think that life would be a lot easier if I could give myself over to the belief of an all-powerful, all-knowing entity. But I believe in Jesika. I always have. And darn it, she was kind enough to return the favor. It didn't last nearly long enough, but that's a gift if I ever received one. So thank you my friend. I hope you are resting in peace.

Friday, August 14, 2009

In the News This Friday

I tossed around several ideas for posts today, but none of them felt quite right. Instead, since it appears to be a busy news day, I thought I would recap some of the stories we're all following through the weekend. Any thoughts and feedback are greatly encouraged.

1. Manson follower 'Squeaky' Fromme out of prison

I have to say, if she tried to escape in 1987, so she could "be closer to Manson," not sure that she's rehabilitated. But since she technically hurt no one and our prisons are woefully overcrowded (mostly with harmless drug offenders - another soapbox for another time), I suppose there wasn't much choice.

2. John Edwards Expected to Admit He Fathered Rielle Hunter's Baby, TV Station Reports

Possibly the most anticlimactic revelation to come about since the "shocking" discovery in the 1980s that cigarette companies always knew smoking was addictive and bad for your health. I feel so sorry for this baby.

3. Vick, Eagles agree to 2-year deal

The man served his time, a decently long prison sentence and deserves a shot at redemption. We have all done something immature, greedy and stupid, even if animal rights activists (and me) won't soon forget the poor dogs he hurt. Boop has made plenty of mistakes in her life though, and would hate to have had the door shut on her permanently, although there was more than one time that could have happened.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Town Hall Terror

Can we all agree in a nonpartisan way that this ghettoness is a black eye (another one) on our country and needs to stop immediately? I am all for vigorous public debate and dissent, no matter what my friend Timbo says. I am not so sure I love all parts of Obama's health care reform plan either, but the President has demonstrated a willingness to talk it out. Disrespectfully shouting each other down, intimidation - how in the world does this help us sort out the issue and implement change in a viable way?

I have trouble believing it, but it seems there are in fact those who desire status quo health care policy. I understand that a lot of people simply fear change, but there's just no arguing that health care as it is in America costs too much money and doesn't work the way it should for many of us. Even when one has "good" insurance, you just can't afford to get sick. Preventive care? Almost nonexistent.

My point however is not to state my allegiance to health care reform, though I am 100% behind it. I have been so disgusted and disappointed each day for the last week plus that I have turned on CNN to find reports of animal behavior at Town Hall meetings designed to educate and answer questions about the proposed plan.

It seems that fear has become a great instigator. I am afraid too, about many things, but I know well that being a little scared can help you make smart decisions, or it can leave one inert. When it comes to health care reform, we can't allow the latter, as we did 15 years ago. It's too important to our economic recovery, and our wellness as Americans. Stop the madness!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Sisters are Doin' It for Themselves

This photo was taken of sisters Becky Boop and Jen of All Trades last Saturday at Boop's awesome 31st birthday party. I want to thank everyone who made it out to Fat Cat to help me celebrate. For those that missed, it was a hot one (like I wanted it), but a good time was had by all. Jen saw fit to inform me that my "bad birthday bitch" hairdo (term coined by my stylist, Linda) made me look all the more like my icon and blog inspiration, Betty Boop. Nice.

But I am attempting to do more here than fish for compliments regarding the obvious pulchritude of my little sis and I. No sooner are we over the hump of Boop's birthday misanthropy, than we must welcome another joyous event. That is, of course, the 29th birthday of my fellow blogger in crime. Yes, Jen is such a wanna be poseur when it comes to her big sister that she had the audacity to try to steal my birthday. She came close, landing at August 11th. I will leave you to pity us for the joint birthday parties and joint presents that comprised much of our childhood. Jen and I fought like little boys - it got ugly.

Like many of us, Jen has had a rough year. Things haven't gone exactly as planned after Rosebud's surgery, and the fevers appear to continue - for now. Jen's immersion in her daughter's recovery has necessarily taken away her blogging time, but I am hopeful the drought will soon be over.

Jan and her family are going away tomorrow on a much needed two-day waterpark excursion. But she has an iPhone and rarely stops playing with it. Updates to this blog are sent to her attention immediately. So even if she is not technically online tomorrow, it would be really neat if anyone who checks in with this page, even semi-often, would send Jen a birthday shout out. I think she could use the extra love this year.

Happy Birthday Mama!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me?

Let's hope so, because there's nothing I can do to stop it now. At precisely 5:45 PM tomorrow evening, around the time when Boop is downing her last birthday drink, she will officially be 31 years of age.

Any last minute takers on joining me?

Fat Cat Bar
4840 N Broadway St
Chicago, IL 60640
Private Patio Reserved from 3-6 PM

My 30th year has been full of ups and downs, many times cruel but never dull. My birthday wish for 31? A little boredom. In my youth, I rather think I thrived on drama. The last twelvemonth has taught me to value peace and quiet.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Bill Clinton Makes a Return to Relevancy

Much is being made today of Bill Clinton's successful diplomatic exchange with naughty toddler nation North Korea for the safe return of captive American jounalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee. This fine article from John F. Harris and Mike Allen on Politico does a much better job of explaining what this bit of good press does for William Jefferson's legacy better than I ever could:

No President and no period in American history is ever perfect. However, I have always regard the years of the Clinton reign with a smile. Yes, he often had problems keeping his pants on, but as Hillary Clinton famously said during the course of the 2008 Democratic primaries, "What didn't you like about the 90s? The peace or the prosperity?" Toche Madame Secretary.

True story: when Boop graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign in the summer of 2000, with a BA in English Literature, famously useless, and an even more banal GPA, she had her pick of three different jobs upon her move to Chicago. All were corporate, carrying a very decent wage for a 22 year-old, and not one of these did Boop solicit herself. She just posted her scanty resume on, sat back and let people come to her. No folks, this is not a fairy tale or my own wishful thinking. Those were the days. Kids coming out of undergrad now are lucky to find part-time janitorial work.

But I digress: my admiration for his work from 1992-2000 aside, I grew completely incensed with Bill Clinton during the last race for the White House. Rather than functioing as the overall asset to the Democratic party that he should have been, Clinton reverted to the petulant child he is prone to being when he doesn't get his own way or enough attention. Hillary displayed far more grace and sportsmanship than her hubby when it came time for her to concede the nomination to Obama. Afterward, even while promising full cooperation, the former President more often than not behaved lukewarmly to then-candidate Obama, so much so that the eventual winner of the race gamely joked about it at last Fall's Alfred E. Smith dinner/roast.

I wished Bill Clinton would go away for awhile, and he finally did, as Obama assembled his new administration, giving Hillary the high profile cabinet post of Secretary of State. But now the Emperor is back and he's got new clothes on. Sure it's somewhat annoying that we continue to placate North Korea's demands for respect and deference when they have failed to play by the rules oh, pretty much ever. But no matter. Bill Clinton looks like a hero again - and my guess is he's going to be reluctant to give that up, or the media attention that comes with it.

Monday, August 3, 2009

6 Days to 31

From birth until 26 years of age, if anyone asked me what my favorite holiday was, I would have looked them straight in the eye and declared that it was my birthday and Halloween, in that order. I don't like family holidays, for a number of reasons. Halloween is a chance to dress up as a full grown adult and adopt a new identity for the day. What's not great about that? And then for those who might point out that August 8th, my birthday, is nowhere recorded as a national holiday, I counter that holidays are all about perspective.

In my early 20s, I would be especially happy if my birthday fell on a work day. That afforded me the opportunity to ride the train downtown to work in my tiara, enjoying all the looks and questions, proudly responding that yes, in fact, today IS my birthday. Queen for a day and all that, followed by see through excuses to get nothing done at the office: long lunch, working the room, accepting little gifts from co-workers who have been privy to my daily birthday countdown (usually begun 30 days before, but there were no hard and fast rules). " Oh a gift for me. How thoughtful. You shouldn't have! However did you remember my birthday?" Shameless, I know.

Cut to my 27th birthday, when I was staring down the barrel of a divorce, had just started pursuing my Master's degree, working part-time as an administrative assistant. I was broke, lonely and definitely at a crossroads. I took my birthday easy that year, not feeling too proud or invincible. Unfortunately, the closer I moved to 30, the more difficult I found it to recapture my former enthusiam for the day I was born.

This Saturday I will be 31. I planned myself a lovely party at a cool lounge called The Fat Cat on North Broadway (3-6 PM for anyone who wants to stop by). I am getting my hair and nails done, and working out extra hard with Rob this week in an effort to bolster my self-confidence. I am really giving it my all to, "fake it 'til I make it." I realize I am not old enough to be seriously concerned with the imminent breakdown of my body. But in a year when I lost one of my best friends, took a leap in my career, and have yet to find solid footing, and with my second marriage in somewhat of a disarray, it's getting harder to hold onto my resolve. Then there are the little reminders that even if I remain youngish and healthy, I have begun the slippery slope toward slowing down. Some examples:

1. Before I went to the gym last week, I had some nasty menstrual cramps, so I popped a couple Aleve. On the drive over to the gym, the OTC painkillers gave me an evil case of heartburn. I then had to pull over at 7-11 to swallow a couple Tums. Pathetic.

2. I get two-day hangovers now. I accept this may be a karma slap for the back half of the 90s.

3. I have applied for a number of media related internships this summer, and despite my insistence that my years of experience should not factor against me, I am as hungry as any of the kids, not one of these companies will give the "old girl" a shot.

4. As a matter of course, most new people I encounter ask me if I have children. When I say that I do not, the next usual question is when I will start trying (this is after they have been told my age). It seems that once you reach 30, and dare to have a husband, you and your womb are equally interesting.

I was watching a late night episode of E!'s "True Hollywood Stories" over the weekend. It was one of my favorites, the Selena episode. Yolanda Saldívar, Selena's friend turned assailant was 34 years old when she murdered the Tejano superstar. I was eating some cookies when I heard this, and nearly spit them out. 34! She looked WAY older than that! Here is a link to her mugshot:

This news both elated and frightened me. Obviously, only three years younger than 34, I am of the opinion that I am holding my own a lot better than Yolanda managed to, even before the aging effects of prison. On the other hand, does old age sneak up on you unawares like a thief in the night? On my 34th birthday, will I magically look like my mother? Scary stuff.

I have already gone on about this much longer than I meant to. I am not so self-absorbed I can't recognize the shallowness of being consumed by this line of thinking. But I can't help it.