Saturday, February 4, 2012

December 21, 2011 The 2004 Christmas Letter

Dear Santa,

   So maybe you think it’s strange to get a letter from a forty year old fat guy, especially one that isn’t applying for your job. But I live in a country where 51% of the people believe in George Bush. Since they believe in him, I don’t feel foolish believing that some fat old man can grant me a Christmas wish. What? You live with toy making elves…still believe in you… and flying reindeer…nope, I still have more faith in you granting my wish than George W. leading our country to a strong, safe future. Therefore the following is a recap of my year; I hope to convince you that I’ve been nice more often than naughty. Then, you might grant me my wish.

   Last Christmas, you gave Chrissy a couple of sex books (BTW, thanks, nice try, I really appreciated the effort) OF COURSE IT WAS A FAILURE. One night she was actually reading from the book “365 Sex Positions for A Year of Good Sex”. Now here’s another example of her only being able to talk about animals, while reading aloud for me to follow along, she mentioned something about arousing the clitortoise. I said “THE WHAT?” She said “clitortoise” again. I said “maybe it’s a cliturtle!” I laughed so hard there was no chance of sex for months. Let’s just say when my sex book comes out it will be called “Lord Of My Pants” or “Sex – It’s A One Man Job”. OK, maybe this one falls under the naughty column. But could you do a brother a solid and make Christy a little naughtier for next year.

   One of the few things Chrissy & I enjoy together is spending time out in nature. This past January, we went out to Starved Rock State Park to see the bald eagles. The birds usually are across the river on a tree filled island, so I brought a long telephoto lens in an attempt to get some good pictures. But the eagles were still too far away. We decided to hike up onto Starved Rock. While up on the cliff, an eagle flew just a few feet above us, I still couldn’t get a good shot due to the telephoto lens. Now, the eagle was too close. For the first time in my life, I was so close to something beautiful and had something too long in my hands.

   Chrissy went to a Polar Bear conference in San Diego in early February. I went along to visit with my Aunt Pat & Uncle Ed. As a little boy I remember being very afraid of my uncle. He was in the military and always seemed very intimidating. Hell, he has 4 daughters; intimidation was necessary for the teenage boys that came calling. Anyway, we had a really good time with them. It was quite amusing to see him tap dancing around the kitchen to avoid my Aunt Pat finding out what he told us under his breath. When I told my cousins the story, they agreed that while growing up, dad was the good cop to mom’s bad cop. It’s funny how my perceptions have changed with age.

   I still play hockey with my friends in a men’s league. Last winter, Walter & I put together players from our old teams. We had a pretty good season, even made the play-offs. That’s where I caused a major problem. You see, we have a five gallon plastic bucket, officially called the STANLEY BUCKET (after hockey’s trophy, the Stanley Cup). Now each week someone has to bring the bucket full of beer, so we can have a cold one after the game. Sure we used to go to bars, but now we are all too old. Plus we got tired of the nasty looks the young hotties give us when we get caught staring at them with Miller Lite dribbling down our chins. Anyway, back to the story, I forgot the bucket for our play-off game, so on the way to the rink I stopped for some beer and ice but no Stanley Bucket. Some of the guys said this was a bad sign. I ignored them. Then Jim McDonnell, one of our best players breaks his skate during warm ups. I worry. We jump out to a 5-1. We’re fine. Mike Stasiak, our goalie gets hurt, as Keith Shires puts on the goalie equipment, we let up 2 goals. OK, not bad. 5-3. Then Walter gets tossed from the game. Uh-Oh 5-4. They tie the score with less than a minute left and win in overtime. That fucking bucket cost us the game. I know you don’t believe it, but most of us believe we lost because of a plastic bucket curse. I hope it doesn’t last as long as the Boston Red Sox Bambino Curse.

   In April we treated ourselves to dinner at one of Chicago’s upscale eateries, Charlie Trotter’s. My friends Walter, Liz, Debbie & Eric went along. Walter booked the table in the kitchen 6 months in advance. I had to wear a blazer, who owns a fucking blazer? I wore a suit jacket. We had our own Maitre De, she started out with her high brow attitude, but when Eric said that squab was a fancy way of saying pigeon, she lightened up & we had a fun time eating among Chicago’s elite. I believe the bill for 6 people was over $1600. We couldn’t afford to eat out at anything better than White Castle for months.

   Santa, this story should be one for the nice column, it’s supposed to be the thought that counts…RIGHT!! Since we stayed at my Aunt’s while in Cali, my mom only saw us for a few hours at a party thrown by my cousin Mary. Before we left Cali, she called to inform us that they were coming to Chicago for my dad’s 60th birthday in April. I figured a surprise party with all 3 sons would be a good idea. Why Chrissy OK’s these ideas, I’ll never know. Geo & Marcy were in right away, Jeff wasn’t so sure. He finally decided to drive by himself, Jen had to work. (That’s been her story but I think she knew better than to spend a weekend with the whole family.) Long story short, Jeff got lost. He somehow ended up at the Canadian border in upstate NY. The Canadian Mounties were laughing at him when he said he was driving from Boston to Chicago. I couldn’t believe a person that didn’t take the short bus to school could get so lost. Jen could, the poor girl said she has to worry every time he leaves the driveway. Anyway I pulled the surprise off, when my mom saw Jeff, she ran to my dad yelling “GEORRRGE!” When she saw Geo & Marcy, her exact words were “Who’s watching my cats?!!” That’s the kind of love we remember from childhood. The weekend was moving along smoothly. We met a huge group of friends & family for dinner at The Warsaw Inn then continued the party at our house. Unfortunately an Ott family tradition was continued. We began playing a party game where you divide the group in half & take turns singing songs with a word listed on the game card. It always starts out fun, then intense (due to that Ott trait that requires victory), then the explosion. Chrissy started yelling at Georgie, Geo yelled back. Chrissy said “Fuck You!” I didn’t remember seeing those words on a game card. I yelled at Chrissy, someone yelled at Geo, lots of words that definitely weren’t on the game cards were said. AAHHH! Another Ott family get together. I’ll bet the Manson Family get togethers are more peaceful than ours.

   Mrs. Delgado told me that she decided to visit NYC after reading last year’s newsletter. So in June, we headed to NYC and met Mr.& Mrs. D at JFK. After a wonderful dinner at my Aunt Maryann’s, we headed into Manhattan. We did some typical tourist things, Empire State Building, Central Park, Wall Street, Grand Central Station and a fantastic Broadway play, Fiddler On The Roof. We also did some not so typical tourist things, The Mermaid Parade at Coney Island, walking around the West Village in the aftermath of the Gay Pride Parade, Spanish Harlem (for some delicious pizza at Patsy’s), dinner on Mulberry Street in Little Italy at 10:30pm, buying umbrellas on the street and running through the rain in SoHo looking at menus for a good place to eat. Even after we left them to attend to my grandfather’s funeral, they managed to get around the city on their own. Their daughter, Kathy, e-mailed me to verify her parents’ version of the trip. She was surprised by all the things they did in one week. Now Mrs. D knows firsthand why I love NYC so much.

   Santa, I will admit to one regret this year. I wish I would have spoken at my Grandpa’s funeral. I know I would have lost my composure, but I really wanted to say these things…he was reason I was in NYC when he died. It was during all those trips as a child that he taught me to love NYC, the buildings, the subways, the beaches, the baseball teams. I always feel like I’m somewhere special while in NYC. It is because my grandfather passed his love of his city on to me. He may not have been the perfect husband or the perfect father, but he was the perfect grandfather. He always made me feel like he wanted me there with him. Even if he was told by my grandmother to do something with me he didn’t want to, I could never tell. Most of my favorite memories are from visiting my grandparents… Corato’s pizza, riding the front car of the subway with Grandpa explaining how the lights, markers & braking mechanisms work, showing me how to read the subway map, teaching me how to keep score at a ball game, taking me to Shea & Yankee Stadiums, the Empire State Building, the Twin Towers, Battery Park, Central Park, the Staten Island Ferry & Coney Island…for all these memories, I will always be grateful. I love this city and I love him & will miss him…especially when I have a slice at Corato’s without him. I also want to thank my Aunt Maryann for taking such good care of my grandfather; everyone should spend the last years of their life with someone like her.

   I was back in NYC the next month, this time as the chauffeur for my mom, Aunt Pat & Uncle Bob. We were there to attend their cousin Kathleen’s wedding on the Hynes side. I got to room with my Uncle Bob, who is like my family’s version of James Bond. I was amused listening to Uncle Bob crack wise, then getting chastised by his sisters.(This must be a Hynes trait I inherited, I also get chastised by my sisters) I love these family functions because I get to put faces to the family tree I’ve worked on for 10 years. For the second year in a row, I met family members for the first time and felt like we all belonged together. The food at this wedding was amazing and endless. We ate for over 6 hours and it was served so perfectly that the main course at 10pm went down as smooth as the cigars & after dinner cordials that followed the dessert trays. The highlight was spending time with my Grandpa Hynes’ brother Norbert. He had this classic New York Irish way about him, he told me stories about himself & the Hynes family. The night ended with me watching my mom dance with her Uncle Norbert. It was like seeing her dance with her father again, at least as close as she could get to him. Maybe she was thinking the same thing. Damn, here comes that composure problem. (Like my mom always says “You’re a fucking pisseye”)

   Well Santa, in August we made it up to your part of the world. Chrissy volunteered to work on a brown bear research project in Alaska, so I tagged along for an Alaska adventure. Georgie even came up for part of the trip. (This caused my mom to warn me that I was responsible for her baby in Alaska. Apparently it was ok if I died as long as Georgie made it home safely.) We kayaked in Katchemak Bay, hiked to several glaciers, even climbed on the Matanuska Glacier, visited Kenia Fjords, Wrangell St. Elias & Denali National Parks, had to stop the car for moose in the road, had a bear follow us while hiking to an abandoned copper mine, hiked through the snow in Denali, saw bears, eagles, moose, caribou, red fox, ptarmigans, dall sheep, otters, puffins and more impressively spent 17 days together without any major flare-ups between us. Now that should impress you more that anything else. Well, there was the day Geo & I hiked on the Matanuska Glacier. We had to hike over glacial silt to get on the glacier, then a rare Alaska thunderstorm swept over the mountains. We were about a half mile from the car. While running along the marked trail Geo points and says there’s a shortcut, so I going running in that direction. I promptly sank to my thighs in the silt with Geo laughing at me from the trail. I would have kicked his ass when I caught up to him except I was soaking wet & had 40 pounds of silt covering both legs. Then I decided to kick his ass anyway…then a little mom angel appeared on my left shoulder…”don’t let anything happen to my baby”…then a little red devil appeared on my right shoulder…”kick his fucking ass”…I looked left then right…the devil said “what are you more afraid of, eternity in Hell or your mom?”…I decided not to kick Georgie’s ass.

   Every December as I try to muster up some Christmas spirit and the desire to write another Christmas letter, I get the spirit of Christmas from an unexpected place. This year it was at Gayety’s Chocolates. (A 3rd generation family business in our local downtown area) While in line to place my order for Christmas gifts, I listened to two old ladies just making friendly conversation. One told the other she went to Gayety’s as a child living on Chicago’s South Side. They began most sentences with “back in those days”. They came to realize that they grew up around the corner from each and had never met until that day. The old neighborhood butcher, the pharmacist who would always say, “Take this straight home to your mother” and of course, stopping for candy at Gayety’s on the way to the movie theater next door. I just loved listening to their stories. These kinds of moments always lighten up my cynical heart, because I realize these neighborhood stories are fading into the forgotten past. Santa, this brings me to my Christmas wish. It is simple and will be derided as idealist, so be it. It is my Christmas wish that people will always have fond memories like the one detailed above. It can happen if we spend more time supporting businesses where the owners greet you personally and appreciate your business. Do you really think people will reminisce so fondly of their neighborhood WalMart and how they saved a dollar on some useless piece of shit? Every neighborhood has small family run businesses, find ones that offer something unique and support them. You might even begin a lasting friendship. Here’s a list of my friends that offer something unique …Walter at Northstar Custom Cabinetry, Eric at James Dunlop Builders, Donald at Bates & Co. CPA, Jim & Lee at, Mike & Karen at, Dave Stutler Upholstery, Rich at Twardy’s Radiator Shop, Nick at 21st Century Contractors, Woody at Woody’s Garage, Ralph at Diamond Dry Cleaners, Nick at Joltin Joes and Kathy at

   Santa, I’ll get off my soapbox now…it just takes longer since I turned 40 this year. I really try hard not to be a bitter old man who complains all the time but I seem to be losing the battle. We still get out of the house occasionally we saw the following plays…Hairspray, Oliver, Thoroughly Modern Millie, The Graduate, Phantom of the Opera, Scrooge, Evita, On The Record, Rent, The King & I and Fiddler On The Roof. We even made it to a few concerts, Prince, Floggy Molly, Bodeans, John Mellencamp and Steve Earle. It’s time to end this letter. So Merry Christmas to everyone and…my niece Kristian just handed me a Christmas cookie she made with her Aunt Christy…now that’s a Christmas tradition she might look back on and remember fondly…especially when she takes her children to visit their great Aunt Christy in the nursing home and Chrissy is drooling all over herself and needs her diaper changed in the worst way. Of course I had to act excited about the cookie…then give it to my dog, Fluffy…God only knows how many disgusting things are on that kid’s hand …no way I’m eating a cookie that she touched…there’s the bitter old man…I’m expecting three ghosts tonight…gotta go…Merry Christmas, hope everyone has a Happy New Year.

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