Wednesday, February 28, 2007

And This Invalidates the Scientifc Data How?

The Tennessee Center for Policy Research, a conservative think tank, has called Al Gore a hypocrite for having high electrical consumption in his Nashville, Tennessee mansion.

The electrical bills in his home run about $1,200 a month. Granted, that's approximately 15 times my average monthly electric bill. But a few points:

  1. The Gores, like many people living in Tennessee, including my parents, probably heat their home with electricity-- it's cheap (see #4). This inflates the electrical consumption

  2. The Gores, as the article points out, have a home four times the average home.

  3. The Gores live a "carbon neutral" life-- last year they used 191,000 kwh of electricity, and purchased slightly more than that in blocks of "green shares."

  4. Tennessee gets the bulk of its electrical power from hydropower generated by the dams of the Tennessee Valley Authority-- a zero emission generator of electricity.

But most importantly:

5. All that aside, how the fuck does this invalidate volumes and volumes of scientific evidence pointing toward carbon emissions causing global warming?

I believe that we call this game "Kill the messenger."

Monday, February 26, 2007

Some Like It Hot

One of the things that various people in my life have commented on over the years is the plethora of hot sauces I keep in my home.

I will not deny this fact. Here's a shot of the sauces that are within easy reach. There's another 10-12 in my pantry. Siriachi, garlic chili paste, good old Tabasco, even Jewel brand hot sauce-- each one has a wonderful and unique flavor to me. It's hard to explain to someone who just feels heat, and can't enjoy the taste. There's a good reason for this. I read in an article a few years back that the number of taste buds on a human tongues varies wildly. If there were an average, there are people with twice the average number of taste buds and those with half. Ironically, those with half have trouble tasting things-- because they have so few taste buds, everything tastes bland. What is merely unbearably spicy to others is wonderful and exquisitely varied to people with a low amount of taste buds.

I'm apparently in that group, because I cannot bear to eat most meals without hot sauce. I put hot sauce on my breakfast nearly every day. At work, I have 5 or 6 hot sauces in a filing cabinet drawer for my lunches. I've been known to put two or more hot sauces on my meals. It's a common occurence for me to put hot sauces on all three meals in a day.

What makes peppers hot is a chemical called capsaicin. It is, ironically, colorless and odorless. Scientists think that plants evolved it as a deterrent to herbivores eating their seeds. Capsaicin is non water soluble; if you bite into something really spicy, water only spreads the capsaicin around your mouth and makes it worse. The chemical is fat soluble, so eating something oily or fatty can help absorb it.

Spicyness in peppers is measured on the Scoville scale. The Scotch Bonnet Pepper, pictured at the top of this post, is indigenous to the Carribean and was thought for years to be the hottest pepper on the planet. A few years ago, it was discovered that an Indian pepper, the Naga Jolokia, to the right, was found to be the hottest.

For me, though, that's a moot point. It's not just about the heat-- it's about the flavor.

Some years back, I was working at a very popular Chicago Barbecue joint, the N.N. Smokehouse. The owner managed to buy up the complete hot sauce stock of a defunct restaurant that had specialized in spicy. It was a hot sauce afficionado's heaven. We had probably close to 100 different hot sauces. I tried every damned one of them. They varied in heat, texture and flavor. Some were smoky-- chipotle sauces, made of grilled jalepeno peppers-- and were made with every kind of pepper, mixed with all kinds of things. One I remember, and could not find again, had yellow mustard and serrano peppers. After trying them all, I definitely had my favorites.

A few weeks ago, I dropped my stepdaughter off at my wife's best friend Palette's house. Palette and I had a chance to have a cup of coffee and catch up, and we discovered we shared a fondness for hot sauces. What's more, we discovered that our favorite was Marie Sharp's, a hot sauce that is made of Scotch Bonnet peppers, lime juice, carrots, garlic, vinegar and salt. It's a superb blend of heat and flavor, and damned hard to find. It was the sauce that was my favorite, after trying all the sauces at the Smokehouse. And it's expensive and damned hard to find.

Tonight on the way home from work, I decided to stock up on groceries. I planned to get down to Argyle Street, an area in Chicago's rough Uptown neighborhood that's become a place that Southeast Asian immigrants have settled in. There are, consequently, stores that sell Asian products. I decided, though, to swing by my big Mexican grocery store for produce and the inexpensive chicken leg quarters I use in cooking. I make it a habit to stroll down the aisle with the hot sauces and see if there are any new sauces I want to try. And there it was; they had the big (10 ounce) bottles of Marie Sharp's. Not only that, they were only $1.99 a bottle. I grabbed a bottle, and went to finish my shopping, and thought better of it-- I went and grabbed a bottle for Palette.

I was tired and thought about skipping Argyle Street, but realized I was really hankering for Chili Black Bean hot sauce, which I was out of. I ran over to Argyle Street and stocked up on the Chili Black Bean sauce, plus got myself a big jar of kimchee.

I mentioned recently that I'm finding out these days that everything that I love is turning out to be good for me. This includes green and black tea, coffee, red wine, capsaicin-loaded hot sauces, ketchup, mustard and dark chocolate. As I sat down to do this post, I pulled up Yahoo to check my email. I was glad I made my run to Argyle Street after I read one of the news articles on their portal page. It told me that I can add my Chili Black Bean sauce to that list. According to the article, black soybeans, the beans in my sauce, "may be a wonder food of sorts, helping to prevent obesity, lower cholesterol levels and possibly even reduce risks for diabetes."

Still laughing at all my hot sauces? Ha!

My Weird Little Oscar Story

I've commented on the weird little coincidences in my life before. When I hung out with other bloggers Friday night, we discovered that we all had some little connection with one another. This kind of thing happens all the time in my life.

When I was a senior in high school, in 1979, at Lyons Township, in Lagrange, Illinois, I had a teacher named Scott Siegel. He was a pretty cool guy. He was only a few years older than us, had a white man 'fro and wore funny ties-- they'd have Donald Duck and other cartoon characters on them. We always wondered why. The class was Consumer Education, and the format was very casual. There was a lot of discussion. One day, we all did stand up comedy. Siegel was very open about his personal life. He was, like me at the time, a devoted runner. He talked one day about a conflict he was having in his marriage-- that he wanted kids and his wife didn't.

Flash forward 20 years. I had just married wife #2, who was a first grade teacher in Evanston, Illinois. One day she was talking about the fact that she had one of a set of twins that were in her school in her class that year, and that their father owned the company that made the Oscar statutes. She mentioned that his name was Scott Siegel. I asked how old he was, and she said mid-forties, and wondered why. I dragged out my high school yearbook and showed her a picture. Sure enough, it was him.

A few weeks later, I went to a recital at her school. Scott was there and I went over and chatted with him. His father, it turns out, owned the company that made the Oscars-- and other statues-- and Scott inherited control of it when his father passed away.

A couple of months after that, there was a social function for the school in a tavern on Southport Avenue in Chicago and I had a chance to have a drink and chat with him. I reminded him about what he'd said about his wife not wanting kids. It turned out that the conflict was fatal to the marriage. He divorced, married wife #2 and had kids with her. I also asked about the cartoon neckties. He said that his class fell within the Business Department at my high school, and that the department chairman forced him to wear a tie. To tweak him, he got his wife to make ties out of material with cartoon characters. Not surprisingly, Scott did not get favorable reviews and was "RIF'ed" (Reduction in Force-- teacher euphemism for "laid off") a couple of years later. I guess I wouldn't give a shit about my job either if I knew I was going to inherit the company that makes the Oscar.

Although he was really only a few years older than me, it was still strange having a drink with and talking as a peer with an old high school teacher. It was especially strange that our kids were only a couple of years apart in age.

There was one little perk for my now-ex-wife to having Scott as a parent of her student: his company also made the Golden Apple awards, given for teaching excellence. Scott's son gave her a Golden Apple statue. Though it wasn't official, she richly deserved it.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

"We're Puttin' On the Foil, Eh?"

When I was a very young guy, in the mid and late sixties, my father and I loved watching hockey together. This was the Golden Age of the Chicago Blackhawks-- Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Tony Esposito. This was back in the days when you could watch a hockey game on regular television. Blogger Kristi was recently lamenting the fact that unlike in Canada, hockey is pretty much available only to those with cable these days in the United States.

The first game I actually got to go to was when I was eighteen, when I was still living at home and going to college, early 1980. The game has become legend in my family. Our next door neighbor had given us the tickets, and they were good ones-- maybe 10 or 12 rows back from the ice. This was in the old Chicago Stadium. At some point during the game, someone hit a really good slapshot. I watched as it left the ice and headed toward the glass right in front of me. It appeared to me that it was going to hit near the top of the glass. It hit the top of the glass, kept going, went in between two people seated a couple rows ahead of me. I could see that it wasn't headed directly for me, so I did nothing. It hit the top of the seat in front of me, bounced up and hit me square in the mouth. I suddenly thought to go for the puck, but by then it had bounced a couple of rows in front of me. A couple of people sitting near me argued with the guy who got it that I should get it, since it had hit me in the teeth, to no avail. For my part, I was just glad my teeth, which had just finished four years of orthodontic work, were okay. Later that year, they'd take a direct hit from a cinderblock and emerge unscathed. I'm apparently blessed with good dental health.

My son has inherited my love of hockey. He plays street hockey with his best friend Brad at my ex's house, and usually plays floor hockey at a Chicago Park District fieldhouse in the winter. For a time, he even planned on hockey as a career until attending a Chicago Wolves game last year with my neighbor.

At the game last year, hockey legend Bobby Hull came out and skated around for a promotional appearance. I think I was more excited about it than my son was; Hull was long gone to Winnepeg before I ever actually got to go see the Hawks play.

Tonight, my wife is at a function for my stepdaughter's school and then out celebrating one of her best friends' birthday. I was supposed to stay in with my kids, but my neighbor came downstairs this afternoon and invited my kids to the Chicago Wolves game tonight. Of course they jumped at the chance; my stepdaughter was particularly excited, having never been to a hockey game.

My neighbors/landlords are serious fans-- they have season tickets to the Wolves. They take their fandom seriously, wearing their jerseys and bringing all their good luck charms. They also lent my kids jerseys to get them dressed up for the game:

My son got the honor of wearing the Ogilthorpe jersey:

I'm betting that Kristi and any other serious hockey fan recognizes this from the greatest hockey movie ever made, Slapshot.

My neighbors also sometimes wear their Hanson Brothers jersey to the games.

As always happens to me, weird coincidences. I plugged my ipod into the stereo to sit down and write this post, and the first song that came up on the shuffle was Maxine Nightingale's song "Right Back Where We Started From," the theme song to "Slapshot."

On this cold, snowy February night in Chicago, I'm dreaming of a June night when I'll drag my laptop out on the back porch, and my neighbors and I will break out "Slapshot" and sit out there sipping drinks and watching the movie. In the meantime, here's the Hanson Brothers with a little "old-time hockey-- like Eddie Shore!"

Just What the Doctor Ordered

This has got to be the suckiest February in memory. Not only is it a cold, dirty, monotonous (and typical) Chicago February, but I continue to hate my job. Drastic measures needed to be taken. Enter Bubs with Tiki Terrace salvation.

Last night, I got together with blogger Bubs, his wife Mizbubs and bloggers Lulu and Tenacious S. It was quite the delightful evening.

I'm not usually enamored of mixed drinks, but hot damn, the libations I was drinking were great. I had a twenty mile drive home, so I had to limit myself to two of them-- it took great willpower.

I don't know if I've ever sat down with four more interesting and nice people. We played "Six Degrees of the Tiki Lounge" as we discovered that all of us had some kind of strange little connection with one another.

A few weeks ago, Barbara was rightfully criticizing a scholar's report that "most bloggers are lonely, isolated, and socially withdrawn." Last night was living proof that this scholar was dead wrong; the conversation was lively, the people were anything but "socially withdrawn"-- and the cocktails delicious. Thanks for organizing a great evening, Bubs. Next one's on our turf.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Heavy on the Sixties Friday Random Ten

1. Bad Little Woman- Shadows of Knight
2. Hold On, It's Coming- Country Joe McDonald
3. Pretty As You Feel- Jefferson Airplane
4. You Got the Silver- Rolling Stones
5. You're So Good To Me- Curtis Mayfield
6. Master of Puppets- Metallica
7. Memories Can't Wait- Living Color
8. Chest Fever- The Band
9. Night Time- The Strangeloves
10. Politics of Dancing- Re-Flex

One More:
The Word- The Recreational Bones

1. Local boys-- from Arlington Heights-- not far from where the bloggers are meeting tonight! Best known for their cover of Van Morrison's "Gloria." This is from the Nuggest collection, which appears with startling frequency on my Random Tens.
2. Country Joe McDonald's take on the sixties-- that though not all the changes happened yet, hold on, it's coming.
3. Great smoky tune.
4. The Stones in their prime. One of the all-time great album covers, too.
5. From the awesome Curtis Mayfield Box Set that my wife got me for Christmas.
6. The only Metallica I have in on my itunes-- downloaded it after hearing it in the movie Old School-- great scene!
7. The first Living Color song I ever heard-- a cover of a Talking Heads tune.
8. One of the great Hammond Organ songs ever.
9. The same Strangeloves that did the original of "I Want Candy." Another one from the Nuggets collection.
10. "All of the politicians/Turned into deejays...." One of my eighties fave raves.

One more-- digitized this from a 45-- the "Bones" were friends of mine at Eastern Illinois University. They opened for the Uptown Rulers at their final show at Ted's Warehouse-- the Bones' singer Gary Hicks had been in the Rulers at one time. This song has got one of the best and silliest lines ever in a song: "Lust has been incurred..."

Thursday, February 22, 2007

That Explains the Horse's Head in Castro's Bed...

Samuraifrog had one of those tests that are running rampant on blogs, "What Classic Movie Are You." I clicked to the site and there was also "What Famous Leader Are You." I took that one first:

My first thought was that maybe I should avoid Dallas in the future...

Then I took the Classic Movie test. I was expecting maybe Casablanca or Annie Hall. Instead I got this:

"Ask not what your country can do for you... but what I can do for you on this day of my daughter's wedding."

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

My Favorite Things-- the K's Have It

I thought I'd have a hand at the meme that's been making the rounds: figuring out your favorite things, given a letter. I wasn't given a letter, so I thought I'd use the first letter of my middle name, "Kent."

Krispies-- I don't like most cereal, but I love Rice Krispies, especially in the form of Rice Krispy treats.

Kitfo-- a delicious Ethiopian steak tartare-- raw beef, marinated in butter and herbs.

Kennedy-- specifically Robert Kennedy. He was an amazing guy. After spending a lot of his childhood in the shadow of his brother John, he served as John Kennedy's Attorney General. He showed great growth as a person; in the fifties, he served as counsel for the onerous politcal thug Senator Joe McCarthy, but a few years later was pushing his brother to support civil rights. After his brother's death, he emerged a profoundly changed man, and ran in 1968 for the Democratic Party's nomination for President, opposing the Vietnam War. I often wonder what the country had been like if he'd not been assasinated.

Kimchi or Kimchee-- basically, Korean sauerkraut. The spicier the better!

Looking it up, I discovered that there's a kimchi museum in Seoul, South Korea!

Kentucky Rain-- Elvis had a big hit with this one in 1970-- long one of my favorites. It mysteriously became my son's favorite song after I had an encounter with the King.

I didn't know, until reading Eddie Rabbit's obit a few years ago, that he'd written the song. And looking it up in Wikipedia, I discovered that Ronnie Milsap, then an unknown session musician, played piano on the song.

Ketchup.-- I'm at an age where all my vices are turning out to be virtues. Red wine, coffee, and tea have all turned out to be good for you. And now my favorite condiments, mustard and ketchup have joined the ranks. The turmeric in mustard and the lycopene in ketchup

And of course, the most important "K's" in my life...

My kids and Kim, my wife.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Exciting News

A couple of years ago, one of my regulars came into the restaurant and ordered a burger, without bread. I assumed that it was because she was doing the Atkins diet, where you cut out almost all carbohydrates. The Atikins Diet was all the rage then. I told her that I assumed that she then didn't want french fries, and started rattling off her low-carb options. She told me that it was fries were okay, depending on how they were prepared. She told me that she had a disease called "sprue celiac," a genetic allergy to wheat.

She told me briefly about how she discovered she had it-- she's suddenly lost weight. She told me her symptoms, and I realized that I had a lot of them. I did a little research on the internet, and decided to try cutting wheat out of my diet.

It wasn't easy. Not only is wheat proscribed, but related grains, like barley. In otherwords, no more beer!

The change in my health was dramatic. I'd long taken ephedrine all year round to relieve congestion and itching, which I assumed was from some airborne allergy. All of those allergy symptoms suddenly disappeared. I checked into getting an actual test for celiac and found that they can only test you if you are still consuming wheat gluten!. The changes were dramatic enough that I didn't go back just so I could get tested.

Celiac, sometimes spelled coeliac, is concentrated among, but not limited to, people of Northern European ancestry, particularly the Irish. It is an autoimmune disease caused by a reaction to gliadin, a protein found in gluten. According to Wikipedia, "Upon exposure to gliadin, the body's immune system cross-reacts with the enzyme tissue transglutaminase, causing an inflammatory reaction that leads to flattening of the lining of the small intestine, which interferes with the absorption of nutrients." Symptoms can include include diahrrea, fatigue and weight loss. The only treatment is complete elimination of gluten from one's diet. If you do not follow the diet, the celiac can eventually damage your health and even kill you. About 1 in 130 people have celiac disease.

This has not been easy. Did you know that soy sauce has more wheat than it has soy? Did you know that Doritos corn chips have wheat in the coating? I have to read every label closely.

And what my customer was talking about-- how it was prepared-- if oil is used to fry something with wheat--for instance breaded and fried calamari-- it is "contaminated," and gets wheat gluten on everything else cooked in it afterward, including french fries.

It takes only a few molecules of wheat gluten to set off the allergy. So if a cook sets a piece of bread on a griddle to warm it up, and then cooks a burger on the same griddle, the burger is "contaminated."

It's obviously restricted my diet. If I have to eat another rice cake, I'm going to scream. There are still plenty of foods I enjoy. I'm able to substitute-- for instance, there are wheat-free subsitutes for most noodles. But I have to read labels, and be a pain in the ass in restaurants, asking a million questions. And foregoing a lot of foods I love. It's all been tough, but very, very worth it.

A week or two ago, blogger Natalie was posting about going to dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant here in Chicago, the Ethiopian Diamond, and mentioned the flat, pancake-like bread of Ethiopian cuisine, injera. Injera is delicious-- it's got a sour taste that comes from allowing the batter to ferment. Out of curiosity, I looked it up on Wikipedia and found that injera is made not out of wheat, but a grain called teff or tef. I did a little more research and found that we "celiacs" are okay with tef, but that a lot of restaurants mix it with wheat flour. I called the Ethiopian Diamond, and found that yes, they usually mix the tef with wheat flour, but can make the bread out of pure tef if you call in ahead. I'm very excited at the prospect of having a food I've missed.

One other piece of good news-- Anheuser-Busch is adding to the list of a few other smaller brewers offering a gluten-free beer made of sorghum for celiac sufferers.

Monday, February 19, 2007

When I Win the Lottery

Well I lost an eye in Mexico
Lost two teeth where I
don't know
People see me comin' and they move to
the other side of the road
I robbed a liquor store to make
myself at home a few times
Borrowed myself a car when I
needed it
I got me a shack at the bottom of the road
Fixin' cars and givin' tows
Spendin' all
my money on the lottery
When I win the lottery gonna buy
all girls on my block
A color TV and a bottle of French
When I win the lottery gonna donate half my money
to the city
So they have to name a street or a school or a
park after me
When I win the lottery

-"When I Win the Lottery," Camper Van Beethoven

You know who really pisses me off? Those people who win huge amounts of money in the lottery and have no idea what they're going to do with the money.

I dunno-- I guess I could quit my job, but gee, I don't know what I'd do with my time. I think me and the missus are gonna buy a Winnebago and do a little traveling...

Right there, their prize should be revoked. They have no right to win the lottery. They have no idea how to spend the money.

Not these people, though:

City Sues Lottery Winners Over Parties

The city of Portland, Oregon is suing the winners of a $2.6 Million lottery prize, alleging "they held four months of parties with public sex, fights and signs of drug dealing."

The couple, Elizabeth and Samuel Howard accepted an $871,000 lump sum payment and have been, apparently living it up. The police have been called 52 times in four months.

Of course, maybe they belong in the category of people who don't deserve the prize. Isn't the idea to give up work, even if it was of the illegal variety?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

What They Are

A few months ago, I had to work my second job, my waitering job, on a Saturday night. It was a weekend my son was at my home-- his mother, a former girlfriend, and I switch off weekends with him as per our joint custody agreement.

My wife took he and my stepdaughter out for Chinese buffet, which both of them enjoy a lot. My wife related a story later about that meal. He began eating his meal with chopsticks. He smirked, and asked, in that I'm-almost-a-teenager smartass way, why they weren't using chopsticks.

The fact of the matter is that he is very good with chopsticks. His mother, who is Chinese-American, taught him how to use them.

Her father came to the United States from the Canton region of China in the late 1930's as a teenager. He grew up and served in the military in world War II, storming the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.

He withstood racism in the military and other parts of his life. More on that later.

After the war, he brought a young beauty from his village in China to the United States and married her. They had five children-- my ex-girlfriend was the youngest.

He ran a series of businesses, laundries and restaurants, in Pekin, Illinois-- where the high school had the team name the "Pekin Chinks"-- and Chicago. He finally decided to open up a restaurant in downtown Arlington Heights, Illinois. The city refused to approve sale of the restaurant-- because he was Asian. His best friend, who was white, bought the building and sold it to him at cost. The restaurant was very successful, thriving even after his death in the early 1990's. My ex's mother sold the business a couple of years ago and retired.

His story was a wonderfully American story. He very much earned the right to be called an American. I regret that I never had a chance to meet him-- he was dead before I met her-- and my son will never get to meet him. He does, hoever, bear his last name, a very common Chinese surname.

My ex and I were talking recently about our son's identity. This has been, in the past, a matter of importance. When he started school, we wanted to get him into a good school-- it's a whole game you play with the Chicago Public School system. We were blunt with the school administrators we talked to-- in order to get him into to a school, should we list him as white or asian? We simply used the ethnicity that gave him the best chance of getting into the school (we ended up using Asian, by the way).

My son has blonde hair like me. He looks white. My ex has long joked about it-- she kiddingly complained that she had done all the work in his birth and she ended up with a white kid.

But when asked, he will tell you that he is Chinese.

This normally would have been my weekend with my son. Every year, if the Tet, or Chinese Lunar New Year parade in Chicago's Chinatown, is on my weekend, I trade weekends with my ex. They go down to Chinatown, meet up with her family, and watch the parade. They'll go to a dim sum restaurant and eat dishes that he can pronounce, and I can't. He'll eat them with chopsticks.

When my son was a baby, more than one person said something that really galled me. They said "Mixed children are very good-looking, but the problem is that they grow up not knowing what they are."

Last year for Christmas, my father-in-law gave my son a book that has statistics and information on every guy who ever played for the Chicago Cubs. When he gave it to him, he told him about Mike Kreevich, a member of the Chicago Cubs and later the White Sox, who was the only baseball player that his father, a Croatian immigrant, could name besides Babe Ruth. Kreevich was himself of Croatian ancestry. My father-in-law's father, who knew little about baseball, connected to his new homeland and to a sport he didn't understand, through this guy.

My father-in-law's mother was not Croatian, but English. It was, back then, a "mixed" marriage.

I enjoy watching the two of them, my son and my father-in-law, who like one another a lot, bonding over a shared love of baseball. The son of an immigrant and the grandchild of an immigrant, these "mixed" children whose roots are in places in the world far removed, bond over a uniquely American institution.

My son loves all parts of his heritage-- his mother's Chinese roots and my tangled Irish/German/Slovenian/Jewish/Czech/Hillbilly/Scottish roots. He loves the Chinese food my ex's mother makes for him when he visits her. He loves the corned beef my mother makes for him when we visit her-- which he eats with rice. He loves the Tet parade and Christmas and Jimi Hendrix and Weird Al Yankovich and summer afternoons at Wrigley Field. He loves architecture (that's a Lego version of the Empire State Building in the picture) and Star Wars. So when those people wonder, of "mixed" children, "what they are," I will tell them, based on my own experience, what my son is. He is interesting, complex, complete and comfortable with all the parts of himself. He considers it an opportunity to invent himself in the image he's happy with. No one can pigeonhole him into an identity that's been imposed on him. What some may consider a liability, he considers a strength. What others might consider confusion, he considers uniqueness. "What he is" is an energetic, confident child who is healthily and happily approaching adulthood knowing just who he is-- a person who has a diverse bunch of people who love him, and has a rich range of traditions and cultures to draw his identity from. We should all be so lucky.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

A Few Small Repairs

Sunny came home with a list of names
She didn't believe in transcendence
It's time for a few small repairs she said

-- Shawn Colvin, "Sunny Came Home"

Last night I called my mechanic and got great news: all it took to fix my car was to bang the little motor that switches the transmission back and forth from 4 Wheel Drive, with a hammer. It's working perfectly now. And he fixed a vaccum hose that had been improperly connected. He charged me his minimum, $30. I thought I was looking at $400 or $500 worth of transmission work. I ran over there last night and now have my beloved beat-to-shit 1994 Blazer again.

When I turned the Sirius satellite radio on in my truck this morning, Marvin Gaye's "Can I Get a Witness" was playing on Little Steven's Underground Garage. It's all good today.

Since my car was repaired, I was able to run up to Evanston this morning and write out a check for $203.04 to "Nabih's, Inc," and get my little ibook back. It's back where it belongs, on my kitchen counter. BTW, I highly recommend these guys. I had a very bad experience with another company in Evanston that specializes in Macs. They got my ibook to me quickly at a reasonable cost. And they repair any computer, not just Macs.

The water main is still broken, and still making a mess of our block. My wife talked to someone at the water department and they informed her that there were people in other neighborhoods who still have not got water, going on 9 days now, and referred to it as a "mini Katrina." Since everybody on our block still has water service, we're not a priority.

When I got home from work yesterday afternoon, I changed my clothes and went out and helped some people get their cars out of the ice.

My neighbors didn't ask anybody-- we all just saw them trying to get their cars out, and people just started coming out of their houses with tools to help. A couple of the guys were standing in water up to their ankles. We chopped and shoved and got their cars out. I love my neighborhood.

Some people, though, are going to have to wait. Like these guys.

This guy wasn't iced in, but he had an unpleasant surprise.

But he must have taken care of it today. A city truck came by this morning and took his Denver Boot off. Things were fixed even for him today.

Do they call them "Denver Boots" in Denver?

And last night, I got some very good news about my friend Mark's death. More on that when the wheels turn a few times-- the wheels of justice, in this case.

A few small repairs.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The "Everything is Broken" Random Ten

Broken hands on broken ploughs,
Broken treaties, broken vows,
Broken pipes, broken tools,
People bending broken rules.
Hound dog howling, bull frog croaking,
Everything is broken.
--Bob Dylan, "Everything is Broken."

A water main in front of my house broke over a week ago, and our yard, and then our block have slowly turned into an ice rink. I'd provide a picture of the actual yard, but the picture is in my laptop, which was broken-- the cord from the computer to the screen was broken, and it's in the shop. It's a problem most of the Ibook G3's had.

This morning, I went to drive in to work, and my car would not exit second gear. I turned back and drove it to the shop. I hope it's not too expensive.

I hopped on the bus to go to work. Good luck-- I only waited a couple of minutes for the two buses I had to take. I popped on my earphones and set my ipod to shuffle. When I got off the bus, I accidently shut of my ipod-- I couldn't click back through the songs. Had to do another shuffle:

1. Penthouse and Pavement- Heaven 17
2. Positively 4th Street- Lucinda Williams
3. Girls Like Me- Bonnie Hayes
4. Stormy Monday- The Alllman Brothers Band
5. Hard Travelin'- Ramblin' Jack Elliot
6. Song of a Soldier- Phil Ochs
7. Do You Remember When- J. Geils Band
8. Feed the Trees- Belly
9. Is It Like Today?- World Party
10. Sons and Daughters- The Decemberists

I just got a call from the computer repair shop. My computer was only $200 to fix. With a little luck, my Blazer will be fixed by this evening and I can run up to Evanston and get my laptop tommorrow.

And you'll notice the Decemberists-- I had the chance to put my new copy of "The Crane Wife" on my ipod before I ran my computer to the shop. Thanks to those who recommended it-- I'm enjoying it a lot.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Oh Yeah? Well I Don't Like Great Big Homophobic Assholes...

I had to read this story twice this morning, to make sure I wasn't misreading it, or that it was some kind of awful gag. Retired basketball player Tim Hardaway stated, on a radio sports show that he hates gay people.

He was responding to retired basketball player John Amaechi's recent announcement, in anticipation of publication of his autobiography Man In the Middle, that he is gay.

I quote Hardaway, on the "Sports Talk 790 The Ticket":

"You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don't like gay people and I don't like to be around gay people. I'm homophobic. I don't like it. It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States."

I thought I'd misread it. Nobody could say anything that stupid in public.

Now, he's got a right to his opinions, and even to state them, no matter how offensive. I've been a card-carrying member of the ACLU and I'm a big fan of the First Amendement, and can tell you that the right to express opinions is one of the things I'd be willing to fight for.

But for god's sake, Hardaway is African-American (as is Amaechi). How on god's green earth does he not make the connection between racism and homophobia? How would he responded if he'd heard some cracker saying that about black people?

Hardaway added to the stupidity:

"Something has to give. If you have 12 other ballplayers in your locker room that's upset and can't concentrate and always worried about him in the locker room or on the court or whatever, it's going to be hard for your teammates to win and accept him as a teammate."

In otherwords, he's worried that a gay player might be scoping out his little fanny. As my friend Jim says of people, "Don't flatter yourself."

The NBA is frantically running for damage control and has distanced themselves from his moronic statements. Hathaway has also tried to spin it, saying "Yes, I regret it. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said I hate gay people or anything like that. That was my mistake."

Wow, that was so heartfelt and sincere.

Notice that he said he shouldn't have said it. I'm sure he's still a homophobic asswipe.

Maybe he, Mel Gison and Michael Richards can form a support group.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day...

What's the matter? Didn't everybody's spouse or significant other get them tickets to the April 14th Lucinda Williams show for Valentine's Day like my bride did? No? Didn't think so.

Not that I'd gloat or anything.

I've been waiting for you to come back
Since you left Minneapolis
Snow covers the streetlamps and the windowsills
The buildings and the brittle crooked trees
Dead leaves of December
Thin skinned and splintered
Never gotten used to this bitter winter

I've been wasted, angry and sad
Since you left Minneapolis
I wish my thoughts were pure like the driven snow
Like the heavens and the spring's virgin buds
But they strangle me with their sin
Fill me up with poison
Black clouds have covered up the sun again

I can always trace it back
To that night in Minneapolis
Here on the seventh floor in a room I can't call mine
Deadbolt on the door, do not disturb sign
Shaking and trembling
On the clean white linen
Slivers of starlight across the ceiling

A dozen yellow roses
All that's left in Minneapolis
I wish I'd never seen your face or heard your voice
You're a bad pain in my gut
I wanna spit you out
Open up this wound again
Let my blood flow red and thin
Into the glistening
Into the whiteness
Into the melting snow of Minneapolis

--Minneapolis, Lucinda Williams

The Best 20 Bucks I Ever Spent

My divorce from my second wife was finalized in May of 2003.

We'd separated in February, 2002. For a few months after my separation from her, a woman I'd been involved with when I was 18, during my first year in college, dropped into my life. She was also in the middle of divorcing her second husband. The relationship started spinning its wheels and flickered out. I made the decision that I needed to take a break from relationships for a while and figure out why there had been two divorces.

By the fall of 2004, I felt like I was ready to start dating again. I'd come to realize that I was always looking for my relationships to make me happy. The fact of the matter is that you need to get yourself into a good place and then you're ready to find love.

I was in a job I loved. My kid was doing well-- he was done with the anger and confusion he'd felt when his mother and I were dealing with custody through a cold, stupid court system. I was living in a neighborhood I loved, and was surrounded by a group of friends whom I'd been with near on 20 years.

I didn't know how to start even. Hanging around in bars was out-- I was a little long in the tooth for that. Being a teacher, there were single women around, but they were way too young, and I'd learned the hard way when I was younger about dating someone you work with.

I decided to try the singles ads in the Reader, the local "free" newspaper. It was a pretty good deal-- twenty dollars a month.

I discovered that they were now mostly online. I was intrigued. I spent a long time figuring my ad out. I wanted no more failures. I wanted whatever prospects there were to know upfront what I was about. Left politics. Books. Red wine. The New York Times. Caffeine. I have a kid. Travel. Tom Robbins. Punk rock.

I wanted to make sure whoever I met had a sense of humor, so the picture I used was the very one at the top of this blog. It was taken in 2002, in Shanghai, China.

I began getting responses to my ad. With this newfangled system, you could send messages and "flirts" and such. After a number of emails back and forth with people, I finally had a date.

We met at popular middle eastern restaurant in Chicago's Andersonville neighorhood. Things started out pleasantly, but I soon realized that she was not a very happy person. And not too sociable. I was once described as "The most sociable man in the universe." I needed someone who could stand up to me.

I realized that I was slowly becoming more interested in watching the Red Sox making their run to the World Series on the televisions in the restaurant than I was in the date. We finished dinner, and I gave a polite goodbye.

Date #2, I felt, had some promise. The woman was extremely outgoing, working as an actress, including work with Chicago Public School students. I thought we'd have lots to talk about.

We burned up the email lines and talked a couple of times on the phone. We agreed to meet at a Thai restaurant nearby for dinner.

Fifteen minutes into the date, she suddenly stopped talking. We finished dinner and never talked again.

I had one psuedo-date with another woman-- we ordered food in and watched a movie at her place. We chatted on the phone a couple of times, but I realized that she was chronically depressed, and was not over her ex-husband yet. We never went out again.

I was nearly ready to give up. I had two more dates lined up. One was with an artsy latina, and the other with a single mom from Minnesota who'd been divorced for about as long as I had. I'd already made plans to have a drink with Ms. Artsy for a Sunday night. I had been trying to arrange a date with the single mom for a week-- with schedules with our respective children and my second job, it was difficult. She wanted to go out that Sunday, but I'd made plans already. We decided to go out the next night; her daughter would be with her ex- that evening.

Ms. Artsy was a tall beauty. She was educated-- intelligent, easy to talk to. We had to change our plans-- the wine bar we had planned to was closed on Sunday. We went to Quenchers and ordered a bottle of wine.

Things at first went well. Then she launched into a long talk about her life of dysfunction-- cocaine and heroin use. Cheating on her husband. Sleeping with college professors. Sleeping recently with her equally dysfunctional neighbor. Wow. All on the first date. What was waiting for date #2? I regretted not going out with the other woman.

Fortunately, I had another chance the next evening. It was still a scheduling nightmare. We'd picked out a restaurant-- the Tango Sur, an Argentinian restaurant on Southport avenue. It was "BYO," so both of us planned to bring a bottle of wine. She ended up getting out of work late; I was a little annoyed. I hate being late, and hate when others are late. I understood, though.

We met up in front of the restaurant. When she walked up, I could tell I was in trouble. She was tall and pretty. And her eyes were full of mischief. And I'm a sucker for tall, pretty and full of mischief.

Dinner was wonderful. We headed out for a drink afterward. We talked for maybe 5 or 6 hours that night.

About half an hour into the date, I had stopped her and said "We're going to have a second date, aren't we?"

We had a second. And a third, fourth and fifth.

After we'd been dating for a time, we went to a party some friends of ours, who own a record store have every summer. We brought our kids with-- each of us had one child. We met a friend of theirs, a guy who owns a local gourmet coffee company, and his wife. He and his wife had met through a dating service-- a pricey one. He related his tale of being sent on bad date after bad date. He smoked, and wanted to meet someone who smoked. They kept sending him women who didn't smoke-- and were depressed as well. Part of his service was counselors who consulted him personally. They asked how they could improve their service. He testily told them that it would help if they would stop sending depressed women who didn't smoke!

They apparently obliged-- his wife was smoking away, very cheerfully.

He told us that he'd spent $5,000 in his search, and asked us how much we'd spent. Kim and I looked at one another, chuckled, and told him "Twenty dollars. Each."

On December 30, 2005, Patti Smith's birthday, we got married at our friends Greg and Christina's apartment, overlooking Lake Shore Drive. Our kids were there with us.

We celebrated our first anniversary recently-- apart, as it turned out; we were bringing our kids to see their families in other states for the holidays. But that's part of it all, one of the things that we share-- always putting our children first.

Happy Valentine's Day, doll. I still feel like it was the best twenty bucks I ever spent.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I Told You So...

For most of my adult life, I've worked two jobs. Even now, I work a waitering job to supplement my teacher pay. People ask how I do it, and my answer is...naps. I don't get to nap every day, but I try to catch one most days, for which my wife is quick to give me grief.

I'd heard years ago that studies had shown that in countries where there is a "siesta" or mid-day rest period, like Spain, heart disease rates are lower. Well, here's more proof, from today's New York Times.

February 13, 2007
Regular Midday Snoozes Tied to a Healthier Heart

Taking a nap after lunch may be good for your heart. This splendid news arrived in the form of a study published Monday in The Archives of Internal Medicine.

In a study of more than 23,000 Greek men and women ages 20 to 86, researchers found that napping at least three times a week for a half-hour was associated with a significantly decreased risk of death from heart disease. After controlling for factors like smoking, body mass index, physical activity and diet, the researchers found that people who regularly took a siesta had a 37 percent lower coronary death rate than those who never napped. The effect was even greater in working men.

Dr. Dimitrios Trichopoulos, the senior author of the study and a professor of cancer prevention at the Harvard School of Public Health, acknowledged that the study included only a small number of people who had died of coronary artery disease, and that the results when women were analyzed separately, while suggestive of some effect, were not conclusive.

Still, he said, for him a siesta is an absolute requirement.

“If you can, you should take a daily nap,” he said. “I’m Greek. I came to this country in 1989, and I served as chairman of a department at Harvard for seven years. But I always stopped and took a nap every day. If you’re really committed, you do that. It’s such a pleasant custom. You can start your day all over again at 6 or 7 o’clock.”

The researchers began enrolling people in the study in 1994, and followed them for an average of more than six years. They excluded anyone who reported any previous coronary artery disease, chest pain, stroke or cancer, leaving 9,569 men and 14,112 women in the group they analyzed. During the course of the study, 85 men and 48 women died from coronary artery disease.

Napping fewer than three times a week was also associated with reduced risk, but the effect was not statistically significant. When the researchers restricted the analysis to working men who napped regularly, they found a 50 percent reduction, but there were not enough deaths among working women to draw conclusions about them as a separate group.

The idea that naps might be associated with decreased mortality from heart disease, the authors write, was suggested by the high prevalence of siestas in Mediterranean and certain Central American countries where there are low rates of heart disease. But previous studies have shown that in these countries the healthy diet, high in fiber and monounsaturated fat and low in meat and dairy products, is also a predictor of reduced mortality from heart disease. To control for this, the researchers assigned all the participants a score based on how closely they followed that healthy diet.

According to the researchers, there are two other major problems that can distort results in a study like this. First, people who take midday naps are likely to have lower levels of physical activity, and lack of exercise is a predictor of heart disease. Second, people who have a serious condition like coronary heart disease tend to take more naps during the day than others. So attaining firm and unbiased results requires large prospective studies that accurately measure physical exercise and that exclude people who have serious diseases. This study, Dr. Trichopoulos said, met those requirements.

Still, while he did not recommend a nap as a substitute for other healthy behavior, Dr. Trichopoulos said that the observed effect was quite large.

Dr. Henry S. Cabin, a professor of medicine at Yale and director of the Yale-New Haven Hospital Heart Center, expressed a degree of skepticism.

“This study seems to be reasonably well done,” he said, “but maybe that ability to take a nap is a marker of a different kind of lifestyle that itself reduces risk. Maybe leading a more leisurely life is the message, rather than running home to take a nap.”

Dr. Trichopoulos said the study suggested “an effect of the same order of magnitude as taking an aspirin or exercising every day.”

“We want to have these findings confirmed, but if it turns out to be right, this is very significant,” he said. “Napping is much more pleasant than taking an aspirin, and — this is between you and me — much more pleasant than exercising.”