Sunday, July 27, 2014

Momma's Little Angels & Demons

Approximately 16 years ago we brought a darling little angel home from the hospital. She was so sweet-tempered, even at age 2 ¾, that we decided to press our luck and bring home another.

Since then our lives have been blessed with two little rays of sunshine. There were a few grey clouds here and there but they cleared quickly, never more than a passing shower or minor squall.

Then... WHAM!

Just like that they both turned into sullen, surly teenagers. Over night. Last night to be precise.

I tucked them in as Momma's Little Angels, they woke up as The Reasons Momma Drinks Before Noon.

I shouldn't be surprised. I mean, they both are teenagers now. But The Little Prince has been 13 for a whole month without a personality downgrade. It must take a while for hormones to spin completely out of control.

The Princess has been a moody teen for three years so we've learned to expect her anti-parental behavior. She's always made it clear that I have absolutely no idea what it's like to be young. When these situations arise I roll my eyes, sigh in a put-upon manner and ignore her the best I can (behavior I obviously learned from her, having never been a teenager myself).

Unfortunately it is not legal to list surly teens for sale on Craigslist. Read the fine print. Also, it is no longer politically correct to threaten to sell surly teens to a band of wandering Gypsies.

Since The Prince began his descent into sullenness, The Princess has moved on to unbearably perky, chatty and goofy – becoming a stereotypical “Blonde,” although she's not blonde (but she wants to be and would be if only her uncaring, clueless mother would let her bleach her hair).

So I have one child who communicates monosyllabically, and one who communicates non-stop-o-syllabically.

Put the two of them together? God have mercy on my soul.

Today was a textbook example of life in the eye of the perfect hormonal storm....

The Princess arose uncharacteristically early – before noon – and asked what we would be doing for fun. I realized with a shock that summer is almost over (SUMMER IS ALMOST OVER!!!) and we haven't done anything fun together yet.

They have been wanting to go paddle boarding (Princess) and fishing (Prince), so with Dad at work (lucky, lucky man), I figured this was the perfect day to hit the open-ish water. I told the little former-angels they had an hour to get ready.

Fortyfive-minutes later I was the only one not wearing pajamas.

At this point I reminded them that they should dress appropriately for boating and/or fishing. I continued to make this announcement every two minutes until it was time to go.

My mistake was assuming that my children knew what constitutes “appropriate” clothing for boating and/or fishing on a hot, humid Iowa afternoon (eg: swimsuits/grubby clothes).

They do not.

They do, however, apparently think it's perfectly normal for me to randomly decide to wear a spandex miniskirt (AKA skirted “hide-my-ass” swimsuit) in public. My example, like my announcement, was completely ignored. But let me sing one little Billy Joel tune in the car... then they notice!

Officially, the body of water we went to is a “lake.” Unofficially, we have christened this former quarry a “lonk,” as it is somewhere between lake and a pond, size-wise.

Unofficially it could also be termed a “field,” as it was so clogged with water plants The Prince decided he could not fish and would instead share a canoe with me. This ensured him a captive audience while he silently brooded over the infinite un-fishing-fairness of the universe.

Officially, this lonk boasts 95 acres of surface area. I wouldn't know. If one acre is approximately the size of a football field, we spent 60 minutes paddling our canoe back and forth and sideways in an area the size of one end zone. Despite our lack of skill, we were at the mercy of high winds and currents. Or lonk monsters. 

Princess Paddle Board had a little more luck. She was also stuck in the end zone-sized area, but at least she was able to avoid the thick, gooey, paddle-snagging weeds growing thickly enough to walk on near the shoreline.

Or she was lucky until we almost ran into her while trying – for the umpteenth time – to escape our own personal Bermuda Triangle and make it to the dock (it would have been easier to portage across the weeds).

That's when she fell in the lonk. And I found out she did not, in fact, have on a swim suit. And I would have to haul her lonk-water logged body home smelling like a lonk.


The children answered in the usual teen manner of indistinct mumbles, grumbles and sighs.

I answered with clear, distinct and creative swearing.

So, would we do it again?

Of course!

After everyone dried off, cooled down, and filled up on junk food, their angelic little faces lit up with broad smiles as we laughed about our adventure.

A smile is the non-o-syllabic form of teen communication that speaks the loudest.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Keeping the Faith

This is not a review of the Billy Joel concert at Wrigley Field July 18. Because really, what else would I write besides that the show was amazing and Billy Joel was awesome and adorable. And I could have told you that before the lights even came up.

Let's face it, Billy Joel could have gone on stage and presented a two-hour dissertation on the state of modern paint drying and I would have squealed like a teen-aged girl goosed by the captain of the football team. Luckily for the sold-out crowd, Billy Joel instead chose to do what he does best, delivering a fantastic performance and generally delighting the audience. His two-hour, hit-filled show featured 23 of his songs in addition to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and “My Kind of Town (Chicago Is).” The set list included many of my favorites because they're all my favorites, but was light on the more obscure pieces that I like. If he played 'em all, we'd still be there. Which would be OK by me.

But this isn't a concert review, it's a Chicago experience review. Or more accurately a big shout out to some of the friendly, helpful people I met during My Big Adventure Travelling to Chicago All By Myself. You often hear visitors say that Midwesterners are friendly, and by golly, we are!

Thank you to the Chicago art museum docent who practically took me by the hand and led me to the drinking fountain when I asked for directions. I must have looked particularly confused and dehydrated.

Thank you to the people who didn't honk at me when I ran the red light leaving the Millennium Park garage. In that dark intersection beneath the overpass, I was not the only person who clearly had no idea where they were supposed to be. In all fairness, I didn't honk at anyone, either.

Thank you to the lady who showed me how to use the Ventra card kiosk to get my ticket for the “L” to Wrigley. A bazillion out-of-towners trying to get on the Red Line at Grand at 5 p.m. and less than 10% knew how to work the ticket machines. We all apologize for the delay, regular commuters.

Speaking of out-of-towners, it was so nice to meet you, couple from Ontario, Canada! They traveled all the way to Chicago for a three-day weekend planned around the Billy Joel concert. And a ride on the “L.”

Thank you, young girl who thanked me over and over again when I let you have the open seat on the train (I didn't tell you I have to face forward or I get motion sickness). She'd had a long day at work and looked exhausted. In addition to being friendly and kind, she's a concert musician and opera singer. And obviously a Midwesterner.

Thank you to the crazy fan outside the stadium who was over-the-moon about meeting the members of Gavin McGraw's band. You made me feel not-so-crazy. And thanks to the security guy who let her talk to them and let me listen to her gush as we stood outside the performers' bus area.

In fact, thank you to 99% of the staff at Wrigley Field for being unbelievably polite, kind and friendly (and eventually that one girl warmed up to me, too). It didn't matter who they worked for – blue-shirt Wrigley staff, orange-shirt Wrigley security, white-shirt extra security, green-shirt something-else officials, white-shirt ushers – they were all great!

Thanks to the cute orange-shirt guys who directed me to the field entrance, the helpful orange-shirts at the field entrance, and all the shirts who pretty much let me wander wherever I wanted on the field and around the stadium. And offered to take my picture! Of course it was two-hours before the concert and they may have been as bored as I was. I am never early for anything because I don't have the patience to wait. But think of all the nice people I got to meet this time!

Like the usher guy who offered to take my picture with the infield grass, the stands, the stage, the tarp-covered pitching mound.... Oh yeah, I think he was bored.

Thanks to the end of the third-base line beer-stand guys who tried to card me for buying a bottle of water (their first sale of the night), and then offered to take my picture with the 355 ft. outfield wall marker. I took their picture, too.

Thanks to the beer guy inside the stadium who suggested a beer might help calm my upset stomach. I didn't take him up on that, but we had a nice chat.

Big, big thanks to “not Billy Joel” for letting me take a selfie with him. We swapped cameras and took pictures for each other “batting” near home plate. I started to leave, but just couldn't resist. “You know, you kind of look like Billy Joel,” I said. He shyly said he had been getting that a lot that night. He had the right hair style, the right goatee, the right height, and the prettiest eyes! I had to get a picture.

Thanks to the security guy who may or may not have (I wouldn't want to get him in trouble) pointed out the real Billy Joel standing on the balcony above us. Of course I (and everyone else) had to take a picture, although I felt guilty intruding on his privacy.

Thanks to the usher who told me to go for it when I said I was thinking of asking the caterers to give my blogger info card to Billy Joel. “What have you got to lose?” he asked. They couldn't do it, but it was worth a shot.

Thanks, of course, to my seat-mates: Mitch the policeman and his daughter the uber fan, and the nice guy from England-now-Phoenix. You made me feel like part of a group. And to the four wild girls behind us – three Sox fans who found themselves sitting in the Wrigley outfield with their lone Cubbie friend; even the three drunk, college-age guys in front of us who knew just about every song and were very entertaining: Thanks, everyone!

A thanks of relief to the nice people who let me walk with them down the kind of dark and scary alley to the “L” station after the concert because the N. Sheffield sidewalk was packed with party-goers and equally kind of dark and scary.

And thanks to the nice lady on the “L” who asked her friend to give me directions when I followed the crowd and got off the train one stop too soon. It wasn't your fault he sent me east instead of south. And thank you to the train station attendant who talked me down when the ticket kiosk wouldn't take my quarters and I was about to lose it! I can't believe I paid three dollars to ride three blocks. But it was dark. And I was tired and lost-ish. Not a good combination for me.

I'm sure there were other nice people I'm forgetting, so a huge thank you to pretty much everyone I ran into.

You've restored my faith in humanity.

I've always tried to “pay it forward,” but now I'm going to have to work extra hard not just to do that, but to “pay it up,” as well.

I'm Keeping the Faith.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

You May Be Right (I May Be Crazy)

Just how crazy do you think I am?

Wait, wait, don't tell me. Because however crazy you think I am, I think I'm even crazier. If you know me and you know how I think, you understand. Maybe.

As you may know, I've been preoccupied with Billy Joel since April (long story, check the blog archive for details) and tomorrow I will be driving to Chicago  by myself for his sold-out concert.

I'm not sure if I'm more excited or nervous. And I'm already wondering what life, post-concert, will be like.

You see, it's become more than just a concert for me. It's an epic adventure – a challenge of creativity and bravery, an opportunity to carpe the snot out of the diem. Others might say it's an exercise in futility, stupidity and time wasting.

The first challenge was to convince myself that I could do this alone. I'm still worried about getting lost on the drive and just the thought of riding the “L” makes me nervous. (Although the Red Line is a straight shot from right outside my hotel to Wrigley so if I screw that up, I'm some special kind of stupid.)

But I'm OK with the “alone” part. It's kind of exciting, in fact. I'm making plans for things that I want to do without having to listen to anyone whine, like go to the art museum. I may even have lunch at the House of Blues... by myself. Heck, I can have lunch anywhere and anytime I want.

The second challenge was securing a concert ticket. This was more a matter of perseverance and dumb luck. But still, I navigated the ticket sites and ordered the ticket all by myself.

And here's where the crazy starts to show. Not only did I whine to anyone who would listen (and a few who didn't) and blog about the concert being sold out and how unfair scalpers are, I started sending emails.

Sending random emails is a sure sign of mid-level crazy.

First I emailed the official Billy Joel web site (maintained by Sony Corp. if you read the fine print) to ask if any additional tickets would be released (there were, and I got one). I still haven't heard back from them (ha).

Then, in a fit of pique I emailed the Cubs organization asking if the high-end VIP tickets ($500+) included a starting spot in the Cubs lineup. They actually did take the time to send a nice reply, saying that was news to them and that concert questions should be directed to Sony (as if).

After I had my ticket, the final challenge was to wait patiently.

Which I failed miserably at.

What do I do when I have too much time on my hands? Send emails.

Not only did I blog about wanting to interview Billy Joel, I sent emails requesting an interview. Neither Sony nor a talent rep who may or may not represent Billy Joel (can you trust press releases you find on the i-net?) have responded to my (very polite) requests.

Did that stop me? Of course not.

Yesterday (that's two days before the concert) I decided to try to get press credentials. I had no idea what this might involve, but it was another adventure! I did actually hear back from the concert promoters (yay!), but after sending a couple of clarification emails the final answer was a big, fat “Requested Credentials Are Not Available” (boo!).

So, did I really think I'd get to interview Billy Joel or get a press pass authorizing me to wander around Wrigley? No. But that doesn't mean it wasn't exciting to receive those emails. And I'm not going to give up. I'm taking my notebook full of interview questions with me.

Did I have a lot of fun doing some kinda crazy, unexpected, definitely out of the ordinary stuff? You betcha.

Saturday night when I arrive back home in West Branch – without getting lost anywhere at anytime and blissed out from a day at the art museum – I expect I'll have some fun Chicago memories to share. But more than that, I think I'll have a little more self-confidence and courage to try some more new challenges.

In one of those cosmic coincidences (or "God winks") I recently saw a quote attributed to Franklin D. Roosevelt: “Above all, try something.”

Carpe credentials!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Play Me A Piano Man Memory

I've never been one to let reality stand in the way of a good story. But the story you are about to read is true.


The intensity of my current preoccupation with Billy Joel has taken even me by surprise. On more than one occasion I've wondered if I have, indeed, finally lost my mind for good. Then, while I was gloating over finally wrangling a good, face-value ticket from the actual, official ticket vendor, a little snippet of a memory started niggling at the back of my mind.

I've done this before.

I've tried to get Billy Joel concert tickets before, that is. But it wasn't until I clicked the “Buy Now!” icon and looked over the freshly printed ticket (and started worrying that I was the victim of an elaborate hoax), that the memory of that first, failed attempt for tickets started coming in to focus.

In some respect, I think I'm like the old man in Billy Joel's “Piano Man” who asks:
Son, can you play me a memory
I'm not really sure how it goes”

I know what he means. There are parts of that first ticket buying memory which are true. Others? I'm not really sure how they go.

It's sad and it's sweet and I knew it complete
When I wore a younger man's clothes.”

This memory is sad, but it's definitely not sweet and I may have added some details to make it complete.

It does, however, involve a younger me's clothes.

Picture if you will, Eastern Iowa circa 1984-ish. KRNA radio (mandatory listening for Eastern Iowa teens) announced that Billy Joel would be appearing at Carver Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City. Tickets would be available at local Ticketmaster outlets.

I wanted desperately to go to this show. But not so desperately that I would skip school (nerd alert) to camp out at the box office. Remember, these were the dark days before home computers and the internet. If you wanted tickets you stood in line, you didn't go on-line.

The day tickets went on sale I rushed home from school to change clothes before heading to Iowa City. I just had to swap my cheerleading uniform for something infinitely more cool and appropriate for concert-ticket buying: spray-painted on jeans and layered polos – collars popped!

Up in my second-floor room the radio was on and the sweater was coming off when my hopes and dreams came crashing down: The DJ announced the IC concert was already sold out.

Noooooooooooooo! This is the song of my people: the anguished cry of the disillusioned, heartbroken, angst-ridden teen.

My arms were caught up in that akward over-the-head sweater-removing tangle when, in my frustration and despair, I gave one last great tug to free myself from my poly-cotton blend straightjacket and wacked my elbow on my tall dresser.


Now I had no ticket and no feeling in my arm.

I was scarred for life. Or at least for 20 some-odd years (or 30).

Flash forward to Eastern Iowa, circa 2014. I'm certain it was the repressed and potentially sketchy memory of my first failed (and painful) attempt to score Billy Joel tickets that kept me skulking around the ticket web sites until my sheer determination and dumb luck paid off.

I got a tick-et. I got a tick-et.
I went on-li-ine and got a tick-et.

And I didn't have to change clothes or smash my elbow.

Sing me a song, Piano Man. I'm in the mood for a new memory.