Sunday, February 16, 2014

February 15, 2014 The 2013 President's Day Letter (previously known as The Christmas Letter)

Welcome to my annual Christmas letter, where I try to describe our past twelve months in a somewhat entertaining way. Welcome to my first annual Martin Luther King Day letter, formerly known as my Christmas letter. It is late this year because I didn’t want to write it until I got back from visiting my parents in California for Christmas. Welcome to my first annual Valentine’s Day letter, formerly known as my MLK Day letter, which was late this year due to not one but two Polar Vortexes that have made living in Chicago similar to living in the arctic. Welcome to my first annual President’s Day letter, formerly known as my Valentine’s Day letter, which was late this year because my male dog Oslo thinks this is the greatest winter ever, which means I have to take him hiking through deep snow whenever I am not working twelve hours a day. Since I don’t want this stupid fucking letter to become my Easter letter, here is my recollection of what happened last year.

After drinking until the early hours of the morning on New Year’s Day, Kimmy (Chrissy’s sister) & Keny , Lisa (Chrissy’s cousin), Chrissy and I had breakfast at a very crowded local diner. Lisa ordered naked crepes and sausage which brought on some laughter and quite a few racy comments. As Lisa tried to explain what naked crepes really were, we decided the extremely good looking young Mexican waiter (also known as the Sexican waiter) would serve Lisa her naked crepes rolled around his “verga”, hence a naked crepe and sausage. When Lisa said that was fine with her, Chrissy & Kimmy decided to order the same thing. Our laughter and generally unacceptable public behavior caught the attention of a five year old girl at the next table who was still wearing her fancy New Year’s Eve dress. She was eating breakfast with her stodgy looking grandparents and she gave us a look that said “Your table looks like so much fun. Please save me from these old people.” Funny thing about it was that her grandparents were about our age. Our next stop on New Year’s Day was dinner at my friend Debbie’s parents’ house, where the following conversation about one of our high school teachers occurred. ME: “What class did Mr. Gilbert teach?” DEB: “Shut up!” ME: “What?” DEB: “Shut up!” ME: “Why do I have to shut up?” DEB: “What?” ME: “Why do I have to shut up?” DEB: laughs and says “I didn’t say shut up, I said shop. Mr. Gilbert teaches shop.” Then Deb’s brother Marty says “You two are idiots, Mr. Gilbert teaches social studies.” First day of the New Year and I go from fun loving cool guy to deaf and senile old man in just 3 hours. New Year. Same shitty life!
After enjoying a Polish smorgasbord dinner at the Warsaw Inn, my twelve year old niece Kristian offered everyone a piece of gum as we got up from the table. When I asked for a stick of the yellow wrapped gum, she said no. So I replied a bit too loud as we walked by the buffet line, “Come on, give your Uncle some Juicy Fruit”. As soon I said it, I realized my mistake. Several people laughed right away, others turned away in disgust when I laughed at myself. Luckily, I don’t think Kristian understood why it was so wrong and so funny at the same time. Then again, maybe she did.

In February my friend Eric, Christy & I went to Soldier Field to watch outdoor college hockey games. Her alma mater, Miami of Ohio lost to Notre Dame in the first game. It was a bitterly cold day but we lasted through the second period of the Minnesota vs. Wisconsin game. We decided to warm up at Mercat a La Planxa with some Spanish Tapas food and several pitchers of sangria. Our smoking hot waitress was real impressed that Eric and I play hockey and that we braved the bitter cold to watch the games. About two minutes later she was less impressed and actually moved to uncontrollable laughter when Eric & I could not read the menu because we forgot our old man reading glasses and had to use Chrissy’s glasses to order our food.

We have season tickets for the Towle Theater. It is a small theater that produces outstanding plays in Hammond, Indiana. We usually sit in the front row which is at stage level and then the seating goes upward. The following happened at a play called Brooklyn: The Musical. Chrissy had been gassy all day and she always has an excuse, she ate fruit or asparagus or maybe it was the tomato sauce. Anyway she dropped a bomb as one of the actors headed our way and from the look on his face he clearly walked right into it and fumbled his lines. When he looked our way, I leaned back and pointed across my chest at Chrissy. He almost lost his composure as he quickly turned away from the audience and walked to the back of the stage. I on the other hand was biting my tongue to keep from laughing out loud as Chrissy kept punching me up and down my left side.

Once again I visited what has quickly become my second favorite city, New Orleans. Chrissy & I went for Jazzfest and stayed with my brother Jeff. We love Jazzfest for many reasons…the wide variety of music, (Flow Tribe, every band on the Fais Do Do stage, Big Chief Walter Cook & the Creole Wild West Mardi Gras Indians, Zena Moses & Rue Fiya, just to name a few)…the alcohol especially the Nawlin’s Rum Punch and the incredible food, the Cochon de Lait PoBoy is quite possibly the best sandwich I have ever eaten. The most fun we had was being part of the second line for Uncle Lionel Baptiste of the Treme Brass Band. We got to dance alongside the Treme Brass Band as they paraded their way through the Jazzfest grounds to a memorial tribute for Uncle Lionel. It was so cool to be part of this New Orleans tradition. One night after enjoying a dozen raw oysters at Jazzfest earlier in the day, Jeff asked me if I was worried about mercury in shellfish as I ordered another dozen at the Acme Oyster House Raw Bar. My reply was a simple “No”.  As the night went on, the guy shucking oysters kept giving me free ones and I kept eating them. Jeff kept getting more verklempt with each oyster and I kept giving him different examples of the many ways that someone could die besides mercury poisoning. Jeff tried to get Chrissy on his side but gave up when Chrissy said she didn’t care what I ate or how I died as long as the life insurance policy was paid. I think he now understood why I didn’t fear death and might actually welcome it. One day we told Jeff we were going to the Bywater neighborhood to try a BBQ place called The Joint. He warned us that neighborhood was not safe. I can’t believe that my brother, who struggles to call me once a year, cares so much about my well-being. So we decided to risk our lives for a pulled pork sandwich. Trust me, the food was worth risking death. It would have been a perfect last meal except for one small detail…the neighborhood was safer than the one we live in back home. It is a beautiful neighborhood with an artist/bohemian vibe that has small but incredibly well decorated houses and yards…a gentrified area that still retained its cool past. We walked around that neighborhood taking pictures for almost an hour without any worries.

So this is a story about three brothers who are incredibly athletic (Jim, Ian & Mike McDonnell) and one old man who isn’t athletic (guess who?). Ian wanted to hike the Franconia Ridge Trail in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Jim & Mike decided to hike it with him and somewhere along the way; I was invited or invited myself to join them. Even though it was the second week of May, our original plan to hike a loop through the White Mountains was scrapped due to five feet of snow on the north facing sides of the White Mountains. So we camped overnight at Liberty Springs and hiked the Franconia Ridge Trail the next day. We hiked across four mountains Mount Liberty (4459’), Little Haystack (4780’), Mount Lincoln (5089’) and Mount Lafayette (5261’). It was a beautiful day and the scenery was incredible. I knew hiking up mountains with much younger friends was going to be a challenge for me. What I did not expect was trails covered with ice, hard packed snow and rocks…not just rocks that might twist your ankle but boulders that you had to climb over…not just here and there but pretty much the entire length of the trail. The brothers were very good about waiting for me…constantly. But eventually I fell so far behind that Jim climbed down off Mt. Lafayette and offered to carry my backpack up to the peak. Sure it was embarrassing, but I was so fucking worn out that I would have let him carry me up the mountain…I handed him my pack. As soon as he put it on he says, “Damn, this pack is light!” I hiked up the mountain as my pride tumbled into the valley below. After catching up and relaxing on Mt. Lafayette, I declared that I will be able to keep up now because it was all downhill from here. I should have kept my mouth shut. The hike downhill was over snow and ice covered rocks that got bigger the further down we hiked. By the time we made it to the trailhead I could barely control my legs. I laid down on the asphalt path unable to move. While Jim & Mike jogged the three miles back to the car, I thanked Ian for allowing me to tag along on an amazing hike…and then begged him to have them run me over with the car when they got back. While enjoying a few beers that night after dinner, Jim says to me, “after today’s hike, the Tough Mudder will be a piece of cake for you next weekend.” So on to my next story…

…At the urging of the McDonnell brothers, I signed up for the Tough Mudder. It is a military style obstacle course over 12 miles of mud. I had 6 months to train for this event. At the urging of my fat old ass, I decided not to train at all. The motto of the event is…it is not a race and no one is left behind. After constantly waiting for me to catch up during the first 3 miles, my team left me behind.  I don’t blame them. I told them to do it repeatedly. There wouldn’t be enough daylight to finish at my pace. So I cut across a few of the routes to eliminate some of the miles I had to run. I was constantly encouraged by strangers. I survived diving into a giant tub of ice, crawling through underground tunnels of mud, jackknifing into a muddy water hole from 40 feet up and walking, sometimes crawling through a mile of deep mud but when I reached the top of the third and highest stacked log obstacle, I threw one leg over but my arms couldn’t hoist me up and I landed spread eagle on my nut sack. A young woman next to me kept me from falling off and asked if I was OK, not only I could I not speak but I couldn’t breathe. Her boyfriend knew exactly what I had done and told her I’d be OK in a few minutes and then helped me down. Overall I completed 19 of 24 obstacles and ran, jogged, walked, limped and crawled about 6-7 miles. As I attempted to run through mud and over bales of hay while trying to avoid getting electrocuted by live wires hanging down at the finish line, I have never felt more beat to hell in my life. But in a strange way, I also never felt better…maybe that last electric shock to my forehead that I felt down into the fillings of my teeth erased a few pain receptors in my brain or maybe it felt good to actually finish something I probably should have never attempted.

New York City never disappoints me, the city has an energy that recharges me with every visit and makes anything seem possible. Apparently Christy thinks so too. We went to Coney Island’s Mermaid Parade this year. Chrissy even dressed as a mermaid. After all the fun in the sun, we partied at the Mermaid Ball on a riverboat in New York Harbor late into the night. On our subway ride through Brooklyn an obviously drunk Chrissy wanted to play mermaid to my pirate in the empty subway car. It was just like Tom Cruise and Rebecca DeMornay in Risky Business, without the cheesy 80’s music. God I love NYC. A few days later Chrissy found a Chicago bar in Bay Ridge where I could watch the Blackhawks possibly clinch the Stanley Cup surrounded by Hawks fans. Yes indeed, the entire bar was full of red Blackhawks jerseys. When the Hawks scored two goals in the last minute of the game to win the Stanley Cup, everyone went crazy. The excitement lasted late into the night and continued on the R train through Brooklyn. This time Chrissy wanted to play goalie and dared me to try and score. When I told her there were other people on the train she said, “That’s OK, this is New York City. No one pays attention to strangers on the subway.” I told her that she sounded just like a New Yorker and then I used some fancy stick handling to put the biscuit in the basket. The next day we celebrated at Rockaway Beach, it was so hot Christy was still wearing her bikini on the A train back towards Manhattan. This time it was a crowded rush hour train and we did it standing…shit I can’t even finish this because I’m laughing too much. Damn, can’t I at least finish a fantasy without laughing at how ridiculously improbable it sounds?

Every fall, the Great Pyrenees Rescue has a cookie dough fundraiser. We bought several different types of cookie dough and every few days, I made another batch of cookies. About this time I was complaining about how I must lose weight because in my old age the extra pounds are slowly killing me. But I have no will power. So I cut back on dinner portions but had a big glass of milk and a plate of cookies each night. Then in December, Christy made Christmas cookies. Uh – Oh! Then a trip to NYC got us a huge tray of Italian cookies from my cousins.  As I told Chrissy “you gotta eat these now while they’re fresh”, she saw the huge plate of cookies I was holding and said, “you fat bastard, I thought you were on a diet?” I replied, “I am! It’s called the Cookie Monster Diet!”

So you want to know what Christmas with my parents is like. It is heartwarming stories like these that made me visit my parents for Christmas this year. Dec 20th – a phone call to my mom…Mom: “Your father  is putting up a Christmas tree on the patio right now.” Me: “Do you usually put up a tree?” Mom: “No! He’s doing it because you and Jeff are coming this year. What a pain in the ass! There is shit everywhere. When he asks ‘What should I do with this?’ I tell him to throw it out.” Me: “Gee Ma, Merry Fuckin’ Christmas to you too. I can’t wait to get there.” Here’s another fine Ott family Christmas story to warm your hearts this cold winter season. Since Georgie was sick we didn’t all get together until Dec 26th. After a fantastic dinner at a local place called The Corner, we went back to my parents’ house to exchange gifts. The holiday spirit actually filled the room. We even decided to watch a feel good Christmas movie. A Christmas Carol and A Christmas Story were out because we watched them Christmas Day and It’s A Wonderful Life wasn’t available anywhere including on Netflix Streaming. So we chose a heartwarming story about a young girl’s rags to riches story that centered on her particular talent of deep throating a penis. Yes we watched Lovelace, the movie about the making of Deep Throat. I am pretty sure no other family in America sat down after opening gifts and decided to watch that movie. Merry Fuckin’ Christmas indeed.

In my old age I have decided, actually my aching body has decided to slow down and smell the roses, so here are a few simple pleasures I have enjoyed from this past year…how excited my dogs get every time I ask, “Wanna go for a ride?”…hiking anywhere with my dogs and somewhere along the way just sitting or lying down to relax…after a long day at work relaxing with my 125 pound dog Oslo on the hammock…watching the bees in the flower garden…enjoying the wacky parade at Pierogi Fest…having a few beers with friends after our hockey games…being able to spend Christmas Eve in California with my family…seeing my favorite 80’s band, The Replacements, play again after 22 years at RiotFest…having my cousin’s daughter Michelle visit us on her spring break and bring her youthful energy to a house with old people…finally taking part in SantaCon in NYC and seeing little kids faces light up when they saw me dressed as Santa on the subway… watching the sunrise over Lake Michigan after bicycling through the night in Chicago’s LATE Ride…dinner at Francesca’s with Todd & Vickie after not seeing them for a year and having our dinner last until they closed the place…enjoying an art exhibit and dinner in Greenwich Village with my artist friend Marie Roberts…after working a 90 hour week, taking a 6am flight to NYC, being fed as soon as I walked through the door by my Aunt Maryann, catching up with Freddie & Maryann on their back patio on a picture perfect day, then finally getting some rest with a late afternoon nap and waking up to a fantastic dinner of pasta and veal parmigiana, this was easily my favorite day of the year…the February Social Club event at our house where I made homemade pasta sauce and had friends and family stopping by all day long to enjoy food, drinks and hanging out together, it reminded me of similar parties at my grandparents apartment in NYC which is exactly how I envisioned it…spending a beautiful summer day at the Indiana Dunes with family and friends including finally meeting Evan & Sam, my friends Jim & Chrissy’s twin boys who loved their first trip to the  beach…I have loved listening to music for as long as I can remember, here’s my top five albums of 2013…“Modern Vampires of the City” by Vampire Weekend, “Mechanical Bull” by Kings Of Leon, “Down Side Up” by Old Man Markley, “Tape Deck Heart” by Frank Turner and “Pura Vida Conspiracy” by Gogol Bordello.

As usual there are moments that I will never forget. Maybe it’s a coincidence, maybe not but they both involve Mexican families. The first involved the Garcia family, whom I had never met before we were invited to their Labor Day party. My cousin’s husband Ken met Noel, who also lives on Chicago’s Southside, on a job site in Detroit. When Noel found out that Ken & Karen were visiting us over Labor Day, he invited all of us to his family party. As soon as we arrived we were treated like family by everyone there. We spent six hours eating great food and drinking. The conversation and laughs never stopped. We were even treated to shots of the good tequila. By the end of the night there were hugs goodbye and Tupperware full of delicious food for us to take home. The next story involves the Delgado family who has been like family to me for over thirty years. Kathy invited my family over for her mom’s birthday dinner. The night included an amazing dinner, many bottles of wine, lots of stories, a Jesus Christ Superstar sing-a-long and a party game called Cards Against Humanity which has the slogan “a party game for horrible people”. Someone reads a black card that has a question or a mad lib style fill in the blank statement, everyone in the group searches their white cards for the funniest answer to the black card. This game had us laughing for hours until late in the night when it ended with uncontrollable laughter when I read a black card that asked “What will be the next happy meal toy?” I gathered everyone’s white card replies and began reading them out loud. When I tried to read the winning card, I was laughing so hard I was crying. I couldn’t read the card out loud. So my mom looks at the card and starts laughing so hard she can’t read it either. Finally the answer “Lance Armstrong’s Missing Testicle” was said and crazy laughter filled the room.  It was a perfect ending to a beautiful night. When I walked outside and looked to the sky, I could see Mr. D smiling down on all of us. So here’s hoping that 2014 brings you strangers that become friends, memories that put a huge smile on your face and moments that make you laugh so hard that tears flow down your face.

 a extremely belated but heartfelt Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from both of us

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