08
Mar

LA ladies sometimes get a bad rap. A stereotype has been perpetuated, thanks in large part to The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and its prequel The Hills, that we’re vapid, shallow and insincere. If we’re not shopping or botoxing, it’s only because we’re spray-tanning or gold-digging. Oh, and we have no real friends and consider every other female competition instead of a companion.

Sadly, those women are out there, but they’re everywhere: New York (less blonde), Miami (less clothed) or even Chicago (less vegetarian). No city has a monopoly on lame people. Lucky for me, I don’t often come across these self-involved souls and only hear about them second-hand from a friend who saw Paris Hilton stumbling out of The Standard last weekend.

Yet on any given night you will find an altogether different kind of woman out on the town. Though instead of scanning the crowd for her next sugar daddy or admiring the new DDs in the nearest reflective surface, this woman is too busy enjoying the company of her ten or more best friends. These girls come in all shapes, sizes and colors, but can easily be identified by the tight circle they form by the bar or more often on the dance floor. In other words, you are witnessing what is commonly called a ladies’ night.

I have participated in one or two ladies’ nights in my time, but perhaps not as often as you would think. Though LA women can rarely use bad weather as an excuse to stay home, you’d be surprised by how much time can go by between seeing friends in this town. Anyone in the entertainment industry usually puts in a ten to twelve hour day; needless to say, that kills most social engagements during the week. Should you reside west of La Cienega but all your friends live east of Highland, then you might as well resign yourself to seeing them at the next Thanksgiving potluck or perhaps your birthday party if they really like you. However, when the planets finally do align for the elusive ladies’ night, ‘tis a wonderful time.

Yet hitting the club isn’t a requirement for a BFF bash; in fact, my favorite ladies’ night is that of the at-home variety when you don’t have to worry about being groped from behind while getting your groove on or spilling your $14 cocktail on your dry clean only dress. Plus, without the deafening house music you can actually hear your friends and don’t sound like you smoked a carton of Marlboros the next morning because you had to scream every word for three hours straight the night before. Though regardless of any audio obstacles, we ladies get the gold star for our ability to chat long past any male’s oral breaking point. We can have discussions of epic proportions because one of the many things we’re great at is showing how we care through verbal communication, and should one be privy to a ladies’ night powwow, you will overhear at least one of the following conversation starters at some point in the evening:

1. “You look amazing!” The fairer sex dominates when it comes to supporting our sisters, and we’re not afraid to say it either. Yes, those chicks exist who cannot utter one kind word to another woman because of their own insecurities, but you will not find them at ladies’ night because they’ve made their bed and have no real female friends. Minus the Debbie Downers, the rest of us are free to gush about each other’s glowing skin, super cute new haircut or overall fabulousness.

2. “I love your outfit.” This may sound an awful like conversation #1, but don’t let the semantics fool you. #1 can refer to a number of awesome qualities that one’s friend may have, while #2 specifically highlights her keenly cultivated fashion sense. Totally different in girl world. Almost guaranteed to follow this statement is “Where did you get it?” I once had a weird junior high stalker situation when a girl in my class bought every last one of the short-alls I had purchased at Contempo Casuals – CC, I tip my forty to your memory – and had already worn to school. Subsequently, I was forced to retire them to the back of my closet for fear we would wear the same thing on the same day: a fate worse than death when you’re thirteen years old. Happily, Single White Female is a distant memory, so if someone likes what I’m wearing, I immediately tell her where I bought it. Who am I to deny Target yet another satisfied customer?

3. “Know any cute, single guys?” Yes, boys do eventually work their way into the conversation at some point. However, I must stress that those of the XY persuasion take up a relatively small portion of the night’s confab. Sorry to burst your bubble, gents. Though a main squeeze may momentarily surface in the conversation, more often than not any guy talk is regulated to gabbing about what single dudes we can hook up with our single friends.

4. “How’s work going?” What? You think our lives revolve around just shopping and men? On the contrary… The far majority of the awesome ladies I know are working women who do it not only for a paycheck, but because they are uber enthusiastic about their careers. More often than not, many minutes are devoted to discussing whatever new project/show/passion my girlfriends are working on.

5. “Please take that chip bowl/cookie platter/cheese tray away from me!” Okay, this isn’t so much a conversation as a command, but believe me, you will hear this uttered at least a dozen times before ladies’ night comes to a close. I can also guarantee that five to ten minutes later, you will then hear, “Can you grab me just one more cookie?” Gurrl, I’ll have one with you.

Image: thaikrit / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

23
Feb

 

As a kid, I always got excited for the first day of school. (Nerd alert!) As soon as I received that packet in the mail informing me of my new teacher and required materials, it was game on. First, the rush to pick up my Lisa Frank folders and pencils. Next, the selection of the perfect first-day-back-to-school outfit. Finally, the wait. As it turns out, it doesn’t take that long to grab a few pairs of jeans and some sweaters from Sears. I still had weeks to go before the day when those scholastic pearly gates would open once again. By the time I was less than twenty-four hours from that magnificent moment, I could barely lie still let alone sleep; therefore, in an ironic twist of fate, I usually fought to keep my eyes open the first day of school, as I was completely exhausted from weeks of expectation.

Still, it was awesome to have something to get that stoked about. Not so much anymore. Sure, there might be a season premiere or two that I anticipate each year, but usually I fall out of grace with said show around the third or fourth episode. Short attention span. And I can tell you right now that you will not see me getting in line days ahead of time this summer just to watch The Avengers on opening night. Oh, and Black Friday? Forget it. I would much rather extend my post-Thanksgiving food coma for as long as possible than drag my bloated self to the nearest Best Buy to get pepper-sprayed while wrestling for the last half-off HDTV in stock. But that’s just me.

With one exception.

Every year around this time, life gets a little more exciting. A little brighter. A little tastier. Why? Because it’s Shamrock Shake season, folks.

That’s right. I am an unabashed die-hard lover of the McDonald’s Shamrock Shake. Some might say, “It just tastes like mint.” Others, “Why would you eat anything that unholy shade of green?” Still others, “Gross.” But to me, it’s like drinking rainbows and sunbeams and smiles all at once.

It may have something to do with my childhood. Some peeps are sentimental about their Cabbage Patch Kids or original Star Wars figurines; I happen to have fond memories of the Shamrock Shake. If you haven’t heard, Chicago is pretty big into the whole St. Patrick’s Day thing. In fact, we love it so much that we turn our river green to celebrate it. That, combined with McDonald’s being headquartered in the nearby suburbs, and you have an annual marketing blitz that encourages sucking down as much of that green yumminess as your stomach can handle. I remember many a trip to Mickey D’s for a Shamrock Shake or ten during the limited time they were offered. It was glorious.

Which is why I go into Shamrock Shake shock whenever I hear that someone I know has never experienced one. How can this be? What kind of deprived childhood did you have? It’s like growing up without sunlight or water. Only recently did I then learn that McDonald’s didn’t always have the Shamrock Shake available at all its locations. It’s taken forty-two years for them to finally see the error of their ways; you’ll be relieved to know as I was that as of 2012 the sublime Shamrock Shake is available nationwide.

Yet just the other day I was informed once again that someone dear had not yet tasted the sheer wonder that is the Shamrock Shake. I informed said individual that whether he liked it or not, he would be having one that weekend with me. How exciting to actually witness somebody’s baptism into the Shamrock Shake world!

Alas, it was not meant to be. Upon seeing him a few days later, he casually mentioned that he had tried one… without me… and it wasn’t that good. What?! Blasphemy! I was visibly crushed. In an effort to temper my quickly deflating good mood, he then offered to try another. Not all was lost; I was convinced I could convert him yet… We got our shakes. I took a sip. He took a sip. I waited eagerly for his next words.

“It tastes good. Better than last time.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, it’s good.” Okay, not exactly the ringing endorsement I was hoping to hear, but I suppose not everyone can feel the Shamrock Shake spirit. Oh well, just means more neon green yumminess for me.

Image: africa / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

22
Dec

I have never believed in Santa Claus. Eleven months out of the year, this is a non-issue. Yet come December an unsettling feeling comes over me that perhaps, just maybe, I might have missed out on something special during my childhood. This strange sensation flares up quite a bit during Christmastime – while watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or merely cruising the mall – but grows to a crescendo whenever I catch a glimpse of how excited the kiddies get if someone utters the name Saint Nick.

So the other day I was doing my thang and volunteering with that very rad organization Reading to Kids. Per usual I was going to read to the kindergarteners (my apologies to the six and above crowd, but you’re not nearly as much fun) and was expecting to carry out the same drill: read, craft time, the end. However, it being the holiday season, Reading to Kids decided to bring in Santa as a surprise for the little ones and to spread some holiday cheer. Well… it was supposed to be a surprise, but word gets around quick when it involves the big man with a belly like a bowl full of jelly.

Sworn to secrecy, we grownups were told that Saint Nick would be making his appearance during reading time, and one little girl in my group was only too eager to meet him. While the other kids could be easily distracted by counting the number of snowflakes on each page – appropriately enough this month’s book was about winter – this little munchkin would periodically lean into my ear and whisper, “Is he coming?” to which I would reply, “Shhh… It’s a secret.” She then would nod knowingly, a Cheshire grin stretched across her dimpled face.

But no Santa.

We finished up the book and moved on to craft time. FYI: When it comes to five-year-olds and crafts, save yourself a world of frustration and let them do whatever the hell they want. The theme for the month is magic, but they want to draw a dinosaur? Great! You were super stoked for them make hand turkeys, but they’d rather do a portrait of Buzz Lightyear? Fantastic. So while our tykes were busting out their best double rainbows and renditions of Optimus Prime, we all waited for Santa to show, and no one was more excited for his arrival than my little munchkin. Every so often, we could hear bells jingling outside; each time that little girl would look up from her drawing, eyes wide with anticipation, and stare at the empty doorway. Disappointed, she would inevitably turn to me, her face a question mark. I would then reassure her with a smile and softly say, “It’s okay. He’s on his way.”

Minutes later, I was so totally absorbed in my Frosty the Snowman masterpiece that I failed to notice Saint Nick finally entering our classroom. It wasn’t his jingle bells or hearty “ho, ho, ho!” that got my attention, but the pitiful wailing of munchkin. I was shocked. What had happened? Was she on the naughty list? Had Santa smacked her around or something? I looked to Saint Nick who simply shrugged his shoulders in bewilderment. I then scanned the rest of the children. I could see the wheels turning; if munchkin was crying, they naturally assumed there must be a good reason for it and were about to follow suit. I had to act quickly.

I rushed over to the little girl’s side, swept her up into my arms and retreated to a corner of the classroom while my partner desperately tried to redirect the children’s attention back to Santa. We were on the verge of a kid catastrophe, but thankfully Kris Kringle knew how to get the situation back under control. “What do you boys and girls want for Christmas?” Immediately they were too preoccupied with their demands to worry about munchkin anymore.

Apparently the reality of Santa versus the idea of him was just too much for her to handle. I wasn’t surprised. He’s huge. He’s loud. He wants you to sit on his lap and then promises to sneak into your house in the middle of the night while you’re asleep. Yeah, I would say that’s sufficient grounds for a breakdown. This little girl didn’t trust Santa any further than she could throw him, and though I managed to quell her tears, she gripped me like her life depended on it until Saint Nick exited the room.

At last it was time to wrap up, and we headed back to the auditorium. While waiting for their parents to arrive, the children were encouraged to sing a few holiday jingles. Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw the red suit. Uh oh. Santa was back. I immediately turned around in my seat to see if munchkin had noticed; she was already crawling over her little buddies to get to me. Promptly positioning herself in my lap, she pulled my arms around her as a physical barrier and stared down Santa until he finally waved goodbye and left for good.

Maybe I didn’t miss out on much after all.

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

08
Dec

So not that long ago I was having a lovely little chat with my father. Having sufficiently discussed the weather, we had now moved on to sports. Specifically, Jay Cutler. Somehow we had gotten on the topic of last year’s season and the many sacks Cutler took. Though our offensive line has much improved since then, I at some point commented in a very serious tone, “Cutler can’t afford to have another concussion.” (This was prior to his season-ending thumb injury.)

I assumed that my father was attentively listening and perhaps even impressed by my astute observation regarding Cutler’s physical state. A moment of silence. He then declared, “You know he had a concussion, right? Can’t afford to have another one of those.”

Hmm… I guess my dad wasn’t listening as closely as I had thought. In fact, it was quite apparent that he had completely tuned me out while I gave my layman’s analysis of our favorite football team. That’s cool. I’m just his baby daughter who loves him dearly. No big deal.

Alas, this is just one more example of what I have been told once or twice or for a lifetime: I can talk a lot. A friend once informed me, “Anna, you could have a conversation with a rock.” It’s true. I dunno; maybe it’s the whole Gemini communicator trait or I simply have a sad need to be heard by the rest of the world. Either way, it recently came to my attention that the post you are currently reading happens to be my one-hundredth blog piece.

Wow. Even I’m surprised that I could find a hundred different things to talk about.

Usually I don’t discuss the “big three”: politics, religion or sex. It’s not that I don’t care about these topics, but there are enough people out there who can comment more intelligently on them than myself. Plus, I just don’t think they’re that much fun anyway. If Facebook is any indication, those issues usually get everyone pretty ornery. I don’t have enough fingers to count the times I’ve witnessed a status update blow up with twenty or more – ahem – impassioned comments whenever someone mentions Obama, Perry or anyone else crazy enough to put themselves in the political spotlight. (Yes, I do think you have to be insane to want to do that in this day and age.)

That’s why I comment on the little things. People watching at the car wash. The thrill of competition that is Catch Phrase. And Nazi lemonade stand proprietors. They may not be those big life moments one remembers on their deathbed, but I guarantee we’ve all experienced them.

John Lennon was on to something when he said, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” I also like, “There is a great woman behind every idiot,” but I digress… Regardless of whether you think Lennon was the walrus, he was right on this one. Life is about the little moments. Battling a stubborn kayak. Getting caught primping at the DMV. Finding the perfect old folks diner.

Which is why I love my readers all the more. I don’t write about anything that’s going to change your life. No career or health tips here, and I certainly don’t write about anything that will make you rich. Yet you continue to read. I can only assume that you see some value in what I am writing because the one thing I do know is that time is money. Whether you’re a CEO of a multi-million dollar company or the CEO of your husband and two kids, we all have packed schedules. So thank you. Thank you for humoring my humor and supporting me for these past one hundred posts. I hope you continue to find as much joy in reading my silly little stories as I have in sharing them with you.

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

24
Nov

Apparently I am so stuck in my ways – or so clueless – that when my internet went down the other day, I simply pouted and assumed I was screwed for the afternoon. That is until my genius friend suggested I go somewhere with free WiFi. Oh yeah!

Fifteen minutes later, I was at my local library, happily browsing the interwebs once more. Ten minutes after that, I noticed a nice looking gentleman walking over. No open tables were left. However, he decided to share with the young lady one table over from me. I tried not to take his snub personally; after all, her table was closer to the outlet needed for his laptop. Ten more minutes later, another gentleman entered the library. Not quite so nice looking. In fact, I was certain he was homeless. Of course, he headed straight for my table.

I have this habit of not making eye contact with strangers unless absolutely necessary, so though I could see him coming my way, I kept my eyes on my monitor. I could sense him hesitating to sit down, as my paperwork was already spread across most of the table. We played chicken for a good thirty seconds; he stared and I pretended not to notice him staring. Ultimately deciding that was more annoying if he just stood there, I collected my files to make room. That’s when he began to move in.

Fo’ reals. He had a ton of crap with him. Again, I’m pretty good at assessing a situation with only my peripheral vision, and this dude had no less than three overstuffed backpacks that he was meticulously emptying. However, I began to notice that he was unloading some pretty serious hardware. He kept pulling out computer gadgets of all shapes and sizes, so I began to wonder, “Hmm… Maybe he’s not homeless. Maybe the greasy hair and black fingernails are a purely aesthetic choice.” This is LA.

After claiming more than two-thirds of our mutually shared real estate with his junk, he sat down… and promptly fell asleep.

He did that thing we all did in high school where you put your hand to your forehead and look down at the table. Remember that move? You assume that if your teacher can’t actually see your eyes, he won’t know you’re sleeping? Within five seconds this guy was out. I began to take inventory of his equipment. Though plentiful, it looked like it had been salvaged from a dumpster circa 1992. I also noticed that he hadn’t turned on any of his gadgets despite the fact that he brought his own power strip for all those many plugs.

That’s when I finally got it. This guy was definitely homeless. He was also smart enough to realize that you can’t loiter in the library. Perhaps he had tried it once or twice and was thrown out for his efforts. So now he had resorted to this elaborate scheme of collecting abandoned computer junk and setting it up to make the employees think that he was working. All to get some shelter and a little sleep.

I don’t know what his story was, but given that Thanksgiving was only three days away, I suddenly found myself wondering what he would be doing that day. The library would be closed. The forecast was predicting rain. Where would he go?

Until that moment, I wasn’t having the best day. Meaning, I couldn’t check Facebook from the comfort of my own home. Also, I wasn’t looking forward to fighting my way through the crowds at Trader Joe’s that evening to get my groceries for Thursday. Moreover, I was a tad annoyed that one of my students had cancelled last minute. But I still had a home. I still had food. And in just seventy-two hours, I would be eating more than one ever should in a single day while surrounded by the smiles and laughter of friends.

My table partner was still asleep by the time I had to pack up and go. I hope he was able to get the rest he so obviously needed… And to each and every one of you, a very blessed Thanksgiving. May you be safe, warm and content.

Image: Rawich / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

27
Oct

It was my first Bears game and I was ready.

We arrived at Soldier Field just in time to watch the sun set over the skyline. The night was cool and clear. Perfect football weather. Dressed in head-to-toe navy and orange, I had also brought along a blanket decorated like a mini football field. Thought it added a nice touch. Even though we were undisputedly in the nosebleed section, and my poor father had to take more than one break while ascending the sixty or so stairs leading to our seats, we had a gorgeous view of the city and Navy Pier. It had all the beginnings of a wonderful evening.

Moments later, we saw them heading up the same set of stairs. Two gold and purple jerseys. Two gold and green jerseys. The Viking fans made sense; they were our opponents that night. But Green Bay? Why were they here? I anxiously watched as the foursome, already on the receiving end of multiple boos and other non-PG outcries, kept climbing those stairs… and kept getting closer and closer to us.

Sure enough, they turned in at our row. I silently prayed that they wouldn’t be sitting next to my dad and me. It was grade school all over again. Nobody wants the social outcast kid to share your seat on the bus. As mean as it may be, the brutal truth is that you’re tainted by association. That’s when one of the guys clad in an Aaron Rodgers jersey plopped himself down next to my dad, put his arm around him and declared, “You and I are gonna be best pals!”

Okay, they weren’t so bad. After all, they were from the Midwest. By and large we’re all pretty nice people. We got to talking with them, and I could quickly sense that Rodgers’ charm was working its magic on my father. They wouldn’t shut up.

Know who else wouldn’t shut up? The drunken douchebags sitting five rows behind us. Fueled by liquid courage, these guys were relentless in their onslaught of verbal insults:

“What are you doing here? Are you lost, Rodgerrrrrsssss???”

“Go back to Wissssconnnnsinnnn!!!”

“You suuuuuck!!!”

It was funny for about five minutes. Everyone loves to razz a rival, especially one with whom you have a storied history. Though by the third quarter, I wasn’t amused anymore. Not only were they yelling nonstop, but also they were doing a spectacular job of showing off that melodic Midwestern nasal accent. Finally I turned around and glared at them. For a moment they fell silent and blankly stared back at me; then one of them pointed to Rodgers and loudly whispered, “He sucks!” Thing is, I had to disagree. As much as I would like to pretend it’s not true, the Green Bay Packers are the current Super Bowl champions. By definition that pretty much means they don’t suck.

I actually began to feel bad for Rodgers. He was being quite the gentleman and didn’t so much as acknowledge the jerks behind us. I on the other hand kept turning around every few minutes, hoping that my icy stare might permanently silence them. It didn’t seem to be working.

I couldn’t take it anymore, and in a way, I blame the Bears. They were steamrolling the Vikings, so as the game was winding down to the fourth quarter, it was getting a tad boring. As demented as this sounds, had the game been closer, I would have been less prone to distraction. Yet all I could focus on were those morons and their incessant ranting. I wanted nothing more than to tell them to shut the hell up.

What stopped me? Okay, truth time… I didn’t want the crowd to think I was siding with a Green Bay fan. What if they thought we were friends or something? As nice as Rodgers and his pals were being to my dad and me, I couldn’t bear the idea of all those perfect strangers whom I would never see again for the rest my life thinking that I was defending a Packers fan. The horror. These were the same guys who nine months earlier had humiliated us in our own house and took away both the Halas Trophy and a shot at the Lombardi. For better or for worse, you stick by your fellow fans. Kind of like when your embarrassingly drunk friend pukes all over the ladies’ room, but you still make sure she gets home okay.

So I just sat there and silently fumed until finally the douchebag troop decided to leave early. Of course they continued with their obscenities while descending all sixty stairs, thus entertaining an entire section of fans that perhaps hadn’t been able to hear the show for the last several hours. As for my Green Bay and Viking pals, we continued to chat and laugh with them until the final seconds of the game ticked off the clock. They then graciously thanked my dad and me for being so nice to them, and we graciously thanked them for not holding us accountable for our socially stunted fans.

Perhaps there’s hope yet for a world where Bears and Cheeseheads can live together in harmony.

Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

20
Oct

If living in an urban area with a larger than usual population of crazies, you quickly learn how to be antisocial. Avoiding eye contact is a given, and pretending you can’t hear someone talking to you becomes routine even if that means ignoring the barista who only wanted to know if you’d like whip on your Frappuccino.

Yet being friendly is sometimes encouraged. For instance, at sporting events. In fact I’d dare say it’s impossible to attend a game and not get chummy with your neighbors. For one, those seats are super close to each other, and given the – ahem – heftier builds of some fans, you’re oftentimes making more physical contact with the guy sitting next to you than the players are on the field. Second, the bathroom breaks. If you force your entire row to stand up and let you wiggle past them more than once, you kind of have to be nice to them. Otherwise an “accidental” foot in your way or beer on your back should come as no surprise upon your fourth trip to the ladies’ room.

But because these people are here to cheer on the same team I love, it’s not that hard to bond. Case in point? Last week at the Blackhawks game. I immediately knew that the chick sitting next to me was cool when upon hearing my high-pitched scream she said, “Oh good, you’re loud, too. Most people hate sitting next to me because I make so much noise.”

Three hours later, Trish and I had become bona fide besties. We had discussed at length our childhoods, livelihoods, love lives and the fact that you should be very, very careful when comparing any female to a celebrity. During one of the timeouts, they were going around the stadium and matching fans to different Seinfeld actors. As it turns out, most women are horrified when compared to Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Personally I think she’s pretty, but I get it. Whenever somebody says, “You know who you look like?” I usually don’t want the answer. (BTW, guys apparently love being compared to Kramer. Not a compliment, fellas.)

Trish and I gossiped together, laughed together and screamed together. We also cried together when the Hawks lost during the overtime shootout. Suddenly the game was over; all the fans rose from their seats. I turned toward my new BFF who was chatting with her husband. I then turned back to my father who was making a beeline for the exit. I didn’t know what to do. I just met this really awesome person and now I was expected to walk away like the last three periods had never happened? Surely she wanted to become Facebook friends.

I gingerly tapped Trish on the shoulder. She spun around with a big smile. I knew it. She felt it, too.

Me: “It was so nice to meet you!”

Her: “You, too!”

Me: “Good luck with everything!”

Her: “You, too!”

Me: “So mayb-”

That’s when her husband nudged her from behind. She put up a finger for me to hold on and then turned her back to me once again. I waited… and waited some more. Then much to my surprise and disappointment Trish and her husband began to exit the row without even saying goodbye.

Whatever… She lives in Chicago and I’m in LA. It never would have worked out anyway.

Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

29
Sep

I haven’t been shy about the love affair I have with my alma mater. In fact I adore it so much that I finagled my way onto the National Alumni Board over the summer. This from a girl who spent the first thirteen years of her education at the same school but never once thought of running for class office.

So last weekend all of us board members were flown into Chicago for Alumni Weekend. I was very excited and ready to proudly represent my school as an ambassador. I even thought that perhaps I could impart my “real world” wisdom to new alums in need of guidance and support.

Then I regressed back into college mode.

First, the living arrangements. I was going to be sharing a hotel room with one of my good friends. It was totally awesome. Just like being in a dorm again. We talked. We laughed. We watched Mr. Mom and ate Ben & Jerry’s. The only thing that had really changed this time was that someone else was making my bed each morning and I didn’t have to wear flip-flops while taking a shower.

Second, the bad eating habits. If I wasn’t in class during college, you could most likely find me at Taco Bell or McDonald’s. Sadly I’ve never had a fast metabolism and weighed a good thirty pounds more than I do now. Though I have since become smarter about my meal choices, all that went out the window the moment I was back on campus. Both fruit and pastries were offered during our first breakfast meeting; I completely ignored the berries and melon and grabbed two cheese danishes instead. At lunch I had maybe one bite of my apple but made sure my bag of potato chips was completely finished off. In fact, ninety percent of what I ate over the weekend consisted of very tasty but very bad for you carbohydrates like coffee cake, pasta, French fries, hash browns and grits. No wonder my pants have been feeling snug all week.

Third, the late nights and early mornings. For the record, I’m a champion sleeper. I can doze off at 8pm and still sleep in until noon the next day. Though given my roommate situation, most evenings were spent chatting for hours on end before finally passing out from exhaustion. And forget sleeping in until noon. We were expected on campus at 8am both Friday and Saturday. One of those early morning dates was with a 5K run around the lake. Did I mention that it was raining most of the weekend? I had forgotten that Chicagoans don’t pay much attention to inclement weather. I doubt they even consider rain in that category at all. Needless to say, the run was not cancelled. Yet the exhilaration of racing past Soldier Field as a rainbow gleamed overhead was well worth my soaked-to-the-bone attire. It also guaranteed that I would stay bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the rest of the day despite sleep deprivation. P.S. I naively allowed myself to believe that rainbow signaled a win for my beloved Bears against the Packers the next day. Stupid rainbow.

Fourth, the awesome friendships. I must admit that I was a tad nervous to meet my fellow board members. Relatively speaking I was a newbie; many of my peers had been active alumni members for years. It was just like the first day of class all over again. My stomach was swimming with anxiety and excitement. Of course everyone was great and after just a few hours it felt like I had known them for years. Once it was time to fly back to LA, I knew I had made life-long friendships with some really amazing people. If I had more time, I would have made everyone a mixed CD.

Lastly, the excitement that you just might be doing something worthwhile with your life. At the risk of sounding like Pollyanna, I really loved this weekend because it felt like I was part of something bigger than myself. I can remember experiencing the same thrill after watching a really amazing movie in class and imagining someday I would make a film that could have the same effect on others. Though it went by much too fast, last weekend restored my faith that everyone can make a difference. We still have a long way to go, but just like that first day of school, you have to start somewhere.

There was only one thing that truly bummed me out about last weekend… Not once did I get carded. I may still feel like a college student at times, but apparently I no longer look like one.

Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

28
Jul

I love diners.

It started years ago in Chicago. My not-yet-retired father enjoyed working so much that he would go into the office even on weekends. (Thankfully, that gene wasn’t passed on.) Proclaiming that he was working only a half-day, he would usually go in at 5a.m. and finish up around noon. If you do the math that constitutes a full day for most sane individuals, but my dad is definitely not part of that demographic. However, it did mean that he got off just in time for lunch with his favorite daughter! (Sorry, Mila.)

So began our weekly tradition of lunching it at a cozy little diner called Jk’s. Forget Denny’s or IHOP or any of those other chains that cater to the “it’s hip to be square” crowd. As much as I love the occasional Grand Slam, those aren’t authentic diners. I’m talking about the joints that haven’t changed their décor since 1978 and don’t plan to anytime soon; those restaurants where mom and dad are running the place, the son is cooking in the kitchen and the daughter is handling the cash register up front. This was Jk’s. Every time we came in, the kindly proprietor would welcome us with open arms and immediately guide us to one of their many worn-in vinyl booths. Another reason why this place rocked? We always got a booth! Score one for Jk’s.

The menu wasn’t exactly ripped from Spago, but I loved it anyway. The food came out fast and was always deliciously hot and greasy. Not to mention, free. (Thanks, Dad!) Plus, the same waitresses who had been working there for years served us each time with smiles and friendly small talk. They knew not only us, but also pretty much every other customer in the place. Everyone was a regular at Jk’s. Some for decades. Without fail, I was typically the youngest person there by a good twenty years, but I didn’t mind one bit. In fact, I preferred it that way.

Though the senior citizen set does get on my nerves from time to time. Their driving skills suck. They sometimes smell funny. (It’s true!) They love repeating the same story over and over again. (Ahem, Dad…) But get me in a diner and the old fogies are my best friends. Why? They’re so chill, man. Maybe it’s that replaced hip or cumbersome cane, but everything seems to move at a slower pace when you go to the right diner.

That said, I never thought I would find a place more beloved than my Jk’s until I experienced Carol’s Garden a few weeks ago. Carol’s Garden? I knew immediately that this place would be awesome – any joint with an old lady’s name in it is golden – and I was not disappointed. Warm welcome by the owner? Check. Booth seating? Check. Super old people? Check, check. I had never seen so many walkers, wheelchairs and oxygen tanks in one location outside of a hospital’s ICU, but these folks were going to have their pancakes come hell or high blood pressure. I was in diner heaven.

Without fail, every few minutes someone from the Great Depression would pass our booth with a caretaker in tow. What I noticed is that not only were they being lovingly watched over by that person, but also everyone at the restaurant greeted them with warmth and genuine kindness. Maybe this is why I love diners so much. Everyone is nice to everyone else. The staff is friendly, the customers are unusually complimentary and everybody is happy, which let’s face it, it a rarity anywhere else in today’s world. How many smiles do you see at the post office, DMV or airport? Plus, it’s reassuring to know that when I’m back in diapers one day, there’s at least one place I can go and have a comfy booth in which to sit. Chairs are hell on hemorrhoids.

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

07
Jul

Last month I spent some time traveling through the Midwest. It was great. Every morning, I would wake to a pressing itinerary of seeing loved ones and enjoying the day at whatever yummy restaurant or café chosen for our catch up session. Though I passed through many exotic locales such as Grand Rapids, Michigan and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, I spent half my time in Chicago and would crash nightly at the home of my good friend, S. I’ve known S for about ten years now, and she’s one of those fantastic friends who graciously gives up her own bed for visiting guests and doesn’t get mad when they come home at midnight and want to chat even though she has to get up for work in six hours. Also, she lives in high-rise with a killer view of the city.

So one evening I was having dinner with another friend, D, at Hub 51. Great food. Even better mojitos. And creepy monitors in the ladies’ room that watch everyone in the restaurant. Yet after a delicious slice of icebox pie, I forgot about all that. I also forgot how late it was getting. I knew that S hadn’t been getting a lot of sleep the last couple of nights (I might be partly to blame for that); also, she was battling a cold. But I was having so much fun! Not wanting to be a total jerk, though, I texted that I would be home within the half-hour. No response.

I didn’t think much of it. Once I finally arrived at her place, or five blocks away – how I miss Chicago parking! – I called to give her a heads up. Because S lives in a high-rise, you can’t just walk in. It’s one of those fancy schmancy places where you get buzzed in. There’s even a very intimidating front desk dude who’s ready to pounce should you try to slip by with another resident. I rang S seven times. No answer.

Déjà vu.

About four years ago, the very same thing happened. I was again staying with S (that’s why I can’t be mad; she hosts me every time I come into town) and on one particular night, I found out the hard way that she is a crazy deep sleeper. That time, I managed to get into her building (different place) with some unsuspecting (or not caring if I was a serial killer) resident, but still couldn’t get inside her apartment. She had a studio, and though I could hear her phone ringing through the door each time I called – I could even hear her shifting in her sleep! – that girl would not wake up. I fear for her future children should there be a house fire or alien abduction. She was out cold. Given that I had come back to her place after midnight and perhaps deserved this taste of hell, I couldn’t pound on her door without waking the neighbors and causing a commotion. Thankfully, she finally woke up around 2am and found me in the fetal position in the hallway.

Fast-forward to last month. When S didn’t pick up on the fourth call, I had a pretty good idea of what was happening. At this point, it was once again the midnight hour, and I had a decision to make. Should I appeal to the better nature of the front desk dude to let me in, and even if he did take pity on me, then what? Once more pathetically wait in her hallway until she woke up? Plus, I had to use the bathroom again.

It’s an odd feeling to feel homeless in your own hometown. I went through my options… Should I call my family? The last thing I wanted to do was drive my ass out to the suburbs. Moreover, they were just as bad as S if not worse. My sister screens her calls in the middle of the day; no way was she going to pick up at midnight. And my parents still occasionally employ the tried and true tactic of unplugging the phone when they don’t care to be bothered. Given that they’re retired and really the only people calling are their daughters, I’m a tad offended but anyway… Even if I crashed with one of them, I would have to battle Ike traffic the next morning to ensure entry to S’s apartment before she left for work. No thank you.

So it came down to my friends in the city. Truth is, I could have called any of a dozen people and would have received an immediate “Sure, come on over!” Though exhausted by a day of fun and annoyed by this unexpected exile, I smiled. I haven’t been a resident of Chicago for more than six years, but realized that I would always have a home here. Not because of that brownstone I’ll one day have within walking distance of Wrigley (fingers crossed!), but because of the people I love.

It was late, though. All my friends are day job people whom I assumed were already sleeping. Except D. Given that I had left her merely twenty minutes ago, I figured she might still be awake. Plus, D’s another amazing friend who thinks only of others no matter the inconvenience to her. She’s like Jack in Titanic and would happily give up that life-saving piece of wood to some ungrateful rich chick only to freeze in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. That’s just the kind of person she is. She’s also really good about answering her phone: “Sure, come on over!” When I arrived fifteen minutes later, already laid out on the couch were blankets, pillows and pajamas, including a Blackhawks tank top. It’s true; home is where the heart is.

Epilogue: At 2:30am, my phone rang. A frantic and still groggy S was calling: “Where are you? I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry! Where are you? Are you on the street? Are you in your car? I’m so sorry!” I wasn’t mad, but allowed her to apologize a few dozen more times before going back to bed.

Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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