Saturday, December 31, 2011

A New Alcoholic Tradition

Among other things, 2011 has been a year of death in my family. I've written plenty here about my grandparents, but two of my more distant relatives died as well. One, Richard White, I liked a lot and wish I had known better (incidentally, I believe my grandfather was one of his favorite people). My fondest memory is a day we spent together in December 1990 exploring the Queen Mary and the Spruce Goose in Long Beach, CA. The other, James Pufall, I really didn't know at all, though several times I stayed at a bed & breakfast he once had owned (the Colonial Rose Inn in Grand Detour, IL, currently closed and for sale).

When I was growing up, my grandfather's favorite drink was Absolut vodka on the rocks (before that he preferred scotch, and in his later years he drank Merlot). So in honor of those who died in 2011, this New Year's Eve I filled a shot glass with Absolut (sans rocks). Then I decided I may as well drink one for each of the departed. That was a few minutes ago. After four shots* of Absolut, I expect to be fairly smashed in the near future, probably soon after posting this.

Despite the pleasantly intoxicating potential of this new tradition, let's hope New Year's Eve 2012 is Absolut-free!

* I don't actually "do shots" -- whether it's in a shot glass or a snifter, I always sip my alcohol or at least spread it out over several gulps. Anyone can swallow booze like a pill, so doing shots doesn't impress me. If you don't really taste it, what's the point? (If the point is just to get drunk, why waste money on a brand name? Actually, vodka is a bad example because I recently taste-tested four brands (from four countries, even) and couldn't discern much of a difference between them.)

Ties to the Past

This month I've been gathering clothing and other items to donate to Goodwill. Last year I finally got rid of my suits, and this year I'm donating most of my old neckties.

It's turning out to be harder to part with them than logic would dictate. After all, I only own one suit -- only one appropriate shirt even -- so I rarely would wear a tie. Plus there aren't nearly as many occasions for wearing ties as there used to be, what with everything turning casual. I could keep five or six and have all the ties I'd need for the rest of my life.

But I used to be a tie fanatic. While most of my co-workers wore the typical solids, paisleys, and stripes, my ties were how I expressed myself. I had a bunch of ties that represented Beatles songs. I had half a dozen Christmas ties. I had Coca-Cola ties, Route 66 ties, World Wildlife Fund ties, Big Dog ties, John Lennon ties, Peanuts ties, Chicago ties, diner ties, gas station ties, and even a Beavis and Butt-head tie. I had some ties that were subtle -- a pattern of raccoons wearing little ties (tycoons) -- and many that were over-the-top: a purple tie with a big red heart shot with an arrow (the Beatles' "P.S. I Love You"), a Scrabble game board, a map of the Chicago "L" system.

My time in the corporate world wasn't that long, and even then the dress code was transitioning to some form of "business casual", so my ties represent a distinct period of my life. Going through my old ties yesterday was like revisiting my 20-something, unmarried self. Most of my interests from that time have faded for one reason or another. The city that was exciting and new to me at 23 has lost some of its luster at 41 (I still love Chicago -- can't really imagine living anywhere else -- but I probably wouldn't wear it on my chest). I still drink Coke, but I wouldn't wear a tie shilling for any brand nowadays. I still like the Beatles and John Lennon, of course, but I "discovered" them 25 years ago, and it's been a couple of years since I even listened to a whole album. My interest in Route 66, diners, gas stations, and other roadside things has mostly dried up, but in my twenties I was on the Board of Directors of the Society for Commercial Archeology (I'm not even a member anymore).

But what about the Route 66 tie that I lent to the Newberry Library for an exhibit in 1994, the one that not only got me an invitation to the opening of the exhibit, but eventually led to a late-night round of cognac at the Knickerbocker Hotel bar with keynote speaker Michael Wallis, author of Route 66: The Mother Road? That was one of the most memorable nights of my life. I doubt that I'd ever wear it again, but I can't part with it.

Who would have thought that sorting through ties would be so nostalgic? Even some of the plainer pattern ties, while not as visually striking, remind me of important occasions. Should I give away the tie I wore for my first day of work at a "real" job? What about ties that I wore to interviews, or to weddings? I'm getting less sentimental with age, but it still seems wrong to discard tokens of those memories.

Finally, I found a reasonable compromise. Since my primary goal is to reduce clutter, and I have to keep some ties, I decided that I can keep whatever I can fit on one tie rack (I used to have three). I wound up keeping 23 and getting rid of 60. I'm proud to add that although I still have a dozen empty spots on the rack, I did not go back and take any ties out of the donation bag. If you're interested in purchasing an item from the David Johnsen Necktie Collection (I can't call it the DJWriter collection because it predates that career change), please visit the Orland Park Goodwill store. If the tie you want isn't there, you'll probably have to wait until I die (hmm, which tie should I be buried in?).

Sunday, December 25, 2011

"Obama is a cracker!"

I was driving down Irving Park Road yesterday afternoon, and at the intersection with Lincoln and Damen there were two guys (at least) walking between cars and wearing anti-Obama protest messages. On one guy's back was the title statement, "Obama is a cracker!"

Now I don't really care whether you agree with that assertion (I have my doubts), but the point is that it was Christmas Eve. Even the atheists among us can appreciate that one of the nice things about Christmas, traditionally, was that, if only for a couple of days, we all got a vacation from that kind of bullshit. All that political crap was set aside on Christmas Eve and Christmas, and everybody at least pretended to get along. Heck, almost 100 years ago, even the soldiers fighting World War I took a break for Christmas!

UPDATE 12/30/2011 - Further research says that these guys were probably Larouchies. Ugh.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Google's Browser Party is Over

Google Chrome is losing some of its appeal:
[StatCounter] says Chrome topped Internet Explorer 8 in the last week of November, when Chrome took 23.6 percent of the global market and IE8 took 23.5 percent.
But maybe not quite yet:
Of course, if you combine all of the versions of Internet Explorer, it's still the browser champ. And in the United States, Internet Explorer is still on top, with 27 percent of the market.
This is not some silly, trendy hipster thing where something becomes uncool just because it's widely accepted. The problem is this: Internet Explorer has attracted more hackers and virus writers than any other browser because it was so popular (ditto for the Windows operating system). That's why Microsoft has to issue patches every week or two -- because somebody has found and exploited some obscure fault in IE's code.

Competing browsers have been inherently more secure because there are fewer bad guys out there trying to compromise them. Now that Chrome is overtaking IE, we can expect that it will be targeted much more in the future. Of course, it may turn out that Chrome is written better than IE and therefore less vulnerable, but we won't know for sure until the hackers take their best shot.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

"Don't Make Me Have to Use This!"

Here's another lovely tale from The Smoking Gun:
When Officer Michael Smith asked [Robert] Matello if he was carrying a weapon, he gave an answer never previously memorialized in a police report: “Yes, I have a pink dildo,” Matello replied.
Maybe Matello is a regular TSG reader, and he remembered this story about an Illinois woman assaulting an officer with a sex toy last year. But wait, there's more...
At that point, Matello removed the sex toy from his pants pocket and attempted to hand it to Smith, an offer apparently declined by the officer.
"Uh, no thanks."

Aphorism of the Day

Loose lips sink relationships.

Friday, December 02, 2011

The Ongoing Copy Editor Crisis

The quality of publications continues to decline. Lately I've been reading a book by Marq De Villiers (author of Water, which I've also read) titled The End: Natural Disasters, Manmade Catastrophes, and the Future of Human Survival. Fun stuff, of course.

It's been a fascinating read, but I'm concerned about some of the errors I've found. I expect to find occasional misspellings or even missing words, but these go far beyond. Early on, he writes about Eratosthenes calculating the circumference of the Earth:
His notion, that the circumference of the Earth was twenty four miles, is a mere fifty miles off the modern best estimates.
Wow! How did an editor miss this? There are multiple clues that something is wrong here. First of all, 24 miles is obviously a laughably short distance, less than a marathon race. And if that were indeed the Earth's circumference, what would be so impressive about it being off by "a mere fifty miles"? Setting aside any controversy about just how accurate Eratosthenes was (though he certainly came pretty close given the resources at his disposal, which was the author's point, he may not have been that close), how could anyone confuse 24 with 24 thousand?

Later there is a similar error. De Villiers writes about the 2004 tsunami that originated near Indonesia and how the sea level change was measured as far away as Halifax, Nova Scotia. On the next page, he refers back to this:
Tsunamis may start locally, but they don't always stay local -- see the 20-inch wavelet in Halifax, which seems to have traveled 1,500 miles to get there.
Considering that it's roughly twice that distance just across the United States that number is clearly wrong. Without measuring it, I will assume that the author meant 15,000 miles, not 1,500.

I've come up with one possible reason for the errors detailed above. I am thinking perhaps the author wrote using metric units, and somebody messed up making the conversions for the American edition.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The Unforgiven

To promote his new book Spontaneous Happiness, Dr. Andrew Weil has put out a two-part article called "10 Ways to Have a Happier Life" (you have to go to two sites to read the whole list). Number nine on his list is "Forgive." Sorry doc, but I've held some pretty damn satisfying grudges over the years. I think I'll just try taking fish oil tablets (number three) instead.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My Biggest Regret of 2011

I wish that when I called off Book Challenge 2011, I hadn't stopped keeping track of how many books I've read this year. While there's no way I would have "won" the Challenge due to obsessive shopping (I actually have twice as many unread books now as I had at the start of the year), I may have read more books this year than I did in 2009. But now I'll never know. Maybe next year...

Family Vacation Redefined

Somewhere along the line, a vacation from the family became much more appealing than a vacation with the family.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Book-Inspired Meal

I was going to go down the street for dinner tonight, but then I was reading Jancee Dunn's very entertaining memoir But Enough About Me. Dunn describes snorting coke in a nightclub, freaking out, and calling her sister for help. Her brother-in-law comes instead and takes her home. He offers to make her dinner (he's a chef), but her refrigerator is nearly empty. He figures out that he can make her a grilled cheese sandwich. As I read this, I thought Ooh, I haven't had a grilled cheese sandwich in months!

I wonder how often people decide what to eat based on what they read in books (cookbooks excluded).

And yes, that grilled cheese really hit the spot!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Great Idea Gone Stupid

When I first heard Mayor Emanuel call for closing the 19th District police station -- my local station as well as Emanuel's -- I thought it was a wise move.* Most if not all of the surrounding districts are operating in large, new stations with excess capacity. I assumed the plan was to reassign the beats in the 19th District to whichever district is closest and redistribute personnel accordingly. After all, the northern reaches of the 19th District are pretty close to the new 20th District station, the eastern end is near the new 23rd District station, etc. Chicago's police districts have not been redrawn in many years, and this would be a logical consolidation.

Then the specific plan came out. Instead of implementing the station closing intelligently as outlined above, the plan is to move the entire 19th District's operations into the 23rd District complex. This will create a crowded-to-overcrowded environment at the 23rd District station while wasting all that unused capacity in the other new stations. It will also waste fuel (as officers drive to the far ends of the 19th District from the 23rd) and probably lengthen response times.

If the department had considered this in long-range planning, they could have built the 23rd District station a mile further west to facilitate this consolidation. I hope this is only a temporary fix until the entire city's police districts are redrawn, an undertaking that is long overdue. Wards are redrawn every decade to reflect changes in demographics. It makes sense to redraw police districts as well.

* On a tangent, I think Emanuel's primary motivation for closing the 19th District station is political (no surprise there) -- he figures that eliminating his own police station will make it easier to get the aldermen in the other two districts losing their stations to acquiesce.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Bears' Biggest Fan?

Something odd happened while I was watching the Bears-Lions game Sunday at the local bar & grill.

A guy sat at the table next to me and started watching the game. He ordered a drink and said his wife would be there soon. She showed up a few minutes before Devin Hester -- the NFL's all-time leader in returning punts for touchdowns -- returned yet another Lions punt for a touchdown. When Hester scored, the guy's wife went nuts. She jumped up, hooted, hollered, and clapped. There were only about 20 people in the place since it's not really a "sports bar", and only a couple of other patrons clapped or yelled. She was by far the most exuberant.

Later in the game, Hester returned another punt for decent yardage and the crowd at Soldier Field roared even though he didn't score like he had earlier. As the camera followed Hester after the play, the woman asked her husband, "Is this guy, like, a big star or something?"

From the way she had cheered earlier, I really would have expected her to know one of the most famous players on the team. Weird.

Bastard of the Day

Remember in high school how you hated the jocks because they always got away with stuff? Like teachers would let them slide on a late assignment, or they could elbow you into a locker in the hallway and never get busted for it? It was bad enough that they always got the cutest girls, went to the best parties, and so on, but the utter injustice of how jocks were held to a lower standard was especially infuriating to "the rest of us" (dare I say the 99 percent?).

Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions is that prick star quarterback from your high school. In yesterday's Bears game, he practically tried to rip cornerback D.J. Moore's head off, and yet Moore got ejected from the game while that curly-locked, purple-lipped bastard QB got to stay in the game with no punishment.*

So what did Stafford have to say for himself? "(Moore) kind of blocked me and I was just trying to get him off of me the best I knew how."

What kind of bullshit explanation is that? Stafford grabbed Moore by the helmet and threw him to the ground. Oh, did I forget to mention that he outweighs Moore by 50 freaking pounds? And that's the best way he knew how to counteract Moore's block? Maybe Stafford should have stayed in college for his senior year and learned something about physics.

I know the NFL is a quarterback's league these days, and the rules have been adjusted to afford them greater protection. But there is nothing in the rules that says quarterbacks can or should get away with that kind of thuggish aggression. The NFL could try to make this right by at least fining Stafford after reviewing the weekend's games, but I'm not holding my breath.

UPDATE 11/18/2011 - Well, I'll be damned -- the NFL actually fined Stafford for trying to remove Moore's head from his body. Of course, it was only half as much as Moore got fined, but it's more than I expected.

* Lions fans will point out that Moore was ejected for the retaliatory "late hit" on Stafford, but that hit did not endanger Stafford the way Stafford's thuggery could have very seriously injured Moore (i.e., a spinal cord injury). If the referees chose to merely charge Moore with the penalty, that would be reasonable, but to eject Moore and do nothing to Stafford was ridiculous.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Good Things Come...

A couple of weeks ago, I got an offer from the Chicago Tribune to register in their "EZ Pay" automatic payment program for our Sunday-only subscription. They enticed me with a $10 Target gift card, so I put it in the to-do pile on my computer desk.

Today I received another offer from the Tribune to register for "EZ Pay." This new offer promised a $25 Target gift card as an incentive.

I am now enrolled in "EZ Pay" and expecting a $25 Target gift card soon. Sometimes it pays to procrastinate!

My Life in Baseball

My grandfather was a long-suffering Cubs fan who never got to see a World Series victory, so his life begs for a baseball analogy. I'd say he hit a grand slam (to extend the metaphor, his three daughters would be the base runners). He started out with little -- he had to quit high school to work -- yet achieved everything he wanted in life (family, career, wealth, leisure, etc.). I don't think he had many regrets, if any.

What about my own at-bat in the ballgame of life? I hit a long fly to the right field corner that dropped just short of the fence. I got a double, but half the fans are disappointed because it wasn't a homer and the other half are disappointed because it could have been a triple if I had run faster. Such potential for greatness, and look where I ended up. I'm standing there on second base thinking, A double is pretty good, isn't it? But it's hard to feel good when the whole stadium is booing.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Everything Hurts the Economy

From a press release from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources:
Economic losses nationally resulting from feral swine are estimated at more than $1 billion annually.
Even wild pigs are draining our economy! Over a billion dollars! It's a miracle anybody makes any money at all anymore.

To learn more than you ever wanted to know about this problem, look here.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Possible Epitaph

"A much bigger pain in the ass than it should have been."

Thursday, November 03, 2011

My Blank Job Application

I was at the local Barnes & Noble last week, and they had a sign advertising for a part-time seasonal position in receiving. I was thinking it would be the perfect job for me -- I have some prior receiving experience, I'd love to work with books, it wouldn't be a long-term commitment, and I wouldn't have to deal much with other people -- so I took an application.

By the time I got home, however, I had pretty much talked myself out of it. The obvious reason would be that I could make as much money doing three or four billable hours a week of writing as I would make working 20-25 hours at B&N (it's evidence of my lack of enthusiasm for copywriting that I would consider a minimum wage job instead, but that's an issue for another blog post). To the folks at B&N, the obvious reason would be that my relevant experience is nearly two decades old -- from while I was in college, for goodness' sake. Besides, the rest of my job application wouldn't look much better. Aside from working a few events for Clif Bar a few summers ago, I haven't been employed by someone other than myself in 15 years. I can't think of a single person to list as a reference. My only chance would be if B&N has a soft spot for writers (not entirely implausible).

But what really got me was this: The job market sucks. Realistically, unemployment is pushing 20% when one includes the underemployed and those who have given up on finding work. I'd like to work for a couple of months just to make some extra cash and have something to do. But if I somehow got that job at B&N, I might be taking it away from someone desperate to feed a family, pay a mortgage, etc. I might even feel guilty if I got hired. Oh well, I suppose I didn't really want to work anyway.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Costume

This year I'm going to dress up as a Wall Street banker. I'll take all the candy I want, and if that's not enough, I'll take your house, too.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Lifestyles of the Overweight and Immature

"What do you want for dinner?" she asked.

"I don't know. I can't make up my mind between chicken nuggets and Dinty Moore beef stew."

"Chicken nuggets?!? What are you, twelve years old?"

"Um... I like barbecue sauce and nuggets are good for dipping."

"Well, if you make some, can you make some for me, too?"

But the real kicker came three hours later when she said, "I'm heating up more chicken nuggets. Do you want any?"

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I Give Up

Apparently, my blog entries are not funny, interesting, or cool, so I have deleted the ignored check boxes from my blog layout.

Awesome Gift Idea

I don't usually recommend products or services here, but this is cool enough to make an exception. It's a company called ScrapWalls that makes custom collages of your photos. A 20" by 30" poster is only $29.99 (plus $5.99 shipping), and smaller sizes are less. They offer a variety of shapes, but naturally I chose a U.S. map for a collage of my cross-country bike trip:

Click on "Pop Out" to view the above as a separate window.

Even better, ScrapWalls sometimes offers Groupon-like deals (in the past through Eversave and BuyWithMe, and currently -- for the next week -- through kgbdeals) for half-price. This could make a great Christmas gift, and it's an easy and inexpensive great way to get a bunch of photos up on the wall instead of buried on a hard drive. With a sale and a coupon, I got a sturdy frame at Michael's for only $12. Now if I can just find a place to hang it...

Note: With the irregular U.S. shape, some of the photos got chopped off. From what I can tell, most of the photos that are less than 50% visible are duplicated elsewhere in the collage, except for the pictures on the west coast (should be less of an issue with a simpler shape). The web site lets you rearrange the photos, but it may take some trial and error to get it just the way you want it. Or maybe I'm just too damn picky. The hardest part was deciding which photos to leave out, which is why I had to get the largest size!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Santa Had Better Damn Well Appreciate This*

Our 90-year-old chimney is on the verge of teetering off the roof and crushing our neighbors on their back porch. It was in bad shape a year ago, and there's been a lot of rough weather since -- a blizzard, high winds, torrential rains, etc. Getting through another winter may be pressing our luck, so we're going to bite the bullet and break out the checkbook (seriously, ever since I started paying bills online, I write maybe five checks in a whole year). The damages? About $3,400 including a stainless steel liner (the liner is the killer, $1,500 in parts).

* Actually, Santa would be pretty pissed if he squeezed down our chimney and found himself in our boiler instead of a fireplace.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Soy Un Perdedor

I really should tell you all about this past weekend, but I can't seem to get my act together. What kind of writer am I, anyway?

I am a disappointment to so many people.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Father, Son, Holy Cow!

I just got home from a spontaneous, fantastic weekend road trip to Minnesota where I finally saw a band I've loved for 25 years (the title of this entry is a clue) for the first time in concert... and then a second time two days later. Details to follow...

Saturday, October 01, 2011

The Lizard King

Didn't everybody go through a Doors phase in high school?

Friday, September 30, 2011


When there is no justice...
  1. Try to create your own.
  2. Fail.
  3. Despair.
  4. Withdraw.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Stuff I Hate

This one might get me in trouble with a few people, but I hate comic books. These days it seems as if everyone is into comics, graphic novels, manga, whatever, but I just don't get it. When I was around 10 years old I read a few comic books, but those were based on World War II. In those days, I was utterly obsessed with WWII. I read everything from the Time-Life book series (sadly, I never finished although my grandparents bought me the whole set) to cartoonist Bill Mauldin's Up Front. But I digress...

When I open up a graphic novel (I haven't touched an actual comic book in decades, but I occasionally come across graphic novels in bookstores), I really can't make sense of it. I can skim a regular book to determine whether the topic and writing style interest me, but I can't even evaluate something written in comic book form. My brain just doesn't work that way. I could imagine taking months to read one just because it seems so foreign. People who grew up reading comic books probably can't comprehend my difficulty with them.

My hatred of comic books is probably the root of my hate for all things involving superheros, too. Whether it's a cartoon, a book, or a movie, if it's about a superhero I have no interest. People tell me I'm "missing out" on some good movies, but if the basic premise doesn't interest me, why would I like the movie? "Hate" may be too strong a word here -- it's not that I literally hate Superman or Spiderman -- but it's definitely more of an aversion rather than mere apathy.

I suppose all of this adds up to a lack of imagination on my part. It probably helps to explain why, although I consider myself to be mechanically a decent writer, I am a lousy creative writer. Aside from short-form stuff like blog entries, I have a hard time coming up with ideas. I don't know whether this is fixable or worth working on, but I do know it has cost me some opportunities.


Why is it that when people aren't who you thought they were, they are usually worse?

Kiss My Ass Goodbye

I want to fill up my car with books and CDs and leave town, never to return.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Stuff I Hate

I hate gas stations that advertise a discounted gas price with car wash. I especially hate those that use a smaller point size for "with wash" so you can't see that qualification until you're already pulling into the station. I never go through gas station car washes so I never get that price. But guess what? I don't buy any gas at stations that advertise that way either.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Alternate Routes

Get thrown under the bus enough times, and eventually you'll stick to the side streets where the buses don't run.

Stuff I Hate

This is the first of a potentially long (practically endless?) string of blog entries about people, places, and things that I despise...

I hate parents who aren't environmentalists. I try to do most of the right things. I recycle, I turn off the water while I brush my teeth, and I don't pour used motor oil down the sewer. But every so often I ask myself why I bother. Most of the bad shit that could happen to the Earth is projected, even in worst-case scenarios, to happen sometime after I'm dead. I don't have any kids. So why am I bothering to be "green"? It must be for your fucking kids, you resource-hogging, Hummer-driving, teabagging, EPA-hating, climate-change-denying, Republican assholes!

Seriously, if you have children, how can you not care about the world you're going to leave for them and perhaps their own children? I mean, I can understand your selfishness in not wanting to waste your time, money, or energy for the benefit of society (isn't that what America in the 21st century is all about?), but how can you screw over your own descendants?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Art Imitates Life / Blown Away

I went to see my friend's Creedence Clearwater Revival tribute band The Fortunate Sons at Tailgaters in Bolingbrook tonight. Before the show, he told me it was going to be a Live in Europe night because their second guitarist wasn't there. CCR recorded that concert album as a trio after Tom Fogerty quit the band. He quit because he couldn't get along with his brother John. When I recognized the parallels, I laughed so hard I nearly cried in my vodka tonic.

The bathroom at Tailgaters had the most awesome hand dryer I've ever seen. When I first stuck my wet hands under the fan, sprinkles of water hit my face. That's how hard this dryer blew. Then I noticed that it was rippling the skin on my hands. Naturally, I was fascinated by this and spent a minute or so moving my hands around and watching the ripples. Thank God I was sober; if I'd been drunk I might still be there playing around!

Friday, August 19, 2011

"The Biggest Asshole in the Universe"

Contrary to popular opinion, it's not me.

I've long suspected that former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan was something less than the economic "maestro" he was lauded as. In the second chapter of Griftopia, Matt Taibbi exposes the real Greenspan, and it's much worse than I imagined. From an interview, here's a taste of what makes Greenspan so, er, distasteful:
Greenspan is a classic con man. A guy who reached power by sounding smart and giving pretty speeches to politicians who didn’t know what he was talking about much of the time... And he stayed in power by giving the powerful what they wanted. There were disastrous consequences for everybody but him. In the process, he presided over this period where more and more political decisions were moved to unaccountable financial bureaucracies. That’s a big part of the story too: how guys like him gained power and the politicians officially lost power.
My wife snatched the book from me at Christmas, literally picking it out of my gift pile, but now I'm finally reading it. Taibbi is my favorite political writer -- the best (only?) reason to subscribe to Rolling Stone -- and so far Griftopia doesn't disappoint.

Grandparents' Estate Sale

My grandparents had a ridiculous quantity of stuff in their house. It wasn't junk like crazy old people have, either. They had a basement full of sports memorabilia, and Grandma had lots of collectible plates, dolls, and figurines from Hummel, Norman Rockwell, and others. After we picked out everything we wanted, we had to turn to an estate sale.

Although the sale isn't for another week, the estate salesperson has posted 150(!) photos of everything online already. Check them out, and keep in mind that this is all the stuff left over after the rest of us took all we could absorb into our homes!

Grandpa's Coolest Souvenir

Throughout July, people took various items from my grandparents' house. They owned a lot of stuff, most of it valuable (think collectors, not pack rats). There wasn't much that I wanted. I'm not the collector that I used to be, and our house already looks like an episode of "Hoarders" without adding more to it. Since I was at best fourth in line (actually more like sixth), I watched patiently for several weeks to see whether anyone showed interest in the prized memento of Grandpa's youth. Incredibly, no one did. Now it's mine.

Encased in a wood frame and covered with glass is a wooden paddle made by the Hi-Li Sales Company of Shelton, CT. Originally the half-inch-thick paddle would have had a ball attached with a rubber cord. The goal was to bounce the ball off the paddle as many times as possible without missing. I remember similar paddles from my youth, but lower quality. Grandpa's looks just like this one except the colors are faded and there's writing on it:
Yes, that's right. My grandfather won a bicycle for being the best at paddle ball! And it was just a few days after his eleventh birthday.

The Embassy Theatre stood at 3956 W. Fullerton Avenue, just east of Crawford Avenue (the street name changed to Pulaski Road in 1933). Built in 1926, the theatre was in its prime when my grandfather won his bike. Alas, like most of the grand theaters built in the 1920s, the Embassy fell on hard times. It reopened in 1957 as a ballroom and remained so until 1981. I can't help but wonder whether my grandparents ever went there as a couple. The building was demolished in the mid-1990s. Now it's -- what else? -- a drugstore. There are photos from around the time of demolition here.

Looking at this Hi-Li paddle, I have so many questions I never thought to ask. Did Grandpa practice a lot, or was he a "natural"? Was there some trick to doing it well? How many other kids competed? Were the competitions held as the "opening act" or between shows? Who sponsored the contest -- Hi-Li, the Embassy, or someone else? Of course, even if I could ask those questions today, Grandpa may not have been able to answer them. Seventy years is a long time to carry around a memory.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


I always end up being cast as the bad guy. Amazing.


WIFE: So what are you doing today? Going for a bike ride?

ME: I don't know. I thought about going for a ride but I don't really feel like it.

WIFE: My mom's coming over this afternoon.

ME: Well, then I guess I'm gonna go for a bike ride!

I chose Waterfall Glen, a hilly, curvy, crushed-limestone loop that's just under 10 miles. Sadly, it totally kicked my ass. My original intention was to do the loop twice (once in each direction), but by the third mile it was obvious that wasn't going to happen. I rode my mountain bike for the first time all year instead of my trusty Americano. So I'll just blame everything on the bike rather than my utter lack of fitness.

Here's the kicker: my mother-in-law never showed up at our house anyway.

An Un-Macho Moment

I'm always a little anxious about meeting the policemen who work with my wife. Many of them are super macho. It's all an act, I know, nothing but a big authority trip, blah blah blah. Just because I married a cop doesn't mean I've forgotten how much police annoyed me in my younger days. Suburban cops have nothing better to do than harass males under 25, whether it's writing speeding tickets or worse. City cops aren't nearly as petty as their suburban brethren, but they still have that macho attitude.

In contrast, I always feel like a bit of a weenie working at a computer and lacking the authority and the big iron on my hip to patrol the mean streets of Chicago. Actually, most of my wife's district is Lincoln Park and Lakeview, so it's not like these guys are duking it out with Kalashnikov-toting gangbangers every night.

Anyway, last night when I went to pick up my wife, she introduced me to a couple of the guys. As they walked away, I turned on the car stereo to play a David Bowie CD. Then I pulled out the Jen Lancaster book I'm reading (and loving btw). Sheesh, is there anything less macho than listening to David Bowie while reading chick lit? I mean, at that point I may as well have had a purse full of bonbons and cosmetics slung over my shoulder.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


People often ask me why I don't write fiction. Okay, that's a blatant lie. Most people don't want me to write fiction. Here's an example why. Today I was thinking of writing a story about a man who stars in porno movies in Poland. All I have so far is his nickname: the Turgid Pole.

Here's another idea I've been kicking around for awhile. A woman meets a guy. They start dating, and things are going really well. Then he loses his job. She says maybe it's time for them to move in together, but he refuses to stay at her place. His excuses get lamer and lamer, and she can't figure out why he can't commit. It turns out she lives across the street from an elementary school, and unbeknownst to her, the guy is a convicted sex offender.

My ideas only get worse from there...

Friday, August 12, 2011


First I read this:
He spent time during the lockout working out in Arizona and lifting weights at Lake Forest Health and Fitness Center. The bulk of his grunt work occurred at his north suburban home, running laps in his backyard and completing drills in his front yard.
I had the funniest mental picture of a guy running in circles in his suburban backyard, maybe dodging a swing set or a Weber grill. Then I imagined a guy working out in the front yard next to the driveway, the lamppost, the mailbox, and maybe a flower bed.

But then I read this paragraph:
"I did it there because I have (10 acres) of land,'' [Brian] Urlacher said. "It's nice when you don't even have to leave the house.
Oh. That's different.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Chain of Rocks Loses Title

At 5,353 feet, the Chain of Rocks Bridge across the Mississippi River just north of St. Louis has been described as the "longest pedestrian bridge in the world" for the past decade. Unfortunately, I learned last weekend that the Walkway Over the Hudson in Poughkeepsie, New York now holds that title at 6,767 feet. It opened on October 3, 2009, nearly two years ago.

Chain of Rocks fans can take comfort that their bridge is much more impressive architecturally to users -- its steel structure is above the bridge deck for walkers and riders to admire, whereas the Walkway's structure is hidden beneath. Of course, the Chain of Rocks also has ties to legendary U.S. Route 66 rather than the Walkway's long and forgettable series of railroad operators.

Defending Newsweek

Newsweek magazine is catching a lot of flak this week for their cover photo of Michele Bachmann. Many, including NOW, are calling it sexist because it is supposedly an unflattering photo that makes her look crazy.

But here's the problem with that criticism: Bachmann is crazy. She's 100% certified bat-shit nuts. She's a right-wing radical who wants to do things like shut down the EPA, to give just one recent example. Saying a photo makes Bachmann look crazy is like saying a photo makes Lady Gaga look flamboyant. It's not even news, much less a controversy. When I saw the Newsweek cover, my only thought was, Oh, that's Michele Bachmann. I didn't find it the least bit unflattering; that's just who she is. In fact, I give credit to the photographer for capturing her essence so well.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Door Slammed Shut

I have never wanted to have kids. Well, actually I did for about two weeks twenty-odd years ago in a moment of weakness (which didn't matter because I had no partner), but for the rest of my life, I've had no desire to have children.

Yet somehow this decision became more firm this summer. After my grandfather died, I realized that now I'll never change my mind. This caught me by surprise because I had never considered the two things to be linked. But when he died, I couldn't imagine raising a kid who never met my grandparents. Oddly enough, when I shared this thought with my wife, she said she felt that way after her grandparents died, too.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Skokie Valley Bikeway

On Friday I rode the Skokie Valley Bikeway in Lake County for the first time. With the recent heavy rains in mind, I chose it because 1.) it's asphalt and 2.) it isn't close to a river. It's not the most exciting route; the most enthralling scenery is the variety of utility poles. There are parallel railroad tracks, but the trains are hard to see through the small trees lining the path. I was glad that I waited until early evening to start because there would have been very little shade midday.

I parked at the north trailhead in Lake Forest. I spotted this sign near the tiny parking area:

Someone is missing out on a great business opportunity here because despite the sign, I did not seeing anyone hawking weed. I suppose Gatorade would sell better anyway. After riding 16 miles in the heat, I would have bought a bottle.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Creative Cropping

This kind of misrepresentation in the media happens disturbingly often. I saw the coverage of this story on Channel 2 (CBS) last night.

In covering a story, the media ask the family for a photograph of the person involved. In the case of a 13-year-old boy shot by police the other night, the family provided this. Channel 2's coverage showed just the square of his face, while the complete photo shows the boy flashing gang signs.

  • The media excuse will probably be that they didn't want to show gang signs on TV. But when those gang signs are being flashed by someone you portray as an innocent victim of over-zealous police, doesn't cropping that photo change the entire tenor of the story? Shouldn't you at least mention that the kid was flashing gang signs in the photo even if you don't want to show the whole photo?
  • Channel 2 also showed the mother carrying on about how she never saw her kid with a BB gun. Of course, a kid would never hide a BB gun from his parents... especially if he probably used the gun to shoot out windows at the local school.
  • What was this kid doing out on the streets after 11 PM anyway?
  • And while I'm ripping on the mother, what kind of parent's only photo of her kid shows him flashing gang signs? (Surely if she had a different photo, she would have provided that instead, right?)
Kudos to Walter Jacobson whose "Perspective" piece noted that attacks on police have more than doubled in the past ten years. With stats like that, police aren't to wait until they can get close enough to tell a BB gun from a real gun.

When a police officer shoots someone, particularly a teenager, it's a given that people will get upset and put 100% of the blame on the police. They often try to portray the victim as a model citizen or an "honor roll student" (I remember one supposed "honor roll student" who had actually dropped out of school 14 months earlier!). Amid the neighbors and family members moaning about how a shooting victim was "a good kid", keep in mind that a significant part of the back-story may have been cropped out.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


I can't decide whether to make my big comeback or disappear completely.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Cheap Gift Idea

Last week, the Bureau of the Public Debt announced that they will stop printing paper savings bonds at the end of the year. Here's the best part:
You can, however, download a “gift certificate” from the TreasuryDirect Web site, indicating the amount of the bond you have purchased, and for what occasion.
I had a hunch when I read that sentence, and I was correct: You can download those gift certificates regardless of whether you actually purchase savings bonds.

Cheap gift idea: print out the gift certificates and send them to little kids for their birthdays. Parents probably won't know how the paperless system works at first. If they do, just blame everything on bureaucratic red tape and assure them their confirmation e-mail is coming "any day now." They'll probably forget about it in a few weeks.

This is even better for senior citizens, most likely the biggest segment of savings bond gift-givers. By the time those kids try to redeem their savings bonds, the giver will probably be dead. No one will want to accuse the dearly departed of cheating their kids, so they will just assume that the giver didn't understand what he or she was doing online (like many seniors) and surely intended to buy those savings bonds.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Saddest Industry

Is there a sadder industry today than phone book publishing? Here in Chicago we have competing publishers offering more citywide phone books than ever, plus neighborhood books, but does anybody use them anymore?

I can tell you the last time I used the phone book, and this is quite illustrative. The last time I used the phone book was when my Internet connection was down and I needed someone to check my phone wiring!*

I understand that not everyone has Internet access, but I think it's safe to assume that most of the consumers that businesses are trying to reach by advertising in the yellow pages do. So here they are publishing more and more books, trying to draw interest from an ever-shrinking market. Meanwhile, piles of unwanted phone books linger on porches and in apartment lobbies all over the city.

* The company was Pacey Electrical and Technologies. The technician did a great job resolving an ongoing issue, and it didn't cost nearly as much as I feared. Also, thank goodness, my concerns about hiring a contractor sharing a name with a Dawson's Creek character were unfounded.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Silly Borders

Borders keeps sending me coupons for 20% off everything in the store, and they act like it's a big deal. A year ago, they would have been right. But just a few months ago one third of their stores were closing, and I could buy anything in the store for 40%, 60%, even 80% off. By visiting a dozen closing stores, I knocked out the bulk of my wish list and bought so many books that I filled several boxes in the attic (having already doubled up my bookshelves). Plus Borders has been offering 30-40% off one item almost weekly to help me pick up anything I missed.

So why should I be impressed or even mildly interested in those 20% off coupons?

Besides, the whole chain may be liquidating soon anyway. *sigh*

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Steve Almond on Depressing Music

Right now I'm reading Steve Almond's Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life and loving it (I was going to wait for the paperback, but the Borders bankruptcy sale made the hardcover affordable). The book is basically about being a "Drooling Fanatic" (or "DF") of rock music. One thing about DFs, he says "is that we're chronically emotional people who have trouble accessing our emotions" [emphasis his].
In my own case -- though I suspect this is broadly true -- repression was our family religion. I didn't admit to anyone else that I was feeling sad or frightened or angry because I saw little hope of being regarded or soothed, and a good chance of being mocked. And so I started to hide these feelings from myself; they burrowed inward and took cover under a sarcastic bravado. When I wanted to numb myself out, I watched TV. But songs had the opposite effect. They became a secret passageway to emotion, a way of locating what I was feeling before I entirely understood it myself.
This passage reminds me of so many times in my life when I've listened to certain songs -- not necessarily sad songs, per se, but emotion-packed songs --  just to reassure myself that I could still cry, that I could still connect with human emotions. I rarely cry in real life, except when something is very personal. Although 9/11 was a monumentally sad event, I never shed a tear over it. But whenever I hear Bruce Springsteen's "Into the Fire", a song about 9/11, I cry (even then I wonder whether my reaction would be so strong were I not married to a police officer).

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Lyrics of the Day

Today's lyrics aren't particularly stunning, but I'm citing them in service of a very bad pun. From James McMurtry's "Where'd You Hide the Body":
Where'd you hide the body?
Where'd you stash the loot?
Just keep your hands where I can see them
So I don't have to shoot
Okay, so do you think when Sting wants to get romantic with his wife, he invites her to play a game of "stash the lute"?

Slap the Copy Editor

This gem is from a Chicago Tribune article about potatoes:
Neumiller Farms in Savanna, Ill., has increased the number of potatoes it's growing this year to meet customer demand, owner Tom Neumiller said. The tuber comes out of the earth with no fat and containing vitamin C, potassium and fiber, said Neumiller, who eats them every day, adding, "My doctor says, 'I am in perfect health.'"
That's great for Neumiller's doctor, but we don't even know whether he eats potatoes!

(The last comma and the single quotes do not belong in the last sentence.)

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Interesting Location

Today I was walking home up Lincoln Avenue and saw a beauty school. I don't remember the name, but it had a memorable slogan: "It's not Just Hair...'s a Career!" Here's a photo (not taken by me). What made this place notable is that it was located just south of Berenice Avenue. Okay, so what's neat about that?
I know one of my readers might know this.
Don't let me down, Jennifer!
Answer: There is a relatively obscure constellation called Coma Berenices, meaning "Berenice's Hair". Its brightest stars are only fourth magnitude, so you probably can't even see it most nights in the city. I wonder whether anyone at the beauty school has made the connection. After all, there's just a two-letter difference between cosmetology and cosmology!

I would love to tell you that the street was similarly named after Queen Berenice II of Egypt. Alas, according to Streetwise Chicago, real estate subdivider Charles F. Ford named it for his daughter. Give Mr. Ford a little credit, though -- most Chicago real estate subdividers named streets after themselves, not their kids!

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Bastard of the Day

A few times this year, I have had lunch at Philly's Best on Belmont. It's a quick ride on the L, they have great cheese steaks and cheese fries, and they have free refills of Coke. I eat a leisurely meal, sip a few Cokes while I read a book, and get back to the L station within the two-hour transfer window so my trip home only costs 25 cents. It's a little expensive for what it is ($15, not including the L fare), but I go rarely enough that it's a treat. Cheese fries probably shouldn't be a regular part of one's diet anyway. The last time I went there was on my birthday, before I learned of Grandpa's fall.

Today I walked into Philly's Best behind another customer and had to wait in line. Casually looking around the place, my eyes focused on the soda fountain. Sometime since my last visit, something evil had happened. The red and white script logo I've pledged allegiance to for all of my life was gone, replaced by a deep blue background and the single word "Pepsi." Betrayal!

As much as I had been looking forward to their food, I was also looking forward to my favorite drink. So I turned around, walked out, and ate somewhere else -- at a place that serves Coke.

For soft drink treason, today's bastard is Philly's Best. I pray that you fools come to your senses soon and switch back to the real thing.

Slightly off-topic: Seventeen years ago, a co-worker foolishly suggested that I couldn't tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi in a blind taste test (remember "The Pepsi Challenge"?). I assured him that I could. He went to all the trouble of setting up the test, but I recognized the first cupful as Pepsi by smell before it even touched my lips!

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Amazingly Stupid Jury

The good news is this guy got convicted for shooting a cop, but what kind of idiots were on the jury?
A Cook County jury Thursday night found a South Side man guilty of aggravated battery with a firearm for shooting and injuring a Chicago Police detective. But jurors weighing in on Bobby Selvie’s case acquitted him of the more serious charge of attempted murder. The jury sent at least one note to Judge Timothy J. Joyce that indicated they were “struggling” with whether “shooting a gun at someone means intent to kill.” [emphasis added]
WTF? Maybe these folks watched too many episodes of The A-Team, where they'd fire several hundred rounds at each other and no one got killed. Once you aim a gun at someone and pull the trigger, you're pretty much committed to the possibility of ending his/her life. Judge Joyce should have sent a reply to the jury saying, "Of course it does, you dumb-asses!"

Let's hope Judge Joyce makes this right during sentencing, putting this guy away for the better part of the 15-60 years his aggravated battery with a firearm conviction demands.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Happy July 1st!

My family is celebrating July 1st after a June we'd like to forget. But June wasn't a complete loss. Here are a few good things that happened last month:
  • I got two writing jobs totaling over $800 of work. It may not sound like much to those who are regularly employed, but if you looked at my earnings for the first five months of the year, it's notable.
  • In one of my writing jobs, I got to shake hands with Chicago's new mayor, Rahm Emanuel. Though I voted for someone else because Emanuel threatened to cut police pensions, it was still pretty cool to meet him and shake his hand. Also he's a much better speaker than his predecessor!
  • Although I didn't get to read much in June, I read an excellent book about the Cuban Missile Crisis by Michael Dobbs called One Minute to Midnight. It's scary how close I came to never being born, and we have both John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev to thank for being alive today (never mind that we also have both to thank for creating the crisis in the first place). Here's a discussion with Dobbs to pique your interest (SPOILER ALERT: If you know little or nothing about the crisis, the online discussion may detract from the drama of seeing events unfold in the book).
  • An old friend came to town on business for a few days last week, and we got to spend two evenings catching up on things (coincidentally, however, his last visit to Chicago was in late February so maybe he's actually the Angel of Death -- which wouldn't be surprising considering the friends I've had).
  • When we finally celebrated my birthday, I got a thoroughly modern microwave with a digital clock! (Our current microwave, 12 years old, has a dial labeled in two-minute increments. Needless to say, it's hard to set a time under two minutes with any accuracy. Our current microwave is also undersized and under-powered so it's hard to cook anything in less than two minutes anyway.) Sometime in July I hope to take it out of the box and put it on the counter. I also got some great CDs by the likes of Backyard Tire Fire, the Decemberists, and Ben Folds.
  • Last night's hail storm was really cool to watch. Best of all, although a hailstone shattered the floodlight on the garage, the CFL within remains intact. That will make it a whole lot easier to unscrew and replace, plus I'd rather not have mercury sprayed all over the backyard.
I feel better now that I've convinced myself the month wasn't all bad. But then, life never is.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

My Grandpa, Carl G. Becker 1925-2011

Writing and delivering the eulogies for my grandparents has been a cathartic yet ultimately gratifying experience. These were two interesting people who touched many lives, and that made the job easier. Unlike my Grandma's eulogy, which came to me in one 15-minute burst, I struggled with my Grandpa's eulogy. Much of it came together at 1 AM today, and I rewrote the first paragraph about two hours before the funeral.

As for speaking, this time was much easier. For starters I had a podium to stand behind, which made me much less self-conscious than I felt standing out in the open with a paper in my hand at Grandma's funeral. The weird part came when I went back to my pew and sat down. I thought of various lines from the eulogy and couldn't remember actually saying any of them! Later my wife, who read the eulogy before I gave it (as did my mom), reassured me that I hadn't skipped anything. It's like my mind went off to a different place to deliver the eulogy. Otherwise I probably wouldn't have made it through. I'm really thankful that I didn't have to give the eulogy after the U.S. Navy flag ceremony, though. There wasn't a dry eye in attendance after that.

When I stood before most of you just four months ago, I didn't expect to be up here again so soon. We expected Grandpa to be around longer, but today we need to celebrate the full 85-year life he had and the great man he was. We're lucky he was a part of our lives for so long.

My grandfather had an incredible zest for life and a buoyant personality. Even as his body aged, he still loved to get up in the morning to take on the new day. He was rarely angry or negative. He had a great sense of humor and laughed a lot. He was an all-around nice guy.

Grandpa was a loving husband, and he and Grandma had 62 happy years together. He adored their daughters and treated not just their spouses, but also their spouses' entire families, as part of his own.

My grandfather was very successful as an agent for State Farm Insurance, and he loved to share his prosperity with family and friends. He provided his mother, his sister, and her husband with a place to live, and he was happy to be able to do so. By the way, if you know anyone who might want to buy a condo in Buffalo Grove, please let us know!

My grandparents were a perfect team of generosity – he earned the money and she loved shopping! Christmas was always a big event with towering stacks of presents and holiday decorations everywhere. When my wife was new to the family, she described it as “Christmas in Disneyland.”

Grandpa was a huge sports fan. He loved the Cubs and Bears the most, but he'd root for almost any Chicago team except the White Sox. For many years, he bought a weekend ticket package at Wrigley Field that the whole family got to enjoy. And of course, whenever Grandpa went along, there were plenty of hotdogs and frosty malts to go around. For a while, Grandpa took the extended Becker family wherever the Cubs went – the Cubs Convention downtown, spring training in Arizona, Cubs Care benefits at Wrigley Field, and even Walt Disney World in Florida. He loved to have everyone all together, from his mom to his grandsons.

Grandpa loved to eat. He could appreciate a fine meal, but he was just as happy ordering a pizza – sometimes all in one night! And if you went out to dinner with my Grandpa, there's no chance you'd be paying your own way. He may have enjoyed buying dinner for others almost as much as he enjoyed eating the food himself. I like to think that he would look at today as an opportunity to treat all of his family and friends to one final, great meal. We'll be gathering later at Toscana, one of his favorites.

Sad Story

I've been sad enough lately on my own, but this story is so heartbreaking:
Taylor Stinchcomb had just learned on the morning of June 21 that her Doberman Romulus would be put to sleep. Upset, she loaded the dog into her parents' minivan and left home without permission, police say. She picked up a friend, who later was behind the wheel when the van crashed on a rural Lake County road near Wildwood. Stinchcomb and the dog died. The teen who was driving suffered minor injuries.
For more details, see the original story that appeared after the accident.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Dave's Fashion Guide, Part 1

My definition of being coordinated: I look just as shitty as I feel.

Carl G. Becker: 20 Years Ago

The following is a paper I wrote in college dated October 3, 1991. The assignment was to interview an older person I admire. I think the instructor gave us a list of questions to ask. I considered using parts of this in the eulogy, but instead I'm going to print a few copies for people to read at the wake.

I interviewed my grandfather, Carl Becker, age 66. He is a successful insurance salesman with no intention of retiring. “I could retire if my wife ever stopped shopping!” he joked. He has three daughters (all married) and two grandsons.

He first said he liked “nothing” about his present age, but after a laugh, he said, “I like the fact that I'm comfortable in life, that I've accomplished what I wanted to, that I have no financial worries.” He also enjoys having his family grown and spending time with them.

Grandpa doesn't consider himself old. When asked what he liked least about his age, he replied, “I dislike when people remind me that I'm over 65 because I don't feel over 65. I feel like I'm still 45 or 50.” He considers himself healthier than most men his age. He walks three miles a day and eats right. He cited two health concerns: 1) his job involves a lot of stress, and 2) Grandma still smokes (he quit about 20 years ago).

That is something he would like to accomplish in his life – to get his wife to quit smoking. She was in the room. “Did you hear that?” I asked her. “I hear it every day,” she responded stubbornly. As for other goals, “I'd like to take up the piano or the organ and learn to play, if I ever got the time.” His wildest dream is typically family-oriented: “I'd like to win the lottery so I could open the Becker Community where all my family could live. Everybody could eat breakfast together on Sunday mornings. We could get skyboxes for the Cubs and Bears...”

Grandpa's most surprising answer was what he would change if he could “do it all over again.” “I'd like to be a pastor, be in the church. Those people get more out of life than anybody else does because they help other people.” Grandpa goes to church every week, but I didn't know he felt that way. His other response was less startling: “I would want more education. I would try to get as much as I could.” Perhaps that is why he has always been supportive of my educational pursuits.

Grandpa is not afraid of death. “I don't particularly worry about it. Everybody dies so there's nothing you can do about it.” He added, with a smile, “I'm not in a hurry, though!”

“I think as long as you're healthy and you enjoy life, then you want to live. But if you're not healthy, then... Well, I wouldn't want to live if I was really suffering.”

His philosophy on aging was very positive. “You're always learning something, you're always looking forward to the things you can accomplish in the future. If you're always setting goals for yourself, your family... Then that's what keeps you young.”

“I hate when people say, 'I don't care about anything anymore. I'm ready to die.'”

“We always complain that we're too busy, but the worst people are the ones who have nothing but time. They have nothing to look forward to. I see them walk past my office all day.”

I enjoyed doing the interview. Grandpa was an easy interviewee. Sometimes I had to coax him a little, but his overall attitude was very positive. The hardest part was probably trying to get Grandpa's answer before Grandma answered the question for him!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Bastard of the Day

I have a Groupon for $30 that expires today at Schuba's Harmony Grill. Usually Groupon offers are still valid after the expiration date for the amount paid, in this case $15. Some say this is at the vendor's discretion, though there are also questions about whether it is legal not to accept them. In fact, Groupon says they must. From a Groupon blog entry:
When a Groupon expires, customers can still redeem for the price they paid for the period of time defined by state law (5 years in Illinois). This is not new; it’s been in our terms of service and in every merchant contract since May of 2009 – when we were six months old and launched in two cities.
So far I've managed to spend every Groupon on time, but for obvious reasons, I haven't had a chance to go there this month. Heck, I haven't even been to Rockwell's since May, and I usually eat there two or more times a week (ditto for my weekly visit to the Corner Bakery).

I just got off the phone with Schuba's Harmony Grill, and they will NOT accept my expired Groupon for the amount paid.

Translation: I just got off the phone with Schuba's Harmony Grill, and those law-breaking bastards will never get a dime of my business.

Congratulations, Schuba's. You turned an opportunity to gain a new customer into a complete loss. Harmony, my ass!

P.S. Thanks to Groupon for crediting my account for the $15 I paid. They do a good job of standing behind their product and ensuring customer satisfaction (another example: when a restaurant closed, Groupon informed me and credited my account). So the good news is that I'm not out any money, but I'm still mad at Schuba's.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Not Like the Movies

I had a lot of writing to do (actual paying work!) today, so I figured I may as well keep Grandpa company at the hospice. They have Wi-Fi and a quiet environment with few distractions, so why not? When I announced to my family Sunday night that I intended to get up early on Monday to go to the hospice, they were doubtful. If I wake up during a single-digit hour, it's usually PM, not AM!

Monday I awoke at 6 AM, hit the road early, and beat most of the traffic on the Kennedy Expressway. After a good breakfast at the Egg Harbor Cafe (Matt's Meaty Skillet, fitting the "comfort food" theme that has been bulging the family's waistlines lately), I drove the short distance to the hospice. When the staff made rounds, the doctor told me Grandpa was deteriorating but that he could last another day or two or even five. I called my mom with an update, but mostly just to let her know I was there so early. Then I talked to a nurse who answered questions such as what can or should I say to Grandpa and how do they know when the time is near? She said it's okay to tell him to let go and to assure him that everyone will be fine. Apparently some patients miss the point of hospice and try to hang on for one reason or another. As for the other question, she said, among other things, that often patients will stop breathing for a few seconds or more (apnea) and then start up again in a cycle until eventually they just don't start up again.

I always feel weird talking to a sedated person -- who knows what he actually hears? -- but I gave it a shot. Then I went back to my writing project. Every so often I'd look over at Grandpa to see his chest rise and fall. But then I noticed he wasn't breathing. Then he started again, gasping. A bit later he stopped for what seemed like a minute but was likely 5-7 seconds.

I don't know where the nurses came from. I didn't call them, and there wasn't any kind of monitor on Grandpa that would beep a warning, but suddenly they appeared. Maybe hospice nurses are like angels on Earth, hovering in the hallways and swooping in when they sense they are needed.*

I wondered aloud, "I guess I'd better call anyone who wants to be here?" A nurse nodded. I called my mom first since she had the furthest to travel. Grandpa's breathing stopped for a bit, then started again. I called one of my aunts. No answer, and I sure as heck wasn't going to leave a message. I called my other aunt while another call (the first aunt calling back) went to my voice mail. As I frantically pressed buttons on my phone, I looked up to see one of the nurses with a stethoscope looking back at me. I don't remember any words or gestures; I could see it in her eyes. He was gone, just like that. No desperate cries or even a shudder. I've never witnessed a death before, but this was nothing like they show in the movies, just a peaceful slipping away.

Oh shit, now I have to call everyone again. I felt sort of like the lousy player they send out to right field because it's unlikely someone will hit the ball there. Then suddenly it's a long fly ball, and I run, bewildered, toward the fence to make the catch. In all the time I kept a vigil by his bed this month, I hadn't given much thought to witnessing my grandfather's last moments. Today I figured I was just hanging around to keep him company until his daughters came in the late afternoon. This wasn't supposed to happen on my watch!

It happened so quickly, too. Later someone asked what time he died, and when I looked at the record of dialed calls on my cell phone, there was a mere two-minute gap between the call telling my aunt to get here soon and the second call to say he was gone. All morning his breathing had been a little shallow yet steady, but within minutes everything had changed.

In retrospect, I'm glad I was there, and I even feel kind of honored to witness his passing, if that makes any sense. The rest of my family was glad that I was there -- if I hadn't had this project to work on, he probably would have died without anyone familiar present. I don't know whether that matters at all to the dying, but the living take comfort in such things. Although the hospice nurses discouraged the thought, I think we all felt a bit guilty after Grandma died alone.

Grandpa's journey is over after a very difficult June. He died exactly four months after his wife of 62 years. The wake is Wednesday and the funeral is Thursday, so at least this won't stretch into July. We are relieved that it's over (the hospice people assure us it's okay to feel this way) and comforted that Grandpa got to live and die on his own terms, and in such a nice place (the last intelligible words anyone heard were on Saturday when he arrived at the hospice; he looked at one of his daughters and said, "Thank you very much" -- I'd like to think he knew exactly what was going on and that we were doing what he wanted). Of course, this also means that the project I was working on this morning isn't the only writing assignment I have that's due this Thursday.

* Okay, so later my mother reminded me that they have video cameras monitoring every room. But I prefer my poetic interpretation.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Wee Bit of Good News

First, the bad news. As I wrote previously, Grandpa's condition has worsened -- he has congestive heart failure, which means his heart is still working, but not well enough to provide the blood his organs need. The doctors said the best-case prognosis would be that he might be able to sit in a chair. We know that isn't the lifestyle he would want, so that made my mom's decision (everyone agreed, but she has power of attorney) pretty clear. They disconnected his feeding tube yesterday, so now it's just a matter of time, probably less than two weeks.

The next issue was what to do about hospice care. Everyone recommended an inpatient facility in Barrington as the best place he could go. There was only one problem: Medicare will only pay for a few days of inpatient hospice care if his condition is stabilized (meaning that his pain can be managed with drugs and he isn't "actively dying"). Then he would have to go to a nursing home (which he definitely does not want) or back to his house for in-home hospice care (which isn't viable for us for a number of reasons). Grandpa has been shuttled between facilities a few times this month, and being moved is very uncomfortable for him. We don't want him to be bothered with that again in his final days. We asked the nurse how much it would cost to keep him in the inpatient facility, and she didn't know. Their focus is so much on Medicare (and probably dealing with people who have no money) that cost is never discussed. I didn't think it would cost that much money (say, under $2K), but my family noted how expensive healthcare can be, with an overnight hospital stay costing tens of thousands.

Today we got some great news: it only costs $600 a day to keep him there. Since we know it will be for a finite length of time (even a healthy person wouldn't last long without food or water), it won't be any problem to keep him there regardless of Medicare coverage. My mom just called to say he's there now. It's a really nice, quiet place, and we know he'll be comfortable there for the rest of his time on Earth.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


I must have noticed before that my grandfather has blue eyes. But I know I never looked into them as I have these past three weeks. Sometimes it seems he's looking right at me. Other times he seems to be looking somewhere beyond, perhaps over my shoulder or a million miles away. Mostly those eyes are closed or half open, looking at nothing.

I keep waiting -- praying -- for that light bulb moment when he will look directly at me, his eyes will light up, and he will say something to show us that he is unequivocally back in our presence. But these things take time and it's too early to tell. Still a voice deep inside me whispers a warning that this may it, that the occasional mumbled words or nonsensical sentence may be as much as he'll ever communicate again. Never in my life have I so wished to know the future.

Some nights I see those eyes in my dreams. On scarier nights it is as if those eyes are mine, looking out on a foggy and confusing world.

I've always had the habit of taking on the mannerisms of people I spend a lot of time with. Lately when I lay down to sleep, I catch myself letting out the faint groan of despair that I sometimes hear from my grandfather in his hospital bed.

There have been a handful of good days, times when he spoke clearly and even logically. But those days came early on, and lately his condition seems worse, no matter that the latest CT scan shows nothing negative.

I wrote the previous paragraphs yesterday when I still had hope. Tonight they tell me hope is gone. He's still alive but he won't get better. This time it's his heart, and it's time to let him go. If ever I could will someone to live, it would be him. But it doesn't work that way. Sometimes no amount of hoping or praying can delay the inevitable.

In a cruel coincidence, he originally fell on my birthday and today was my mom's birthday.

After Grandma died at the end of February, I did not expect to be contemplating another eulogy so soon. Grandpa wasn't moping around with a broken heart; he missed her but overall he was doing pretty well. He enjoyed sampling new restaurants that my notoriously finicky grandmother would never go to. A couple of months ago, he had a new set of tires installed on his car. In May, when we cleared away the dozens of planting pots Grandma left in the backyard, Grandpa said he looked forward to sitting out on the patio beneath a shady tree. Not long before his fall, he had someone come and clean his outdoor grill. He wasn't supposed to die now -- he had plans, damn it.

My grandfather is a great guy, one of the greatest I've ever met. He's kind and generous and funny. He worked hard and enjoys sharing his rewards. He loves to eat and loves to pay the bill for anyone who joins him. The world will be less sweet without him in it.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Strategically (Mis)Positioned

I'm not a fan of cell phones. I carry mine when I go out -- mostly as a timepiece -- but when I'm at home, I leave it on the sideboard downstairs with my keys and wallet. I get few calls, so it usually isn't a problem.

On those rare occasions when my cell phone does ring, I'm usually upstairs in my office/man cave using the computer. After months of practice, I can consistently hear the phone ringing, get out of my chair, sprint down the hallway and stairs, move the pet gate (#%$@ cats), turn the corner, lunge for the phone, and flip it open... less than half a second after the call goes to voice mail!

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The Optimist

I've never been what anyone would call an optimist. Although I consider myself to be a realist, pessimism ultimately wins out. My theory has always been this: If you expect the worst to happen, you will usually be pleasantly surprised.

This week I've been as optimistic as humanly possible. I've been to the hospital five days straight to see my grandfather, and every day I rejoice in every little bit of progress he makes.

  • Both of his eyes are open.
  • He knows where he is.
  • He ate yogurt and oatmeal for breakfast.
  • He chuckled when I said something funny.
  • They moved him out of ICU.
  • They took the bandage off his head.
  • He's not thrashing his legs about like he did before.
  • His voice is strong enough to yell at the nurse.

If there are any negatives, signs that his progress is slower than expected or that his recovery is in jeopardy, I simply refuse to see them. In fact, if someone "helpfully" mentions any such thing, I will argue vehemently.

Deep inside, I know I am acting contrary to all I have learned in 41 years of living. But now I must be an optimist. I cannot bear the alternative.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Crappy Birthday

My birthday Thursday made me glad I did something unusual and memorable last year. This year I stayed home, and while I managed to stay out of bookstores (the insane orgy of the Borders bankruptcy still fresh on my credit card statement), food was again a highlight. Though not as good as Waffle House waffles, the Philly cheese steak sandwich and cheese fries I had for lunch at Philly's Best were mighty tasty. At that point, my day had not yet gone to shit. Well, relatively speaking, at least. One might argue that my decision not to go for a bike ride that morning probably denied me my best chance of doing something really fun, so maybe I was doomed from the start (my heart just hasn't been in it lately, but that is a topic for another day).

Anyway, I thought about my grandmother throughout the day, remembering how she called to wish me a happy birthday last year as I was driving west on Interstate 74 toward the place of my birth and lamenting that she would not -- could not -- call me this year.

Around 8:30 PM my dad called to say happy birthday but also to pass along a darker message. A few hours earlier, my aunt had discovered my grandfather lying barely conscious in a pool of blood, apparently having lost his balance and fallen on his kitchen floor. My mom was at the hospital, grandpa had blood on his brain, and his chances looked grim.

Though my grandparents wouldn't have approved of the language, my first thought was Fuck.

I think my grandpa has been doing really well in the three months since his lifelong partner died. His daughters and I have been going to his house every Friday to sort through my grandma's things (she had a lot of stuff!), so I've seen him regularly. Though he misses her, he seems to have a good attitude. One hears of so many longtime couples where the widow or widower dies shortly after the spouse out of grief, giving up on life, whatever, but grandpa didn't seem like he would. Although he has had some health issues over the past few years, his doctor told him he could live to 100 -- another 15 years (his mother made it to 98 or 99, so he has good genes, and he has taken good care of himself with activity and diet -- I don't think there's a vegetable in the world he doesn't like).

And then this happened. Fuck.

This Friday I visited grandpa not at his house but at the hospital. Frankly he looked terrible, lying there sedated with bandages, bruises, and tubes everywhere. We don't really know what's going to happen at this point. The doctors exude caution and uncertainty; it's too soon to tell. Presuming he lives (I gathered that the odds are better than 2:1 in his favor), we don't know how much brain damage there might be or how long it may take him to recover from his injuries or whether he'll ever live independently again (the last is doubtful -- he really needs someone around in case he falls again).

Why does shit like this have to happen? On my birthday or any other day? Fuck.

UPDATE 1:20 PM - Good news so far. Grandpa is awake and talking somewhat ahead of schedule.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Lance on Drugs? It Doesn't Matter

At this point, it does not matter whether Lance Armstrong used EPO, testosterone, or any other performance enhancing drugs. The fact that several former teammates have confessed is enough to cast doubt on all of his victories. After all, cycling is a team sport, and Armstrong would not have received the same level of support from his fellow riders had they not been doping.

I know the UCI doesn't work that way. When the grunts of a team get caught doping, they get punished while their leader goes unscathed. But that's probably wrong on their part. If the UCI really wanted to eliminate doping, they would nullify every victory that a doping rider contributed to. Teams already have their own testing regimens in place, so they know damn well when someone isn't following the rules.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Awful Joke of the Day

What do you call someone who is such a douche, it's scary?

A Massenghoul!

The Only Good Thing About Ron Paul

I'm glad kooky Ron Paul is running for president again for one reason (well, two if "more evidence of a pathetically weak Republican field" counts as a reason). In 2008, I told my brother -- and anyone else who would listen -- that I'd sooner vote for RuPaul than Ron Paul. My brother suggested we should deface modify Congressman Paul's campaign signs to show our support for the man woman person who knows how to "work it."

We chickened out in 2008, but now we have another chance! It will be just like "The Adventures of Letterman"* from The Electric Company TV show of my youth (Faster than a rolling 'O', stronger than silent 'E', able to leap capital 'T' in a single bound! It's a word, it’s a's Letterman!). We'll rip 'U's from our varsity sweaters and turn Ron Paul into RuPaul!

What if our editing campaign succeeds, and RuPaul becomes a viable candidate? I'd love to see RuPaul debate Sarah Palin. I think we know who'd have better makeup. You'd never hear RuPaul whining about how that hardball interviewer Katie Couric was trying to trick her, either.

On the subject of Republican presidential candidates, how about Newt? "Mr Gingrich, the nineties just called. They want their angry white male back." Throw in Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney, and the Republicans might have to change their name to the Bad Penny Party.

* OMG, I had no idea that was Joan Rivers narrating those skits. But now that I do, it seems so obvious.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

US Cycling Coverage

I gave up on pro cycling last year, but when a cyclist died yesterday, I saw the AP wire story on a couple of sites. As I read the lead, my sadness was mixed with irritation at US media coverage:
Belgian cyclist Wouter Weylandt died Monday after a high-speed downhill crash at the Giro d'Italia, the first death in a major cycling race in 16 years.
Wait a minute... Didn't Andrei Kivilev die more recently at Paris-Nice? They must have forgotten about him. But as I continued reading, I found that Kivilev was not forgotten:
In 2003, Kazakh rider Andrei Kivilev died after he fell from his bike and fractured his skull while not wearing a helmet during the Paris-Nice stage race.
No, this is just the typical way US media cover pro cycling. In short, if it isn't a three-week Grand Tour, then it isn't a "major race." Paris-Nice may "only" be a week long, but that doesn't mean it isn't a major race. It's part of the UCI WorldTour (formerly ProTour), a collection of two dozen premier events at cycling's highest level, and the race dates back to 1933. Many of the all-time greats have won Paris-Nice, though Lance Armstrong and Greg LeMond never did.* A European news service wouldn't dare deny Paris-Nice's status as a major race, and the AP shouldn't either.

* These are the only bike racers most Americans have ever heard of. The fact that these two men focused their efforts on the Tour de France has done a great deal of damage in shaping the narrow perception of pro cycling for the average American.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Ooh Mommy

I woke up at 4 AM to use the bathroom, and I was suddenly struck with a ridiculous question: What's the name of that fifth flavor that the Japanese have? Who gets up in the middle of the night to answer nature's call and thinks of stuff like that?

After relieving my urge, I had to find the answer before I could go back to sleep. I went to the living room where we keep our unabridged dictionary (that may seem odd, but it's much handier there than in the library at the other end of the house):
I think it starts with a u, or maybe an o. Is it usami? No, that sounds too much like Osama, and I'd remember that. Likewise, it's certainly not osami. Maybe it was unami? Or onami? Damn it, none of those are in the dictionary. Maybe it's umami?
As it turns out, the word is indeed umami, no thanks to the dictionary. I had to go upstairs to look it up online. First I typed "Japanese flavors" into Google and found the Wikipedia page as the second result. There it was:
Umami, popularly referred to as savoriness, is one of the five basic tastes together with sweet, sour, bitter, and salty.
My question answered, I should have stopped there. Alas, I could not. I was being sucked into the Internet. I typed "umami" into Google. The first result was the aforementioned Wikipedia page, but the second was "Umami Burger | The Fifth Taste." As a burger lover, I had to check that out. There's little chance that I'll be sampling their offerings anytime soon because it's a small Los Angeles chain, but that didn't stop me from perusing their menu and picking out what I would order if I could (a "Manly Burger" with beer-cheddar cheese, smoked-salt onion strings, and bacon lardons -- Mmmmmm!). They linked to a glowing review from GQ, and via the comments there I found a negative review for balance at Burgers, Dogs, & Pizza, Oh My!. Since I love burgers, pizza, and the occasional hot dog, I had to investigate that site further as well. At this point, I remembered it was 4:30 AM and I should probably go back to bed since I don't function well on two hours' sleep.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Scientists Spoil Everything

It's no secret that armadillos are carriers of leprosy. I always assumed that was a good reason to leave them alone. But until now, scientists thought armadillos couldn't transmit the disease to humans. It is incredible to me that they never recognized this before, but apparently they hadn't.
[Microbiologist Richard W.] Truman added that [knowing leprosy can be passed from armadillos to humans] might help persuade people living near armadillos — their range extends from Texas to the Carolinas — to avoid contact with the animals. That means refraining from touching, playing with and — yes — eating the critters, which are feted at armadillo festivals, cheered on at armadillo races and chased down during armadillo hunts.
Another killjoy, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health, adds, "You shoot an armadillo and try to skin it — that's the worst thing you could do."

Well, there go my summer vacation plans!

But wait... there's more about leprosy:
The disease has long been misunderstood and those who contracted it were often shunned. Fear of its spread led some countries to quarantine people. False stories about fingers and toes falling off added to the stigma.
Damn, that ruins one of my favorite tasteless jokes.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Great Comment About Birther B.S.

This is a comment from "Shane E" regarding a post on Clarence Page's blog about birther blow-hard Donald Trump:
Looking at this circus from a more detached, foreign perspective (I'm Australian) it amazes me that a country once as progressive as the U.S has become so bogged down in these kinds of fringe, almost lunatic politics.
In many ways I think this reflects most poorly on the education system in that it has produced a culture of anti-intellectualism, where evidence becomes secondary to rhetoric, where logic and reason can no longer compete with scandal, conspiracy and rumour-mongering. 
Democracy is a wonderful thing but the U.S politic system is seriously at risk of degenerating into a government of the idiots, by the idiots and for the idiots - with serious thinkers marginalised to the point of powerlessness.
There's not really anything I can add to that.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Borders Recommends...

Months ago I read a review of a since-forgotten book that favorably mentioned Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz, so I put it on my list. Subtitled Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality, it is not the sort of book I normally would purchase or even come across (I rarely browse the Religion section of a bookstore). After searching many Borders bankruptcy sale shelves, I found it last week for about $3.50. Although many other books were calling to me when I got home, I chose to read Blue Like Jazz right away.

Tuesday I got my semiweekly e-mail from Borders Rewards. It starts with a section called "Picked Just for You: Personalized recommendations we think you'll enjoy." Usually they recommend things that I probably would not enjoy, so I have no idea how their system works. seems much better at predicting what I will like based on previous purchases. But this time, the first book listed was Blue Like Jazz! How weird is that? I cannot recall ever getting a recommendation for a book while I was reading it. It's not like they are pushing a new release either; the book came out in 2003.

Animal Groups Send Mixed Messages

I received e-mails this week from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and Best Friends Animal Sanctuary regarding the upcoming holiday.

The HSUS writes:
No Hoppy Easter
Animal shelters take in a large number of rabbits following the Easter holiday. Learn why you should give the real bunnies a break and stick to the chocolate ones.
Okay, but then Best Friends writes:
Happy, hoppy Easter
We hope you have a very happy Easter! And please take a moment to remind everyone you know that we want the bunnies and chicks of the world to have a happy Easter too, which means please don’t give them as Easter gifts.
Shit, now I'm confused. Although the underlying message is the same, I don't know whether my Easter should be hoppy or not!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Something to Crow About

If I had to name the most embarrassing album in my CD collection, it might be Sheryl Crow's debut, Tuesday Night Music Club. I liked it well enough when I bought it (I still like that line about being born the day Aldous Huxley died*), but I had no idea how much I'd dislike everything that followed in Crow's career. I have not even remotely considered buying another disc from her since. I do enjoy singing along when "Every Day Is A Winding Road" comes on at the grocery store, but only to change the lyrics to "Sheryl Crow is a whining broad" (and I mean no disrespect toward women; broad just fits the meter well).

But this entry is not about Crow's first album or her whining song. It's about one of the best lyrics I have ever misunderstood. One day "Soak Up The Sun" was playing at the grocery store (perhaps Crow's genre is grocery store music).  Then as the song was ending -- always the best part of a Sheryl Crow song for obvious reasons -- I thought I heard her say, "I'm gonna soak up the sun/Got my 45 gun/So I can rock on."

I thought that was the coolest line ever. What a delicious twist! The whole sunny song suddenly turned dark. I could imagine Crow caressing her trusty .45 caliber, planning to launch a killing spree of vengeance against everyone else in the song (after all, she's singing about all the things others have that she does not).

Alas the next time I heard "Soak Up The Sun", I figured out that Crow was singing "Got my 45 on" and that she was referring to a 45 rpm single, not a .45 caliber pistol. Damn, that song could have been so much cooler.

* For anyone who doesn't already know this bit of trivia, Aldous Huxley died the same day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. And for those who believe such things come in threes, C.S. Lewis died that day, too. Someone even based a book on it.