Tuesday, February 28, 2012

January 30, 2012 My Day with the Stanley Cup...Kinda

 Back in November, my hockey team won the South Suburban Adult Hockey League championship in the B league. After a celebration on the ice, Walter ran out to his car and returned to the locker room with a replica Stanley Cup that a friend of his made with duct work sheet metal. We passed it around and Walt took pictures of each player holding the Cup. I never got any of the pictures from him. But just like the real Stanley Cup, we each got a day with the trophy. Today was my day.
 Here's my dogs ruining my picture. Like this blog doesn't have enough pictures of my dogs.
 Finally a shot of Chrissy's polar bears with the Stanley Cup.
And a picture of these two numb nuts.

January 29, 2012 Carlson Oxbow Park

The dogs decided to take me on an early morning walk at Carlson Oxbow Park in Hammond, IN today. We had the place to ourselves which made for a peaceful winter walk.

 I was surprised the pond was frozen because it's been very warm this winter...
...but it wasn't solid enough to walk on. This is a nice little park to walk the dogs and relax in nature so close to home. Too bad the sounds of the Borman Expressway can be heard throughout the park.

January 28, 2012 Calumet Park

 Don't let the sunshine and blue skies fool you...this was a blustery day. A strong wind off the lake made it seem much colder than it looks.
 Roxie loves Cal Park because she can always find food.
 We walked out onto the pier so this is a picture of a Pyr on a pier.
A few hours after our hike along Lake Michigan, this is how I found Oslo sleeping on my bed.

January 22, 2012 Winter Along Lake Michigan

This has been the warmest winter I can remember. It's been above freezing most of the days and there hasn't been a bitterly cold (less than 10 degrees) day yet. So I really enjoyed the snow that fell this weekend. Today I took the dogs to Lake Michigan's Lakeview Beach at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

 As you can see, the shelf ice is practically non existent.
 We walked west toward Dunbar Beach...
 ...then east toward Central Beach. Somewhere near Beverly Shores we came across boats in winter storage on the beach.
 I'll admit the pictures didn't capture the isolated winter look I wanted...
...so here's a portrait of the Fanook enjoying a winter day at the beach.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

January 21, 2012 Walking The Dogs

 It's been the warmest winter I can remember here in Chicago. We finally got some snow some I took the dogs for a hike at Brownell Woods. We got there early before the lot was plowed. The only tracks in the snow were deer tracks which Oslo followed all through the woods but we never saw any deer.
Here's the fearsome deer tracker, pausing on the trail to remove the snow from his paws.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

January 1, 2012 Friends, Family & Food at Cindy Lou's

 It is New Years Day Brunch at Cindy Lou's house. Just look how that floor shines.
 Here is co-host Mark taking a break from cooking the food.
 Here is Chrissy relaxing on the couch...
 ...while Mrs. Drescher teaches everyone a new game...
 ...that involves gambling so listen closely all you underage kids.
 Jimmy enjoying his third waffle of the day.
 Here's Khloe looking for trouble...
...then smiling her way out of it.

December 31, 2011 The End of a Day and a Year

Looking east as the sun sets on another day and another year. I'll continue to update this blog, just not every day in 2012. Hopefully I will have something to say that will be interesting or I will take a picture worth sharing. Either way, thanks for stopping by and Happy New Year.

December 30, 2011 PBR Truck

Pabst Blue Ribbon Delivery Truck, Chicago, IL

Friday, February 10, 2012

December 29, 2011 The 2010 Christmas Letter

   It’s been a very strange year. Chrissy & I took six trips this year but only one together. We started the year with three dogs. We ended the year with three dogs because Fluffy is one tough old girl and we couldn’t give Roxy away because she became Oslo’s best friend. We hung out with 800 Santas and 500 tubas in NYC. After 25 years, Chrissy decided to go back to school. I was saved from death twice this year, once by the lucky choice of an artery and once by donkey poop. I had a religious experience in Sedona that had nothing to do with a vortex. I ate breakfast with my feet hanging over the edge of the Grand Canyon and I made Chrissy laugh hysterically as I was wheeled into emergency surgery. So if any of that sounds interesting to you please read on and I’ll try to make it amusing. If you are bored already and believe me I don’t blame you…I’ll save you the time and wish you a Merry Christmas & Happy New Year now.
In March, I went to Arizona. I thought a week of hiking by my self would be good for me. I am happy to report that it was. While eating at the bar in Sedona’s Heartland Café, I met a local search & rescue volunteer. I wasn’t sure if this was a good or bad omen. It turned out to be a good thing and not because he ended up finding me cold, dehydrated and lost in a canyon, which was a definite possibility in my mind. He told me about hiking in Fay Canyon. The next day I hiked to the end of Fay Canyon, climbed about one hundred feet up the boulders to a narrow shelf path along the side canyon wall. I hiked along that for about a half mile. I was all alone. I sat there for at least an hour, relaxing, admiring, and enjoying the complete silence and a beautiful sunset over the mountains. While lying on the smooth rock of the canyon staring up at the blue sky, I watched the hawks and the ravens floating across the canyon. I was mesmerized, I felt like I was floating with them. It felt as close to a religious experience that a heathen like me can have.
The next day I would feel like I witnessed something straight from the hand of God as I looked into the Grand Canyon for the first time in my life. I really wanted to hike into the canyon on this trip. Unfortunately I never considered that snow would be an issue. As I looked down the Bright Angel Trail, I saw nothing but an ice covered path. So I ignored the men on donkeys wielding ice picks. I ignored the “crampons recommended” sign. I ignored the fact that people from Illinois are called ‘flatlanders’ for a very good reason. I ignored the fact that unlike hiking up a mountain, the hardest part of this hike would be the return trip back up the canyon. Really what could go wrong? I’m Irish, it’s Saint Patrick’s Day and I’m wearing green. The luck of the Irish lasted until the first switchback with a steep downward slope. As I slide 50 feet down the trail, the only thing that stopped me from falling 200 feet into the canyon was the huge pile of donkey shit that had melted the ice at the bottom edge of the switchback. So, as I teetered over the edge I pictured the donkeys sliding downhill to this spot and shitting themselves…which is exactly what I did. I continued on because it was a beautiful sunny day and the canyon was perfectly lit with amazing colors in every direction. The contrast of the snow covered scenery in the shade with the sunlight colors in the canyon were             so unbelievably beautiful that I completely forgot about the icy trail, my aching knees and the long climb back            out. I hiked almost a mile and a half down the trail before my knees said it was time to turn around. I made it back to the bar at the Maswik Lodge just as the sunset and celebrated Saint Patrick with some Harp beers.
On my last day at the Grand Canyon, I got up before sunrise and hiked west on the Rim Trail toward Pima Point.       I stopped between the Trailview Overlook and Maricopa Point to eat my breakfast. The wonderful views were available all along the trail and you can sit and rest on the edge just about everywhere. So I sat down with my legs over the edge and ate the greatest poppy seed muffin with the most incredible half pint of milk. It is possible that the view with the sun rising over the canyon had influenced my taste buds. Anyway, I heard a woodpecker in the tree above me. When I stood up to take a picture, I saw a female bighorn sheep climb down onto a rock outcrop in the canyon. I couldn't believe my luck as she stayed there while I changed to a telephoto lens and took some pictures. For the second time on this trip I felt like the hand of God was on my shoulder and this time I was surprised he didn’t push me into the canyon. Some other highlights of my trip were…hiking in Red Rocks State Park all alone because the park ranger let me in an hour before it opened…seeing 1000 year old cliff dwellings at Montezuma’s Castle…feeling really good about my hiking ability on the 4.5 mile trail around Courthouse Butte and Bell Rock until two ladies in their seventies told me they hike this trail everyday…hiking up the lava & snow covered Lenox Crater Trail at Sunset Crater National Monument…seeing      the 900 year old Indian pueblos at Wupatki NM…feeling good about my pace while hiking up the two thousand foot elevation gain on the Siphon Draw Trail at the Lost Dutchman       State Park until two women about my age passed me while knitting…I didn’t make it to the Flatiron.

The world’s largest limestone quarry is in the next town west of where I live. For over two years I have been on the waiting list for a tour of the Thornton Quarry. This was my lucky year. They drive you down into the pit in a school bus. It’s been a very long time since I was on a school bus. In high school, we had to sit three to a seat. Now Jimmy & I barely fit on the seat and Jimmy has probably lost weight since high school. Uh-oh, I’m not letting that get me down, at least I am cooler than the geeks on the bus with their little hammers who are all excited about fossil hunting in the quarry. I can’t wait to take pictures from the bottom of this giant hole in the earth that I have looked into almost every day for the past 25 years. I have to admit seeing the eight story high stone crusher, standing next to the 20 foot high dump trucks and seeing boulders as big as my house was very cool. But as soon as Jimmy showed me a rock with a perfect fishbone fossil in it, I was pushing the fossil hunting geeks out of my way while scrambling across the rock pile looking for interesting fossils. Damn, I seem so much cooler in my own mind than I am in real life.
My parents are always telling me “this better not end up in your Christmas letter”. But what am I suppose to do when they provide such a wealth of material. Here is an example, a simple phone call. ME: “Hi Dad” HIM: “Hey I just rented a big camper” ME: “What?” HIM: “You know a motorhome. We’re going camping.” The conversation continues with details of how long they talked about doing this and I can tell he’s really excited about the whole thing so I’m happy for him. Hell I’m a little jealous because I’ve thought about doing the same thing. But then it happens. ME: “Where are you going?” HIM: “Bolsa Chica ” ME: “You rented a camper to spend 3 nights in a parking lot at a beach in the same town you live in”. HIM: “Yes!” I’m sure there was stunned silence followed by uncontrollable laughter on my end. He tried to defend his plan by telling me about the camper’s shower, the kitchen, the beds and I just kept replying but you will be five minutes from home. Anyway, they took their big adventure and decided to e-mail the following pictures to me…my dad smoking a cigarette in a parking lot, my mom smoking along side the camper and from their big hike at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve which is home to over 320 bird species…I get a picture of a seagull, wait Chrissy says it was a pigeon. My parents also took a month long cruise on the Queen Mary 2 this past fall. My mom must have really enjoyed the cruise especially the fruity drinks with umbrellas in them because we got a postcard that was addressed to us on the right half of the card but written on the left half was “Dear Georgie & Marcy”. When I called George to read him his card, he said the card addressed to him said “Hello Gregg & Chrissy”. When I e-mailed my mom about it, her reply was the standard “BRAT!” e-mail I receive from her on a weekly basis throughout the year.
Just to prove this isn’t all about me, I’ll update everyone on Chrissy’s busy year even though she refused to write this part herself. Chrissy has continued working with Polar Bears International (PBI) and the American Association of ZooKeepers (AAZK). Her Trees for You & Me fundraising project did so well last year that AAZK & PBI decided to co-sponsor it and make it an annual fundraiser to help the polar bears. This year she attended the PBI Reforestation Committee in St. Paul, the AAZK Conference in Philadelphia and the AZA (American Zookeepers Association) Conference in Houston. So the quiet Chrissy that you know has spoken to school kids, animal groups, conferences and at local nature preserves on her own time. She has created a slide show and brings props to further her cause to save the polar bears. She also decided to go back to school to get her masters degree in picking up bear poop…oh wait she says it is a Master of Arts in Zoology and before I asked she says it has nothing to do with drawing animals. Now she can say I’m an idiot and she would be correct. But when she had to write a proposal for her Trees for You & Me to be published in a trade magazine, I noticed some atrocious spelling mistakes and quite a few grammatical and sentence structure errors. As I politely offered advice on correcting these fourth grade mistakes she started getting mad at me. She finally had enough when I wondered how you can get a masters degree without being able to write a simple sentence. She left screaming “just act like this is sex and do it yourself”. For the record, she submitted my rewritten version. You can donate at https://www.polarbearsinternational.org/donate-and-help/trees to help the polar bears.
After talking about it for years, I finally signed up for a photography workshop in Coney Island with Andy Levin’s 100Eyes organization. He prefers to photograph projects of social significance such as the issue of land use in Coney Island. Simply put, the issue is should Coney Island remain a public space for everyone to enjoy or a private space for the rich to enjoy? I strongly support leaving the beach side of Surf Avenue as an amusement area for everyone to enjoy.  
I loved every minute of the week I spent taking pictures all over Coney Island. I met some fascinating characters… lifeguards, street performers, couples in love, artists, writers, photographers, homeless kids, sideshow performers, clowns, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markewitz, the regulars at Ruby’s bar, handball players, the participants in the Mermaid Parade and a Russian couple that was so happy to be in America they planted red, white & blue flowers in the community garden. I stayed in a brownstone in Carroll Gardens. It was liked I lived in Brooklyn for a week. I stopped for a bagel on the way to the F train to Coney Island and grabbed a Nathan’s frankfurter on my way ‘home’. Late one night, I grabbed a slice of pizza and a lemon Italian ice and ate it on the stoop of the brownstone. Chrissy called me and we talked while I ate. I told her about my perfect day ending with a slice and an ice and asked her jokingly “is this heaven?” Then I heard someone yell from the next building, “It’s as close as you’ll ever get motherfucker, now shut the fuck up!” God I love New York. You can see the final Coney Island Workshop project at http://www.100eyes.org/2010/07/coney-island-workshop-slideshow & see my photos on my blog at http://www.doeshestillshitinhispants.blogspot.com
THE LEG INJURYsung to the Gilligan’s Island theme song
Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, A tale of a man named Gregg
That started in this forest preserve and how he hurt his leg

This Gregg was a mountain biking man, Actually not so brave or sure.
He went riding this beautiful day, for a three hour tour, a three hour tour.

Down the ravine he did ride, didn’t notice the chain had popped off
And slammed the pedal into the ground, He didn’t know it then but his foot could be lost.

The leg swelled up and off to the ER he did go
First an ultrasound, then a CAT scan too
Call a surgeon and his wife
The ruptured artery, the fasciotomy and a long recovery
here on Gregory’s mountain bike

After the surgery, I remember waking up, disorientated and not sure where I was. A nurse asked me "On a scale of one to ten, how much pain are you in?" I believe my response was something along the lines of “it fucking hurts!" As I began to remember where I was and what had happened to me, she began to ask again. I cut her off by saying, "my pain goes to fucking eleven!" Apparently she wasn't a big fan of ’Spinal Tap' because she asked Chrissy if I was always like this. When Chrissy said yes, I heard several nurses say "you poor girl". What follows are a few things I remember from the haze of two months spent on drugs and my couch. I remember Chrissy laughing uncontrollably as I was wheeled into the OR. But first I’ll have to backtrack to that morning. When I got out of the shower, Chrissy was laughing because I had one hairy ass cheek and one bald ass cheek. I have no explanation for that condition. Anyway, in the ER the surgeon was explaining how he would take a vein from above my ankle to repair the artery behind my knee. As he wrote “this leg” on my left leg, he explained that I would be flipped over for most of the surgery. After he left, Chrissy started laughing because they are going to wonder why I have half a hairy ass. Then the nurses came in and explained how they would have to shave my leg. I thought Chrissy was going to explode as she tried to stop laughing. As the nurses wheeled me to the Operating Room, they told Chrissy to say goodbye. It was then that I heard what could possibly be the last words my wife would ever speak to me…she stopped laughing just long enough to blurt out “Maybe they can shave the other ass cheek for you!” The next night Chrissy came into the ICU with a surprise…my mom. When I told her, “I guess major surgery is what it takes to get you to visit me”, she started threatening me with physical violence. I had to call the nurse to protect me. Actually it was comforting to have my mom who is also a nurse there with me. That safe feeling of having my mom/nurse there lasted exactly one day. One of the many things I learned from this injury is being anesthetized causes constipation. I had Chrissy bring me White Castles to help solve this problem. Even the sliders couldn't break through the constipation. My mom told the nurse that I should be given Milk Of Magnesia. The nurse looked horrified but said she would check with the doctor. My mom hounded the nurses all day to get me some milk of magnesia. As I was being transferred out of the ICU, Chrissy & my mom left for dinner and the nurse gave me the milk of magnesia. I get settled in my new room and I am introduced to the nurses. The nurses’ aide assigned to me is Lashonda, a 110 pound black woman who is extremely pregnant. As she leaves she tells me to press the call button if I need anything. Because I am a fall risk, I have to call anytime I want to move. Five minutes later the milk of magnesia is beginning to take effect. I figure I can hold it off for awhile...thirty seconds later...I'm pressing the call button. As Lashonda helps me to the bathroom, I have two thoughts...if I fall I will crush this pregnant woman and then I will shit all over her. I make it to the bathroom and spend a good 10 minutes making sure I am done before pressing the call button. I settle back in my chair as I thank Lashonda. Five minutes later I am in severe pain in my bowels and pressing the call button. This occurs repeatedly throughout the evening with Lashonda saying “not again” each time. I tell the nurse to get another bed ready because I'm going to kill my mother. Chrissy comes in without my mom who decided to stay at the house. I am surprised she didn't show so she could enjoy the pain and discomfort she caused me. Over the course of three hours, I swear I shit over a dozen times. By the end I had stuff coming out of me that I had eaten ten years ago. I must have lost 5 pounds during my shitting frenzy. I should have known my mom didn't fly out over her concern for me, it was to torture me. As I spent more time on the couch watching mind numbingly bad daytime TV shows, I developed something more serious than my leg injury…my brain stopped functioning. I began to drool and was no longer able to put together any cogent thoughts. I demanded to see a specialist because I thought this might be a permanent condition. The doctor told me my brain would be fine. When I asked him how he can be sure that I am not retarded, he asked me if I believe anything that Glenn Beck says. When I reply “Hell no!”, the doc says then you are not retarded.

We met my brother George and his wife Marcy in NYC in early December. We had fun even if Georgie was either complaining about the cold weather or telling me he needed to find a bathroom. Do you know how hard it is to find a bathroom in NYC? I finally snapped and said you don’t need a bathroom. “You need to find a hospital so a doctor can either check your mangina or give you a man’s bladder.” The trip was a great time because unlike family, New York City never disappoints you. We stayed at the Inn on Second, the same Brooklyn brownstone where I stayed on my trip in June. There are incredible restaurants throughout the Carroll Gardens neighborhood and we hit quite a few of them with no disappointments. We also stumbled into some of those only in New York moments like… Eating gelato at Grom’s in the West Village when we found ourselves in the midst of SantaCon, eight hundred Santas, elves and reindeer spreading good cheer while stopping at every bar in the Village. It was a giant party that spread from Washington Square Park to Christopher Street…Being at the Top Of the Rock (Rockefeller Center) at midnight when asked by a young man to take a picture of him & his girl, when I ask if they want the Empire State Building in the shot, she yells just take the picture, it turns out he just proposed and she was still shocked & crying. Then she called her mom and said “I think I just got engaged”, followed with “because I got a big fucking ring on my finger!”…Catching the vintage subway train the only time it is filled with a fun loving group of people dressed like it is 1930 and we are in the car that has a band playing old tunes while people jitterbug…Standing at the entrance of the ice rink as five hundred tuba players walked out there to play Christmas carols for everyone in Rockefeller Center.

It wasn’t much of a year but it had its moments. One moment, the passing of Chrissy’s Uncle Mat, did bring back the fond memory of my last visit with him. We spent a Thanksgiving night in his living room talking about all the things we had in common…photography, politics, family and traveling the world. When we finally walked into the kitchen to check on Chrissy & Marilyn we were surprised that five hours had passed but we were not surprised that the leftover food was still sitting on the counter. Obviously that is a moment that I remembered over the years. So I’ll end with a moment I’ll remember from this year. Due to various reasons and circumstances, we only had a couple hours to spend with my Aunt Maryann & Uncle Freddie. When we arrived Maryann had the dinner table set and one of her incredible Italian dinners, this time chicken and eggplant cutlets, cooking on the stove. We caught up over glasses of wine. Unfortunately Freddie was stuck at work and we had a plane to catch. As soon as we were done eating the best meal we had all week in NYC, the cabbie was honking his horn out front. When I hugged my Aunt goodbye, she hugged me a little tighter…maybe it was her way of thanking me for stopping by, maybe she wished we had more time together…when she wouldn’t let go, this caused me to get choked up…maybe because I had no idea when I would see her again, maybe because I wasn’t able to do one of my favorite things spend the night talking, drinking and eating at my Aunt’s house. Maybe it was just a hug from someone who has treated me like a son for as long as I can remember and my tears were because I am grateful for being treated that way. Or maybe, like my mom says I am just a piss eye.
Either way, it is moments like these that remain in our memory for a reason. Since this letter is once again late, I’ll hope you had a Merry Christmas and my wish for you in 2011 is that you have many moments that you’ll remember forever.

December 28, 2011 The 2009 Christmas Letter

When I start writing this letter, I am always looking for some Christmas inspiration at this time of the year and I found it at the Christkindlmarket at Daley Plaza in Chicago. A life size manger scene brought to us by a group insisting that we “keep Christ in Christmas”. So I began thinking about Jesus. What would happen if Jesus came back in 2009? My first thought was that he would be all over You Tube. Everyone posting videos of them with Jesus, making Jesus walk on water, turn water into wine and heal all that ails them. In a strange twist of fate or is it irony, the Republicans would hate Jesus because he would reform the healthcare system all by himself. Jesus would probably end up on all the reality TV shows. “Dancing with the Stars” (kind of tough to dance in a robe and sandals). A “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” makeover (say goodbye to the robe, long hair & beard). Jesus on “Survivor” (his team should win easily). There’s no way Jesus could take the modern world. At his Last Supper 2009, he would tell Judas to text the Romans with his location or else he is going to crucify himself just to get away. That’s enough about Jesus Christ, this letter is all about me and my attempt to laugh at another year in my life with a wife, three dogs, a bunch of friends, a loving, slightly off kilter family and hoes in different area codes…wait that’s Tiger Woods story….here’s mine.
Every year I attempt a different photography project. This year it was a daily photo blog. If you’d like to read about every single day of my 2009, here’s the web site http://doeshestillshitinhispants.blogspot.com. On the blog I do explain why it is called “Does He Still Shit In His Pants?”
In January we flew to NYC for my Aunt Maryann’s 65th birthday party. The party was a great time despite the winter storm that day. My aunt was definitely surprised by the whole affair and the food, Italian of course at Joe Abbracciamento’s, was great. The story of this trip was saving money. Chrissy found a really cheap fare but we had to fly into Islip on Long Island. My aunt lives 15 minutes from LaGuardia Airport but we land at Islip and catch a cab to the Long Island Railroad. The cabby says the Ronkonkoma Line isn’t running due to a freight train derailment. So he takes us to Sayville on the Montauk Line. While on the platform in Sayville, we are told that the trains are not running due to a locomotive breakdown. Now we are taking a bus to Hicksville to catch the Port Jefferson line. We finally get to Jamaica and take the subway to my Aunt’s house. On our way home, we are running late for the 3:30pm train from Jamaica. I don’t pay attention and take the F train instead of the E train. This doesn’t take us to the LIRR, we backtrack two stops to Van Wyck to catch the E train. Guess what? Three F trains later, we find out the E only stops during rush hours. Back on the F train to Sutphin Blvd, looking for a bus or a cab, running out of time, we decide to run 20 blocks with suitcases to LIRR stop. We barely catch the train. As soon as the cab drops us off at the Islip Airport, we hear “The flight to Chicago has been canceled”. After I strangle the life out of the Southwest agent, I stuff him into Chrissy’s suitcase and send him to SFO. Back to Ronkonkoma at 5:45pm, a 2 hour wait for the next train, we find a cabby that promises to get us to Sayville by 6pm. This trip includes driving 50 MPH on the shoulder of the road and across somebody’s lawn but we catch the train back to the city. Next morning on the LIRR, I tell Chrissy to spend the extra money next time or she will get the same treatment as the Southwest agent.
In February I went skiing with a group of friends. We rented a nice house right on Schuss Mountain in Michigan. The first day we skied at Schuss. It turns out that the Special Olympics had ski competitions that day. This lead to several jokes about my skiing ability and I jokingly said it would be funny to get a group shot under the Special Olympics banner. There was a debate about the appropriateness of the idea, I thought it would be making fun of us not them. We decided to take a picture of the banner and photoshop our group under it. Technology saves the day. The next day we skied at Boyne Mountain. About 4pm Walter & I were done and decided to wait for the rest of our group in the bar at the lodge. We quickly noticed several groups of rich older women. The more they drank, the wilder they got. As the bar filled with young, mostly male skiers, the cougars began to lick their claws and started to prowl. I swear it was like a feeding frenzy on a National Geographic special watching the cougars hunt their prey then defend it from the others. We barely escaped, laughing with a few facial scratches and claw marks across our backs.
I DJ’d a bunch of really fun weddings this year. There are two reasons I love DJing. One, it is the only time that hot drunk girls talk to me. Two, I get to hear great speeches, some very funny, some emotional. Here is one really stuck with me. On Valentine’s Day I DJ’d a mixed race wedding, white bride, black groom. The bride’s father gave an incredible speech that included inviting the groom’s father up for a toast to the joining of the families. He ended the speech talking about his mother, Grandma Lorraine, who had died recently. At her funeral, everyone got a chance to say why they loved her. When it was the groom’s turn he said, “I loved her because when I started dating Andrea, Grandma Lorraine was the first one to welcome me into the family unconditionally.” As I decided she would be my Valentine this year, I thought the world would be a better place with more Grandma Lorraines in it.
Early in the year, Chrissy injured her knee at work. After wasting months at rehab, another doctor decided her torn ACL needed to be surgically repaired. Before the surgery I called her Forrest Gimp. So when I picked her up after the surgery and yelled to the nurse, “Bring out the gimp”. She did not laugh. I guess she never saw Pulp Fiction. After the surgery, Forrest Gimp became Robo-Chrissy because she had this huge brace that I had to hook up to an ice filled cooler that pumped cold water through the brace. It was a twenty minute fiasco every time she had to move. Ice cold water spilling everywhere, me trying to move Chrissy and get the dogs out of her way, buying giant bags of ice everyday. I think I took more of her Percocet pills than she did. Chrissy toughed it out all summer long and eventually finished the post surgery rehab in December.
This year I finally signed up for the Long After Twilight Ends charity ride through Chicago. There were about 10,000 people with bicycles when I arrived in Grant Park about 11pm. My group started at 1:30am. I watched the band play, walked my bike through the sponsor booths, realized I might be the only one riding without a friend, waited near Buckingham Fountain and became certain that everyone else came with friends. It was a beautiful night and I had a great time. Everyone I met was very friendly. I rode along for a while with a Mexican who had a custom made chopper style bicycle that had speakers playing old Motown songs. We passed a White Castle about 3am. It had about one hundred bikes parked all around it. I was tempted, damn those sliders smelled good, but continued on. The rest area at River Park on Foster Ave. was a giant party at 3:30am. The final leg of the ride was the lakefront trail back down to Grant Park. I stopped about 20 times to take some incredible sunrise pictures. I saw a few people strip down and jump in the lake, couples huddled on the shore and a family eating breakfast on a blanket while watching the sunrise. It was a perfect way to spend a beautiful summer night. Maybe next year I can find some friends to ride with me.
The weather has been awful this year in Chicago. The winter was very cold and dreary. The spring was rainy and dreary. The summer was cool, rainy and mostly dreary. The fall, well November was nice. So I self diagnosed myself with seasonal affective disorder. According to the Mayo Clinic website the symptoms are depression, hopelessness, anxiety, loss of energy, social withdrawal, the urge to shoot up a Walmart, weight gain, difficulty concentrating and processing information. Damn, I have had SAD for years according to that list. One of the treatments is phototherapy; I guess I need to take even more pictures to cure myself.
In August my sister-in-law Marcy came to visit and go to Lollapalooza in Grant Park. For some reason she brought Georgie along. Three straight days of rock & roll for my old fat ass, I hope it is easy to sneak drugs into the park. I had a great time. The city of Chicago & the Lollapalooza people did an amazing job. The sound was perfect at all the stages, the concession prices were reasonable & the food was good. Some quick highlights… Kings of Leon, Gaslight Anthem, Of Montreal, Silversun Pickups, Kaiser Chiefs, Glasvegas, Dan Auerbach, hot girls soaked by the rain on Friday, hot girls in bikinis on Sunday, drugged up hippie chicks asking me for ecstasy and seeing the skyline of Chicago as the background to the whole weekend. Of course Georgie provided one of those moments that prove he is his father’s son. The forecast called for a chilly rainy day on Friday. I told Geo I had two ponchos that he & Marcy could use. George decided he didn’t want to carry both so he only brought one to Grant Park. We weren’t there for 15 minutes when it starts to drizzle. He immediately takes out the one poncho and puts it on. So I give Marcy my raincoat. After 2 straight hours of rain, I’m soaked. Marcy has offered my jacket back to me several times and I asked her why she didn’t marry a man. George finally says we have to get Marcy a poncho. Too late, they are all sold out. So he steals a garbage bag from a cart & hands it to Marcy. She gets the thin garbage bag while Geo keeps the poncho. Apparently she is use to this kind of treatment and puts on the garbage bag. Just to finish the Lollapalooza story, when I visit SoCal in December George has grown a full beard. I ask why the beard. He says “didn’t you notice everyone at Lollapalooza had a beard?” I answered honestly that I had not noticed that many beards because unlike you I spent the weekend checking out the hot women, not the men”
We started the year with two dogs, Oslo (the Fanook) and Fluffy (the old girl). I spend more time with these two than anyone else. As soon as they realize I am not going to work they start driving me crazy until I say “Want to go for a ride?” I usually take them to the nearby forest preserves or to the beaches along Lake Michigan. Since Oslo is much younger (by that I mean he can outrun me) I keep him on a leash but Fluff is very slow so I let her walk on her own. She falls behind and Oslo will stop and look back to check on her, then wait until she catches up. One day at Sweet Woods, I saw a mountain biker coming our way along the trail. I pulled Oslo to the side and called Fluff to me. The man yelled “are those dogs on a leash? I told him not to worry about the old girl. He kept yelling to leash the dog. I was thinking what kind of pussy mountain biker is this as I put the leash on the most harmless dog in the world. It turns out he was a Forest Preserve cop. He starts saying he could take the dog (I laugh “Fluff in cuffs”), write me a ticket (I continue to laugh), and then he adds I could be arrested. A thought crosses my mind, I’m in a prison. Bubba asks me “What’re in for?” I say walking my dog without a leash. Bubba laughs so hard that he forgets to ass rape me. I tell the cop, he doesn’t laugh and says he will remember my dogs and they better be on a leash. One day in the early spring, I took the dogs the beach. The water was too cold for me, so I took Oslo’s leash off and let him run into the lake. The first time, he ran right back to me, the second time he didn’t. He took off running about 200 yards down the beach then out of site over the dunes. As Fluff & I walked over the dunes, Oslo saw me and ran full speed back to me. I wanted to beat the shit out of him but since he came back I told him, “good boy.” In November we added Roxy, another Great Pyrenees. She was orphaned by a divorce and we are foster parenting her until she finds a permanent home. She is about 25 lbs overweight, but who I am to talk about being fat. After a rough start, she has adapted very well to being with us. She loves to snuggle right along side me on the bed, lick my face, rest her head on my chest and snore like a freight train. Then she constantly adjusts her fat ass on the bed until she either pushes you to the edge or ends up as 130 lbs of dead weight on you. What a pleasant way to end every day. On Christmas Eve, Roxy was sleeping between us. She woke Chrissy up by throwing up on her head. I guess that makes me Roxy’s favorite. Good girl Roxy.
Since we got Roxy, it is much easier to take the dogs for a walk if someone else comes along. So I asked my niece Kristian if she wanted to help. It was during our walk in the woods that I realized she has finally become fun to spend some time with. I can have a conversation with her and she answers with a full sentence. She also has cogent thoughts of her own. She even made me laugh a few times with a smart ass comment. I have absolutely no idea who she gets that from. As we walked along the trail with the three dogs, she started singing, “Lions & Tigers & Fanooks!” really loud. After I laughed, I reprimanded her for yelling Fanook. I explained it wasn’t a nice word. Then I told her it was funny anyway. She spent the day helping me clean the house, then bake cookies. I wouldn’t let her touch the cookie dough and explained that kids are disgusting depositories of germs and if she touched the cookies then I wouldn’t be able to eat them. So while I make the cookies, she reads the magnets on our refrigerator. Then she says she wants to show me a new dance (FYI - she takes dance classes). She starts singing GUT, BUTT, THIGHS and dances while pointing to each of these body parts. I look at the magnet showing a three piece highway sign with lanes designated for “Tendency to gain weight in the GUT or BUTT or THIGHS”. She is all excited with her new dance. I smile and am relieved that she didn’t create a dance for the magnet that shows exit signs for “NO SEX FOR A WEEK or A MONTH or A YEAR”.
Chrissy was off gallivanting for most of the fall. In September she spent two weeks in Seattle. She hiked and kayaked in Olympia National Park, visited Pike Place Market, bought heroin from the homeless kids, you know all the things tourists do in Seattle. Then attended a zookeeper conference where she gave her presentation for her Trees For You & Me project to help save the polar bears. Visit the website www.arborday.org/aazk to donate a dollar or more to plant a tree for the Brookfield AAZK Chapter. In October she spent two weeks in Churchill, Manitoba as the polar bear expert on the Tundra Buggies. People from around the world come to watch the polar bears on the shore of Hudson Bay. The bears congregate there because it is the last place that has ice in the summer and the first place the bay freezes in the winter. The bears don’t eat for several months on land while waiting to hunt seals on the ice. The bay was not frozen by early December and a few cases of polar bear cannibalism occurred so please donate to the plant a tree project. Also check out www.polarbearsinternational.org for more info. You can search You Tube for videos of Chrissy, sorry Todd not those videos. In November she was in San Francisco to attend a bear conference. I have no idea what she did there. Call her and ask her yourself. I have to finish this damn letter.
While visiting my parents, I was told not to write about them in the Christmas letter. Sorry Ma. But you two are a goldmine of humorous stories. Let’s start with their visit here in August. Chrissy picked them up at O’Hare because I had a hockey game. When I got home, it was raining & they were sitting on the stoop. I swear this is true; Chrissy locked them out of the house. I couldn’t stop laughing. Chrissy thought they were upstairs so she locked the doors and went to bed. We did have a nice trip to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in Cleveland with them. While at our house my parents get to sleep on a pillow top king size bed. When I am at their house, I get to sleep on a single trundle bed. The first morning there I took a hot shower for twenty minutes just to be able to stand up straight. Then I used a Q-Tip knock-off my mom bought at Big Lots, my ears didn’t stop bleeding until after lunch. My mom took a day off work supposedly to spend a day with me. After two hours which included breakfast, shopping and sitting on the pier, she was done spending the day with me. Apparently she had to get back home to spend an exciting day watching my father move from the patio (reading newspapers) to his chair (watching CNN) while ranting about the news. As I am leaving to fly home, my dad says let’s go shopping at the mall in Newport Beach. I have to catch a flight but I agree to go with him. Big mistake. Just picture this as an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”. A crowded Macy’s with my father frantically looking for a bathrobe for my mom while talking to himself way too loud. Phrases like “this is cheap shit!” causing heads to turn to find the source. To my relief, he finds a bathrobe then he says he needs perfume too. Great! He accosts some lady shopping and demands to know where the perfume counter is. She is scared and wants to get away, so she points upstairs and runs in the other direction. I tell him to calm down & he blames me for him having to rush. On the escalator he keeps repeating “she likes Estee Lauder” like a mental patient. This causes heads to turn on the down escalator and a path to clear out on the up escalator. Circling the perfume counter, he finally finds my mom’s favorite Estee Lauder fragrance. I think it was called “Husband Repellent”. Then he starts yelling, “Where the fuck is the girl?” A lady peeks around the corner & says she’ll be there in a minute. She says she can ring up the robe here but won’t have a box for it. He complains she should since this is the same store. As she explains that he can get a large box in the clothing department, I am standing behind my dad using hand gestures & mouthing to her “I am not related to this man!” Later at the security check point in LAX, I insist that I have a bomb and should be placed on the suspected terrorist list so I can never fly here again.
Mr. D (Phil Delgado) passed away this year. He was more than my friend. He was like a second father to me and many others. You can read what friends and family wrote about him at a website created by his daughter Kathy.  http://unclephildelgado.blogspot.com/2008/11/gift-to-share.html. The stories are amazing how one man can affect so many lives. He really was a special person and continues to bring a smile to my face…
…I did have a truly wonderful moment while in California. Georgie, Marcy & I were having dinner in the Farmer’s Market at the Grove. As we walked through the market looking for food, we stopped at a bar full of people in Santa hats. They were singing the “Twelve Days of Christmas”. A different person or group of people had each day, and the whole bar would sing “Five Golden Rings”. It was a really cool holiday scene. After all 12 days, there were hugs & holiday toasts. I thought to myself, I wish Mr. D was here, he would have loved this. And as I looked around, I realized he was there, on the smiling face of each person, in the voice of each person singing, in the arms of each person hugging a loved one or a stranger. Mr. D was there. Because this was how he lived his life, enjoying every moment to the fullest. Some people walk by and see a bunch of drunken fools, Mr. D would see people having fun, walk into the group and join in singing as loud as he could, and he would have made several new friends by the time he left. Well Mr. D I joined in too. I sang “five golden rings” each time. It made me smile to find people with your wonderful spirit and join them for a few minutes. In my eulogy for Mr. D, I wrote that when he passed through the Pearly Gates, God was standing there with his hand extended saying it's my pleasure to finally meet you. So as Chrissy & I wish you a Merry Christmas and the happiest of New Years, let’s try to enjoy life to the fullest and bring a smile to the faces of those we meet and maybe we’ll get the same greeting at the Pearly Gates.

Please send me your e-mail address to djbrooklyn@comcast.net  so I can save a few trees next year.

December 27, 2011 The 2008 Christmas Letter

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone from your favorite or more likely least favorite senders of Holiday Cheer. As usual I’m scrambling to get this done before Christmas. It is five below zero with a -30 degrees wind chill today, now I believe that global warming is happening but how does it get hotter in the arctic and colder in Chicago? I just had to drag my two screwball dogs inside; they love it out there. Oslo wanted me to play ball with him, when the tennis ball hit the tree it split in half (the ball not the tree). Anyway, I’ll try to brighten your day with a few stories about our year. It was a rough year for all of us and the consequences of incompetent leaders will continue to bring bad news. But you’ve already read about all that crap, so now you can read about all my crap instead. This newsletter reminds me of the Robin Williams joke about lining his parakeet’s cage with the National Enquirer and the bird refuses to shit on it because that would be redundant. So enjoy this and when you’re done, line your birdcage with it and see what happens.
   When we put Glacier down last Christmas, Fluffy went into a severe depression. So in January, Fluffy & I went to the Great Pyrenees Rescue and picked up Bernie, a huge year old puppy. We officially renamed him Oslo. But that goofy bastard got a nickname faster than any of our other dogs; he is now known as “The Fanook”. It is a derogatory Italian slang word. Google it if you really need to know. Fluffy perked right up with Oslo around. He has some issues being left alone but he is such a goofball you can’t stay mad at him for too long. I thought he would continue to grow, but he’s gained only about 10 lbs this year. He has a huge head, long legs, weighs 105 lbs and loves to sit in your lap. I can wrestle with him but unlike Thunder, our first dog who loved to play fight, he bites too much, and when I’m on the ground with him he loves to straddle me and try to sit on my face. The three phrases I say to him the most are “No Biting”, “I love you Oslo, but not in that way” and “God damn it Oslo, get your dick out of my face!”
   The sun did not appear the whole month of January. It snowed every other day. In early February, we figured some place warm would be nice, so we invited ourselves to stay at my Aunt Nora’s house in Miami. We had a great time. The weather was incredible, 80 degrees and the ocean was bath water warm. Unfortunately the biggest waves were caused by me jumping up & down screaming “Where are the fucking waves?” We spent a day in the Everglades and took a fan boat ride to see alligators. Afterwards, there was an alligator wrestling show. Then the MC picked my cousin Karen to wrestle the gator. He showed her how to approach it from behind and grab its mouth as you straddle the gator. He also described how to wave your hand through the gators open mouth without making contact. The MC explained that since gators can not see in front of them, they only snap their mouths shut on contact. When Nora questioned whether her daughter should do this, the MC said Nora could do it instead. Nora quickly decided it was okay for Karen to do it. Then he took Karen by the hand to lead her to the gator while Nora yelled “she has 10 fingers now and she better have 10 afterwards.” The MC starts laughing and says there is no way he’d let Karen wrestle the gator. He sold it so well that everyone in the crowd believed it was going to happen, including me. Karen is pretty brave; she never backed down from getting in there with the alligator. She must get that from the Ott side of the family…LOL.
   In April, I flew out to SoCal to finally take my mom and brothers to a Bruce Springsteen concert. On the way to the show we stopped for burritos and if my mom, the nurse, could have scored some medical marijuana we could easily have been a carload of slacker kids partying on the way to the big concert. The highlight was Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine playing a blistering guitar solo on “The Ghost of Tom Joad”. Ma was happier when Bruce played “The Rising” (his tribute to firefighters on Sept 11th). She didn’t even care when security took Georgie away for shooting video of the show during the encores. The LA Police beat him like Rodney King but Ma still didn’t care and offered me to the cops as an accomplice.
   The next weekend I went to Ft. Lauderdale with my friend Todd. It was a guy’s weekend of fun in the sun. Once again the weather was great, the talent on the beach incredible and no waves. We even found a NYC style pizzeria open until 2am. We spent a beautiful evening with my Aunt Nora, Karen & her husband Ken at an outdoor German bar just off the beach drinking and telling stories that probably guarantee I won’t be invited to stay at Nora’s house again. One night after showering, I hear Todd talking on the phone. As I walked into the room I realize he is practically having phone sex, for those that know Todd, you know my presence doesn’t deter him at all. He continues describing what he would do to her if he was there. When he is hangs up I say “Hey man, I can’t believe your wife enjoys that stuff.” And Todd says “Vicki hates that, I was talking to your wife.” Now some people may believe Todd was just joking. But a few weeks later Chrissy decides to compete with Vicki’s sexy Christmas cards by posing sexy on a bed for Todd’s 40th birthday card. The night of the party, she wore a low cut dress showing off what her mama gave her. Todd said it was his best present. Vicki must have thought so too because after a few hours of drinking, she straddled me and began dry humping me with a huge smile on her face. Do I even have to write that I had a huge…ummm...smile too?
   We went to NYC this summer. I spent a day at Coney Island from sunrise to sunset taking pictures and enjoying the beautiful freaks that inhabit the beach & boardwalk areas. The local artist community is attempting to save this wonderful slice of Americana from developers. Check out http://www.coneyisland.com and support their cause if you believe beach front amusement parks should be preserved. We went to a party at the Valentino’s (my Aunt MaryAnn’s family). Her nephew Paul cooked up an impressive menu for everyone. He also had an amazing garden growing in the backyard. He had 6 ft tomato plants on July 4th growing in NYC. Our tomato plants were about 2’ at that time. We also met my friends Debbie & George (they were in NJ visiting George’s family) in Manhattan for a day of shopping in Soho & dinner in Greenwich Village, then off to see Nathan Lane in “November”. A real New York day for us Chicagoans. Since the Yankees are moving into their new stadium in 2009, we went to Yankee Stadium one last time with my Aunt (Yankee fan) & Uncle (Met fan). About the 5th inning my Aunt is yelling about something and when I turn toward her I see the centerfield scoreboard says “THE YANKEES WELCOME GREGG & CHRISTY OTT”. She had her neighbor; Mike who runs the scoreboard put the message up there. Mike was also nice enough to e-mail us a picture of it. That was a very cool thing to this lifelong baseball fan.
   My cousin Patty and her younger daughter, Cori came to visit us in August. We shopped in Wicker Park and Bucktown, had dinners on the west side, saw a Cubs game, took an architecture boat tour down the Chicago River, went to the Indiana Dunes and I got them both on the ice after one of my hockey games. But seeing Wicked is what we will always remember. The main characters are Galinda (the bubbly air headed blonde witch) and Elphaba (the dark haired misunderstood green witch). During intermission, Cori says that she is like Galinda (because everyone loves her) and her sister Karissa is just like Elphaba (because nobody likes her). We all laughed probably because we thought Cori was like Galinda and not because everyone loved her. The rest of the trip she was affectionately known as GaCori.
   Also in August, I DJ’d Debbie Drescher’s 40th birthday party. During the party a cute little girl about 5 years old shyly asked if I could play some god awful song for her. I played it & she kept requesting songs. Chrissy & Bernie (Debbie’s brother in law) were sitting by me when I asked the little girl where her parents were. She says my dad is on the deck. There were several men on the deck so I ask which one is your dad. As cute as could be she says, “HE’S THE FAT ONE”. We all fell out of our chairs laughing.
   In late September we drove to the Badlands, Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons (stop laughing Mom. I guess some Frenchman named the mountains the Grand Tetons which translates to Big Tits.  When the National Park was formed they must have decided that Big Tits National Park just didn’t sound right. I bet it would have been the most visited park in the country with that name.) We wanted to disappear for 3 weeks and we succeeded. We wandered aimlessly through some of the most beautiful and wild natural places left in this country. Some quick highlights were…peeing in 4 states( IL,WI, MN, SD) in one day … arriving at the Badlands for a beautiful sunset…our first night relaxing on the front porch with hundreds of bats swarming around us…sunrise at Big Foot Pass, hiking up Saddle Pass to Medicine Root & Castle trails, hiking up the Notch Trail and having a pissed off bat chase us back down…seeing bison, prairie dogs, coyotes, pronghorn antelope, mule deer & avoiding rattlesnakes…driving scenic highways from the Badlands to Yellowstone… stopped at Mt. Rushmore for a few minutes, Chrissy made me leave when I observed that it was filled with a busloads of  slovenly Americans who knew very little about the four men enshrined on the mountain. Then off to Devil’s Tower. This is a special place. The local Indians have religious ceremonies there and leave prayer cloths in the trees. As I was telling Chrissy about feeling the mystical power of the place, she started laughing because she watched an old Mexican man reach into his pants to scratch himself then put his hand into his grandchild’s bag of Fritos. She began singing “I am the Frito Bandito”. I left immediately, my special moment was ruined.
   Yellowstone is like Nature’s Hall of Fame. The park has mountains, canyons, wildlife, rivers, prairies, forests, high desert, waterfalls, geysers, hot springs, hoodoos and lakes. As we hiked through the park, it was like the old Monty Python show’s tagline “and now something completely different”. Each day showed us something new. We spent time with the wolf fanatics who line up on a ridge with their spotting scopes overlooking Lamar Valley, the geyser geeks who radio eruption times to each other from the hundreds of geysers in the park and the hikers who want to get away from everyone to spend quality time with nature but are always willing to share stories of hidden treasures with others on the trails. Some quick highlights were hiking on Beaver Ponds Trail where several female elk walked right by us…seeing the remains of many kills hiking along Hell Roaring Creek Trail and searching for the animals responsible…hiking westbound on the Mary Mountain trail and being forced off the trail by bison strolling eastbound…hiking up Mt. Washburn (our first 10,000 ft peak)…hearing the elk bugling and seeing males battle for the females (it was rut season)…seeing about a dozen waterfalls and being face to face with a bison on the way to Fairy Falls…the Grand and Castle geysers were more impressive than Old Faithful. The geothermal features were incredible to see the Upper & Lower Terraces at Mammoth, prismatic springs, bubbly mud pots. I don’t have the time to cover all of the amazing things we saw. You really should visit this place at least once in your lifetime. But I do have a few stories that need to be told. In the Badlands, we drove the gravel Sage Creek Rim Road to look for bison and prairie dogs. There are a lot of cattle ranches out West, which means there are a lot of fences and metal grates across roads so cattle can’t escape. We parked at such an area to look for bison. I saw one up on a hill and Chrissy walked back across the grate into a fenced area to get a close look at a bison down in the valley. I suddenly feel the ground shaking as the bison by Chrissy is charging right at me. FYI, I enjoyed watching You Tube videos of assholes getting stomped at Yellowstone by bison. Now I was about to be one of those assholes. I just froze. Luckily it ran past me on the other side of the road. After seven amazing days in Yellowstone, Chrissy was pouting about not seeing any bears. On our last night in the park we were in Hayden Valley, watching a herd of bison and listening to the elk bugling as the sun set. Then on a ridge, a black bear walked toward the forest, Chrissy bolted out of the car with her binoculars faster than I ever saw her move. The next morning we drove over Dunraven Pass at sunrise looking for a grizzly bear. No luck. She finally gave up. On the way back we passed a couple of people way out on some rocks looking down into a valley. I turned back around figuring they saw something important to walk out that far. Sure enough, a brown bear was right there about 100 feet away. After that Chrissy said we could leave Yellowstone now. Off to the Grand Tetons. The fall colors were at their peak in the Tetons. Oxbow Bend had amazing colors with the Teton Mountain Range in the background. We saw a brown bear sitting on an elk kill near Jackson Lake and a black bear sitting on an elk kill near Jenny Lake. According to the ranger onsite, the elk died after being speared while battling another bull for a female. Now that’s one hell of a price to pay for a piece of tail. We spent an afternoon hiking along the Snake River watching otters play then go fishing while eagles were perched above the river looking for food. While hiking around Two Oceans Lake, a female moose startled us by popping up just off the trail.  She just stood there, checking us out. We warned an older couple with a young boy about the moose as they passed us on the trail. On our way back they were stopped about where we saw the moose. The old man says to me a bit pissed off, “are you sure that is a female moose?” And before I can answer he says “that moose has a huge rack, balls and a penis!” I look down the trail and see one angry bull moose. I told him we only saw the female earlier. We helped them bushwhack off the trail and up the hill to avoid the moose. Unfortunately, I wanted to get a picture of the big guy. So I crept back down the trail, the closer I got, the more pissed off he got. All of a sudden, I hear twigs snapping and branches breaking. I start running uphill, my heart racing, high stepping over the fallen trees, dropping moose pellets of my own and thinking I’m going to die for the second time on this trip. Then I hear Chrissy yelling “HE ONLY BLUFF CHARGED!” I ran straight to the car and changed my underwear which by coincidence were boxers with a bull moose & a big breasted female moose with both saying “Nice Rack” to each other..
   In late October, Chrissy went to Churchill, Manitoba to be the Polar Bears International lecturer on the Tundra Buggys. Check out PBI to learn about helping polar bears at http://www.polarbearsinternational.org  Polar bears congregate near Churchill waiting for Hudson Bay to freeze over so they can hunt seals again. People come from all over the world to take the Buggys out to see the polar bears. Chrissy had a great time and took some amazing pictures of the bears. She said besides polar bear questions, everyone asked her about our upcoming presidential election and who she wanted to win. Not surprisingly, everyone up there wanted Obama to win. The whole world was paying attention to our election. I don’t even know when any other country has their elections, do you?
   Most people know I’m a big music fan. Some people ask me for my favorite bands or songs so here’s my top 5 CD’s of the year. Just for a reference point, I like all types of music and lyrics draw me to a song before any other aspect. #5 Jamey Johnson’s “That Lonesome Song”, outlaw country music, best song “In Color”, it’s about looking at old pictures with his grandfather, something I did with my grandfather. #4 Conor Oberst’s “Self Titled”, a young Dylan for his generation, tough comparison but he lives up to it, great political & social commentary, best song “I Don’t Want To Die In A Hospital”, neither do I , he pleads to be taken outside to die, sounds like something I would do. #3 Kings of Leon – “Only By The Night” hipster rock band that delivers the goods, esp. in concert, best song “Crawl” I think it is about the Bush Administration destruction of America. #2 The Gaslight Anthem’s “The ’59 Sound” just solid rock n roll songs, best song “The ’59 Sound” about friends dying too young, I love the line about the moment they die “did you hear your favorite song one last time”, that would be cool. #1 My Morning Jacket’s “Evil Urges” nothing but great songs by amazing musicians about the shape of America today. Best song “I’m Amazed” but these lyrics are from Evil Urges and I dedicate them to my cousin Mary “It's all the same, we’re tired of waiting come on then, And dedicate your love to any woman or man, No racial boundary lines, no social subdivisions, If you want it, you can”.
   November 4, 2008 2:45am After peeing with my dog Oslo in the backyard, a miracle happened. I looked up to the sky and said, “Dear God, I don’t ask for much but.” then I heard Oslo laughing. I looked down at him and he said in a booming voice “Gregg, who you crapping? Don’t lie to me! I’m God, I hear everything.” ME: You finally answer me and you talk to me through my idiot dog. GOD: If he’s the idiot, why are you having a conversation with a dog? Remember, I work in mysterious ways. ME: Well where have you been the last eight years? This country is a fucking mess. Can you please have Barack Obama win tonight? GOD: This prayer will get answered. Now I have to go. I’m helping the devil track down Dick Cheney. ME: Why? GOD: The devil wants to give Dick his soul back because he got screwed in the deal and I can’t believe that motherfucker ever had a soul. ME: Thanks God, I owe you one. BTW, have you seen the bumper sticker that says “Dear God, please save me from your followers”? GOD: I sell them on my website www.god.heaven.org
That’s how I remember the encounter but I had a shoulder injury and took some hillbilly heroin (OxyContin for you Rush Limbaugh fans) so maybe I don’t remember all the details.

Well that’s our year. It had its good moments but I doubt I’ll look back on it fondly. But I have hope that better things are coming our way. I’ve always said letting big corporations control everything is not good for America. The idea that you must conform to some “standard image” to succeed is ridiculous. Somehow being an individual or doing things differently became something to mock in this country. White men in expensive suits have run the country for a long time and look where it has gotten us. The only upside is a mulatto man in an expensive suit gets a chance to try new ideas. We’ve all seen that kid with the tattoos, pierced eyebrow and dreadlocks. And you probably rolled your eyes or muttered something unkind. Maybe he’s the one who will change the world someday or maybe he’s the one selling pot to your kid. Let’s learn which one he is before we dismiss him because we have to make changes right now to make the world a better place. Back in 1872, instead of destroying the Yellowstone area for its natural resources, President Grant decided to preserve it for future generations. We had better start preserving something for our future generations. Otherwise, we might be the first generation in a long time that had a better life than our children.
Here’s to PEACE ON EARTH. And like Tiny Tim (the Dickens character who had no health insurance, not the fat Ukulele playing hippie) said “God Bless Us Every One”.  

December 26, 2011 The 2007 Christmas Letter

I know some people really look forward to reading this stupid Christmas Letter every year, sorry to disappoint you. There will be no Christmas Letter this year. Let me explain, my mother had her DNA tested and it turns out that we are Jewish. (That explains Georgie’s gift giving over the years) We belong to the Ashkenazi Jewish Mitochondrial Lineage. Therefore welcome to the Inaugural Hanukkah Letter. SHALOM!!!  Oy vey, this letter is always a pain in my tokhes. And this year it is later than usual because Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, global warming is a myth and we have to invade Iran to protect Iraq. Wait, those are someone else’s stupid excuses. My excuse is…drum roll please…for the first time in 20 years I spent Christmas with my family. It’s true. We actually went to California to spend Christmas Eve with my Aunt Pat because she has Christmas at her house for the family. And every year she says “when are you coming for Christmas? I may not be around for many more.” She finally guilted us into visiting. Every year I hear the commotion over the phone, it was wonderful to be in the middle of it. I love family gatherings like this one. Kathy’s daughter, Kelly, sang a spine tingling version of ‘Silent Night’. Hopefully my cousin’s kids will remember Christmas at their Grandma’s as fondly as I remember it at my Grandma’s. Another highlight was lasagna dinner at mom’s house followed by 3 hours of watching old slides with commentary by her three sons. The laughter went on all night. The trip ended with mom hugging goodbye to us in front of her house, then saying as she walked inside “Now I have to put all this Christmas crap away!” By now you must have put away all your Christmas crap too, so pour yourself a drink (alcohol makes this funnier, trust me I’m shitfaced when I write it), relax and following the bouncing ball as we sing along to the past 12 months.

   On New Year’s Day, we met Debbie at her parent’s house. Deb & I have been friends since living across the street from each other since junior high school. We have shared amusing stories about our fathers ever since. It was a nice family get together. Her Greek grandmother, YaYa was telling stories about the old country. Her brother Marty’s kids were well behaved. Then the inevitable happened. While cleaning up the kitchen, Deb threw away the polish sausage appetizers she had left on the counter all day. Her father saw them in the garbage and started yelling “who threw away the sausage!” Deb argued for a moment, and then gave up as he took them out of the garbage and put the sausage in the fridge. I laughed because it wasn’t my dad, Deb got embarrassed because it was her dad. And for those who think I don’t care about kids, on the way out I told Marty’s boys, “next time you come to Grandpa’s don’t eat the polish sausage.” See I do have a heart.

   I went skiing in Utah. It was my first time on a real mountain. Despite a few nasty wipeouts, I had a good time. There were nine of us sharing a condo on the mountain. I skied with Walter & Eric. Rick and his ‘boyquarium’ snowboarded together. Overall it went pretty well. Walter likes to equip himself with all the latest gadgets, so he has a ski helmet with speakers in it and a plug for his I Pod. This leads to conversations on the lift with Walter saying very funny things inappropriately loud causing husbands and/or boyfriends to give us nasty looks. One day we were eating outside at a café on the mountain. The kids working the grill had music playing and we were singing along. After lunch, Eric & I are putting our skis on and Walt is already dressed and heading for the lift yelling “He’s got big balls, she’s got big balls but I’ve got the biggest balls of them all!!” As everyone stopped and stared at my oblivious friend, I realized he wasn’t bragging, he had an AC/DC song playing on his I Pod.

In March I flew to California for my Mom’s 60th Birthday Party. It was a surprise party but since we held it at her house, I surprised her the day before so we could get the house ready. The party was a good time. I love spending the day partying with family and friends. The next day, it was just my parents and me. Of course this would lead to something strange. But wait, we decide to see the movie “Reign O’er Me” at 2pm. This seems normal. At 1pm ma tells dad to get ready. So I go upstairs to grab some socks & shoes, wash up & take a dump. While on the toilet, I hear the garage door opening and the car starting. I yell “WTF” out the window and my mom yells “let’s go!” I grab socks & shoes, start pulling my pants up run down the stairs out the back door thru the garage and down the alley holding my shoes, trying to put on a sock while holding my unbuttoned pants up. They slowed down enough for me to jump into car thru the back window. When we got to the mall, 10 minutes later, I’m still getting dressed in the car. They jump out and start running (OK, running might be an exaggeration) to the theater. I lose them in the crowd and have to ask a non English speaking groundskeeper where the movie theater is? When I find my parents, it is 1:20pm. They are smoking outside the theater and when I ask what the hell we were rushing for and what are we going to do for the next 40 minutes? My mother says, “We can make fun of you for that toilet paper sticking out of your pants!”

In June, we went to California for my little brother Georgie’s wedding. The trip had many highlights… bringing my Aunt Maryann & Uncle Freddie to the Delgado’s house and finishing 2 bottles of wine before noon…walking around the San Juan Capistrano Mission with my Aunt Nora and realizing through her the religious power a place like that holds…hiking along the tidal pools to the sea caves at Dana Point with my cousin Karen and niece Kristian, nephews Kyle & Kennedy, who could tell me what underwater creatures we were seeing…the rehearsal dinner talking with Marcy’s parents and though she won’t admit it, she is just like her mother…everyone enjoying the “Dysfunctional Family” photo book I made to introduce Marcy to the Ott family…Marcy marrying George anyway...having family together at the wedding…best man Rick’s speech, that is true friendship…drunk groom Georgie causing hotel security to break up the after party in Rick’s room…the party at mom’s the day after the wedding…riding the waves at Newport Beach with Kennedy, Kyle & Kristian while the pelicans dive bombed for fish all around us…drinking wine and watching the Tony Awards at 1am with Mr. Delgado and him saying to me “How gay is this?” After I left for home, Chrissy stayed in Cali. She offered to watch George & Marcy’s cats at their condo while they were in Las Vegas for the honeymoon. I guess Georgie gave her all these crazy instructions about feeding & caring for Mickey & Shady. Chrissy called me to say my brother is nuts. She ignored the instructions, fed and treated the cats like a sane person would and they were fine. As she is yelling at me about my brother not being able to take care of these cats properly she says Mickey & Shady aren’t the only pussies Georgie doesn’t know how to treat right. Chrissy continues (and this is why I love the girl) “He has 6 tubes of Astroglide in the nightstand next to the bed. Maybe I should leave a list of instructions for him.”

In July, I went to NYC to see Coney Island for the last time. Oh, I’ll be going there again, but it will never be the same. A developer has bought most of the land between the Cyclone and the baseball stadium.  He is currently fighting with the city over land use issues. Coney Island has a seedy charm that I have loved since my grandfather took me there as a kid. Nathan’s Famous hot dogs, Gregory & Paul’s food stand on the boardwalk, the greatest coaster in the world, the relentless Cyclone, two and a half minutes of uncontrollable thrills, the old time ‘freak’ shows and the hawkers on microphones trying to convince you to “try your luck”, “bump your ass off” or “shoot the freak”. There just aren’t places like this anymore. It would be a shame if Coney Island joined the long list of beachfront amusement parks that were ‘improved’ by condos and hotels. My cousin Patty and her daughters Karissa & Cori met us in NYC. I spent seven days with four women in New York. We shopped, ate and walked our way through the city. We laughed at Cori doing a Brooklyn accent, we cried at the 9-11 Memorial museum, we enjoyed riding the Cyclone five times with the girls screaming in front of us every time. After seeing Rent, we had a midnight dinner at Junior’s Diner. The girls were all dressed up for our night out. The waiter, Lamar, a very good looking young man, looked around the table at Patty, Chrissy, Cori & Karissa, then turns to me and says “Brother, you must be doing something right.” My week summed up perfectly.

One day, while riding my bike on the single track trails at Sweet Woods Forest Preserve, I spotted an all white deer down by the creek. I circled around to get a closer look and found the albino deer in a clearing with 3 other deer. I was mesmerized by the strangely beautiful animal. Over the years of riding in the woods, I’ve come across hundreds of deer. They usually freeze and stare back then run or they run immediately. While staring at the white deer, I didn’t notice the other three deer form a line and start walking toward me. I swear they were protecting their friend. I thought they would stop but kept coming toward me looking more menacing with each step. As they kept moving toward me, I thought about the commercial where the guy is yelling at a deer that is attacking him, You’re supposed to be docile!” I started to get nervous. When the 3 deer got within 10 feet; I turned and pedaled away yelling “You’re supposed to be docile!”

Every year for Halloween, Chrissy buys a ton of candy and I hope a bunch of kids will show up. Every year about 10 kids show up. I get so mad that parents won’t let their kids go trick or treating. WARNING: Bitter Old Man story coming up. When I was a kid, our group of 5 or 6 unaccompanied kids used to trick or treat through our neighborhood and several others until the bag got so heavy that we had to accept a ride  from strange men dressed as clowns, priests or mimes just to get our candy home. Then we ate all the candy and guess what…we all lived. So this year I decided to dress up in a costume to spread some Halloween cheer. I put on one of my adult diapers and a chef hat. I was the Pampered Chef. I thought it was funny. Some of the neighborhood moms didn’t. They yelled things like “don’t take any candy from that SOB”, “get the fuck away from my kids you pervert” and “I didn’t see this address on the child molester registration website”. I did have a young black mom from the next block mumble to her friend something like “that crazy white boy could put his meat in my oven”. So it wasn’t all bad. But then the cops showed up and told me to either put on some pants or stop handing out candy. Chrissy says she’ll take off of work next year to hand out the candy.

   In my never ending efforts to add culture to my niece & nephew’s lives, we took Kristian & Kyle to Millennium Park for the Sights & Sounds of the Arctic exhibition. It was advertised by the Chicago Park District as the sounds of the arctic (glacier’s cracking, whale & walrus sounds, etc.) accompanied by a video protesting global warming. It was a chilly November night so we bundled the kids up. We had a big bag of popcorn and left over Halloween candy. The sounds were already playing when we took our seats and waited for it to get dark enough for the movie. It was like a Norman Rockwell painting, a family sitting in an outdoor pavilion with sodas, dipping our hands into a big bag of popcorn, eagerly waiting for the movie to begin. Let’s be honest, if it ended like that, it would never make a newsletter like this. It turns out to be an art film. Not a good art film, the shitty kind we all ridicule. Poorly shot images of the arctic with words of protest written like graffiti on the ice. It got worse; a completely naked pregnant woman is superimposed walking on the ice. I get that she is Mother Earth, but we are in a public park and full frontal nudity of an extremely unattractive and extremely pregnant woman is a bit much. After a scene with some birds & walrus, here comes Mother Earth again & again. I kept saying to Chrissy “Jesus not her again”. When she appeared for the 5th time, six year old Kristian yells out “Oh my God, How many times?!!!” People around us started laughing and most began leaving. Then Mother Earth appears on her back with her knees up high and I swear to you, I thought they were going to show her giving birth. They didn’t, just a baby crawling on the ice. After the movie, I asked sixteen year old Kyle what he learned from the movie. His reply shows what a positive role model I am. He said, “If you are going to make a shitty movie at least have hot naked women in it to keep people interested.”

   Speaking of hot naked women, over the past few years, my friends Todd & Vicky have repeatedly asked what it takes to get mentioned in this newsletter. Like most people, they send us a Christmas photo card except theirs are different than the others. One had Vicky as Santa’s helper engaging in doggy style sex with Todd dressed as Santa; another had a scantily dressed Vicky playing “Wreath Toss” with a naked Todd. The cards made us laugh so hard and so did Todd’s stories about making the cards. Such as Todd standing in line at Walgreens with the mothers waiting to make photo cards of their precious spawn, when Todd’s pictures appear on the screen to shock the suburban moms. Or Todd telling us what Vicky had to do so the wreath would stay on him long enough for a picture. I always tell Vicky “skin to win”.  I can’t wait for this year’s photo card. 

A week before Christmas, we put down Glacier. He had some health problems that made the decision for us. I wrapped my arms around him in his final moments with tears in my eyes as the vets calmly talked to him as he went down. When it was over he peed all over my foot. I started laughing and crying at the same time. I explained to the vet when I first met him at the Animal Welfare League, he said hello to me by pissing on my foot. So it was a fitting way to say goodbye. I end this now wishing everyone a Happy New Year and a little something I learned from my dog. Always be excited about going outside, right now is a good time for a nap, lying in the grass is the perfect way to spend an afternoon, sniffing someone’s butt is an acceptable greeting  and when life gets too serious…piss on it.