Monday, July 21, 2014

The Beyoncelogues

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

Friday, July 18, 2014

"Love, Your Cuz"

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

Peggy was actually my 2nd cousin; my grandmother and Peggy's mother, Aunt Ellen, were sisters.  Peggy was instrumental in starting the Carter Family Reunion, which resulted from Granny's death back in 1987 and is still taking place every August.  She will, no doubt, be honored and remembered at the next one in a few weeks.

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

The angels looked down from heaven one night
They searched for miles afar,
And deep within the distance
They could see a shining star.

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

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

- Anonymous

Monday, July 07, 2014

The Flower Terrorists Are Winning

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Swapping Positions Back

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

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

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

But at least we will both be sleeping!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

I've Hit 600 Posts!

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 06, 2014

Positive Loitering

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Swapping Positions

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

Why?  What did you think I was talking about?

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

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

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

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

I think I'll choose "ladybug".

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Summer TV

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

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

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

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

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

And that's why I love them.

Monday, April 28, 2014

We're Engaged!

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

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

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

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

click to enlarge

It's a king-size 9'x9' sheet on which Kevin has written every inside joke he and I have been sharing for the past 8.5 years.  He tackled this project during the 6 weeks we lived apart from March 5th to April 19th.  And it struck me then that during the 6 weeks we were apart, he had to be thinking about me almost every minute.  Needless to say, I was flabbergasted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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