18 December 2009

I Blame the New York Times!

(Photograph copyright 2009, all rights reserved)

The Boy, as most of you know, is only home on weekends. Over the years, we've adjusted to this nicely and I generally arrange things so that he can spend that time relaxing. Given that he generally works a 70 to 75 hour week, I figure it's only fair for him not to have to bother with things like lugging a vacuum around and braving a grocery store on a busy Saturday. It works. This frees us up so we can go out for dinner, shop in our neighborhood and do whatever it is we WANT to do, rather than noodle around with boring chores.

Now, one thing we both love about living in Chicago is that it's a city of neighborhoods. If you don't live here, it's hard to know what I mean by this. It's sort of like living in a big city composed of a whole bunch of small towns. There are height restrictions for building in most of the city, which means that no building is permitted to be more than four stories high and there are a lot of mixed use properties. There are a lot of buildings that are retail at ground level with residential space above, for example. I like this a lot. It keeps things relatively civilized. I've lived a downtown canyon or two in my time and I have to say that it's very alienating.

To get back to the neighborhoods... See, Chicagoans are very attached to their neighborhoods. In each little area, you can generally walk to anything you need. There's a pub, a couple of bars, half a dozen restaurants, a clothing store or two, some art galleries - you name it, you can find it in your neighborhood. That's why, when you hear someone talk about Bucktown, Lincoln Park, Andersonville or Humboldt Park, everyone else nods. We know what that means, and since Chicago is also a city that drives, we've been to most of those places to try out new restaurants, for example.

This is all background. I figured I'd best include it because it leads into a very angst-ridden situation where we live.

A couple of weeks ago, The Boy was reading his Sunday edition of the New York Times, when he bellowed, "Goddammit, there they go again!"

I asked him what was wrong, and he said, "Look at this! Just look! Some bobo reviewer blew into town and reviewed our favorite restaurants again!"

He read off the review and sure enough, there was a whole lot of glowing, almost worshipful text about a couple of places, Kuma's Corner and Great Lake Pizza, which has not only been given glowing reviews by the Times, but GQ and a couple of other national magazines as well (Yes, it IS that good).

"Oh, fercrissakes!", The Boy muttered, "NOW look what's gonna happen! More goddamned fat suburbanites in freakin' Dockers are gonna be taking up all the seats! We can't get a decent meal in this neighborhood as it is with all those idiots and it's only going to get worse!"

We'll leave him muttering for a few minutes. I was actually kind of amused by this. The Boy has always sworn he's going to grow up to be a curmudgeon and it's really starting to show.

Chicago is renowned for its restaurants. Some of the best eating in the country and in a couple of instances the world can be found here. We have a lot of famous places and chefs here. All you have to do is Google places like Avec, Alinea, Schwa, L20, Bin 36, Xoco (Rick Bayless' latest), Urban Belly, NoMi, Moto, Tru and so on (it's a LONG list) to know that in this town we take our food seriously. Naturally with all of the super-famous places come a lot of places that are not so famous, but are also really, really good. This is where the neighborhoods come in.

Our house is on a street corner that is the exact convergence of THREE terrific neighborhoods; Ravenswood, Lincoln Square and Andersonville.

All three of these neighborhoods are within walking distance and all three have their attractions, the most important of which are food related. In the past three or four years though, some magazine gurus and a few newspaper gurus have decided that where we live is "edgy" and "sophisticated" and have been beating the world over the head with reviews of all of our favorite places. It's maddening. We adore the Hopleaf Bar , for example. It's our local. It's where we go when we're done with the day's zooming around and want to stop for a drink before making dinner. They also happen to make the most delicious mussels and frites I've ever had, bar none.

Then, the Hopleaf got Reviewed. I think it was Food and Wine magazine that mentioned it, but don't quote me on that. I could be wrong. The next time we went in...well, you know what happened. The Boy's "fat suburbanites" were all over the bar and bitching that they couldn't get reservations in the restaurant (they don't take reservations) and had to wait instead. Every time the crowd dies down a bit, another reviewer shows up. It's maddening.

"It's not just the Hopleaf, though is it?" The Boy was on a roll, "No, it's every damned place in MY NEIGHBORHOOD! I KNOW it's an edgy neighborhood! That's why I LIVE here!"

He was irked. He's irked every time this happens. I can't say I blame him, either. Lately it seems that every restaurant in all three of our neighborhoods has had a glowing review in a national forum. In the past year or so, we've had reviews for Ann Sather , A Taste of Heaven (Made notorious by a sign that the owners put up requesting that little children stay seated and use their "inside voices" in the restaurant. Parents were furious, other patrons ecstatic), Bistro Campagne , Cafe Selmarie , Chicago Brauhaus and most notoriously Hot Doug's . One of our favorite stores Scout was also reviewed in a shelter magazine not so long ago. I have to congratulate the guys that own it - they deserved the review. A bunch of other similar furniture and vintage stores that have moved in to the same area, which is good for all of us, especially in this economy, but still!

(For those that are interested, Hot Doug's not only makes the best hot dogs on the face of the planet, they also famously flouted the moronic (and thankfully temporary) ban on foie gras bylaw that Chicago City Council was dumb enough to pass a couple of years ago. Doug, bless the man, continued to make his justifiably worshipped foie dog and pay the fines that he incurred. Sadly for those of us who like GOING to the place, it was also very favorably reviewed by Anthony Bourdain on his show "No Reservations" last year. Now if you want to go there, you have to join the lineup at 10:30 in the morning and stand in the cold until you can get in. Sigh. Anthony, I'm a fan, but dammit man, you've highjacked my hot dogs! )

I could go on. And on and onandonandon... but what's the point? I know that a lot of neighborhoods in a lot of cities have gone through the same thing. The people that live there have pretty much the same thing to say when the trendsters show up and start blocking the sidewalks and taking up all the good seats in their favorite bars. I'll let The Boy have the last word...

"Next time another damned reviewer shows up someone should... toss him in the nearest puddle! Yeah...or steer him to Rogers Park or something."

(You do realize that I've deliberately left some places out, right? I have SOME loyalty, after all.)

15 December 2009

A Christmas Rant

(Photographs copyright 2009, all rights reserved)

I have a confession to make. The photo on the bottom is from LAST Christmas. Yes, that's Sarah up there in that tree (slightly blurry because the tree is moving, of course) and she's a lot bigger now. We ended up with just lights on that tree because decorations seemed fated to hit the floor no matter what we did. Also, you'll notice that there's no topper on the tree. This is because the only one we have is glass. It's gorgeous...and I refused to allow it to be anywhere near tiny paws.

This year I was smarter about it. I got shiny plastic and tin decorations that are unbreakable and if they do fall, no kitty will be harmed. They can't climb the tree any more because the branches are too close together, which is a good thing. Maybe next year I can use the glass ones....However, the second photo is hot off the presses - my improvised disco-fabulous tree topper. It's all plastic all the time, and I fully expect The Boy to pick on me no end because of it. I think it's cute, so it stays.

I have to confess, I love Christmas. If you know me, you know it's not for religious reasons. We have no children and not a ton of family, so it isn't about family for us either. Generally we spend Christmas on our own. I happen to like it that way. The Boy doesn't work in the week leading up to the holiday and he certainly doesn't work between Christmas and New Year's, so we get that time to ourselves - the rest of the year, he's out of town all week and home on weekends only.

I'm a sloppy sentimentalist at this time of year and only this time of year. Even Christmas shopping is fun. Finding the perfect gift is something I love doing. I adore getting the tree and decorating it. I LOVE putting up the outside lights, and I usually do that on my own, too. None of these things are terribly important to The Boy, but I suspect he likes watching me have fun, so it's all good.

I'll grant you that for many, this is the MOST stressful time of the year. If that's true for any of you out there, I highly recommend spending a quiet Christmas. Tell the families you're staying home and relax! Take away all the pressure of travel, cooking, family fights, etc. and opt out. Even if you only do it for one year, it will help you reconnect with the holiday and truly enjoy it. It's lovely and you can visit anyone you WANT to see AFTER the day.

However...this was a rant.

Every year, my mother sends a Christmas box. It's full of The Boy's favorite jam cookies, a book or two and things like fuzzy socks and kitty toys. Nothing fancy, just some ordinary and useful things. She wraps the box in brown paper, covers it with Christmas glitter stickers and tosses it in the mail in early December. However, by the time she's done (and haven't we all done this), it's not such a small box. In fact, it used to be the size of an apple box - now it's reduced to about half that size.

Our postie is great, but there's a size limit to what she's allowed to put on the truck, so this package is invariably left at the post office for me to pick up. I never thought of this as a big deal, and the actual picking up of the box is never really out of my way, usually just a quick stop on my way to somewhere else.

But then we moved....here. And our local post office, the Ravenswood Station in Chicago, is a disaster area. It's a big station with only a tiny frontage. There's space for only four cashiers at a time. No big deal. The staff have been there at the same station for a long time - that's a potential problem. Now, post offices in Chicago have been rated as some of the worst in the country in terms of service, speed and accuracy in deliveries. This was last year, and they're supposed to be working on improving that. I haven't seen a lot of problems, myself. Like I said before, our postie is a wonderful lady who's generally in a great mood and the station where I go to get stamps and send things out is wonderful.

That Ravenswood office, though. Yeesh. Put it this way. One year I was picking up the Christmas box. At that time, you were meant to go to a door and ring a bell, whereupon a postal employee would take your orange ticket, look at your identification and hand you your package. That's pretty standard. THAT year, I went to the box and rang the bell and....nothing happened. I went to move to the regular line after I had waited about 15 minutes with no response. It was 9:00 in the morning and the line was already out the door, because there were only two people in front, but I figured this was better than standing in front of a locked gray door...

No dice. One of the cashiers pointed at me and said, "You don't get packages in this line! If you line up here, we won't serve you!"

So I went back to the door and rang the bell again, whereupon the woman sang out AGAIN, "We know you're there! The more times you ring that bell, the more time you'll have to wait!"

I was seething. It took ANOTHER 15 minutes for someone to answer the door. Finally I heard the lock...and it was the woman who had been barking orders at me (and by this time, four other people). She seemed furious and delivered a long lecture to all of us in line that we were "mean" and that she didn't have to do anything for us. She looked me in the eye and informed me that if I ever rang that bell again, my package was going back.

Now this is only one incident with these people. I have been in there several times, and I have NEVER ONCE seen any of them crack a smile unless it was to a family member or friend. Several times I've been there during business hours and all four cash desks were closed at the same time. Seriously. ALL of them. On one memorable occasion, about half a dozen of us in line phoned the Post Office to complain at the same time. When someone finally opened their register 20 minutes later, we were all on the phone.


This brings us to today. I started the day in a terrific mood. All I had were a couple of errands to do, namely pick up the Christmas box and hop to Target to get one last present for a friend. No, I won't tell you what the present was. She reads this. There's some other stuff that needs doing - I have to make some cookies and do the big grocery shop for Christmas Eve dinner (game hens), but none of that needs to happen right this red-hot second. I actually had a really fun post to put up here this afternoon. Sigh.

But I went to the post office first.

As always, I went early enough so as not to hit the lunch rush - it was about 10:30 a.m. by the time I'd parked and got in the door. Again as always, the line was out the door, but there was a glimmer of hope because three people were there and they were actually taking clients. I went to the door right behind another lady who had already rung the bell. We waited for a minute or two, then the lady that I like to call "The Yeller" shouted that we had to get in line because things had changed. I took this as a positive development because the line seemed to be moving.

The three cashiers were talking to each other as always, and I've learned the hard way that they just don't exert themselves to push the line through. It was slow, but moving. There was an older Hispanic woman in line about three people ahead of me and when she stepped up, all hell broke loose.

Now this woman was obviously taking care of two grandchildren while their parents were at work. One of them was about six months old and sound asleep in a side-by-side stroller which was parked in a back corner out of the way. The other was a little boy of about three or so who was so bundled up that he could hardly move (think Charlie Brown). He was standing beside the stroller, waiting pretty patiently for a little kid.

When their grandmother got to the cashier, she had an orange tag like about half of us that were in line. The cashier took the tag and brought back the package, then demanded that the older woman sign for it and show some ID. This lady had no English, so it took a minute to get that across to her. It WAS a big thing to the cashier. She demanded, in English, a driver's license. Repeatedly, and getting louder with each repetition. Finally another fellow standing in the line translated, but it took a minute for them to get organized.

And this is where the fun starts. See, the grandmother, who had no English and was illiterate even in her own language, made her mark on the clipboard. She signed with an X. Signing with an X is perfectly legal. You can even sign a will that way. At one time, it wasn't even that uncommon. I clearly remember taking credit card slips that were signed that way. No, I'm not that old.

The cashier went skyward. She was demanding in English that this poor lady who didn't understand a word she was saying write her name. This cashier kept repeating "Write your name!" louder and louder while everyone in line looked on, getting more and more uncomfortable. She was oblivious. This was an inconvenience to her and everyone was going to know about it. It was obvious that she was starting to get out of control and didn't give a damn who knew it.

Meanwhile all the grandmother saw was a woman three times her size yelling things she couldn't understand. In about three minutes, this cashier, who was given a perfectly legal (albeit unorthodox) signature managed to reduce an elderly lady to tears. Finally the gentleman who had translated before stepped up to help. He somehow managed to get the ranting cashier to hand over the package and get the woman and her grandkids out the door without further incident.

The cashier settled down to take a few more people, muttering all the while about green cards and illegals (and if anyone wants to have this debate, let me tell you right now that it won't be entertained here). It took a few minutes, but it finally registered on her that about a dozen people would have gleefully thrown her in the snow and left her there, and she got angry again. NOW the muttering was about "doing my job" and "I don't have to take this shit" and whatnot. No apology. No acknowledgement that she might have been wrong. Nothing. She was just pissed because ... I don't know, people saw her lose it? Hard to say.

Naturally, when it was my turn, she was the free cashier. She looked me in the eye, put up her "next window" sign and tried to leave. It didn't work. She had to take me. I handed her my orange pickup card and when she went in the back to get the box, she pretended she couldn't find it. There was yelling out of the back room - she was claiming it was never there. She continued this game until I think someone put the box in her hands.

I have to admit that I couldn't resist. When she finally handed me the box, I asked if she wanted me to sign. She paused and said no. THEN she closed her window.


This is not a rant about the Post Office in general. Working with the public is never easy. The job is boring, they're on their feet all day and I'm sure that there are a lot of nasty people in that line up per HOUR, let alone on a daily basis. I know all this. I've worked my share of retail, I've waited tables, and I know how it can be. I've been there. I also know that if I had EVER treated a customer the way that poor woman was treated today I would not only have been fired on the spot, I would have deserved it.

We've had terrific postal service for the entire 9 years we've lived in the States. I have to admit that I'm still agog that people get mail on Saturdays here, because I don't think anyone else has that. One of the ladies that works in the station near us in Texas went a long way out of her way to help us get our mail when we moved here. The station in Chicago that I go to for stamps is also amazing. The staff are universally quick and pleasant and truly nice to people. They hustle because they know that if they get people through the line quickly they'll be dealing with happy people instead of cranky ones. I've never had to wait in line there for more than ten minutes, and that's during the Christmas rush. To everyone at the Graceland Postal Store at 3024 North Ashland Avenue here in Chicago, happy holidays - you guys are great.

No, this was one person, in one station where I suspect everyone has worked together for far too long. They seem to have made a collective decision that customers are nothing more than an inconvenience to them, put on Earth to get on their nerves. I've seen that staff displaying all kinds of behavior ranging from deliberately slow to rude to (today) downright mean. There was no excuse for what happened there this morning. None.

A message to you ladies: Being polite to customer is NOT a favor. It's your JOB. Deal with it or get out. No one wants to be treated badly.


I didn't just post this out of the blue. I DID contact the Post Office about it. Eventually I got a local customer service number. The folks at that office deal with complaints like mine and worse all the time. I told the woman I spoke to there about what happened and told her that I was going to put it in this blog. She was very nice about it, took my name and number and let me know that a Public Relations person will probably be calling me. I have no problem with that. In fact, if they contact me, I'll post about that conversation right here.

(This just in. I just got a call from someone in Public Relations. He listened, he told me that the retail manager was heading over to that station this afternoon and...we'll see. Like I said I'm not holding my breath. However, he DID say one thing that's interesting. Apparently, they've started a new initiative to make it easier for customers to report problems. There's supposed to be a telephone number posted in all of the post offices in this city that people can call to report problems. Obviously, it wasn't posted in that office, or I would have called it and saved myself some work. For any Chicagoans that want it, that number is 312-983-7800. He'll be checking in to see what I've written here. I gave him the URL and let him know that I was happy to have him comment.)

At the same time, I'm a cynic. I know that nothing is really going to happen because of this. Questions will be asked, none of the cashiers will have seen anything, and the one that lost it will claim I was seeing things. There will be no disciplinary action taken, no one is going to be put on notice to behave themselves and things at Ravenswood Station will go on as they always have. I don't really care. It's not as if I have to go there more than once a year anyway. It's clearly a localized problem

I'm still angry, though. How is it that anyone can feel free to abuse someone like that woman was abused today? Who does that? What kind of twisted logic makes that all right? What's with the racist crap? What kind of society do we live in where someone in a public position can be that nasty and her co-workers watch this and do nothing? Does she get some kind of sick thrill from hurting people?

This appalling behavior is not all that unusual. I know that. My own great-grandmother never learned to speak English well, even though she was born in Canada. This sort of thing happened to her all the time. There are jerks all over the place who seem to think that they can force someone to understand them just by yelling loud enough. They don't understand (or choose to ignore) that this can be frightening, especially to non-English speakers who don't understand what they could have done wrong, but it is terrifying to someone who is elderly.

Oh well. So much for the good mood of this morning. I guess I might as well sit down and pay a stack of bills, right?

07 December 2009

Toys for Who?

(Photograph copyright 2009, all rights reserved)

Christmas is coming. I finally faced that fact last week and went online to do some shopping. It went surprisingly well, especially the clothing shopping. How many of us have gone looking for say, a nice warm sweater for someone only to find that the one you want isn't in stock at the store that sells it, or if it is, the size is never right? I stopped doing all that running around years ago. It's tiring and aggravating and by the time I'm done with the shopping I'm so cranky that it's not even fun to watch someone open the gifts any more. I've become an almost 100% online shopping girl and my life and marriage are happier because of it.

However...I don't just have adults to shop for any more. The Cool Niece is going to be three in February, and while she's already a book addict (thank her Mom for that), toys are required. Now, I have no children. It's been a VERY long time since I've been to a toy store, and I have no idea what's out there. Clearly things are considerably more complicated now than they were when I was a kid, but the basics are still around as far as I can see. I think it's pretty ridiculous to buy a laptop computer for the 4 to 8 year-old set. I've never been a fan of overcomplicated toys that "do" stuff. I figure that if a toy has a specific purpose, then it's a pretty boring toy. After all, how many times can a kid look at the same flashing lights before deciding that they've exhausted the possibilities?

Therefore I cast my eye on building and construction toys. The Cool Niece has blocks big and small, and also Duplo, which is the outsize Lego for little hands. I remember the buckets of Lego I had when I was a kid, and the big cardboard tubes of Tinkertoys were guaranteed to hold my attention for hours. I clearly remember spending half a day at a time with a friend building incredibly complicated structures, trying to use every brick in the bucket to build a house...or a bridge....or a forest. Sometimes we included the Tinkertoys as well. After all, it's easier to get height when you use them.

Clearly the kid is too young for such things now. Next year or the year after is soon enough for that. She would just get frustrated with the small pieces. I settled for a Mr. Potato Head , which should satisfy her current fascination for putting things together. It also comes with a suitcase full of extra parts which she'll enjoy greatly because for some reason she likes tidying up. The Boy picked out some really lovely picture books for her, so we're set for this year.

And thank goodness we are. I ran across this in the New York Times this morning. It seems that the construction toys of yore have become too complicated for even parents to put together. The woman interviewed was frustrated beyond belief with a toy someone had given her son that defeated her entirely. I read this and thought....wait a minute here? This is Lego! Lego is about hours of creative fun!

Alas no. Lego has managed to almost completely suck the creative fun out of its toys. I went to the website and saw literally dozens of toys, all of which must be assembled according to instructions. There is no creativity there. You build a truck and there it is, a truck for the kid to play with. I have to ask what the point of that is. Why not just buy a bloody Tonka and have done with it? Seriously why go through that? No kid is going to dismantle and rebuild the Lego version of some of these complicated things. It seems incredibly counterintuitive to me.

I was pretty disgusted by the whole thing, so I did more searching and found the Lego Large Brick Box . Thank goodness, I thought, the company hasn't completely sold out! Then I looked again, and was shocked to find that even in these supposedly enlightened times, there's a pink box for girls and a blue box for boys. In fact (and this is a topic for another day) when I Googled "building toys for kids", what I got was "building toys for boys", which is a sad statement as far as I'm concerned.

There are other terrific building toys out there as well. Tinkertoys is still sold in its iconic tube, although the parts now are made of plastic rather than wood. Yeah, I know that dates me. It's still made by Hasbro and you can still buy instruction sheets which tell you how to make more complicated structures out of the basic parts. It's also relatively inexpensive, with a 200 piece set for under forty bucks.

Meccano is still around as it has been for a century now. It's for older kids, of course, but it lets them play with electric motors and learn how things go together. What I didn't realize about it is that ALL of the sets built over the entire lifetime of the company are still the same standard sizes. This means that theoretically, your child can use yours and even your father's old Meccano to make even bigger projects. I think that's pretty cool.

The Boy and I are design wonks, so I was happy to find a really large scale building toy from Offi that allows kids to build rooms inside of rooms and forts in any shape they want. It's made of heavy cardboard interlocking sheets and when the kids are done with it, it's completely recyclable.

I noodled around online seeing a whole lot of new building toys for kids, some that looked great and others that seemed pretty lame to me, like a "tree of life" complete with birdhouse that looked like something that maybe would appeal to an elderly craft fan, but that a kid would build and then squash with that battery operated front end loader that they got for Christmas last year. Eventually I found a terrific site that covers most of the bases. It's called Mastermind Toys . It's a nice site with categories separated by age and interests, perfect for a neophyte toy shopper like me.

29 November 2009

The Sky Is Falling!

(Photograph copyright 2009, all rights reserved)

All right, all right. I give in. More correctly, I can't help myself. See, I have this "thing" if you want to call it that, about people who earnestly declaim on subjects that are utter nonsense, quoting twaddle from unknown Internet people and chain letters as if it were.....well (said the irreligious and occasionally blasphemous writer who can say these things because no one's the boss of her here).. like Gospel.

All right. There were a lot of things that led up to this, not the least of which is an utterly ridiculous movie. Ok. The world is going to end in....2012. Truthfully, I have no idea why people are saying this now, except that it has something to do with the Mayans or the Aztecs....or was it the Inuit? Some First Nations group who are all conveniently dead and can't answer any questions or go over the calculations for us. We'll just have to believe them. Er...we'll just have to believe what "someone" is TELLING us about what that particular First Nation had to say because they're all dead. A long time ago. Really really. After all maybe Someone in Authority got a supernatural e-mail about it or something and naturally knows more than us, the Great Unwashed.

Anyway, a great many people are taking this seriously it would seem, so I just had to look into it. Of course, I'm just barely old enough to remember that the world was ALSO supposed to end in the 1980s a bunch of times, and there were a whole lot of people who were convinced that the End was coming every year of the 90s, and let's not forget 2000, either. A lot of people have toxic out-of-date canned goods and stale water left over from that one!

(Disclosure: The Boy and I spent the evening of Dec. 31, 1999 on a beach in Hawaii drinking vast quantities of very good champagne and waiting for the world to end. We may not have noticed it, being half snapped at the time, but I do remember lovely fireworks....or maybe it WAS an Apocalypse and we all just missed it altogether. It was a great deal of fun, though.)

After that non-event (there wasn't even any turbulence on the flight home, sorry guys), I've ceased altogether taking news of our Coming Doom seriously. I consider these dates to be good excuses to throw dinner parties and drink a great deal of wine and my friends are all happy to be fed by me if I supply the wine, too. It's a win-win, and the next morning, we can all crow about it and brag that the world ended and none of us even had hangovers. My kind of party.

I see that my views on this are echoed by Sybil Adelman . This is a lady with the right idea. If the world is REALLY going to end and there's nothing we can do about it, then why not drink the wine and have the fun? It's not like we'll be around the next day to whine about the credit card bill from the restaurant, right?

So I Googled 2012 predictions and found...a whole lot of very earnest stuff about the whole situation. There are sites like the-end.com, 2012predictions.net, 2012endofdays.org, and they all say pretty much the same thing. We're doomed, the sky is falling, The world is going to Hell LITERALLY this time, and our gooses are cooked unless we.....do whatever the crackpots that own the web sites tell us to do, most of which appears to be to buy their book. One wonders why they're SELLING the books if the world is going to end, anyway? Do they think they might need money afterwards?

Sigh. In the spirit of Apocalypses (Apocalypti?) everywhere, Smagboy kindly sent me a link that has a reasonable list of prior dates when the World Was Going To End. There are elaborate mathematical formulae provided for many of the dates and they all include something religious (but not necessarily Biblical) that has the reasons for it. Now, at the time, a LOT of people were utterly convinced that the world really was going to end. Seriously. Even the illiterate types who didn't even know what year it was....you'll have to read the list.

I have to kind of laugh at all of this. I suppose that some people find some sort of "meaning" in their lives contemplating the end. No doubt there are a lot of bitter folk who see it as an "up yours" to the universe. Judging from what I've seen about it there are a LOT of people who take it very seriously, though, and to them I say this .

21 November 2009

What?! No More Oprah?

(Photograph copyright 2009, all rights reserved)

Well, it's true, all true. The rumors that have been roaring around Chicago for months have been proven right. Oprah Winfrey is shutting down the show. It's been 25 years, and according to the lady herself, that seems a nice, round number for the last show. Of course the last show isn't going to happen until AFTER the 2010-2011 season is over. You all know this, it's been all over the news. We heard about the "tearful goodbye", all of the emotions flinging around and all the drama. Apparently the networks are scrambling, business people are freaking out, and according to a bunch or articles in the Chicago Tribune, the Chicagoan on the street thinks it's all pretty much no big deal.

See, Chicago likes to "claim" Oprah, but Is she really a Chicagoan? Consensus is not really. Yes, she DOES own a ridiculously expensive condo in a downtown tower and she can certainly afford it. If nothing else, she's a smart business woman. Sure, she occasionally shows up in the city - mostly to film her shows in the windowless studio she built in the relative wilderness of the Near South Side.

As for where she LIVES - well that would be California. Has done for many, many years. I can't say I blame her for that. The winters here can be pretty awful. I guess I can't blame her for never mentioning any of her supposed home city's world class restaurants, history, architecture or museums. I haven't watched the show for (ok, I'll admit it) a good decade and a half. Maybe I missed it. After all, it's a national show and it wouldn't do to appear to "local" in character, right? The viewers probably couldn't be expected to process that the show is created in the vacuum of the tasteful, yet bland studio that is actually in the third largest city in the US.

Oh! I forgot. She DID have that massive, self-consciously "cool" party on Michigan Avenue this summer. Now THAT was an event all right. Hundreds of police and armed guards zealously guarded the Port-a-Potties against people who had been standing outdoors for twelve or so hours waiting to see the fun. Even AFTER the people were allowed to pee, they found that there were nowhere near as many as needed. Oh yeah, I did mention that the party was on Michigan Avenue, right? Yes kids, that party made it virtually impossible to enter many office towers for literally thousands of people who actually had to get to work that day. That was fun, too.

That party caused a whole bunch of disasters for the people who actually LIVE in this city, but hey, it was great fun, right? And it wasn't Oprah's fault - it's not like she even knew any of the bad stuff was going on until the next day. No, her priorities were right where they've always been; with the celebrities that she imported for the show, the cameras, and making sure that all of the people who were invited to the party were smiling for the cameras. Nothing was allowed to interfere with making a perfect show, including the people who live here.

You might already have guessed that I don't have much time for Oprah and her show. I always thought that she was just a little too...too... I don't know...self conscious? That doesn't sound right. She always seems to me to have gone straight for the schmaltz and substance be damned. For years she's filled the air with horrible, ghastly stories told by people who she hugs and calls "survivors". I can't help but think that she studied ratings, had a bunch of focus groups and built a guest profile that would appeal to the most possible number of people. The guest had to be:

1. Either attractive adult or a cute child,

2. Had to either suffer a horrendous illness or injury,

3. OR had to be an abused woman (more on that later).

This person was absolutely required to cry attractively without getting swollen eyes or a drippy nose for one full hour if necessary. Oprah would then hug them, wipe off a tear or two (thank you Maybelline for that waterproof mascara), talk to some sort of "expert" or two about the problem, then shill for the expert's new book on that very subject.

There were celebrity interviews, too. Everyone who was anyone had to be on the Oprah show if their movie or book was coming out. That's life on talk shows in general. I feel for the actors/writers, etc. who have to schlep around the country flogging their work and having to answer the same insipid questions a thousand times. I found it all pretty tedious to watch. Who wants to hear people talking about their book? READ the bloody thing!

She's crossed some lines, though, and this is where my boredom started to become active dislike. Her trite yet popular talk show seemed to morph into something that I was truly uncomfortable with. There was the disaster of a school that she started in Africa which ended up being a "dating" pool for pedophiles and it just got creepier and creepier as far as I'm concerned.

The book club, for example. An endorsement by Oprah could send a writer to the top of the bestseller charts, guaranteeing for some that their (very and perhaps more worthy) books would never be published because they were too much of a risk. Initially all of these books were the same. Someone gets the crap kicked out of them and lives to tell the tale. The end. Then there was the great car giveaway fiasco, wherein the mighty Oprah gave everyone in the audience a car.....THEN found out that the audience would have to pay tax on it as income. She offered to take the cars back, but those that opted to keep them had to suck it up.

Lately there's been the kerfuffle about her celebrity "causes". Perhaps the biggest screwup in the history of the show was the Jenny McCarthy fiasco. For those of you who don't know, dear Jenny believes that she personally cured her son of autism, which she blamed on vaccinations. When it came out later that her son had never had autism, but a seizure disorder that was easily treated, the silence from Oprah and her crew was deafening. No, Oprah had a NEW cause - an anti-science, conspiracy theory driven, dangerous cause that got her massive amounts of attention - vaccines are evil, kids and it's ok if thousands of children die of preventable childhood illnesses as long as the evil pharmaceutical companies are prevented from sticking them in the arm! I found this jaw-droppingly awful. I still can't process that Oprah seems to believe this. I thought she was smarter than that.

It seemed that every celebrity with a crackpot diet, cancer "cure", fitness plan, New Agey bullshit happiness plan, you name it, just went to give Oprah higher ratings. If it sounded too good to be true, she was on it like white on rice, baby. The wackier the better and she applauded all of them, no matter how moronic they sounded. It didn't matter that it was all crap and that she was actually damaging the people who took it seriously. She used her power (I can't resist) for evil, all in the name of ratings and money AND PEOPLE LET HER DO IT.

Oprah has no real science education. She's not particularly brilliant when it comes to literature, or history. She is in the media, though - that's her real metier. Say things that SOUND convincing to a large enough audience and the content is actually meaningless, right?

So. Now she's going off-air. There's still the magazine. She gets to be on the cover every month, too. She's starting her own television network. The New York Times pointed out that these things are full-time jobs and not to be undertaken with the distraction of a TV show. I have to admire her ability to take a silly half hour of TV and turn it into a media empire. When it comes to making money, Oprah could give lessons to just about anyone.

I have to believe it was all calculated. ALL of it. The causes, the giveaways (Lady Bountiful clearly was an appealing alter ego), the parties, all of these are monuments to a massive ego with terrific business sense. Standing back, it's hard to swallow the carefully crafted image of the last 25 years wasn't a massive and very clever manipulation of public opinion for the sole purpose of making money. I think that the mind behind them is extremely clever and the people Oprah has working for her are no slouches. But then, I'm no fan. It all looked so blatant and obvious to me that I chose not to buy into it.

Now fans of Oprah, relax. I'm an opinionated old thing, as you can see if you read all of the above. I hope it doesn't sound like a rant - like I said, I'm opinionated and I hate feeling as if someone were trying to orchestrate my opinion. Besides, the show has another year and a bit to run, and I suspect it will be in syndication for decades to come...Ok, rethink that last. Oprah is too smart for that. The show will be on repeats on HER network for years to come.

18 November 2009

Sarah, Please Go Away Already!

(Photograph copyright 2009, all rights reserved)

Everyone knows by now that Sarah Palin's book "Going Rogue" is out. There are reviews all over the place, major arguments are happening all over the web, and I fully expect a couple of women to come to blows on the el sometime soon. No doubt it will be picked up by the Chicago Tribune and highlighted on the daily police blotter. If that happens, I promise to post links to both the articles and the mug shots.

I've resisted saying anything about it. There are some pretty good reasons for this, not the least of which is that I can't vote in this country - I have a Green Card, but I'm not a citizen. Another reason is that I have no intention of buying or reading the book. Even just based on the reviews so far I can tell that I have better uses for that money (like buying lotto tickets) and it seems like a cubic waste of time.

Still, the reviews and commentary have been pretty interesting all by themselves. Christopher Beam wrote an unauthorized Going Rogue Index that is absolutely hilarious. The Huffington Post has a slide show outlining the biggest lies told in the book and is inviting readers to add to the list. Time Magazine lists reviews from a bunch of sources, both positive and negative. Probably one of the most balanced reviews out there comes from the venerable and respected New York Times . I read their reviews all the time and generally agree with the reviewer. The Times is a safe bet when it comes to reviews that are thorough and authoritative.

The most interesting one I've found so far is from Margo Howard , formerly of Slate Magazine. It's concise and well-written, as is all of her work, but that's not even the most interesting part of it. It's the comments and arguments happening on the discussion board UNDER the article that I'm finding interesting. The readership on WowOwow is mostly women, and women have a lot to say about Mrs. Palin, ranging from (apparently) blind adulation to outright loathing and disdain. It seems there's not a lot of middle ground there.

I know, eventually I'm going to have to weigh in here. After all, even though I can't vote, it was hard to miss all of the election goings-on last year, particularly since I live in Chicago and that's where the President lives. Personally, I like Obama. He's smart, educated and knows about hard work. The Boy met him several times before the election while he was commuting to work in Washington and found the former Senator to be a most engaging and interesting person. I think he was a good choice for President, especially considering the alternative. The last person we need running this country is yet another geriatric heart attack waiting to happen or a former drunk with a gun fetish.

That said...

I don't like Sarah Palin. I just can't. I find her to be an abrasive, badly educated, arrogant lightweight whose main interests are most emphatically NOT those of the rest of the country. The whole business of parading her pregnant daughter around the country while touting abstinence "education" is probably the most blatant hypocrisy we've seen in modern times. Hauling her baby around on the campaign trail along with the other kids is skirting the edge of child abuse. Her made up "feud" with a nineteen-year-old kid is absurd.

Why would anyone who can't answer a simple question about what newspapers she reads think that she's qualified to run an entire nation? Does she sincerely believe that the President, ANY President has every single move rehearsed and pre-written in every situation? I used to joke that we only saw Bush and spouse when they were facing the camera because they didn't want anyone to see the strings in their backs, pulled by Cheney and a couple of other cronies. Looks like Sarah would volunteer for the installation.

I watched the speeches and debates during the latest presidential campaign. I paid attention to what was said on all sides. The candidates made the usual number of gaffes and misstatements, which they either corrected or apologized for over the course of the months leading up to the election. It was business as usual. Sarah Palin added entertainment value. Her life is a train wreck, she can't form full sentences without a teleprompter, and she never, ever acknowledges that she might be mistaken about something. It's always someone else's fault. I was embarrassed for her a lot of the time. It was like watching someone pee themselves, you don't quite know what to do and you WANT to ignore it, but you can't look away.

She'll make an estimated ten million dollars on the book. Hopefully that's enough to make her go away after the book tour. Her supporters have pre-ordered tens of thousands of copies, which guarantees it a spot on best seller lists even if those books molder in warehouses unread.

So what do you think? Am I full of crap? Is Sarah? If you see any reviews that look interesting, post them. I'd like to see them...

11 November 2009

Remembrance Day

I know. For all of you Americans it's Veteran's Day and judging by the local papers, it's all about the kickoff to Christmas shopping and maybe a parade of old guys in dated uniforms showing up at a War Memorial. At least, that's what it looks like when I look at a newspaper. I suspect that it's considerably more serious for many.

However, I am Canadian. Proudly Canadian. We do things differently. Remembrance Day for us is mostly about WWI. Naturally it's expanded, all Canadians that have fought all over the world are honored, but it all started in 1917. At the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day every year, one minute of silence falls all over the country.

My personal hero has always been Billy Bishop, a pilot who, in an airplane made of balsa wood and canvas, managed to become the Ace of Aces. For those of you who have been to an airplane museum, you know that these things look like toys to us now. It's impossible to imagine not only flying one of them, but taking what would seem like insane risks. I'm quite sure that today's pilots would sooner play catch with a grizzly than face machine gun fire in one of those insubstantial vehicles. Billy Bishop flew and fought in one of them for literally years.

We've all heard (and most of us Canadians memorized) McCrae's famous poem, "In Flanders Fields". Many don't know the background to it. Dr. McCrae wrote it during a twenty-minute break after having spent 17 full days treating and losing young men at the battle of Ypres in 1915. He was no stranger to combat and it's inevitable result - the Boer War was his training ground. He continued his work until 1918, when he died of pneumonia.

I know this is all uncharacteristically serious for me - try not to drop dead with the shock. Someone needs to remember, though. The ads that are all over the place, exhorting us to go shopping and spend money are offensive to me. This day, November 11, should mean more than that. If we can't give one minute of silence for those that have fallen, then we don't deserve what they died to bring us.

04 November 2009

I can't believe this. Ok I can, but yeesh.

(Photograph copyright 2009, all rights reserved)

Ok. I have to post this article Driver in fatal crash, etc. that was in the paper this morning. Last week a woman was struck and killed while at a crosswalk. The driver of the car was drunk and blew through a red light at a terrific rate of speed. His victim was seven months pregnant and died almost instantly. Her baby was delivered at the hospital and might have survived had it not been so dreadfully injured in the accident.

The guy that killed her had 15 convictions for license violations. 15. Un-freakin'-believable. His Mommy said that he "never ran a red light", which tells you what a moron she is. You have to read the entire article, though. As things stand now, license violations are impossible to enforce. They write tickets. People go to jail for a month or so. That's it.

Lawmakers across the country have tried to solve this problem for years. The most effective way to do it is, when someone is caught driving without a license, to confiscate the vehicle they're driving. Period. Gone. Never to return. It doesn't even matter whose car it is - the assumption is that whoever was stupid enough to lend the idiot his/her car is as culpable as the driver. Now we know this works. Other countries just don't have this problem, or not to the extent it exists here.

However....and it's the big however... these laws can't get passed here because every time someone tries to bring it up for a vote, the screaming starts. The loudest faction, and the one that (in my opinion) HAS to bear some responsibilities for these needless deaths, is the one that says that confiscating cars discriminates against illegal immigrants. Seriously. They say that. It's like giving assholes who have lost their licenses free rein to kill or maim at random.

Now I am so liberal that liberals give me funny looks. I think that the whole situation regarding who is "illegal" in this country is ridiculous. (BTW yes, I have permanent resident status.) All you have to do is live in Texas for 15 minutes to see just how crucial these people are to the economy. We need a guest worker program of some sort, because we all know that no "real American" is going to do what these people do for those wages. This is one of those issues that's going to come up and bite us all on our collective ass one day, and so it should.

But the cars... I can't think of a better deterrent than kicking some jerk out of his car on the side of the road, calling a tow truck and letting said jerk walk home after he/she is informed that the car is being sold at auction. Some people will probably have to go through this more than once, but seriously, most people can't buy enough cars to do this more than....I don't know...twice?

I also apply this to people who drive drunk. The first time the car is towed and can be retrieved after a hefty fine is paid. Do it again and sayonara car. Like most people, I'm good and tired of hearing about drunks killing people on the roads.

So what do you think? Does this make sense? It's really the only thing I can think of that would pose a real deterrent to the idiots behind the wheel.

03 November 2009

Question O' The Day, A Messy Poll!

(Photograph copyright 2009, all rights reserved)

Ok. Today I decided that I need a pair of jeans. I don't buy jeans often, but in the last year and a half or so I've had to get rid of seven pairs, so I've been slowly replacing them. Now these were fit issues, nothing to do with wear and tear. In fact, I keep worn out jeans longer than I probably should. I don't need to buy them "distressed", life with me for a pair of jeans is distressing enough.

I discovered, on the trek to buying jeans, that I only like one brand. Levi's. Period. Nothing else will do. They just fit me. No gaping waists, the "long" is just long enough, and they have some room in the seat so I can wear them and breathe/eat/get in and out of the car. Not only that, I buy them at standalone Levi's stores because I hate department stores that much. Besides, if they aren't on sale, they're the same price at either location so why not go for the good service, right?

So today, I trundled off to the store to get yet another pair of Mid-Rise Straight Leg Levi's and did what I always do. I took three pairs each of the two sizes that I'm most likely to wear (no, I'm not telling) in three different washes to try on. Out of a dozen pairs of jeans, ONE fit perfectly. ONE in twelve. I didn't even think about the wash - the ones I bought happen to be a nice flat black - but I didn't care. They fit. I would have taken the faded blue, too. In fact, the number on the size tag doesn't even matter, just the fit. Think about that, and consider what an unholy time suck it is to shop for them.

Now, the sales clerks know this. They will flat out tell you that you should take more than one of each size into the fitting room with you. There's no quality control in the Land Of Jeans. NONE. Not even in the $200.00 plus premium jeans market. Waists can vary up to two inches in each size. Length can do the same. It doesn't matter how much or how little you pay or what brand you buy, that variance is going to be there. I figure this about triples the amount of time it takes to buy what amounts to a pair of work pants.

So, given that quality control in the Land Of Jeans is so lousy (this applies to men's jeans, too), how in blazes does anyone ever manage to buy jeans online? I wouldn't even attempt it. Can you imagine how many returns and exchanges these companies must get? What nightmare.

So here's the poll:

1. What is your favorite brand of jeans? (C'mon now, everyone wears them and everyone has a favorite.)

2. Do you hate shopping for them as much as I do? Are you brave enough to shop online for them?

3. And if jeans aren't your shopping nemesis, what garment do you MOST hate shopping for?

4. What do you actually sort of enjoy shopping for? (I'm a shoe nut. I could spend the day shoe-shopping. Oops. I have, too.)

30 October 2009

A Restaurant Review

(Photograph copyright 2009, all rights reserved)

I've decided that since I live in a city that's renowned for its restaurant scene, I'll let you know whenever I try a new place or revisit an old friend. We don't eat out often, but when we do, we do it up right. It's difficult to make a truly bad choice here, that's how many accomplished chefs we have right now, and I'm loving every minute of it.

The other day was my friend's birthday. Weeknights are awkward, but we decided to have a go. She had to pick up my Cool Niece at day care at 4:30 p.m., so we decided that I would pick up some takeout and drive to her place for dinner. No problem. Except our favorite takeout joint Yes Thai is closed for renovations. The food there is amazing, truly wonderful thai food that concedes to American tastes only by offering varying levels of spiciness in a few of its dishes. However, they were closed, so there was much sighing and a little whining while we tried to figure things out.

As my friend was heading out of the office, she called me and mentioned Urban Belly a place that's relatively new and has had consistently wonderful reviews. We hadn't been there ourselves for a couple of reasons, the main one being that they don't take reservations so there's a perpetual lineup. It's not a place conducive to eating with a 2 1/2 year old, even if we did come early enough to get a table. Plus, call me cranky, but there is no goddamned way I'm going to stand out in the cold for an hour or more waiting to eat. Neither do I appreciate a bunch of people staring at me while I'm eating and audibly groaning when I order some tea at the end of my meal. I simply will not do that.

They do takeout, though. Wonderful marvelous BEAUTIFUL takeout. I ordered a couple of different dumplings to start. One was squash and bacon, the other was duck. While I was ordering, the lady that took the order apologized for not having the regular duck and said that they had substituted foie gras..... I was on that like white on rice.

(Note: I am a dedicated carnivore. I LOVE the foie. I am a friend to the pig - as long as it's prepared correctly. I see baby lambs and think "Yum". I don't care if it's politically correct or not, I sincerely don't care what anyone thinks of that, and I will probably mock unmercifully anyone who takes me to task for it. It's a non-issue and I don't want to hear about it.)

I also got a couple of noodle dishes, some gorgeous melt-in-your mouth spare ribs with rice, and wrinkle beans that were....perfect. The dumplings were pure heaven - nice clean flavors and perfect texture. The short ribs were small bites that were perfectly seasoned and tender. I ordered two noodle dishes, because this is their specialty and it's what they do best. One was a ramen noodle with pork belly, shitake mushroom and pho broth, the other was soba noodles with bay scallops, oyster mushrooms and Thai basil broth.

We put the Cool Niece to bed and ate in silence. That's how good everything was. I suspect that the rest of their menu is just as wonderful. You could just close your eyes and point and no matter what you landed on, it would be wonderful. There are very few places that either of us would say that about. On most menus there are things that occasionally fall flat. You don't, for example, order the chicken in a restaurant that specializes in fish, and for good reason. Most of the time when people try that, they end up watching enviously as their dining companions moan their way rapturously through their dinners and kicking themselves.

The chef at Urban Belly doesn't do that. It's a short menu. There are no "consolation dishes" for the picky types that want something generic to eat because they're familiar with it. When you eat there you know that you will get the best possible iteration of every dish they make, and it's enough. If you come to the City of Wind, consider it a destination, even if you can't get a seat.

27 October 2009

Question O' The Day

(Photograph copyright 2009, all rights reserved)

All right. I give up! The Boy has been hassling me to pass this on to you as a kind of poll and to mess with everyone's mind. And why the heck not, right? After all, I LIVE to ask the strange, dumb, oddball questions, right?

First, and I can't stress this enough, don't do this at work. Seriously. I refuse to be responsible for anyone who gets in trouble because they didn't bother reading a simple warning, so I will repeat myself:


Right. Here's what you need to do.

1. Do a Google search on any woman's first name. Any name at all, but no surname.

2. When the search is complete, go to the top left corner of your screen and click on "Images". You will then be presented with a bunch of thumbnail photographs. Are you there? Good.

3. Below your Google search box, there's a little gadget called "Safe Search". Click on that, then change the setting from whatever it is now (usually it's "Moderate") to "Off", then search the name again, clicking on "Images" when the search is done.

What you will find is that all of the pictures of "Jane" or "Mary" (or whatever you used) will now change to porn. Nothing else. No matter what female name you search this way, you will get pages and pages of porn.

Now to complete the test, do the same thing, but put in MEN'S names. All you will see is a bunch of (reasonably fully clothed) celebrities and sports types. NO PORN.

So tell me, kids... What the hell is that? Why do women's names ONLY seem to generate porn, ad NONE of the men's names do? Who made that decision? Is it deliberately sexist? If so, why? Why bother?

See? I told you it was a maddening question! Anyone have any insight for me? We're all dying to know.

Here's what I want someone to try...if they have a lot of time on their hands and nothing to do, that is... Google a bunch of women's names and let us know WHICH woman's name generates zero porn. When you get bored with that (I think it's impossible to find one), do it with MEN'S names and let us know which ones generate ANY porn.


26 October 2009

Question O' The Day

(Photograph copyright 2009, all rights reserved)

Oh dear. Late again. Oh well. Nothing new there. Weekends are horrifically busy in the Messy Household, so you'll have to bear with me.

Now on Sundays, The Boy and I have a bit of a tradition. In the afternoons, we head out walking, cameras in hand and time things so that we end up at our local at exactly 3:00 p.m. for a delicious beer before we head home to make dinner. While there, we pick up a Chicago Reader (http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/Home ) . It's very entertaining. Perfect, in fact, for perusing whilst sipping a delightful alcoholic beverage on a chilly afternoon.

It carries Dan Savage's column and something called "News of the Weird" which is a roundup of oddball news stories around the world (go have a look, it's hilarious), but the most entertaining thing is a section of the classified ads called "I Saw You". You can see it here, http://chicagoreader.selectalternatives.com/gyrobase/Personals/ISawYou . Essentially, it's a section of ads that people send in saying things like (NOT A REAL AD I MADE IT UP):

"You were the guy in the kilt vomiting in the gutter outside the L--------- Bar on the 19th. I thought you were revolting, but cute. I was wearing a long black leather coat and nothing else. Please call me, I want to have your babies."

There are usually a dozen or so of these a week, most considerably more benign than my example. People see each other on the El or at a bus stop, grocery store, hair salon - you name it - then post one of these ads hoping to get in contact with the person they're admiring. Ok, I get that. Seeing or having a short conversation with someone and being chicken to ask for a phone number...most of us have been there.

But, but....here's the question.

How many of these ads get answered? How many of you out there would answer them? Have you ever done that? Do you KNOW someone that has?

(Note: I just called The Reader and spoke to someone in their classifieds department. He said that they don't really have a way to keep track of which ads get answered and which don't. He added that he thinks this is one of those questions that you never really want to know the answers to anyway. It's better to keep the magic alive and allow people hope. That said, they have had people call and tell them that they met through ads in the paper and they're getting married. So all of this isn't as silly as I thought it might be.)

22 October 2009

Question O' The Day

(Photograph copyright 2009, all rights reserved)

Oh dear. Here it is the end of the day, and I'm finally getting to this. This is a question from The Boy - it would have to be, since we women don't tend to frequent men's washrooms, right? I'm sure there's a real answer to this one, too.

In all men's bathrooms, no matter where you go, there is always one urinal set way down close to the floor. Someone posited that they were for kids, but then why do they exist where kids don't go, like bars? They can't be for disabled people, because in many places the toilets are located either up or down a narrow flight of stairs. They have them in other countries, too, so it's not just an American thing.

So help us out here.

What are the lowest of the low urinals FOR in men's restrooms?

21 October 2009

Question O' The Day

(Photograph copyright 2009, all rights reserved)

People don't know how to park their cars. Has anyone ever noticed that? I'm not talking about parallel parking on the street. Chicago is full of on-street parking, and I have to admire people who can just whistle their way into a parking spot roughly the size of a Kleenex box, especially when they're driving full-sized vans and big sedans. Disclosure: I can't parallel park worth a damn. It must be because I'm a Westerner and there are parking lots in the West because there's just more room. I don't know. I've never learned how to parallel park correctly and I live in fear that I'll have to take a road test one day for a license renewal.

No, I'm talking about parking lots. I've seen so many fender benders and near misses in parking lots (and garages) that I've developed my own set of rules for them. You may call me paranoid, but that's just the way it is. Whenever I see a new-ish car covered in dents, I know that person has to park in a lot at work and they've given up. Rules:

1. If you see a new-ish Cadillac that is covered in dings and scratches, park FAR away from it. It has become de rigeur for grandmas who really shouldn't be driving at all to buy these things (it's the old "surrounded by steel" argument - too bad those cars are mostly plastic), and since they have no intention of ever owning another car, they don't bother getting collision insurance. They don't care who they hit, and therefore they don't bother with mirrors (even if they're tall enough to see them) when they back up. Stay away.

2. Don't park near white vans, especially if they have rust on them. Silly? No. Everyone knows that white vans mean "serial killer", right? Every time you hear about something dreadful happening like little kids being propositioned outside of schools, or muggings and rapes and abductions there's always a white van involved. Besides, every cop show ever made that's featured a hideous kidnapping or other crime involves a white van. White vans have bad pop-culture karma. Seriously, when you start noticing these things, they show up everywhere. Weird.

3. Don't park anywhere near an SUV that has one of those "honor student" stickers (My child is a coke dealer in the South Loop, My son is on his fourth DUI, etc. ) or the even smarmier little Mommy/Daddy/Kid/Pet stick figures pasted to a window. These people never pay attention to where they're going. They're either abasing themselves to their kids in hopes that they little buggers will shut up or shouting at them to shut up. Usually the golden lab is in the front seat, slobbering all over the windshield. You don't want to get near that.

4. If your car is new, make sure you get it good and dirty before you go to a grocery store in it. A new car in a parking lot is an idiot attractor. They'll be on you like a fat kid on a Smartie, and you will end up at the body shop for it.

5. It's SAFE to park by the tricked-out little putt putts that the kids are driving these days. This only seems counterintuitive. No matter how rough the occupant looks, they aren't interested in getting into any fuss with insurance companies or cops. Besides, if they are young kids, you have to know that they've fixed up their cars on their own nickel, so they know what stuff costs - no parent is going to pay for any of that.

Ok, those are the main rules. I have a strategy for dealing with these poxes on humanity. When I go somewhere that has a parking lot, I go during off-peak hours. I have no day job, so thats relatively easy. I park away from entryway doors, preferably in a corner somewhere with at least two spaces between me and the cars on either side. Call me paranoid, I can take it, but I just don't like spending a fortune on body work and I won't drive a bunged-up vehicle.

So here's the question....

Why is it that when you do that - park away from as many other vehicles as you can manage - some asshole always has to snuggle their minivan or pickup right next to your driver's side door?

As a corollary, why do they do that when you're in and empty lot? It's not like they're going to run out of room, yet someone ALWAYS does that! Why park so close?

Enquiring minds and all that....

20 October 2009

Question O' The Day

(Photograph copyright 2009, all rights reserved)

Ok, this is another of the Great Imponderables, and I think it's generational.

When I was born (Yeah, back in the Dark Ages), my parents owned, a VW Bug. This was the original Bug. No seat belts, no airbags, eensy little wheels, three speed transmission, top speed of 50 mph, one of THOSE Bugs. Now, I was almost born in the front seat of that car. Apparently I was in a hurry.

We had that car until I was almost four years old. My sister was a year old at the time. It was replaced with (and guys, you'll know what I'm talking about) a Chevy Bel-Air station wagon in LeMans blue. By the time they got rid of THAT car, my brother was eight years old. It was faded (that was a shitty color for fading) and rusted almost to bits, but it ran and went to the son of the mechanic that had somehow kept it running for just over a decade and 300,000 miles.

My experience is not unusual. Most of the parents of my age cohort drove either sedans or station wagons, unless they were running a small business, in which case they drove vans. Kids sat in the back seats arguing on long car trips or in the very back of the wagons or vans concocting mischief that, if we'd followed through, would have resulted in our parents killing us long before adolescence.

I remember clearly plotting with a friend to dig a tunnel between the tool sheds in our respective yards. Never mind that we would have to traverse a large lot, dig under a paved alley, a garage and another house, we figured we could manage it. We even had a place for the dirt - there was a vacant lot across the street from her place. Then we found out there was a concrete pad under her tool shed, so we gave it up in favor of rigging our bedroom windows so we could sneak out at night and read by flashlight on lawn chairs in our side yard.

Ok. I'm rambling now. To the question.

We now live in a townhouse complex of 21 units. Young (ish) couples were the main buyers of these units and in the past five years, they've been reproducing like bunnies. It's hilarious - someone is always pregnant. Now in EVERY SINGLE CASE, almost as soon as the test comes back positive and the word spreads, a brand-new 3/4 ton truck appears in the couples' garage.

So what is that? Some will say that they want their kids "surrounded by steel", but car design today is advanced to the point where that is meaningless. Besides, I've seen SUVs after accidents and the front compartment is fine, but the back seat is smashed to shit. So that's not a real argument.

The other excuse is that there's a lot of stuff to haul. Ok. but that hasn't changed in the last 50 years. You still have to load the kid, the diaper bag, the stroller, etc. and that can be managed in a car with no real strain.

So tell me. Why is it that the mere act of making a seven or eight pound baby that entitles people to a truck that is designed to haul eight adults and their camping gear, as well as the dead deer they bring back from the hunting trip?

19 October 2009

Question O' The Day

(Photograph copyright 2009, all rights reserved)

Happy Monday! No? Not happy Monday?

All right. We'll let that go. I'm finding it a happy Monday because after five days of the head cold that has been tearing its way through everyone I've seen or spoken to in the last ten days, I can almost breathe again. Almost. Not quite...

So. The Great Imponderable of the day is one that I KNOW has a real, concrete answer. It's going to take someone who knows someone who knows someone to get that answer, but I have faith. Plus everyone's heard the question, many have posed it themselves and I've yet to hear an answer that makes any sense yet.

I do not shy from the difficult questions! I LIVE for the difficult questions! So here you are.

What IS it with the bathtubs in the Cialis ads? Who came up with that brainwave? Did someone find it evocative, or are we meant to be asking the question? If that's the case, why bother with a big mysterious ad campaign for a drug with a very simple reason to exist?

Can you get it? Anyone? Anyone know whose agency came up with it?

I live in hope.

18 October 2009

Question O' The Day

(Photograph copyright 2009, all rights reserved)

Aha! More creative answers. Clearly keeping the questions less, shall we say, concrete leads to some interesting things. So. A little background to this one.

We used to live in Texas. North Texas, to be exact. It's the Land of a lot of things, but what concerns us here is that it's also the Land of Freeways. It was...interesting to get used to. There's nothing quite as intimidating as taking a one-lane exit and flinging yourself practically vertical on one of the monster fly-overs that engineers are so fond of there. It's like being inside an abstract sculpture, but at 70 miles an hour. It took me a month of finding alternate routes to get the nerve to use them and another six months to get used to it.

However. Texas had money for roads, but what they didn't seem to have is money to clean them up. There was garbage all over the place. Some things were downright dangerous. Road gators, for example, are chunks of tire that fall off of semi-trailers at high speed. Retreads are legal there, and they cause horrendous accidents. I only ever saw them on the road, though, so there was some creative dodging at high speeds that I just looked on as a challenge.

To the point. Of all the debris on the freeways, the one thing we noticed the most were.....shoes. Lots of shoes. Shoes all over the damn place. There were other items of clothing and if in fact you could stop and pick them up, you could create an entire wardrobe on one trip to Dallas. But it was the shoes that got me. So here's the question.

Why is it that you only ever see ONE shoe on the road? Where's the other one? IS there another one? Are there THAT many amputees flinging their shoes around willy nilly while they're driving along? Do the shoes go feral and hit the road hunting for mates? Are there herds of feral shoes, then, roaming the South?


17 October 2009

Question O' The Day

(Photograph copyright 2009, all rights reserved)

All right. Clearly these questions have been WAY too easy so far. I've pondered. I've combed my brain. I've picked the brain of everyone I've spoken to in the last week. Still I was having trouble.... Then I had an evil thought. A Great Imponderable that probably HAS no answer! Ready?

Why is it that in a box on animal crackers, only the monkey gets to wear clothing?

16 October 2009

Question O' The Day

(Photograph copyright 2009, all rights reserved)

Wow. I'm on a roll. There are REAL answers to the Great Imponderables! This is very exciting, but now I feel the need to try and come up with things that will stump all of those smart folk out there....Hmmm. Ok, I consulted The Boy and this is his idea:

Where does all the fat go from skim milk?

15 October 2009

Question O' The Day

Ok. Another Great Imponderable, or at least something we've been pondering, although I suspect it does have a real answer. Ready?

Where does all the caffeine from decaffeinated coffee go?

14 October 2009

The Question O' The Day....

The Boy (my husband, with apologies to Christie Blatchford of the Globe and Mail, who coined that term lo these many years ago) suggested that with all of the people out there looking, reading and observing the world in general might have some insights into the Eternal Questions.

I'm taking his advice. He's right. But then having an answer for everything and KNOWING the answer for everything are two entirely different propositions. So let me know. This is his first burning question:

Where does Barney Rubble work?

MessyONE finally has a home!

Thank goodness for that. For those of you who know me from Slate's Fray, I have no intention of changing anything about what I write or the way I do it. For those that don't, beware that I am an unapologetic smart-ass who occasionally uses some blue language, because sometimes things just make more sense that way.

This is all about having the fun and poking fun at the pompous, the rude, the obnoxious, the odd....and anyone or anything that strikes me (or you!) as interesting or out of the ordinary. If you ask for my advice, you'll get it. You may not like what you hear, but it'll be as straightforward as I can make it. Keep in mind that I am NOT a counselor of any kind. Just an opinionated lady with a fair amount of life experience.

Tell me anything you want. If you see a news story, hear a rumor, want to answer a poll - just do it. I'm here.