July 30, 2011

Ever Call the Cable Company?

Of course you have. So you'll appreciate Molly Campbell's take on their customer service. God, she's funny!

by Molly Campbell

My television service is abominable lately. Recordings freeze. I love things “on demand,” but apparently my demands are unreasonable, because the last two movies I have rented won’t play. “America’s Got Talent” went black right at the most crucial moment, and I wasn’t able to see if that guy survived the fifty foot fall into the baby pool. My computer is no longer wireless. The phones are a bit wonky. We have limped along with all of this, but when we lost the signal right in the middle of “The Marriage Ref” the other night, the camel’s back was broken.
I dialed the number for customer service. The sales rep, Bill, answered, and was full of enthusiasm and sincerity. “Oh, Mrs. Campbell, that is terrible. I just love that show myself! Those couples are hilarious! Wait just one minute so I can verify your account. What is your favorite restaurant?” I informed Bill that where I chose to eat was none of his business. “Oh, no, Mrs. Campbell. That is the secret question. Your answer let’s us know if you are who you say you are.” Of course, it was my husband who established all the secret questions and answers. I have no idea what his favorite restaurant is. I tried Taco Bell. No go.

Read the rest of this hysterical article.

July 27, 2011

What's Better Than Graffiti? A Mural!

Remember last March when I wrote about the graffiti on the Oak Street underpass? (photo at left) Well, look what's happening now! (right) These pictures were taken last week - it's even further along now.
Chicago artist Jeff Zimmerman's work is part of a campaign to raise awareness of beach health and water quality issues, i.e. not feeding the birds or littering, another of my pet peeves.

And for all you negative people grumbling about your tax dollars, don't worry, it's funded by a grant. Now can you get on board?
BTW, I wrote the original post on March 17th about how awful it looked under there and within two weeks the graffiti was gone, and I'm taking credit!

July 26, 2011

5 Foolproof Steps to a Great Relationship

Hah! As if I know. But I bet I grabbed your attention, didn't I, because who isn't looking for some enlightening news about how to insure a successful relationship?
I would be the one to ask if you want five foolproof steps to ending one - I've done that countless times in my life - but you'd need to look to someone else to tell you how to keep one going.
Some people think if it's a good relationship you don't have to work at it. And that's true if one of you is a blow-up doll. The fact is, working at it is what makes it good (I'm convinced, but then what do I know?), and when you stop working on it is when it's sure to fall apart.
So the relationships that survive, are they ones where people have the most tolerance for each other's imperfections? Or ones where one of the partners is a peace-keeper at all cost? Are they ones where people communicate, or ones where they turn the other cheek? Are they ones where you can laugh at yourself and see the humor in life or ones where you take things seriously?
What the hell's the secret? Does anyone know? In my opinion (take it for what it's worth...) it's equal parts communication, respect, humor, tolerance, and a big dose of luck.
I know some (few) couples who've been together for many years and who seem happy, but you never know what goes on in a relationship, do you?
If all else fails follow the example of my friends Lucy and Ricky (names have been changed). They've been married for 36 years. The other day Lucy told me Ricky is looking for his own place nearby. My (classy) response was, "WTF??? What kind of place? An office? A studio?"
"No...a place place, as in home."
"Are you getting divorced?" I asked.
"No," Lucy replied. "We have no plans to get divorced. We just can't live together any more." Doesn't anyone who's ever been married or lived with someone understand this? "Ricky will still take care of things around the house," she said, "and pay the bills and stay here on holidays. We'll still travel together. We just won't live together. We're both really happy about it. We're getting along better than we ever have." She sounded giddy.
Is this the baby boomer generation's answer to a successful relationship?
There's a quote I like (unattributed) that says, The grass may be greener on the other side but you still have to mow it. Not sure how that applies here, but it does somehow.
BTW, stay tuned for the next installment: What To Do When You Lose The One You Thought You'd Grow Old With.
Hmmm...this may take some research.

July 22, 2011

Ray Romano on David Letterman

Men never talk about getting old and women can't stop talking about it. Who even knew there were men's issues? It's refreshing to hear the other side.
Some thoughts on getting older:
  • When you get old, your secrets are safe with your friends. They'll never share them because they can't remember them.
  • Forget about eating health food - you'll need all the preservatives you can get.
  • You can't be young forever, but immaturity can last a life time.
  • Life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer it gets to the end, the faster it goes.
  • Isn't it nice that wrinkles don't hurt?
  • I finally got my head together, now my body is falling apart.
  • It is easier to get older than it is to get wiser.
  • Nostalgia isn't what it used to be.

July 19, 2011

I'm in The Writer Magazine!

Elfrieda Abbe, Publisher of The Writer Magazine, mentioned me in her article about the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. Check it out...so cool! (You can click HERE to go to the entire article, you'll find me about halfway down.)

Reflections on the Santa Barbara Writers Conference
Posted Mon, Jul 18 2011 11:28 AM by E Abbe

Founded in 1973 by Barnaby and Mary Conrad, then owned and directed by Marcia Meier from 2004 to 2009, the Santa Barbara Writers Conference enjoys a reputation as one of the best in the West. After a two-year hiatus, it was back in full swing this summer thanks to Monte Schultz, who bought SBWC last year and Nicole Starczak, who did a stellar job as conference director.
What a difference a few years makes. In just two years, the publishing industry’s tectonic plates have shifted, maybe not a 6.5 shift, but enough to feel a rumble. Agents have always been in great demand at the conference and it was no different this year. As usual the agent panels (there were two panels this year), were among the most popular with attendees.

Read the rest of the article. I'm mentioned about halfway down. How fun is this?!

July 15, 2011

Ten Thoughts to Ponder

This came into my inbox this morning. I don't usually even read this stuff but for some reason I did, and it just made me laugh.

Ten Thoughts to Ponder

Number 10 - Life is sexually transmitted.

Number 9 - Good health is merely the slowest possible rate at which one can die.

Number 8 - Men have two emotions: Hungry & Horny. If you see him without an erection, make him a sandwich.

Number 7 - Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day. Teach a person to use the Internet and they won't bother you for weeks, months, maybe years.

Number 6 - Some people are like a Slinky--not really good for anything, but you still can't help but smile when you shove them down the stairs.

Number 5 - Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in the hospitals, dying of nothing.

Number 4 - All of us could take a lesson from the weather. It pays no attention to criticism.

Number 3 - Why does a slight tax increase cost you $800.00, and a substantial tax cut saves you $30.00?

Number 2 - In the 60's, people took acid to make the world weird. Now the world is weird and people take Prozac to make it normal.

and...the number 1 thought - Life is like a jar of Jalapeno peppers--what you do today, might burn your ass tomorrow.

July 14, 2011

Wonder What Goes on in Retirement Communities?

Next thing you know they'll be dancing to Thriller.

July 13, 2011

Advice To Writers from Molly Campbell

Molly Campbell is my favorite blogger. She's the Erma Bombeck of blogging. No, really...she actually won the Erma Bombeck Writer's Competition. She's a very clever lady with a unique and funny perspective on life. And a great writer.

I am not a famous author. I am not really a famous blogger, either; however, I have convinced my neighbors and some people on twitter that I am. Since I have achieved this rarefied celebrity status all by myself, with the help of a laptop computer and Jack Dorsey, Al Gore, Mark Zuckerberg, and several thousand business cards randomly left on restaurant tables and in dental waiting rooms, I feel ready to distill advice to those of you readers out there who want to be just like me, or maybe even better. I can help you do this.
I have been posting my thoughts and feelings into cyberspace on a very regular basis for over three years. This gives me the credibility I need to call myself a writer. Oh yeah, and I have won a writing prize, gotten a job blogging for somebody else, and I am writing a book. So listen up, all you wannabes!
Click here to read the rest of the article.

July 11, 2011

Movie Review: Super 8

Super 8 is a movie about kids but it's not a kid's movie. I mean it's great for kids but it's as much a movie for adults. It's also about an alien being but it's not science fiction.
It's 1979 and a group of kids are at a train station shooting their own zombie movie, not on a Flip Camera but with a regular old movie camera and sound equipment. They accidentally record the crash of a truck into an oncoming train and then the action begins.
Incidentally, the guy driving the truck doesn't die, and okay...that takes some effort to suspend disbelief but it's a small point.
It's really an intelligent script. It's been compared to ET and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and it certainly pays homage to those films but it's its own movie. The performances by all the kids are great, especially by new kid Joel Courtney as Joe, and Elle Fanning as Alice. The best part of her performance is the performance within the performance, when they're making the movie. But I love the chemistry between her and the Joe character. And I always like Kyle Chandler.
The music's gorgeous, perfect for the time, and I loved the camera work, especially the shots when they're in the holding area.
Oh, my other nit to pick (you know I always have something) is the kid with the braces - I'm sure he doesn't have braces in real life. He seems to have an extra set of braces-encased teeth over his own, and he can barely speak, his mouth is so full. Weird.
But all in all it's a well-done movie that grabs you and holds you until the end. I loved it.
4-1/2 out of five stars for Super 8.

July 9, 2011

So Much To Do in Chicago

Okay, here's my weekend so far: yesterday I went to see OVO, the new Cirque du Soleil show. I'm crazy for Cirque du Soleil but have to say this wasn't my favorite, although there were some wonderful things, especially the last act. On my way home I stopped by Millennium Park to listen to the free concert in the park. What other city does that? God, what a lovely thing.
Today I went to the Michigan Ave. Art Festival which is a fantastic display of creativity, and I got there before the full blast of heat of the day, which is even more fantastic, and ran into my friend Carolyn Durocher (dancer extraordinaire - left). Then I stopped at Bandera on Michigan Ave. for
a glass of wine and the Hacked Chicken Salad (delicious!) and then stopped once more for a gelato - some chocolate-y, caramel-y, espresso confection. Oh my god. Need I say more? I need a nap and it's only 12:30.
I may see a movie this afternoon, then I'm going to need another nap because I'm doing the L.A.T.E. Ride with my friend Joann, which is a bike ride through Chicago neighborhoods that starts at 1 a.m. Yes, you heard me correctly: 1:00 a.m.! OMG. What was I thinking?
Tomorrow, other than sleeping, I'm going to see the play Bug, by Tracey Letts with my friend Claire, and there's still the Gold Coast Art Fair to do.
Holy crap, how will I fit it all in? Are you exhausted?
Sophie Tucker is - here's how she reacted when I recounted it all to her.

July 6, 2011

Movie Review: The Tree of Life

Nothing happens in this movie. NOTHING. There's an opening sequence that lasts at least half an hour (could have been 45 min. - I don't know for sure, I nodded off for part of it) of nature shots; oceans, flowers, amoeba, dinosaurs... This is an excellent opportunity to get popcorn, refill your Coke or use the washroom. I counted four people who left and never returned during this part. Oddly enough I stayed for the entire 2 hours and 18 minutes and I have no explanation for that. I guess I thought there was going to be a big payoff. Let me just say,
there isn't.
There's very little dialogue, only breathless, whispery voices asking spiritual questions. There's no plot, no real story. There's something about grace and nature, which I suppose is the central theme but you'll have to ask someone else what all that means.
I usually agree with Michael Phillips but he shockingly gave this film 3 1/2 stars (out of 4). For a completely different take read his review in the Trib.
For me? Zero out of five stars for The Tree of Life.
If you want to see a really, really good movie go see Super 8. Review to come.

July 5, 2011

Women Are Crazy Because Men Are Assholes

Okay, that's not my personal commentary (is it?), it's the name of a play I saw at The Mercury Theater which, unfortunately for you, is no longer there.
It's a great show, the story of five couples who get together for brunch to meet Nicole's new boyfriend, Dylan, the love of her life, the man she's going to marry. Unfortunately they've never met. They've had a two-month relationship but the it's all been online.
And if that isn't enough material for two hours each couple has its own issues to make fun of. There's a little something for everyone: commitment-phobes, lesbian love, three-way sex...it's all there.
Here's what the program says: This is the last reasonable thing any of them will do for the day (referring to coming to the brunch). Secrets will be screamed, sex will be weaponized, and sanity will have its throat sliced.
They are assholes, they are crazy. Try to love them anyway.

There's so much laughter from the audience you just know you've missed some sure-to-be-great lines. If it were still here I'd see it again, hoping to catch those. If it comes back, you have to go with me!

July 4, 2011

Move Over Susan Boyle

Get some tissue before you watch this.

Didn't I tell you?

July 3, 2011

One of my Favorites: Mythos Greek Taverna

Check out Mythos. Go for the amazing food and the cozy ambiance, and then you'll keep going because you'll feel like you're home.
This is one of my favorites, a BYOB Greek taverna at 3947 W. Montrose, just west of Damen. The owners are two sisters; Vicki (right) does the phenomenal cooking and Toni (left) is front of the house; greeting customers, making sure everyone's happy, introducing customers to each other. If you're there more than once she'll remember you and it'll feel like family. I love this place!
(left, the chicken regante) Go, you won't be disappointed.

Faith in Humanity

Last Saturday I got home from Santa Barbara at 1 a.m. and took a taxi from O'Hare. Later that morning (after only about four hours sleep - whats up with that?) I went for a run and then I went to get my wallet so I could go to the farmer's market and my wallet was nowhere to be found. Crap! Then I remembered taking it out of my purse, taking out some money and leaving the wallet out so I could put the change away. But apparently I left it in the taxi.
So I called the cab company to see if it was found, but no luck.
Fortunately I only keep money and my drivers license in that wallet so I didn't have to worry about credit cards. So, writing it off, I got a new drivers license (and wasn't charged for it because I'm so old!).
And what do you know, today, voila! I got a FedEx envelope from L. Kevin Green, Director of Accounting for Load Delivered, with my wallet, everything intact.
What a great guy. Validates your faith in humanity, doesn't it?
Some months ago I was taking Metra out to Itasca to have lunch with my best friend, Judi, and when I got to the ticket window I didn't have my purse. I'd left it on the damn bus. Jeez, what the hell is wrong with me these days?
So I went tearing back out to the street to see if the bus was still there - thank god it's the end of the line so it sits there a while and it was there and the bus driver had my purse (intact) and I ran back inside and still made my train.
I'm a very lucky girl, aren't I?

July 2, 2011

The Dream Keeps Getting Better

My lovely editor at St. Martin's Press asked how my edits were going on Mr. Right-Enough (now called What More Could You Wish For). She said she wasn't trying to rush me but they’ve had a couple of requests from foreign publishers wanting to see the manuscript and she wanted to be able to give them some sense of a time frame.
Yippee! This dream keeps getting better and better.
So, here's the revised first chapter. Take a peak and let me know what you think.

Chapter 1

Sometimes people throw out the question, “If you could turn back the clock what age would you go back to?” and I would always say, “I wouldn’t...I love the age I am.”
Well, fuck that. Ask me now.
When you're 20 or 30 or even 40 you can't imagine being 50. But all of a sudden there it is, smacking you in the face and you think, "Holy shit, how did that happen?" It's better, as they say, than the alternative but really...holy shit.
I thought if I ignored my fiftieth birthday it would go away but Michael, my significant other, called on his way home from work, bursting my balloon of denial.
“Happy birthday, sweetheart,” he said. “Let’s go to that new sushi restaurant for dinner. What do you think?”
“We don’t have to go out tonight,” I said, thinking that crawling into bed and pulling the covers over my head would be the preferred alternative. ”We’re celebrating at my folks’ tomorrow.”
“I know, but it’s not every day you turn fifty.”
“Thank god,” I said, examining myself in the mirror on the wall of my workroom and face-lifting sagging skin with my free hand.
Michael and I had been together nearly two years. We didn’t live together but traded off staying at each other’s house several times a week. It was a nice arrangement and we had a sweet, comfortable relationship, far more peaceful than any relationship I’d been in before, including my two marriages.
Michael and I had planned that he’d stay at my house tonight but I was thinking we’d spend the evening quietly at home with a nice bottle of Malbec and take-out from my favorite Szechwan restaurant. But he sounded so pleased with his sushi idea that I agreed. It was just dinner out, after all, not, I knew, a surprise party. I’d made him swear more than once that he’d never do that to me and Michael was a man of his word.
I finished hemming one of the purple satin bridesmaid dresses I was working on for my best friend Sophie’s daughter’s wedding. There were four duplicates hanging on a rack and I was anxious to finish them and get that purple extravaganza out of sight. It clashed with the d├ęcor.
My workroom, which was in the finished basement of my Chicago-style bungalow, was painted soft pale yellow and had nubby Berber navy blue carpet. The windows were small and high up on the walls but there was a fair amount of natural light, and lots of indirect lighting in the drop ceiling with spot lights for specialized work.
In one corner there was a big, soft two-person chair and ottoman that were upholstered with striped yellow and navy fabric and next to that was my desk, computer and some bookshelves. The room was bright and crisp, but cozy and snug. I loved the look of it but I especially loved what it represented: my independence from the sterile corporate world I used to inhabit.
Now, while I waited for Michael to return phone calls and take a shower, I turned on my computer, double-clicked the AOL icon and heard, “Welcome! You’ve got mail!” I loved that. It was like winning a little prize.
An email from my mother said, Happy birthday, Libby. I can’t believe you’re 50! It makes me feel so old.
Tell me about it, I thought.
I’m making some of your favorite things for dinner tomorrow. Come over about 6.
By the way, I saw this article and thought you might be interested.
She’d attached a link to an Internet article titled Retirement Planning for the Single Woman.
Jeez, AARP was already sending their damn magazine, wasn’t that enough? Did I need this from my mother, too?
My parents couldn’t grasp why I’d quit my job as a graphic designer six years ago and went into business for myself as a dressmaker/tailor. I think they worried my clients would dry up and I’d end up living in a cardboard box under an expressway. Or worse, at their house. But the fact was my business was thriving. It had taken a few years but I’d had some money saved. It’s not as if I didn’t plan the transition. Didn’t I get my resourcefulness from them? How could they not appreciate what I had done, how hard I’d worked at getting the word out about the new business; going to networking events, doing mailings to large apartment buildings in high-end neighborhoods, sending out eBlasts. And now I had a nice client list that kept my hair stylist in business, stocked my cupboards with smoked oysters and champagne, and paid for some nice vacations. And I was even putting money into a retirement fund, which I guess I needed to tell my mother.
I answered emails from clients, checked an eBay auction, looked at some fashion sites, and then just browsed, checking out the AOL welcome box with news briefs and weather forecasts and “Best Cities to Retire In.” God, more retirement stuff. It was everywhere.
At the top was a hyperlink for SearchForSchoolmates.com, and a picture of a girl who could have graduated in my high school class in the seventies. She wore a dark turtleneck sweater with a locket on a small gold chain, and had long straight hair parted down the middle. It was exactly like my own senior picture, and I smiled, thinking of my high school days. So I navigated to the website. I had to select my state, then the city, then my high school, and finally I could enter the years I attended and my own name, Elizabeth Carson. And voila! a list of 104 alumni from my graduating class came up. I laughed, looking at the familiar names; Mary Blevins, Susan Caldwell, Danny Schultz. I could picture Danny’s blond hair and dazzling smile and wondered if he was still cute or if he was now sporting a comb-over and forty extra pounds.
Page two was more of the same and vague memories swam through my brain, memories of walking the locker-lined halls and sitting in various classes passing notes to my friends. And homecoming and prom and the gymnastics competition. It had been thirty-two years since I’d seen any of these kids. The thought that these kids were all fifty now was unimaginable.
I was on page three when I saw a name that made me sit back in my chair. Patrick Harrison. Wow. That was a name that hadn’t surfaced in my brain for a hundred years. Patrick had been my first love, the one I thought I couldn’t live without. He was the bad boy with long hair, the one my parents didn’t like and I couldn’t resist. I remembered how we’d walk the tiled halls hand in hand, how he’d drop me at my classroom and give me a soft kiss before he’d walk off to his own class. My heart would just about beat out of my chest and I thought I’d never survive until the hour passed and I could see him again. I clearly recalled that sweet terror, the heart palpitations, the blush that started at my chest and infused my whole body when I saw him walking toward me. Was it possible to feel that way at fifty or was that territory reserved for teenagers?
“Libby,” Michael called, “you about ready?”
“Be right there,” I said and saved the SearchForSchoolmates.com website to my Favorite Places.

Michael seized a piece of sushi with chopsticks and popped it into his mouth.
“Raw fish good,” he said in his best caveman voice.
While we waited for our dessert of green tea ice cream Michael told me about his new listings and a high-maintenance client he’d just started working with. Michael was one of the top real estate agents in the city and I admired his dedication, I really did, but he always gave me more details than my attention span had room for. So now I nodded and smiled and thought about Patrick Harrison, wondering what he was doing now, what he did for a living. I couldn’t imagine him an attorney or an accountant. Definitely not a real estate agent. I could see him as a forest ranger or maybe something in non-profit. Or maybe he was a fifty year old bike messenger pouring himself into spandex and still wearing a ponytail.
I knew I was going to send him an email and thought about what I’d say. Hi, remember me? Remember when we slept together on New Year’s Eve when we were seventeen?
The waitress brought two tulip-shaped glass dishes, each containing a perfect scoop of green tea ice cream. Mine had a sparkler twinkling in the middle.
“Happy birthday,” she and Michael said in unison. I braced myself for them to break into an off-key rendition of the song and let out a relieved breath when they didn’t. I pulled out the sparkler and we both dug in, remarking how yummy it was; cold and creamy. Then Michael put down his spoon, reached into his pocket and placed a small black velvet box in front of me. I blinked.
“Open it,” he said pushing it closer.
I stared. I had a bad feeling. It was surely a ring but hopefully it was a cocktail ring or a friendship ring. I’d even be happy with a claddagh ring. Even though I wasn’t Irish. Trepidation swirled around my throat.
The waitress and two busboys stood watching from a respectful distance, grinning like kids with a new Game Boy. “Go on,” Michael said.
What could I do? Refuse? So while everyone watched I gingerly lifted the little lid. There, like a searchlight, sat an enormous diamond ring. My mouth fell open. The waitress clapped her hands together.
“Will you marry me, Libby?”
Marry him? Really? I studied his face thinking (hoping) maybe he was kidding but he watched me eagerly.
What was he thinking? Fifty percent of all marriages fail. Not to mention one hundred percent of mine. “My god, Michael, it’s huge,” I said. What I wanted to say was, What the fuck, Michael? If you wanted to get married couldn’t we have talked about it privately instead of turning it into a spectacle? “How could I wear this? It’s bigger than my fist,” I said. He laughed. “You shouldn’t have bought this. I’m too old for an engagement ring.” And I don’t want to marry you.
“You’re never too old for diamonds,” he said
Well, of course I knew that, but still...
I noticed then that the only sound in the restaurant was the faint clanking of dishes from the kitchen and I looked around to find five or six tables of patrons watching me. A plump, gray-haired woman in a flower-print blouse smiled encouragingly. A small blonde girl with a pink feather in her hair sat on her knees, arms crossed on the back of the chair. It was like a stage play and Michael was enjoying his role as the romantic male lead. What was I supposed to do now? How could I say anything other than yes with all these people watching?
“Put it on,” he said. I hesitated. “Go ahead.” I took it out of the box. I made a show of it being too heavy to lift and Michael and our little audience laughed. When I slid it on my finger his eyes sparkled and he leaned forward.
“Well?” he said. “Will you?”
I held up my hand and made another show of being blinded by the glitter. The crowd loved it but I was just stalling, trying to think what to do. The silence enveloped me as they all waited for my answer. I had a quick vision of taking off the ring, putting it safely in Michael’s hand and then running like hell out of the restaurant, disappearing down the street, maybe going into witness protection. Instead I said, “How could I not want to marry a man who would buy a ring like this?” Not a yes, I reasoned. An answer I could explain away later when I told him what I really meant was no.
The waitress let out a little squeak and there was a spattering of applause.
“Did you pay these people?” I asked.
Michael’s smile illuminated his face like a sunrise. He put his arms around me and pulled me close. “I love you, Libby,” he said and kissed me.
As I kissed him back I waited for the tingle, the blush, the thrill I’d felt with Patrick Harrison so many years ago. It didn’t come. What came was like a solid mass of cement sitting on my chest. Shit.
“You’ve made me a very happy man,” Michael said, his eyes crinkling with pleasure. “We’ll have a great life together.” He laughed. “Well, we already do, but somehow it feels different now. Don’t you think?”
“Yes,” I said. “It definitely feels different.”