It's here baby!!

... less than 24 hours to go.

... the mecca for music lovers.

... the buffet for food connoisseurs.

... the carnival of people watching.

Summerfest 2006. The Big Gig. The World's Largest Music Festival.

(in case you've been living in a cave... THIS is summerfest.)

... I have my tickets and my schedule of bands has been plotted out on the calendar. Plans are still tentative for going opening night to see Elvis Costello with Allen Toussaint and Keane, but I think the rest are a go ...

On Saturday ... I'm all about the Go-Gos. Laugh all you want, but I'm psyched to get a live taste of this blast from the past ...

On Tuesday the Fouth, I had Bowling For Soup penciled in ... but the prospect of spending the night watching fireworks on the beach with Kates is more appealing ...

Thurday the Sixth ... Again, I had The Fray penciled in. That was until we got tickets to the Brewers-Cubs game (woo hoo)... besides we saw The Fray in December, And I can do without all the teenie boppers likely to be crowding the stage that night ...

Friday the Seventh ... I'm all about the Train.

Saturday ... this one's tough. Toto, Pink and Guster are all playing at 10 p.m. But as much as I'd love to hear 'Africa' or 'Rosanna' live, or see Pink bop around the stage singing 'Dont Let Me Get Me' ... Guster is sure to be the all-around better show ...

Sunday ... another tough one. I'm still on the fence about seeing Counting Crows AND Goo Goo Dolls at the Marcus. But that's the key point. It's at the Marcus, meaning I'd be looking at a $50 ticket, compared to the much, much cheaper ground stages ... sooooo I think I'm gonna end up at the Bangles show at 8:30, and if I get lucky, I might even be able to catch a little bit of Aqualung at 10 ...

I'll be exhausted by the end. But it's not summer without it.

Who's with me!?

[For my posts on last year's Summerfest outings go here, here and here.]
... Happy Birthday to me!

... One year older, one year wiser, I say.

... I brought my treats to work (how crazy is that!?! It's MY birthday, but the unwritten policy says the person celebrating the milestone brings the treats ...), and mostly dozed through the afternoon ... When I finally arrived home, I met Kates at home, went on a jaunt to get some CDs to preview before Summerfest and then we had my birthday dinner. Pizza.

... and then!! ...

(cue angel chorus)

... Kates I headed into the city for ...

(cue angel chorus again)

... the premiere of 'Superman Returns' ...

... at the Navy Pier Imax ...

... in 3-D!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

... yeah!

... Now, honestly? I couldn't care less about Superman. The Man of Steel. Big deal. I've barely seen a minute of any of the Superman movies. Never touched a Superman comic book ... but there was something about this event that I couldn't pass up. It was a once-in-a-lifetime, I thought. And it held up ...

... My friend Steve worships anything bearing the big red and yellow emblem. To him, the opening of this movie was one of the biggest events of his life.

And so it was.

... He purchased about a dozen tickets to the premiere a week ago and was the first in line at about 6:30 last night -- three hours before doors to the theater were scheduled to open. ... Kates and I arrived at about 8:30 and there was Steve in form, dressed in complete Superman garb. Blue tights, red cape, red boots and all. ... A Chicago news crew had already been there to film him and he was indeed featured on the 10 o'clock news. In the meantime, the line stretched around nearly the entire Navy Pier atrium, with guys sprinkled throughout the crowd in Superman T-shirts -- me included. Pictures were taken. Rivals traded 'my costume's better than yours' remarks. Fun was had by all.

... Finally the doors opened at 9:30, and we led the mad dash into the theater, grabbing are 3D glasses on the way -- which by the way had lenses big enough to cover entire faces -- and laid claim to arguable the best seats in the house: center, just a few rows from the top. ... Mind you, this screen was six stories high. If you sat any closer, it'd swallow you.

We enjoyed a short introduction and rules lecture from an usher ... and then the fun began!

... All of the preview trailers preceding the film were shown in 3D ... awesome. (the trailers, by the way, included one for 'Happy Feet' which you can see by going here and clicking on BABY MUMBLE. Kates and I had seen this trailer recently before another film, but it's even more fun/adorable in 3D!)

... Then, after a brief darkness, came that famous John Williams theme music, loud and clear, in hi-def surround sounds. The credits, in glowing blue block letters, started flashing across the screen. There was a thunderous applause and I couldn't remember being surrounded by a more anxious, excited group of men and women. The aura lasted the duration of the night. And I'm positive there would have been no better way to see this film ...

So about the film ...

I asked Steve afterward how he ranked it on a scale of one to 10. He gave it a nine.

I can handle that. Although I might say 8. ... Blame it perhaps on not being a huge Superman fan, but the movie did drag at times (it's 2 1/2 hours long!) ... As one review I read points out, we were 90 minutes into the movie before the plot started moving anywhere. And I thought the last half hour could've been cut down considerably too ... As for the acting, Brandon Routh as Clark/Superman could not have been a better selection. His resemblance to Christopher Reeve is absolutely amazing, and he played the part perfectly. And while some critics are blasting Kevin Spacey for not playing Lex Luthor as well as Gene Hackman apparently did, I thought Spacey was as entertaining to watch as any character in the film, and he delivered several of the films most comedic moments -- although, I'll agree again with critics who say Lex's plot to wipe out North America was a bit lame too. And Kate Bosworth, as Lois Lane, was at times too young to pass as the older Pulitzer-winning Lois and mother of a 5-year-old ...

...Don't let any of my criticisms stop you from seeing, and enjoying this film though. It's worth the trip just to see Superman on the big screen again, blazing trails between Metropolis buildings, gently halting blazing airplanes, blowing out uncontrollable fires and yes, flattening a bullet like a pancake with his eye ...

Curious to see what others said, I read some of the reviews today. Here's some of the write-ups I thought best clarified the way I saw the film ...

a Scripps Howard: 'Superman Returns' is terrific
a Los Angeles Times: The Man of Steel's return stumbles
a Washington Post: Happy 'Returns'

Breaking news ...

Eddie the feisty dog on 'Frasier' dies ...awwww. I really liked that dog ...

Baseball guru Gammons stricken by aneurysm ... wow. My thoughts and prayers are out to Peter and his extended families at the Boston Globe and ESPN...


Dusty in jeopardy?

... here they're talking again tonight that Dusty's job with the Cubs might be in jeopardy ...


I said it before, and I'll say it again ... very little of the Cubs problems this year can fall on him. Very little ...

Derrek Lee has become the glue of the club the last year and half, and he's barely played this year. Prior and Wood are done for, and Dusty's had to muddle through with rookies and has-beens ...

... Yeah. So it was grueling to watch them lose again yesterday to the Twins, but seeing Derrek Lee back in action (and hit a nice single!) was a serious bright spot ... and if he can settle back in, there's a lot to hope for yet this season.

As Dusty says: "We've got a lot left of the season. Look at my lineup. It's a totally different look now. I can put [Todd] Walker back in the second spot, I've got [Lee] in the third, [Phil] Nevin fourth, Aramis [Ramirez] fifth, Jacque [Jones] sixth. That gives us pretty good punch there."

I'll say.

Seriously. If Dusty goes, who are the Cubs gonna get. Another Jim Riggleman? Another Tom Treblehorn? C'mon ...

... Although Jay Mariotti makes some excellent points and the notion of Bob Brenly does perk up my ears a bit, I can't imagine he's just going to jump up and leave the broadcast booth in the middle of the season either ...

* * *

... and while I'm at it, can I go on record saying I'm not one bit surprised at the Detroit Tigers success this season!? It seems every other analyst has gone on this season with 'where did the Tigers come from?' 'Who could've predicted they would have been this good?' ... and blah. blah. blah. ... C'mon. The Tigers started knockin' on the door as soon as they lost their 119th game a couple years ago and then went out and got Ivan Rodriguez. They got a great farm system and Jim Leyland was the final piece of the puzzle.

I'm not one bit surprised.

Now if they could just get back John Smoltz (who by the way has floated the idea of being traded) before the deadline. ... The White Sox and the Tigers in the AL Championship -- that'll be this year's World Series.

* * *

Speaking of the Sox ...

How great was that 13-inning gem last night!?!

... I screamed so loud when Tadahito Iguchi hit that game-tying grand slam in the ninth, I scared Kates out of her chair ... Too bad the Sox couldn't pull it out.


Sunday reads

Now this has been my kind of weekend.

... On Friday night, Kates and I attended a cohort's wedding at one of our city's most picturesque, historic sites, followed by a lively, entertaining outdoor reception on the lake. The night was made with wonderful scenery, great jazz music and fun conversation with friends and co-workers ...

... And on Saturday, we had more of it. Kates and I opened up our house to friends and family for a classic backyard barbecue ...

... As for today? We got some rain early this morning, but the sun rose and it appeared as though it would be a beautiful day for a ball game. .. No dice. As we started arriving at the field an hour before gametime, it was clear the field was not ready. ... Beyond frustrated -- this was the second rainout in as many weeks -- we tried calling around town to other ballparks, but found no better conditions ...

So. ...I've cleaned up our kitchen after last night. Watched the Cubs lose. Took a little nap. And now I'm giving you my reads of the week ...

a Guster expands sound, band on new album ... I downloaded the new CD in anticipation of seeing these guys next weekend at Summerfest. I've only listened to it once so my jury's still out ...
a Do-it-yourself music: Heap doesn’t need band for backup ... I was working the wires earlier this week and when I saw this one, I gasped in excitement. People are starting to notice Imogen Heap, and that makes me happy. (for my post on her concert a few weeks ago go here)

a Goodbye AIDS. Celebs Move on to New Causes ... Interesting story. good points.

a Life after cancer sweeter than ever for Sheryl Crow

a iTunes + MySpace x Music Geeks = Mog, A New Site For Music Obsessives ... sign me up! See the site here.

a How Millennium Park created a unique nexus of culture ... I came across this story last week while doing some research on the Silk Road event. Fascinating and so true ... I relish every day I get to go into the city and get to drive past Millennium Park for even a few seconds. It's truly a sight to see ...



The longest day of the year

... I'd say Kates and I used our 'longest day' to the fullest yesterday ...

Kates was up at 6 a.m., I was up at 7. She went off to her master's class in the morning, then vacation bible school in the afternoon, while I worked 'til 5 ...

... then after a Dairy Queen supper, supplemented by a couple moo-lates, she poured over her master's homework, while I putzed outside in our gardens, watched the Cubs game, watched the NBA Finals and surfed the Internet ...

... we went to bed at 2 a.m.

... and of course were up early this morning to start it all over again.

Finding their way

... it's nights like last night that I realize how cool of a job I have, to experience things few others ever will, to meet such interesting and inspiring people I'd never know otherwise.

Like a group of blind adults driving stock cars.

... The story actually begins several weeks ago when I wrote about a local man, Marty, who won several awards for his work as a radio intern. As we talked, he began telling me about an organization he belongs to that allows blind people and others with sight disorders -- with the held of sighted guides -- to participate in outdoor activities like fishing, swimming, canoeing -- even downhill skiing and stockcar racing ...

My editor, intrigued by this idea of blind people racing stock cars, sent me to ride last night with the group of eight or so at a local race track ...

At the track, we sat in the stands talking, chowing buckets of popcorn, experiencing the races together. It was so much fun ... ( ... and for the record, I'm nowhere close to being a NASCAR fan, but I found myself getting slightly wrapped up in some of the races; it was exhilarating. Who would've thought ...). I caught up with Marty, and met another man, Chuck, who told me about nearly losing his life in a car crash about a year ago and then losing his eyesight six months ago as a result of his injuries ... all of their stories were fascinating to me. The way they've soldiered on and learned to live without their eyesight. After awhile, talking to them felt as though I'd known them for years ...

... Finally it came time for them to race. Now, for most racecar drivers, crashing during their first lap would be a major disappointment. Not these drivers.

None of the drivers hinted at being nervous about boarding a racecar and driving it five laps around an asphalt track. For them, just smelling the exhaust fumes and hearing the roar of the engine is an adrenaline rush like no other.

In fact they looked like pros as they boarded the cars with their guides and track crews strapped them in. Marty and another man, Dan, being the most experienced drivers of the group, were picked to race first -- the thought being they'd drive well enough to preserve the cars for at least a couple more races

Unfortunately the first race never got past the opening lap. Marty started the race by cutting the grass around the inside of the first turn, while Dan took the outside lane and passed Marty around turn two. Both cruised easily down the backstretch. But as Dan was coming out of turn four, Marty came around the turn and struck teh driver's side of Dan's car.

Both drivers were OK, and with both cars damaged, the crash meant the end of the B.O.L.D. races for the night. But nothing could’ve broken the drivers’ spirits.

Said Dan after the race: "It is that teamwork that makes it happen. Here’s somebody I have never met before. I’m with the (guide) for a total of three minutes before we start rolling and here we are. He’s put his life on the line. He knows darn well I’m blind, and even if I wasn’t, I’m blindfolded and he’s going for it. He’s got the confidence and that is the biggest sense of accomplishment is that trust level that we both bought into and we went for it. I trusted him. If he would’ve said ‘floor it,’ I would’ve floored it."


Fun in the sun

… Highs of 90 degrees today.

Are you kidding me!?! That’s like mid-August weather in Kansas City!! Not mid-June in Chicago!

Ah, well.

Kates and I braved it by first heading to a garage sale that caught my eye in this morning’s paper. The classified ad spoke merely of some household items and Cubs trinkets. Instead, we pulled up to the rural home and found an estate sale with a treasure trove of household items, antiques, electronics, sports collectibles, and -- (cue angel chorus) vinyl records.

While Kates perused the household items and found some things for her classroom, I thumbed through the vinyl records. At the front of the stack was the ‘Godspell’ soundtrack -- a find that Kates and I pondered for a couple minutes since it’s a record both our parents had, and both of us had built an attachment to it while growing up. But with two CD copies of it sitting in our music collection, I decided to stick to one of the rules I set when I began collecting vinyls a few months ago -- I won’t buy anything I have already in another medium; I’m buying records to play and enjoy to their fullest, not solely to look at.

… After pondering a few more selections (including an original Jackson 5: ‘Diana Ross Presents …’ album, which I eventually passed on because it was in pretty poor condition), I settled on an Elton John album and a near-mint copy of The Annie Soundtrack -- in addition, of course, to a few sports collectibles (or my toys, as Kates called them …) that included a Cubs-themed Santa Claus (Hey! I’d been looking for one for awhile, but didn’t want to fork over 30, 40 dollars for it …), a set of bobbleheads from the 2001 All-Star game in Seattle and a model of Wrigley Field…. Aw yeah.

From there, we headed to one of the gardening centers and finally got a cart full of plants to begin the final phases of the overhaul on the landscaping in our yard. Since we moved into the place two years ago, we’ve gradually torn away the decrepit timbers and hastily -placed stones, replacing them with more eye-catching stonework and the bases for a flower garden in the back corner of our backyard … Now, we’ve finally reached the point of planting new shrubs and flowering plants …

… Then while Kates went to work for the afternoon, I toiled in the yard, in the hot sun, laying more stones off our new deck and planting our new, colorful additions -- some Coral Bells, Purple Emperors, Moonshine, Walker's Low, English Ivy and much, much more ...

( ... All this, of course, while listening to the Cubs lose another one -- it's starting to get bad, real bad. The highlight of the broadcast, though, was Pat & Ron discussing the Ron Santo bobblehead sitting in the booth during the game, apparently a gift from Mark Prior. In response to Pat's remarks about how well the bobblehead represented Ron, Ron -- in his gravely deadpan voice -- says, 'Yeah, it was tough modeling for it. It made me dizzy.' ... I laughed out loud.)

Finally, just as the sun was setting -- and the fierce storm was beginning to roll in -- I planted the last one with care … oh, the beauty of it all.

Sunday reads

... A rainy Father's Day ...

... Kates and I visited her parents and took them out to IHOP for brunch ...

... and the rain canceled my baseball game, so I took advantage of my free time be falling asleep on the couch.

Here's a few of my favorite reads from the past week, or two ...

a Fiona Apple finds comfort on stage
a Dixie Chicks `Not Ready to Make Nice' ... Their new one is top-notch, and I couldn't be more happy with the fact their music is selling again, and the girls are getting the coverage they deserve, even for speaking their minds ...
a Sgt. Pepper Returns
a Superman: Gay Icon? Christ Figure?
a Bonds, Pujols Could Make for Quite a Show
a How things fell apart in Kansas City ... this article says otherwise, but I've always thought things started falling apart the day the Royals hired Allard Baird. ...Trading away Jermain Dye, Johnny Damon? Seriously.


Checking out some music

...So I've never been big on libraries. In fact, I'm not a big book reader. Magazines and newspapers -- I'm all over 'em. Not books, novels.

Then Kates -- who looooooooooves libraries and books -- mentioned to me how much I might enjoy checking out some music from our neighborhood library ...

I took her up on it and got myself a library card, and checked out a handful of CDs several weeks ago, although initially the selection wasn't as wide and up-to-date as I had hoped ...

Nonetheless, craving for some new stuff, or at least some things I hadn't yet heard, I went back the other night amid some other errands. ... Perhaps all the good stuff was checked out last time I went, 'cause on this night, once I got started I couldn't be stopped!!! ... and before I knew it, I had an arm full and had to stop ... our library won't let you check out for than 10 CDs at a time ...

... I came away with...

... Paula Cole: This Fire ... I got it on a cassette tape in high school and remember loving it, although I haven't listened to it in awhile. I thought it might be fun to pop it into a CD player and revisit it ...

... Ace of Base: The Bridge ... same circumstance as Paula Cole ... that and 'Lucky Love' is one of my all-time favorites ...

... Barenaked Lades: Maroon ... great rock album!!

... The Beautiful South: Painting it Red ... Thanks to a cohort, I got hooked on Beautiful South in college, and dubbed a couple of their other albums on to a tape. Their lyrics are pretty smart and humorous, and their pop folk sound is os so fun to listen to. I popped this one in last night and it was just as good as I had hoped ...

... Clay Aiken: Measure of a Man ... yeah, yeah, yeah. Say what you want. But I liked 'Invisible' when it was on the radio and I'm curious what the rest of the album sounds like ...

... The Cardigans: First Band on the Moon ... I've always liked 'Lovefool' and I've always wondered what the rest of their stuff sounds like. Now I'll find out ...

... Shawn Colvin: Whole New You ...have looooooooooved Shawn Colvin for as long as I can remember. Kates and I had a friend sing one of her songs at our wedding, and I count seeing her last summer as one my dreams come true.

... Paul McCartney: Chaos & Creation in the Backyard ... I previewed this one at a Border's store when it came out last year and wasn't blown away, but I'd like to spend a little more time with it ...

... David Bowie: the Best of Bowie ... I've never considered myself a Bowie fan, other than 'Changes,' but when I popped this one in the other night, I was surprised at how many of his songs I knew and like ...

...Dido: Life For Rent ... I purposely saved this one for last. Among the CDs I checked out, this was probably one of the ones I thought I'd be least interested in. Yeah, I like what I've heard from Dido before, but I just wasn't overly excited about listening to this CD ...think again!! I'm listening to it again now for like the third, maybe the fourth time, and can't get enough of it!! Perhaps it's the fact I've been in such an exhausted, stressed-out state-of-mind this week, and I'm find these meoldies and music soooooo soothing, the lyrics soooo comforting and compelling (particularly the fourth track, 'Mary’s in India'...). But then again, I'm pretty sure I'd love it no matter what state of mind I'm in. It's an amazing album ...


Good reads

a O'Brien on track to build Reds, just a year late ... Yeah, they're good. But they also have a knack for fading, and I don't think they'll be able to keep it up ...Surely the Astros or Cardinals will find a way to take the NL Central.

a 'Grey's Anatomy's' Morgan sees his career reborn after Denny dies ... Fine. But pllleeeeeease don't even think about a resurection on Grey's. As if the psycho-Izzy finale wasn't far enough out of left field and insane, it was a mistake to let Denny live much more than two episodes ...

a Clarkson makes time for new album, tour ... I've never watched a second of 'American Idol.' And I want no part of it, really. The way I percieve it, it's just Simon and his cronies picking and choosing the most attractive wannabe pop-stars in hopes that some record company can make a few fast bucks off 'em. It's not real music to me. But I could be proven wrong ... Bring up Kelly Clarkson, however, and you've got my ears. Again, never saw her on American Idol. And I didn't care either ... then. Now -- since the moments I first heard/saw 'Since U Been Gone' on VH1 -- you can rank her among one of my favorite artists. She's spunky, down-to-Earth, and oh so fun to watch ... which is a big reason I added her video to the sidebar of this site. That, and the first time I saw the video a couple months back conjured up visions of me dancing in my bathroom just like the people featured in the video. (and those of you who know me well are totally smiling, nodding and saying, 'yep, that's Horns ...')

a The Pictures Worth 4 Million Smackeroos ... one word: insane. When I first heard this one on the radio the other day my jaw dropped. ... and then I thought, I hope People barely sells a copy ... it's a dang baby photo!!!!!!!!

Fun with words

Based on a brief internet search to find an actual article regarding this contest and the fact I've seeing postings similar to this before, I'm thinking this isn't a recent happening. ... Either way, a cohort passed this on to me today and I'm posting it here ...

Once again, The Washington Post has published the winning submissions to its yearly contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words. The winning definitions are:

1. Coffee (n.), the person upon whom one coughs.
2. Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you havegained
3. Abdicate (v.), to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach .
4. Esplanade (v.), to attempt an explanation whilst drunk.
5. Willy-nilly (adj.), impotent.
6. Negligent (adj.), describes a condition in which you absent-mindedly answer the door in your nightgown.
7. Lymph (v.), to walk with a lisp.
8. Gargoyle (n.), olive-flavored mouthwash.
9. Flatulence (n.) emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.
10. Balderdash (n.), a rapidly receding hairline.
11. Testicle (n.), a humorous question in an exam.
12. Rectitude (n.), the formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.
13. Pokemon (n), a Rastafarian proctologist.
14. Oyster (n.), a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.
15. Frisbeetarianism (n.), the belief that, when you die, your soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.
16. Circumvent (n.), an opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.


Athletes and Motorcycles Don't Mix

... as if the headlines splashed all over today's newspapers, Web sites and television news station about Big Ben's motorcycle accident weren't big enough, while I was driving around tonight I spotted a young guy on a crotch rocket with his girlfriend riding high on the back of it.

And you guessed it -- neither were wearing helmets.

Tim Dahlberg's column today says it all ...

Life in a nutshell

... So my buddy Brian told this story today that was so good I just had to share it ...

... He was on his way to work one day last week and waiting at busy intersection for a green left turn arrow. As the crossing traffic light turned red, he saw a semi approaching the intersection with no signs of slowing down. Obviously, Brian decided he would wait to go after the semi had passed...

... but then he noticed a sports car tailing the semi close behind. And as the sports car approaches the intersection, the driver, with his window rolled down, sticks his head and hand out the window and yells in Brian's direction 'Don't go! I'm coming through!'

... By the time Brian could make his turn, he'd had a green arrow for several seconds.

* * *
The key/lock remote for my little green machine has stopped working ...

I realized this a couple days ago as I, like every morning, opened the garage door and pressed the unlock button on my way to my car, only to find the door still locked ...

What an inconvenience! ... ah, technology.

Now, every time I arrive at my car to go somewhere or head home is punctuated with a long, frustrating sigh at the fact that my key/remote hasn't magically unlocked my car the way I grew so accustomed (and spoiled) to over the last five years ...

* * *
The masters madness has begun ...

Kates started working on her masters over the winter, and I kept wondering when the stress and piles of homework would surface. She was taking classes once a week and cranking out a fairly short paper for each class. ... Seemed easy enough, right?

No more.

School let out last week, which means the masters classes go into full gear this week. She had her first class yesterday morning, arrived home shortly after 1 in the afternoon and then spent the rest of her waking hours (until about 11 last night) reading and studying ...

And she's doing it all over again today. ... Our conversations last about a couple minutes at a time and then promptly end with her saying (as sweetly as possible, of course), 'OK, I've gotta keep reading... '

* * *

... so the results of our six-week Corporate Cup Challenge were announced today during the company picnic.

Our team, the Fitastic Four, took the top place with 1,735 total points, beating the second place team by 30 points.


... I was kind of worried we might not make it. Through the first three weeks, we had annihilated the other 11 teams and seemed well on our way to cruising toward the win. But another team, Improved Circulation, started making a strong run and actually topped our point totals in weeks four and six. They even tried outsmarting the other teams by saving most of their wellness points for the last week, whereas our team used them in the first week. Luckily, we had worked up enough points throughout the challenge to hold on to our lead ...

Our prize? A company lunch bag and a $50 gift certificate to a local shoe store.

Woo hoo.

* * *
It's more than two weeks away and the Summerfest preparations are well underway ...

(cue angel chorus)

Guster. Train. The Go-Gos. Bowling For Soup. The Bangles. The Fray. Counting Crows with the Goo Goo Dolls ...

... and the list goes on and on.


For my posts on last year's Summerfest outings go here, here and here.


Striking a chord

...driving home from work today and the radio DJ is excitedly explaining the release of "Weird Al" Yankovic's new album. He goes on to say that one song won't appear on the album, but is available for download on Weird Al's Web site ...

Mr. DJ then plays a clip of the song, "You're Pitiful" set to the tune of, you guessed it, James Blunt's "You're Beautiful."

I was laughing so hard I was almost crying -- and I think the DJ was laughing harder.

You can download it at Weird Al's site, where it says 'HEY! How would you like to download a brand new Weird Al song ...'

Big dummy?

... When I caught the early headline this afternoon that Big Ben had been in a motorcycle crash, I simply shook my head and proceeded to read the story.

Idiot is one word that comes to mind.

... I have good friends that ride motorcycles. That's fine, although you'll never see me on one of them in a million years. Still, my buddies at least wear helmets and try to play it safe ...

...Now as I write this post and the story is being played out again and again on tonight's news, it remains a mystery to me why on Earth you would risk your million-dollar career, your body, your life by jumping on a motorcycle ... and even worse, not wearing a helmet.

Prankster pitcher Drabowsky dies at age 70

...A good, entertaining story about Moe Drabowsky.

... The image of him calling the opposing team's bullpen and sharply telling them to 'Get Krausse up' is priceless ...


Summer vacation

…With Kates’ last day of school on Wednesday, she asked me to pick her up at 11 a.m. -- conveniently leaving out the part about me helping her clean up and pack her classroom belongings.

… but I helped. Grudgingly.

… A couple hours later we were on our way home, and beginning a relaxing, low-key, three-day vacation.

First, we stopped at the neighborhood Blockbuster for a handful of movies ( … rather than forking over, what, $20, for a late night showing chock full of teenie-boppers throwing popcorn and talking on their cell phones, more and more Kates and I are finding fun in grabbing an armload of movies every few months and spending days on end entranced in a movie marathon…), and then at Dairy Queen for a couple Mocha MooLates (mmm mmm good!)

And then. The movie watching began.

… we started with ‘Rumor Has It.’ … I remembered the reviews of this being a little cold when it was in the theater over the holidays, but Kates and I were intrigued by it, especially with its loaded cast -- hello Jennifer Aniston and our homeboy Mark Ruffalo. We even did our homework last December by going out and renting ‘The Graduate’ for a weekend (loved it!).

Still, my hopes for ‘Rumor’ weren’t so high. … Never mind that now. ‘Rumor’ was a charming little pseudo-sequel to ‘The Graduate’ with some wonderful and comical moments (the scene with Aniston’s character, having pieced together ‘The Graduate’ clues and talking to Ruffalo’s character while driving -- and Mrs. Robinson playing in the background -- was priceless), not to mention a sweet, heart-warming ending…. Not a classic, but a good flick.

… Next up: ‘March of the Penguins’ … It took us like three sittings to get through because Kates kept falling asleep, but there’s no denying this was a fascinating film!! Who knew penguins could be entertaining!?! … not to mention so intelligent, so innovative in the way they live and breed …

… Thursday started with breakfast at Frank’s Diner, a dining experience like no other, a downtown institution in our city since 1936, where celebrities have stopped and thousands of political debates have been scored. Then it was off to IKEA … woo hoo! A patio set, some bathroom additions and few frames later we were back to our movies …

And ‘The 40-year-old Virgin.’ … Not worth it. For months and months, I heard people talk about how laugh-out-loud HA-larious this film was … Nope. Nada. Nothing. Sure, there were funny moments and bits here and there. But too many scenes were repetitive and just plain stupid. …

… On Saturday night, we took in ‘Ice Age.’ The storyline is far from revolutionary. If you’ve seen ‘Shrek’ or ‘Finding Nemo,’ you know the gig. An odd-pairing of (insert creatures here) team up to help another (insert creature) whose lost his way. Along the way, the form a tight bond and help each other deal with their own issues/troubling pasts. … If there’s anything to watch in this flick, it’s the harried squirrel who can’t find a place to store his precious acorn. Again -- no classic, but a cute entertaining film …

… And finally, tonight -- ‘The Family Stone.’ … Similar to ‘Rumor Has It,’ Kates and I had seen the cool reviews for it when it was in the theaters over the holidays, but we were intrigued by the stellar cast. And again, we got our money’s worth. A great story, a striking dynamic among the family of characters, and an ending that’s touching, heart-warming and inspiring all at once …


And all too fast, my vacation is over.

Game #4

As Mom & Pops returned this weekend to help us finish off the deck construction, I had to leave them again for my Sunday ball game … too bad, because we were so close to finishing it. I actually contemplated not playing in the game.

Confidence is a funny thing. … I’d been playing well in practice. But in the games, I’ve been feeling like I’m not contributing worth -- well, you know.

But I went. And as we warmed up I was feeling good. Arm felt good. Batting cage felt good. Looked good in the field too.

Twelve guys showed up, though, which meant three of us would be sitting for at least the first half, and I was one of those three. Although this time, I at least got to bat the whole game.
I got a little pick-me-up too when I spotted my friend Liz had come to watch … It made me feel good when she said she admired me for playing in a hardball league versus softball. It made me feel even better when she told me later she overheard a couple of my teammates talking about me while I walked to the plate, saying, ‘Yeah, he’s little, but he can hit …’

Sure, I’d been doing it in practice. Now, I finally got to show ‘em in a game.

I batted for the first time in the third, and from what I had gathered, the guy on the mound appeared as hittable as anyone I’d faced so far. But with a runner on first and only one out as I came to the plate, Marcus told me to bunt.

Fine. I’m a team player.

The pitcher went through his wind up and tossed a pitch that was a little low, but right over the plate. I squared around and knocked a slow roller back to the pitcher. The runner advanced, while the pitcher threw me out. And the sac bunt had worked.

The good news was that the runner, and a couple others, scored to give us a good lead. …But I still griped a bit to Marcus at the end of the inning. ‘I can hit this guy,’ I said. He understood and reminded me it was for the team. Yeah, yeah.

I continued on the bench, although I also found myself becoming a more outspoken cheerleader than I had been in past games.

… Then in the bottom of the fifth, I got my chance at the plate again. This time, there’s one out and a runner on second base. As I step to the plate, I see the first base coach give the bunt sign to Marcus, who’s still coaching Third.

You’ve GOT to be kidding me.

Yep. Marcus gives me the bunt sign again. I just looked and sort of rolled my eyes. Then he puts his hands up as if to tell me to settle down and, of course, do it for the team. … So again. I stepped up. The pitcher went through his wind up and tossed a pitch almost identical to the last one I bunted. The ball jumped off the bat a little higher that I would’ve liked but floated off toward the third base side and dropped in front of the pitcher. He threw me out at first, and the runner advanced. And later scored.

My teammates kidded me as I came back to the dugout from another sacrifice bunt, but they also made me feel good about doing what I had to do and laying down some good bunts. … After the inning was over, I again met Marcus coming off the field. He apologized profusely, while I joshed him about making me bunt again. … The coolest part of it, though, was we were able to throw our arms around each other and laugh about it. Both bunts had worked for the better. My confidence was up. And it was all for our team, which was finally winning, 8-4
In the bottom of the seventh inning, I stepped to the plate once more with the umpire looking at me and saying, ‘Oh, not you again. You’re getting you’re bunting practice in today, man.’ … then I look down the line at Marcus, who’s got a big grin on his face and giving me the sign to swing away.

Thank God.

I immediately got three pitches far out of the strike zone and worked to a 3-0 count. But after taking a really good 3-0 strike last week, I’d made up my mind that I was swinging it looked good. … And that’s what happened. I slapped a hard ground ball to the third baseman, and then beat his throw to first base. … My first hit of the season.

Marcus gave me the steal sign on the ensuing pitch, but I didn’t get a good jump off of first, not to mention there was a left-hander on the mound. Watching the second baseman’s reaction, I thought I was going to have second swiped. But he caught the throw to his left and barely got the tag on me as I tried sliding underneath. …Dirt from head to toe.

I got into right field for the eighth and ninth innings, but other than backing up a couple plays, didn’t get the ball hit to me. … Still, we made some more of the stupid errors that took us out of our first three games, and the opponents tied it up 8-8 as we headed back in for the bottom half of the eighth.

We weren’t going down so easy though. We should’ve beaten these guys in the first game and we’d played too well today to let another slip away. We got two runs across and went back into the field for the ninth with the 10-8 lead.

Two hard ground balls to the shortstop and a line drive to the third baseman. A six-pitch ninth inning and we were done. Our first win … the way we jumped and celebrated, you might have thought we’d won the division.

Oh, it was bliss. We got an excellent outing from our pitcher -- he pitched a complete game. We played as a team. We committed few errors, and everyone was more supportive and having more fun than any of the previous three games. Confidence -- and team play -- is a funny thing.

So, for the record: We’re now 1-3. And I’m batting .200 in five official at-bats (eight plate appearances) with one single, one walk, two strikeouts, two sacrifice bunts and one run scored.

The season
Game one ... we lost, 19-9
Game two ... we lost, 11-5 ... or something like that.
Game three ... we lost, 8-5
Game four ... we won, 10-8


6/6/06: The date is here

So apparently the world is going to blow up or there's going to be some catastrophic event today ...



My $125 mistake

Life lesson No. 1,396: Never put your cell phone in a washing machine.

...So I had spent much of the morning working outside. When I came indoors, I changed out of my grungy clothes and then threw them into the washing machine with a load of laundry. I glazed over the pockets and thought I'd removed everything.

But I missed my cell phone.

I started the washing machine and went upstairs. Barely a few minutes later, I wanted to make a call and began looking for my cell phone. I searched every room in the upstairs thinking surely I'd left it lying on a table or desk. Then it suddenly dawned on me -- it was probably still in my shorts!

I bolted downstairs to the laundry machine. Only to open the lid and find water up to the rim, the clothes were soaked. I pulled from the suds my shorts, and there in the pocket was my cell phone. Soaked. Dead. Blank. Nothing.

Words will never, ever -- ever -- express the frustation, the madness, the depression, the stupidity I felt.

Although the trash is about the only place it can go now, it's still sitting upstairs on the desk in hopes it might magically come back on. ... I've always had about perfect luck and affection with my cell phones. I had my first one nearly four years, and only had it replaced because it was getting old and starting to die. This latest one I had used for barely a year, and I figured surely I'd have it for at least four, five years as well. I loved the feel of it, it had all the minimal and necessary functions I wanted ... and I've been with Sprint so long, I'd gotten myself into a low-cost, really nice, plan.


So ... First thing this afternoon, I drove across the state line to the closest Sprint store. I was off from work, and we don't have a landline in our house, so I needed to get a new cell phone, pronto -- especially this week, considering the phone calls and business I needed to take care of.

If I wasn't frustrated enough already, I walked into the packed store and was immediately put on a waiting list to be served. ... What seemed like an hour later (it was probably 15 minutes...), I was called to the counter. My service person: a short woman with dark, wrinkly skin, frizzy blonde hair and Freddy Krueger style finger nails, painted teel of course -- she looked more like she belonged at a psychic fair, not working at a Sprint store.

I told her my problem.

"Do you have insurance?"

"I don't think so..." ... on a cell phone? Of course not. I've never had anything bad happen to my cell phones. I treat them like my iPod, Like my unborn babies.

... Several minutes pass as she pecks on the computer. Watching her with her long nails makes me cringe like fingernails against a chalkboard. ... Finally she figures out I can get a $75 discount on any phone because of my good-standing with the company.

But the new phone I was interested in was $199, and was available for $49.99 with a rebate.

"No, you're not eligible for that," she tells me. "All I can do is upgrade your phone and give you the $75 discount..."


"Or I can give you this phone for free and we can add another line for $60 ..."

What? ... She's starting to have me running in circles here. All I want is a new phone, with my same number -- and I want it for as little cost as possible.

... She proceeds to add that I can't keep my same plan because it's under $30 a month and in order to get the new phone I have to upgrade my plan to at least $35 a month. That way I can keep my number, but I'd be paying $125 for the new phone. Or I can get the phone for free, add a new line and start paying $60 a month, have a different number, and be able to change it back to the old number after 30 days .... And either way I have to take a two-year agreement...

Confused yet? I was.

Just when she was about to begin punching in the numbers for me to buy the $200 phone for free and add another line for the $60 a month, I was catching up and stopped her.

"So wait. You're telling me I can get this phone today for $125 because of the $75 discount, keep my number, and have about the same plan for $40. Or I can have the phone for free, have a new number and be paying $60 a month for the next two years?"


"Well, no. Go with the $125 phone then."

She rolls her eyes and starts tapping out the corrected numbers. ... "I was just trying to save you some money today?" she murmurs.

"I'm more concerned about saving money in the long run." ... lady!

So I'm waiting patiently for her to hand me the reciept so I can sign it and get the heck out of there ... Until she tells me there's some problem with the computer, and for some reason, it's not accepting the $75 discount I was entitled to on the new phone. She looks at me like I'm supposed to know how to figure out their stupid computer system and says, "So what do you want me to do now?"

"Ah, can you go ask for some help?" ... LADY!!!

She marches past a door and comes back a few second later, saying she asked a manager to come out. ... Good. And then she adds, "We could have had this whole thing done if you would've taken the $60 plan."

I DIDN'T want the $60 PLAN!!

The manager comes out and figures out the error like it was no big deal.

... and finally I was signing my receipt.

I walked out with a new phone and managed to keep the same number I've had for the last 3 1/2 years.

... And at least now I have a camera phone.


Game #3

…After years of anticipation and months of planning, the deck construction finally got underway this weekend, but I had to cut out for a few hours this afternoon to go play ball.

Or not.

We had 15 guys show up for our team today. So, considering the way I’ve played the first two games, I was hardly surprised when Coach didn’t call my name as one of the starters. And even when the rules allow for all of your players to bat even if they’re not in the field, I didn’t even get to the plate until the bottom of the sixth. … For the record, I had an 3-0 count and then took a perfect pitch for strike one. I swung and missed for strike two, and then got jammed on the next pitch and hit a soft floater that (I think) bounced in front of the pitcher, who threw me out at first …

I got into right field for the final three innings, but never had a ball hit to me. Which was probably a good thing -- again, considering the way I’ve played so far.

And we actually held the lead, 4-3, going into the ninth. The team we were playing also had an 0-2 record, so the prospect of us notching a win was good. … Until we made a bunch of stupid errors and gave up five runs in the top of the ninth.

In the bottom of the ninth, one of our guys led off with a single. …and then Coach put on the steal with one of our better hitters at the plate. Runner was thrown out -- and then touched off an entertaining little shouting match between Coach and the batter, who by the way are brothers. Our batter was just a tad upset his bro sent the runner when we’re down four runs in the ninth and he -- being a good hitter -- was at the plate.

…Needless to say, we got one run across the plate and a couple more runners on base. But the game ended with the score 8-5 and me, signifying the tying run, on deck.

We lost. Again. Our record is now 0-3 … I’m still batting .000 in four official at bats (five plate appearances). One walk. Two strikeouts. One run scored.


Cubs win! Cubs win!

... while Kates and my parents (they're here for the weekend) headed to bed, I stayed up ... and up ... and up ... and up to watch last night's Cubs thriller (doing like four Sudoku puzzles in the process ...), got to bed at like 1:30 a.m. ... and was back up at 7 this morning to help my pops start building our deck ...

...it was a great game ...


The reality Bee

Seriously. How cool was it last night watching Katharine Close and the rest of the gang compete in the annual Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee!?!?

... I mean I've caught clips of it on ESPN here and there over the years, but watching it live last night on ABC ...it was TOTALLY reality TV at its best!! Kates graded papers while I sat next to her on the couch, watching intently. We hung on every word, cheering and groaning with each little speller that stepped to the mic. Oh, the tension ... Although I had little Katharine pegged from the beginning as a strong favorite, I, of course, was also cheering for the girl from my hometown Olathe, and Kates, of course, cheered hard for the kid from Lincolnshire. ... and then when Saryn Hooks was called out for supposedly misspelling her word and then! reinstated after the commercial break because of judges error -- heart-thumping suspense and drama, I tellya!


Cubs get Nevin

It's something ...

Cubs acquire Nevin from Texas

... and just when there might be some hope, Kates sends me this ...

Twenty major events that have occurred since the Chicago Cubs last laid claim to a World Series championship:

1. Radio was invented; Cubs fans got to hear their team lose.
2. TV was invented; Cubs fans got to see their team lose.
3. Baseball added 14 teams; Cubs fans get to see and hear their team lose to more clubs.
4. George Burns celebrated his 10th, 20th, 30th, 40th, 50th, 60th, 70th, 80th, 90th and 100th birthdays.
5. Haley's comet passed Earth twice.
6. Harry Caray was born ... and died. Incredible, but true.
7. The NBA, NHL and NFL were formed, and ALL Chicago teams won championships in each league.
8. Man landed on the moon, as have several home runs given up by Cubs pitchers.
9. Sixteen U.S. Presidents were elected.
10. There were 11 amendments added to the Constitution.
11. Prohibition was created and repealed.
12. The Titanic was built, set sail, sank, was discovered and became the subject of major motion pictures, the latest giving Cubs fans hope that something that finishes on the bottom can come out on top.
13. Wrigley Field was built and becomes the oldest park in the National League.
14. Flag poles were erected on Wrigley Field roof to hold all of the team's future World Series pennants. Those flag poles have since rusted and been taken down.
15. A combination of 40 Summer and Winter Olympics have been held.
16. Thirteen baseball players have won the Triple Crown; several thanked Cubs pitchers.
17. Bell-bottoms came in style, went out of style and came back in.
18. The Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, Arizona Diamond Backs and the Florida Marlins have all won the World Series.
19. The Cubs played 14,153 regular-season games; they lost the majority of them.
20. Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Oklahoma and New Mexico were added to the Union.