Monthly Archives: April 2011

Botany, Baseball, and Beards

You can feel it in the air.  It is just around the corner.  That time of year when the winter is officially over and the summer can begin.  There are a few sure signs that shorts weather is upon us to stay, and that the heavy sweaters and coats finally can be put away.  I will refer to them simply as the three B’s.  Botany, Baseball, and Beards.

We had an exceptionally warm day last Sunday, and I spent much of my time outside on the side of the house that gets the most sun.  Just outside the front room windows, between the gas meter and the air conditioning unit we have one of our three gardens.  This one is dedicated to the sun.  Or should I say the sun flowers.  While Maureen was at work and then a bridal shower, I cleared out all the dead stalks from last year, weeded around the few daisies that survived the winter and the rabbits, put down some new top soil that I got at the Home Depot, planted some seeds harvested from last years crop, and enclosed the area to protect it from those same damn rabbits.  Gardening Season had officially begun.  Followed very quickly by painful, I can’t get my butt up off the ground season.

A couple of weeks earlier, there was another change in the seasons, that overlap almost as long as Spring and Winter do here in Chicago.  The hockey and basketball seasons are now coming to a close, as the city prepares for the start of the baseball season.  It officially started a couple of weeks ago, first with the Cubs Home Opener, and then the White Sox a week later.  As with the Spring weather, baseball always seems to get off to a rough start in the Windy City.  The Sox look to have the bats ready to go, and the starting five are off to a good start.  Let’s just see if the bullpen can do a little better than six blown saves in twelve games.

Of course, with the start of the baseball season, we also bring to a close one of my more favorite cold weather past times.  Over the past few years, it has become somewhat of a tradition in our household that with the Sox Home Opener, we officially bring an end to the beard season.  A sad occasion that my lovely new wife derives much joy.  Beard season this year was actually a little shorter than in the past few years.  I had agreed to be clean-shaven for our big day on November 26th, but I think Maureen caught on a bit quickly that our week in Ireland was not only our honeymoon, but also a second chance for a winter growing season.  Sure there were threats of shaving me while I slept, but I think she secretly like the fuzzy guy a bit more that she is willing to admit.  Besides, if I didn’t grow it over the winter, all she would have to look forward to each spring is just baseball.

So here it is everyone.  The beginning of clean-shaven season.  Although we are sure to be hit with one last cold snap that will chill my face right down to the dimple and cleft chin, I promise to keep it clean.  For a while.  Although at some point I will get tired of looking at that face and bring back the goatee.  Maureen has said she does not mind that look, and that is probably the look I will keep most of the summer, or at least until the season start to change again.  And if we are lucky and the Baseball Gods are good to the Sox, come October it will be time for playoff beards!

Although Maureen and I may disagree about the best look for my face, there is one look with which we both agree.  No matter how the season or the hair on my face may change, never in my lifetime will it ever be Frito Bandito Season.

Can the Butler Do It?

It is not very often that we see back-to-back appearances in the championship game of the NCAA Basketball Tournament.  It is even less likely by a team considered an underdog in both years.  Last year, Butler was The Cinderella Story making it to the championship game from a number five seed.  This year they have done it again coming from the number eight seed.  If they succeed in winning the game, they will tie the record set by Villanova in 1985 as the lowest seed to win.  In honor of this accomplishment, I present the following:

My Top Ten Favorite Butlers

#10 –  Sabastian Cabot  –  Mr. French in A Family Affair

I am showing a little age with this pick, but Mr. French is the classic idea of what a butler should look and act like.  I am a bit too young to have watched A Family Affair in its original run, but it was a staple of my childhood, playing in syndication on WGN back-to-back with The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.  The premise of the series was that a wealthy confirmed bachelor, played by Brian Keith, becomes the guardian of his brother’s three children after a fatal car accident.  It is quite an adjustment for “Uncle Bill” and much of the care taking of the kids, Cissy and twins Buffy and Jody, is left to Mr. French.  In typical 1960’s style, the series was pretty sappy, but it did spawn the very popular Mrs. Beasley doll that could be found in many houses at that time, including ours.

#9  –  Cadbury  – Richie Rich comic books and cartoon

Forget the incredibly bad 1994 film.  By the time it was made, Macaulay Culkin was already way past his cute days of Uncle Buck and Home Alone.  There is a reason why this was his last film as a child actor, and it was probably one or two too many.  Cadbury, who’s full name was Herbert Arthur Runcible Cadbury, was the animated butler in the Richie Rich comic books and the 1980’s cartoon series.  Like Mr. French, he was the classic and perfect butler, and always available to lend a hand whenever his young squire needed him.  Almost any jam that young Master Rich found himself in could be instantly alleviated by Cadbury’s timely arrival.

#8  –  Lurch  –  The Addams Family

Originally conceived as a nameless member of cartoonist Charles Addams one panel newspaper cartoon, Lurch is best known from the 1960’s series, where his signature “You rang?” was pretty much the only understandable line he spoke during the show.  He was played with Frankenstein like perfection by actor Ted Cassidy for the entire run of the series.  In the 1990’s, Lurch and the Addams family made a comeback in a series of movies, and most recently, a musical based on the original newspaper strip has been developed.  I’m not sure if Lurch does any singing, but I would assume he would be the bass.

#7  –  Tim Curry  –  Wadsworth in the movie Clue

When Clue was released in 1985, it had a great advertising gimmick.  Because the movie was based on a board game that could produce many different conclusions, there were three alternate ending to the film, and a different final reels could be seen depending on where you saw the movie.  In the end, the gimmick was not enough to produce a hit, and Clue didn’t even recoup it’s $15 million budget in the original release.  But in the early days of VHS it did gain an audience with home rentals.  Personally, I don’t think it was a bad movie, and certainly Tim Curry makes the film even more enjoyable.

#6  –  Sir John Gielgud  –  Hobson in Arthur

Don’t even get me started on the new remake of Arthur.  I will reserve judgment until after I hear what people like Roger Ebert say about the film, but the chances of me seeing the film is almost non-existent.  I am not really a fan of Russell Brand, heck, I wasn’t much of a fan of Dudley Moore either, but without John Gielgud, who won an Academy Award for this role, there just isn’t a movie worth watching.  I’m sure Helen Mirren, an Academy Award winner herself, will do a fine job as a female version of Hobson, but do yourself a favor and pass up on the remake.  Instead go out and find a copy of the original to watch.  That is if you can find an open Blockbuster somewhere.

#5  –  Richard O’Brien  –  Riff Raff in The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Mr. O’Brien not only starred in the cult movie classic, but he also wrote and appeared in the original stage show upon which the movie was based .  Although I would not call Riff Raff a typical butler, he is certainly a fitting man-servant for any Sweet Transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania.  In the end, he and his sister, Magenta, are not all that they seem, but what is in this film?  By the end of the movie, the servants become the masters.  Mr. O’Brien is still working today, But in a somewhat different form.  He is a voice on one of my favorite children’s show, Phineas and Ferb.

#4  –  Robert Guillaume  –  Benson DuBois

Before he took his job at the Governor’s Mansion, Benson was the Tate Family butler on the very funny Soap.  As his character developed on his own show, Benson sort of lost what made him such a great character in the first place.  On Soap, whenever the doorbell rang, all the action would stop and everyone would look at Benson.  After a second when Benson realized he was the center of attention, he would always speak up with the line, “You want me to get that?”  And it was funny every time.  Now that’s my type of butler.

#3  –  Denholm Elliott  –  Coleman in Trading Places

The movie Trading Places made Eddie Murphy a star, but much like the butler in my number six choice, Colman is the true star of this film.  It is a great story and a fun film, and Mr. Elliott does an amazing job at bridging the two worlds of Dan Akroyd’s Winthorpe and Murphy’s Billy Ray Valentine.  And once again the servant comes out on top in the end as Colman helps to bring down the careless Duke brothers.

#2  –  Kevin Butler  –  The Chicago Bears

What kind of Chicago sports fan would I be if I left my town’s most famous sports butler off this list?  Known simply as Butt Head to his teammates and his fans, Kevin was the placekicker for the 1985 Superbowl XX champion Chicago Bears.  He is also the all time leading point scored leader for the Bears, surpassing Walter Payton by over 350 points.  Besides his 11 years with the Bears, and 13 years overall in the NFL, Mr. Butler is also the only kicker ever to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.  If his fans have any say in the matter, he will also someday be in the Pro Football Hall.

#1  –  Alfred Thaddeus Crane Pennyworth  –  Bruce Wayne’s Butler

Arguably the most famous and most portrayed butler in all fiction.  Alfred first appeared in the pages of Batman #16 in the spring of 1943, and first appeared on film that same year in the Batman movie house serial.  He has been a character in comic books and novels and been featured on both television and in films.  Notably, he has been portrayed by a variety of actors from Alan Napier, who played Alfred in the 1960’s live action Batman series with Adam West, to Michael Cain in the most recent Batman movies starring Christian Bale.  Nowhere else in fiction or in the real world will you find a butler with more credentials.

On one final note, I know there are many other butlers out there, but these were my personal top ten.  I never really watched The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and when Molly watches the re-runs on Nick at Night, I really find nothing appealing about the show, so Geoffrey was not one of my choices.  But if you feel like adding a few of your own, please do so.  But for now all that is left to say is…..

Go Butler!



Doolin by Night

Although a very, very small town, Doolin is a destination that seems to be a favorite of many travelers to the Emerald Isle.  Its location near the Cliffs of Moher and the Aran Islands certainly help with the popularity of the town, especially considering that Doolin is one of only three ports with ferry service to the islands.  There are also a number of outdoor activities available around Doolin including cave exploring, rock climbing, and surfing.  But by far, the biggest attraction to Doolin is that it is considered by many to be one of the best places to hear and enjoy Traditional Irish Music.  That was what brought us there.

When we finally got the car up the icy incline to our Bed and Breakfast, we met up with another couple named Tom and Peggy who were also staying at Seaview for the night.  They were from Boston, and although they were fans of the wrong Sox, they were pleasant enough to talk to and exchange travel stories with.  They were doing a castle tour, actually staying in various castles around the Ireland, but decided to take a break this night to travel to Doolin.  Like us, the attraction was the traditional music.  Also like us, they were disapointed to find out that there was no music to be found in Doolin on a Wednesday night in November.

Traveling in the off season does have its advantages.  For the most part, I really don’t like to be around large crowds of people, and we were spared having to rub elbows with some smelly guy from who knows where.  The down side is that things tend to be closed.  It reminds me a little of the great Bicentenial Tour of 1975.  Yea, I know.  The Bicentenial was in 1976, but my father being quite the thrifty guy, much like his son, thought we could miss out on the overlarge crowds of people flocking into our country’s capital by going a year early.  The only problem being that many of the star attractions were closed getting spruced up for 1976.  It was not quite a Griswald ending, although I do remember something about our Family Truckster being towed while on the National Mall.

No music in Doolin on a weeknight was one of the concessions we had to make for our offseason trip, although it really had no affect on our ability to have a good time that night.  Once we had cleaned up from our day of travel, it was just a short walk down the hill and across the bridge to Fisher Street and the spot where our poor tired asses would rest for the next few hours.  Our hot spot for the night was a quiet pub that we spotted from the window of our room.  Dinner and pints would be had at Gus O’Connor’s Pub.

The pub was fairly empty when we arrived, with just a few locals gathered near the entrance.  We decided to just eat our dinner at the bar insted of taking a table or booth, and of course I ordered a Guiness to go with my meal.  Maureen ordered the fish and chips and I ordered what they called a traditional bacon and cabbage, although I was tempted to order the Guinness Stew yet again.  Both plates were very good, and we had our fill.  By the time we finished, Tom and Peggy had arrived with another couple.  They were an older couple from Australia and traveling on a retirement trip through Europe.  We joined them at some chairs by the fireplace and talked about life and our travels.  Although we had missed out on the music, the conversation and comeradery lasted into the night, spurred on by a few more pints of course.

Around 11 o’clock I decided it was time to try and give the kids a call.  Since we had left, I had not talked to them.  The phone we picked up in Belfast was capable of calling to the States, but timing was not always the best.  I figured the best time to call would be between 10p.m. and midnight, that would be between four and six back in Chicago.  After four because I had to make sure the kids were home from school.  Before midnight because I needed to make sure they could understand me.  As I walked out into the cool night air, I looked up at what I knew had to be a spectacular sky.  There was not a cloud in sight, or at least none that I could see.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t really see any stars either, since I smashed my glasses just hours after we landed in Ireland.  At first, I was a little irratated at my bad luck, but I quickly reminded myself that this was just another reason why we would someday need to make a return trip.

The phone call was brief, but I did enjoy hearing the surprise in Molly’s voice as she realized I was calling from so far away.  And the quality was amazingly clear.  This crappy little throw-away phone, bouncing a signal off a satilite somewhere out over the Atlantic Ocean was getting better reception than I ever got back home in Chicago.  I would have talked longer, but I knew we only had limited time available on the phone.  I promised them we were behaving ourselves, really only half a lie, and then headed back inside to warm up by the fire.  Another pint of Guinness was sure to speed up the warming process.

Surprisingly, Maureen and I were the last of the three couples to depart Gus O’Connor’s Pub that night.  We stayed for one more pint after the others had left, and then wished the bartender and a few remaining locals a good night before we headed out into the cold.  As we walked back up the hill, I was suddenly very aware of how quiet it was in this nearly deserted little town this late at night.  There was almost no wind, but our voices seemed to carry across the chilly air itself.  There were no sounds of cars or people or any type of creature big or small.  I could see how some might find this all consuming quiet somehow creepy, but to me it was just soothing.  At this point in time, we really had no care at all in the world.  No jobs, no problems, nothing at all to worry about.

That is until we found ourselves at the bottom of that steep icy driveway with more than a few pints in us.

I believe it was my time to let a few key words slip.

Doolin the next morning

The Morning After - An icy look back on Doolin from our B&B.