Stranger in a Strange Land: February 2007

Friday, February 23, 2007

White Walls

I don’t know a damn thing about painting, especially house painting. My dad used to paint houses in the summer, so whenever I need some painting done, I consult the expert. Thankfully I’ve never lived anywhere where I needed to paint. Rental apartments come and remain white. No room for negotiating. Although sometimes I think it would be nice to add some color, when I really think about it I realize that would involve me painting. Better just leave the walls white.

Catholic Punks

FYI: those beaded necklaces that come in various tones of plastic and have a gothic looking cross on the bottom of them, yea, those aren’t suppose to be used as jewelry. As a kid I use to wear rosaries by the dozen around my neck, all of us good Catholic kids would. Who knew that was frowned upon. The things they don’t teach you in school…


How appropriate. My grandfather makes grandfather clocks. Grandfather clocks of all sizes and shapes. From wristwatch shaped ones to full size, floor to ceiling sized ones. In my living room I have a miniature-sized grandfather clock hanging on my wall, which is nice since it is really the only non-alarm clock in the house. Without it, I’d be lost. Now all I have to do is figure out how to get it to Belgium with me…

Everlasting Pens

You can never have too many pens, that’s what I say. If you’re like me, pens seem to disappear quite quickly. I don’t know where they go. Maybe I leave them somewhere? Maybe the roll behind the desk and out of sight? Maybe someone hijacks them? Who knows and, really, who cares? Not me. I don’t need to worry about losing pens because I always have extras waiting in the trenches, ready to write.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Our Global Smorgasbord

I just had my first encounter with Marco’s pizza and my entire world has changed. Although I have been to Marco’s before, I have never ordered their celebrity-endorsed pizza. But alas, I have lost my pizzeria virginity to the hands of a greasy slice of cheese-covered pizza. I haven’t had a pizza experience this perfect since Florence. The pizza, the cooks and the overall atmosphere are as close to Italy as one can get this side of the pond. And surprisingly, it’s located right here in Dubuque.

Being a mutt of Polish and German genes (with a slight strand of Canadian thrown in) the whole ethnic-identity phenomenon that has defined our country never really made sense to me. The closest I got to connecting with my inner Polack was through an inside-out coffee mug given to my father as a gag gift. I remember hearing stories about how Dubuque was a town built by Irish, German and Italian immigrants who arrived from Chicago looking for a better way of life. Although today it may seem these immigrant roots have been blended into obscurity since the days of building Irish Catholic churches across the street from German Catholic churches, the effect immigrants had, and continue to have, at sculpting the cultural landscape of our city continues to be felt. Nowhere is this more apparent than when it comes to going out to eat.

Let’s start with Germany. When one thinks of Germany one thinks of beer, and lots of it. Likewise, when one looks at Dubuque, one sees beer, and lots of it. Not long ago Dubuque ranked number three in the world in per capita alcohol consumption, losing to two small towns located in, you guessed it, Germany. At the Europa Haus Restaurant and Bier Stube you can still experience Dubuque’s German roots. Not only does a mural of a stein-swinging Pauli Girl greet you outside, inside you can feast on such Old World staples as meat, potatoes and an occasional Weiner schnitzel.

Even the French maintain a lingering ghost of an influence over the city they founded. Despite that unfortunate time when being French was frowned upon, we Dubuquer’s resisted the reactionary urge to rename our city something ridiculous like Freedom Town and instead carried on with our subversive French-ness. Granted, there might not be any French restaurants per se, but our numerous cafes present a café culture modeled after that found only in Paris. Café Mana Java, for instance, serves a selection of gourmet coffees, chocolate-filled croissants and a selection of wines in a cozy, art-filled environment. With a steaming cup of espresso tamed by a cube of sugar and a window to watch people from, it’s like Paris without, well…Paris.

Today the Hispanic influx is the latest group to add to our city’s ethnic buffet. With a new Mexican restaurant opening daily, perhaps no other immigrant population has contributed more to our municipal dinning table. However, its not only chimichangas and burritos that we benefit from, we can also indulge in South of the border treats from both El Paisano grocery store and a newly opened Mexican bakery.

The list of immigrant influences on our choice of restaurants is endless. There are such classics as House of China and Yen Chings for Chinese food, Asian Gourmet for Thai and Vietnamese, and Taiko for Japanese. Although we’ve been suffering prolonged Gyro withdrawal, the Athenian Grill will soon be cooking up their moussaka and sweet baklava again. Opa! And before we know it summer will be here and we can migrate downtown to stand in line and wait for a chance to sink our teeth into a Sugar Ray’s soul-fulfilling barbeque sandwich.

Last but not least, there’s the Irish. The Irish have accomplished something along the lines of a miracle: They have conquered the world by beer. There is not one corner on this planet lacking an Irish pub, and Dubuque is no exception. After pizza at Marco’s, I find myself seated at the Busted Lift for a vicious round of “Pub Quiz”. Swirling the froth in my pint while drawing a blank on an answer, I instead think of how Dubuque’s dining scene resembles what the United Nations’ cafeteria must look like. If it weren’t for immigrants and their diverse culture of food, I would not have had the opportunity to enjoy a true-Italian pizza or this purely Irish Guinness. Maybe someday there will even be a spot at Dubuque’s global smorgasbord for a Polish restaurant? Yes, I can see it now- Klenske Polanski’s Sausage and Bacon (as a nod to my reluctant Canadian). Let’s just hope nobody closes the buffet before I have a chance to get in line.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Real Meaning of the Sacraments

In case you didn’t know, I went to a Catholic school for grade school. I was taught by nuns and yelled at by tall scary priest. I went through all the sacraments: made things up for confession and drank more wine than I was allotted during first communion. But, as every kid knows, the real point of the sacraments is you get to have a party afterwards and get Christian gifts and, (better yet) MONEY!

Comfort Over Looks

I have a lot of home furniture in my house. Some of its great, some not so great. For example, the couch I have upstairs is comfortable and looks great. However, the thing is the size of a bus and impossible to move (we had to actually lower it from the balcony by ropes at our old place). Then there’s the IKEA couch I have in the basement. Looks good but is the most uncomfortable piece of furniture in the world. Honestly, you can’t even sit on it, which means it’s more of a piece of abstract art than a couch. Lesson learned: always try to carry and sit on the furniture before you buy.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Pool House

Growing up I always thought Orlando was on the ocean. I don’t know why I thought this. I guess I just figured if it was in Florida, they’d put it on the ocean (since there’s so much of it). Or maybe it was those Cruise Ship commercials advertising Orlando. Whatever the reason, it really doesn’t matter because everyone going to Orlando can enjoy an Orlando Pool Homes instead.

Tape to Stop the Bleeding

I was watching Grey’s Anatomy tonight and took particular notice of the First Aid Kits they brought with them to the disaster scene. Growing up in Boy Scouts we learned all about First Aid Kits. We even made them, but ours were a bit more low-key. No knives, scalpels or other sharp objects. Just big band-aids, small band-aids and tape. Lot’s of tape.

Bed Forts

My bed as a kid was a cool old Captian’s Bed. It had all these drawers underneath it to store all your clothes and toys in. But that wasn’t what made it the best Kids Bed ever. What made it the best was that it was hallow underneath, which meant it made the best fort ever. It was accessible via the closet and once inside you could read, play with He-Man toys or just sit and think of how cool you were because you could live not under a bed, but in a bed.

The Daddy Catch-22

I was looking into the costs of Paternity Testing for one of my client’s today and discovered, to both of our dismay, that it was nearly eight-hundred dollars. That’s eight-hundred dollars that could go towards child-support but instead of giving the kid some food, they’d rather blow it on a test that tells them they’re the dad and that they owe their kid some money, which of course they’ll say they can’t afford because they blew it all on the test.

Vespa Glasses

I want a Vespa. I think I’d look pretty cool on a Vespa. Real European and all. But I don’t want to look too European, I need to hold onto my Americanism somehow. To do this I’ve decided to get a pair of classic Motorcycle Sunglasses. Big, dark, goggle looking things. With a pair of those and a skull-helmet, I’m going to look real sexy.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Writer's Block

It seems like I just finished the last column and already here I am, sitting down, starting again. Like usual, I grab my mug of hazelnut coffee, tuck my laptop under my arm and shuffle off to the back office where I start up a track from Bob Dylan’s Modern Times. The music is going, my computer is on and my coffee is warm. Mia, my cat, is busy with her usual mischief-making. She stalks the perimeter of the room, like a shadow in the night, before pouncing onto the desk. At eye level, she gives the computer a jealous glance and then attacks the screen’s round black corner with her gnawing teeth. I gently push her away and gravity pulls her quickly to the floor. As she scurries away her belly, swinging from side to side, sweeps the linoleum like a rag mop.

I stare at the blank screen and realize I don’t have anything to write about. Strange. I always seem to have something to write about- I must have done something of interest this weekend. Nope. Come to think of it, I haven’t done a whole hell of a lot except catch up on work, read a book, and sleep. It’s one of those weekends. Although I’m pleasantly content with my self-inflicted boredom, it doesn’t do much in terms of getting a column written.

Frustrated, I look out between the blinds that obstruct my view and see it is actually snowing. Perhaps winter is finally here? Perfect. I can write about all the winter activities I do in celebration of its long awaited return. While I patiently wait for enough snow to accumulate to go cross-country skiing, I retreat to the basement and tackle the stacks of unlabeled Rubbermaid containers lined up against the wall. I spread their contents across the cement floor until I finally find the one (the last one I look in) that contains my winter clothing. I pull out my snow pants, leather-lined gloves, stocking hat, thermals and down vest. I then head back up the stairs with the pile of clothing balanced in my arms and blocking my view. At the top I trip over Mia, who has strategically placed herself to get payback for my previous shove. After regaining my balance I head out to the garage to load up the skis, which have been laid off since December of 2005. Back inside, I spend a good half hour getting dressed, bundled up and ready for a day spent on Swiss Valley’s ski trails, enjoying the serene beauty of gliding down a glass-lined path that meanders beneath a cathedral of fresh snow clinging to skeleton trees. I get in my car, hit the garage door opener, and back out. In the driveway I pause and look at my winter wonderland only to realize it has already ended. “Damn you El Nino” (which is the warm and fuzzy word for Global Warming, which is the scientific term for “We’re all f*%#ed). Like a beautiful girl in a light white linen sundress, the snow is just a gentle tease.

Back to where I started: in my office, by the window, staring at a blank screen. The cat repeats her stealth attack on the computer’s monitor, but again I thwart her in mid-air with a light tap, which is followed by a loud “thud”, which causes the entire house to shake.

Maybe I can write about my crazy weekend as a temporary bachelor? Kara has been out of town for the last few days, leaving me to fend for myself. This scenario has to open a door to some wild stories of drunken debaucheries. However, my friends, I must admit, I am the world’s most pathetic bachelor. Although I could tell a tale of a night spent carousing the dives Kara never wants to carouse and waking to find myself curled up under a tree in Riverview Park smelling suspiciously of East Dubuque and suffering post-traumatic stress flashes of grinding in a techno-colored cage. But such a story would be a very tall tale indeed. Instead, I rented some movies, worked at Miguel’s, went for a walk, spent some time with my parents, other time with my in-laws, and learned to cook frozen lasagna. Not much fodder for a column there.

Again, back to where I began: Office, computer, overly vigilant cat, coffee, Bob Dylan and, having done absolutely nothing this weekend, having absolutely nothing to say. Maybe I’ll just leave it at that.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Grown-Up v. Beaten-Up

Remember as a little kid how cool everything was. Even the mundane things like sleeping bags and kids bedding was made cool by addition of cartoon characters, dinosaurs or outer space scenes. When does the coolness of being a kid stop? I guess it’s that arbitrary age when other kids decide they aren’t kids anymore and beat up the kids who haven’t come to that realization yet. In reality, one doesn’t grown up, they get beaten-up. It’s a cruel, cruel world.