Monday, July 30, 2007

A Place for our Asses; Or, Ektorp! The Swedish Lava-Walker

In preparation of moving into our first home, Lynette and I officially purchased our first, new furniture. Call me overly nostalgic or just plain silly, but little moments like these must be celebrated.

In Illinois, we put our asses on old, hand-me-down couches. For the last six years here in Virginia, we used a futon and a strangely-shaped, dirty chair that demanded its occupants to fall unconscious upon sitting (due to a way-too-comfortable feature that separated the sitter from the rest of the room socially).

Now, we own brand-spankin' new furniture. By the way, we bought it now so that we have new furniture on the first day we move into our new house.

In case you can't tell from the picture above, we bought from Ikea. You got to love a store that sells couches, frozen yogurt, and light bulbs all under one roof. If you haven't been, I highly recommend it. Bring a large vehicle, unless you want a long, flat box sticking out the passenger window on your way home. (Trust me, this will happen even if you don't walk in planning on buying anything.) We rented a box truck.

In defense of our furniture, we did not have to assemble it when we got it home. Those of you who have shopped from Ikea will know why that sentence is funny. Though I am trying to figure out why it came with a small, hex-wrench...

Friday, July 27, 2007

Harry Who?

I like to consider myself up on things popular. Or at least as up as a 33 year-old man can be. I'm an avid TV watcher. I appreciate a good independent movie. I own an iPod, an Xbox 360, a Nintendo Wii (Guitar Hero II is one of my favorite games right now). I create web sites. I produce a podcast. I'm a child of the eighties: Very few pop-culture references get by me. As a former English major and high school English teacher, I am a huge advocate for all things wordy. Reading, writing, whatever. I love Tolkien, Hemingway, and Bukowski. And comic books will always have a place in my heart, too. Often I wonder if all these toys and interests might be a bit too young, or immature. Regardless, I enjoy these things. In the future, after I become some poor fool's dad, I won't have the time to stay up on things, so I'll enjoy them while I can.

Let's get to the point: As the previous post states, we recently made a trip to Chicago for a friend's wedding. Our old college group reunited once again. Just like old times, as they say.
Coincidentally, the new Harry Potter book went on sale during the course of our visit. And to my surprise, a few of my friends were clamoring to buy this book. Now, I'm not a complete moron. I know how popular these Harry Potter books are. I've seen the kids wearing cloaks and circular glasses at Halloween. I'm aware of the movies. But what took me by surprise was the amount of adults, specifically adults I knew, who were so into this book. I was aware of some adults who liked these books, but I always discounted them as the Non-Literary Reading Public, like Stephen King fans, or John Grisham fans (yes, I know I'm sounding like a literary snob). But then I found out my actual friends had been reading these books and loving them. (And in all honesty, one can make the same argument toward a Star Wars fan or a Simpsons fan, many people not understanding the appeal.)

So I inquired as to why they were into these book, being careful not to make fun of them. I truly wanted to know how and/or why they got into these books in the first place and what sustained the interest. The answers were vague (being fair, if someone asked me why I love Star Wars, an answer of Because it's so cool! just wouldn't suffice). As could be predicted, Natalie, my fellow English major friend and current book editor, handed me book one. "Shut up and read this, ya bastard." She may or may not have called me a bastard, but my suitcase was slightly heavier as I traveled home on Sunday, for I had in my possession J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

Note: There were dozens of people strewn about the airport reading the new Harry Potter book. Adults. Sitting on the floor. Lost in their books. It was actually quite beautiful considering how dependent we have become on technology during the course of this past decade. No laptops, no cell phones, no iPods, just a simple, hard cover book.

So, I'm on page 101. Harry just boarded the train to Hogwart's. Not quite half-way through the book. My assessment: It's wonderful. It's charming. It's exactly what I need to be reading. Truthfully, it ain't Shakespeare, but seriously, every once in a while we have to stop being so important. Which reminds me, I did manage to catch the end of Transformers.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Ode to Beef (Sandwiches)

Ah, Chi-town... Sweet home, Chicago, Indeed! Lynette and I recently spent time in Chicago and rural Illinois, our home state. We made the journey for our dear friend, Alex, who married a beautiful woman named Lisa. Alex grew up in central Illinois: Hog Capitol of the world, where the land is flat and the corn fields stretch as far as the eye can see. As Lynette proclaimed in the car, "You can get out of the corn fields, but you can't get the corn fields out of you."

We were lucky to have at least one night in the city of Chicago. We stayed with our gracious friends, Natalie and Dean. We walked the streets of their wonderful neighborhood. Ate pancakes at a hip joint around the corner that served the best coffee I ever put to my lips. We had pizza. Honest to goodness, true blue, 100% Chicago pizza. And here's the beginning of this post's observation: The food in Chicago is by far superior to anything we can eat on the east coast. This pizza, merely a carry-out pie from some place called Pete's... nothing special, no frills, very simple... this pizza, merely an afterthought to our native Chicago friends was The Best pizza I had eaten in many, many years. This basic, humble pizza from some place called Pete's was better than ANYTHING we can get in DC. I won't dwell on it too much, but I'd love to know why no one where I live can figure it out.

The wedding was idyllic, taking place outdoors in the vast prairies of Illinois: Lush green fields of high corn; ancient, towering oak trees; Tiny bugs dancing on the warm sunlight; the subtle clang of a flag pole rising somewhere behind us. And fiddles. Angelic, perfect fiddles charming us like a spell, the undeniable sound of eternal country life. It was nothing short of heavenly.

Upon departure from our homeland, we had time to kill at the airport in Chicago. So we got some Italian Beef sandwiches at the C terminal at O'Hare Airport. These beef sandwiches were the perfect close to our grand visit. Italian beef sandwiches bought at an airport! Come on, DC!! Even food bought at an airport in Chicago is still better than anything in DC! Unless you've actually had an Italian beef sandwich, there's really no good way for me to describe it. No, it's not roast beef on bread. The key is the gravy. And the roll. Two distinct Chicago-tasting things.

There's something that confuses me though: I stated in a previous post that when the Cubs came to town, half the stadium was full of Cub fans. Well, if there are so many transplanted Chicagoans in DC, why isn't there more demand for Chicago food? Could it be the water? Is it a scientific impossibility to actually bake the same-tasting roll, or conjure up the right kind of gravy? Maybe we're too close to the ocean. Or maybe the midwest folks take more pride in their cuisine.

If you're not living in the midwest and you happen to be reading this blog, you can taste for yourself by ordering from Lou Malnati's. They deliver all over the country.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Dessert Appreciation #38

Next in our series of Dessert Appreciation is the noble ice cream sandwich. The mere sight of this classic novelty brings me back to sweltering, summer nights sneaking into the kitchen for one of these beauties. There seemed to be an endless supply of these wonderful treats in our freezer... I picture my mother in the grocery store, blindly reaching for the box of Dean's Foods ice cream sandwiches, as if they were a standard item on the shopping list like toothpaste and toilet paper. And I do not remember any dessert negotiations in the freezer section either. Mom rolled through the freezer section, grabbed the ice cream sandwiches, period. (Wait, maybe this is why I was an obese child...?)

Growing up in the northern midwest, Dean's Foods was the staple dairy products supplier. But as I've grown up and moved on to other parts of the country, I've noticed one thing: The ice cream sandwich never changes, regardless of brand. In fact, I have found that the generic versions of these brown and white miracles seem tastier than the more expensive bourgeois brands.

The ice cream sandwich, reportedly, began in New York City at around 1900. Vendors pushed carts and made the sandwiches on site using a metal tray to mold the vanilla ice cream into its perfect rectangular shape. The silky monolith was then placed between two wafers and sold for one penny. Vendors had no time to make change because the demand was so high.

August 2 is National Ice Cream Sandwich Day. You have a few weeks, so make sure to stock up on ice cream sandwiches for that glorious day.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

How to Incite a Riot; Or, What Happened to Me When I Went to See Transformers

I warned the usher at the movie theater, "This is going in my blog!"

Let me explain: It's Saturday, my wife is out of town, a buddy calls and says he wants to hang out. I think, "Hey, let's get nerdy and go see Transformers." Hell, my parents gave Hasbro a lot of hard-earned cash twenty years ago (those toys were expensive!)

So we get to the theater thirty minutes early, as is my neurotic requirement when going to the movies. We get nice seats. Sodas, candy, etc. It's a typical summertime movie-going experience. Lots of kids, none of which were even alive when the Transformers debuted. The seats filled. The trailers rolled (love the trailers). And the movie began...

As you know, Michael Bay directed this movie. And if you've ever seen a Michael Bay movie, you know that his movies are the kind you hear through your ass. Loud, baby, loud. My IQ fell several points every time an explosion ripped across the screen and I yelled WOOOOOO!!! with the rest of the crowd.

The movie is good. Well, at least the part that I saw. Um, yeah, at about the half-way point, everything went black. Gone. Silent. The movie stopped in mid-scene. A loud, action-packed scene, too. And for added effect, I think someone turned off the a/c because I started sweating. Then the crowd started murmuring. Then they started yelling. People were getting up from their seats. Grown men were shouting directives up to the little window, "You better rewind it!!" The lights came up. Everyone groaned. Kids were running through the aisles. People started running out of the theater. Faces turned ugly and angry. Twenty minutes went by. People shuffled out of the theater looking defeated. I stayed in my seat. And for the record, I was one of the last to give up hope.

We left the theater to find a huge line of restless, pissed off people demanding refunds and vouchers and written apologies. Some poor schlep in a suit was on the verge of tears. I could tell he had heard a plethora of negativity. Considering Transformers isn't quite an art house film, I'm sure the crowd had a very limited vocabulary on their way out of the building. I took pity on the man in the suit and only gave him my look of disappointment (if anyone wants to see my look of disappointment, I can email you a pic).

You want to know why the movie stopped and never started again? Well, when I received my voucher from the frazzled man in the suit, I asked what happened. He said

So, anyone want to go see Transformers? I'll buy the popcorn if you bring the pepper spray.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Wrigley Field East

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing my beloved Chicago Cubs play against the Washington Nationals at RFK Stadium. As usual, I think the Nationals forgot to tell their fans there was a game last night because I only saw Cub fans there.

Rick, my brother, was able to dig up some awesome seats behind home plate. So he and Hunter (my nephew) and my dad all boarded a plane headed for a glorious 24 hours in the humid DC swamplands. As long as we were wearing Cubbie blue, nothing could go wrong... except for rain... but don't worry, it stopped before the first pitch, making the air even more humid.

As I have proclaimed to my friends before, there are only two locations on this Earth that get me closest to God: Sitting on a boat at six o'clock in the morning in the middle of Six Mile Lake, Bena, Minnesota, fishing for perch and the occasional walleye; and attending a major league baseball game at a major league park preferably when the Cubs are playing, and preferably at Wrigley Field.

Fishing and Baseball... my churches.

As I said, it was HUMID last night. We enjoyed a Cub win. I took communion (a beer and a dog). We worshiped summer and one of our country's only inventions (besides jazz). And the men made it safely back to Chicago this morning on an airplane still reeking of beer and sweat (just kidding, I let them use my shower... though I am glad Lynette is in New York until Sunday because our house is a wreck right now).

By the way, I think the president was at the game last night, but I don't think anyone noticed.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

What Really Grinds My Gears

You want to know what really grinds my gears? One sentence email responses. (I put this one right up there next to receiving a gift wrapped in newspaper.)

You spend valuable time and effort writing your friend an email that's at least two paragraphs long, maybe more, explaining some interesting aspects of your life, like what happened during last Friday's date with Betty (that hot chick from accounting), or the prognosis of your aunt's intestinal infection, or your thoughts regarding this great Buddhist philosophy book you're reading and a couple days later you get a response from your friend who says, "i dunno maybe"

That's it! One line! Not only is the response a measly three words long, but your friend didn't even take the time to use capitalization and/or punctuation! Was my friend in such a hurry that they couldn't even use both hands to type the response? I could understand if maybe they just had a bike accident the day before and one of their arms was in a sling. But I don't know any of my friends to be in that much of hurry in general. In fact, most of my fiends are pretty laid back. Plus, if you're in such a hurry, why are you even checking your email? Get going! You're late!

Here's what I want: An email response that is comparable in length to the original email, capitalization of proper nouns and first words in a sentence, and periods at the ends of sentences. I can let comma misuse slide (our schools are so screwed up, I can't blame you for not knowing how to use a comma). I'll even forgive multiple exclamation marks or question marks on sentences that aren't questions.

I guess what I'm really asking for is that my email responders take their time after they click "reply." Slow down, think it through, and remember, this will all be on the test.