Aug. 8, 2007

I know barely enough Spanish to order a plate of carne asada, and unlike Europe, Venezuela is not a country that makes allowances for American ignorance. Fortunately Ellen is fluent and makes enormous allowances for my ignorance, so we got by just fine. I'm not much of a talker anyhow.

At the end of the week I would return to Chicago while Ellen stayed behind. My return would entail a 12-hour overnight bus trip from the remote city of Mérida to Caracas, from where I would take the Metro to a second bus, which would in turn deliver me to the airport.

Ellen was concerned about my ability to find my way, but I was not. I'd already made the necessary legs at least once. Besides, all week it was I who had kept us from ever getting lost. All I needed to do was be able to buy my ticket in Caracas. "Uno para aeropuerto, por favore." We spent a few minutes rehearsing.

"What could possibly go wrong?" I boasted. "Nothing!"

Ellen trembled.

A surly teenager in a sparkly pink halter took my bus ticket in Mérida and told Ellen that I would be sitting in seat 15A. (Because we'd bought the ticket at an agency, this somehow meant I did not get a ticket receipt.) I kissed Ellen good-bye and boarded.

And found a gangling 10-year-old girl in 15A, a window seat. I looked at her. I looked at the seat number. I looked at her. Seat number. Her. Seat number. She giggled and bounced in the seat with a copy of what appeared to be the Venezuelan equivalent of Tiger Beat.

I tried to communicate that I owned that seat, but I wasn't sure how to say "15."

"Cinco, cinco, cinco, ah," I said.

"¡Oh!" she said. "¡Cinco!" And she pointed up the bus toward Row 5.

"No. ¿Cinco dieci? ¿Dieci cinco?" I may have been sputtering Italian here.

Two female relatives in the seat ahead of her turned around to see about the commotion. The seemed to be asking to see my ticket. "Non habla espanol," I said, and helplessly pointed out the bus to indicate where my ticket was.

I gave up. The bus was still fairly empty, so I settled in across the aisle. One of the women asked where I was going. "¿Caracas? ¿Valencia? ¿Caracas?" "¡Caracas!" She smiled and turned around.

Eventually someone came and wanted my seat, so I left the bus to find the girl in the pink halter.

"Excuse me," I said, "could you please tell me what seat I'm supposed to be in?"

Except I said it in Spanish. Clear, unequivocal Spanish.

"¿Dónde yo?"

She shot an angry, puzzled look. So I spoke louder. Maybe she was hard of hearing.

"¡Dónde yo! ¡Dónde yo!"

She wrote "15A" on her clipboard.

I pointed into the bus. "¡La niña! ¡La niña! ¡La niña!"

This somehow made her even angrier, probably because it meant she'd have to leave her station, board the bus and come sort it out.

Sure enough, the girl had been in the wrong seat. She moved to the aisle seat, 15B, freeing up 15A for me.

I sensed the girl had wanted the window seat and offered to swap. I pointed at my seat: "¿Preferado?" She declined, and she declined again when I offered some of my Cocosette candy bar as a peace offering.

A few minutes later the bus driver turned the lights off and the salsa music on. At 8:30 p.m. it was too dark to read and too loud to sleep ... and I obviously had no conversation partners.

This is not yet, by the way, the part of the story that answers the question of what could possibly go wrong.

At 5 a.m. the bus pulled into a small terminal. The driver stood at the head of the aisle and said something quick. We'd stopped for snacks and restrooms on the way to Mérida, so I figured that was what this was, or maybe we were dropping off passengers in Valencia. I pulled my hat down and tried to go back to sleep over the music, which had been playing all night.

That's when one of the women shook my shoulder. "¿Caracas?" She stabbed a finger toward the front of the bus.

And this! This is what could have possibly gone wrong: A transfer! I had no idea. Ellen had no idea. But thank God I'd established a rapport with this family, because they had an idea, and if it weren't for them I'd still be trying to make my way to Caracas.

The rest of the journey passed without incident. I had three hours to wander the city. I bought some cachapas for Nikki and stumbled upon a triathlon, then successfully made it to the airport, where I heard the most English I'd heard all week: Three hours of American tourists whining about how slow and long the lines were. Ignorance had been such bliss. ¡Ay carumba!

Photo taken: Aug. 4, 2007


May 23, 2007

Someone had some time on her hands.

By the next day she'd raided her own library to fill out the entire bookcase from red to purple.

Photo taken: May 20, 2007


April 7, 2007

Three recent moments:



For the second consecutive year I file for a tax refund, once again thanks to sizable capital losses. This is the reward for being a shoddy investor. If it weren't for losing money I'd save no money at all.



Ellen is taking the Blue Line to O'Hare when she realizes she has forgotten the pattern to the baby sweater she is knitting. With an international flight ahead of her, she calls me to lament.

I ask for the name of the book and find it on Amazon. The book has been scanned into Amazon's searchable database, so I am able to locate the pattern. It's blurry but legible, and I take to dictating over the phone.

I squint to read. I'm at work. The last thing I want is for co-workers to hear me giving knitting instructions over the phone. I cup my hand over the phone and furtively look over my shoulder so I can toggle to a spreadsheet should anyone important walk by. I feel like I'm talking to my bookie.

It's jibberish to me. In the beginning I am a kindergartner, stuttering my way through the mysterious code: "Kay one open-bracket kay one pee one close-bracket until end of row. Kay five moss st three parenthesis three colon five colon five parenthesis kay next ..."

But by the time we get to the sleeves -- "Are you sure you need me to read the sleeves? What about a nice sweater vest?" -- I am a pro, translating on the fly. "Now knit three rows. Work nine rows in moss stitch like you did on the back. Knit three rows. OK, now change to your 3mm needles and work 14 rows ...

And this is how I learn to knit.



Ellen and I finally go to the new Hot Doug's (motto: "There are no two finer words in the English language than 'encased meats,' my friend.") We go on what we think will be the last cold Saturday of the year, figuring it's our last chance to beat the summer crowds.

(Hot Doug's, celebrated for its imaginative sausages and its fries cooked in rendered duck fat, has become quite the sensation lately, thanks in part to publicity from owner Doug Sohn defying the city's ban on fois gras. Pilgrims come from all over the Chicago area. Mario Batali was spotted there a few weeks ago. It's the Chicago equivalent of New York's Magnolia Bakery, except unlike the 45-minute wait for a $2 cupcake, Hot Doug's is worth every minute and every penny.)

We are wrong on both counts. Not only is it not the last cold Saturday, but it wouldn't matter anyhow: At 2 in the afternoon the line stretches around the corner.

We wait outside for 30 minutes. Ellen knits. I read. We take turns waiting in the car. Then we get into a vestibule, where we thaw for five minutes. We move into a second vestibule, where we wait another five minutes. Finally we get into the actual restaurant and can study the vast menu on the wall. The "game of the week" is a combination of elk and venison.

We split four sausages and an order of duck-fat fries. It's all outstanding. One of our sausages is a plain Chicago-style hot dog for control purposes. It may be the finest hot dog I've ever had. At $1.50, it's a steal. (This is the real gift of Doug Sohn: He doesn't rush his customers, and he doesn't try to squeeze every last dime out of them, as lesser men would be tempted to do. He may be a poor capitalist but he is a great American.)

As we leave, the line is as long as it was when we'd arrived. In the first vestibule, I say in a whisper loud enough to be heard by all, "I can't believe he ran out of hot dogs!"

It may be the first time people have their coronaries before stuffing their faces with sausage.


Dec. 26, 2006

For several years I have been saving my pennies, emptying my pockets each night before bed. In doing so I have filled a pickle jar, a peanut jar and about 10 percent of a Carlos Rossi wine jug.

For several months Ellen has been asking me to get rid of those silly penny jars. She wanted me to redeem them at the Coinstar and then do something fun with the proceeds.

I was reluctant. I harbored this fantasy that one day my nephew would visit. What if it rained and we couldn't go to the zoo or the park or the bar? We could stay home, count pennies and learn about the rewards of thrift! Because surely nephews love counting pennies, almost as much as uncles love nephews who do chores.

Finally I relented, but stealthily and without Ellen's knowledge.

As I walked to the grocery store, my messenger bag groaned from the weight of the jars. The Coinstar there was defective and counted only one of every five pennies, of which I had thousands. Every few minutes I had to take handfuls of rejects and reload them into the intake hopper. The transaction took about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, the machine shook like an epileptic R2 unit, hemorrhaging pennies into the aisle.

The clatter reverberated through the Jewel. I scrambled to nab coins that had rolled away. I heard clerks and shoppers raising their voices to be heard above the disturbance, and I felt their accusing stares: "Who's that asshole with the pennies?"

This asshole with the pennies ended up $50 to the good. I took it in the form of Amazon credit, which enabled me to afford Ellen's Christmas present: an iPod. I miss my penny jars, and if my nephew ever visits on a rainy day we will have to play poker or fold laundry instead of any penny-related merriment, but it was worth it to see her face light up Monday as she tore through the newspaper in which I had wrapped my gift.

Then it was my turn to open her gift, and my greatest fears were realized: She had sold her entire CD collection -- in order to buy me a coin-sorting machine!

Ho ho! That last part is not true, but a day later my witty reimagining of the "Gift of the Magi" still makes me laugh. (O. Henry? Oh, brother!)

In truth, Ellen and her family spent the weekend burying an undeserving me with chocolates, casseroles and various wrapped delights. The highlight was a scarf made with yarn Ellen and I had selected this August at a rural Arizona truck stop/trading post/yarn emporium, a magic scarf that somehow keeps me warm even when it does not slither around my neck.

Homemade gifts are always the best, of course. I had hoped to make her an MP3 player out of twigs, plastic bottles and other found objects, but I could not find enough lithium ions for the battery and had to abandon the project just as I'd finished soldering the circuit board.

Photo taken: Dec. 23, 2006


Aug. 18, 2006

Three recent moments:



"I think I'll become a pro cyclist. Then I can retire at 33. Like Jesus."

"Careful. He had a better 401(k) plan. Jesus saved."



We pull up into an L.A. strip mall for some Iranian ice cream at Mashti Malone's. In the parking lot there's a large dog sitting on top of a car, and he's created a commotion.

Except it's not a dog: It's a bearcat, a furry beast with a tail as long as its body. It prowls and snarls atop the car, occassionally taking swipes at curious onlookers. The owner holds it by its tail and reassures: "He's only playing."

I'm standing next to a prototypical L.A. character: The aging surfer, shirtless with kinky blond hair down to his shoulder.

"That's a bearcat?" Ellen asks.


"What's it doing here?"

"What are any of us doing here, man?"



I'm in line at the bike valet after watching "American Graffiti" in Grant Park. Two hipster cyclists are passing out fliers to the weekend's bicycle film festival. The guy behind me accepts one from the lady hipster.

"So what do you think about Floyd?" he asks.


"Floyd Landis."

"Sorry. I don't know that much about the filmmakers."


April 8, 2006

On three, smile.

Something you may not know about my father is that he was an accomplished ice fisherman back in Minnesota. His secret was to use a baseball bat and a can of peas. What he'd do was, he'd cut a hole in the ice, line up the peas around the edge, and then when a fish came up to take a pea -- BAM! -- he'd hit it in the head with the baseball bat.

OK, so maybe you've heard that one. If you knew him, you probably did. If you shared an elevator or a grocery line with him, you probably did.

He loved to make people laugh, or at least to laugh himself in the attempt. What his humor may have lacked in sophistication, it made up for in repetition and gusto.

Has favorite gag was to ask a woman, whether he knew her or not, why she was wearing only one earring. As she reached to her ears in horror, he'd start giggling like a child.

The rest of us would cringe. It led to the Dad tax. Whenever we left a restaurant, I would run back in and leave a few extra bucks for the waitress, my way of saying, "Sorry he made you look." And so, to all the women in the room, I say, “Sorry he made you look.”

He loved laughter, and he loved newspapers. The elbows on his bathrobes were soiled black with ink stains from leaning on the kitchen table. Each morning he would read three newspapers cover to cover. Then he would go online and read a dozen more, starting with his hometown Minneapolis Star-Tribune. When we talked on the phone he would tell me about the Chicago weather, which he'd just gotten from the Tribune Web site. "Yeah, Dad, I know. I'm here."

Our mother says she knew his health was bad when, as of a few weeks ago, he lacked the strength to go outside for the morning papers.

He loved laughter. He loved newspapers. And he loved his students.

I fondly remember when The Lumberjack editors would come to our house each semester for dinner. Dad would put on some Woody Herman -- the later, funkier stuff -- especially the arrangement of "Fanfare for the Common Man." I never knew him as a music fan, but I figured this selection, a mixture of big-band jazz and contemporary funk, was his way to bridge the generations.

I once read that at the end of his career, Woody Herman couldn't afford the best musicians for his Thundering Herd, so he would hire college students. Instead of paying them much, he would be generous in allowing them to solo. I think of Dad's hands-off approach to teaching in the same way. He let his students solo. Sometimes they'd be flat, but when they were “on” under his direction, boy could they thunder.

I never heard him called Professor Seemann. He was always Howard or Howie. When I went off to journalism school myself, it was strange to not be on a first-name basis with any of my professors. There wasn't a single one with whom I could casually belch and fart. I transferred as soon as I could.

An aside: About that flatulence. He was full of it, was he not? I have no qualms about saying this because as the journalists here know, you cannot libel the dead. And, as you know, truth is a defense against libel.

Our house was full of, he would claim, barking spiders. Talk about a thundering herd! It drove us nuts. He never seemed to acknowledge our upturned noses. But if you yourself let one rip, he would smirk and laugh, as if to say, "Good one, my boy."

This week I went through his address book to find his former students. It was a roll call of the country's best newspapers. San Francisco Chronicle. L.A. Times. Honolulu Advertiser. The Chicago Tribune. He taught us everything he knew, and we still don't know anything, but we turned out OK, and he was so proud.

He loved his Macintosh. This week Apple announced that Macs would be able to run the Windows operating system. I'm somewhat relieved Dad never had to see that.

He was a pioneer in introducing the Macintosh into the newsroom. The Lumberjack was one of the first five college newspapers to do layout on a Mac, years before it became the industry standard. Later he was quick to embrace the Internet and digital photography. His foresight jumpstarted hundreds of successful careers, including my own.

He was his students' toughest critic, but also their biggest fan. He never complained about grading, no matter how high the stack of papers, no matter how much red ink was spilled. He attacked mistakes like a pigeon attacking a pile of seed. He was determined to show them that if a job was worth doing, it was worth doing right.

Wednesday afternoons were spent poring over that day’s Lumberjack. Between handfuls of popcorn he would scribble and circle, turning the newspaper into something that truly was black, white and red all over. Afterward, he would write his homilies -- "All the views fit to print" -- and fix himself a martini before dinner.

We will remember him as an apostrophe cop. A slayer of the comma splice. A vigilant defender of the dash. A brave soldier in the war for subject-verb agreement.

I suspect there are opportunists in the audience who think that now, finally, they can start using the plural "they" when it should be the singular "it" just because it sounds better that way. You do so at your own peril. Professor Seemann -- Howard, Howie -- will still be hovering over your shoulders, hoping you get it right, and admiring you when you do.


Photo taken: April 8, 2006


March 23, 2006

On city streets, trends in scruff have reached new levels of unruliness, a backlash, some beard enthusiasts say, against the heightened grooming expectations that were unleashed with the rise of metrosexuality as a cultural trend. Men both straight and gay, it appears, want to feel rough and manly ... The return of the wild beard carries a certain erotic charge that has been missing from beards since the Furry Freak look of the 1970's.

New York Times, March 23, 2006


Photo taken: March 19, 2006


Feb. 9, 2006

Two recent moments:



At any given time there are as many as five pairs of shoes under my desk, various permutations and multiples of cycling shoes, running shoes, dress shoes, casual shoes. I'm running out of floor space. But just as I complain about having too many shoes, I think of the people who have too many feet.



The best part about eating a slinger at Diner Grill comes years later when you tell people about the ordeal. Their eyes get big right about when you get to the fried eggs, the eggs that are stacked on top of the slices of cheese on top of the hamburger patties on top of grilled onions on top of the hash browns. You haven't even gotten to the chili, shredded cheese or side of toast.


Jan. 30, 2006

Two recent moments:



I've always promised myself I wouldn't get too anal about my training. Ride hard, ride long, rest up, repeat. Anything beyond that -- power meters, heart-rate monitors, anaerobic threshold measurements -- would take the mystique out of cycling, and it's mystique that makes cycling so glorious.

But for every moment of decisiveness, there is a moment of weakness, and sometimes they are one and the same. It's in such a moment that I buy a heart-rate monitor. Like most impulse purchases, I don't shop for a good price. I don't even mind when the only model the shop has comes with a women's watch unit. (I tell time like a girl!)

Nontheless, it immediately pays dividends. The literature says my heart should beat 135 and 150 times a minute, which I discover takes more effort than I usually exert. Even when I'm watching "Leaving Las Vegas" on the trainer and Elisabeth Shue is having violent sex with her Latvian pimp, I hover around 130. This tells me I need to work even harder, or watch even steamier movies. (Or maybe I need a new seat after all.)

On my first team ride using the monitor there is a junior with us, so the ride is more mellow than usual. My heart rate sits around 100 most of the morning, getting above 120 only when I'm pulling or climbing.

After the ride a half-dozen of us mill about in Wicker Park and discuss lunch plans. We decide to go to Sultan's Market. Five minutes after I've stopped riding I look down at my monitor: 177. That's as high as it's been, and a precious 13 beats from my supposed maximum.

Who knew I could be this excited for falafel?

Note to self: Don't think about chickpeas during a race, or surely my heart will exceed its maximum and cleave in two.



I bump into a neighbor on the back stairs. "I was wondering," she says, "if I could bring my chicken to your place later on."

I give a queer look. "Sure, OK," I say, "but I had no idea you had a pet chicken."

Oh, right. The party.

She's made teriyaki chicken for our building's progressive dinner party, for which I have agreed to host the entree stage. I reminded the organizer that I have bachelor accommodations with bachelor furniture and bachelor housekeeping, including a bachelor toilet that sometimes doesn't bachelor flush unless you give the handle the ol' bachelor jiggle and hold, but she was unswayed.


Jan. 17, 2006

Chicago pet store or strip club -- can you tell?

  1. Collar and Leash
  2. Doggpound
  3. Puppy Lovers
  4. Pete's Petland
  5. Birds and Beasts
  6. Ruff N' Stuff
  7. Doggy Style
  8. Off the Leash
  9. Ruff Haus
  10. Furry Beastro
  11. Cat Calls
  12. Lucky Horseshoe
  13. Heavy Petting
  14. Tails in the City
  15. Commercial Leather Products
  16. Chicago Eagle
  17. Bow Wow Lounge

Pet stores: 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 14, 15, 17
Strip clubs: 2, 12, 16
Neither, as of this writing: 7, 13


Jan. 13, 2006

Well, I guess ... the contest. They're the last ... to be without ... I've thrown in the ... and joined ... What? ... are you? Maybe it's ... now?

Here, let me move under the sink. I get better reception there.


Photo taken: Jan. 12, 2006


Nov. 18, 2005

A recent moment:



"I was thinking about what color my umbrella is ..."


"... and I realized, 'Hey, where did my umbrella go?'"

"Don't you mean parachute? 'What Color is Your Parachute?'?"

"I'm supposed to have a parachute? I'm worse off than I thought."


Oct. 27, 2005

At the Jackson Park cyclocross race. These two Killjoy guys owned the single-speed race, during which I got a chuckle out of the roadie spectator who heckled: "Derailleurs! On sale at Performance!"

Photo taken: Oct. 23, 2005


Oct. 6, 2005

Serious Riders, Your Bicycle Seat May Affect Your Love Life

Studies add to earlier evidence that traditional bicycle saddles, the kind with a narrow rear and pointy nose, play a role in sexual impotence.

The studies, by researchers at Boston University and in Italy, found that the more a person rides, the greater the risk of impotence or loss of libido. ...

"A consumer's first line of defense, for their enthusiasm as well as sexual prowess," said Marc Sani, publisher of Bicycle Retailer and Industry News, "is to go to a bicycle retailer and get fitted properly on the bike."

Researchers have estimated that 5 percent of men who ride bikes intensively have developed severe to moderate erectile dysfunction as a result. But some experts believe that the numbers may be much higher because many men are too embarrassed to talk about it or fail to associate cycling with their problems in the bedroom.

New York Times, Oct. 4, 2005

Why is everyone looking at me funny?

The long and the short of it is, I've always associated cycling with my problems in the bedroom. They just tend more toward problems of opportunity than to problems of motive.


Sept. 13, 2005

Four recent moments:



"... but then working for Marvel would mean living in New York City."


"Did you just say 'Gotham'?"


"Gotham is DC."

"Oh. Of course."



A fat woman in flowing, fat-woman clothes gets off the Clark bus at Bryn Mawr. She's shaped like a pear -- an overripe pear that's been dropped once or twice. From behind thick, ugly glasses she squints at the noon sun. Teeth are missing. On her left arm is a constellation of sores, but also a large homemade tattoo: "LOVE."



I gather that one sign you have a gambling problem is when your poker playing makes you late for other, more important responsibilities. Is it a problem, then, when your poker playing makes you late for other, more important poker games?



"As soon as I could once again remember the lyrics to 'El Paso,' that's when I knew I was sober enough to get out of bed."


Aug. 18, 2005

Three recent moments:



I finish fifth in a practice race down in Matteson. Someone mentions that the guy who finished second has a titanium hip.

"Whattsamatta," I ask, "he couldn't afford carbon?"



I'm at the Men's Wearhouse to buy a weddings-and-funerals suit, something to wear, knock on wood, no more than once or twice a year.

Taking a cue from my strategy for picking a wine, I take about three minutes to pick one from the second-to-cheapest rack. Just as I cannot tell the difference between a $10 bottle and a $20 bottle of wine, I cannot tell the difference between a $200 suit and a $800 suit. I'd get the cheapest, but I don't want to look like some sort of tightwad.

While one salesman helps me, another finds an excuse to walk by and casually says, "Yeah, this is a nice suit." When the tailor measures me, he says the same thing, in the same way, twice. Each time it sounds very sincere but also practiced, like George Zimmer has them say it a hundred times a day because he knows how much the customer likes to be complimented for his taste. I feel like I should tell them to stand down: "Guys, it's OK. I know it's an ugly suit. I'm cool with that."



We're waiting for "Broken Flowers" in Old Town. An ad for the National Guard comes on screen. A handful of young, beautiful teenagers with young, beautiful bodies frolic in what is either a volleyball court or a desert wasteland. They pump their fists. "Freedom rocks!" a red and blue logo proclaims.

We are bewildered. I wonder whether there's been a mix-up at the ad distributor. Perhaps somebody in red-state America is waiting for "Stealth" to start, seeing ads for French wine and hummus and also saying, "What the fuck?"


Aug. 11, 2005

It usually takes about 14 months for me to make a good impression. Right on schedule, then, a great stride was made last week with my nephew, 14 months after I first met him: At the beginning of the trip he would cry as soon as I entered the room. By the end of the trip he'd cry when I left it. (It helped that I would sometimes leave the room carrying his favorite toys. It's a dirty trick to make an uncle feel wanted, but I love him so; all is fair and all that.)

On the trip's last night I stood around the campfire after my brother's ranger talk. He was chatting with visitors and mentioned he was from Wisconsin. Two young women next to me started tittering.

Do you think it's him? He said he's from Wisconsin. It's gotta be. Let's ask him. Yeah, ask him. No, you ask him. No, you ask him.

Hank looked their way and they were silent for a beat, then burst together: "Are you Malcolm's dad!?! He's the GREATEST!"

They'd apparently waited for a shuttle bus with Malcolm and his mother and become big fans.

They were sort of cute, too, but I resisted the urge to point out that I was Malcolm's uncle and, unlike his father, single. Still, it reminded of what great company Malcolm could be around Chicago. Prop him up on the bar and so long as he keeps his fingers out of my Schlitz I'm set.

It wouldn't even have to stop once he's too big to carry. I'm imagining a scene in 20 years when I am 50 and he is 21 and he visits his doddering, still-single uncle in the city. We'll ride our hoverbikes through the park. "This is my nephew," I'll say to the fawning women, "with whom I have common DNA. He pooped today!"

Or maybe I'll just buy a puppy.

Photo taken: Aug. 4, 2005


July 28, 2005

My mother possesses a pure heart, a heart incapable of entendre or suggestive language. How else could she e-mail this sentence regarding my brother and his wife:

S&M are their days off.


July 1, 2005

Four recent moments:



A black SUV is parked in the bike lane on Damen. Three men stand on the sidewalk outside new condo construction. As I pass I yell my usual epithet: "I don't park in your lane."

"OK, Sparky," yells the man holding the granite counter samples.

I turn back, only because his response was so smug. (Is there anything less threatening than yuppie smugness?) I ask how hard it would be to park somewhere else. I point out that parking there is illegal and forces me into the middle of traffic.

"C'mon," says a young woman I hadn't seen in the driver's seat. "Can't you just go around for a second?"

Things I could say in response.

  1. "A second is all it takes for me to get killed."

  2. "You're putting me in danger for your own convenience. But that's what SUVs are all about, isn't it?"

  3. "Hey, I didn't paint these lines, but they're there for a reason, and it's not to be a spot for your fat, lazy ass."

  4. "Greedy motherfuckers!"

But because I am slow and dim, I say this instead: "    ."

And go on my way.



A teammate and I are riding through the far-northwest suburbs. We turn onto a country road and are met by a surprising peloton: 20 Holstein cows. They're herded by a stout elderly woman with white, curly hair and a floral-print shirt. She carries a cane in her left hand and a turqouise rope in her right. "Come on," she croaks with each crack of the whip. "Get on up there!" We pace behind for a few blocks at 1 mph, careful to weave through the trail of manure.



It's 11 p.m. It's strange to see a handyman laying out his tools outside a Bryn Mawr apartment building this late. A few steps later I see why he's there: Inside a brightly lit garden unit an anxious woman cradles her cat while a police officer shines his flash light at a broken window and a pile of glass shards.



"Who are you seeing at Ravinia tonight?"

"Mahler's 'Resurrection.'"

"Never heard of them."


June 5, 2005

Photo taken: June 4, 2005


June 2, 2005

Following the Monona, Wis., Memorial Day parade.

Photo taken: May 30, 2005


May 16, 2005

Three recent moments:



We're discussing a friend who a few years back got the Kansas state motto -- "Ad astra per aspera" -- tattooed "right above her butt crack." I point out that it's a good thing she's from Kansas and not Illinois or else she'd have "Land of Lincoln."

But then someone from New Mexico points out that "Land of Enchantment" wouldn't be so bad.

(It turns out that Illinois' and New Mexico's mottos are in fact "State sovereignty, national union" and "Crescit eundo," respectively, the latter of which would be entirely inappropriate.)



Bob brings two friends to poker. On the first hand one of them loses 20 percent of her chip stack to me, and I feel terrible: Here Bob ropes these nice people into filling out our table and has failed to tell them how good we are. This isn't nickel ante at summer camp. Plus, she's a librarian, so I suspect $20 is an entire day's wage.

She spends much of the night sighing silently and furrowing her brow. Meanwhile, I play uncharacteristically loose and am the first to run out of chips. Toby exits soon after, and then Bob and Sandy go out on the same hand ("You stayed in and you didn't even have the flush!?"). It's down to her and Jason, and after a dozen hands that go nowhere she finally wins it all with a medium pair.

I still feel terrible, but obviously for different reasons. Maybe this is why we never let women play with us.



I'm watching the Giro d'Italia on a live feed of Italian television. I don't remember any of the Italian I learned in college, and we never got to the chapter on cycling terms anyhow, so the announcers are but white noise. Yet I'm transfixed. I feel like I'm back at the Uffizi and staring at one of its masterpieces: Even though I have only a slight idea of what's going on and the nuances and characters are well beyond my ken, the canvas is beautiful and humbling.


May 11, 2005

I've seen plenty of improv in Chicago, but this weekend I went to my first Second City show.

The sketches were borne of improv but came to the stage scripted and rehearsed. As a result the comedy was polished, smart and very, very funny. And the players clearly understood that the most impor-TIMING!

An unadvertised aftershow featured Second City alumnus Jim Belushi. (Speaking of funnier, more gifted older brothers, Happy birthday, Hank.)

Most of the crowd was from out of town -- the Ed Debevics caps and tank tops gave them away -- and they ate him up. A celebrity! A TV star at Second City! For them it was like going to Wrigley Field and catching a home run, a bonus thrill that all the folks back home will be doomed to hear about. They didn't seem to mind that he was unfunny, flat and possibly a little drunk.

I found the rest of the cast to be much funnier and sharper, so it was strange to see them fawn over him, too. They were the All-Star pitcher and he was the washed-up slugger, and they were letting the ball run through their legs in order to make him feel better.

The final bit was the common improv game of freeze. In it, two players act out a scene. At any time someone on the sideline can call "Freeze!" and then tap a player, assume their position and take the scene in a new direction. Once Belushi got on stage, each cast member in quick succession tapped whichever player was opposite him, all for the sake of briefly sharing the stage with The Celebrity. Meanwhile, he was stuck there like a mannequin -- an unfunny, flat, possibly drunk mannequin.

For the record, if I were to guess who will next make the jump from stage to screen, my money would be on Antoine McKay. I just hope that when it's his turn to return to the stage as The Celebrity Alumnus he acquits himself better. It will help that he has a fantastic sense o-TIMING!


May 10, 2005

Three recent moments:



I'm at a seedy bar with a beer show-off. He's the type who takes two whiffs of a Belgian ale and tells you the cassock size of the Trappist monk who brewed it.

The selection is limited and difficult to make out, so he orders what looks like the most exotic bottle in the refrigerator. It appears German. The bartender, one of three curvy Russian blondes behind the bar, pops the cap, puts the bottle on the counter and spins it to reveal the three most horrifying words my friend has ever read: "Bucklers non-alcoholic beer."

I spring for a Pabst so he can drown his sorrows properly.



I attempt a 27-mile run, per the online advice of running coach Jeff Galloway. At the turnaround I start Mahler's Symphony No. 2, "Resurrection," but I have mistimed it and the resurrection comes too late. By 20.5 miles I have bonked and am worrying about pain in my knee, so I abandon the run and walk to the Clark and Division El stop.

At the station a 1-year-old girl sits in a stroller nearby. I know she's 1 because an elderly polish woman is gushing over the young mother and asking about her child's age, name and siblings (1; Amber; a brother, he's 4).

I hang my tongue in defeat, and the girl responds in kind.



I'm still getting used to my shaved legs. Their smoothness often startles me in the morning: "Oh! Who do we have here?" (Let's just say it's a question that doesn't get asked much around these parts.) I'm sucking on toes and well on my way to third base before I realize it's just me.


March 15, 2005

Separated at birth?

I worry about his lung capacity, however, and what it means for his trumpet career. He didn't cry or wail once over the weekend. Instead he expresses distress with series of hoarse bleats. Sounds like a ton-ton from "Empire Strikes Back."

Photo taken: March 12, 2005


Feb. 10, 2005

Personally I think that ass-related things should never be a surprise, but rather carefully planned for, researched, and outlined using PowerPoint and an Excel spreadsheet, but your mileage may vary.

"Mimi Smartypants," Feb. 8, 2005

This marital advice springs to mind when I open this fortune cookie ...

It may be well to consult others before taking unusual action.

... and, because deep down I am still 14, I append it with the usual "in bed."


Jan. 15, 2005

I've been reading about the rubber bandwagon. Bands for cancer, bands for tsunami relief, bands for faith. Even the White Sox are selling black rubber bracelets for $2. (Proceeds go to charity, not to finance middle relief, unless acquiring Luis Vizcaino somehow qualifies as charity, which it might.)

I like to think I don't need a yellow rubber band to remind myself to "live strong." I don't need a pink band to remember we're still fighting breast cancer. I could, however, use colored bands to remind me about other things. Sort of a wearable to-do list. 1. Live strong. 2. Call Mom. 3. Do laundry.

I'm imagining waking up on April 15 and finding green and yellow bands around my wrist. "Green band ... green band ... Fuck! Taxes! And fuck! Live strong!"