The bitties of the barn

Waiting in line at Itty Bitty Burger Barn is a given. And with the cramped space, you can’t help but overhear what other patrons are gabbing about. Seeing that this is Texas, there’s also that auto-invite to chime in, make friendly with other locals, and leave a locale with new best friends for life.

Next to the front door hung a posterboard signed with well wishes, requesting donations. The kid’s face and the dates of his life were displayed prominently. Quick math tells me this death is considered more tragic than others.

No matter the reason, this is a loss of life. We’re all humans — young, old, black, white, American, Japanese, Australian, whatever. Any loss of life is a loss of that one’s potential. His or her output. His or her contributions. His or her being.

So when the people around me started talking about his accident — a single-car incident where he smashed into a tree so hard that it split his vehicle in two — I had to listen in.

“Yes, so terrible.”

“Saw that on the news last night.”

“I think it was right where the road curves over there.”

“I saw balloons at the site.”

And then I knew it was coming. I already pre-judged the man to my left as the curmudgeonly sort. And although I revel in being oh-so-right pretty much all of the time, I held my breath and waited for his crabby comment to be surprise sympathy — if not for the driver who lost his life, then at least for the family he left behind.

Alas, no. Ol’ Grandpa McCrankypants went full in with the criticisms on children today, and I knew it wasn’t going to be my place to sit quietly and let him bask in his false sense of superiority.

“Well, maybe if he wasn’t driving so fast,” he started.

“Sir, do you remember being 20?” I started with. “I know I drove like an absolute jackass.”

I expected a condescending, “You wouldn’t know what I’m talking about, little lady,” but he instead decided to talk about his own driving skills as a teen. After all, talking about one’s specific experiences can’t be refuted with generalizations, no matter how much of a liar you are.

“I chose to drive fast on roads that were flat and open,” he began.

I continued, “Nah, man. You know you drove like a jackass.”

Then the old lady behind me, “Yeah, I drove like a jackass too!”

And then ALL the old bitties in the Itty Bitty chimed in and made sure to proudly use the word JACKASS in their retelling of youthful vehicular mishaps.

He stammered. He hemmed. He hawed. Then in a spectacular bob-and-weave, pick-and-roll maneuver, he changed courses and tried to get the bitties back on his side.

“Well, the drugs these kids do today…”

And — OH NO! — the bitty behind me wasn’t gonna let that stand.

“I’ve been around since the early 40s, and there was a lot of alcohol back then! There might be a lot more choices in drugs today, but we were plenty hopped up too!”

Then the bitties all started nodding and retelling their youthful drunken mishaps. Some even admitted to — GASP! — taking a nip or two these days.

And that, my friends, is how I riled up a burger barn full of bitties.

A year ago

This story begins like several others from my early 20s:

A year ago last night, I was hanging from a light post in front of Wrigley Field.


Alas, instead of a Bud Light-induced fit of euphoria where I exclaimed my love for late-night bars that serve taquitos, or a similarly-caused clinging to make the world stop spinning, I gripped the post while grabbing my neck and screaming.


It was 11 p.m. on a Monday, and no one was in front of The Friendly Confines to lend assistance.


I had just spent the evening with a friend, parked on the couch, cheering for those on Intervention to relapse, and eating order-in Lou Malnattis. Discomfort crawled around my neck all night, and I remember touching the hardening spot for the past few hours, wondering what that unfamiliar twinge could be.


I don’t remember getting home that night, but I somehow I did. I parked myself on what I deemed the ‘death couch’ (I vastly prefer the couch to my bed while sick), applied a hot compress that failed its purpose the minute it was no longer hot enough to distract me from the pain, and tried to rest and prep for what I was sure my lymph node indicating that I was about to have a hellaciously sore throat.


The next morning, hand-to-neck and tear-streaked, I made my way to the minor emergency clinic for a walk-in appointment. The doctor there prodded my sore spot, exclaimed, “You either have mono or AIDs,” and walked out to grab a mono test and his prescription pad. As a long-time blood donor, his latter proclamation didn’t scare me — though it did clue me into what sort of medical professional I was seeing. (That being, one with an exceptionally shitty bedside manner.) As for mono, I shrugged, thought, “Man, that would suck,” and waited in that cold room for the pharmacy scripts.


I picked up my antibiotics and liquid pain relief from CVS, then headed back to the death couch.


Things get a little hazy at this point due to the pain which was proving the hydrocodone suspension to be ineffective. Fingering at the hump, I realized it exceeded the size of my entire extended hand.


Now, I’m not one to overreact to illness. But having a hump in one’s neck is cause for concern. I called my insurance company-deemed GP, urgently requested an appointment RIGHT NOW, and was in the office as soon as I put on pants and crossed the street to the offices.


I again got another prodding as I sobbed through the pain, then she held my face and asked, “Do you have $20? I want you immediately in a taxi to Northwestern’s ER. I’ll call to let them know you’re on your way.”


You know how a child scrapes a knee and you immediately start into the, “Oh wow. I’m soooo glad you’re okay,” routine to distract him or her from having a meltdown to what is probably temporary pain? Well, no one was there to tell me I was going to be okay, the doctor was urgent in her insistence that I get over there pronto, and this hump in my neck had been throbbing for two days now.


I entered the ER in such sobs that another patient’s mom sat next to me, handed me tissues, and kept me upright until my name was called.


The ER physicians were prepped by my doctor already, inserted an IV into my hand, pushed Dilaudid, and then started asking questions to see what the problem could be. With the fast-acting morphine providing relief, I could once again speak English, relay the issue, tolerate the doctor and three interns touching my sore spot, and not overreact when they took me in for an MRI ‘just to be sure’.


I napped, got another shot of the miracle pain relief, and waited for the doctor and his young followers to come back and tell me whatever it was that they were going to tell me.


“Ms. Keena, you’ve got a clean bill of health. Here are some better pain meds, keep a hot compress on it, and it should go away in a few days.”


Some people pray for this sort of thing. However, when in pain like that, I’d rather be told that I’ve got a Siamese twin growing from my neck that I’ll have to raise as my own child than hear that all’s clear, there’s no known cause, and that I need to sit and wait it out.


I took my improved pain script, again planted myself on the death couch, and settled in for the night. I awoke the next day to massive pain and a phone call from one of the interns from the day before, “Do you have $20 for a taxi?”


I stumbled myself to the ER again, and checked into the front desk, where the man’s ears perked at my name, and my doctor from yesterday was immediately summoned to usher me in.


My thoughts: I AM SO SCREWED.


I put on the flimsy gown, accepted another IV, had the Dilaudid pushed again, and then took the news. Upon hearing the doctor’s proclamation that, wow, he’d never gotten to see a case of this, I made the executive decision to not Google the disease I was just told. I passed the news along to my brother and one trusted friend to let them guide me to what was going on yet let me not stress about things unnecessarily.


Smartest. Decision. Ever.


Before the first dose of Dilaudid wore off, I found myself settled into a hospital room that would be my home for the next two weeks.


My room was a steady stream of teams of doctors, and as word spread, the few friends that I let know what was going on. With frequent check-ins from the graven Infectious Disease team, I kept that list of friends pretty small. Unlike the butt rock incident in the following January (which was shared with everyone due to my perceived notion that I wasn’t actually in harm of dying), I didn’t want that impending cloud of doom out there, spreading and growing.


Two weeks in the hospital. A bit of slicing to my neck. A month at home with an IV and a self-administered sacks of drugs. Weeks of therapy to regain mobility on my entire upper left side. Months of pills that gave my tongue a mossy coat and my mouth a metallic taste.


A year later, things are mostly good. I have a scar that’s pretty boss, though it’s fading into my neck’s crease as more time goes on. Checking my blind spot while driving takes more than the split second it used to. I can lift my arm over my head now, but the muscles in that area are sometimes angry at the things I do. My physical fitness feels like it’s at about 90%, which frustrates me but reminds me of the gravity of what happened last September (and then of January’s butt rock events).


It’s hard to look back and think ‘what might have been’ thoughts about my own mortality over the past year, but I can boil it all down to a single statement:


TL;DR: I am hard to kill.

Something is stirring

A Facebook friend posted a photo of his girlfriend wiping a tear as she saw the Eiffel Tower for the first time. It got me questioning what moves me.

I’m not a very emotional person in a traditional sense: Music and art rarely evoke any response. I don’t extol the depth and wonders of my appreciation for nature. I love my family and friends, but I don’t wax poetically about my feelings for them.

But then I remembered one time that I came across something that unexpectedly and strongly stirred and emotional response:

Seeing the Hoover Damn.

No lie. I think about it, and it makes me tear up. I look at that massive structure that holds back millions of gallons of water and pounds of pressure, allows cars to cross over safely, and generates clean energy, and think,

“Damn, humans made that. We’re fucking amazing.”

Why Groupon is awesome

I have always heard that Groupon is the greatest when it comes to refunds. If you come up with a reason, they credit your account. The end. No questions asked. That’s it.

I decided to try to get out of my recent purchase of bootcamp classes, writing the Groupon support people the following email:

I purchased the bootcamp deal a few months ago, and I got around to checking things out today.

Although I live firmly in the bible belt, I’m one of those heathens who get pretty squicked out by companies that have things to do with Jesus.

Is there any way to get a refund on this one Groupon since all of their workouts are held at churches?

Pretty please? I promise to continue to patronize the good heathen Groupon activities like drinking for 50% off, participating in sports with members of the opposite sex, and getting my crotch lasered at super-low prices.

Many thanks,
ChicagoJo

Shortly thereafter, I received an email saying that email made her day, and she added a super-awesome video and refunded my money.

Keep kicking ass, Groupon!

The alarm goes off soon

When I moved to Chicago in 2003, I was repeatedly asked why I was heading there. I merely replied, “I’m going to rollerblade and play beach volleyball.” I couldn’t really come up with a better explanation to why I’d leave my comfortable life for something completely unknown, so that two-item checklist had to suffice as an answer.


My subsequent years in Chicago were mostly good ones. I may have spent my first 22 years in Texas, but Chicago is truly my home. All the A+ greatness of that city aside, there came a point when it was time for me to leave.


Over the past two years I have moved to Houston to rebuild my parents’ house and get to know my niece and nephew better, Austin to reconnect with a dear friend and to meet her family, Chicago for l-o-v-e, then Phoenix to escape the aftermath of that heartbreak.


I’ve spent the past few months in Chicago, reconnecting with that former life of mine and recovering from a major illness. Winter blew in at about the time my strength returned, so I toughed it out and hit a few of the city’s many highlights before I headed back to Texas for the holidays.


Now that the holidays have wrapped up, I’m off for my next great adventure. In 30 minutes my alarm rings, my dad tosses my suitcase into the trunk, and I tuck and roll at the airport terminal. I have a brief yawn and a stretch in Atlanta before hopping another flight to my new home.

And then I’m gone

As soon as I put in an offer on a house in my current city, I immediately got buyer’s remorse. Read a few psych books and draw your own conclusions, but it was immediately suffocating to think that I was staying in this city.


Now, there’s nothing wrong with where I currently reside. I like that it’s easy to get anywhere quickly. I like the outdoorsy things to do. I like that there’s no traffic. People here complain about the lack of culture, but I have seen just as many shows as when I lived in Chicago’s theater district, and museums are really, REALLY not my thing no matter the location. My ten months here have gone well, and I’m glad I came.


When I went to my new home’s inspection, a few issues were found. I’m not going to give a study hall on GFI and wire grounding, but take my word when I say it’s rather important. I asked that things be remedied, and the owner agreed. When I showed up a few days prior to closing to see the work, the “remedy” was a half-assed solution.


I took this opportunity to back out of the contract, eat the dollars I spent on the inspection, and come up with a new game plan. Suddenly my panicked wheezing stopped.


With the Chicago condo still not sold, I’m heading back there for a bit. I know I’m on a ticking clock with winter approaching, but it’ll save me a gazillion dollars a month, renew some social connections, and allow me to enjoy my favorite time of year in a city I love.


The plan after that? Who the frig knows?!

House hunting will make me get Botox

I recently made the decision to purchase a home in my new city. I’ve officially been here long enough to know what I like about the place. Conversely, I also know what makes me crazy.


After my brain registered the list of cons against living in Chicago, I realized that the negative items on this city’s list are all manageable. I can handle that people drive slowly, that the so-called grid system is a farce, and that I have to drive all over creation to get to the places I want to be.


I’ve since learned to leave with plenty of time, armed myself with a GPS, and started being the one who chooses where we’re going.


That being said, I’ve come across new frustrations. Thankfully these will vanish once I find my future abode, but until then I’m shaking my fist at the city.


Before house hunting, it’s important to get your home’s features in-mind. I know that I want something that’s at least 1600 square feet, has at least 3 beds and 2 baths, isn’t too far from one of the highways, isn’t west of a particular landmark, and either has a pool or room for a pool. It’s an added bonus if I have no grass to mow, can quickly hop on a running path, and have mountain access within a few minutes.


The issue with this is that it describes dang near every house in the central, eastern, southern, and northern areas of the city. Narrowing it down from there has been stressful.


The homes are newer in the north, but I’m father from my usual hang-outs. The eastern homes are a little too close to an area I want to avoid due to untz-untz types. The homes to the south scream “Suburbs!”


The central homes are generally acceptable as far as location goes. However, these also have their frustrations.


First, this city is so hit or miss when it comes to places I’d want to live — down to the street level. I can wander down one street, ooh and ahh over the up-kept homes and landscaping, only to turn the corner and see someone with friggin’ goats in their front yard.


Yeah, I’m exaggerating… But I have seen swing sets in the front yard, a broken down school bus in another, and — I kid you not — a statue of a donkey.


I do not find this acceptable for my neighborhood.


Add to my frustrations that I live in a short-sale kinda city. Foreclosures I can handle. Because the banks already own the home, they know what they want and how it’s going to work. Why they don’t set a number for their short sale listings to expedite the process, I don’t know. But if I come across a short sale property, I need to prepare an offer, wait, hear back that it’s going to be a bit longer, wait, and then hear that I’ll have to wait some more. At that rate, I’ll be in the home by Christmas… if I get in the home at all.


I do not find this acceptable for my timetable.


In sum, I want out of this silly apartment. Sure, it’s nice. Sure, it’s big. Sure, the price is decent. However, I need a sense of permanency. My past year and a half has been such a bounce-around clusterfuck that all I want to do is shout, “Mine! Mine! Mine!” and plop down somewhere comfortable for the next several years.


Bonus points if there are hardwood floors.