Monday, September 29, 2008

Oh PBS ...

Well, I really don't know where to begin about "Spain — On the Road Again." Being a fan of NYT food writer Mark Bittman, I figured I'd give it a watch when it was on WTTW last night. I liked Bittman's "The Best Recipes in the World" show. In it, he would travel to exotic locales to, say, watch someone's grandma make gniocchi. And though it wasn't a straight how-to cooking show — Bittman did flash back to his kitchen to make something once in awhile — the food was always at the forefront.

"On the Road" seems to be more about the journey: an aimless, bloated, wine-sodden journey. Bittman tools around Spain in a Mercedes convertible with superchef Mario Batali, big-time starlet Gywneth Paltrow and Spanish actress Claudia Bassols, stopping at little towns to eat local delicacies and, most importantly, sample local wine.

We're never shown how to make any of the food. I could live with that (I'm not much of a cook) if I didn't have to endure Batali's obnoxious, know-it-all posturing, Paltrow's vapidity or the general decadence of the whole thing.

American foodies like Batali and Bittman are obsessed with getting back to the source of European cuisine, the gastronomic terroire — soaking in the sun, sniffing the soil, licking the rocks, etc. But this show just makes it all look like what it really is: an update of the Ugly American tourist. Only now he's got even more money, and he's pretending to be an expert on your culture. (I wouldn't feel too bad for Spain, though — one of the Top 5 Oppressor Nations in history.)

I also was a bit creeped out by the middle-aged-dudes-hitting-on-hot-young-chicks subplot. I apologized to Erika that there wasn't sufficient young man meat to feast her eyes upon. Straight women must make due with the hoggish Batali and the husk-like Bittman.

I'm sure Batali would call me a prude, more content with "America's Test Kitchen" and NA beer, but it's just really hard to watch millionaires and their buddies get drunk and eat blood sausage for an hour. For Bittman's sake, I'll check out one more episode. There's always the chance one (or all) of them will end up in a Spanish jail.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

It's a girl!

We're having a girl! A girl? I wouldn't have believed it, either, after all the old wives' tales and armchair genetics we've been hearing the past few months about boys. (I just copyrighted that term, "armchair genetics," by the way, so hands off.)

Erika and I went in for the more intensive ultrasound yesterday. The equipment was pretty amazing. Our technician could measure the little bones in our daughter's arms and legs, see all the chambers of her beating heart and even look at her brain. And when we saw her little mouth move, well, that was just the best.

I grew up with two brothers and no female first cousins (no first cousins at all, actually), so this is going to be a very interesting experience for me. I'm so happy, I'm tearing a little as I write this. Our girl had her little legs over her head in a yoga pose, looking a lot like her mother. Maybe that will be the case. Nothing would make me happier than to live to 99, listening to two Erika-like people yak back and forth. =)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Week 3 reflections

I hate to be one of those people who says, "We should be 3-0," but, well, we should. The Bears frittered away strong chances to win the last two weeks, particularly today against Tampa, when Charles Tillman was called for a fighting penalty in overtime that kept the Bucs' drive alive.

The city is always happier when the Bears are winning, so it's disheartening when you come to the realization that our boys will probably turn in another 2007-, 2004-, 2002-type effort. Thankfully for the local sports fan, our baseball teams are both poised to continue their seasons in the playoffs.

And at least I've got my fantasy team — though it looks like they'll need more than a little help this week to eke out a win. Rats. Uh … how about the Cowboys/Packers Sunday night game? Ah yes, that should soothe the hurt of the Bears loss a bit — some pure football appreciation. I feel a little bad I missed last Monday's "King of All Fantasy Games," but we're still going cable-free, at least for the moment.

Where is this all leading? Well, me on the couch in a couple hours. Not a bad place to be. Enjoy yourselves on this, the rest of your Sunday, Woundup fans.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Time to wield the blade v2.0

We had Al, Suzi and Chris over for faux meatloaf last night. Great dinner. And naturally, after a couple brews and some wine — and three old rockers in the room — the conversation turned to metal. I put on some Motorhead, and Chris revealed that a former classmate now drums for King Diamond. A distinguished metal accomplishment.

I sometimes wonder if what Neil Meredith said — essentially, "once a metalhead, always a metalhead" — is true, in that my formative years of constant listenings to "Ride the Lightning" affected my tastes even to this day, be it for freaked-out free jazz or menacing absurdist drama.

I'd like to think it can't be summed up so easily. I've got a sensitive side, after all: I enjoy still life paintings, professional golf and the Modern Jazz Quartet. I even bought a "Best of America" record in 1999. I suppose if metal represents anger, dissatisfaction, frustration, then, yes, certainly that streak is there. But isn't it in everyone in some way? It's just some of us choose to express it by, say, listening to "Overkill" at top volume. Great record, by the way.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A snob concedes

We received the film version of "Look Back in Anger" somewhat accidentally, as I let our Netflix backlog of classics creep up into the top three, normally reserved for contemporary indie movies about disillusioned, balding literature professors and their damaged families. (I think we've seen about eight of these so far.)

Being a snide neo-absurdist, I've harbored a slight disdain for John Osborne for, you know, all the stock reasons. But watching "Look Back" last night, I was shocked out of my abstract stance by a work that strikingly concentrated on the here and now, without any artificial accentuation of hope or despair: a true piece of realism. And I was struck by the excellence of Osborne's writing. It really made me want to read the thing again.

As a snob, I used to scoff at this play for being what seemed like a long personal political rant tacked on to a stock love story. The film version gave it air, moving a lot of the action outside the flat and put some of Jimmy Porter's snarling in different locations that made it seem more varied and even stronger.

Is it better than a play where you don't know anyone's name or their names change or you never find out why they are where they are? I don't know. High marks have tended to go, at least in the last 60 years, to those writers who give less. But Osborne's naked, loquacious work struck me right in the heart last night. And that may be all that matters: what echoes the challenges, with equal sadness and joy, that we face in our lives.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Eagles/Cowboys: Genet takes the points

From today's "Sports Guy" column on ESPN Page 2. …

Bob: "Thanks, Bill. I'm here with Cris Collinsworth, Jerome Bettis, Tiki Barber, Dan Patrick, Keith Olbermann, Peter King, Olympic hero Michael Phelps and a homeless guy we just found on the street. Get ready for one of the most confusing, choppy and incoherent pregame shows in the history of television. Although there is some good news — we finally have enough people on this show for a complete softball team."

Cris: "Actually, Bob, you can have 10 guys on a softball team."

Bob: "Really? Then let's bring in our new humorist, he's going to do some predictable comedy segments for us, and more importantly, he's the man who finally realized Dick Ebersol's dream of spending $100 million on talent for a "Sunday Night Football" telecast when you include what Madden and Michaels are making … please welcome to the show our old friend Billy Crystal."

Billy: "Bob, I'm confused — is this a pregame show or a bar mitzvah?"

(Everyone laughs uproariously.)

Thank you, Bill Simmons, for writing what many of us were thinking: Why did "Sunday Night Football" add Dan Patrick to an already overstuffed pre/post cast? How much airtime can you possibly give him to be effective? This brings even more confusion to SNF, which boasts a staging as complex as Jean Genet's "The Screens." (I like to think the "players' table" of Cris Collinsworth, Tiki Barber and Jerome Bettis actually exists in Bob Costas' mind whenever they cut away to it, as it has kind of an inner sanctum feel being offset from the main stage and enclosed in walls of TVs.)

I know NBC is trying to capture some of the '90s DP/KO magic, but can you graft together a SportsCenter broadcast, a former players' analysis show and an Olympics-style anchor-at-the-desk thing (Costas) and call it a coherent pre-game? Guess we'll just have to see how these goofballs do this week.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Erika and I are rapidly approaching the saturation point for Henry VIII-related historical drama, having recently plowed through all available "The Tudors" DVDs as well as "The Other Boleyn Girl." I'm not saying I've grown weary of the timeless tale of Henry Tudor, Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Mary Boleyn, Thomas Boleyn, Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell and Cardinal Woolsey, but it might be time to take a break before that happens.

Some other points in British history I'd like to see recreated, for a change of pace …

• The Restoration
• The Glorious Revolution
• The reign of George I

I particularly like the last one, as the prospect of an English king who speaks only German has a high comedy factor. Get Ricky Gervais involved and you've got a hit on your hands.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

But what's the storyline?

That sullen, sunken sound in Al Michaels' voice somehow makes it all worthwhile.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Are you ready for it, the football?

I need hardly remind you that the 2008 NFL season begins tonight in the new millennium fashion with a Thursday contest: Redskins/Giants. Seems like just yesterday that the last season ended, you say? Well, it was less than seven months ago that Erika and I braved a blizzard to catch the breathtaking action of Patriots/Giants at Russ and Mary's. Yea, and the beer did flow freely. (I drank Brooklyn Lager.)

Too soon? Never, says I. Football can never come back too soon. Baseball is the king of games; hockey the prince — but football is the strongman with the army on his side. And that army is 100 divisions deep with pickup truck, Coors Light and IT equipment commercials in constant rotation from tonight till the second week of 02/09.

I've scoured a number of preseason primers, including Sports Illustrated's wonderfully exhaustive preview issue. SI's Dr. Z has the Pats besting the Eagles in Superbowl XLIII. It could happen, depending on the Eagle receiver situation. Interestingly,'s Sports Guy, Bill Simmons didn't even have his hometown (Boston) team making it back to the big game. He went with … Jacksonville over Dallas? I don't know about that one. My pick is Dallas over San Diego. Yes, passing on the Pats is in season this season, though there's certainly no reason they couldn't win it all anyway.

Ideally, I'd be enjoying tonight's action with an Old Style tallboy and the company of old pal J. Stockton, but since he's flown the coop to New York, I'll have to fly solo … and sans booze. I'm still sick. But don't worry, our doctor phoned in an airstrike (antibiotic prescription), and that should put us on the mend. Who knows, maybe I'll have that Nyquil a little early tonight, too.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


Geezus, it's cold in the Cracker Factory. I heard we hit the hottest mark of the year yesterday. You wouldn't know it today.

I can't tell if they're running the AC or if they turned it off and are piping in the cooler outside air, but I'd give just about anything for a coat or a jacket or a sweater right now. I just heated up my lunch, and I was warming my forearms over it. Wrong day to wear a short-sleeved button-up.

There are two chairs opposite my desk. Maybe I can skin them with a letter opener and use the rough fabric covers as a kind of pelt. Seems we're a little closer here today to nature's knife edge of survival than I thought. Might have to burn the Red Eye.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Class dismissed

I am hugely hooked on Beer School, a monthly-ish podcast you can get for free from the iTunes Store. Erika loaded a few of them on our 'pod for the long ride to and from NYC. The hosts, Motor and John, have a theme for each show and sample beer throughout each episode. Yes, they start to get a little off-topic as they drink, and it can be pretty funny. They're based in San Francisco and, from what I can gather, work in the IT business. Motor, who sometimes punctuates the dialogue with belches, seems like the kind of guy who's ripped his shirt off at an outdoor party after a few brews more than once in his life.

Some highlights include the guys drinking skunked Landshark beer ("Leftovers") and Motor guzzling that horrific Budweiser/clamato 22 oz thing — and loving it ("Weird"). But most of the time they just sample quality brews from around the world. If you love good beer or are curious about the whole craft beer movement, I encourage you to give it a listen.

Happy anniversary!

A year ago today, Suzi, Erika and I bought our house. We did the closing on S. Wacker, right across the street from the Old Cracker Factory, and then piled it home to do a power move in the evening. Erika found these great movers on Craigslist that ended being from Carpentersville, where her folks live.

I was a bit bent out of shape that day. I guess that's to be expected, but if I could do it over, I would try to enjoy it more. That could probably be said of just about everything in life — well, some events more than others. I'd like to think I enjoyed getting married or graduating from college when they were happening.

A year has passed that's seen us bring in tenants, plant a huge garden, host a good number of parties and do some emergency repairs. Largely, it's been mellow, and it's really starting to feel like home. In our second year, we'll add a new occupant and continue down the home improvement path. I plan on enjoying it all a little more.