“Your best yet”

I made dinner on Sunday. And I scored a perfect “10” . . . . and got the gold medal. 

You know that I enjoy cooking — and experimenting. Last Sunday’s dinner was up in the air.  So I volunteered.  And Donna quickly agreed. I went to Fresh Market and got the fixings for a Mexican fiesta — la cena.  I marinated and baked two chicken breasts.  I chopped and sautéed a large yellow onion and some shiitake mushrooms in olive oil over low heat  in a covered pan for about 45 minutes [shiitakes are healthier and have less toxicity than other mushroom varieties].   Then there were the Garden of Eatin organic blue taco shells (heat 5 minutes at 350).  I sliced the chicken and placed strips within each shell.  Then a slice of garlic cheddar cheese.  On top, I spooned some of the shiitake and onion combo (after I had drained the olive oil and browned slightly).  And I warmed the shells in the oven for another 5 minutes.

I made my usual guacamole recipe (smooshed avocado, cilantro and lime juice – that’s it) and I prepared some fresh quinoa on which I spooned some organic black beans (I confess – from a can).  I provided green tomatillo sauce for the tacos.  We had a great Joel Gott cabernet and some San Pellegrino to wash things down.  Lauren and Trent joined us for the experience.  The sauteed shiitake and onion combo was a 10 point triple Lutz.  The unique combination of quinoa and black beans – with fresh guac on the side – was a graceful double Axel that landed perfectly.  The wine was a magical double toe loop.  The entire meal was a flawless triple Salchow nailed by The Renaissance Hombre.      

Donna and Lauren both looked up from their plates and said seriously “This is your best yet.”  Awww shucks. . . . .  

American Sign Language

I was sitting on the train a few weeks ago — waiting to pull out of the station. Three young girls (probably high school) came in and sat in the 4 seater ahead of me. They began conversing animatedly. Laughing. Giggling. And I watched. Fascinated.  What caught my attention was — they didn’t make a sound. One of the girls was deaf. And the three were mouthing words to each other and using sign language. “Signing.”  They were fast.  And fluent. 

American Sign Language (“ASL”) originated in the early 19th century at the American School for the Deaf in Hartford, CT.   Today, it is used by nearly a million people.  I have two friends who are conversant in ASL:  my partner Dave D. and my former priest, Fr. Bob M. (both Eagle Scouts by the way).  Watching these three young women “talking” was something of a wake up for me.  Since then, when I have lunch at my desk (which is often), I will sometimes log onto an ASL site just to stretch my small brain.  The site is http://lifeprint.com.  I can say “I am a grandfather” and a few other things in ASL.  It is pretty cool to creak open this door.  I even looked into the cost of a class at a Loop college a few blocks away. 

If you want to stretch your brain, this would be a great way to do it.  I guess I have a special reason to look into ASL.  You see my father was clinically deaf from World War II.  And he never learned ASL.  And neither did I. . . . .  

Loeb and Leopold

The “Crime of the Century” occurred in 1924. Two 19 year old law students coming from two wealthy families in Chicago murdered a 14 year old boy – Bobby Franks. The reason?  They wanted to have the experience of killing someone.  And they wanted to commit the perfect crime.   The two were caught thanks to a pair of glasses found near the body and a unique eyeglass hinge which had been ordered by only three people in the country – an old lady, a lawyer who was traveling in Europe and Nathan Leopold — a law student at the University of Chicago and a student of ornithology. 

Leopold and his partner in crime – Richard Loeb  – were arrested and grilled by police.  After the typewritten ransom note was found to match Leopold’s school papers, they confessed.  Their lawyer Clarence Darrow pleaded them guilty to murder and kidnapping and threw them on the mercy of the court — Judge John L. Caverly.  Following a month-long hearing on aggravation and mitigation, States Attorney Robert Crowe argued for five hours demanding that the two be sent to the gallows.  Clarence Darrow argued for eleven hours.  Pleading for mercy.  Pleading for life.  When Darrow finished his closing argument, there was not a dry eye in the courtroom — except for the dour States Attorney.  Two weeks later, Judge Caverly read the verdict.  His decision?   “Life” in the penitentiary.

For the last nine years, I have been performing in a one act play – “Pleading for the Future.”  It is a continuing legal education program and a real life account of the murder and the closing arguments.  Famed reporter and author Ben Hecht (played by lawyer and former Army Stars & Stripes reporter Bill Hannay) provides the introduction and prologue.  I (as a former States Attorney) play the part of Bob Crowe and Todd Parkhurst (an actor and lawyer) has the role of Clarence Darrow.  When the play ran in a West Diversey Street theater (for – count ’em 4 nights), we had two young men playing the parts of Loeb and Leopold plus a bailiff played by Jim McKechnie.  The play has taken on a life of its own.  Now if only we could get Steven Spielberg, Disney or Warner Bros. to pick it up — keeping the original cast of course . . . .       

Blind Date

When I was in law school, a great friend of mine from Augustana College – Diane – was living nearby while going to grad school. One day, Diane said to me “Scott – I have this girl that I think you should meet.” In my own inimitable way, I probably said something like “Duhhhh-okayy. . . .”

A few weeks later, at the appointed hour, I knocked on the door of my date. This cute thing opened the door, smiled and I fumbled for words “duhhhhhh nice pad ya got here. . . ” [those were among my first words].  She probably wondered what sort of bozo Diane had fixed her up with.  “Yes. . . . uhmm. . . thank you.”  I remember sweating a lot and making a lot of “duhhhhh” sounds but for some inexplicable reason she must have found these qualities endearing.   So we went out.  Double-dated actually.  To the racetrack of all places.  And then dinner. 

A few months later, the most uncanny of coincidences occurred (see post of August 2, 2013) which probably sealed the deal.   A couple years later, we were married and we’re still at it. 

You may ask me – why in the world did she stay with you?  Answer – “Duhhhh I dunno. . . .” 


My brother-in-law’s favorite word to describe those of questionable intelligence is “knucklehead.”  He likes the word – and so do I.  According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the term “knucklehead” was first used in 1942 by ventriloquist Paul Winchell for his dummy “Knucklehead Smiff.”  The word was adopted to describe a “stupid person.”  There are dozens of synonyms for the word.   And there are millions of people who fit the description.

The word “knucklehead” is the name of a Canadian punk rock band.   It is the title of a 2010 movie and a 1975 song by Grover Washington.  It is the name of an indoor amusement park in the Wisconsin Dells and a bar in Kansas City.    The word is not derogatory as to race, religion, gender, ethnicity, culture or sexual orientation.  It is an equal opportunity descriptor for a really stupid person. 

I frankly can see limitless application for using this word.  In fact it can probably best be used for anyone who disagrees with me on any given topic.      


I like the Eagles.  I will sometimes put on their “Greatest” CD when I’m puttering around in my office at home.  I’ll sing along with “Hotel California” (if no one’s around).  The song is classic.   And it concludes with the cryptic line “Relax” said the night man. “We are programmed to receive. You can check out any time you want. But you can never leave.”   The song is an allegory on the self destruction, hedonism and greed in the music industry in the ’70’s. 

Yet that line is something of a reminder that we all carry emotional, physical and mental “baggage” around.  That we can “never leave.”  It’s baggage from our youth, from spoken words, from accidents, injury, relationships, pitfalls, violence, job issues and the day-to-day challenge of life.   I was thinking about this in talking with a friend whose boss is insecure, angry, demanding and – yet – quite successful.  One observation I made was “she is who she is – and she probably can’t help it.”   

She could.  But maybe she can’t.  We all have “triggers” that can set off smiles, tears or shudders.  Many of those triggers have origin in our own journey.  And we carry those triggers – and that baggage – for as long as we are around.  It is that baggage that – in the end – makes us who we are.  We may repress the negative stuff.  And yet – it’s there.  Waiting.  Just beneath the surface.  Yeah, I have baggage.  You do too.  Sometimes it’s not good to talk about it (though it can be therapeutic to do so).  We can just recognize that as to baggage, we’re not alone.     

Simple as ABC

If I have chocolate at night – any kind of chocolate – I will fall asleep like a baby. And then wake up at 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. — ready for the day.  It’s very hard to get back to sleep.  

When we go out for dinner and they are clearing the plates, my mind always strays. In the direction of dessert. “Would you like to see the dessert menu?” says the server. “Oh goshSure. I’ll look at it.” Har har har. . . . “Look” at it.  Right.  I see the sorbet assortment or the crème brule or the peach cobbler.  It’s then that I start sweating.  My heart races.  Because right there under the pumpkin cheesecake is the brownie pot with chocolate sauce.  And then the chocolate profiteroles.  And below that it’s the chocolate gooey globs with chocolate sauce and M&M’s.  Donna looks at me with that don’t do it look.   I start mumbling “ch-ch-ch-choco . . . ”   And for a moment, I become strong and say “I’ll have the blackberry sorbet” knowing what’s going to happen.  The server scribbles, turns and starts to walk away.  It’s then I go “Wait – wait – I’ll have the chocolate gooey globs with chocolate sauce and M&M’s.”  The server nods.  Smiles.  In a knowing way.  And walks away.  The gooey globs arrive.  And they are delicious.

We go home.  I climb in bed and fall asleep.  At 3:00 a.m. I wake up.  Sharply.  And feel like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day.”  Next time.  I resolve.  I will be strong.  A-B-C.  “Anything but chocolate.”  Har har har. . . . .   

Facial Recognition Software

I was at O’Hare Field last weekend – off to Florida for a Saturday wedding. At the airport, I walked by hundreds – perhaps thousands – of people. And I didn’t recognize a soul. One or two caused a second glance – is that . . . . no.   We arrived at the Miami Airport and again saw a veritable sea of people.  All shapes, sizes and attire.  And not one person did I recognize.  All had the same standard equipment.  Face.  Nose.  Eyes. Ears.  Hair.  But all were supremely different (some really different).    

Yet on our arrival at our Florida destination, even from a distance I could pick out friends.  There’s Bill.  There’s Jim.  There’s. . . .  I find it pretty awesome that we – as humans – all have this facial recognition software hardwired into our brains.  We can pick out someone we haven’t seen in ten years in a crowd of thousands.  We can detect an old friend from across the room (“well look who’s here!“).  And these faces – and what we perceive to be an evolution of them – is reposed with clarity and order in the gray matter between our ears.   As we know, some people change dramatically and become literally unrecognizable.  But most retain some of the remembered characteristics from years past.  I remember seeing Jon H. – an old friend from Boy Scout camp – at O’Hare.  I knew him in an instant.  It’s amazing how our brains work. 

Now where did I leave my keys. . . . .