Wednesday, August 31, 2005

How to ruin Christmas four months early:

1. Write a Christmas holiday catalog for one of your clients. In August.
2. Develop a HUGE case of writer’s block. (“Deck the … um … deck?”)
3. Miss your company’s summer outing because you’re too Dubya butt-stupid to conjure up effective Christmas holiday imagery when you’re still wearing cargo shorts and shaved armpits.
4. Realize that you can't even drown your sorrows in eggnog until the damn stores start carrying it again.

(Of course, the three of us still here working on the thing just realized we can make a joke that starts A Polack, a Jew and a faggot were writing a Christmas catalog ...)

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


Check out this sweet condo floorplan:
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It has everything I want: perfect location, two spacious bedrooms, my very own washer & dryer, funky round room that begs for dramatic decor, cute little Evita-waving balcony, giant have-the-friends-over-for-a-barbecue balcony—and all in a gut rehab of a grand old building. The only problem (at this writing) is that it's early pre-construction and there are still no prices set. So even though I have a good feeling about it, the damn thing could be too expensive for my budget.

I also had a good feeling about a stock tip 15 years ago, and today I'm the proud owner of a couple shares of Tyco, which are so worthless that the broker fees would just compound the financial loss I'd incur by selling them. So my good feelings don't always have the best track record. (On the plus side, I get an 8¢ dividend check from Tyco every quarter. They don't offer direct deposit, though, so I have to schlep to my nearest ATM to reap my financial rewards.)

Monday, August 29, 2005

Grammar Gripe #1

I’m a writer. It’s what I do. It’s what’s kept me up to my artificially whitened teeth in cocaine and hookers mortgage payments and trendy shoes and brand-name peanut butter since soon after I got my precious English degree.

So, naturally, I have my (educated, I’d like to think) opinions about writing and writers and the write way to right.

And with educated opinions come cranky, self-important, globally irrelevant pet peeves. Suffice it to say, I have quite a few. Some are hard-and-fast rules people should have learned in the third grade. Some are personal preferences borne of a hatred for inelegant pomposity.

And I’m warning you in advance: My passion for good writing burns as white-hot as Rush Limbaugh’s urethra between marriages, so if you can’t stomach the incoherent rantings of a reasonably well-groomed grammar god, you may want to go here instead.

And because I often have nothing of real value to say here so I’ve decided I’ll periodically write about (yawn) grammar for those of you brave enough to soldier on with me, take a deep breath and prepare to be gramminated (I just made that word up!) with my first-ever inelegantly named Grammar Gripe!

The Problem: would like
It sounds nice and formal and educated, doesn’t it? NOT. Even in its proper subjunctive context, it sounds to my hyper-critical ears as though it's artificially pretentious and laden with rude subtext.
Example! We would like to invite you to our party … but we won’t because you’re not even cool enough to fish leftover Doritos out of our cat box.
Example! I would like to congratulate you on the birth of your baby … but I can’t because, frankly, even if it’s yours it’s too ugly to live and I wouldn’t want to get your hopes up.
Example! I would like to order the fish … but I can’t because I don't speak any known languages. And I've been dead for seven years.

The Solution: nothing
Just say, simply, Come to our party or Congratulations on the birth of your baby or I want to give you this lovely and extremely expensive gift, Jake, because you write with clarity and precision and such a refreshing lack of inelegant pomposity. Sometimes.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Two down, eight to go!

#6: Thou shalt not kill.
''You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it."
—Spiritual Leader Pat Robertson, opining that the U.S. should kill Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, August 22, 2005

#9: Thou shalt not bear false witness.
"'I didn't say assassination."
—Man of God Pat Robertson, lying shamelessly in a pathetic attempt to cover his wrinkly, self-righteous old ass, August 24, 2005

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Big Boy Car!

Last week, the air conditioning on my sad little 10-year-old Neon finally gave me and my wallet one too many room-temperature middle fingers. And as I started dreading contemplating the whole car-buying (and -financing) process for the first time in a decade, I decided that at 37 years (and five months) old, I deserved a car with:
• reliability
• a warranty
• bells and whistles beyond intermittent air conditioning and a sun visor with a mirror
• that all-important new-car smell
• and maybe, finally, a little bit of freakin’ sex appeal (befitting a man of my age and deportment, of course)

Until Saturday, when I once again rejoined the ranks of the Car Loan Generation, I’d held steadfastly to the belief that a car was nothing more than a simple mode of transportation with perhaps a modest CD player to help mask the pain and suffering brought on by lumpy seats and leaky window gaskets that whistle on the highway.

But I have seen the (bi-directional ceiling) light and I have drunk the Kool-Aid (which had been stored in one of many convenient, adjustable, spill-proof cup holders) and I am now the proud owner of a rolling symphony of bells and whistles:
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You’ll notice that I did hold on to my beliefs that a car shouldn’t call attention to itself (e.g., be brightly colored or festooned with garish fancy decoration) or say “Come steal me!” (e.g., be a Jag or a Beemer or whatever it is the rich kids are driving these days). I much prefer my muted silver exterior and unobtrusive gray upholstery, thank you. But while I was pushing myself through other boundaries and doing something so completely out of character, I also decided to go all the way and buy my ride (RIDE! JUST LIKE THE KIDS SAY!) brand-spanking-new right off the lot. Which—as we all know—meant instant depreciation the moment it left the dealer. But it also gave me the chance to say I own a car with 30 miles on it, I got a VERY fair trade-in plus $2,500 in incentives, and I had the expert, aggressive, no-nonsense car-buying help of my sister and my ex-boyfriend to guide me through the process.

I also got a little bit of attitude from the dealer’s finance guy, who kept whining about how he wanted to get home to fire up the grill for some party he didn’t invite us to and who got upset when my posse wouldn’t let him upsell me on any insurance packages or extended warranties … and I’m sorry, but if you insist on blow-drying your hair as though you were auditioning for Dynasty: The Musical and wearing pleated Dockers and shapeless, off-brand polo shirts in public, YOU DON’T DESERVE TO GO TO YOUR PARTY.

(Besides, you’ll get no pity from Cap’n 60 Hour Workweek when you complain that you have to stay late a whole hour to do your freakin’ job—and get extra pay for it. Whiner.)

Anyway, how much do I love my new car? Let me enumerate the ways:
• The dashboard makes it look I’m driving a disco. There are lights and gauges and switches and things that wiggle seductively and that probably cook up endless batches of Kitchen Fresh Chicken for me if I just figure out which button to push—and there’s even a tachometer to show me how it’s all affecting my RPMs.
• I now have power everything—right at my fingertips. No more hand-cranking the windows or reaching clear across the car to unlock the door for people as though I were driving in the freakin’ Middle Ages.
• I even have one of these thingies, which I’ve always looked at as vulgar and showy. But now that I have one I have no choice but to think haughty thoughts and make a big show of flashing my lights and unlocking my doors from a distance. I am drunk … with … social … power!
• And who knew I could live so long without Tom Cruise control? Now, with just a push of a button, I can avoid the debilitating ankle strain that comes with using the gas pedal like common people do AND I can push Hollywood’s batshit-crazies out of the limelight and deeper into the delusion that everyone thinks they breed.
• There are no pictures to pilfer from the Web site, but I also have height-adjustable seats, a sun/moon roof that doesn’t compromise my headroom, and a leather-wrapped stick shift controlling a sporty automatic transmission that delivers the silky smoothness of a stripper’s chest and the suave insouciance of a film noir lothario.
• And get a load of my deployed air bags! (That’s not a metaphor for anything.)
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This promotional photo makes them look so soft and cozy, it almost makes you want to get in a snuggly little accident. But I think I’ll hold off on realizing that dream a little longer—at least until my mileage reaches the triple digits.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The answer: camel poop

The question: How do you entertain two kids on a four-day Chicago vacation?

One of the many highlights of Jake’s Uncle Binge Weekend was yesterday’s trip to the surprisingly awesome Lincoln Park Zoo. Aside from the cool fake habitats and the interesting animals we saw, the moment we walked in we were greeted by a camel who ran (well, as fast as camels can run) toward us as though to offer a friendly camel toe hello. But when he got to the shallow pool separating him from the wall we were standing behind, he waded in, turned his back on us and began pooping. And pooping. And pooping. And pooping. Then he took a small break. Then he started pooping again, until he was standing shin-deep in a bobbing-camel-doots-filled toilet of his own making.

Needless to say, the Magic Pooping Camel! was a big hit among the under-six demographic in our touring party. The over-thirty demographic was far more fascinated by the Magic Fucking Turtles. The boy turtle (who was not, as we were prepared to explain, trying to get a piggy-back ride on the girl turtle) was struggling valiantly to hold on as tight as his no-opposable-thumbed turtle hands would allow as the slippery-shelled girl turtle moved quite rapidly away from his amorous advances—and from his human-tongue-shaped turtle penis, which worked quite diligently to slide under the girl’s shell and find her little turtle cooter.

Let's all say it together: Little turtle cooter!

We also saw some Magic Fucking Wallabies, but they were so fuzzy-wuzzy cutey-wootey that even the boy wallaby’s frighteningly long and stringy penis couldn’t distract us from their adorability. Their big wallaby-fucking adorability.

The answer: vile puns

My nephew has discovered jokes and riddles, which he asks every grownup within earshot at every possible opportunity. Fortunately, he’s amassed an impressive arsenal of material, so he rarely bores us with repeats. He’s even made up a few of his own: What does a duck policeman say? Let’s quack this case!

Not one to be outdone by the comedic gifts of a mere six-year-old, I spent the whole weekend thinking up equally brilliant jokes, two of which became particularly oft-repeated hits: What does a table do in the morning? Comb its chair. and the not-quite-gay-friendly Where do spiders get married? At a webbing.

I’m expecting a call from Hollywood any day now. And I’m thinking a show like “Friends” could use some of this more sophisticated humor. (The episodes are getting kind of stale.)

The answer: cheap entertainment

Last year we spent great amounts of money taking the kids to kid-themed museums and restaurants, where they were often as unimpressed as we were. This year we made no particular plans and just followed our relatively cheap instincts, which took us to the top of the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier, the greasy booths at Ed Debevic’s (which smelled like a mildewy funeral home), the Grand Luxe Café (which ROCKS THE MOLTEN CHOCOLATE HOUSE), the aforementioned Lincoln Park Zoo, the top of the John Hancock Center (which features signs about “Big John” even though I've NEVER heard anyone call the building “Big John”—though I have heard the occasional "Top of the ’Cock"), the pool in my condo building, and—best of all—the dried-gum-covered seats of the train and the bus.

And on one bus ride the nephew declared he REALLY had to pee—and we were at least 30 minutes from home. One kindly old lady sitting next to us took such pity on him that she offered us her empty Snapple bottle so he could empty his bladder without interrupting his bus fun. AS IF, kindly old lady! No nephew of mine is going to pee in a bottle on a moving bus. We may have made bad judgment calls in the past (Tyco investments, leg warmers, forearm waxings, etc.), but we are NOT about to encourage our kids to behave like common bus bums. Especially using a bottle that once contained peach-flavored tea. Because peach-flavored tea is just gross.

The answer: chlorinated hair

My condo building has a pool. It’s a very nice pool. And though I’ve lived here almost five years, I’d been in the pool just once before this weekend. And now I’ve been five times. And it’s pretty sweet! There’s a nice shallow end for the kids to jump and splash and play in, and it’s long enough that those of us who haven’t been swimming since the early Clinton administration can whip out a few breast strokes (so to speak) and feel as though we’ve gotten a halfway decent (pant, pant) cardio experience.

I also discovered that a hearty game of Throw The Niece In The Air is a lot more fun when you’re standing in three feet of water—you somehow have more throwing power (it must have something to do with … um … hydrothermics … or something), and if you kind of miss her on the way down, she’s in no danger of bonking her head on the hard ground.

Plus: awesome shoulder workout!

The answer: lies, lies, lies

My sister and her husband have figured out the best way to make the “how much longer?” question go away: Just make up an answer, preferably something under five minutes. The kids never challenge your knowledge and they haven’t quite harnessed the concept of relative time—so whether they’re asking when the waiter will bring our dinner or how much longer until the bus comes, just tell them five minutes!

The answer: Mickey Mouse waffles

I have Mickey Mouse waffle iron that my sister gave me as a housewarming present back in 1993. Because I’m too lazy to clean up cooking messes so I tend to just not make them, I use it only for special occasions. Like uncle bingeing.

And, according to the niece and nephew, who conducted four days of research this weekend, I make the best Mickey Mouse waffles in the world.

I also live in the best "minium" in the world and make the best pink lemonade in the world (it's really raspberry-kiwi out of a can, but let's just keep that between you and me, OK?) and give the best hugs in the world and I’m the best uncle in the world.

Yes, they are prone to superlatives (though I plead guilty on all charges). And no, it never gets old. Even though they make the most sticky fingerprints in the world.

Friday, August 12, 2005


You know how sometimes a feuding couple will get a puppy in a doomed attempt to save their marriage?

It's a largely imperfect metaphor, but right now I feel like that puppy.
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In less boring cryptic news, the sister and her family are coming for a fun Chicago weekend later tonight. I've already scrubbed the bathroom and the kitchen and spot-treated the carpets. Now all that's left is some rudimentary tidying and a good dusting and vacuuming.

And then some serious uncling. I see treat buying, in-the-air throwing and lots of giggling in my immediate future. And possibly some having-too-much-fun-to-be-blogging-ing.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

I love the Internets!

After what's been an extremely stressful few weeks, I ordered myself a little sumpin' online last Thursday—and I've been able to follow its progress across the continent all week just by clicking my mouse:
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And by the time I pick it up from my doorman tomorrow night, I will have engaged in shameless conspicuous consumerism with almost no human contact and absolutely no physical exertion. What could be more American?

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Confidential to the woman in the black thong:

A bleached linen skirt may be cool and breezy on a hot summer day, but without a slip underneath it, it's gonna scream LOOK! THERE'S A BLACK THONG UNDER ME!

Possible solution: a flesh-colored thong

Better solution: with your figure, granny underpants

Either way, we shouldn't have to start our day with your undergarments screaming at us in all caps.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

30 races!

(Give or take, depending on the thoroughness of my record-keeping.)

When I first started running, a friend told me he always saves his racing bibs and writes his time, the weather, whom he ran with, etc. on the backs of them. He said it's a great way to track your running progress and know what factors may have contributed to especially good or bad finish times. So I started doing it too.

And today, when I finally got around to recording the notes on the backs of my bibs from races in (ahem) late June and early July, I got out all my bibs (at least the ones I hadn't lost) and spread them out to see how many I had.

And it made a perfect rectangle!
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Look at all the pretty colors! They almost make the shin splints and tendonitis and nagging pain worth it. Pretty ... colors ...

As I was looking for a good (read: fast) example of backer notes to take a picture of and post here, I discovered that I had NOT, in fact, accomplished much in the name of timing progress over the last 10 years of running. While I was making progress in distance (a 5K to a marathon in 10 years), my times have constantly hovered in the 8.5-to-9.5-minute-mile range. And my gooey hips have remained vigilantly, defiantly gooey. So I can at least claim consistency.
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Little-known fact for those of you who don't run: When you pick up your bib and your race packet the day before a race, you always get four complimentary saftey pins. FOUR. Because three would seem cheap and five would be too showy. I've often wondered what lucky fuckers get stuck counting out sets of four safety pins to dump into thousands of race packets in the days before a race, and how fulfilling they must find their volunteering activities to be.

In any case, I have this strange compulsion to save EVERY safety pin I've ever received. And I sometimes clip them into little four-safety-pin sets that—if you squint really hard and drink a bottle of perfume first—kinda look like cute little metallic sheep. Or guppies. Or afghan hounds. Or ... um ... wow—I just realized how pathetic my safety-pin collection and I must look right now.

Then again, what animal-loving softie couldn't resist this adorable tableau of a mommy safety-pin guppy leading her five safety-pin guplets on a little swim across a shiny sea floor:
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And people tell me I need a hobby.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

When you just know

I was leafing through an old New Yorker on the bus recently when I stumbled on a review for an opera at the Lyric that I almost attended. As I skimmed through the glowing descriptions of artists I’d never heard of and epic story arcs I’d probably never encounter in real life, a name suddenly jumped out at me: A guy I’d actually gone on a date with two years earlier—a guy who was trying to make a career as an opera singer—was actually reviewed in the New Yorker … and the critic liked him!

I’d first met him in a bar soon after I’d moved here. He was handsome and charismatic … and wearing leather jeans on a hot summer night. Sexy leather jeans. He was all smiley and chatty, but I could tell he was a bit of a playa—though we had a lot in common and I enjoyed talking to him.

He was a friend of a friend, and we kept bumping into each other off and on over the next few years. And one day he finally asked me out to dinner. And I said yes.

We chose a popular little Mexican place in the heart of Boystown and had a very nice chat over chips and salsa and various Taco-Bell-on-nicer-dishes foodstuffs.

And it was somewhere between the last bite of enchalidas verdes and the first mouthful of sopapillas that it hit me. The waves of goosebumps … the rapid heartbeat … the back-of-the-neck heat … that undeniable feeling in the pit of your stomach that makes you just know … beyond all doubt … that you have food poisoning.

Yes, I was on a nice date with a nice guy and I literally threw money on the table and bolted out the door on him. And after an iffy cab ride home, I spent the next 24 hours never more than 10 steps away from the toilet, alternately lying naked on the cool tile floor and crawling deliriously toward the kitchen to find some Gatorade to keep myself electrolyted (electrolit?).

And then—total moron that I am—I decided it would be a good idea the next day to take a 5-hour road trip with some friends to a little weekend getaway we’d been planning for months. In a car. With close proximity. With what we will euphemistically call a still-jumpy tummy.

And when we got to our little getaway, the only bathroom was mere steps away from the family room area where we all hung out. And I didn’t bring any matches.

But we survived, and my euphemism jumpy tummy didn’t kill anyone—though it didn’t help generate any close friendships either.

And the date? He was pretty understanding about the food poisoning, so there were no hard feelings. But when I found out he already had a boyfriend, he never got a second chance at a start-to-finish dinner.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Cleanness envy

I just looked at a brand-spanking new condo, which came complete with a range of desirable features:
• pristine countertops
• unblemished woodwork
• gleaming bathroom fixtures
• air conditioning that doesn’t drown out the TV
• bathroom tile that doesn’t look like it was stained with the blood of the innocents

And now I find myself looking at my four-year-old condo with a marked level of disdain and resentment, because its amenities would have a hard time finding their way into a glowing multiples listing:
• smudgy walls
• mousy-blah countertops with stubborn stains
• slightly spotty carpets
• a selection of dusty fingerprints
• not enough room for 40 pair of shoes

And I have a bad case of cleanness envy.

It’s not helping that the new condo's cleanness is bigger than mine, with higher ceilings and more square footage.

But my cleanness, for all its shortcomings, does have better water pressure. And at 24 stories up, it definitely has a better view. But damn, the thing gets dusty—especially since it’s so old.

Two weeks ago at my friend Bill’s going-away party, I took one look at the host’s deck and felt immediately inadequate. His deck was HUGE and totally tricked out with nice chairs and a grill and even a tent canopy. Best of all, it was shaded by big tufts of mature trees and it provided beautiful views of the city. Then a few days later I was at a co-worker’s condo for a client barbecue—and HIS deck was not only as big as my whole condo, but it offered breathtaking views of the city. He definitely had the biggest deck by far, and it even had upholstered furniture and little tufts of grass growing in square pots to make it seem less overwhelming.

I have a deck, too, but it’s one my whole building uses. It’s nice and big—and very sturdy—but when so many people have been on it, you never know how clean it is. I hardly ever use it.

Besides, with big decks come big bills. And while I think my bills are pretty huge, I can’t even imagine how big the bills are that come saddled to those guys’ big decks. I’d think I’d have a hard time enjoying my big deck if I had huge bills weighing me down. Even if I had friends over to sit on my big deck on a sunny afternoon, the weight of those bills could really undermine my enjoyment.

Fortunately, a man cannot be defined solely by extent of his cleanness, the size of his deck or the weight of his bills. (I’d brag about how much escrow I have built up, but I’m handling my own escrow because I don’t trust where the banks would put it. Besides, I don’t want to sound vulgar.)