Friday, December 12, 2014

A + B ≠ C

The time came for my mom to make the decision whether to bring my dad home from the rehabilitation center following his hospitalization, or to make him a permanent resident of the nursing facility.  Knowing her, I can't imagine the emotional turmoil she must have gone through during this process.  My mother is neither Catholic nor Jewish, so I have no idea where all her guilt comes from.  Most likely, she views not being able to care for my Dad more as a lack of duty.  In any case, I'm not certain how I would make that same decision.

I guess the fortunate thing is that the decision was, for the most part, made for her.  Both Dad and his physical therapist performed a home visit last week so that the therapist could see if Dad would be able to physically live in my parents' house again.  You see, Dad can't walk anymore.  Maybe a step here and there but he is mostly wheelchair-bound now.  And my parents' house is, shall we say, multilevel.

The house I grew up in was built about 100 years ago.  From what I can tell, it was originally just 4 rooms - two downstairs and two upstairs.  And then at some point, a kitchen and indoor bathroom were added on, making it three rooms across the first floor and three across the second.  I know this because when we renovated the kitchen many years ago, the plaster on one wall was covering up the original exterior of the house.  And the door sills to both the kitchen and upstairs bathroom don't exactly line up with their adjoining rooms.  Plus, indoor bathrooms - at least in that part of the State - were not a thing at the turn of the last century.  We'll call this section of the house Part A.

This was a pretty basic setup until, at some point, someone came along and literally added another house to the back of my parent's house, essentially doubling its size.  We'll call this section of the house Part B.  These two homes, while conjoined, were always meant to function as two separate living quarters.  When my parents bought the entire building in 1971 and knocked out a few walls to combine the two "units" into one, they found that the floor and ceiling levels in Part A did not line up with the floor and ceiling levels of Part B by several feet, in some rooms.  So this made the result of A+B, which I guess would equal C, to be one character-filled house.

I'll save further details about the inside of my folks' quirky house for another posting, but suffice is to say that Dad's therapist took one look at the inside of the house and did the straight white man version of, "Oh, HAYell no!".  And rightly so.  There is no way Dad would be able to subsist in this environment.  So it was pretty much a no-brainer that he'd permanently move to the nursing home, which was yet another decision being made that was out of Mom's control.

Mom seems to be rolling with the punches for the most part.  She has a deep faith that she depends on to get her through situations like this - situations in which she pretty much does not have a say despite the situations directly affecting her.  The last time she went through this type of process was probably when all her kids grew up and started making our own decisions - decisions that both directly and indirectly affected her, but that she had no real part in deciding, like when we broke up with girlfriends and boyfriends of whom she had become fond, or when we chose to move away from home, have kids, get married, etc.  And maybe, as a parent, you somehow prepare yourself for these types of eventualities.  But when it comes to your spouse, it seems downright unfair that the decision of where that person lives is pretty much taken out of your hands.

Mom will get used to it because she has to.  And she'll adapt because she knows Dad is being cared for and she DOES get to have a say in that.  Still, all in all, this has to suck.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Remembering Bobby

The last few nights, I've been thinking about my friend, Bobby Mellott.  Bobby sadly passed away in June, earlier this year.

Bobby and I were friends when I lived in DC.  We met September 30, 1995 at TRACKS.  I had only been living in DC for about two weeks at that point so I didn't know anyone yet.  We became instant friends when we both discovered we lived on Capitol Hill, which was considered Social Siberia in the 90's.  That sole fact is probably what brought us closer together.

Bobby remained a good friend for the 10 years I lived in DC, even during the few years in the middle where he lived in NYC.  He was caring and supportive and nauseatingly optimistic.  His enthusiasm and passion for what and who he loved was infectious.  To be in Bobby's company meant that you were the only two people in the world.  Ever complimentary, ever supportive, ever cheerful.

Bobby's eyes were a combination of "constant sparkle" and "mischievous glint".  His smile most likely got him in and out of trouble in equal measures.  He had more energy than any person I had met to that point.  I remember one afternoon sitting in the grass in Lincoln Park on Capitol Hill, having a 2-hour conversation with Bobby while he spun around on roller blades.  The entire time, he remained focused on me and engrossed in our conversation.

After I moved to Chicago in 2005, we lost touch.  And this is the point where I bless Facebook.  For all its banality and glitches and pains, it has allowed me to maintain, and in Bobby's case regain, those true friendships that stand the test of time.  The last time I saw him was the week before I moved to Chicago.  He had heard of my heart surgery and wanted to see for himself that I was okay.  I wish I could have spent more time in his company the last few years, because with him was a wonderful place to be.

Rest in peace, dear friend.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

"Happy Holidays" vs "Merry Christmas". Sigh.

Over the last few years, there has been growing angst from a population in 'Merica (for example) who are just pissed because they can't wish anyone a "Merry Christmas" anymore.  They simply don't want to substitute "Happy Holidays" as a greeting because it takes Christ out of the holiday.  This rationale is puzzling to me for a few reasons.

First, basic grammar indicates that Happy Holidays is plural; Merry Christmas is singular. We don't say Merry Christmases, so it would imply that Happy Holidays is a greeting covering more than just one event.  Following that logic, one would need to be narrow-minded to think that Christians are the ONLY ones celebrating a holiday during what the retail industry has dubbed the holiday season.  This time frame typically begins with Thanksgiving and ends a few days after New Year's (which means it's actually longer than summer in Chicago). But most of all, get over yourself!  Someone is wishing you well.  If you are so hung up/uptight about the words being used that you fail or refuse to recognize and/or accept the sentiment, you should be green and living in a cave on top of Mt. Crumpit
I found the below chart online and it is, quite frankly, the perfect representation of how we should act when someone greets us during this holiday season, whether it’s Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Holidays, Have a Great Festivus, or whatever:

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Aging Online

Now and then I post an actual photo of myself on here, but mostly my online presence (outside of Facebook) is the caricature that is connected to this blog.  I also use it for Google and LinkedIn.  It's a smaller part of a caricature originally created for me back in 2004 by my friend Dave.  Because I use this likeness so often, I recently asked Dave to "age" me since, after all, it'd been over 7 years since the caricature was last updated.  And since this is no Dorian Gray story, I've aged and my beard has noticeably whitened up a bit since.  Dave's final result is below on the right.

2007                                                           2014
By asking Dave to do this for me back in 2004, it helped launch him into a business where he was creating caricatures for people online.  I watched his skill develop and improve.  The 2007 version above is the second version he created for me.  The original can be found here and you can see the obvious difference and growth.

I loved this the day I originally received it and I love it still.  It's an awesome non-photo likeness of me. I'll most likely ask Dave to update it again in another 7 years.  It will be interesting to see how I, and my likeness, will change in the meantime.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is in the news again, thanks to Hugh Jackman who had his third basal cell carcinoma (BCC) removed within a one-year period.  The photo that Jackman posted along with his announcement convinced me of only one thing:  he's gorgeous even with skin cancer.  I, on the other hand, was not so Hollywood-ready.

"I'm ready for my closeup, Mr. DeFrankenstein."

Last October, while living in Miami, I went to a dermatologist for what I initially thought was either a pimple or an oil deposit due to my wearing reading glasses more frequently while on the computer.  The "pimple" turned out to be a BBC on the right side of my nose.

BCC is the most common form of skin cancer; an estimated 2.8 million are diagnosed annually in the U.S. alone.  BCCs are rarely fatal, but can be highly disfiguring if allowed to grow (do yourself a favor: do NOT look this up on the internet - it will horrify you).  One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime, and about 90% of non-melanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to UV radiation from the sun.  Mine fell into that 90% group.  The tricky thing was that there was no way of telling how long it had been there.  Initially, the dermatologist said that it looked fairly recent and that I caught it in the early stage.  But as she was extracting the cells from my nose, she commented on how deep the roots were, which would suggest it had been there for a longer period of time.

Black dots circle the location.
Another tricky thing about BCCs (they are very tricky, after all) is that they appear, disappear, then reappear in much worse form.  Even between the time I made the initial appointment and met with the doctor, mine began to disappear.  When I went in for my consultation, the dermatologist marked on my nose where the BCC was located, then took a picture of it with my phone so that she would be able to find it again should it disappear completely before I went in for the removal.  It's this disappearing phase that erroneously convinces patients that what they have is more like a pimple and not cancer. During this phase, the cancer is spreading to more cells underneath the skin - growing to then show itself again in a larger and worse physical display.

Day 6 following surgery
Initially I was told by the doctor that as BCCs go, mine was placed in a great location.  She'd be able extract all of it without leaving too much of a scar, and that the little scar that would show would fall into an existing crease already in my nose to minimize it even being seen.  This sounded perfect, but was then hard to believe after I took one look at myself in the mirror.  It wasn't just the stitches, but the swelling and the asymmetry of my nose - more evident in the photo to the left.  I was convinced that my nose would be forever crooked with a big scar.

For a few months, it was all I concentrated on.  Perhaps because in most places in the country, people (friends and strangers alike) would politely ignore a facial deformity of any kind so as not to make you feel uncomfortable or insecure.  Not so Miami.  I was kinda proud of the fact that I went on with my daily life despite looking like Joe Frazier the morning following the "Thrilla in Manila".  Kevin and I went to a showing of Pilobolus two weeks after my surgery and met an acquaintance in the theatre lobby who was very quick to ask if I had run into a door.  After all, the "sexiest place on the planet" is all about being sensitive to people's feelings.

October 4, 2014
It wasn't until I was looking at photos from our wedding that it struck me, and not even immediately.  Almost a month after the fact, that I realized that the scar actually did heal very well and no longer shows up in photos.  Almost one year to the day, the scarring has completely healed and my nose symmetry is right back where it started.  I seriously doubted it would all heal.  But Dr. Barba did a good job, despite my initial fears.  I was a fairly verbal patient and frequently complained about my healing process, despite everyone telling me how good she was and that I was in "great hands".  And while I will never be Hugh Jackman or any other Hollywood-type, I think I look pretty good, all things considered.

All of this is, of course, to tout the importance of sun protection - be it sunscreens, clothing, hats, and even time-monitoring.  Just being aware is the first step.  I can preach it now because I am more cautious about it now.  I sunscreen every day, wear ball caps when necessary, and stand in the shade when possible.  It took some time, but I finally crossed that line between wanting to look healthy vs wanting to be healthy.  There is a difference.  And while there still might be more BCCs that pop up in my future (and Hugh's too), I will be more confident that the process will work, with patience.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

My Precious!

Just over a week into married life and I can tell you that it does actually feel different - at least to me.  Nothing about our relationship has changed at all, but it almost feels as though the world takes me more seriously.  I equate the feeling to the difference between how adults treat you when you are a teen vs. how they treat you once you are an adult.  Of course, this all might just be in my head.  Actually, it most likely is.  But I find myself flashing my left hand more than I used to: holding the railing on the bus with my left hand, reaching for purchases with my left hand.  All just so I can show the ring and silently say, "look at me, I'm maaaaarried!"

I'm not typically a jewelry-wearer (neither is Kevin).  The last ring I wore was my high school class which I stopped wearing in 1985.  I don't even wear a watch.  Last time I wore any kind of adornment was back in 2005  and we all know how THAT turned out.  But I think I have adjusted to the new ring quite well.  I am in a weird stage where, at the same time, I both forget I'm wearing it yet am keenly aware that I have it on.  I both forget about it yet am hyper-sensitive to it.  The ring! The ring!  "MY PRECIOUS!"

So far, the only thing I don't like doing is washing my hands while wearing my ring because the ring scrapes the soap.  Plus, the soap makes the ring very easy to slide off.  I met a woman at a wedding (not ours) last weekend who admits she always puts her ring in her mouth when she washes her hands.  This is both sweet and disgusting at the same time.  I wince at taking the ring off in public because I fear dropping it or losing it.  Of course, it's easily replaceable, but at least for THIS ring, there is some sentimental attachment to it that subsequent rings won't have (and let's be real here, there will be subsequent rings 'cause I just know I am going to lose this one at some point down the road).  I guess I'll need to find a work-around and am open to suggestions.

It's all so new and wonderful.  I had never really spent time imagining what my wedding would look or feel like.  But standing in the middle of the reception and looking around that night, I thought to myself, "This.  This is exactly what I would have wanted it be."

Friday, October 03, 2014

I'm Getting Married Tomorrow

So here I am on the eve of my wedding, both at a time and place I never thought I'd be.  Never, because I never thought it would be something I was legally able to do, for one.  Never, because I never thought I'd agree to allow myself to be the center of attention for an entire night.  And mostly never, because I never thought I would ever meet a person I can't imagine living without.  But here we are, 9 years after we met about to stand in front of our closest friends and family and vow to do what we had already silently decided to do years ago.

I met Kevin about two months after I started this blog.  I was recently single and with a lot of time on my hands.  And blogs were what people were doing back then.  I didn't realize until recently, that this blog has essentially been the chronicle of my life with Kevin.  Over the years, he's popped up now and then in posts, sometimes as an innocent bystander and sometimes as the subject himself.  I've posted about originally meeting him, and when he officially became "The BF", and our first New Year's Eve together.  I even posted about the moment I realized who he really was for me and how it all happened.

And through it all, both on the blog and in real life, Kevin's ever-patient demeanor has been the compliment to my ever-present outrage.  We've never had a serious argument.  Never stopped speaking to each other.  Never went to bed mad or upset with the other.  Our relationship has been based on and infused with laughter, understanding, respect, compromise, and support.  It actually took us living in Miami for me to realize how much we rely on each other and how difficult it would be for us to live apart from each other, at least for an indefinite period of time.  There are times when I just need to see his face or hear his voice or even touch his hand in order to feel reassured that life is okay.  He makes everything better without even trying.

And tomorrow, I get to marry him and celebrate it with the people I love.  My life is so good!.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Best Wedding RSVP So Far

As expected, several invited friends and family could not attend our upcoming wedding due to scheduling, distance, etc.  Of course we understand, but it's always sad when people you love can't be with you in person on the big days of your life.  But the true measure of that love has come back to us in the forms of some of the most precious RSVP messages.  My favorite one to date is the one we received from cousin Nick.

Nick and his wife, Amanda, have two daughters: Maddie, 5, and Gracie, 3.  Nick sent us an email with their regrets, adding:
Maddie saw your invitation and wondered why two brothers are getting married. And then she came to the conclusion that she and Gracie would eventually get married. Ha. We explained and we got the reaction we wanted. Like it was no bigger deal than if anyone else we know got married.

Nick, Maddie and Gracie

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

I Hate This

For completely selfish reasons, I hate what I am going through right now.  I hate what is going on and I hate that my dad's health is interfering with my wedding.  And I hate that I feel this way.

I hate that he's in the hospital and I hate that he has Alzheimer's.  I hate that he doesn't know I am getting married and I hate that he doesn't know Kevin as well as I want him to.  I hate that my dad will never meet Kevin's family.  I hate that my family is going through this and I hate that my dad's brain is no longer telling his body what to do.  And I hate that I feel this way.

I hate that I am getting married in 11 days and that I can't be absolutely giddy about it.  I hate that every time my phone rings, I am wondering if it's my mom calling to tell me that my dad has died.  I hate trying to be positive when all I feel is doom.  And I hate that I feel this way.

I hate that my family may not be able to come to my wedding.  I hate that my dad never could.  I hate that my mom feels conflicted about everything.  I hate that I am finally - FINALLY - able to marry the person I love most in the world and all this shit is happening at the same time.  And I hate that I feel this way.

I hate that I can't be back home with my family while they all sit vigil in my dad's hospital room.  I hate that the surgery his doctors could easily perform on him if he was just 35 can't happen because he's 75.  I hate that the only solution is to just wait and see what happens when I need to plan everything right now.  And I hate that I feel this way.

I hate that I don't know whether to tell the caterer that there will be 10 extra people.  I hate that Kevin spent time creating place cards that may need to be recreated.  I hate that I don't know if there will even be a wedding or if our little trip afterwards will even happen.  I hate that I don't know if I should cancel my family's hotel rooms or sacrifice a few hundred dollars.  I hate that I want my family here regardless of my dad's health.  I hate that I am feeling sorry for myself when my mom is going to eventually lose the man she's loved for almost 60 years.

I hate that my dad is dying.  I hate that my dad is dying.  I hate that it seems there is nothing anyone can do about it.  I hate that I can't help him.  I hate that I can't tell him I love him one more time and he'll hear it, let alone understand it, let alone remember it.  I hate that for my whole life he was the symbol of strength, sacrifice and dedication and now he doesn't even have enough energy to walk.  I hate that I want him to fight for life, but at the same time I just want his pain and this saga to end.  I hate that, at the same time, I am wishing for both life and death.

And I hate, hate, hate that I feel this way.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

And There It Is

The time has come for my family, or more specifically my mother, to do what has been dreaded for, in all probability, the last 53 years.  I imagine the last thing any loving couple wants to experience is the hard realization that they simply cannot care for the other any longer.  Regardless of the reason (physical, emotional, financial), no loving spouse wants to remain in the home when the other needs to live in a nursing facility.  But that's where we are, or rather where my parents are right now.

My dad's Alzheimer's has progressed to a state where he simply can no longer live at home with Mom.  His mind has been robbed of faces, names, and memories by the thousands.  And now his brain has begun to limit the signals it sends to the body to perform even the most basic of functions.  There are times when the act of walking has become too much for Dad to figure out how to do.  When asked to take a step, he says "okay" but remains in place.

I get home to see my parents about every three months.  The change I see in Dad is always more shocking for me than for my other siblings who all live within a few miles of my folks and see them on a weekly if not daily basis.  On my most recent visit, when asked who I was, Dad got my name right, but because he then asked if he was correct, it was easy to tell that he wasn't completely certain.  The time is coming when I will visit him and he will not know my name at all.  I will never be able to prepare myself enough for that.  I'll most likely fool myself into believing that he knows who I am, he just can't remember my name - the same way I forget names all the time.

Dad will now move to a nursing facility where, realistically, he will remain.  My mother, understandably, fears that she is failing him; somehow reneging on the vow she made 53 years ago.   I've pointed out to Mom that her vow was to stick by Dad through good times and bad, sickness and health.  In other words, she promised to make sure he would be comfortable and receive care - not necessarily that she would take on that task herself.  Her responsibility to him is to ensure he gets the best care possible while realizing her own mental and physical limitations.  But still, despite trying to be as compassionate as possible, and despite the guidance she's received from physicians and other caretakers, and despite all of us trying to reassure her that she is doing the absolute right thing, she tries to convince herself that she can still do it herself.  I know I would feel the same way.

I've not seen the type of love before like I see between Mom and Dad.  It somehow transcends the love that my siblings and I have for our spouses, which can't possibly compare to the dedication and devotion two people have for each other for so many years.

One of the many facets of dementia is that it takes the grief stage and turns it into a way of life.  Rather than mourning the loss of a loved one when they die, Alzheimer's demands you grieve in phases.  Alzheimer's is like a river running through a small stream that occasionally runs wild and floods, taking wildlife and vegetation from its banks and destroying forever what was once there.  Little by little, the life you know erodes in front of your eyes and no barrier can stop it, no amount of praying will end it, and no matter how hard and long we try to hold on, the person just slips away.  The only hope you can cling to is that patients don't feel pain and that they aren't screaming inside that they are aware of what's going on but no one can hear them.

Eventually we will all adapt and my mom will get into a routine of rising early each morning, doing housework, packing a lunch, then going to visit my Dad all day.  In essence, she will be living in the nursing facility too.  This will be her life now as it is, has been, and will continue to be for billions of other people until cures are found.  But for now, its happening to my dad and my mom.

And there it is.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Backpacks on Public Transit

A backpack bump in NYC
Since we have a car now (go, Honda Fit!) and I bike to work every day, I rarely use public transport anymore.  I've only been on the CTA a handful of times in the past 16 months - except for this morning when I took a train downtown for a meeting.  And I was surprised by the fact that still - STILL - folks have not grasped the concept of removing their backpacks when they enter a train car or bus.

First of all, backpacks are safety hazards.  I've almost lost an eye on more than one occasion, sitting next to a standing person whose wearing a backpack.  I've been whacked in the head and face several times.  I've had a person with a backpack pushing into me, seemingly oblivious to what they were doing.  My complaints have only been met with half-hearted "sorry"s and never once has my request that the backpack be removed been honored.  This morning, due to the rain, the person standing next to my seat just allowed their backpack to drip all over my lap.  And I didn't even get a "sorry" this time.

Some backpacks can add up to a foot or more to a person's depth and girth.  A well-stuffed backpack can easily take the same amount of space as another human being.  This also goes for the giant purses women are carrying these days, holding everything from pairs of shoes to yoga mats.  Space on trains and buses is valuable, especially during rush hours when everyone just wants to get to their destinations, comfort be damned.

Any confusion about the etiquette of this is inexcusable.  Hear me, people: take it off and either put it on the floor at your feet or hold it in front of you so that you are in control of it and aware of its proximity to others at all times. Fortunately, I am not the only person who recognizes that this is an issue, an issue that happens all over the country if not the world.  Requesting riders to remove backpacks or large purses should be an announcement, the same as giving up your seat for elderly passengers and expectant mothers.  It's a no-brainer.  But I guess you need a brain to figure it out yourself.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

How To Speak Chicago-ese

For those of you coming to Chicago for our wedding in October, here are a few tips on how to speak the local language of Chicago:
  1. Grachki (grach'-key) is Chicago for "Garage Key" as in, "Yo, Theresa, waja do wit da grachki? Howmy supposta cut da grass if don't git intada grach?''
  2. Uptadaendada (up-ta-da-en'-dada) as in, "Joey, you kin ride yur bike uptadaendada alley but not acrost or I'll bust yur butt..."
  3. Sammich. Chicagoese for sandwich. When made with sausage, it's a sassage sammich; with shredded beef, it's an Italian beef sammich, a local delicacy consisting of piles of spicy meat in a perilously soggy bun.
  4. Da. The definite article is a key part of Chicago speech, as in "da tree bears" or "da Mare" -- the latter denoting, for as long as he wants it to, Richard M. Daley, or Richie, as he's often known.
  5. Jewels. Not family heirlooms or a tender body region, but a popular appellation for one of the region's dominant grocery chains, to wit, "I'm goin' to da Jewels to pick up some sassage." As in most Chicago pluralizations, the "S" is pronounced with a hissing sound, rather than the usual "Z" sound of American pluralization.
  6. Field's: Marshall Field, a prominent Chicago department store. Also Carson Pirie Scott, a major department store chain, is called "Carson's," etc.
  7. Tree. The number between two and four. "We were lucky dat we only got tree inches of snow da udder night"
  8. Prairie. A vacant lot, especially one on which weeds are growing.
  9. Over by dere. i.e. "over by there," a prolix way of emphasizing a site presumed familiar to the listener. As in, "I got the sassage at da Jewels down on Kedzie, over by dere.'
  10. Kaminski Park. Perhaps the high concentration of ethnic Poles makes people want the White Sox to be playing in this mythical ballpark, rather than in their true home, Cellular Field formerly known as Comiskey Park.
  11. Frunchroom as in, "Getottada frunchroom wit dose muddy shoes.'' It's not the "parlor." It's not the "living room." In the land of the bungalow, it's the "frunchroom," a named derived, linguists believe, from "front room."
  12. Use. Not the verb but the plural pronoun "you". "Where's use goin'?"
  13. Downtown. Anywhere south of the zoo and north of Soldiers Field near the lake.
  14. BoysTown: A section on Halsted Ave., between Belmont and Addison, which is lined with gay bars on the west and east sides of the street. "Didn't I see uze in Boystown in front of da Manhole?"
  15. Braht: Short for Bratwurst. "gimme a braht wit kraut"
  16. Cashbox: Traffic reporter slang for tollbooths. "Dere's a delay at da cashbox on da Skyway"
  17. Goes: Past or present tense of the verb "say." For example, "Then he goes, 'I like this place'!"
  18. Guys: Used when addressing two or more people, regardless of each individual's gender.
  19. Pop: A soft drink. Don't say "soda" in this town. "what kinda pop you got?"
  20. Sliders: Nickname for hamburgers from White Castle, a popular Midwestern burger chain "Dose sliders I had last night gave me da runs"
  21. The Taste: The annual Taste of Chicago Festival, a huge extravaganza in Grant Park featuring samples of Chicagoland's fine cuisine. Takes place around and before the Fourth of July holiday.
  22. "Jieetyet": this is used to ask "did you eat yet"?
  23. Winter and Construction: Punch-line to the joke, "what are the two seasons in Chicago?"
G'bless dis here town! An a course...Mike Di'ka.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Wedding Update: It's Getting Real!

This weekend, we took some big steps towards getting tasks accomplished for our wedding on October 4th.  Don't get me wrong, we've been working on things for months.  Kevin has been a crafting maven ever since we announced our engagement back in April.  The personal touches he has created are wonderful - can't wait for folks to see them.

But this past weekend, we handled some big boy projects.  On Saturday afternoon, we held our food tasting with our caterer.  No surprise here, but we are not fancy people.  We wanted food that 1) tasted great, of course, and 2) we know what it is just by looking at it.  I originally sought estimates from about 8 catering companies in Chicago.  I needed to choose from an approved caterers list due to where we are holding our event.  I loved this idea because I liked choosing from a small list.  Its one of the reasons I cannot eat at Cheesecake Factory: I cannot deal with a huge selection.  For me, its not a selling point.  Just put 5 things on the menu, I can't possibly be expected to choose from more than 200 items!!  But back to the caterers, it was annoying that even after I gave very detailed instructions as to the kind of food we were looking for as well as the price point we wanted to use, I was still sent plans that included food I had never even heard of and prices that were double and triple what I had asked for.  But there was one caterer who did exactly as I asked and who was amazingly responsive to our needs.  And at the tasting on Saturday, we knew we made the right choice!

Before the food tasting, we bought our suits for the wedding.  When the salesman asked for the occasion, I easily told him that we were getting married and wanted matching suits.  Every person we dealt with was warm and accommodating.  At one point, I asked Kevin if he minded me telling them that we were getting married and he laughed and said, "No, but it would be pretty hard to explain why we needed matching suits if you hadn't."  Point made.  The suits were - again - exactly what we wanted.  And we managed to hit the 2-for-1 Sale weekend.  Bonus life points.

We also bought the rings this weekend.  The last time I bought a piece of jewelry was when I bought my high school class ring in 1983.  My ring size at that time was a 10.  This weekend I was told that my ring finger is a size 9.  I can't imagine that my hands are actually smaller now than they were 30 years ago, but I guess its possible.  And the rings are - again - exactly what we wanted.

So some major tasks accomplished this weekend, with still many others to tackle in the next 6 weeks.  And we're definitely having fun along the way.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Beyoncelogues

Our gorgeous and incredibly talented friend, Nina Millin, has created something that has been buzzing around the internet for the past few weeks:  The Beyoncelogues.  In them, Nina acts out dramatic interpretations of Queen B's biggest hits.  Not only are they creative, fun, and hilarious, watching Nina move and express herself is art in progress.  And since she lives in L.A., watching her is the next best thing to sitting by her side and absorbing her incredible energy.  And I love that the world is seeing her talent.

Friday, July 18, 2014

"Love, Your Cuz"

The world has lost a great dame.  Peggy Seifarth Smith passed away yesterday.  She was a great fan of this blog and my Facebook page and would always sign off her comments with "Love, Your Cuz".  Peggy and her comments will be missed.

Peggy was my 1st cousin once removed; my grandmother and Peggy's mother, Aunt Ellen, were sisters.  Peggy was instrumental in starting the Carter Family Reunion, which resulted from Granny's death back in 1987 and is still taking place every August.  She will, no doubt, be honored and remembered at the next one in a few weeks.

Always a generous person, Peggy donated her body to science.

The angels looked down from heaven one night

They searched for miles afar,
And deep within the distance
They could see a shining star.

They knew that very instant
That the star was theirs to gain,
So they took you up to heaven
Forever to remain.

Look down on us from heaven
Keep us free from hurt and pain,
You'll always be within my heart
Until we meet again.

- Anonymous

Monday, July 07, 2014

The Flower Terrorists Are Winning

We live in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago.  Admittedly, Uptown can be an interesting place to live.  Sandwiched between the gentrified neighborhoods of Lakeview, Andersonville and Edgewater, Uptown is the last "refuge of the undesirable" on the north side of the city.  It houses the largest number of mental health services in the city and it considered Ground Zero for Chicago's mental health community.  We've had our share of run-ins with the residents of our 'hood, and we've seen enough odd behavior to last us a lifetime - to which we typically shake our heads and shrug our shoulders in a "oh, Uptown" kind of way.  Since moving here in 2008, we've figured out how to navigate the weird to get to the good.

A few years ago, the condo board in our building bought two large planters to place on the sidewalk, flanking the doors into our building.  A resident planted flowers and for two days, the entrance to our building looked very nice.  For two days.  Because 48 hours later, all the flowers were gone and there was dirt all over the sidewalk.  The entrance to our building is not protected by a gate or fenced-in area.  It's directly on the sidewalk on a not-too-busy street.  In Uptown.

Apparently undeterred, another resident bought more flowers and filled the planters again.  This time, I think the plantings might have lasted a full week before disappearing.  The only items left behind in the planters were two 18" pine trees that never grew any larger.  They looked sad and barren in their large pots - a perfect representation of the neighborhood itself:  almost there, trying to show its beauty, but still looking a bit blighted and barren.

A few weeks ago, an owner of a unit in the building bought flowers and planted them in the planters and sent out an announcement to the building, patting herself on the back for generously and single-handedly beautifying the building.  After reading her message, I started my stopwatch; I knew it would be a matter of days before the new flowers would disappear.  And like clockwork, the flowers were gone 2 weeks later.  Our condo board chair expressed sadness over their disappearance and said he would replace the flowers that day.  On our discussion board, I wrote the following:
It's perhaps naive to think that unprotected plants outside the building won't get stolen again. We first learned this a few years ago when The Patricks attempted to keep plants in the planters. Unprotected by a gate or fence or even by moving them inside the vestibule, they're just going to be taken again. It's a nice gesture, but why waste your money?
The condo board chair responded with: 
Naive or not we have to keep trying to make our building and neighborhood more inviting. I have seen one of the residents of the half-way home at Racine and Leland destroy foliage at the Buddhist temple. So I am going to review the video and if I find it is one of their residents I'm going to go there with photos and place a formal complaint so that it stops. 
We cannot let ourselves be intimidated. 
I wanted to point out that the definition of insanity is repeating the same action over and over again expecting a different result.  But I digressed.  However, let me again mention that 1) the planters are completely unprotected from passing pedestrians, 2) we live in a major metropolitan city where theft and property destruction is commonplace, and 3)  we live in Uptown.  

Let me also point out that this "video" he mentions as always seems to be a bit of a Loch Ness Monster: we hear about it, but have never seen evidence of it.  We were told years ago that the video cameras in our lobby capture all the action, however neighbors in the building (and even our renter for the year we lived in Miami) all had packages stolen from the lobby at some point and asked for the video to be reviewed.  To my knowledge, that's never happened.

There are plenty of things we COULD be doing to make our building more inviting, like replacing filthy carpet tiles or power-washing the parking garage or buying decent equipment for the workout room or even not allowing an external business to smack a billboard on the side of our historic building.  These are all great uses of money and resources that can't be undone by someone on their way to the local methadone clinic.Kevin and I have joked that if we let them take the flowers, the terrorists have won.  In a world of picking and choosing your battles, this one, apparently, is a battle our condo board is completely satisfied to lose over and over again.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A 5-Year Old's View On Same Sex Marriage

On a recent trip back to the DC area, I stopped in to Kevin's sister's house to visit with her and her two kids: Quinn, who's 2.5 years old, and her big brother Griffin, who's 5.5.  Griffin and I were putzing around with PlayDoh while Kerry and I talked about wedding plans.  Griffin had apparently been listening to the conversation and decided to inquire:
Griffin:  Who's getting married?
Me:  I am.  I'm getting married.  Who do you think I should marry?
Me:  Uncle Kevin.  I'm going to marry Uncle Kevin.
Griffin:  You can't marry Uncle Kevin!
Me:  Why not?
Griffin: Because you're both boys!
At this point I looked at Kerry.  Both of us had the same expression:  very wide eyes with huge smiles.
Kerry:  Griffin, in some places boys can marry boys and girls can marry girls.
Griffin:  No.
Kerry:  No?  Why no?
Griffin:  It's not allowed.
Me:  But what if I told you that in some places, it IS allowed and that some people think it's okay.
Griffin:  And then there are some people who think that its NOT okay.
Me:  Yes, there are some of those people.  What do you think those people say about it.
Griffin:  They say, 'AARRRGGGGHHHHHH!'
Me:  Well, that's about right.
Remember, Griffin is 5 years old.  All he knows of life is what he's seen in Disney movies and what he learns in kindergarten.
Griffin:    But Belle marries the Beast.
Me:  What if the Beast married Gaston instead?
Griffin:  He can't, he's a bad guy.
All he knows is that in the end, a prince marries a princess and they live together forever.  But the really amazing thing is that Kevin and I got together about 3 years before Griffin was even born.  He's known me all his life.  He knows that Kevin and I live together in Chicago.  And it never occurred to me or Kevin or even Kerry that Griffin apparently just thinks of me as family without any other context.  It's apparently never occurred to him that Kevin and I are a couple just like his mom and dad, or like Grandma and Grandpa (Kevin's parents).  Or perhaps, if in kindergarten he has learned what an uncle or aunt is, he may just think I am Kerry's brother also.  Ultimately, Griffin just doesn't know any different.  It's the most wonderful and sweet kind of ignorance, free of judgment and open to discussion.

After I left, I took a detour to a bookstore to buy Griffin a copy of And Tango Make Three, a true story about two male penguins in Central Park Zoo.  The book is at least an introduction to the subject.  And it might come in handy a few years from now when Quinn is trying to figure things out, too.

Kerry continued the conversation casually with Griffin throughout the day, and Kevin called Griffin later once he heard about what happened.  By then, Griffin was accepting of the idea and was actually planning on marrying his best friend.  He said they would live in a house and play zombies and Angry Birds all day.  Which, on some Sundays, is exactly what Kevin and I do, too.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Swapping Positions Back

In follow up to this post from two weeks ago, I wanted to report that we lasted about 5 days.  Neither of us was sleeping very well after we had swapped sides on the bed.  So before the week was up, we switched back and we both and our first good night's sleep in days.

There was a study completed a few years ago that deduced that people who sleep on the left side of the bed (if you are standing at the foot of the bed) are more likely to be cheerful that their partner who sleeps on the right side.  This would make total sense for us.  Kevin is far more cheerful than I.  Hell, a sack of flour can sometimes be more cheerful than I.

In any event, we gave it a shot and realized that things were fine the way they were.  Kevin will just have to keep putting on a heavier blanket to deal with the AC and I will continue to sleep with just a sheet.

But at least we will both be sleeping!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

I've Hit 600 Posts!

Yesterday, I checked some stats on my Blogger account and realized that the my most recent post was also my 600th post on this blog.  I've unbelievably posted 600 different thoughts, ideas, and situations over the past 9 years on this blog.

Back in 2006, I recounted the reason I began the blog in the first place and was excited about how far I would go and where the blogging would lead.  And in 2007, I celebrated my 2nd Blogiversary, recounting all the wonderful things that had happened to me since starting this project two years prior.

Lots of you have been with me every step of the way since.  I've gained new friends and lost some old ones.  Life happens.  And I can easily look back through my blog and watch my life ... well, happen.

Thanks for continuing on this journey with me.  I'm sure I have another 600 things I want to talk about over the years to come.  The passenger seat may be permanently assigned now, but there's a welcoming back seat that all your's.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Positive Loitering

There's a group of folks in my neighborhood who randomly practice something they like to call "positive loitering".  They typically pick a location that they consider a "trouble spot" and stand together in solidarity in an effort to, apparently, prevent "trouble spot no-good doers" from congregating.  The thing is, I can't help but think how racist this practice seems to be.

I mean, I think I get it:  They think that by standing together they can, I dunno, ward off evil spirits or send some kind of message to the gangbangers in my neighborhood that this small band of residents is taking back the night in some kind of way.  It's cute.

The thing is, I've seen this group of folks.  They're all white.  They only messages they are sending as they stand there clinging to their Ventis and Grandes is that it's just fine if a group of white people want to hang out on a corner and talk, but it's not fine - in fact it's downright criminal - for a group of minorities to do the same.  Ok, sure, there may have recently been a scuffle at some point at the exact corner on which they are all congregating, but planting your J. Crew flag for the hour between 7 and 8 p.m. - when it isn't even dark yet - is about saying less "We're mad as hell and we're not gonna take it anymore!" and more "Are you all caught up on 'Orange is the New Black'?"

I think the gangbangers are just laughing at this.  Gangs are all about territory.  They think they own a plot of land to which they have absolutely no legal claim.  As the sad joke goes, You think you own the street?  Pay my property taxes!  Gang members know this group of white people are only going to stay out until the sunsets and then they will disappear back into their condos and the gangs can get back to bizniz.

I guess it's super that the positive loiters feel like activists, and that they believe they are really doing whatever they can within the law.  But the truth is there is no proof that positive loitering works in any capacity.  It won't stop crime; it will only suspend it - or just move it to another location.

I live in the neighborhood so I'm no armchair quarterback.  And I admit that I don't know what the answer is.  What I DO know is that you can't tell a group of people they can't do something but you can, especially when the two main differences between you are 1. Race, and 2. Socio-economic standing.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Swapping Positions

Like every other couple, KB and I decided last night to change things up in the bedroom.  After more than 8.5 years together, it was time to try something different, something new.  We were hesitant at first, and had to spend a few minutes discussing it.  But then came to the understanding that if it didn't work or either of us wasn't comfortable, we would immediately go back to the way we always did it.  And we would pat ourselves on the back for at least being adventurous enough to try it.  So for the first time since we've been together, last night we switched sides on the bed: I slept on the right side and he slept on the left.

Why?  What did you think I was talking about?

The AC vent in our bedroom is directly above the right side of the bed.  And during the summer, KB (who always sleeps with a blanket anyway) tends to pile on the blankets while I - sleeping just 5 inches away - sleep with, basically, just a sheet covering me.  So we thought that we would try switching sides since he is always cold and I am always, well, not.  This way, all the cold air from the AC vent would fall on me and spare him, at least directly.

To be honest, it felt quite weird.  While I've not always slept on the left side of the bed, it appears that I have been doing so for a bulk of my adult life.  Even when I think back to my times with Ex#1 through Ex #5, I was sleeping on the left side of the bed (with the exception of Ex#2 when I was on the right side.  But that was back in the early 90's).

You wouldn't think that moving a distance of 2.5 feet could cause such a stir to the psyche, but it did.  I had a hard time falling and staying asleep last night.  Perhaps my brain was on active command from the wedding conversation we had just before bedtime, or perhaps I was replaying events that had occurred earlier in the day at work, or perhaps I needed to adjust to the AC vent blowing air directly on me.

Our goal was to try these new positions through summer.  Since I practically sweat in my sleep, it makes more sense for me to sleep under the vent.  We'll see how it goes.  Perhaps we'll need to create a "safe word" for when one of us feels like this might not be working.

I think I'll choose "ladybug".

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Summer TV

Along with great weather and street festivals, summer brings with it two of my favorite TV shows:  American Ninja Warrior and So You Think You Can Dance.

I like both of these shows because I respect the contestants.  I could sing in front of a group of people, I could cook something in a pinch, and I could probably make a dress out of vegetables.  But I could neither successfully complete a Japanese-inspired obstacle course, nor learn choreography to pull of an amazing dance (or 2 or 3) week after week.

Unlike the singing shows, contestants on SYTYCD have trained for years, even decades in some cases. They aren't on the show because their mothers think they're good or because they (for some reason) equate screaming with singing.  These contestants can move; they do unbelievable things with their bodies.  And I love American Ninja Warrior for the same reason.

Contestants on these two shows didn't just get up off their couch one day and say, I'm gonna do this.  These contests take skill and incredible endurance.  I catch myself literally cheering when they succeed, and feeling the gut-punch when they fall short.

There's nothing subjective about the judging in these two shows.  Either contestants can do it, or they can't.  Triumph and failure are glaringly obvious.  Anyone can sing (or cook/sew/eat a bug).  But not everyone can physically push themselves beyond what their bodies tell them is possible.

And that's why I love them.

Monday, April 28, 2014

We're Engaged!

So Saturday, April 26th started out like any other weekend day.  KB and I were hosting our "Second Time in the Second City" party - an open house event to which we invited just about every person in Chicago we knew and had missed during our time in Miami.  While it would take weeks to get around to visit everyone, we thought this would be a better way of seeing out closest friends sooner.

Kevin jumped out of bed sometime before 9AM and was already cleaning the living room.  I was a little surprised he had gotten such a jump on this as we had the whole day to start tackling the cleaning project, not that our placed really needed much primping.  He jumped in the shower as I was eating breakfast and, when finished, told me that he didn't squeegee the doors because he figured I would be getting in soon enough.  I thought showering this early when we had cleaning to do seemed weird, but Saturdays are my days for trimming the beard and shaving the head.  It's a lengthier process than the usual 10 minutes I take in the morning, so I figured maybe it wouldn't hurt to get it done now.

While I was in the bathroom, I could hear Kevin using a staple gun someplace in the condo.  Now most people would probably poke their heads out to find out what's going on.  But since I never really know what project he is doing or what's floating around in his ridiculously creative brain, I simply ignored it.  I mean, it's Kevin.

So after finishing all my duties in the bathroom, I opened the door and Kevin met me with a pair of jeans and a tee shirt and said, "Here, you might want to put these on."  Is someone here, I asked?  Just put these on.  So I got dressed and walked out into the apartment and noticed that Kevin had secured this to the wall:

It's a king-size 9'x9' sheet on which Kevin has written every inside inside joke he and I have been sharing for the past 8.5 years.  

He tackled this project during the 6 weeks we lived apart from March 5th to April 19th.  And it struck me then that during the 6 weeks we were apart, he had to be thinking about me almost every minute while he was creating this amazing token of love.

Needless to say, I was flabbergasted.

He then turned to me and said a few private things about how much I mean to him, and then while giving me his most loving hug, he asked me to marry him.  And I got to say the word I've been waiting to say for the last few years:  yes.  Of course, yes.

He then presented me with a small black box tied with a white bow.  This is where I got really thrown.  Kevin and I have been casually talking engagement and marriage over the past year as we've watched other friend-couples go through this same rite of passage.  Each one we watched, we compared how that one would parlay into how we would do ours.  And the one thing we pretty much agreed upon was no engagement rings.  So as I developed what I later dubbed "stroke face" because I know my face fell and froze in a sagging position, I went along for the ride and opened the box.  Inside was a "ha-ha"note whose message was essentially "this ain't us".  As I stood there deciding whether to laugh or cry from it, Kevin gave me the real engagement present: a small box which housed a white tee shirt with the simple saying "he said yes".  I looked up to thank him and he unzipped his hoodie to reveal himself wearing the same tee shirt.  I can't remember if the champagne came before the tee shirt or after, but I know there was champagne.

And then, almost on cue, Kevin goes to the front door and in walks our friend Jessica Sladek to take our photos.  She took over 300 and there are some great ones of us smiling and being happy, but I chose one that I really liked.  We aren't cheesy or overdoing it.  It's just us, happy and very content with life.

We called our families who are all very happy for us.  We've been part of each other's families for many years.  Between us, we already have 13 nieces and nephews and 2 great-nephews.  But now we will each officially gain another mom, dad, and a few sisters and brothers.

Oh yeah, and our party went on as usual.  Our guests, who were coming just to welcome us back to Chicago, were surprised that the event was also our ad hoc engagement party.  It made it all the more special that we could share it with our friends.

I guess I am now experiencing all the feelings that anyone who goes through this wonderful experience feels:  How on earth was I lucky enough to find someone who thinks I am as terrific as I think he is? 

No date has been set yet, but we are giving it a lot of thought.

Things I Have Since Learned:
  • Kevin started emailing our inside jokes to himself several months ago in order to remember all of them. 
  • This means that he had been thinking about proposing for several months but wanted to wait until we got to Chicago because he didn't want this memory to be made in Miami.
  • Kevin went through 25 Sharpies to complete the mural. 
  • And it took him over 30 hours to complete it.
  • Kevin brought me clothes to put on because he knew I would not want to recall the day when he proposed to me when I was only wearing underwear.  That's true love.
  • The matching tee shirts were delivered to David and Sean's apartment across the street so as not to arouse my suspicion.
  • Kevin borrowed the champagne flutes from our neighbor.  (Note to self:  put champagne flutes on the gift registry).
  • I was miraculously obedient the entire morning.  If I had fought on the timing of waking up, eating breakfast, getting a shower, getting dressed, or even poked my head out when I heard the staple gun - I could have ruined the whole thing.
  • I'm the luckiest man in the world.

Monday, April 07, 2014

One Final Look, In Retrospect...

Let me be clear, our time in Miami was not an endless parade of things we hated; we didn't just sit around complaining all the time.  Much good came from our time there.  We met people and went places we otherwise would not have.  We made some lifelong (I hope) friends and visited places I never thought I would ever see.  While Miami may have not been the best culture fit for us, it still yielded some amazing experiences for which I will be forever thankful:
KB did an amazing job choosing an apartment for us:  a 2B/2B penthouse on the 36th floor with almost 270° views of North Miami Beach, South Beach, Port Miami, Brickell and further views of Coral Gables and beyond.  The apartment and views were quite spectacular. If I couldn't work and had to stay home everyday, this made it worth it.

(Click image to enlarge and see panorama of our balcony view)

One of my hopes was that one day, KB and I would go to Disney World together.  And while living in Florida, we went 4 times.  We toured all 4 parks, several times each.  We also visited Downtown Disney and Harry Potter World at Universal Studios.
We visited St. Augustine, the oldest city in America.  I always wanted to go there but knew it wasn't a destination enough on its own.  So I figured I probably wouldn't see it.  But we grabbed the chance to walk the streets and tour Castillo de San Marcos.
We spent a great weekend in Key West and stood at the southernmost point in the US.  And even more special to me was the day trip out to the Dry Tortugas and Fort Jefferson, a place every Lincoln Assassination-phile dreams of going, but logistically decides is simply impossible.

Visits to South Beach brought us fun experiences like people-watching on Lincoln Road, lunches at The Carlyle, and walking past the Versace Mansion.

We enjoyed local food at some great places like Perricone's, The Filling Station, Pubbelly, Pride & Joy, and Yardbird.

We fired automatic weapons at Lock & Load Miami, and found out that we actually weren't bad shots!

We visited the Adrienne Arsht Center to see Pilobolus and the Broadway tour of Once.

We made great friendships that I hope will last a lifetime; friends who I truly believe understand why we had to leave and why Miami just was not for us.

And for me personally, I was able to do some things that I either didn't have time to do before or just never thought possible, like scanning in all my photos, obtaining my PHR, speaking to my lifetime hero

And there are definitely things I will miss, like:
  • The Wynwood Arts District, arguably our favorite place in the city for obvious reasons, 
  • Our favorite neighborhood hangout, Elwoods, where they make their own condiments and where we came in 2nd place during a trivia contest,
  • Bayfront Park, which was directly across from where we lived.  A great place to have lunch and just watch the cruise ships,
  • And sitting on our balcony at night, drinking Red's Apple Ale and watching the lights of South Beach. 
The decision to leave Miami was not made lightly.  But we knew that Chicago was the place we belonged, at least for now in our lives.  But we had to try Miami, or risk forever wondering, "what if?"  Looking back now I think, "what if we would have missed all this?" How can I ever think that my life in Miami wasn't worth it?  Especially when through it all, I had the man of my dreams right there beside me. 

The fun thing is that someday down the road, we'll be sitting around with friends and say, "well there was that year we lived in Miami...".  And these will be the things we remember.

Friday, April 04, 2014

I'm A Lucky Man

As I mentioned, I had a hard time finding a job in Miami.

At the start of my job search, I decided to keep a spreadsheet in order to keep track of the companies and positions for which I applied, when I applied, and when I conducted a follow-up.  In total, I sent out resumes or applied for 133 jobs using various online search methods, personal and professional contacts, and even 5 recruiters from 5 different agencies.  And with all this help, those 133 resumes yielded just two phone interviews and 0 (that's ZERO) face-to-face interviews.  Again, that's ZERO.  The two phone interviews I had went very well, and ended with the interviewers telling me they would bring me in for next steps.  But that didn't happen in either case. 

After revising and recreating my resume several times, I decided to obtain my PHR in the hopes that having that certification would give me some kind of boost.  It didn't.  Finally out of desperation and just on a whim, I went online and found a job in Chicago that I would not only be perfect for, but believed I would enjoy as well.  So I sent in my resume.  Five days later, I got a phone call.  A week after that, I flew to Chicago for an interview.  Two weeks later, I was offered the job.  After sending out 133 resumes in Miami, I got an amazing job in Chicago after sending out just 1 resume.

But as I have said before: post hoc, ergo propter hoc.  I found a job in my favorite city that excites me and will challenge me for a long time.  This would not have happened had any one of the 133 places in Miami attempted to at least meet me.

For anyone who has been unemployed for months or even years at a time, it's a soul crushing experience.  Along with the financial problems, there are frequent and lingering instances of self-doubt and a lack of confidence that grows exponentially.  But I had an ace-in-the-hole;  I had KB with me through it all.  He constantly reassured me that we were okay on every level.  It didn't stop us from taking some great weekend trips and traveling around the state of Florida.  My ego would have disintegrated without him.

Looking back on the past year of my life, I realize I am such a lucky man on so many levels.  

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

No Habla

In the city of Miami, 78% of residents count English as a second language with half that percentage saying they don't speak English well, if at all.  Add on top of that the percentages that speak Portuguese and Haitian-Creole, and English falls further down the ladder.  The Non-Hispanic White population is about 16%.  As a businessperson, it is impossible to get anything done unless you speak Spanish and/or one of the other two languages fluently.  There's simply no need for residents to learn English because of the vast number of people who either cannot or choose to not speak it.

I ran into this problem almost immediately when I began my job search in Miami back in June 2013.  I underestimated the need for me to be bilingual, if not multilingual.  It's imperative to know Spanish in order to live and work in Miami-Dade County.  It would also be helpful to know Portuguese and Haitian-Creole as well.  So many companies and industries here do business with Cuba and South America.  I am not fluent in Spanish.  I guess I am just the bearish version of Demi Lovato.

To be honest, I don't even know if my finding a job in Miami would have changed anything about how we felt about living there.  Latin culture dominates the city and causes Americans to feel alienated, perhaps unlike anywhere else in the country.  Race isn't the issue in Miami - but rather culture.  And if you are from a non-Spanish speaking culture, life in Miami is inherently frustrating.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Adios, Miami!

I am very happy to say that after giving Miami a try, I have moved back to Chicago and will be starting my new job tomorrow.  This will be the first in a series of posts involving our time in Miami.  I think that after some reflection, I can now be more honest with my thoughts and views.  It wasn't all bad, but it wasn't all great, either.

To provide some background, KB received a job offer in Miami last Spring that seemed too good to pass up.  It meant renting out our place in Chicago, quitting our current jobs, buying a car, leaving our friends, and trying a new life in a new state in a new city - a city in which neither of us had any real experience.  It was a gamble to be sure.  But to prevent us from wondering "what if?" for the rest of our lives, we gave it a shot.  And I am so proud of us for doing so.

There is a joke that Miami is the "Capital of South America", and I will tell you now that it's not really a joke.  The South American influence is so abundant, you get the overwhelming feeling that you are living in another country.  The glitz of South Beach will blind you to how the city operates on a day-to-day basis.  It didn't take long for Miami to lose what little charm it may hold.

In Chicago or even DC for that matter, when meeting a recent transplant who shared that they just moved to the city, it was natural to respond with "hey, welcome to Chicago!" or "oh cool, what neighborhood did you settle in?" or even "what's been your favorite part so far?". When we met people in Miami and told them we were new to the city, their responses every time would be a negatively leading, "how do you like it?" which was said with the chin pulled in and an eyebrow raised.

Well, for us anyway, we didn't like it, and I will give reasons following in the next few days.  Suffice is to say that we went to Miami with all the best intentions.  And we are mature enough to look at Miami and say, "it's not us, it's you", and close the door behind us.

I've been in Chicago (quietly) for just over three weeks, and KB will follow along in another three.  On March 4th, we loaded 95% of our belongings into a moving van, which I then drove the 1,421 miles from Miami to Chicago. 

Leaving a sad, waving KB behind on the sidewalk as I drove away was undoubtedly the hardest thing I've ever done (and I've been through some tough scrapes!). When I finally arrived in Chicago, I text the pic to the left to Kevin.  He said it was one of the prettiest sights he'd ever seen.

Tomorrow I start my new job.  I'm scared and excited.  But will no doubt be going through my day, trying to remember every detail to share with KB later.  Six weeks of living apart is the ultimate price we are paying for this, but the eventual reunion in the city we love will be amazing.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Fictional Characters Whose Names You Don't Know

I read all this on mental_floss and thought it would be fun trivia to know.  So I am sharing with you to impress your friends and family.  Here are the names of several fictional characters Enjoy! 
All right, lets start with the most logical place, breakfast. The Pillsbury Doughboy's name is Poppin Fresh, first name Poppin, last name Fresh. Everyone knows that, right?  But you probably should also know that he has a wife, Poppy fresh, and two kids; Popper and Bun Bun Fresh (one of my favorites). His cat and dog are named Biscuit and Flap Jack.

That guy smirking at you from the oatmeal cannister is not William Penn; the good people at Quaker Oats refer to him as Larry. In 2012, Larry got a mini-makeover. His hair was trimmed, he lost a little weight, and Quaker says he acquired "more radiant skin from his daily oatmeal mask".

Before he was a distinguished captain of the S.S. Guppy, the good Captain Crunch was Horatio Magellan Crunch.

Thanks to a marketing campaign in 2009, Mrs. Butterworth was finally given a first name; please call her Joy in all future correspondence.

In 1916, 14-year-old Antonio Gentille entered Planter's Peanuts contest to create a mascot. His winning entry was a version of the dapper Mr. Peanut we all know and love today. And he also suggested the name, Bartholomew Richard Fitzgerald-Smythe.

Those fortunate enough to be on a first name basis with Mr. Clean call him Veritably. That's right, Veritably Clean. The name comes from a "Give Mr. Clean a First Name" promotion in 1962.

The Michelin Man's real name, Bibendum, means "drinking to be done" in Latin, and people used to refer to him as the Road Drunkard. The name comes from a bizarre, early advertisement, that showed the Michelin Man holding a questionable cocktail of nails and broken glass, with the tagline, "Michelin Tires: Drink up obstacles!"

Mr. Whipple, the poor grocer who so desperately wanted his customers to leave the Charmin alone, did have a first name: George.

So, did you know that the friendly little bird over on Twitter goes by the name Larry? Larry Bird.  Yeesh. 

Before he was simply Geoffrey, the Toys R Us mascot was known as Dr. G. Raffe. Boo.

The next time you land on the 'go directly to jail' spot on Monopoly, direct your disgruntlement at Officer Edgar Mallory, the cop who inhabits that space.  And while you're hanging out in jail, feel free to chat up Jake the Jailbird, who's been serving time since 1933.  And when you get that unexpected ten dollar windfall for coming in second place in a beauty pageant, you need to thank Rich Uncle Pennybags. Rich Uncle Pennybags used to have a wife whose name was Marge, but you know how repeated bankruptcies can affect a marriage.  Don't worry, I'm sure she got Baltic and Mediterranean Avenues.

Barbara Millicent Roberts, better known as Barbie, was named for creator Ruth Handler's daughter, so that must have been great for Barbara's body image. And here's the rub: Barbie's long time love and fellow fashionisto is named Ken Carson, and is ALSO named after Handler's offspring. That's right, the real Barbie and Ken are siblings!  Eeww.

The perpetual patient in the game Operation is an unfortunate fellow named Cavity Sam.

According to Toy Story 3 director Lee Unrick, Woody from Toy Story has a last name, Pride.

Minch Yoda, at least according to George Lucas' earliest notes.  I'm sure he took some good-natured ribbing back in his Jedi training days.

For most of us, the evil queen from Snow White has always been known as "the scary lady from the Disney World ride." Her occupation was her name, which was scary enough.  Simply mention Evil Queen and everyone thinks of this woman, or perhaps Leona Helmsley.  But early promotions for Walt Disney's first feature length animation film referred to the world's worst stepmother as Queen Grimhilda.  I don't know - if I was a king looking for a new queen and came across a woman named Grimhilda, I would get a serious case of foreshadowing.  Marrying a woman who has the word "grim" in her name couldn't possibly lead to the happiest of marriages.

In a Peanuts comic strip, Peppermint Patty's real name is Patricia Reichardt.  And Linus' annoying teacher, who sounded suspiciously like a muted trumpet, Miss Othmar, who later got married and became Mrs. Hagameir.

Now, over to Archie comics. Of course, Jughead's parents didn't name him Jughead. They named him a much better name, Forsythe P. Jones III.

And on the subject of comics, Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons is really named Jeff Albertson.  Creator Matt Groening wanted to call him Louis Lane. This seques nicely into...

Big bird's friend Snuffaluppagus has a first name, Alouicious. Alouicious Snuffaluppagus.  Speaking of Sesame Street, in a 2004 episode Cookie Monster admitted that before he got hooked on cookies, his name was Sid. You know Guy Smiley, from Sesame Street? Yeah, his real name was Bernie Liederkrantz. 

Dana Carvey's judgemental, lips-pursing, holier-than-thou church lady, has a name: Enid Strict.

If you go by the 1995 Casper movie, Casper's family name is McFadden.

Although Shaggy probably fits him better, the frightened ghost hunter's real name is Norville Rogers.  Scooby has a more proper name as well, Scoobert Doo.  The rest of the gang is made up of Frederick Jones, Jr., Daphne Blake, and Velma Dinkley.

And from Gilligan's Island, the full names we don't know are Jonas Grumby, better known as Skipper, Roy Hinkley is the Professor's real name, Mary Ann's last name is Summers, and Gilligan's full name is William "Willie" Gilligan.  Along with Ginger Grant, Thurston Howell III, and Lovie Howell, you can now invite them all to dinner and use proper place cards.

Other television names:
Angus MacGyver
Salvatore Assante, aka Turtle from Entourage
Wilson W. Wilson Jr. from Home Improvement
Aristotle Nostradamus Shannon, aka Bull from Night Court 

And just one more thing, Columbo. On his police badge, Lt. Columbo's name was Frank, but many sources will tell you that his name is Philip. However, that's not true. It's a copyright trap that first appeared in the book The Trivia Encyclopedia. When Trivial Pursuit later included a question with the incorrect answer, the author of The Trivia Encyclopedia knew that they had used information from his book, and so he sued. But then the court ruled in favor of Trivial Pursuit, saying that facts, even false ones, cannot be copyrighted...

which is good news for me.