Sunday, January 28, 2007

Hooray for the Hole in the Wall

I arrived in Denver yesterday morning. It's quite an intriguing experience to be cruising along above the clouds, gazing out the window at the sunlight glinting off an endless expanse of fluffly whiteness, and hear the captain announce that the plane will soon be making its descent into Denver where it's currently snowing with less than one mile visibility. I felt the plane's velocity change, and with a dip we entered the clouds. The sunlight disappeared, replaced by an impenetrable dirty whiteness that persisted until the landing gear dropped and I could just barely distinguish the snow-covered ground from the horizon and the flakes falling in between. It made me ponder the power of vantage point...for all of maybe 5 minutes while I waited to deplane.

Anyway, once I'd collected my suitcase, Cheryl, one of my college roommates, and her husband Joe collected me at the airport. It was quickly decided that our lunch destination would be Jerusalem Restaurant, a hole in the wall eatery near the campus of Denver University that specializes in authentic Middle Eastern cuisine.

It would be a stretch to refer to the place as a building. It's more a trailer, with a shed/kitchen annexed onto the back, an elevated dining deck with "walls" of tarps and plastic sheeting attached to one side, and a lean-to dining room on the other. The words "sturdy" and "air tight" do not come to mind, though it could truthfully boast "liberal ventilation." The "parking lot" (a.k.a. gravel pit) has potholes large enough to swallow a toddler, and patrons must squeeze their car in wherever they dare. It's the kind of place you could drive by day after day and never really notice. It's the kind of place you probably wouldn't dare eat unless introduced to it by a friend who vouches for the food. And it's the kind of place that once you get past all the appearances and sample the menu, you'll be back. Cheryl and Joe were introduced to Jerusalem Restaurant by a friend of theirs, were easily won over, and based on their glowing review I was pleased to make its acquaintance.

I was even MORE pleased with my order of a sheesh kabob sandwich, hommoss with pita bread, and baklava, and genuiunely sad that I couldn't also try the gyros, the shawarmah, and the baba ghanouj (though I did have fun saying it over and over again). So, here's my third-party endorsement: the Jerusalem Restaurant may look a little sketchy, but the food is fabulous. And you know what makes me smile? Despite looking like a strong gust of wind could knock the place down, this ramshackle little restaurant has been around more years than me. And it's open until 4 a.m. in case you have a late night hankering for falafel. AND it has its own website, complete with looping Middle Eastern music. (If you follow the link without turning down your speakers, remember you were warned). I could draw a bunch of "don't judge a restaurant by its building" kind of lessons out of this, but I'll leave those to you.

So, the next time you're in Denver and have a hankering for hommoss, look for the green shack on the corner of Evans Ave and High St. You won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Things to Do Before I Leave for Colorado Saturday Morning:

1. Relearn how to knit so I can finish scarf started 2 years ago
2. Laundry
3. Decide which of the yet-to-read books on my shelf will go with me
4. Pay rent and sundry other bills
5. Water plants
6. Eat food in fridge purchased when not thinking about the implications of being gone for a week and a half
7. Find and purchase Bears apparel in something other than a men's XL

Monday, January 22, 2007

All Caught Up

Well, Chicago is abuzz with excitement over yesterday's Bears victory over the Saints and ringing with anticipation for the Super Bowl match up against the Colts, and I have to admit that I'm getting rather caught up in all the hullabaloo. I'd be the first to admit that when it comes to professional sports, I'm a fairweather fan when I'm a fan at all (and that more often than not, watching sports on TV makes me sleepy), but even I found myself cheering and clapping along with friends yesterday as the Bears finally found their groove and punctuated their win over the Saints with play after thrilling play.

Though there's a lot I don't think I'll ever understand about people who are REALLY into pro sports (i.e. FDM informed me that he has only missed watching three Bears games in his entire life, and can name the date and reason for those 3 mournful occasions), I can and do appreciate the way a team can create a sense of affinity among people who likely otherwise wouldn't interact. (Remember the Titans, anyone?)

For example, a couple months ago I was at the post office and there was a man at the counter wearing orange and blue Chicago Bears Zubaz that were clearly from the early 90s. I admired his devotion to the team, lamented his fashion sense, and snapped a picture on my camera phone to authenticate the Zubaz-sighting. However, if I saw that man at the post office today, there's a good chance I might smile at the man, pump my fist in the air and shout "Go Bears!" before I knew what had gotten into me. Would he still be wearing horribly unfortunate pants? Yes. But now it's like we're all on the same team--the Bears players, the man in the Zubaz, the rest of Chicagoland, and me--eagerly anticipating the same outcome.

So, man in the Zubaz pants, I salute you. GO BEARS!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

no room for hate.

Last night I was out on another first date (which, as it turns out, will also be another last and only date) and as we sat there at Chili's, talking over our respective entrees, me wondering how much longer I was going to have to sit there and how to politely call the evening to a close, I learned some things about myself.

For starters, I realized that I have come to expect men my age (and older) to behave according to (what I thought were common) rules of courtesy - to some degree in general everyday life, and most certainly in a dating scenario.

As First Date Man (hereafter FDM) went on (and on) about various aspects of his job, a small part of my brain disengaged and started thinking about why I was so bothered by the fact that when our server came to the table to take our order, though the server looked at me to go first (which is what I was expecting) without so much as a glance at me my date blurted out his order for a cheeseburger and fries before I could even open my mouth. At the time I simply blinked in surprise, ordered my salad, and returned to our previous conversation. But as the night went on, and that subtle breach of courtesy was compounded by others, I had to admit to myself that I was really bothered by it. Which got me thinking about when and where I came to expect that of men and if it's really that important, and also wondering how the guy sitting across the table from me had reached the age of 31 without knowing that you allow the lady to order first, and then about where a man is supposed to receive that (and similar) instruction, and who, if anyone, is ever going to teach him that now. Because, you know, as well as the date was going, I wasn't about to break in with a little, "Excuse me, FDM, but it appears that you are not aware that common courtesy suggests you invite any ladies present to order their meals first." Though, in retrospect, perhaps that would have gotten me home earlier.

Secondly, I realized how important consistent eye contact is to me, and what the lack thereof communicates to one's conversational partner.

Rather than consistently looking back at my eyes--or at least the general region of my face--FDM's gaze was all over the place, so much so that I felt like he was watching a little pixelated ball in a game of Pong as we talked, and my eyes were just one more surface off which the little ball might bounce from time to time, when it wasn't bouncing off the table, the floor, the ceiling, the TVs in the bar, his plate, the wall, the servers, the other diners, and (presumably so that it wouldn't feel left out) my chest. Now, of course, eye contact can be deceiving--though I resisted the temptation to play my own game of Pong and kept my eyes primarily on him as we conversed, I've already admitted that while I appeared to be giving my full attention to his explanation of the ins and out of non-profit accounting, a portion of my mind (and most of my interest) was elsewhere. And, I suppose, someone with lousy eye contact really can be paying attention even if they do not appear to be. But I guess what I'm saying is that regardless of the attention actually being paid, I realized that a serious LACK of eye contact really bothers me, and it communicates to the other person one or more of the following: a) I'm not really interested in you and what you have to say; b) there's something about the way you look that's causing my eyes to not really want to dwell on you and your features; c) I am not confident enough in who I am to match gazes with you. Being on the receiving end of all those messages last night, I determined to be ever vigilant in practicing good eye contact myself. So, here's looking at you.

But what surprised me the most--common courtesy and eye contact aside--was how turned off I was by my date's repeated use of the word "hate."

FDM commented on how he "hates" certain kinds of foods; how he had a professor in college whom he "really hated;" how he "hates" complainers (yes, feel free to delight with me in the irony of him complaining about people who complain); how there was this thing his roommate used to do that he "just hated;" etc. Each time he said he "hated" this or that, I noticed myself flinching just a little. Hate is an ugly word for an ugly sentiment. I acknowledge that the word itself has gotten pretty watered down through flippant use, the same way "love" has been diluted by people saying how much they "love" Chipotle burritos or a certain reality TV show (guilty on both counts), but I guess when it comes to hate I have a harder time disengaging the word from the full weight of the sentitment, and to be honest, I don't want to.

I can't really tell you whether it was one particular sermon or chapel message or lecture or chapter or verse, or if it was more the combined influence of several of the above, but I vaguely remember a time in my life many years ago when I determined that I would use the word "hate" sparingly, and only when truly applicable to something deservingly detestable. Since this is a matter of personal conviction, I don't necessarily expect others to limit the word in their own vocabularies, but I guess it had been quite a while since I'd conversed with someone who used the word so liberally, and though I tried to excuse it, it really tripped me up and turned me off.

Merriam-Webster says that to hate is "to feel extreme enmity toward" something or someone. Which makes me think of Genesis 3:15, when God says to the serpent/devil, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel" (NIV). Hate is what Satan feels toward God, and the Christ, and those given the right to be called His children. We in turn are to hate the devil and the sin brought into this world by Eve's choice. In Romans 12:9, Paul instructs us to "Hate what is evil; cling to what is good." Hate entered the world as this epic matter of good vs. evil, but in our society and speech it is so often reduced and applied to matters of personal preference and petty aversion.

Now, when someone says that they "hate split pea soup" or some such thing, I think it's pretty safe to assume they are merely expressing a taste preference and feel no actual malice toward all existing split pea soup in the world. But I think what bothers me is that, if it's true what they say, that hate breeds hate, it seems like it would be easier for a person who says he "hates" split pea soup, a college professor, people who complain, and the fact that his roommate never did the dishes to allow his "hate" to transcend matters of personal preference and enter the realm of bitter sentiment and malevolent action.

I think the fact that yesterday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day had something to do with my ruminations. Did the hate that played itself out in segregation and cross burnings and bricks thrown through windows during the Civil Rights Era erupt in people independent of the violence of their anti-affections toward other things? Or did hate aleady have a foothold through intense hostility toward other things in life?

I don't know. These are just some things I'm thinking about today. But what I do know now is that if you want to date me, you'd better be schooled in common courtesy, look me in the eye, and leave no room for hate.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Chicago: My Kind of Town, My Kind of New Year

This year I played co-host for the 8th Annual TU Friends New Years bash, a much anticipated and beloved event that each year draws some of my dearest college friends to spend several days together in some new location. This year that location was Allison's house on the west side of Chicago, where asparagus green walls and incredibly comfy furniture created a cozy haven where we talked, played, sang, laughed, danced, lounged, dined, sang, shared, and prayed together over the course of 4 days. Since our destination was the wonderful Windy City, we also spent some time out on the town, strolling through Millennium Park, checking out the exhibits and beautiful architecture at the Chicago Cultural Center, attending Allison's church, filling up on Lou Malnati's delicious salad and pizza, and feasting on tapas and sangria at Cafe Ibérico (one of my favorite restaurants EVER.)

This is the third time I've posted about New Years (happy 3rd anniversary, Suz's Musings!), and each time I've struggled with what to really say about it and how to adequately describe the annual gathering of this varied troop of friends who share a lasting bond that makes people--including us--shake our heads in wonder. (One of the reasons I'm posting this over a week and a half after the fact.) It's one thing to list what we do over the course of the weekend; it's another to attempt to describe the sense of being that exists among us. So, I hope you won't mind if I borrow from my friend Heather, who wrote that our annual New Years' gathering "is a time of centering and remembering who we are because of the comfortability to be ourselves." Now, comfortability is not actually a word, but now that Heather has coined it I think it should be--a word to describe the joy of being known and the felt freedom to simply be yourself and then do whatever the moment brings, without fear of censure or the burden of having to explain yourself. To get up and dance in the middle of the living room when a good song comes on, without concern for how ridiculous you look or your obvious lack of randomly burst into song, confident that you'll only go a few notes alone before others join laugh until you cry and cry until you lounge around in one another's personal space, communicating love by recall memories of good times and tough times, and how we got through them all together.

These are my friends, and this is how we do New Years.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Two short of a century.

Just wanted to send out a quick "happy birthday!" to my grandpa, Sture, who as of today has spent 98 years on this earth. Two years short of a century and his turn on the Today show Smuckers jar with Willard Scott. Unfortunately I have to wait until I get over this cold until I can go visit and wish him a happy birthday in person, so for now it's a shout out in cyberspace, a card, and a copy of 101 Reasons to Love the Cubs sent over with my dad. I thought about ripping out the last 3 reasons to make the book match Grandpa's age, but I think that would just tick him off. As if being a Cubs fan for 98 years without seeing them win the World Series isn't bad enough.

Monday, January 01, 2007