Prepping for the Party

Every year for the last 10 years, I have had a combination Holiday/Birthday party at my apartment, wherever it was at the time.  And every year it’s one of the most exciting and stressful times in my life, because I have to consider one very important thing:

What will I make to eat?

You see, I’m Italian (in case you haven’t guessed), and us Italians like to do one thing, and we do it very well.  We make food for our friends and family.  And when we make food, we make enough to feed an army.

For me, it goes back to my childhood, when my Nana and my Aunt Rita would prepare Sunday dinner for the family.  Nana would never serve store-bought, dry pasta… for shame!  Nana made pasta from scratch!  And she’d make a TON of it.

On those Sundays we’d arrive and on my Uncle John’s bed (he was a priest, and he had a bedroom for when he would come to visit Nana) there would be a huge white sheet with rows and rows of that evening’s pasta laid upon it.  Some days it was spaghetti or linguini; others it was stuffed ravioli.  Some days it was gnocchi.  Whatever it was, it was all homemade and, we knew from experience, incredibly delicious.

That tradition also carried through to our family Christmas Eve dinners, where we observed our own version of the Feast of the Seven Fishes.  There was, of course, the Italian staple, baccala, served both fried and in sauce; an anchovy-bread crumb-walnut pasta; numerous breaded and fried fish (croppi was one I remember liking a lot); as well as the standard calimari and, for starters, shrimp cocktail.  Add to that the amazing fried potato rolls with the name I can never spell, and a plethora of delicious dessert items, and you had yourself one heck of a feast.

So as I got older and moved out on my own, I kept the traditions of feeding the world alive.  My first official party was actually a New Year’s Eve party in my very first apartment in Wicker Park.  I don’t think I did a pasta dish, but I do recall making Italian Beef for the very first time.  At my first Holiday/Birthday party, however, I did make some pasta… probably Mostaciolli.  I didn’t have that many people there, because my apartment at the time was very small; but it did mark the first of many to come.

The next party was with my roommates in Andersonville – Chad, Jason and I.  Our last names started with A, B and C; so we called it the “House of ABC Holiday Party.”  I went pretty nuts for this one, as I recall.  I made stuffed shells… at least 3-4 huge pans of them.  It took FOREVER, and I was so exhausted by the time the party started… but everyone loved them.  That was the party that really started the tradition.  From there, in subsequent years, I made lasagna (again), mostaccioli, Italian beef (again), meatball bombers, and then chili.

Chili was always the favorite.  It was easy to make, comparatively inexpensive, and still had a place in my family history– the recipe was my Dad’s.  So for the last few years, I’ve been making chili, and everyone comes expecting it.

But this year I think I’m going to try something really different.  I have my ideas, but I won’t reveal them just yet.  Just suffice it to say that those who taste this will WANT the recipe.  And it’s so easy, too.

Yes, the holidays are fun and planning the party is a lot of work, but the end result is always a good time.  No matter how decorated my place is (and it will be QUITE decorated), if I don’t have some yummy treats for everyone to enjoy, the evening just won’t seem complete.

Maybe someday I’ll feel inspired (and have the money) to make 9 pans of lasagna again.  But for now, as long as it’s delicious and everyone likes it, I’ll make it easy on myself.

Justice Served

One of my last posts on my blog before it was shut down and subsequently moved here told the story of the break-in that occurred in July, where someone stole my computer and camera and ransacked my apartment.  Back then, it seemed highly unlikely they would ever find who did it, and certainly unlikely they would ever find my things that were taken.

I’m happy to report that at least 1/2 of that scenario proved to work out for the best.  I got a call in about mid-October from the detective who said they caught the guy and arrested him based on the fingerprints they found on my window.  Upon his arrest, they questioned him about my break-in and many others in the area, and he admitted to many of them, including mine.  I’m not sure of the tactics they used to get that admission, but it didn’t matter to me.

The detective told me the guy’s name, and of course I didn’t know who he was… but of course upon hearing his name I built this profile of what he looked like, what he acted like, and who he was.  Call it what you want– I think everyone does it.  We immediately assume that someone who does something like this is a big, mean-looking guy, maybe in his mid-20s or 30s, and strung out on drugs or booze or whatever.  I was afraid to see him; afraid to face him, because I didn’t know what the outcome would be if I did testify; and I sure as heck didn’t want some big ol’ moose knowing my name and address and coming after me if he was set free.

The detective also told me they were having a hearing in Municipal Court to determine if they had enough evidence to prosecute him.  I was asked to testify against him, where I needed to say simply that (A) I did not know him – I didn’t; (B) I did not give him permission to enter my apartment – I didn’t; and (C) I did not know anyone who would give him permission to do so – I didn’t.  After a few days of deciding if I wanted to go through with all this, I decided it was worth it, and made plans to attend the hearing.

On the day of the hearing, they called the guy into the courtroom.  He was in jail, so they brought him in from a rear entrance.  I kept hearing this tinkling sound that I think was the keys they used to unlock the door, but to me they sounded like chains.  I don’t know why that affected me so much, but it gave me a chill.

Then they brought the guy out, and I was shocked to see that he was this scrawny kid; maybe 5’7″ at the tallest.  They brought him before the judge, and he asked him his name and age.

He was 17 years old.

I never expected the reaction I had.  It wasn’t anger or disdain, and it wasn’t hatred toward him.  It was actually forgiveness.  Yes, I wanted him to pay for what he did to me– and, as it turned out, to many others– but I also realized that I had to forgive him for doing it.

I looked at his face, and I saw an emotionless, empty soul.  He looked lost and forgotten.  There was no family in the courtroom to support him; no friends or any support system whatsoever.  The kid was alone.

Call me a bleeding-heart liberal or a compassionate wimp; but I felt sorry for the kid.

I answered the questions that were asked of me and went into another room while the Detective gave his answers.  After a while, the attorney returned to the room and told me that they were proceeding with his case — the judge felt they had enough evidence.  So I left.

Walking out of the courthouse, I felt mixed emotions– a slight sense of vindication, but then a sense of sadness.  I didn’t know what would come next for this kid, but surely his life is forever changed because of it.  Whether that has any type of good effect on him or not remains to be seen… but I played a part in what will happen to him.

In any case, he won’t be on the streets anymore, and I can live my life a little better knowing that.

Now I just have to replace some of my missing things!

What a wonderful day today! The sky is bright and clear…

…I’ve been waiting for this day for practically all of the year…
— “Parade” by Eric Lane Barnes

This weekend was Pride weekend in Chicago, and for me it was a markedly different Pride weekend, especially compared with last year.  It was also one of the best Pride weekends I have had in recent memory.

CGMC in "Over the Rainbow"The weekend started off with opening night of CGMC’s Pride show, “Over the Rainbow,” which featured the music of Judy Garland interspersed with songs about the Stonewall Riots of 1969.  This year being the 40th anniversary of both Judy Garland’s death and the Stonewall Riots, the theme of the show was perfectly selected… even if the original intent was to combine the two stories and show how they related to each other.

As it turns out, they really don’t relate to each other at all– except for the fact that Judy Garland died just days before the riots happened, and that Judy became an icon for gay men both from her portrayal of Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” and for the trials and tribulations she endured during her lifetime.

The Stonewall Riots, of course, were the true defining point of the beginning of the Gay Liberation movement, which sparked GLBT people’s desire to work against, rather than within, the system to gain the rights they so greatly deserved.

False legend has it that the patrons were so upset about the loss of the gay icon that, when the police raided the bar, they reached the point where they just couldn’t take any more pain and fought back. The truth, however, was that, although the reaction of the patrons did have a lot to do with the raid, the patrons either had no idea of the significance of Ms. Garland’s passing, or did not really care either way.  In fact, many of the patrons of the Stonewall Inn were younger, more effeminate youth who were not as emotionally invested in the passing of Ms. Garland, therefore they were probably not fueled by her loss in any particular way.  Still, the connection is uncanny, and made for an interesting show for CGMC.

I loved doing this show.  I loved the music, and I loved the story the songs told; but even moreso, when we started putting the music together with the narrative that our director, Patrick Sinozich, had written; along with stories some of our individual chorus members had contributed; the show became a wonderful story of history– with pain and sorrow, joy and laughter, and hope and pride.

We did one show on Friday night and two shows on Saturday, so by the end of that last show, we were pretty well exhausted.  The weather was hot and muggy, and a soft rain had begun to fall.  So instead of going out to celebrate, we went home and, quite literally, crashed.

We… well.. I guess I should explain why I’m saying “we” instead of “I.”  You see, I’ve actually been dating a nice young man from the chorus in recent weeks.

***SCRATCHING RECORD SOUND*** WHHHHHAAAAAATTTTTT???????

rick_andrewYes, stop the world, and stop the music… it’s true.  I’ve been… DATING! *Bom Bom BOMMMMMMMM!*

The world may now officially end, and the tides may officially turn.  Those of you who have read this blog since the beginning (I can count you on one hand now… 🙂 ) know that I haven’t been much for dating lately… or ever, for that matter.  I guess I’ve always either been entirely too picky, or too afraid to start seeing someone — but lo and behold this adorable guy joined the chorus for this show and we hit it off, so… there you go!  We’re taking it very slow; one day at a time; and just enjoying each other’s company and time.  I like it.  And I like him.  So that’s a very good thing going on in my life lately. 🙂

So, where was I?

Oh yeah… we crashed on Saturday night, while the rain fell and the mugginess of the day subsided.  And as Sunday dawned, we went out to join our chorus friends on the parade route.  It was a glorious day– sunny, clear, cooler, breezy, less humid– a PERFECT day for a parade.  In all my years living in Chicago, I had never seen a more gorgeous morning.  The leaves seemed greener, the grass more lush, and the sky an even more dazzling blue.

The mood leading up to the parade route matched the beauty of the day.  Everyone felt festive and joyful.  There were smiles all around.  Oh yes… this was going to be a GOOD day.

There was a  lot of talk about how the parade was going to be organized this year.  The city came out with a thorough plan for the parade, saying that the entire route would be barricaded, and the crowd would be forced away from the street, allowing the parade to pass easily and swiftly.  I have to say, in all my years of participating in the Chicago Pride Parade, this was the swiftest moving parade I could recall.

That didn’t stop the crowds from stuffing the streets from end to end.  And it certainly didn’t hurt the crowd’s enthusiasm.  As the CGMC float passed (we were generously sponsored by WGN Radio AM 720 – our HUGE thanks to them!), the crowds erupted not only into cheers, but screams of joy.  The Chorus sang a few songs from our Pride show, interspersed with thumping dance tracks and even a few Michael Jackson tunes, all of which the crowd loved.

Michael Jackson’s death provided the soundtrack for many of the floats, as it turned out.  Once the parade was finished, we walked back the way we came and saw a lot of the floats along the way – most of which were playing upbeat Jackson tunes.  It certainly made sense, and the crowd always responded with cheers and sang along.

After we made our way back, and grabbed a bite to eat, we went home and absolutely crashed, exhausted… but snuggling up to a wonderful guy after a weekend full of joy, music and pride made the weekend extra special.

——————————-

Today I received a news bulletin from The Advocate, which told the story about a gay bar in Fort Worth Texas that was raided on Sunday, June 28.  On the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, the same thing that started the entire LGBTQ movement happened again.  It just proved to me that, although we are moving forward in so many ways… we still have a long way to go.

Resolution (Conclusion)

When last I left you, I had signed a lease for my new apartment, and things were looking up.  And for the most part, they kept looking up.  Minus a few setbacks, of course.  

But instead of rehashing all the drama step by step, I’ll just summarize and say that I am all moved in and settled.  I love my new apartment.  It’s spacious, clean, and there is actually more room here than I even guessed.  Of course, that has a lot to do with how much crap I purged before I moved — and believe me, I purged a LOT of crap.  

So how did I get to this point?  Here’s the summary….

1. My deal with the old apartment – The rental company kept my check and cashed it, even though I asked them not to, which set off a domino effect of problems.  It created a ton of stress for me, but it all got worked out in the end.  Especially since I had already signed a lease for my new apartment by then.  

2. Moving Day – I ended up hiring a U-Haul, and also hired two guys to help move, in addition to the wonderful help I received from four friends of mine.  I don’t know what would have done without them.  The day itself was as bad as it could possibly have been.  It was pouring rain almost all day long, and when I woke up in the morning that day (I barely slept as it was), I still didn’t know where to pick up my truck.  I called U-Haul at about 7:30 in the morning and they told me I had to pick it up at 7am and bring it back by 1pm.  HA.  Fat chance.  They didn’t see the mound of boxes I had stacked up and the number of furniture items I had.  

So I picked up the truck in the pouring rain and drove it back home.  One by one my friends arrived, and then the movers arrived.  I tell you, these guys were amazing.  They strapped so much stuff on their backs it made MY back hurt.  And they just kept going and going.  

At one point, my friend Bradley looked at me and said, “Rick, you really need to dump some of this stuff.”  I knew it, too.  And so I started throwing things away.  I didn’t even look inside boxes or crates– I just dumped it.  You see, in my family, we are, by nature, pack rats.  So it’s hard to part with stuff.  Well when push comes to shove, that trait goes out the window.  And in the end, I’m very glad that it did.  

I finally got all moved into my new place– save for a few more things left behind that I would pick up the next day.  Another friend called after everyone had gone home and asked if I needed help, so he came by and we set up my bedroom so I could sleep that night. And once we were done and had unloaded and unpacked a few more things, I had a bed to sleep on at last.  

I had one major casualty in the move: my sofa.  It would not fit in either door, no matter how hard we tried.  But it was pretty well destroyed anyway, (the cats had done their work on it over the years, both as a scratching post and, at one bad point in time, as a litter box!) so I was not exactly sad to see it go.  

3. The cats – My friend Rafael watched the cats for me while the move happened, so they didn’t have to be around for all the craziness.  When I took them back home, I wasn’t quite sure how they would react to the new surroundings, but they have absolutely LOVED it right from the start.  I think being away from their “things”  for so long made them very happy to be back, no matter where it was.  They are loving seeing new and exciting things out the windows, and finding new places to run and hide.  

So overall, the move went well, and I am very happy here.  I finally took some pictures the other day, and they are below.  From here, new adventures begin.  We’ll see where this all leads me.  Thanks for all of your support and encouragement through all of this — It was a really awful experience at the beginning, but it turned out to be a wonderful outcome in the end.

Bedroom from door

The Pink Bathroom - Sink

Kitchen - from hall

Living Room - From Entry

Dining Area

Living Room - Shelves

Living Room - Desk

Resurrection (Part 3)

So now I’m on Plan D… and I’m not loving the idea by any means. Obviously, the Kenosha option would be temporary. I’d live at home, save some money, get back on my feet, and start out again. It’s the whole getting back home thing that seemed to be more of a problem. As would getting to and from work, as I wasn’t about to leave my job anytime soon.

I started scouting Metra train routes to and from Kenosha into Chicago. I found that it could work– better than I had originally thought. It would mean a lot of planning and a lot of hours on a train… but if I had to do it, I could do it.

Then I started investigating moving options. My original thought was to store most of my stuff in Chicago and move only the necessities to Kenosha… or else just move everything and store it in my mom’s garage. That wasn’t ideal, but it was better than nothing. So I called up a moving company that I knew would go across the state line and I got a price quote for the move.

$5,000.

I almost shit my pants. They had to be kidding me. I mean, I have a lot of stuff, but $5,000 was preposterous. At the same time I plotted that strategy, I had them price a move within city limits. They came back with $975. No frickin’ way. So clearly, I was not hiring these movers, and I most certainly was not moving all my stuff back to Kenosha. I wasn’t sure what to do next.

I must have posted something to Facebook about my dilemma, because an hour or two later, I got a reply from a chorus friend who told me that he wasn’t going to let me move back to Kenosha, and he knew of a couple apartments that his landlord had available. We chatted a bit, and described them to me. The rents sounded good, but the location wasn’t ideal. At this point, though, I was willing to try anything — anything other than moving all the way to Wisconsin.

As it turned out, only one of the units was available, and it was the unit he had been doing rehab work on for the past few months. I went over to take a look. At first sight, it was obvious there was a lot of work left to be done, but the funny thing about me is, I am able to look beyond the buckets, plaster, ladders, hammer and nails and see what a place will look like when it’s done — and I liked what I saw.

The unit is a garden unit, and is a one-bedroom. The living room would double as a dining room, but it’s big enough that it could also house my office area. The floor in the living room and bedroom would be carpeted– which would be different for me, but I could handle it. The ceilings were tall– higher than most garden units I’d seen. The bedroom is smaller than my current one, but would fit my essential furnishings with no problem. The kitchen, by far, is my favorite room. It’s big, open, and was being extensively rehabbed. New ceramic tile floors were laid, and a new counter was going in on one wall, to compliment the counter and cabinets that already existed– lots of storage. A new stove was being ordered, but the fridge was staying, and that was okay– it’s a full-size fridge. The sink was the only downside. It’s a single sink. I currently have a double. And no dishwasher. But I saw the potential… I could make it work.

The bathroom gave me pause. The tile is pink, with green trim. At first sight, I hated it, but my friend said it might have to stay, so I looked past it. The more I think about it, the more I think I can make it work. I can play up the kitsch factor on that one.

The rest of the place has a lot of charm. There is an arched opening between the kitchen and the living room that I love, and the living room has arched knicknack shelves built into the walls. The ceiling of the living room has an area that is raised higher, creating a set-off area that I really like. I could see a Christmas tree going there easily. The windows are brand-new, just installed, and they are ‘regular’ windows, not tiny, glass-block windows like I had seen in many other garden units. Plus– and this is what sold me — electric is included, because the unit is wired to the main circuit for the building. I was ready to sign a lease right then and there.

So I applied for the place, and after some back and forth with the landlords (who are really nice guys–brothers–who live on the third floor), I signed a lease.

I felt a wave of instant calm. Things were finally falling into place. All the pain and headache I had experienced was soon to be a memory– albeit a bad one.

But things weren’t over just yet…

(Part four coming soon…)