Tuesday, March 31, 2009

They Never Said It Was A TOP Ten List

Being the pillar of the business community that I am, I was recently perusing Crain’s Chicago Business and their 10 Things To Do This Weekend column. Normally it’s pretty high tone stuff like museum exhibits, ballets, garden tours, charity events, and fox hunts. So I was surprised to see the following:

Actress Charlene Tilton, former Bay City Rollers lead singer Duncan Faure, and other celebrities will spice things up at the MONSTER TRUCK NATIONALS. The two-day event includes four-wheeled power machines crushing smaller cars in the controlled climate of the Sears Centre Arena. March 13 and March 14, 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $7 - $33. 5333 Prairie Stone Pkwy., Hoffman Estates, (800) 745-3000

Besides Crain’s targeting a demographic I never knew existed for them, I was also intrigued by the featured celebrities. Charlene Tilton, probably most famous for providing the cleavage for the television show Dallas, is listed as the headliner. I had big money on her being the trigger chick during the “Who Shot J.R.?” craze, lost my college savings and ended up working as a dishwasher at IHOP for the last twenty years. But I digress. It appears she’s only had a handful of work since her Dallas days, so you may think it odd that she would be headlining the event. Until you realize her co-headliner is Duncan Faure, probably celebrating the 25th anniversary of his last appearance on the cover of Tiger Beat. I was tempted to go, not to see small cars crushed since that is my nightmare as the Mrs. zips around town in her Honda Fit, but I wanted to see how Charlene and Duncan were going to “spice things up” for a crowd showing up to see stuff crushed. Maybe they were offering up their own hopes and dreams of reliving their fame from twenty years ago only to see them crushed along with those damn imports by a crowd wearing “Buy American” t-shirts who drive Chevy pick-ups and could not care less about some rich daddy’s girl from an 80’s TV show or a fancy lad who was famous for his shag haircut and plaid socks in the 70’s.

I also wanted to find out who the “other celebrities” who didn’t make the bill were – I’m thinking Tiffany Brissette or Taffy Nivert.

But if I had gone though you can bet your bottom dollar I would have gone on the 14th – S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y night!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Embrace The Neon Lights

Sure we have the highest sales tax in the nation due to incompetent or corrupt politicians. Probably both. Yeah, parking can suck at times, like when you want to stop driving and park. And it’s late March and there’s three inches of snow on the ground.

But when I left work Friday a week ago I didn’t have to sit in rush hour traffic – I just hopped on the train, worked the crossword puzzle, realized I know nothing about the Bible or rivers outside North America, and was home in 45 minutes.

I then walked to Big Joe’s bar to meet up with Moist Rub, Stiv_OO, and Senor Cojones, and munched on completely unsanitary shared bowls of complimentary generic Cheetos before heading to our next stop.

Which was a brewery a block away that was hosting a play called… Beer. We checked in at the box office, which was a folding table inside the side entrance and at showtime we were escorted through a walk-in fridge into the bowels of the brewery and squeezed into temporary bleachers sitting between large, stainless steel tanks. We then watched the story of Boone, a ten year-old who gets drunk on his step-dad’s cheap beer, wakes up in a brewery, and can only go home by learning how to brew beer with the help of his own puke which has come to life in the form of a puppet named Puke and the help of the “beer geeks”, a live band who explain the brewing process to him in song, often performed by puppets representing the ingredients of beer. Of course, it’s not nearly as easy as it sounds, so the story’s antagonist is none other than Bud Miller, the evil piss-beer brewing founder of Millweiser who sneaks into the beer geek band in disguise in an attempt to sabotage Boone’s efforts to save brewing tradition from the evil corporate overlords. Got it? Like most other of the Neo-Futurist productions I enjoyed it, and Stiv_OO got a souvenir handful of puke when the girl puppeteer in charge of Puke dove into his lap during her big production number. I'm not sure if he's finished his analysis of the very puke-like substance.

After that we returned to Big Joe’s, where we bellied back up to the bar, and I was disappointed to see my cohorts order up an assortment of Miller and Budweiser products. Did they learn nothing? Of course, I was only swilling a diet coke so I let them enjoy their corporate slop. At least they weren’t pretending to like PBR.

The bar was unusually packed for a corner dive, which was explained by the commencement of the weekly turtle races. You buy drinks, you get tickets, if your ticket is called, you get a turtle, if your turtle wins you get a t-shirt, if your turtle loses you get a free drink. Senor Cojones was picked for the second race but finished in the middle of the pack, so we acted like sore losers and left. And I walked home.

Saturday was swell weather so I dusted off the bicycle and took a pleasant ride a few miles north to test out my trusty steed, then came back down Lincoln Avenue and none of the friendly city drivers tried to run me over. We were getting a little hungry so we pulled over and decided to try George’s Pitas. I sent the Mrs. in for a menu while I watched the bikes and within those several seconds a regular came outside to befriend me. He began talking up the merits of the menu items and after I sent the Mrs. back inside with my order for a beef shawarma sandwich, my new buddy stayed behind to keep me company and by the time she returned with our lunch I’m pretty sure I knew more about my new friend than anyone else in his life. I really hope he gets that lump checked out.

That evening, Sr. Cojones came back out and this time brought Sra. Cojones. Yep, I was quite the social butterfly. We went out for Thai food down the street and then continued on to the Old Town School theater since I had picked up some tickets to see Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women. Not Alvin and the Chipmunks as my co-workers were convinced I was going to see. I always thought the Blasters were pretty cool, but was never the huge fan that Sr. Cojones was. But the venue was awesome and I’m always willing to expand my horizons as long as it doesn’t involve peanut butter, gay sex, or the likelihood of ending up in a federal penitentiary. The show seemed to meet that criteria so away we went.

And the verdict…. Wow. It was the most enjoyable show I’ve been to recently. Ol’ Dave is the real deal, a likable sort and a great musician and songwriter. And the Guilty Women – six women he recruited for his latest endeavor – were just as fun to watch as they were to listen to. Everyone was having fun – Dave, the Women, and the crowd.

It also felt very American. There are a lot of people in this country trying to fuck it up for their own gain at the expense of what we’ve built over the last 230 years. I’m not exactly brimming with hope over our chances of getting it back, but this little bastion of Americana made me feel good. A group of solid musicians, performing songs written from the heart, and having fun in a style that is pure U.S. effin'A.

The new CD will be out May 21st. If they come to your town, check them out. Even if you don’t normally listen to dudes who wear cowboy hats, you might be surprised how much you like it. He won’t be selling out stadiums like Kenny Chesney, but I put that in the plus column.

After the show, I walked back to our place happy to know I was taking advantage of all my new neighborhood had to offer. Instead of just complaining about the parking.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Balloon Flailer

I'm a wuss. It was confirmed long ago. There is no need for me to flex in front of the mirror each night before bedtime. Nobody has to worry about me asking them to feel my muscle. If a confrontation ensues, don't look to me for help. I'll be hiding behind a girl scout.

I'm lucky. Most guys probably go through life with an inflated impression of their machismo. I don't need to perpetuate that facade. I had a revelation. I have experienced a terror that represents a defining moment in my life. A moment of truth. The truth hurts, sometimes.

One night a while back I was re-reading The Fellowship of the Ring, which is the first book in The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien. The news, at the time, of the filming of its motion picture had sparked my need to delve back into Middle Earth. Right before going to bed, I reached a particularly ghostly passage where a Barrow-wight (a ghost) captured Frodo, our hero, and his traveling mates. I won't describe the whole story, but trust me - it's a scary part. Maybe not as scary as The Exorcist or Nancy Pelosi, but scary enough.

It was late and I was tired, so I decided to wait until the next day to see if Frodo and his gang survived (as this was my fourth reading of the book, I was pretty sure they were going to make it, but you never can be too sure with all those book-changing pranksters out there with their white-out and all). Feeling a little spooked, on my way too bed, as I walked through my dimly moonlit living room, I saw a faint image of something I believed to be a human form. Immediately, I reacted by covering behind my flailing arms and falling into the wall. It's quite an effective defense as it strikes fear into the hearts of perpetrators of all kinds.

Now, I'm not proud of how I responded to the apparent trespasser in my home, but at least I wasn't killed. The shame gets worse. The elapsed time between when I detected the "intruder" and reacted to it was probably less than a second. Within that instant I was able to determine that the suspected human form before me was that of an old woman carrying a bag of groceries and smoking a large pipe made of the bone of a wildebeest and covered in a sheath of octopus leather (I may be exaggerating about the details of the pipe or in the fact that there was a pipe at all, but it definitely looked like a hunched, old woman). My mind, hopped up on adrenaline, was able to perceive that the form before me was a harmless old woman, yet I reacted by cowering, like a..a...a..well, like a harmless old woman.

Obviously, the woman must have lost her way home from the grocery store where she picked up a few essentials and beer munchies, and she needed my assistance to find her way. A brave man, or even just a generally polite man, would have helped her home and took out her garbage. And, what did I do? I flailed and fell. I flailed at an old lady. Do you know what that makes me? That's right, it makes me a mountain nymph. Or do you say oread? No, it makes me a coward. A sniveling, spineless, yellow-bellied, cheek-chewin' chicken. I have always thought the yellow on my belly was from all of the butter. At least I now know who I am and can live the rest of my days with peace of mind (while hiding underneath my bed).

It turned out that my enemy was a gaggle of helium filled balloons my wife at the time had brought home from a baby shower the day before. They were tied to one of my kids' play chairs. I don't know what's worse, cowering to a hunched old woman or to a bunch of baby balloons. Had I known they were balloons, I could have easily popped them with my arm hair that happened to be standing on end at the time of the attack. I'm not sure if you can pop an old woman, and I'm not looking to find out.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Just Check The Deli Case

In keeping with the sandwich theme, recently at work during lunch:

Co-worker #1: Is that salami?

Co-worker #2: No, it's roast beef, it's just very rare.

Sid: I wouldn't say that, I see the stuff everywhere.

Sometimes I think the only reason I go to work is for the joke set-ups.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Very Special Ham Sandwich

Long ago somebody made me a ham sandwich. It was no ordinary ham sandwich. It was the best ham sandwich ever made. That ham sandwich changed my life.

The sandwich was constructed on a bakery fresh roll from Jewel food store. Or it may have been from Dominick’s, but that’s hardly the point, is it? It was bakery fresh, let me tell you. On the roll, she tenderly placed mesmerizing folds of succulent ham, sliced by a deli professional extraordinaire who must have been trained in France. Had to be France. No doubt about it. To adorn the ham, which was succulent as I’ve mentioned, she playfully feathered a few leaves of the crispest lettuce ever known to crackle. On top of that, she devoted two slices of palate-gushing tomatoes, undoubtedly grown in the gardens of Pomona. With a blanket of thinly sliced American cheese, she reassured the ham – succulent, and garnish. Before completing the bread borne fare, she slathered the lid of the roll with a copious helping of soothing mayonnaise, as if she were applying the healing balm to the wound of a decapitated soldier. The sandwich was served to me on a paper plate from the Ming Dynasty. I could tell by the poise in the chef’s eyes that she knew she had crafted a masterpiece.

By now, you are probably saying to yourself, “So what. Big deal. It’s just a sandwich. You are a monstrous idiot.” Well, friend, you may be correct in your assessment of me, but not the sandwich, which was made with ham that was succulent, by the way. Because - now listen closely - this was a magical ham sandwich, the likes of which this author’s tongue, nor any tongue, has not savored since.

At the time, I was new to that family, and not well known by anybody other than the number one son. Nonetheless, his mother poured her soul into that sandwich for me. After eating it, I thought to myself, “If this kind of excellence can exist in a mere ham sandwich, and people can behave in such a selfless manner as she did in the creation of this sandwich, what else could be out there!” From that day forward, I vowed to dedicate my life to the achievement of selfless excellence. It is that wonderful sandwich, and the effort put into its formation, to which I credit everything I’ve been able to achieve in this world since that day (which isn't much, to no fault of the sandwich or its creator, but it's the thought that counts).

No, really, it was one helluva ham sandwich.

Thank you, Bubba (aka Mrs. Mop).

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

CD's For Sale!!!

Times are tough. Here at Leper Pop we sincerely hope that you are successfully weathering our economic tsunami better than that model who ended up in the tree with a broken hip. If you’ve fallen on hard times, remember that your local library offers free internet access from which you can continue reading Leper Pop to keep your spirits up while Biff Henderson sorts this whole mess out. If you’re fortunate to have a job at a stable company like AIG, perhaps you’re wondering what to do with the large bonus you have just received. Allow me to make a few suggestions.

You might think I’m going to direct you to the links on the right where you can buy your very own Leper Pop t-shirt. Don’t do that. I’ve worn one out in public and it only leads to ridicule and premature ejaculation. Not always in that order.

Instead think about giving to others. In case you’re not sure of the best place to direct those extra bonus dollars might I suggest Feed The Children? I checked out their website and a donation of $10 will “help keep their caravan of trucks on the road!”

Hold on. I don’t drive very often, but the Mrs. has been out there on the roads and from what I hear the last thing we need to be doing is funding any caravan of trucks to add to the congestion. That certainly doesn’t sound very good for the environment, either. Especially since local stores already appear to be stocked with foodstuffs and Little Debbies, and there appears to be no shortage of fast food joints anywhere I’ve traveled across the country. They even have value menus!

So why not take that $10 over to the Crustacean Records website and order the new Von Ehrics CD? If you’re a regular around here, you know I love these guys like brothers from whom I was separated at birth and never really knew. But that doesn’t mean I love them any less than if I had grown up to be honky-tonk metal bad-asses like them. But in case I haven’t already convinced you, let me list the reasons why investing $10 in their new record is a good idea and why I’ve already done it.

Your purchase supports a small business like Crustacean. I was watching CNBC today because I’m a dork, but that also makes me an expert on economic matters, and 70% of new jobs these days are created by small business. That means you are helping reduce unemployment. More people with jobs means less need for caravans of trucks on the road delivering free food to hungry children. Fewer caravans mean a shorter commute for you and less pollution.

Crustacean never sued you after you got drunk and downloaded those Barry Manilow tunes.

Crustacean supports bands like The Von Ehrics. It’s trickle down economics – The Von Ehrics subsequently take to the road stimulating the regional economies from Texas to New York with their purchases of whiskey and beer from local merchants. Those sin taxes are also some of the highest around, so they’re also filling the dwindling state coffers so that your schools stay open. You do want your kids to get an education, don’t you?

Free shipping. It’s not even like that Amazon scam where you need to spend $25 to get free super saver shipping. You don’t even have to search the internet for a coupon code. Who has time for that? You don’t. You can use the extra time and saved shipping cost to take a cooking class to learn how to make stuff wrapped in bacon. Everyone loves stuff wrapped in bacon. You can have a party and serve that stuff you learned how to wrap in bacon and all your friends will love you. You don’t want to die lonely, do you?

But that’s not all! Free stuff! It’s a recession so you need to spend your money wisely. Order now and you’ll get free stickers, free buttons and a sampler CD. I’m not sure what the stickers or buttons say on them, but imagine the excitement when you open the package! It’ll be like Christmas in March! Except without all the lame holiday music – instead you’ll get some great surprise tunes from the Crustacean catalog that I guarantee will be better than hearing Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer. You do love your Grandma, don’t you?

Or you could just order the damn CD because somebody needs to take a stand against Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers and Daughtry and American Idol and Britney Spears and everything else that is wrong with our world. You can do that. And The Von Ehrics are here to help.

If you don’t trust me, go preview the CD on iTunes. You can even download it there for $9.99 if you’re one of those future people who listen to music on your computers and pod devices.

And finally, if your stereo or computer doesn’t go to 11, The Von Ehrics are hitting the road next month and I can assure you that their amps do hit 11. I’ll be at the Chicago show at Quencher’s Saloon on April 17th. Stop by and say hello and I’ll buy you a sarsaparilla.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Blue Balls For Sale!

I remember the first time I went to a strip club. It was magical. I was mesmerized. Scantily clad, beautiful women were all over the place. And, they were friendly. The smell of sensual sugar filled the air. Over priced alcohol was within arms reach. The music sucked. Is it too much to ask for some rock and roll with the nudity? I mean real rock and roll, not some 80’s decalcification of ZZ Top. Yes, I get it. The girl’s got legs. I would certainly hope so. Otherwise the song would have been called She’s Got a Wheelchair. But, I’m ruining the strip club fantasy mood. Sorry.

Before long, one of the hot babes asked me if I would like a dance. Not knowing the nomenclature at the time I re-posed the question and asked her if she wanted to dance with me. A friend clued me in as to what she was proposing. I accepted her offer for a dance. She took me to a semi-private room where other women were writhing on other patrons. She sat me on a cushy couch and stood in front of me. I felt a little shy at first (after all, it had been a while since I attended an orgy) – until she started rhythmically rubbing on me to the beat of plastic thumping bile resounding in the background. I forgot about the other couples in the room and focused all of my attention on her, on her excessively made over eyes, on her glittery skin, on her tickling locks of hair on my face, on her compound bouquet of lavender and cigarettes, on her naked boobies. She moved me. She was selfless. Her only concern was my satisfaction. She let me know this when I tried to return the favor by touching her, too, and she drove her fake nails into my neck. I was falling in lust. My nether regions commandeered of all my senses as they prepared to go into action, especially after my siren took to the grinding. Right when I was about to pass the point of no return - she stopped. She stood and put her hand out. So, I shook it. She asked for twenty dollars. What!? Are we done? That’s it? Twenty dollars for what?

“Twenty dollars for the lap dance, sport.”

But I wasn’t done. I’ve got some unresolved issues here, honey!!!

“Plus tip.”

Dumbfounded with mouth agape, I gave her thirty dollars. She grabbed my hand, helped me up and walked me back to the bar area where my friends waited with despicable grins. Before we parted ways, I stopped her and asked her, “So, let me get this straight. I just paid you thirty bucks to give me blue balls?”

“I never thought of it that way. I guess you’re right. You’re so funny. Bye-bye, sweetie.”

I wondered what she would have done to me for a hundred bucks - tap dance on my crotch and jam her boa up my ass?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Father Nightingale

The ex wife called mid-morning Monday and told me she was picking up our daughter from school and bringing her to my house. The daughter was sick. I figured she had gotten what I had last week; what I had given to my son. The son must have given it to her during one of their face to face torment combats – the ones I have learned to tune out, unless I hear the butcher knife unsheathe. Either that or they are each sharing my toothbrush again. Little do they know I’ve switched to using a tooth pumice stone, which I keep in a hollowed out rolling pin stashed beneath the stairs.

The ex arrived bearing our ailing daughter and some provisions of salubrity – a gallon of grape juice and a package of kid friendly, fever reducing, blah inhibiting, cough and cold über gumdrops. Apparently the weasel cod liver snake milk of rancidity I bought from the Wal-Mart outlet store was not appealing enough for my daughter’s tastes to save her life. I reviewed her symptoms: headache, fever, sore throat, whooping cough, loogie ridden sinuses, lethargy, ornery disposition. Welcome to adulthood, honey. My weasel cod liver snake milk of rancidity would work on these ailments – I was sure of it, and it might even produce her first ever hallucinations. OK, we’ll try the über gumdrops first.

We got the daughter all set up in bed, with a glass of grape juice on her night stand, a belly full of roiling medication and a dvd set on repeat on the television set. Before she left, the ex wife prescribed me with a list of medical maintenance instructions. I was too busy mentally preparing myself for a few days of nursing and wondering where I left my scrubs, nurse hat and support hose to pay attention to her. That’s right, beneath the stairs next to the rolling pin. I didn’t need instructions. I knew how to take care of an ailing child – make sure they are not whining, burning, starving, orally expelling and not unresponsive to simple stimuli like finger pokes and massive tickle attacks. And, above all, make sure their blood stays on the inside. Most of the time, a sick child will abide by these rules if properly tended. All the father nurse needs to do is check on her periodically, keep up on the meds and touch her face.

Face touching is a well known procedure in measuring a child’s infirmity, and it is a little known measure of a child’s maturity. Babies will let you touch their face all day. You could stick your hand on a baby’s face and leave it there until they are about three or four years old, if you wanted to. They don’t know any better, and they really have nothing better to do. "Sure, you feed me and touch my shit so I’ll serve as your hand rest. It’s the least I can do." When they get a little older, they will still accept your hand on their face but will turn away eventually after they figure out they can’t move around and break stuff with somebody else’s hand on their face. As they age you run through the nose button pushing, nose snatching, cheek tweaking, face wiping, face squeezing (they’re all so cute you wanna eat ‘em up!) and whatever other hand to face communication you can get away with. Each year they’ll accept less and less facial manipulation. Eventually, by the time they are pre-teens, a gentle caress to the cheek is met with a slap, head turn and the ignorant look, and the parent realizes the child’s face is no longer part of xe’s domain. That is, until the child gets sick. Then they welcome that hand. They know it’s there to confirm that their malaise is substantiated by the sweltering the hand detects. The hand soothes them, while it soothes the parent as the parent tries to conduct some Mr. Miyagi magic and draw out the pathogens afflicting xe’s baby. The sicker the child is, the longer you can keep your hand on xe’s face. I go with the forehead to cheek to other cheek method. Even if you can’t feel the fever (I don’t know, maybe you high-fived a hot iron once in college), you can judge how they are feeling by how long they’ll allow you to grope their face. As soon as the hand slap, head turn and ignorant look comes back, you know they have recovered.

Most of my nursing effort was to leave her alone to sleep off her affliction. That’s my preferred method of ailing, after all. Occasionally, I would visit her to conduct the face touching, to see if she needed anything and, in some cases, to see if she was still alive. There’s always a chance that she didn’t have what I had had. Even though you may think you have a handle on what is ailing them, as a parent, that death thing is always in the back of your mind. In case the grim reaper shows up and wants to rumble you want to have your parental nun chucks ready. She was sleeping so deeply at times I had to pinch her nose just to get a response out of her. It can be a little scary. The annoyed snarl the pinching evokes can be the most beautiful thing you ever saw in those situations.

After about a day and a half of enduring my nursing, the daughter started to come around. She chose to sit in bed instead of lie down, would no longer accept the dvd player set to repeat, returned to her usual level of hunger, would come out of her room to see what I was doing (pretending to work) and basically took over my nursing duties. Except for the face touching. She indulged me and let me do that until the next day when she returned to school.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Living In A Material World

I’m so far behind on posts I need to write that I’m going to half-ass them all right here, right now. It’s going to be the Jesus Jones of posting. The problem is what I have termed the blogger’s dichotomy. When you have cool shit to write about, doing the said cool shit usually takes time, which, unless you’re a professional writer or have a job in which you do cool shit for a living and can use your spare time writing about it, takes away from the time you have to blog about it. And if you attempt to diagram that last sentence you’ll see I’m obviously not a professional writer and unless you have an Excel fetish then you probably wouldn’t consider my job very cool. Conversely, and I’m not talking about sitting around wearing Chuck Taylors, if you don’t have much to do, then you probably have a lot time to write posts about, well, nothing. But I digress. Which is another reason I get behind. I start to write a post, wildly digress, and before I know it I’m on page four and can’t figure out how to get back to the original topic. It’s like going off to college to study engineering and you take a night off to go out for quarter beers and then you wake up one day working at IHOP with an Aerosmith tattoo on your chest and trying to remember what chapter you were studying in your Theoretical and Applied Mechanics book, but it’s hopeless because you had to use your syllabus as kindling for a trash can fire last weekend.

So I’ll start with a few quick hitters followed by a series of posts on other recent events…

In The Pit

The one thing I forgot to mention in my ballet post (I’m still a little ashamed to write that) was how awesome the orchestra was during the show. However, I did crack myself up during one piece that featured the harp because I couldn’t stop thinking how great it would be if the harp player were dressed up like Harpo Marx.

Heard About The F’er Estate

“That would be awesome if Gladys Knight would make me waffles.”

The Voodoo That You Do

Since I started seeing an acupuncturist, I’m afraid to stop going because I’m convinced that he now has a Sid F’er voodoo doll and I’ll be hit with crippling back spasms, inexplicable foot pain, and stabbing headaches.

Jake This

This month found Jake Johannsen, the official stand-up comic of Leper House, in Chicago, so Stiv_OO, Moist Rub, Captain Break-It and me made a rare joint appearance at his Zanie’s show last Friday night. Captain Break-It was so distracted by laughter that nothing got broken, Moist Rub peed his pants (not sure how much his age contributed to the occurrence), and I temporarily forgot my distaste for humanity and I was happy.

Moonbeams And Fairytales

I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to celebrate Black History Month in February especially since I didn’t vote for Obama (don’t worry, I didn’t vote for McCain, either, so I can piss off my entire constituency equally). So I was grateful the process was a little clearer for Chicago Restaurant Week. You picked a place on the list of participating restaurants, make a reservation, and get a 3-course prix-fixe dinner at a high tone joint for $32. Unfortunately most of the places seemed to be hotel establishments or steakhouses, or other places which I tend to avoid unless I’m on business, since they tend to remind me of business and I don’t like to make that association while dining with the Mrs. That’s why we only eat at strip club happy hour buffets.

But running concurrently with Chicago Restaurant Week is Chicago Chef Week, in which you can choose from a list of participating restaurants, make a reservation and get a 3-course prix-fixe dinner for $32. However, these restaurants seemed more like the cooler little brother of the guy who listens to nothing but classic rock. Sure there’s nothing wrong with The Who, but why not give the Duke Spirit a chance? Indeed, I found a restaurant on the list that I’ve been wanting to try for a couple years – Green Zebra. It’s a vegetarian joint for people that have money leftover from not buying dietary staples like meat, so I decided to surprise the almost vegetarian Mrs. and told her to meet me after work. Upon arrival, I could tell I was in over my head but instead of being the a-hole indie hipster who sneers at you for not knowing Neutral Milk Hotel, they were more the cool hipster buddy that will make you a mix 8-track of some stuff in case you get bored listening to the Neil Sedaka.

It was dark and contemporary, yet minimalist, kind of like my brain. The hostess checked our coats and promised not to steal my porn if I wanted to check my messenger bag containing my laptop.

The Chef Week special included cauliflower soup, of course with cocoa foam, a parsnip ravioli, poached egg on applewood smoked mashed potatoes, and a chocolate tart. Sounded good. We ordered up one of those, and to add a little variety we created a second meal from the rest of the menu. After consulting with our server, we added a carmelized endive salad with blood orange, beets, rosemary honey and pecans; ricotta gnocchi with roasted heirloom squash, rapini, and preserved lemon; buttermilk polenta with braised artichokes, chestnuts and pickled peppers; and some sweet potato potstickers.

As the dishes arrived, two to three at a time, we were blown away. I’ve heard of places like this on the Food Network but never really experienced one. It was like having sex for the first time, except much more satisfying. I thought I was groundbreaking when I mixed a package of macaroni and cheese with a can of pork and beans, but this chef took things to a whole other level. If I had to pick the weakest, I’d say the carmelized endive could go – it was good, but you can only do so much with lettuce. At least in public. And maybe it was because I was approaching my gastric limit, but after the first couple potstickers I was ready to surrender. The highlight might have been the poached egg dish, for which I had the lowest expectations. But the applewood smoking gave the dish a distinct taste of bacon, and who doesn’t love bacon? Even vegetarians secretly wish they weren’t so disdainful of meat so they could polish off a slab now and then. Overall, the simple dish took on the flavor of a full-on grand slam breakfast without the grease, screaming kids or hurried waitress.

Most of the patrons were winos, slugging Mogan David out of brown paper bags, but we decided to give their N/A cocktail list a try. I must have checked my masculinity with my coat when I arrived, because I felt no shame in ordering the Pink Peppercorn Thyme Soda. Other than telling you it had a hint of root beer flavor, but not really, it’s indescribably irresistible. It’s like the Crystal Bernard of libations.

I won’t lie – it was a little pricey, but Chef Week knocked about $20 off our bill and I have to say it was well worth it. But we’ll probably be eating mac n’ cheese n’ pork n’ beans the rest of this month.

The Great Pretender

Last month I ventured out to see the Pretenders, or more specifically Chrissy Hynde, since the bass and guitar players are fairly new and seem to be part of a rotating cast of bandmates for her. Nonetheless, I consider her one of the coolest chicks around (along with Crystal Bernard, of course) and never had a chance to see her before. And unlike some other old-school acts that are on the road, I was actually digging some of the tunes on the latest record. I mean, when is the last time you got excited about a new Rolling Stones release? (I’ll say 1981 – Tattoo You, but I’m no Lester Bangs.) And I digress.

Chrissy is 57 but I couldn’t tell. Mostly because I was up in the balcony, but she still shimmied, kicked, stretched and kicked like Sally O’Malley. She also added a steel guitar player to this record and tour and it gave an alt-country feel to some of the new tunes like Rosalee, as well as some older tunes like Thumbelina. In fact, I can say I easily enjoyed guitarist James Walbourne’s work on those two tunes more than anything I saw at the Buddy Guy show the previous month. Hey, the prettiest girl ain’t necessarily the best in the sack.

Bottom line, Chrissy still rocks, can still write good tunes, has assembled yet another solid lineup, and is definitely worth the ticket if she comes to your neighborhood.

Hey Buddy

Every January Buddy Guy plays a series of shows at his bar Legends, I’m guessing because he probably gives himself a discount on the booking fee and probably lets himself drink for free. Win win. Although over the years my interest in the blues has waned like the average American’s interest in swimming after the end of the Olympics, I still have an appreciation for the real bluesmen who’ve influenced so many others. Just as I have an appreciation for Britney Spears for influencing so many girls to become mentally unbalanced tramps. But I digress.

Surprisingly, I didn’t enjoy this show as much as I had hoped. (Coincidentally, mentally unbalanced tramps aren’t as much fun as they sound, either.) First off, it seems to be more about the showmanship than the playing for Buddy these days. There were some great solos, none of which I saw because he seemed to perform them all not on stage, but while wandering around the floor of the club. This meant about 15 people at any given time could watch him while the rest of the crowd either craned their necks or resigned themselves to watching his solid but otherwise unspectacular backup band. The club is small enough that this cheap move is as necessary as a pair of binoculars at the dinner table. Further adding to the annoyance during his forays into the crowd was the trail of photographers following him like a bunch of plague-ridden rats following an urban pied piper. I’m especially talking about the hairy little guy from the Sun-Times. How many fucking pictures do you need, dude? If you’re that good, get a couple shots, put down the camera and enjoy the show. Same goes for all you goat ball lickers with the cellphone cameras. But back to Buddy. Mustang Sally? Serious? You have an entire catalog from which to choose and you put the most overplayed, generic, white boy blues band coverin', overweight girl dancing in the halter top, wedding DJ staple song on the set list? Thanks, man. That's exactly what I came to hear.

Second, the club has lots of tables. Nice if it’s a normal night, but not so much when you’re selling the place out for Buddy. So if you don’t line up several hours before the show to get a coveted table, then you’re herded into the standing room areas designated by black and yellow tape on the floor. This is done to keep the aisles clear so that servers can keep the drink revenues flowing, but it just made me feel as if a loose sleeve would get sucked into a piece of heavy machinery and tear off my arm if I stepped out of bounds. Security certainly acted like it. Buddy, lose the tables for January.

I guess if you're they type that wants to say you saw him then his run of shows in January will probably fit the bill. Otherwise, you can probably find a more enjoyable experience at any given Chicago blues club on a more quiet weekday evening. Or grab a CD of his earlier stuff and sit back in your living room with a cold one. Just try not to get caught in any heavy machinery.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Get To En Pointe

If you want to get me out of my sweats and flannel shirt and away from the porn and Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls for an evening, it better be something good. Looking back over the last several months, that something good has usually been a rock and roll show (The Duke Spirit, Cheap Trick, Pretenders, Buddy Guy, The Von Ehrics, Rhett Miller, Supersuckers, Monte Montgomery, Ruthie Foster, Toadies). I’ve also ventured out for comedy or improv or the occasional play (Too Much Light, iO, Fake Lake, Hourglass and the Poisoned Pen).

But everyone once in a while I get a wild cultural hair up my ass and decide to invade the snooty inner circle of the local glitterati. I attended the symphony in Dallas once and got away with it. I accepted some tickets to Alvin Ailey another time and made it in and out of Bass Hall before they knew the tickets had been in my possession. And after reading a glowing review of a show on another blog (thanks, PaperGirl), I recently purchased tickets to the ballet. The Joffrey, no less. If ballet were rock and roll, the Joffrey might be Elvis, but not the bloated Elvis that died on the toilet. So maybe that’s not the best analogy. It doesn’t look like the company is chowing on any fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, either.

The Mrs. has recently gotten interested in dance again and even considered a ballet class. And I was intrigued with this particular ballet – in particular the fact that it caused a riot in the theater when it premiered back in 1913. Needless to say, but I’m going to say it anyway because I like to pretend I get paid by the word and also enjoy run-on sentences, this is a very non-traditional ballet and seemed to be a good way to check out a show and score some points with my low-maintenance wife who enthusiastically accepted a couple petit fours and chocolate covered strawberries as my Valentine’s Day offering.

The plot of this ballet isn’t any sappy love story and doesn’t include any fairies, sugar plum or otherwise. From what I understand it’s just the story of some wacky tribe that believes they have to sacrifice a maiden so that the sun continues to shine. Because we all know that the god of Spring is a nasty pedophile and needs his annual virgin or he’ll turn off the lights. Spoiler alert – the tribe accomplishes this sacrifice by making The Chosen One dance herself to death. Because this is set in a period well before the founding of the Joffrey Ballet, The Chosen One does not have any ballet skills and can’t even get a pair of decent ballet slippers in her village. All of this is what apparently led to the riots and caused patrons to stab each other with hatpins. Right on. I ordered my tickets, sharpened my hatpins and prepared for the show.

The Auditorium Theatre has been around for 120 years, but somehow I’ve been too busy to check it out before this show. It’s very gold. It’s as if a Cash4Gold center had been blown up by an angry customer and their entire inventory had been splattered across the walls and ceilings. But a very cool place – if you ever get a chance to see a show there don’t miss the opportunity.

We found our seats and I perused the program. Apparently I would have to sit through a few more traditional pieces before I shanked someone. First up was a ballet called Kettentanz, which loosely translates to “whale’s vagina”. I gathered from the notes that the choreographer visited Vienna, went out partying, and was inspired by all the music and dancing going on in the bars. This ballet featured six couples who performed ten dances in more combinations than you’d find in a very ambitious porno flick - guy/girl, two guys, two girls, two guys/one girl, two girls/one guy. Here’s the breakdown… when the girls were out there I could actually see the appeal of the ballet. At times their look and their spins seemed as if they were just plucked from a music box. Graceful and athletic and able to land on the toes of an outstretched foot on command. Sometimes a guy would join in and it was still pretty good as long as he stayed in the background. This allowed the girl to go limp and rest as he dragged her to her next move. Or sometimes she would demand to be lifted and carried to another part of the stage to continue her dance. But then every once in while the guys would insist on interrupting and jump around the stage. Okay, so I’ll admit some of those jumps were impressive, but mostly it looked to me as if the choreographer had just told them to get out there and prance around as gaily as possible. For 30 minutes I struggled to reconcile my newfound appreciation for the ladies of the company with the perceived absurdity of what the guys with the frog legs in tights were doing. I’m really not trying to be mean here, as I’m sure I’ve provoked the same reaction from some of my old redneck buddies in Texas when I took off on my shiny road bike in spandex shorts and a tight jersey with pockets on the back, so I just pretended to understand it as best I could and not let it interfere with my appreciation of the overall show.

After what the program called a “pause”, the show resumed with a short piece called Mobile. Picture a slow motion Cirque du Soleil stunt performed by one guy and two girls, or as the program states, “slowly evolving parallelograms that depend on balance and equilibrium.” It was pretty cool looking, and impressive given that I would surely have suffered a spontaneous herniation of every vertebrae and every other body part that could suffer a hernia if I would have attempted the same parallelograms. I think it’s best if I stick to the simple 135-degree angle I’ve perfected in concert with my recliner.

Then we “paused” again before the third piece called Hand of Fate, which of course is one of the premiere dances in the ballet Cotillon. The ballet seems to be set within a haunted ballroom where we join the late 18th century version of today’s dance club Ed Hardy wearin’ douchebag as he is preparing to select his dance partner from four wholesome hotties who disappear behind a sheet. He selects one by choosing one of their hands, however when the sheet is dropped it is not one of the brightly colored lasses he has chosen but is instead Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, or at least her flat-chested counterpart from the 18th century. Rather than make a beeline back to the Mystery Machine and get the heck out of there, he dances with this dark hand of Fate, and had we been presented the entire ballet, he probably dies or ends up being some sort of ghost himself, only to be discovered by those meddling kids in a Scooby Doo episode 200 years later.

After all that we had not just a pause, but also a full-blown intermission, during which the Mrs. assured me that they were extremely badass dancers. I sought her opinion since if you asked me the difference between first and second position I’d probably go consult the Kama Sutra.

The second half started with a video explaining the history of the feature ballet – Le Sacre Du Printemps (The Rite of Spring). You can watch an abbreviated version here.

Now, I’m sorry I’m going to disappoint you here. I’ve been trying to finish this post for a couple days now and I can’t find a humorous twist on the performance. It was horrible – I was surrounded by guys in tights, borderline anorexic women, and pretentious patrons, at a ballet with music by a crazy Russian and choreographed by a Polish dancer; and all I can come up with is that it was pretty damn cool. I don’t know much about classical music but this piece has been described as dissonant, and I liked it enough that I might have to check out the dissonance section on iTunes. I’m pretty much a dolt when it comes to themes and literature, but the story line was pretty easy to follow. Finally, the dancing didn’t bore me to tears or make me feel like I had to crimp the hose on the testosterone pump to enjoy it. It was like when the Brady Bunch went on vacation out to the Grand Canyon and Bobby and Cindy got lost in the woods while they were camping, but then they get saved by that Indian kid Jimmy and they all get invited to back to the Indian camp where they get to see an Indian show and Chief Dan Eagle Cloud gives them all Indian names. I went into the Auditorium Theatre a little lost that day, but emerged with my ballet name – Right Said Sid. I’m not sure how that relates to the ballet, but I’ve been called worse.

Monday, March 02, 2009

For Sale: Me

“Wearing a turtleneck is like getting strangled by a really weak guy all day.”

- Mitch Hedberg

I feel the same way about neckties. Kind of silly if you think about it – why do we feel the need to wrap a patterned piece of fabric around our necks as a display of our professionalism or respect? Fortunately I work for a company that doesn’t require me to shop at the local haberdashery regularly or spend a fortune on dry cleaning. Our dress code seems to fall somewhere in between generic white guy businessman casual and hipster internet start-up. That means I mix in a pair of Levi’s with my Dockers and save the assless chaps and hilarious I’m With Stupid t-shirts for the weekend, and I’m on the fast track to associate. If I were to shave and get the right haircut I bet I could make assistant to the senior associate in no time. But I digress.

Unfortunately, about once a month they ill-advisedly send me out in public to represent our firm at various networking lunches, happy hours, soapbox derbies, church carnivals, conferences or trade shows. I’ve already made a living selling out so I dutifully put on my cheap suit and Jerry Garcia tie and trudge off begrudgingly to these events.

The room is typically filled with a bunch of guys who all look the same (graying hair, parted on the side, and about 40 pounds overweight) and have chosen to work in a very unexciting industry but seem to be sticking it out because they have to pay for their kid’s college tuition and their next round of golf.

In addition to my avoidant personality, I don’t have much to say to this group even if I did want to talk to them. I don’t have any kids of my own, so why do I give a crap about yours? No, I didn’t see Tiger’s shot on the 17th hole last Sunday. Yes, I’m very concerned about the worker’s comp premiums going up this year. No, I didn’t see Tiger’s shot on 12 last Sunday. Of course I’d love to help, who wouldn’t want to spend their Saturday with the Community Service committee sorting shoes for the homeless. Will it count toward my court-ordered hours stemming from the disorderly conduct charge after I got caught pissing in an alley after the Supersuckers show?

But I’m a sellout to the highest degree. I make sure I wear a clean shirt, trim my beard, pop a piece of WinterFreshMcSpearmint gum, and shake hands and pretend I want to be there. I bring my business cards and listen politely to what they do. Or more correctly, how they earn a living. We’ve already established that they play golf and talk about their kids. Then I grab a fried wonton or three from the appetizer platter and move on.

There’s usually a presentation which I find somewhat interesting for about five minutes, but people feel the need to stretch that useful five minutes of information into an hour plus. About midway though these presentations I have an existential crisis, in which I question why we’re all here and, more specifically, why I’m choosing to devote any of my gift of life to events like this. But I’m a sellout. So I pretend to read each poorly constructed Power Point slide while masking my pain and thinking about all the other stuff in the world I could be doing if I just grew a pair and somehow got myself a lifetime ban from rented hotel meeting rooms.

Recently I was talking about the upcoming Elton John / Billy Joel concert at Wrigley Field this summer with the staff in our office, and how I can’t understand why anyone would pay more than $12 for a crappy seat at a stadium show to see two guys way past their prime. Elton hasn’t been the same since he started hanging out with Princess Di and got adopted by the royal family, and it took all my effort to give Billy the benefit of the doubt even before he started crashing cars as a hobby. Turns out the same subject came up at a trade association lunch that day – several people at my table were talking about what a great show it was going to be and how they hoped to score tickets. Instead of playing a round of Duck Duck Goose with my steak knife on their heads, I just smiled and asked them to pass the ranch dressing. I’m such a sellout I probably started humming Candle In The Wind to serenade them during their meal.

Back at the office, I’d been requested to dial-in to a conference call with our marketing firm. On each of these, an overly enthusiastic account rep discusses the next phase of our plan during which we’re supposed to oooh and aaaah over their brilliance, but it’s nothing that Moist Rub and I couldn’t have come up with if you just gave us some cheese fries and a couple hours. However, Leper Pop doesn’t have a hip loft office in a trendy neighborhood with a dog roaming around, so don’t mind us.

Their latest idea was to have us put banner ads on the web version of a trade publication. The conversation went something like this:

Brilliant Marketing Firm: So if you go to the website www.boringtradepublication.com and look on the right side of the page you should see an ad for Large Conglomerate, Inc. Is everybody there?

Sid: No.

BMF: Are you on the page?

Sid: Yes.

BMF: Then you should see the ad on the right.

Sid: No, I have ad-blocking software so I don’t have to see annoying banner ads.

BMF: Hrmph.

Sid: Fine, let me disable it.

BMF: So we could design a similar ad for your firm.

Group: Ooooh, aaaaahhh.

BMF: And then we can design a landing page for when they click on the ad.

Group: Won’t it just go to the website we already paid you all that money to design for us?

BMF: No, the ad will tell a story and then the landing page will be a continuation of the story when they click on it.

Sid: Assuming that anyone clicks on it or doesn’t have it blocked.

BMF: We get metrics showing the number of clicks.

Group: Ooooh, aaaaaahhh.

Sid (thinking to self): I give up. The only people clicking the ad are marketing firms to analyze the design, employees after we send them the link to check out, and competitors to see what our marketing firm is doing for us. Yes, the marketing firm that asked me what kind of tree I would use to describe myself.

Sid (aloud): Oooooh, aaaaaahhh.

So to Led Zeppelin (Cadillac), The Who (Cisco, Hummer), Rolling Stones (Microsoft)… I forgive you.