Saturday, December 20, 2008

Blagojevich Resigns!

What if…

Rod Blagojevich had been caught with his pants down in a compromising position with another member of homo sapiens…or a sheep?

How fast could you say "Governor Pat Quinn"?

Saturday, November 29, 2008


When I was growing up in the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago, some of my favorite activities were breaking into private garages and just looking around, riding my bike “all the way” to Damen Avenue, two whole miles from home, and prowling the neighborhood searching for discarded treasures left in the alleys.

One of my favorite alleys was behind a doctor’s office on Fullerton Parkway, just west of Clark Street. My brothers and I would go there to find used hypodermic needles, medical supplies and, occasionally, dental samples. Once we found a whole box of false teeth. But my best discovery was in the alley that ran between Orchard and Burling Streets in the 2200 block. That alley was called, pretentiously, Pearl Court. And it was filthy.

When I was in 4th grade, I was in a split classroom. Most of the kids were 5th graders, and they had put the five highest achieving 4th graders, of which I was one, in that class. We 4th graders sat in the far row on the left side of the room. I liked the 5th graders. Some of the older girls and I hung out together. I wasn’t interested in boys yet, but there was one 5th grade boy who I thought was the cleverest guy in the whole school, and it annoyed me that he didn’t acknowledge my existence.

Our teacher, Miss O, had a game she would play with us, whereby one student would throw out a noun and the next one in line had to come up with a word beginning with the last letter of that noun. So, if you said glass, the next kid would say shin, then net, then something starting with “t”, etc. Not exactly rocket science, but it passed the time. This kid Robin always picked a noun with a silent letter at the end. Thumb. Comb. Face. He was insolent and slick and I wanted him to notice me.

I had not yet figured out that boys like girls to be pretty and nice rather than smart. If I had known that, I would have combed my hair every day instead of once a week, wore nice clothes, boned up on manners and this incident never would have occurred. It was the spring of 1967 when I came up with a plan. Spring was when they baited Pearl Court with Red Squill and Warfarin, and every few days you’d see a dead rat lying there. Many of them were decomposing and maggot-eaten but one day I found one in perfect condition. I picked up that rat by the tail and put it in a shoebox. I took it to my grandmother’s house, the back yard of which adjoined Pearl Court, wrapped the box with brightly colored paper and tied it with a shiny ribbon. I then took it over to Robin’s house a block away. He wasn’t home, but his older sister was outside with some of her friends.

“Hi, Debbie,” I said in as casual a tone as I could muster, “I have a present for Robin. Please give it to him and make sure you tell him it’s from me.”

The next day in school he approached me, grinning like a jackal, and spoke his first, but not last words to me.

“Thanks for the present!”

Friday, November 28, 2008

Drugs and Death

Just about everybody I know has attempted suicide at least once. But few attempts have been more pathetic than mine. Here’s the story.

In February, 1997 I went for a dental checkup and even though it was normal I had a bad feeling about it. Later on that night one of my molars started hurting. I tried to ignore it but it got progressively worse. I took some aspirin and that helped. I kept taking aspirin, even after the dentist told me to take Aleve, which did no good, then Tylenol, which also was no help. It got to the point that I was taking 12 aspirins a day. I told my friend Peter and he told me to stop it, because too much aspirin would make me bleed internally and die.


I went back to the dentist twice and he couldn’t find any reason why my tooth hurt. No infection, no cavity, no nothing. I decided to kill myself because I just couldn’t stand it. I figured either I would die now in horrible pain or die later in horrible pain from the overdose of aspirin, so I might as well get it over with.

My plan was to stand outside in nothing but a night shirt and freeze myself to death. March in Chicago is one cold, nasty month and so I had my pick of days to do the deed. One evening I waited until it was dark enough so that I wouldn’t be noticed and went outside wearing the night shirt and waited to die. However, I only lasted about 5 minutes. I had to go back inside…because I was too cold!!!

The next day, having run out of bright ideas on how to kill myself, I called my dentist and demanded morphine. He said no.

However, the story has a happy ending. My dentist figured out what the problem was and, upon realizing I was seriously in pain, prescribed Tylenol with codeine. That kept me in a good mood until he could do a root canal.

The following year I taught myself to play the accordion and my suicidal days were over.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Hot Dog

The year: 1966. The crime: Attempted waste with an edible weapon.

When I was a kid I hated all food except candy and fish. One of my least favorite foods was hot dogs. They tasted icky and they were rubbery. The only way my poor mom could get me to eat hot dogs without whining was to cut them into “pennies” and serve them in Campbell’s Bean With Bacon Soup. Calling a hot dog a penny gave it a grace it could never achieve on its own. Those guts and eyeballs masquerading as food became legal tender. My instincts of greed trumped the disgust of the taste buds: yum!

When my mom served hot dogs on a chilly fall night in 1966 I had a brain flash. During the usual distracting family conversation and arguments I surreptitiously I wrapped that offensive cylinder in a napkin, then lodged it in the narrow ledge that ran along the underside of the kitchen table. After everyone had retired for the night, I transferred the offending sausage to the bowels of the pantry, still wrapped in the napkin. Game over, I was out of there.

Fast forward to a chilly spring mid-day in 1967.

Like all 4th graders, I considered myself one of the “cool” kids, despite the fact that I was obviously a nerd. The “cool” kids walked to school, the “pathetic” ones got driven. The “losers” ate lunch at school. We “cool” kids got to go home for lunch. One day I was enjoying lunch at home and Mom asked me what I was eating. I looked at her as if she had asked me if I would like a cigarette with my lunch and said, “It’s Bean With Bacon Soup with hot dog pennies!” She countered, through her clenched teeth,


Game over. Mom: One. Daughter: Zero.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Smart-alecky musical snark

When I was in kindergarden I used to torture myself by imaging a melody, from something as simple as Happy Birthday to the overture to Candide by Leonard Bernstein, with nothing but tonic chords underneath it. Try it, you'll hate it. The next couple stories may amuse but not surprise all of my fellow musicians.

One day back in the '90's I attended the reading of a musical play with my friend Val. I don't remember the name of the play, but what I do recall is the music was crowded with ninth chords. When the playwright asked for comments after the show I told him there were way too many ninth chords in the music and it was distracting.

Stunned silence all around.

"Were there a lot of ninth chords?" the author asked the pianist. The pianist nodded.

More silence, broken about 30 seconds later.

"O-kay," said the author. "Anyone else have a problem with the ninth chords? No? Then let's move on."

One day I went to see a Klezmer band at some hole-in-the-wall on Lincoln Avenue. They played for about an hour and then asked the audience if they had any requests. "Yeah," I retorted rudely, "could you play something that isn't in D-minor?"

Now that I have joined a Klezmer band myself my perspective has changed. I related the above story to the band leader, an outstanding musician (this is a guy of whom you don't ask what instrument he plays, but what doesn't he play) and he was surprisingly understanding. "To most folks D-minor is just another key. To us, it's a living!" Yes, Dan had the last word on that one. Yea, D-minor!

Monday, September 29, 2008

A Good Buy

One of my favorite sections in the Sunday Chicago Tribune is Home & Garden. For those who do not read the Trib or who live outside of the Chicago area, this section is full of helpful ideas on how to better manage your (drum roll, please) home and garden. Two of the most consistent themes in this section are the environment and conservation, and I can't remember the last time I didn't cut out an article from the section because it was especially helpful, just plain interesting or even inspiring. Yesterday there was a section on tote bags in a feature section called Hello, Good Buys. The pictures were nice and author Shaila Wunderlich obviously did a lot of work picking 5 durable and attractive bags. The recent rise of tote bags in response to those soon-to-disappear eco-disasters, the plastic bag, is a big step in the right direction. However (and you knew this was coming), here, in terms of Ramen noodle packs at $0.25 each, is what these suckers cost:

1. $25 - you could buy 100 Ramens for that
2. $24 - 96
3. $35 - 140
4. $65 - 260, $80 - 320
5. $145 - 580

I put this in terms of Ramen because we Americans (except for that top 1%) are getting poorer. Pretty soon we'll all be eating Ramen and not much else until they get around to inventing Soylent but that's another story. All this is a roundabout way of saying Those tote bags are too damned expensive!!!

At a *garage sale you can get a perfectly nice, durable canvas tote for anywhere from 10 cents to $1. I have many of them that I picked up for next to nothing. Sure, some of them have obnoxious advertising on them. That I'm a walking commercial for the latest miracle drug with nasty side effects doesn't bother me in the least. Who looks at my bag and thinks, "Gotta get some of that pharmacrap, stat!" And I have been lucky to find some that just have pictures, no ads.

If you really want to save money and are determined to do something to help the environment, go to a garage or yard sale. It's the ultimate in recycling and you won’t pay any sales tax. Now that's a real good buy.

*The Chicago Tribune has covered the subject of garage sales, usually in the spring before the season starts.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Friends, Romanians & Countrymen

I have a lot of friends with great personalities. There's Val, who can turn a simple letter in the Slovak language into a laugh fest that keeps us giggling, even though it's been 15 years and counting. There's Elizabeth, who came from Romania in 1980. She is the grandmother of my godchildren who are the cutest, most adorable 5-year-old twins I know. There's Peter, a folk dancer and expert on Balkan singing styles who I met in 1983 and who sang with Slavic Projection for years. There's LindaSue, who is responsible for me getting one of my favorite gigs, playing accordion at Klas Restaurant. And then there's the king of them all, Dennis.

Dennis is the kind of person who, while busy cooking, will say innocently, "Do me a favor," and you'll reply, "Sure!" He holds up a grater and says, "Rub this against your face." (Well, I thought it was hilarious.) Then there is the comment he makes every time I come back from a gig. "Did you get all the tomato stains out of your costume?" Even though it's old, I still laugh. But the best one yet was a few weeks ago when I was practicing the following song (complete with yips) to record on YouTube: and Dennis heard me. He had a suggestion. "If you want a bigger audience why don't you let out a couple barks?"

I'm thinking about it. (After all, the more willing you are to humiliate yourself the better chance you have of getting publicity. Just ask LiLo, Brittney, or Mel Gibson.) JUST KIDDING! I'm one of the stiffest. most humorless adherents to authentic folklore there is, but just thinking about corrupting one of my sacred cows cracks me up! Thanks, Dennis!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A pig is still a pig...

So Obama claims that his remark about lipstick on a pig wasn’t directed at Sarah Palin?


The barb was uncalled for, rude and uncouth. Obama owes an immediate apology…to the pig.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Busking Ethics

Hey, buskers! Are you nicer to people who give you big tips than to those who give you itty-bitty ones? How do you handle weirdoes?

This was my ethical dilemma the last two Saturdays when I played my accordion at Giddings Plaza on Chicago’s North Side. My official policy is to treat everyone with respect and gratitude whether they give me a couple pennies or a $20 bill. My attitude is I’m there to have a good time, talk to people, play songs I like, try out new tunes, and enjoy the atmosphere of “no pressure”. The money is secondary, although if I weren’t allowed to put out a tip jar I wouldn’t busk.

On August 23 as I was talking to a woman from Cluj, Romania who recognized some of my songs, an aggressive panhandler approached us. “Can ya spare some change? I’m hungry and homeless,” he whined right in our faces. More out of a desire to not look like a cheapskate than to help him, I pulled out a dollar from my tip jar and handed it to him. I just wanted him to go away so I could jump back into the conversation. I was supremely irritated despite the fact that I could more than afford to help him out. First because he interrupted me and second because I felt I had let him bully me into relinquishing something I had earned. He didn’t even bother to compliment my playing.

Saturday, August 30 was a New Moon. What you start at New Moon comes to fruition at the next Full Moon so I was determined to start at least one new thing. I had just learned a song that day, Badea-l meu de astă vară (My Sweetheart from Last Summer, a Romanian song from Transilvania) and played it twice that night. I was rocking out. People were obviously into it, judging from all the compliments and tips I was getting. It was a great night for another reason, three six-sensory friends, Kate, Karen and Carol had come to have dinner at Café Selmarie, hang out at the Plaza and listen to me play. With those three shooting good vibes at me I couldn’t go wrong. Halfway through the evening Karen went to Potbellies to get me a roast beef sandwich. It was cut in two. I ate half of it and wrapped the other half carefully, intending to save it for later.

The evening wore on and the tips and compliments kept coming. My friends, having spent more than three hours there, went home. Up came Sir Panhandles-A-Lot. This time it was, “Can ya help me out? I’m hungry and I need to get something to eat.” In my face. This time I was ready. “Wait ’til I finish this,” I shot back. No way was I going to interrupt Sikoreczka świergoli (The Skylark Sings, from Cieszyn, Poland) for that guy. He sat down on a bench and tried to engage a woman in conversation. She was complicit for a moment, but quickly vamoosed. Not only did he horn in when I was busy playing, but he was driving away my audience! I kept playing and formulated my strategy. By the time he hit me up again I was ready. “I have a sandwich for you,” I said. “I need money,” he replied. “You said you were hungry, and I have a perfectly good sandwich. Take it or leave it.”

“You can’t help me out?”

“Sorry.” And off he went. Did I do the right thing?

Late in the evening I noticed a guy sitting on a bench applauding every song I played. He was balding and wore glasses. In other words, he looked intelligent. But as I was packing up he approached me and the reality was much different. He was plastered. “Wish I could give you some money,” he slurred, “but I own an apartment building and I’m waiting for the rent.” Uh…not likely. I responded politely to his ramblings for a few minutes and looked at the photo of himself with Little Wally he was eager to show me. “Very nice,” I said without enthusiasm and faded into the darkness.

Did I do the right thing?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Basking in reflected glory

A dude with an Armenian name, Ara Abrahamian, competes for Sweden in the Olympics and throws a hissy fit. A gymnast with an Eastern European name, Nastia Liukin, competes for the USA and wins a gold medal. So what is all this tornado about, “My country can beat your country!”? To be more upfront it should be, “Our residents can beat your residents. If you live over here, you can beat the people who live over there.” Or not.

Several years ago two schools in the Chicago suburbs had such an intense rivalry that their students were fighting every day after school. Kids were getting bloodied just because they attended a certain school. I suggested that any student caught fighting be transferred immediately to the rival school.

It appears the Olympics are going the way of pro sports. How many pro athletes on our Chicago teams: Cubs, Sox, Bears, Bulls and Hawks can find their way on the CTA from Portage Park to Pilsen without a police escort, librarian or sherpa? Can these sports dolls name our city’s birthday (March 4, 1837) or the years of Daley I’s reign (1955 – 1976)? Who was our first African American Mayor? (Harold Washington) What is the longest avenue in Chicago? (Western Avenue) How many of these athletes actually live within the city limits? What’s so “Chicago” about these players on our sports teams? What’s so Swedish about this Armenian hissy guy? Are countries so obsessed with winning that they adopt folks from other nations to represent them because they are afraid they can’t produce a champ? No? Well, that’s what it looks like from this side of the TV.

I'm just as guilty as anyone. I get excited when someone from the Czech Republic, Slovakia or Romania wins recognition, not because my ancestors came from these nations, but because I'm impressed with the fact that they never invaded any other country. They rock, in my humble opinion, so I get jazzed when they win something.

But what would happen if we all, including me, dropped this pseudo-nationalism in favor of something along the lines of, “Look what humans are capable of!” Actually, that’s kind of what is happening, but under the guise of so-and-so playing for such-and-such country even though s/he was born somewhere else. Now it’s time to pull up our eyelid skin and see what’s really going on.

We are all more alike than we are different. The differences in our countries of birth, skin colors and languages make for nice drama but they’re just the fragile veneer.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Who the h*ll likes all kinds of music?!

Today the Chicago Tribune printed a list of 13 public officials and the top 10 tracks on their I-pods. There were 120 tracks total, since one guy didn’t own an I-pod.

The list was interesting to me for a rather snobby reason. There was not one piece of serious music on it, or, what most folks describe as “classical” although that term technically describes music from a specific era (approximately 1750 – 1827). I did not notice any European folk music either, although that was not at all surprising. Euro folk (other than Celtic, which everyone likes with the exception of aliens and meanies) is an acquired taste, and if you’re a public servant you don’t have a whole lot of time to spend acquiring taste.

Back in the 1970’s when I was a teenager, I often encountered people who claimed they like “all kinds of music”. But what they really meant is they like all kinds of pop music, as these high-profile I-pod top 10’s suggest. When I had friends over, I asked them what kind of tunes they wanted to hear. They invariably said “Oh, anything. I like all kinds of music.” But if I put on a recording of, say, a Moravian cimbalom band or the Brahms Requiem the dismayed reaction was, “Oh please. Not that!

So it was back to Queen or, in pathetic cases, The Archies.

I’m not saying I’d vote for someone because his or her top track was the Bach B-minor Mass, but I would regard that person with more respect, especially if s/he hadn’t been indicted yet.

It’s been a long time since anyone handed me a line about liking all kinds of music. Now many of my friends are musicians themselves, and, believe me, they tell me what they like and what they don’t!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Chicken, anyone?

Cluck cluck cluck. Get used to that sound. It’s chickens coming home to roost. Since June 3rd there’s been a buzz about the unfairness of the media in giving Barack Obama more coverage than John McCain. I have two words and a comma for this imbalance: Well, duh.

Obama does get much more press than McCain. But let those who cry “unfair!” ponder this. Who would sell more magazines if s/he was on the cover, Angelina Jolie or Madeleine Albright? Brad Pitt or Harry Reid? If you turn on the TV and there's a nerdy guy in glasses debating, “…are we talking about rezoning or are we talking about redistricting…” are you going to stare transfixed at him or channel surf until you happen upon Bret Favre chasing down a guy with a ball? Would you rather listen to a brilliant speech by a dazzling, inspiring motivator or sit through a jeremiad by an older gentleman who can string a sentence together but always manages to look just a little tired? Right or wrong, Obama is more interesting and, yes, infinitely hotter than John McCain.

As Americans we go for the glitz. We like pizzazz. Ring-a-ding-ding trumps blah. Add the fact that it’s all about marketing. What sells? Young over old, TV over movies, lowest common denominator over esoteric. If this country were truly ready to give older, glamour-challenged frumps the same kind of press that young rock stars get, it would have shown up years ago in the dollar signs driving our media. So to whom do we carp when Obama's gorgeous mug gets a full page picture on page one and McCain gets a paragraph in the business section? The mirror.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


Back in the mid '90's I was in a band called Slavic Projection Folk Ensemble. Slavic Projection, which was a vocal and string-intensive (violin, dulcimer, guitar, bass and banjo...once) band, affectionately known to its members as SPFE, pronounced spiffy, was formed in 1980, but its heyday was the '90's, and particularly 1993 through 1998, before I ruined everything by teaching myself to play the accordion.

The summer of 1996 was particularly brutal, not because of the heat but because of our bad luck. We were scheduled to play at the Ravenswood Manor Concert Series and I had just met a guy I wanted to impress so I invited him to come hear us there. Well, apparently my Russian Gypsy cards, which I consulted about the guy, were right about him. He was bad news. And just to make sure we didn't get together we were rained out. The Ravenswood Manor Concert Series had never been rained out before. So we rescheduled and I made sneaky plans to invite Mr. Bad to our next performance several weeks later. The day started out beautifully. Sunshine, low humidity, a few puffy clouds. About a half hour before we were supposed to play, you guessed it, the rain came down like gas prices before an election. We also had an indoor performance as I recall, later that summer. 5 people attended. Mr. Bad was not one of them.

Late that summer we played an outdoor concert at Valparaiso University in Indiana. We were very nervous about the rain and it did start drizzling the moment we stepped out on stage. It was the other band, a Russian balalaika-based group, however, that inherited the Slavic Projection Curse. They ended up playing in a substantial rainfall, while we were inside, wiping off our instruments and collecting our check.

So, in remembrance of that Summer of '96, here is a rundown of my outdoor performances to date this summer:

May 28, Giddings Plaza. Chilly, but not intolerable. A pushy dude wanted to try out my accordion and play "one song" which sounded like 5 or 6 songs all run together and took about 15 minutes. I didn't share my tips with him.

June 7, Giddings Plaza. Rained out, plus had my tip jar stolen by two thugs. They got about $30. Worth risking jail for?

June 21, Evanston Farmers' Market. Rained out.

June 28, Giddings Plaza. Rained out!!! But here's the thing, I was meeting friends for dinner so I stayed in the neighborhood. As they brought the dessert for my friends, I snuck out and played until 10 p.m. in the rain-free night. Shhhhh....don't tell the powers that be.

I play indoors twice a month at Klas Restaurant, 5734 W. Cermak Road in Cicero. If and when Chicago experiences a drought, I will request to play in their beer garden. Drought over, crops saved.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Saving lives or generating revenue?

Red light cameras have been installed at dangerous intersections in Chicago. Originally this was a safety issue. Two intersections that were guinea pigs for this experiment were Western and Peterson and Western and 55th. At the time, it was a good idea. People used to cruise through those intersections at 40 mph or more, blowing off red lights, sometimes with tragic results.

Like some other originally good ideas (wait for a future diatribe on permit parking), this one has developed into a cancer. You now find red light cameras at relatively calm intersections and if anyone tells you the object is to save lives you can say “saving lives” is spelled “$aving live$”. The object, friends, is to generate revenue. Can we call a $pade a $pade, plea$e? And dispen$e with the heart$ and flower$? Becau$e the hypocri$y is so thick you need a $word to $la$h through it.

The city revealed its double standard when it installed countdown lights, which, in this blogger’s opinion, do save lives, at various intersections in some of the nicer areas on the north and northwest sides. (There may be some in the loop and on the south and southwest sides as well, but I haven't been down there in a while.) If you know exactly how many seconds you have to get through an intersection, you will time yourself accordingly. When you have a red light camera, you’re more likely to slam on the brakes when you see the light turn yellow. That yellow light lasts for a couple sections, then FLASH, you’re busted. $90 poorer. Not to mention the poor sap behind you who just smashed your rear end with his front.

If the city were really interested in saving lives, it would install countdown lights in addition to red light cameras at the most dangerous intersections. That’s not going to happen. But let’s make it appear like we’re all concerned. The object is to $ave live$.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

In Church, In the Store, At Home


The big news of May 29, 2008 is that the Vatican will excommunicate women priests and their supporters on the basis that Jesus only chose men to be his apostles. I agree that only men should be priests. No woman should serve the Lord in a leadership position, and as Jesus himself said in the Gospel of Saint Phonius Bogus, “Get those dames outta here!” (I think it’s somewhere toward the back). But with rights come responsibilities. The responsibility to prove that only men are serving is sacred and crucial. Therefore, it shall be decreed that prior to saying, “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” every priest shall prove, one way or another, that he is indeed male. Use your imaginations...

Show us the truth!


Whenever you find a product you really like you’d best buy a lot of it. Because the next time you go to find it you’ll discover it’s been discontinued. This version of Murphy’s Law works best on cosmetics. Several shades of Clinique lipstick have gone the way of the 8-track including my faves, Golden Raisin and A Different Rose. However, the sleight-of-product doesn’t just apply to makeup. I’ve noticed that my favorite brand of toothpaste, which used to have a sharp, minty taste, and was made in the US, now tastes bland, sugary and is made in Mexico. And try finding your favorite soap, brand of paper towels or lingerie after you’ve been buying those items for a while. Buh-bye.


The companies that produce air conditioners are staffed by mathematically challenged execs, some of who may have completed third grade and the rest who got the job because of a rich uncle. How do I know this? On account of how the instructions on the use of their product and the way the product is designed don’t jibe. “Do not use an extension cord,” intones the ominous admonition. Then why don’t they make the cords on the air conditioners longer than a two-year-old’s spitting distance? What if your window (which is where even the dimmest of humans will install the air conditioner) is over here, and the outlet is over there, eight feet away, and the cord is only 24 inches long?

Now that’s stupid!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Angry Thoughts I Have Had While Maneuvering My Bike Around Potholes

I’ve noticed that people who talk to themselves usually do it when others are around. I found this out by lurking unobserved in the vicinity of a “self-talker”. Not. A. Word. When I made my presence known, she immediately began yammering to herself.

Ladies! Tired of getting hit on? Here’s a solution, cheap and nasty. Back in the days when I had a more curvaceous figure, I was hit on quite often - not by anyone interesting, only by scumbags starved for a little attention. One day I let the pig have it. I raised my voice to fortissimo and in response to "Hey baby, lookin' sexy," shouted, “No, I don’t know where you can buy cocaine.” The offender skedaddled.

Whenever possible, speak softly or mumble unintelligibly so folks have to strain to hear you. That way you can suck all the energy out of the conversation, leaving your companion drained. Enjoy yourselves, vampires.

Drivers! Do not, under any circumstances, use your turn signals. They are a useless add-on, like your appendix. We bikers can read your minds! Oh, and we can also memorize your license plate as you sit motionless at the green light spewing drivel into your cell phone.

Disclaimer: I am quite an annoying person myself and have committed sins much worse than the above.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Mercury Retrograde Coming Up!

Next Monday, May 26 at 10:48 a.m. CDT the planet Mercury goes retrograde. A planet is said to be retrograde when it appears to be moving backwards in the sky from our perspective.

Mercury relates to the sign of Gemini and is concerned with communication and short trips. During a Mercury retrograde, you may find that you have more than the usual number of problems with computers, phones, fax machines, e-mail, everyday commuting, etc. You may also be misunderstood, so think before you speak. Mercury retrograde is a good time to sign a contract that you don’t really want to sign, because chances are it will fall apart. It is not a good time to post your favorite video on YouTube! There’s a good possibility it will backfire on you.

Mercury goes retrograde three times each year, for about three weeks at a time. During the days immediately surrounding the retrograde period the planet is slowing down to a station, or stop. You might notice things with communication or transportation already starting to enter snafu territory.

Some good things to do during a Mercury retrograde: anything with the prefix re-, re-examine, re-connect, re-fine, re-place. At the time Mercury will be retrograde in the sign of Gemini, the Sun is also in Gemini. This is kind of a double whammy as far as communication is concerned, but it should be a great time for reconnecting with old friends! You may find yourself running into people you haven't seen in years and re-establishing friendships. Mercury turns direct again at 9:31 a.m. CDT on Thursday, June 19. The effects should linger for a few days afterward, but starting about the 24th of June the worst of the snafus should be over.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Life in the City

One of the drawbacks of living in the city is being forced to ‘enjoy’ obnoxious music blaring from vehicles driven by testosterone-challenged Neanderthal vulgarians. Somebody please invent a device that, when aimed at the offending loudster, either scrambles the CD, tape or 8-track or switches the radio station to classical, easy-listening or worst yet for the ego, polka!

The viaduct in Chicago at Roscoe and Kostner Aves. gets tagged with gang graffiti every few weeks or so. With all the Big Brother surveillance we have at our disposal, why not invest in a camera to snap a shot of these guys (it’s usually males who vandalize). The video of them tagging could then be posted on YouTube with the caption, “Young men get in touch with their feminine side by attempting artwork before sashaying off to see Sex and the City.” To bring these delicate flowers down, go for the jugular, their masculinity. Real men don’t need to deface property, and it doesn’t matter what orientation they are, if you get my drift.

These boneheads have too much time on their hands. What they need is to discover something more glamorous than vandalizin’, shootin’, gangin’ and druggin’. How about some farmin’? With the ultra-high price of food these days, we could use more community gardens in Chicago. How about that site on the South Side where the Wal-Mart was scotched? There are some neighborhoods that are veritable food deserts and they have plenty of vacant lots. This would provide income and nutritious food to these areas while giving former gangbangers a healthy dose of self-respect. Come on, ’bangers, help us out here! Invest some of that excess energy in the most glamorous act of all: sustaining the human race.

Final Swipe:

Speaking of masculinity and the lack thereof, if a certain columnist from a certain Chicago newspaper expended as many nouns and verbs castrating true criminals as he does trying to make Barack Obama look swishy, maybe we would stop calling them drug lords and instead call them by their rightful name, drug pansies. Kinda changes your perspective, don’t it.

3 Short Rants, the 3rd of which may not be suitable for more sensitive readers....

For the “Duh” file:

We’ve all been in this situation. You're at a restaurant enjoying your food and having an intense conversation. Just at the point you’re about to tell your companion, “…and she found out the Coke she drank contained luminous poison and she had only 23 hours to live!” the server barges in with a perky smile. “Is everything OK?” The solution: have a little flag at each table. When the flag is up, we want you to come by and ask if everything is OK. If it’s down, everything is OK. No need to ask! (Silently clearing used dishes is acceptable at any time.)

My dream car:

If I were rich and could have anything I wanted, it would be a hybrid in the shape of an armadillo, complete with 9 bands, a snout, 2 cute little ears and a tail. What? Doesn’t everybody want one of those?

If I were Bush:

If my name were George Walker Bush, I would be very careful to avoid the name Adolf Hitler, especially while visiting Israel. If my name were George Walker Bush I would be very worried that somebody might bring up the inconvenient fact that my grandpappy, Prescott Bush, was a Nazi sympathizer and war profiteer back in the ’30’s and ’40’s. If my name were George Walker Bush I would be saying, “Note to self. Only seven months left. Keep mouth shut.”

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Roll Out the Tarot!

Tarot cards have often been portrayed as scary, evil or superstitious. This is inaccurate. There are no “bad” or “evil” cards, only lessons to be learned. In fact, Tarot can be a powerful tool for spiritual growth, but there are rules that need to be followed in order to get the most out of a reading.

1. Formulate your question as clearly as possible. The more precise your question, the more accurately the cards will answer.
2. Don’t ask a question if you don’t really want to know the answer.
3. Don’t ask the same question twice hoping the cards will respond more favorably the second time. This indicates you aren’t sincere in your quest for knowledge, and Spirit will not reward you for it.
4. Don’t ask a question you already know the answer to in order to “test” the cards. See #3 above.

You don’t necessarily need cards in order to get advice. You can get information directly from Spirit, especially if you are open to what it has to tell you, and accepting of how the answer comes through. Below are two examples.

Several years ago I met a sexy janitor. He didn’t wear a ring, but that means nothing, so I asked Spirit to tell me if he was married or single. I was prepared to accept the answer, whatever it was. Later that same day I was reading my neighborhood paper and turned to the property transfers. This was the first time I had ever perused that section and there it was in writing. “123 Main Street sold to John and Mary Smith.” I thanked Spirit and immediately quit fantasizing about Janitor John.

When I decided to sell my condo I supposedly did everything right: officially put it on the market at New Moon, buried St. Joseph in the front yard and prayed to St. Joe every day. After a week although there had been several showings I had not gotten any offers. I asked Spirit, “What do I need to do to sell my condo by the upcoming Full Moon?” The answer was short and to the point: “Start packing.” Of course! Demonstrate to the Universe that I’m ready to move. I started packing that night and by the Full Moon I had a signed contract.

Tarot readings can help you face facts that you are psychologically ready to confront. As I gave a general reading to one woman she kept asking jokingly if I had installed a secret camera in her house (in another state!). The defining card for her was the Tower. For those not familiar with the cards, the Tower often signifies great trauma or upset. If she continued her life the way she had been, she was in for a big shake-up. The cause of it was not my business, but it was my responsibility to mention it to her. She admitted that she had just begun an affair. The Tower card was a reflection of what her soul wanted her to know; she was ready to face the unpleasant facts and act in a responsible way before her situation got out of control.

Tarot is better suited for spiritual growth than for prediction (timing is more the realm of astrology), but it can indicate approximately when something will take place. “When will we be able to start our business?” one couple asked me. They pulled the King of Cups, which relates to the sign of Pisces. I told them it would be between February 21st and March 20th. The following summer they confirmed that the answer had been right.

I was asked once if there were people who were unable to read the Tarot. The answer is yes, people who do not want to read it will not be able to. It's that simple. Anyone can learn if they are willing to do the soul work that it requires.

One of the most rewarding aspects about Tarot is its inclination to remind you that the Universe is always on your side, even if it seems otherwise. Often it shows that things are not as bad as you believe they are. A reading can also point out where we need to direct our attention in order to advance spiritually. Remember, nobody grows spiritually without hardships! Within every problem is a gift. Our souls seek problems because we need their gifts.


Monday, May 12, 2008

Arrogant business advice

If you are a large thrift store (I’m talking to you, Unique Thrift at various locations in Chicago) and want more people to come in and spend, spend, spend, here’s an old idea that you may want to dust off.

Instead of having several checkout registers, each with their own long pokey line, consider this. One line. Yes, you read correctly, ONE line. Just like at the bank. When a register is ready for a customer, signal with a bell or light. Are you afraid your one long line will snake all the way from your store to Slovakia? Don’t flatter yourself. It will move twice as fast. Your customers will be so jazzed at the innovation they will tell their nouveau poore friends (the way the economy is going we’ll all be shopping at your store in a few months) and your establishment will profit over time.

One more way to get customers in is to offer a discount (the percentage could be small but enough to make customers notice the savings, say 5 - 10%) for shoppers who bring their own bags. Again, this is nothing new. Aldi has been doing it for years, only they employ the stick rather than the carrot. If you want to put your purchases in a bag, either bring it or buy it.

Speaking of grocery stores, here's how they can clean up. (Jewel and Dominick's, I'm talking to you.) Know those lines that are supposedly for 10 items or less, 15 items or less, etc? Any time a customer slithers into line with more than the allotted number of items, charge a dollar for each purchase over the magic number. So you'll lose a couple clients, boo hoo. Other customers who see that you have grown a spine and are enforcing your own rules will be so jazzed they tell all their friends, and voila! your store will be packed with customers: ones who don't waste others' time. These are the kinds of shoppers who have their credit card or cash out before the register spits out the final price, and you want to keep them.

One last rant. A certain Chicago grocery chain has instructed their cashiers to address their customers by name at the checkout counter. What are they thinking??? Don't they know this is an ethnic city??? Here's a test for the management that came up with this brilliant strategy. Pronounce the following names:


If you can rattle these common names off, then by all means, require your staff to do it too. Otherwise, trust us: we appreciate your staff's courtesy and attentiveness without having them mangle our surnames. Hats off!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Misunderstood, but not for the first or last time

Being the daughter of a music teacher can be a pain in the nose. First, Pop brings home all these educational toys, like xylophones and glockenspiels. No dolls, model airplanes or coloring books (this was before video games). I wouldn't have minded, only the first thing he did was take off and hide all the B’s and F’s so my brothers and I would have to work with the pentatonic scale. Pop was a Carl Orff pioneer back in the ’60’s and Orff was into pentatonics. Big time. Good luck trying to play a song you like with the pentatonic scale.

But being the daughter of a music teacher also had social ramifications. It was 1967, I was in 4th grade, and our school had just received a gift of ash trees to plant on the school grounds. Each class was to name “their” ash tree after a recently deceased famous person. I overheard Miss O mention to another teacher that she hoped there wouldn’t be seven trees named after John F. Kennedy. When she asked for suggestions on whom to name “our” tree after, my hand shot up in the air.

He was a shoo-in. Recently deceased. Not even cold in his grave, for crying out loud, and his specialty was children’s music! Of course that was who our tree should be named after.

Miss O called on me.
“Kodaly. Zoltan Kodaly.”
“Forget it.”

We named our tree after J.F.K.


I don’t have any kids but being a former kid myself, I remember the kinds of things adults did to make me behave. All they need is an open mind and a dose of good luck. Here’s how I turned a tantrum into an adventure. It happened on Devon Avenue in Chicago back in the spring of 2001.

My sister had dropped off her son at my house while she went to work. My nephew, being a normal 4-year-old, had an attack of separation anxiety. He didn’t want to be with me, he wanted Mommy. Tough luck, he was stuck with me. I had to go to the hardware store a half mile away so I dragged that screaming bundle of nerves down Devon Avenue, ignoring his shrieks and tears. I told him, “I don’t care how ornery you are, I love you anyway,” which set him off even more. The tantrum lasted through three city blocks, two dollar stores and the Indian Sari Place. Each place we entered I apologized to the staff, looked around briefly and left without buying anything.

Finally about a block and a half from the hardware store I met my salvation. It was a huge dead cockroach in the vestibule of a restaurant.

I directed my nephew’s attention to the six-legged brown dead creature and said, “Isn’t that the coolest thing you ever saw?” The tantrum was over. He smiled and said, “Yes!” I asked if he would like to take it home. That was like asking if he’d like me to throw out his oatmeal and give him ice cream instead. I told him that if he wanted it we would have to get to the hardware store and buy a jar for it. But we had to move fast so nobody else would get it first.

So now he was dragging me to the hardware store. Problem solved.

Several weeks later I visited my sister. That disgusting roach was still languishing in a jar on the window sill. Happy Mothers' Day!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Cubs Win World Series! But not yet.

I am confident that the Cubs will win the World Series at least once by 2024, but not this year. How do I know?


That’s right, all you eye-rollers, astrology. It’s up to Pluto, the recently demoted “dwarf” planet, to obliterate the Curse of the Billy Goat.

Pluto’s orbit is elliptical and, being so far from the sun, it takes approximately 248 years to complete a cycle through the zodiac, spending anywhere from 11 to 32 years in any given sign. (By contrast, Mercury takes only 88 days to go around the sun and through all the signs.) Although some uppity earthlings decided to demote Pluto, it is still an astro-Napoleon. Small compared to the other planets, but you wouldn’t want to be up against it in battle. Pluto is a destroyer and rebuilder. As it passes through the zodiac it restructures anything needing correction which is connected with each sign.

For example, from 1984 through 1995 Pluto hung out in Scorpio. Scorpio rules sex and death. The defining issue that came to light during that time was AIDS. In 1995 Pluto moved into Sagittarius, which rules religion, philosophy, long-distance travel, and sports. Since that time religious scandals have been brought to light (think pedophile priests), the airlines underwent a major transformation due to the attacks of 9/11 (religion + long distance travel) and it was revealed that professional athletes were using steroids to enhance performance. Sagittarius is an expansive sign; this was the era of the supersize: the tech and housing bubbles, childhood obesity and the portions of fast food by that name.

Pluto has now begun its ingress into the sign of Capricorn. To the extent that Sagittarius is all about expansion, Capricorn is all about contraction. We are already seeing declines in the housing market and a reduction in the available amount of food on the planet. It wouldn’t be farfetched to assume that thin bodies will become the norm, even in the U.S., and Rubenesque figures will again be in vogue, as the most desirable body type is usually the rarest. Cars and homes will shrink to reflect the new austerity. Capricorn rules government and big business. Both will undergo major transformations during Pluto’s time in this sign. The last time Pluto was in Capricorn the Revolutionary War gave birth to a new country founded on the principles of democracy.

What has all this to do with the Cubs? The sign for Capricorn is the Goat. In order to transform, Pluto first destroys. Therefore, Pluto will destroy the Curse of the Billy Goat and with its destruction the Cubs will be in a position to win the series. However, it won’t happen this season. Pluto is currently retrograding, or backtracking, into Sagittarius for one last binge, where it will stay until the baseball season is over. So at the very least, we Cubs fans will have to wait until next year.