Jill and I are fortunate to have a great view of the Chicago River from our apartment, and the river is much busier than I would have assumed before we moved downtown. From March through November, this aromatic body of water is filled with kayakers, gravel barges, motorboats, party boats, tour boats and an occasional police patrol.
Some days, especially around this time of year, the temperature will hang in the 40s and the rain will come down in sheets, but the tour boats maintain their schedules. Even in the worst conditions, the boats will have a handful of people on board, braving the gale on the top deck. Last Tuesday, as the temperature hovered in the teens, we watched a boat pass by with about a dozen passengers on board.
At first, I wondered why these tourists—I assume they are tourists—are out in such bad weather to see our city from the river. Then, I realized, they were on the boat this day because this was the only day they had available.
Most likely, these battered souls are in town for a short while, have an interest in architecture, and decide it's worth a bit of discomfort to survey our legacy. Yes, it might be raining or freezing, and yes, it might be (more than) slightly miserable, but our sodden friends can’t return tomorrow or the day after. This is the day they have and they are going to make the best of it.
You gotta respect that. This is the day they have and they are going to make the best of it. Of course, this day is every day and it’s every day for all of us, not just for tourists on the Chicago River. We get the same 24 hours as Howard Schultz and Pope Francis, the same window as the guy who cleans the bathrooms at the airport and the prisoner on death row.
This is one of those lessons in life that’s so obvious, so consistent, that it’s easily forgotten. Sometimes we need a reminder, such as a tour boat with five passengers in truly miserable weather. Whenever one of those vessels comes into view, it energizes me to make more of my own experiences, to enjoy the gift of this day and avoid regrets tomorrow.
Because, when it comes to the next 24 hours, we’re all in the same boat.
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I was feeling pretty proud of myself when I told my trainer I had left some French fries on my plate four days in a row. Then he acted shocked and incredulous and amazed and otherwise uncalm as he demanded to know how often I ate French fries at all.
“Well, they come with the sandwich, so pretty much every day,” I answered, with the sudden realization that I was expected to feel guilty about this.
“Don’t you ever have a salad?” he asked in that tone you hear when a question is really an accusation.
And, no, I almost never do, for many good reasons.
First, I am an environmentalist (when it’s convenient or supports one of my rants) and the lettuce that goes into a salad is the most environmentally damaging food in the universe. On the scale of nutrition per dollar, lettuce is right behind a pizza delivery box.
Second, lettuce grows in fields, where animals frolic and poop and, need I mention, screw. Heads of lettuce are convenient support for randy rabbits who, as you know, enjoy coitus like rabbits, and you should be warned that the curved indentations in your arugula did not occur naturally. It is only safe to eat French fries because potatoes sport thick skins and have the decency to grow underground, where the fauna can’t reach them.
It’s not just lettuce that is suspect. Pretty much everything that grows just above the surface is plagued with animal excretions, along with skins so thin that anything can penetrate them. Compare that to your average steer, which has skin as tough as leather. And do you know why it’s as tough as leather? Exactly.
If we’re going to be honest about it, there is absolutely nothing good to be said for vegetables. Basically, they are a combination of indigestible fiber, water, and a handful of vitamins I can swallow in a pill before I finish my first cup of coffee. It’s trendy to say you like vegetables, but nobody really does. Brussels sprouts only became popular after chefs decided to cook them with bacon and blue cheese. Add enough bacon and blue cheese and they’d enjoy haggis, too.
Even the word vegetable is suspect, as it should be. If I was hit by the proverbial bus and, instead of dying, I was in a coma and unresponsive, would anyone say I was in a meatatative state? No, they would not. They would say I was in a vegetative state, which is one of the worst states to be in outside of Alabama.
While we’re on the subject of vocabulary, vegetables are often called “greens.” Do you know what else is green? Mold. Coincidence? I think not.
Another word to consider is “fertilizer,” which is a euphemism for manure. When animals are busy growing their fabulous meats, manure is a waste product that gets discarded. Sometimes, though, that manure gets sold, and do you know who buys it? Yep, vegetable farmers buy manure that they slather all over—and into—their crops before selling it to the rest of us. So-called “organic” farmers are the worst offenders, bragging about the “natural fertilizer” they use to poison us all.
With meat, the USDA has rules to keep the poop out. With vegetables, as they say, it’s a feature, not a glitch.
Finally, if you are what you eat and I am made of meat, it is almost a requirement that I should only eat meat. And some fat, so as not to upset the delicate balance within my bio-domain.
Man doesn’t live by meat alone, though, so it is acceptable to balance my diet with French fries, ideally cooked in animal fat. Bread is okay, but only the minimal amount required to transfer the meat from the plate. Ditto for pizza, which is nature’s delivery system for pepperoni.
Someday, the entire world will recognize the wisdom of my dietary insights and I will be lauded as a visionary.
In the meantime, are you going to finish those fries?
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Every so often, a new piece of technology is so exciting, so revolutionary, that you just can’t believe it wasn’t invented sooner. Seriously, I can’t tell you how obsessed I am about these cutting edge “pablets.”
Omigod, this hot new technology is solving so many of my problems. All day, I’m switching from one website to another to keep up on what’s what in my busy world. I’m checking on sports, business, entertainment, world developments, investments…frankly, it all gets dizzying and I forget where I’m at. Some days, I end up reading the same story two or three times because it appears on multiple sites.
And, when I want to make a note about something I’ve read, I have to put the note in a text or email that I send to myself or comment on a page that everyone else can read. It’s hard to corner the market on World’s Best Dad coffee cups when your evil plan is visible to the entire universe, and I can’t tell Alexa I need to stock up on Clearasil, because she’s a big blabbermouth who will tell every advertiser in the world about my zits.
Now, all my problems have been solved by a new service that’s just like Grubhub or Jet.com or Amazon, but instead of having my food or books or undies delivered to my door, I get a printed report about my world every morning. Soon, I hear, it will be delivered by drone.
These newfangled “pablets” are amazing with a capital Mazing. A simple lifting motion that’s very similar to a left swipe allows me to log in, with no passwords to memorize and retype over and over again.
Spotty wifi is no impediment to getting my updates and I don’t need to worry about being hacked when I’m at Starbucks, because it is 100% air-gapped. Public networks are suddenly risk free, and I never have to worry about my battery dropping to 1% while I race to finish exotic recipes or movie reviews.
Groundbreaking fiber technology allows me to actually separate the paper-thin screens, so I can leave the screen with upcoming television shows in front of the TV and the screen with recipes in the kitchen. If I want to share something interesting with my wife, I can just tear off that screen and hand it to her to read while I’m reviewing other screens.
If I want to remember something or make a note to myself, I can use a special stylus to record my idea directly on the screen, and the screen is remarkably flexible, so I can fold it up and put it in my pocket or a file folder to retrieve later.
But wait, there’s more. Nobody is tracking me while I shift from the business sites to politics to entertainment, no pop-ups slow me down, and the unique, fiber-based screens are 100% recyclable.
Best of all, it’s a terrific time-management tool. Most websites have the same amount of information every day, but this advanced technology prevents information overload when I’m heavily scheduled during the work week. Conveniently, it stores important data during the week and then provides a more complete package of information on Sundays, when I have more time available for page-surfing.
Whatever was the greatest invention since sliced bread has dropped to a distant second. If the people behind these “pablets” can market them effectively, the sky is the limit.
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Successful people are boring, the mystery of hot bicycle seats, and one question you should never ask, among the deep thoughts we've been thoughtifying all week…
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For some reason, I keep thinking chicken and waffles should be my favorite breakfast choice.
Fried chicken for breakfast. How can that not be great? It’s right up there on the food pyramid with bacon and, unlike bacon, I can eat it in front of my rabbi. Likewise for waffles, the breakfast food so delicious they named an entire restaurant chain after them. Put them together and you have a surefire winner.
Except, you don’t. My odyssey has been going on for about two years now and I have yet to find a place that serves chicken and waffles to die for, or even to get seriously injured.
The best fried chicken is moist inside, crisp outside, with breading that is almost a second skin. Great waffles have endless pockets of crust surrounding an inner body of chewy dough. There’s give and take, push and pull, crunch and gush, an ideal combination. Yes, there is an art to this, but it’s not like fried chicken and waffles are new inventions without 5 zillion how-to videos on YouTube.
You can find thousands of restaurants where they know how to make fried chicken and thousands more with great waffles. Doing both at the same time should not be close to impossible, and yet it is.
Part of the challenge, of course, is that both waffles and fried chicken are more complicated than their homespun legends would suggest. Making fried chicken with crispy skin and not too much breading, with meat that’s still moist and not overcooked…that’s a major challenge for everyone. Creating waffles that are almost crunchy without being a dry pile of crust is likewise a feat.
Even restaurants that get these basics right will find a way to screw it up, though. Some cooks think it’s a great idea to throw a couple of burnt chicken wings on a waffle, because nobody really wanted any edible “chicken,” while others deliver a thigh that’s still dripping with fat that ruins the waffle’s structure.
Some restaurants put no seasoning at all on the chicken, or come up with bizarre combinations like sriracha syrup with blueberry compote and ramp. A few places have decided corn is the absolute best flavor for a waffle, such as the restaurant that proudly served me a chewy concoction slathered in corn flakes and an ungodly agglomeration of spices I have never experienced before on Planet Earth.
Over the past two years, I’ve ordered chicken and waffles about 40 times at roughly 30 restaurants. This search has morphed from a fun excursion to a death march, as I slog through one disappointment after another. I feel like Prince Charming, doomed to touch every smelly foot in the kingdom in hopes of finding my true love.
After all this time, I’m in too deeply to call it quits. The search continues and it will not end until I find the chicken and waffles that are every bit as wonderful as I had believed them to be when the journey began.
Clearly, this is a noble quest.
Just as clearly, I have way too much time on my hands.
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I knew a fastidious guy who often commented on the need for proper attire, neatness, cleanliness, and decorum. One day, we were talking about something or other and he started picking his nose. When I made note of that transgression, he said quite simply and without affect, “It’s okay. Mine is different.”
I wish I could convey the tone of his voice when he said it. He was matter of fact, the expert, letting me know that I had no need to worry because his was different. Nothing to see here, citizen. Just move along.
In the greatest feat of self-control I have ever mastered in my life, I did not laugh, sneer, chuckle, snort or make any comments about his assertion. Perhaps I was floored so completely I couldn’t react at all, but the conversation continued as if nothing had happened.
I was thinking about that situation recently as I began contemplating the Ten Days of Awe, beginning this evening with Rosh Hashanah and continuing through Yom Kippur. I’m not the most observant of Jews, but I get fully engaged in the period of introspection, confession and atonement that comprise the High Holidays. And in my more self-aware moments, I am reminded how much I am like my (mostly) fastidious friend.
Mine is different, or so I will claim in one way or another. All too frequently, I write myself a permission slip to excuse the things I just did, or the things I know I’ll do again. It’s okay, though, because I’m a good person and I’m not really hurting anyone, or hurting them much, and it’s only fair because they do it, too, and it’s not like they’re apologizing for what they did, which is much worse than what I did, and, anyway, they pretty much deserved it. And I’m a good person, dammit!!!
I’m not alone, of course. I am bombarded daily with explanations, excuses, and the total lack of any self-awareness exhibited by people who know they are justified, permitted, forgiven, graced. Perhaps our most human failure is our willingness to forgive ourselves for the things we would not forgive in others, a willingness to assert that a wrong is not wrong if the right people do it. And, of course, it is absolutely true that WE are the right people and THEY are not.
We never add up all the lame excuses, and then the Days of Awe arrive. It’s not a surprise, but the arrival of the holidays brings a sudden awareness that, maybe, Someone with an infallible memory has been tallying up the damage. Perhaps, Someone with a really great sense of right and wrong has noted our willingness to pardon ourselves as if we were the true judge. Even if a person has no faith in a Higher Being, the process of introspection and repentance is truly awe-full.
For the past year, much like my friend with the itchy nose, I’ve made too many excuses, too many deflections, too many claims that mine is different. That probably makes me like everyone else in the universe, but I’m not responsible for all of them, just myself. And so, I’ll be spending the next ten days hoping for a second chance, or maybe a 67th chance, to get this thing right. Wish me luck.
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Who writes this stuff?
Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.