Thursday, November 30, 2006

Waiting for the Snow to Fall

11.29.06, 4 p.m.: Dave comes home from work (relax, he’s a schoolteacher, not a malingerer). “The salt trucks are out,” he says. It’s raining and 60 degrees. What do they know that we don’t.

11.30.06, 6 a.m.: I get up and turn on the local newscasts. We’re under a winter storm warning, waiting on 6-12 inches of snow. WTF happened to my 60 degrees?

11.30.06, 8 a.m.: Good Morning America weather “anchor” Sam Champion (and if there were a beauty contest for men, he would be Mr. America) says today’s impending snowstorm will be national news tomorrow morning. Um. Sam, if you’re talking about it now, it’s already national news.

11.30.06, 9:03 a.m.: The local CBS affiliate breaks into regular coverage to update viewers on the Doppler radar. A green squiggly line is threatening to demolish Chicago.

11.30.06, 9:04 a.m.: I decide today might not be a good day to run errands. I’ll put them off until tomorrow.

11.30.06, 10:38 a.m.: I’m still waiting for the snow.

11.30.06, 1: 23 p.m.: I go to the story to lay in food supplies for the siege.

11.30.06, 3 p.m.: I’m still waiting for the snow.

11.30.06, 4:14 p.m.: Dave comes home from work. The snow is a no-show, I tell him. They moved back the start time, he replies. What is this, the NFL?

11.30.06, 5:11 p.m.: I make final preparations for the blizzard—I download Christmas songs from iTunes and check the levels of my hot cocoa supply. Huzzah for Costco. I have 86 packets of Swiss Miss.

11.30.06, 6:53 p.m.: “WeatherTrak” update from Ch. 2—the snow is still well to the south. What do you want to bet it stays there.

11.30.06, 7:38 p.m.: Tonight’s “Office” is awesome. Michael: “Name a white man you admire and I’ll name a black man I admire more.” Karen: “Jesus." Michael: “Apollo Creed.”

11.30.06, 9 p.m.: Copying Christmas music onto the iPod. I love Andy Williams.

11.30.06, 9:29 p.m.: New one for the dictionary of weather hyperbole--"thunder snow." Revised forecast--5-8 inches. Dave says, "I'm not feeling it."

11.30.06, 9:45 p.m.: WGN News--It's not the Storm of the Century but it is "The Super Bowl for Meteorologists."

11.30.06, 10:08 p.m.: I give up. Going to bed. Hoping to wake up to a snow day.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I’m Not Making This Stuff Up

Forget about The Best Week Ever. I’m pretty sure yesterday was The Best Day Ever for celebrity news.

Item #1: The city of Stockholm is planning to build an ABBA museum dedicated to the music, clothing and history of the legendary Swedish pop group. "We think this will be a fun and swinging museum to visit,” was the band’s response to the news. The foursome hasn’t performed together since 1982, and apparently that’s the last time they updated their slang. Band members will donate materials for the exhibits, including outfits worn by the group. Which brings to mind the question, isn’t it a fire hazard to have that much spandex in a single location?

Item #2: Tony Danza is set to star in “The Producers” on Broadway. Seems like a case of life imitating art. The announcement reminds me of the “Curb Your Enthusiasm” plot where Mel Brooks cast Larry David as a “Producers” lead, hoping he’d bomb and put an end to the play’s interminable run.

Item #3: During the L.A. stop of their current concert tour, the Dixie Chicks, who know a little something about being the center of a media firestorm, dedicated a song to the much maligned Kevin Federline. The title of the tune: “White Trash Wedding.” Some jokes just write themselves.

Item #4: “Access Hollywood” or maybe “Entertainment Tonight”—can we please stop pretending these are two separate shows—has an exclusive report on Anna Nicole Smith’s speedy weight loss since giving birth just weeks ago. Well, I’m glad she has her priorities straight. I was so over her mourning for her dead son.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Street Corner Blues

There’s a new condo building going up a few blocks from my house. The developer is either:
a) Using non-union labor, or
b) Has failed to make good on past contracts

So he’s being picketed. By a guy in a brown-hooded jacket and sometimes another guy, this one in blue.

I can appreciate their plight. It sucks to not get paid, it sucks to be undercut by cheaper labor. But here’s my quibble: They’re standing on my corner.

This guy—and sometimes his pal—are on my route to pretty much everywhere I need to go. The train station. The produce market. Walgreens. The post office. If I’m particularly inefficient in running errands, I could pass Brown-Hooded Man six times a day.

I took the flyer he thrust in my hand on our first encounter. The problem is, he keeps pressing his list of complaints on me whenever I walk by. What’s the rule here? Do I have to take the piece of paper every single time I’m passing through? I’ve read it, I’ve familiarized myself with his quarrel. I don’t want to appear anti-labor, but I feel my job is done.

My options, as I see them, are limited:
* Avoid BHM by walking a couple of blocks out of my way and circumnavigating his corner
* Stand my ground and walk my usual route, eyes fixed forward, hands shoved into my coat pockets
* Engage BHM in a conversation and explain why I will be refusing the flyer

If this were an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and I were Larry David, I could mine either of these scenarios for comic gold. (Actually, if I were Larry David, I would live in a gated community and never come in contact with picketing construction workers.) But this isn’t funny, it’s annoying.

I want my corner back.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

More Indigestion Than Leftover Turkey

The American people have spoken and we find O.J. Simpson repugnant. We do not want to buy his book, in which he theorizes about how he “might” have killed his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman. We do not want to watch, just days after Thanksgiving, a two-part interview with Simpson on FOX that likely would have caused more indigestion than leftover turkey.

FOX has cancelled the interview and the book has been pulled from warehouse shelves (that trees were killed in this “ill-considered” effort is perhaps the greatest tragedy). So now can we make Denise Brown go away too?

Fred Goldman, 12 years after the murders, still strikes me as a father grieving the loss of his son. When he pops up on television calling Simpson “garbage,” I feel his rage and his pain. Denise Brown still strikes me as a media whore. Like someone who enjoys the limelight, having finally stepped out of the shadow of her prettier, quasi-famous sister.

I caught Denise’s latest act on this morning’s “Today” show. She hasn’t aged a day since 1994 and I know I shouldn’t hold the Botox against her, but I do. Because she couldn’t render a single emotion. I just think about something happening to my sister and I start to blubber. Instead, Denise focused most of her anger on the book publisher—for trying to hide the money paid to Simpson. “We won’t stop until we track every penny” was her rallying cry. Wow, how noble.

Matt Lauer asked if she would stick around for another round of insipid Q&A later in the program. “Sure,” she responded with glee, basking in Lauer’s attention and reveling in this unexpected resurrection of her career as victim’s relative. When in fact all Lauer really was doing was keeping her from appearing on any other networks. So I guess we can thank him for that.

* * *

On to more important news: The Chicago Cubs have acquired free agent Alfonso Soriano for some obscene amount of money. This is a sign, we’ve been told, that the Cubs are serious about winning the World Series in 2007. Or at least improving on the worst record in baseball.

I know hope springs eternal in Wrigleyville, so I hate to throw cold water on a deal that’s only a day old. But I’ve managed Soriano. True, he’s a quality player. Shows up every day. Rarely slumps. Posts solid numbers. But does he win championships? In my case, no.

And I know we’re only talking Fantasy Baseball here. But with Soriano a constant presence in my lineup (I think he was the only player I didn’t bench out of sheer irritation), I finished fourth in a six-team league. I wasn’t even close to the top spot, or second or third. What did these managers have that I didn’t? Pitching. (OK, and savvier knowledge of how to manipulate Fantasy stat categories. But still.)

Back in 2004, the Cubs bet the farm on the arms of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood and have reaped a crop-load of misery ever since. While I’m excited to have a player of Soriano’s caliber on our team (because seriously, Neifi Perez is not striking fear into any opponent), I harbor no illusions that he will single-battedly carry the Cubs to victory.

That’s one fantasy I can guarantee won’t come true.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Rotor of the Night

Here’s the problem with catchy commercials—I remember the ad but have no clue about the product.

In a current campaign—I think for a cell phone service, because isn’t every non-pharmaceutical ad for a cell phone service—a couple of guys download a Clash song onto their phone and then proceed to mangle the lyrics, substituting “Lock the cashbox” for “Rock the Casbah.”

This would be pretty funny if:
A) The song lyric wasn’t also the song title. And while the guys in the ad come across as incredibly stupid, they’re not comatose.
B) “Friends” hadn’t already done a much funnier version, with Phoebe crooning “Hold me closer Tony Danza” to Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.” I’ll never listen to that song the same way again. And…
C) We all know that if you’re going to pick a song whose lyrics have defied comprehension for decades, there’s only one choice. You know what I’m talking about. “Blinded by the Light.”

I confess, not only has this song mystified me since I was a tyke, but I had the band wrong too. All these years I’ve been cursing E.L.O. for slurring the chorus, but it turns out that “Blinded” was originally written and recorded by garbler extraordinaire Bruce Springsteen. The Boss’ version flopped, then Manfred Mann got hold of it and turned the song into a hit. (Mann is much easier to decipher in “Do Wah Diddy Diddy.”)

There’s an entire web site devoted to mistaken lyrics for this song. We all know what we think Manfred’s saying, we just don’t like to talk about it. Because it seems to be about feminine hygiene. My personal interpretation:

“Blinded by the light
Wrapped up like a douche
In the rotor of the night.”

I always pictured Mann (actually, E.L.O.) coming across a tampon in a dark alley and penning a song about it. Now I know better. What he’s really saying:

“Blinded by the light
Revved up like a deuce
Another runner in the night.”

I don’t know, I kind of like my lyrics better, and I’ve been singing them so long, I can’t see the point in changing now. So while it’s tempting to also look up the actual words to Pearl Jam’s “Evenflow,” I prefer to hang onto the delusion that it’s a pretty song about butterflies.

Hold me closer Tony Danza.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Columbus to Bracciano

I know. Gallons of ink have already been spilled on the topic and entire nations have been deforested in the massive People-Us Weekly-In Touch blitz to cover the impending nuptials of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. But I’m going to go there anyway.

First, am I the only person who’s noticed that while Cruise is whipping Romans into a frenzy, Michael Jackson has emerged from Bahrainian exile to perform the same voodoo mind trick on London? Coincidence? Probably. But the intent and effect are likely one in the same. A little video footage of adoring European fans (are they getting paid?) lining the streets for a glimpse of these once invincible stars, shouting their names, clamoring for photos and autographs and altogether acting as if no couch jumping or Blanket dangling had ever occurred could go a long way toward rehabilitating Cruise and Jackson’s tarnished images here at home. Or not.

As for Ms. Holmes, I must admit that I’m a little jealous. You see, like Katie—I’m sorry, Kate—I too hail from Toledo, Ohio. I didn’t want to get married there either, but I relented just to make things more convenient for my family and friends and I know as a bride that should not have been a concern. It’s definitely one of my biggest regrets, because if Dave and I had gotten married in Chicago, which by then was our hometown, I could have invited Oprah and other local luminaries like Joan Cusack and Chris Farley, before he died of a drug overdose. And I know that’s not the same as J. Lo and Jim Carrey, but it would have been equally random.

Mostly, and I believe I speak for all women in the Buckeye State, I’d like to know how Katie got the men in her family to agree to attend a wedding on the same day as the Ohio State-Michigan game. Especially this year, when a national championship is on the line. Any other bride tries to pull that off and she’s walking herself down the aisle or her dad is packing a transistor radio in his tuxedo pocket. I’m sure Tom can appreciate the significance of this game, having played high school football in “All the Right Moves.” So maybe he rented some Jumbotron screens to broadcast the game during the ceremony and/or reception (I’m not sure about the time difference between Columbus and Bracciano). Or maybe TomKat doesn’t care about the OSU-Michigan match-up and that’s why they will never replace Jamie Farr as Toledo’s favorite native son.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


The reviews are in and it seems Daniel Craig is worthy of the name Bond, James Bond, after all. Duh.

In retrospect, the hullabaloo over hiring a blonde actor (actor, people, actor) to play moviedom’s most famous super spy was laughable. Um, Meg Ryan fell for Billy Crystal in “When Harry Met Sally” and we all managed to suspend our disbelief for that one.

The question in my mind was never whether Craig was good enough for Bond, but whether Bond was good enough for Craig. I caught Craig in “Layer Cake” maybe a year and half ago. It wasn’t the sort of film I usually gravitate towards—too macho, too violent. The plot and dialogue were difficult to follow. But Craig was riveting and his electric blue eyes popped off the screen. When the Oscars rolled around, I was surprised he didn’t make at least a few critics’ lists in the category of “no chance in hell of getting a nomination but damn he was good.”

To follow up that kind of edgy, star-making performance with the title role in the creaky Bond franchise seemed like career suicide. (Anybody heard from Timothy Dalton lately? I thought not.) When Craig’s named was first dangled as a replacement for Pierce Brosnan (who I adore as anything but Bond), I thought, “Don’t do it!” But the Bond folks appear to have stolen a page from Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” playbook. Stellar actor + decent script = good movie.

So now that we’ve taken James Bond off life support, can somebody please rescue Superman?

* * *

Results from the mid-term elections are barely a week old and the pundits have already moved onto the 2008 presidential campaign, so I guess it’s not too early to start casting next season’s “Dancing with the Stars.” Hurrah for this year’s champs, Emmitt Smith and Cheryl Burke, who as far as I could tell, stuck to the basic premise of ballroom dancing and did it exceedingly well. I’d add something about runner-up Mario Lopez, but that would just give the man-boy another 10 seconds of undeserved attention.

Here’s a thought for the producers: Next time you’re planning a filler number to pad a one-hour show into two, make the judges dance. Pair up Carrie Ann with Bruno—can’t you just picture him trying to out-sequin her—and let’s see how they handle the Jive and the Mambo; Len can take over as bandleader. You know what they say: Those who can, do. Those who can’t, judge.

For all those who find “Dancing” ridiculous and a sign that the apocalypse is upon us, I offer up two words: “Love Boat.” Or “Fantasy Island.” Take your pick. Because back in the day, that’s where C-list celebs or up-and-comers went to pick up a steady paycheck. People like Lynda Day George and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. built entire careers around these shows and Western civilization managed to survive the escapism. Now, apparently it’s become difficult to find writers who can pen a good “boy meets girl, girl freaks out that boy’s parents are ‘little people,’ boy loses girl, girl has a change of heart” storyline (an actual “Love Boat” plot, on my honor). And that leads us to “Dancing.” Substitute Tom Bergeron for Captain Stubing, Carrie Ann, Len and Bruno for Julie, Doc and Gopher (sorry Isaac, not much diversity here) and Samantha for the horrendously annoying Vicky—it’s virtually the same program.

So when you think about who’s right for “Dancing,” try to imagine them setting sail on the Love Boat. Patrick Dempsey, way too hot (though call back in 10 years). The sister from “Good Times,” far too obscure. Delta Burke, appropriately faded star yet still a familiar face—just right.

All aboard.

Friday, November 10, 2006

On The Run

Daytime television’s royal couple—Luke and Laura—have been re-united on “General Hospital” and are preparing for another sweeps-friendly wedding on the 25th anniversary of their original nuptials.

Genie Francis spent the last four years in a stress-induced psychotic trance (I mean her character, not the actress) and awoke to discover that the producers still don’t know how to style her hair. Bangs, people, and some layers too. It’s. Not. That. Complicated.

I loved Luke and Laura—who started the whole rapist-with-a-heart-of-gold trend in soap operas—but I have grown bitter toward them over the years. You see, it’s because of these two that I can’t wear high heels.

For those of you who don’t recall, L&L were once star-crossed lovers—she was married to the nasty Scotty Baldwin, he was engaged to mob daughter Jennifer Smith (whose acting alone was criminal). My own memory’s a little fuzzy here, but I think Scotty knocked Luke off a yacht, everyone thought Luke had drowned, Laura found him washed up on the docks and the two went “on the run.” (“On the run” is now one of daytime’s more hackneyed plot twists. Try to work this phrase into your conversation. You can’t. Because it doesn’t happen in real life anymore than men sitting around talking to other men about their relationships.)

Anyhoo, these developments were HUGE. And they happened sometime over summer vacation, during July or August. My sister and I were hanging out at her friend Michelle’s when we realized it was 3 o’clock, the GH bewitching hour. The previous day we had seen Luke’s hand emerge from the water to grab an unsuspecting Laura’s ankle. My god, what would happen next?! We raced toward the television. And amidst all this frenzy, I failed to notice the nearly imperceptible half-inch step between Michelle’s kitchen and family room. I whacked the big toe on my left foot.

Like a champ, I gutted it out through the episode—Luke lives!—and waited until I got home to ice and tape the toe. I thought it was “jammed.” Only years later did I learn I had actually broken the little piggy.

The toe didn’t heal particularly well and to this day doesn’t bend. I realize that seems like a trivial matter. It’s not like I type with my toes or hold utensils with my toes or click the remote with my toes. But they sort of come in handy for walking.

Next time you’re out pounding the pavement, notice how with every step you take your weight shifts from the back of the foot to the ball to the toes. When the toes don’t bend, the weight stays on the ball. High heels put even more pressure on this part of the foot—it feels like someone’s standing underneath the sidewalk, hitting my foot with a sledgehammer from below, every time my sole meets the concrete. So I don’t wear heels.

And I know I should blame Michelle—or the construction workers who built the ridiculous non-step—for this tragedy, but I choose to carry a grudge against Luke and Laura. Damn them and their intriguing romance.

Now L&L are back and I have no suitable plan for revenge although frankly these people have proven themselves impervious to drowning, freezing, contagious pathogens and pretty much every other form of mayhem I could devise. Except, it would seem, bad hair days. So scratch what I said before about bangs and layers. Those limp locks are perfect just the way they are.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

To Lead Or Not To Lead

So, it’s the day after the election and the Democrats have taken control of the House (huzzah!) and possibly the Senate (huzzah! huzzah!) and my faith in the American people has been restored.

Now what?

How about delivering on those campaign promises to take this country in a new direction, and by new direction I don’t mean “cut and run” in Iraq, I mean an end to the in-fighting between Republicans and Democrats and an end to the divisiveness that has not served our nation particularly well these past six years.

Nancy Pelosi is the new Speaker of the House, the first female ever to hold that position (how cool is that, how sad that it’s such an anomaly). Here is what I hope is NOT on Madame Speaker’s agenda: getting even. Here’s what I hope is: reconciliation.

I have to believe that in the Red State-Blue State debate, we all actually agree more than we disagree. So let’s stop throwing out red herrings like gay marriage that only distract people from more substantial issues, the ones politicians can’t reduce to sound bites. Let’s look at health care and education and energy and infrastructure and the fact that we don’t seem to make anything anymore in this country. And let’s come together and find some answers and work out some compromises that will please the vast majority of citizens in the middle, and too damn bad for the folks on the fringes.

* * *

Over the weekend, I attended a fascinating lecture on Shakespeare delivered by Ralph Williams, a professor of English at the University of Michigan, as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival. So what does a man writing in 1600 have to say about the state of the world in 2006? Everything.

Shakespeare’s early history plays—Henry IV, Richard III—are filled with political climbers murdering one ruler after another in their own grab for power. Conflict, corruption and revenge are the overriding themes. In Julius Caesar, the playwright all but invents the pre-emptive strike (kill Caesar or be killed) and political spin. And where does all this lead, according to Williams? Death and futility.

In Shakespeare’s later plays, another theme emerges. Forgiveness. The possibility that humans wronged will be restrained and respond with kindness. From The Tempest: “The rarer act is in virtue than in vengeance.” Williams’ conclusion: To be kindly in the face of the powerful urge to revenge—there is the path to freedom.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

I Want To Be Left Alone

During the 2004 election season, Illinois was counted so firmly in the Kerry camp, neither presidential candidate mounted much of a campaign in the state. Not even a peep from the Swift Boaters. I felt like screaming, a la Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction”: “I will not be ignored.”

Ah, what a difference sinking approval ratings and a quagmire in Iraq make. During this year’s battle for control of the House and Senate, several key congressional districts are up for grabs in the suburbs of Chicago. And we’ve also got ourselves a semi-competitive governor’s race. With less than a week to go before E-Day, it’s all attack ad, all the time.

Make. It. Stop.

I have pared down my television viewing to “Gilmore Girls,” “Lost,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and Hot Topics on “The View” (dammit, I love Rosie O’Donnell). At that, I can not escape the inevitable onslaught of he-said, she-said posturing from the likes of Tammy Duckworth, Peter Roskam, Mark Kirk, Melissa Bean, Dan Seals, and Judy Baar Topinka (anyone else think she has a sort of simian look, like an extra from “Planet of the Apes”? Not even just a little?) Republican, Democrat, at this point I don’t care—I am sick of them all. If they’re even half as heinous as they portray one another to be, why the hell do we want them representing us?

The irony, of course, is that I couldn’t actually cast a vote for any of these candidates, assuming I’d even want to. My own district is safely held by Rahm Emmanuel, who emails me every once in a while but otherwise stays out of my face. For all I know, he’s running unopposed.

I just want things back the way they were. I want my airwaves clogged with promotions for Lipitor, Crestor, Lunesta and the “purple pill.” I want the Vonage jingle—woo-hoo, woo-hoo-hoo—stuck in my head all day long. I do not want to hear the words “what was she thinking” ever again.

The respite is sure to be brief. The parties are already cranking up their PR machines for the 2008 primaries. My fellow Illinoians (Illini?) we must act fast. We must join with Oprah and beg Barack Obama to run for president. If for no other reason than he won’t feel a need to pander to his home state, and his opponents will write us off as enemy territory. Granted, there’s a flaw in this plan, as it opens up a senate seat, but I don’t see anyone else stepping up with an alternate strategy.

Good god, there’s Peter Roskam again in his Speedo.

Run, Barack, run.

* * *

I just have to make special mention of David McSweeney’s ads (looking to oust one-term incumbent Melissa Bean) in which he says he will “reform Congress.” This is funny for two reasons. One: He’s a Republican. So if Congress needs reforming, hasn’t he pretty much just insulted his own ruling party? And wouldn’t ousting Republicans from the majority be part of the reform process, not sending more of them to the capitol? Second: He’s not Jimmy Stewart and this isn’t “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” There are 500+ members of Congress. David McSweeney is not going to single-handedly change the way this institution does business. But if he’s elected, let’s all be sure to hold him to that promise.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

War of the Words

I’m sure Sen. John Kerry would like a do-over. Depending on your political persuasion, you’re aware that this past Monday he either called U.S. troops in Iraq stupid or made oratorical mush of an intended slam at the president.

I tend to favor the latter interpretation. Full disclosure: I voted for Kerry in 2004, but I harbor no delusions about his abilities as a public speaker. He’s just plain dreadful. It’s well within the realm of possibility that he mangled a carefully crafted if ill-conceived jibe.

But I’ll leave it to the media to continue to flog this “war of the words.”

Actually, I had hoped they would use it as a springboard to a thoughtful examination of whether Sen. Kerry’s misrepresented comment actually held any weight. Are the less educated members of our society doing most of the fighting and dying in Iraq?

I don’t personally know anyone stationed in Iraq—not a husband, not a father or a mother, not a brother or a sister, not a nephew or a niece, not a cousin, not so much as a friend of a friend of a friend. I don’t know a single person who knows a single member of the U.S. military. For a large swath of our society, the military is a completely alien institution. To join or not to join? The question is never even raised.

I look at the roll call of soldiers killed in Iraq (kudos to George Stephanopoulos for running these names every Sunday on “This Week”). There is the occasional 26-, 35- or 42-year-old. But it seems the vast majority of soldiers coming home in body bags are 19, 20, 21. It’s safe to say that most joined the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines straight out of high school. Possibly because in their household, the question of going to college is never raised. Possibly because there’s not enough money for tuition.

And that’s not an education gap. That’s not a gap in intelligence. That’s an economic gap. That’s an opportunity gap.

And wouldn’t we all be better served if that were an issue our politicians and pundits would obsess over rather than a handful of words that dribbled out of John Kerry’s mouth?