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.
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:
DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT DOING THIS AT WORK, ON A WORK COMPUTER, OR ANYWHERE BUT YOUR OWN HOME WHEN THERE ARE NO CHILDREN PRESENT. I DON'T WANT TO PISS ANYONE OFF. GOT IT?
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.
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.)
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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:
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:
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.
This blog was intended to be a portal to "Ask Aunt Messy" and "SHADDAP!", but it has become much more than that. It seems that virtually every day I run in to something that leaves me shaking my head.
So this is where I shake my head, rant about stupid stuff and verbally shake the people who are making news doing....dumb things. If YOU see anything that leaves you wanting to do the same, you can always contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll look into it for you.
I welcome opinions, posts, smart cracks, you name it.