Saturday, February 20, 2016

December 25, 2015 The Long Overdue 2015 Christmas Letter

I have no excuses for this letter being two months late except chronic procrastination. That sounds like a newly created disease the drug companies should have a pill to cure...get GlaxoSmithKline on the phone...I have CP and need a cure. With no further's the 2015 Christmas Letter.

Chrissy & I hope everyone has a wonderful 2016.

“So just let me introduce myself, my name is Humpty, pronounced with an ‘umpty’." – Humpty Dance by The Digital Underground
Every year I have several ideas of how to write this damn Christmas letter. This year I realized that life is really just a collection of short stories. So after I “got busy in a Burger King bathroom” I wrote this Christmas Letter / Book of 2015.
“Some are satin, some are steel, some are silk and some are leather, they’re the faces of a stranger but we'd love to try them on” – The Stranger by Billy Joel
One day while working on a diesel pump, a guy drove in and asked if he could fill up. I told him I was almost done. So he got out of his truck and asked me if I listened to Sean Hannity. I politely answered no. Then he starts ranting about “that fucking nigger Obama not giving the military enough money to bomb ISIS”. Now my first thought was I guess this is now an acceptable way to talk to a complete stranger. I decided to take the high road. So I explained that Congress appropriates the money for the military not the President. I also told him he should be careful about where he gets his information. He looked at me like I just told him I had sex with his wife. I couldn’t help smiling as he got in his truck and drove away. A few days later, I stopped at the Cal City Bakery. I watched elderly man walk around his car to open the door for his wife. They walked arm in arm into the bakery. When I walked in, his wife was already talking to another lady. The husband jokingly said to me, “She knows everyone and she can talk for hours. So young man, what are you here for?”  I told him I stopped for a couple of donuts but I noticed that they have cannolis. He told me he has never had their cannolis because his family has made their own for years. He politely added that people don’t care about old fashion craftsmanship nowadays. I told him I still search for handmade items and I love a good cannoli. He told me that he makes cannolis from a family recipe that uses only impastata ricotta cheese and he makes the shells using his grandmother’s cut up broomstick. As I was placing my order, I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned around…”It was a pleasure meeting you young man. Merry Christmas to you and your family and remember eating good cannoli’s makes life better”. Once again, a complete stranger put a smile on my face. But it made me realize that I am more like the ranting lunatic (without the racist bullshit but with more smartass commentary) than the sweet old man…I’ll have to work on that in the new year.
There's a big old goofy man dancing with a big old goofy girl, Ooh baby it’s a big old goofy world” –It’s a Big Old Goofy World by John Prine
I’ve had a lot of strange shit happen to me while working the past 30 years in every neighborhood in Chicago. I’ve been offered all kinds of prescription and illegal drugs. I’ve had various sex offers from prostitutes on the street, some clothed, some half naked. I’ve been robbed and I have heard every sad story imaginable while being hustled for money. I’ve also been harassed by the police who thought I was buying drugs as the dealers ran away without one cop chasing them. Yet somehow I had a new experience this year. While working at a gas station on Chicago’s notoriously dangerous west side, I noticed a Cadillac Escalade pull up to the pump behind me. Then I heard a sweet voice ask, “Hey baby how are you doing?” I turned around to see a beautiful, well dressed young black woman in the driver’s seat talking to me through the passenger window. I told her I was OK, thinking she was worried about a white boy in this neighborhood. Then she asked me if I wanted to party. I stood there momentarily stunned and told her I was working here. Then I quickly realized what was happening and started laughing…my first drive by hooker.
“Old man look at my life, I'm a lot like you were” – Old Man by Neil Young
I have been battling old age for years now and I believe I am losing the war. I can honestly tell you…it fucking sucks. It starts with the little things like you can’t open jars without one of those rubber grip things or your eyesight starts to fade away at the same time stray hairs start growing out of your ears. So you are the only one that can’t see them. You also begin losing sleep because you have to get up to pee three times a night. Then one day your wife comes home from work and she’s yelling, “Hey you fucking idiot why is there a lit burner on the stove?” So you run into the kitchen yelling, “It wasn’t me. I didn’t cook anything today!” Then she sees the pot in the sink with some oatmeal in it and you vaguely remember making oatmeal for breakfast over 10 hours ago. You also recall walking through the kitchen at least 5 or 6 times throughout the day without noticing the flame on the stove. But the ultimate insult of growing old occurred at a Culver’s restaurant. Chrissy & I placed our order with the teenage girl working the register. I was watching the screen and noticed we owed $19.60. Then she says that will be $16.75. So I look at the screen again and saw the words Senior Discount -$2.85. In my head I am screaming, motherfucker, you little bitch, get the manager, I want you fired immediately. You didn’t even card me. I am not eligible for that discount. But in real life, I was happy to save almost three dollars. It was at that moment I had to admit to myself that I am a fucking old man. So after pocketing the extra change, I pulled my pants up even higher than usual. Life is really gonna suck now.
“Of course we immigrants want to sing all night long, don’t you know the singing salves the troubled soul?” – Immigrant Punk by Gogol Bordello
In March I went to Nashville to see one of my favorite bands, Gogol Bordello. I was thrilled that my flight made it to Nashville because it was snowing there. But I quickly realized that I had a problem. Nashville had three inches of snow which is like Chicago getting 20 inches of snow. The airport shops were mostly closed because no one could drive to work. When I finally got a taxi, the cabbie tells me he has never seen this much snow in his life. So I offered to drive since I’ve driven in snow like this hundreds of time in my life and I sure as hell did not want to die on a Tennessee highway. After 40 minutes and 7 miles of driving through a ghost town, I made it to my hotel. I quickly found out that the Gogol Bordello concert was canceled so I bought a ticket to the Predators hockey game. After the game I stopped at a few bars on Broadway to check out some music and drown my sorrows. When I got back to my hotel I stumbled across a group of people sitting in the lobby where the continental breakfast is served. An informal group of musicians were playing bluegrass music. I was very tired but I sat on a nearby couch to listen. They were really good so I moved closer and quickly decided I wasn’t going to bed until they were done playing. I soon realized I was witnessing something very special because these musicians were unbelievably good. After each song someone picked the next song and the group swapped instruments and chose the correct key. Then beautiful music was played as everyone sang along. I loved every minute of this impromptu show. I completely forgot about missing Gogol Bordello and thanked the Music Gods for allowing me to see this. I found out afterwards that these musicians were here for a bluegrass music conference. Most were touring musicians, which explained why such great music was being played after midnight in the lobby of a Best Western. I spent the next three days walking all over Nashville. First with my cousin Karissa, who acted as my local tour guide as we wandered aimlessly around the city. We both enjoyed checking out the historic grand old buildings that we discovered on our journey. Then I spent a day catching up with my old high school friend Dan Moit as we spent the afternoon drinking and listening to music. We ended up at the Hi Watt for a late show with amazing young band, the Kansas Bible Company. I missed one of my favorite bands but an old friend, a young cousin, new musical acquaintances and the city of Nashville made the trip worthwhile.
“Now it's over that ridge for one last mile, 'Til we're fast asleep by the fire side, Dreamin' these dreams for free, Yeah, it's just my dog and me, I never felt so free, It's just my dog and me” – My Dog and Me by John Hiatt
Our female dog Roxie passed away on June 30. She died suddenly and peacefully. She came to us in 2009 after her former owners got divorced. At the time we already had two dogs, Fluffy & Oslo. We took Roxie in with the plan of foster parenting her until she was adopted. She was the second dog we fostered and the second dog we decided to keep. We are not good foster parents. After she was gone, it struck me as kind of funny that the things I missed about her were the things she did that annoyed me the most. Every day she knocked her food out of the bowl all over the kitchen floor. I also miss how she would jump on the bed and lay right next to me with her head on my chest and she would stay there for as long as I kept petting her. But as soon as I stopped she got up and lay at the foot of the bed and snored so fucking loud that I had to sleep in another room. Somehow, I miss that. She loved to go for a car ride and she was always up for an adventure. But once she got tired, the hike was over and she would head back to the car. When we first got her, food started to go missing from the counters. Since she was short and fat, we blamed Oslo. Eventually we realized it was Roxie. She was agile for her size and if food was involved, Roxie acted possessed like Linda Blair in The Exorcist. She could turn her head 360 degrees to find food. Roxie could levitate to reach the food in the upper cabinets and she could open the refrigerator door just by staring at it. That girl is the only one I know who loves food more than me. You risked losing a finger if you handed her a doggie treat. I miss that girl but life goes on. So a couple of weeks later we picked up a skinny young female from the Great Pyrenees Rescue of Wisconsin. We changed her name from Nalah to Nola as a tribute to New Orleans. She and Oslo get along great and since Nola has terrorized the squirrels in our yard so well, we are hoping to expand our garden this summer.
“The world is full of compromise and infinite red tape. But the music's got the magic, it's your one chance for escape. So turn me on - turn me up - it's your turn to dream. A little magic power makes it better than it seems. I'm young, I'm wild and I'm free. I got the magic power of the music in me” – Magic Power by Triumph
I have repeatedly written about my love of music and this year had several memorable moments. In April Chrissy and I saw one of our favorite bands, The Replacements. The show was the perfect mix of great songs and sloppy fun from one of the greatest bands of the 1980’s. In June I saw My Morning Jacket and once again they put on an amazing show. The combination of incredible musicians, stage lighting that fit the music perfectly and great songs had me feeling like I slipped down the rabbit hole into Wonderland. I swear I only had a few beers but I spent over two hours floating throughout the Chicago Theater. In August we flew to NYC and that same night we saw Billy Joel at MSG. You forget how many great songs he has written and he played them all. Chrissy & I also got a kick out of the three young Italian brothers sitting in front of us. Their parents must have been huge fans because these three sang along to every song and got so excited when one of their favorites was played. When Billy brought out Itzhak Perlman to reprise his violin solo on “Downeaster Alexa”, I was stunned as the most magical sounds passed through my ears. It wasn’t just music. It was something special from one of the greatest musicians on the planet and it brought tears to my eyes. In September we went to the Life Is Beautiful Festival in Las Vegas for three days of music but the one we definitely wanted to see was Stevie Wonder and his performance exceeded all my expectations. The incredible songs, amazing musicians, the showmanship, the humor, the love, the huge crowd dancing and singing along to every song and the messages about changing the world, it all added up to a near out of body musical experience. At times the chills up my spine lasted for minutes. Other times I just closed my eyes and let the power of the music cause me to float away in my own mind. Stevie gave every musician a chance in the spotlight and they definitely deserved it because the band was amazingly talented. But the highlight was when he challenged each of the five background singers to out sing him which every one of them did in their own way. Listening to people who can sing like that sent chills up and down my spine and Stevie just laughed as each one upstaged him and stole the show. A true musical legend who provided me with another mind blowing musical experience at a perfectly named festival. But my most memorable day of music happened on August 1st. I spent the day with my friend Patty at Lollapalooza in Grant Park. Then I took a cab to my friend Debbie’s place where I quickly showered and had tacos for dinner. I cannot thank Deb enough not just for this night but for a lifetime of being a true friend. Chrissy picked me up and we saw the amazing Lyle Lovett performing with his Large Band at the Chicago Theater. Lyle sang songs, told stories and stepped aside for band members to sing their own songs or for numerous solos by extremely talented musicians. This show was a masterclass in how to put on a concert. I left this show so full of energy that there was no way we were going to miss the midnight Gogol Bordello show. So we took the CTA Pink Line train to 18th & Ashland and walked the 6 blocks to Thalia Hall on a beautiful night. I have said for years that I love all types of music when it is played by talented musicians. So after watching the meticulous musicians of Lyle’s Large Band perform every note perfectly, I am ready for the musical mayhem that is a Gogol show. We sang and danced along to every song as Thalia Hall's second story floor bounced up & down with the wild crowd. We walked back to the Pink Line with enough musical adrenaline to forget how old we are supposed to be. Sure I cursed the city of Chicago when at 2:30am I found out the Pink Line does not run from 1am – 5am. But I was still smiling when I finally got to bed about 4am with the music still ringing in my ears.
“Road trippin' with my two favorite allies, fully loaded we got snacks and supplies, it’s time to leave this town, it’s time to steal away, let’s go get lost, anywhere in the U.S.A.” – Road Trippin’ by The Red Hot Chili Peppers
In April Chrissy decided to attend a bear conference in Tucson. So we took our 17 year old nephew, Kennedy with us. During the flight to Arizona, Chrissy explained to Kennedy that we plan on hiking in the desert every day. On the days that she is at the conference, it will be Kennedy’s job to make sure that his uncle gets back to the hotel. When he replied, “I’m going to need a wheelbarrow for that”. I laughed and thought I might leave him out in the desert. But he redeemed himself by explaining to me how to start our keyless rental car and he also told me that I could play music on a USB memory stick in the car. So while driving to Chiricahua National Monument on Easter Sunday, I sang along to every song on the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack. We enjoyed another religious experience spending the day hiking past the rock spires, pinnacles and hoodoos of the Echo Canyon Trail Loop. We spent the next week hiking in beautiful desert and mountain areas in Organ Pipe Cactus NM, Saguaro NP, Coronado NF, Madera Canyon, Mt. Lemmon, San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area and the incredibly beautiful Bear Canyon at the Sabino Canyon Rec Area. We even went spelunking in the Coronado National Memorial on the Mexican border. After climbing down about 30 feet of rocks, we spent over an hour and a half exploring the Coronado Cave and the only other living creature we saw was a ringtail that Kennedy identified correctly. One night for dinner in the funky artist town of Ajo, Kennedy ordered a one pound burger and was told by our waitress, “It is a huge burger honey, this ain’t McDonalds!” Somehow he ate the whole thing. So after a week of hiking all over southern Arizona, Chrissy asked Kennedy what he learned on this amazing trip. He replied, “Uncle Gregg farts a lot.” Fucking smartass kids, I wonder where they learn this shit.
“With the sun on my shoulder and the wind in my back, I will never grow older at least not in my mind, I feel so wonderful, wonderful, wonderful the way I feel” – Wonderful (The Way I Feel) by My Morning Jacket
In September Chrissy & I drove from Las Vegas up through the Sierra Nevada Mountains and down the Pacific Coast Highway. During that two week trip we visited 4 National Parks, 5 National Forests, 2 National Monuments, a National Recreation Area, a National Conservation Area, a National Historical Park, 3 California State Parks and 8 California State Beaches. Here’s a few of the highlights from that trip…at the Cesar Chavez National Monument we walked through the exhibits behind a lady whose parents worked with Cesar. We listened as she told first hand stories about the United Farmworkers labor movement to her children. In Sequoia NP, we stood slack jawed looking up at the first Giant Sequoia we saw and spent the rest of the day amazed by the size of what Chrissy kept calling, “those big ass trees.” Even though most of Kings Canyon NP was closed due to wildfires, the rangers told us about a nice hike past Panoramic Point along the Park Ridge Trail. For two hours we were the only ones hiking on that trail in the wilderness. Sometimes the scenery or wildlife is the reason for hiking and sometimes total solitude in nature is why I enjoy hiking. We arrived in Yosemite on its 125th Anniversary. If you want to see true natural beauty, this is the place for you. We did a late afternoon hike on the Mist Trail. Then we enjoyed an unseasonably cold 40 degree night in our unheated tent cabin on a double bed snuggling to stay warm. We spent a wonderful day driving and hiking along Tioga Pass Road where the highlights were Tenaya Canyon, Tenaya Lake, Tioga Pass, Olmstead Point, hiking a section of the John Muir trail, playing pooh sticks on the Tuolumne River and seeing El Capitan lit up by the setting sun back in Yosemite Valley. Our one beautiful day in San Francisco was spent walking along the bay from the Golden Gate Bridge to the SF-Oakland Bridge. We ended our day enjoying ice cream cones with the sun setting while “sitting on the dock of the bay, watching the tide roll away…wasting time.” PCH highlights included watching the sunset over the Pacific Ocean every night for a week, especially the fantastic golden cliffs during a sunset hike at Point Lobos State Reserve, hiking among the redwood trees at Big Sur, the purple sand at Pfeiffer Beach, the elephant seals at Piedras Blancas State Marine Reserve, climbing out on the rocks as the tide came in at Refugio State Beach, hiking on Santa Cruz Island in Channel Islands National Park and spending time at the incredible Santa Barbara Mission.
“They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum and they charged all the people a dollar and a half to see 'em, don’t it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'till it's gone” -  Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell
Since Chrissy wants no part of this newsletter, it usually is all about me. So while I am out drinking with friends at concerts or after hockey games, Chrissy is working hard to make the world a better place for all living creatures. She is the Chairperson for Trees for You and Me. The charity she started to help save the polar bears. She is also a field ambassador for Polar Bears International and an American Association of Zoo Keepers Conservation Committee member and the local Brookfield AAZK Vice President. She is also active with our local chapter of the Sierra Club as the Executive Committee Member for Conservation & Cool Cities Liaison and she has given presentations about climate change to various groups and school children throughout Chicagoland. So the next time you are drinking with friends, raise a glass and toast everyone like Chrissy for doing something good for the world.
“Under the bridge downtown is where I drew some blood, Under the bridge downtown I could not get enough” – Under The Bridge by The Red Hot Chili Peppers
We spent Christmas in New Orleans with my parents and my brother Jeff and had a wonderful time. My mom cooked a tasty turkey Christmas dinner and we binge watched Treme all day long. We ate at several good restaurants and saw the Preservation Hall Jazz Band on Saturday and Dr. John at Tipitina’s on Sunday. We also had a great time in Eunice visiting my cousins Donnie and Laura who cooked us a fantastic Cajun dinner. But there was a dark side to our trip. As soon as we landed we headed straight to Brooklyn Pizzeria with my family.  We enjoyed a whole pie but I had to order another slice for myself. Afterwards Chrissy insisted that we stop at the drive thru daiquiri place because she “jokingly” said she needed one to deal with my family. At first it was funny, but on our last night in New Orleans we stopped for daiquiris once again, this would be her seventh one in six days. Then I demand we stop at Brooklyn Pizzeria but couldn’t find it at first. So I angrily turned the car around and got there just as they were closing. I got two hot slices right out of the oven to go but they were too hot to eat so I started driving. I am pissed because it smells so good that I want it now and Chrissy is yelling at me to just pull over and eat the fucking pizza. This story ends with us laughing hysterically in the car. Because I said “I think we have a problem. We are parked in a dark parking lot behind an abandoned building eating pizza and drinking daiquiris at 11pm. We are like two junkies shooting heroin.”
“Cos it's a lovely sunny day but you hide yourself away, you've only got yourself to blame, get up and get down and get outside” – Reasons Not To Be An Idiot by Frank Turner
Here are a few quick stories that didn’t fit anywhere else. At the City Winery for a Steve Earle show, the guy sitting behind me ended up standing in the back of the room to watch the show because he couldn’t see past my giant head. On Valentine’s Day it was bitterly cold, so when Chrissy & I got into our bed with the flannel sheets and our flannel pajamas, the sparks really started to fly, so much so that instead of having sex we just crawled under the covers and watched the static sparks light up the dark. In NYC at the Le Petit Café, I really had to use the bathroom. This was an emergency duck walk to the bathroom. When I sat down, I saw there was no toilet paper. I searched the lower cabinets, no luck. I couldn’t reach the upper cabinets so I stood on the toilet but while stretching upward it was hard to keep my ass cheeks clinched together so I slipped off the toilet and crash landed into the door. Several people asked if I was OK.  I ran out of the café to a bar down the street that had toilet paper. I had to call Chrissy to explain what happened, she was laughing so hard she was crying. I finally told her to pay the bill and hung up. My parents visited us in May, then we visited them in October and we saw them again in New Orleans in December. It was great seeing them so often this year. I can’t remember the last time I spent so much time with them. As I get older it has become very important to me to spend time with them while they still remember who I am. Relax mom, I’m just joking. I guess you know how kids become smartasses; they learn it from the adults around them. Chrissy & I love to spend time in our national parks. These are very special places that many different people fought hard to protect in the past so that we can enjoy them today. Now it is our turn to support the parks so that future generations will be able enjoy the natural beauty of this country. The National Park Service is celebrating its 100th Anniversary this year. It is my hope that our stories about the parks inspire some of you to visit them. We buy a National Parks Pass every year. It only costs $80. Some years we use it, some years we don’t but we feel good about supporting America’s most amazing places to visit. Hopefully you can find the time to visit a state or national park this year and spend some quality time with nature. It really does soothe the soul and refresh the mind and body.

Chrissy & I want to thank everyone that found the time to visit with us this past year. We want all our friends and family to know how much they mean to us and hopefully we’ll see you this year….maybe in a National Park.

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