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.