The Negress. The 10. Snow in Chicago.

Howdy all. it’s the Negress. She’s checking a little late because it took some time for her fingers to thaw out after this week’s blizzard. To paraphrase Sylvia Plath, blizzards are an art and we do them exceptionally well. Except for some exceptions. If you live here, you had better not be blizzard-challenged. It’s never a question of “if.” It’s a question of “when.”

1. Usually the answer to the “when” question is “the month of February.” Regardless of what the damn groundhogs indicate, Chicago will usually get at least one significant snowfall by President’s Day. On President’s Day is also a good bet.

2. While many other cities are paralyzed by six inches or less of the white stuff, Chicagoans just shrug. The Negress has taken to referring to these minor snowfalls as “tourist snow.” It exists so that tourists can take pictures and tell them friends back home how awful it was.

3. Apparently there is an ordinance in the city of Chicago exempting churches and schools from sidewalk clearance. This doesn’t leave much territory that is cleared.

4. Also, many Chicagoans will clear a path that is one shoe wide. You should yield the right of way when someone is coming to the person who gets to the impasse first.

5. Now that the Negress no longer owns a car, she does not have to engage in the practice of “dibs.” This means you have a claim to any parking space you shovel out. You mark it by placing lawn furniture, trash barrels, saw horses, old couches etc. in the space so no one else can park there. Wars have been fought for less.

6. Do not dump the snow from getting your car out where it will keep others from removing their cars. The Negress once parked her car in a garage, which alleviated her need to clean off her car. Imagine her horror when she opened the garage door to find that the neighbor had blocked said garage with the snow he had removed to unblock his own.

7. It is courteous, if you have a snow blower, to clear your neighbor’s sidewalks. If you are feeling really generous, you can do driveways as well. Neighbors, if this is done for you, baked goods (kids and the sober) are a nice reward. Bourbon is also good.

8. As we all here know, side streets and alleys are something of a no-go when it comes to snow removal here. Side streets get cleared eventually, which leads to cars being plowed in, which leads to shoveling out, which leads to dibs. Call it the circle of winter life. Nothing happens to the alleys, as the woman with a grocery cart festooned with flashing bicycle lights and an incoherent sign barked loudly at the passersby near the Panda Express on Madison near Wabash.

9. The Negress isn’t crazy about the aftermath of a snowfall of any magnitude since the snow gets dirty and streaked with yellow. Also, as it melts, dog poo emerges since the lazy owners seem to the think that snow relieves them of their responsibility to clean up after their dog. Guess what people? Your dog may be relieved. You are not.

10. That big hank of snow on top of your car? No one wants it flying into their windshield, especially on the Dan Ryan at close to full speed. Use a broom people.

The Negress. The 10. Wine.

At one point, the Negress was trying to become a sommelier, which is a fancy word for a lot of hard work and more wine knowledge than most people can cram into their heads even if there’s nothing else there. She still has a good nose, which doesn’t always serve her well on other occasions (she thinks someone released the Dorm Room Funk cologne at the Cube Farm and no one else seems to have noticed). She loves the history and, well, temperament of wine. But getting away from sommeliers and sommelier wannabes was a good decision. So, let’s talk about wine. And the elderberry notes you can’t smell either.

1. Thanks to many tricks, there’s very little completely undrinkable wine around these days except for cheap port. Little teabags of oak, added sugar and color are all used to plump up some weak wines. Plus, a lot of high-end vintners selling their excess juice to budget producers, which means you start from a  better quality point that cheap producers used to. And most of the public doesn’t care and will happily drink away.

2. The wine business attracts some alcoholics. Most of them would deny this, but the Negress has observed otherwise. If you’re at a tasting and you’re finishing all eight glasses put in front of you, and then knock people over trying to get to the dessert wines, there’s an issue whether you wish to admit it or not.

3. Leaving aside no. 2 for a minute, gang tastings are the worst. Even if it’s just one varietal (say, Chenin Blanc as opposed to palate stompers like Zinfandel or California flabby Cabs), your mouth cannot keep a bunch of wine straight even if you are diligently drinking water and spitting. Fifty wines at a tasting? Are you nuts? After wine no. 5, the Negress would be like, “it’s very wine-y in its winelike wine-ness.” This is of no help to you or the Negress.

4. Box wine doesn’t have to be terrible. If you’re having a party and your guests are not wine-obsessed, it’s a better value than Three Buck (or however many bucks it is now) Chuck, which may be the exception to No. 1.

5. Sparkling wine goes with everything. Some of the best value sparkling wine in the US comes from New Mexico.

6. All 50 states make wine. Some of them shouldn’t. The Negress is talking to you, Mississippi.

7. Yes, Pinotage smells like tires, but put it with pork roast and joy reigns.

8. The worst Merlot tastes like a balsamic baby blanket. The Negress isn’t crazy about “soft tannins” but this is ridiculous. Merlot can be vinified to something more complex. When that happens, delight abounds. Forget “Sideways.” The problem isn’t the grape. It’s the company it keeps.

9. The word “Meritage” doesn’t mean anything except that “We are overcharging you for this wine because we think you’re stupid.”

10. The best dessert wines can replace dessert. the Negress once had the pleasure of tasting a Royal Tokaji (pronounced Toe-KI) 6 putttonyos (the wine equivalent of going to 11) wine that you could file under “Gods, nectar.”

The Negress. The 10. Things That Do Not Exist.

The Negress apologizes for the tardiness of this week’s list but her energy has been sapped by some strain of viral ickiness that is ravaging the Cube Farm.  Dick Cheney being seen in sunlight and various others babbling in such a way that they obviously are not cursed with self-awareness made the Negress want to compile this list. So, here we go.
1.    Welfare queen. Ronald Reagan rode into the White House on this nonexistent trope.
2.    The Knockout Game. Take a look.
3.    Dick Cheney’s soul. It was removed during his most recent heart procedure.
4.    Ugly babies.
5.    Ugly brides.  All right, the last two go hand in hand. They exist but you cannot share those judgments no matter how much of a hot mess the individuals are. Bite your tongue until it bleeds.
6.    A Chevrolet that makes you salivate. Anyone remember the Chevette and the Lumina? Things have not changed that much.
7.    A wine under $20 that makes you swoon. The Negress has some expertise in this area. She will say that truly awful wines have pretty much gone away (alright, maybe Barefoot and any pink Zin) but there used to be some surprising wines in this category. Not so much anymore.
8.    Dressy Birkenstocks. Many thanks to the fabulous Kate Clinton for this one.
9.    Partners in a relationship who “provoke” domestic violence.  Have a conversation with the hand and get the hell out of there. The Negress understands that some are unwilling to give up a societal position that comes with staying with a batterer. All she can say is take a cue from Robin Givens.
10.    Insurance salespeople with scruples. The Negress wandered through this thicket during the period before she got properly medicated. See Diogenes.

The Negress. The 10. Moving

The Negress moved recently to a smaller place and, after thinking other people might want her excess stuff, is donating pretty much all of it to save on storage space rent. She’s moved about 10 times in her life and she’s getting very tired. But some universal truths do attach themselves to the process. Here they are:

1. Don’t.

2. No one is going to want your crap after you’re dead. Behave accordingly. If someone says they want something, consider giving it to them now.

3. You will find as you unpack that 30 percent or more of what you have, you can do without. Especially books.

4. You may find some things in unexpected places, e.g. underwear in with the cookbooks.

5. Avoid using the worst movers on the planet. Furniture as kindling is not a good look.

6. Try not to spend 36 hours straight moving stuff up and down three and a half flights of stairs on one end and  two and a half on the other. The Negress was actually hallucinating at one point.

7. Don’t move. The Negress will say it again, especially if you do not get paid time off.

8. Towels and a suitcase represent an excellent way to transport wine for short distances.

9. If a contractor from a cable and internet provider well known for its shoddy customer service arrives at your door, send them away after complimenting their tattoos. Then wait for the nice, polite actual employee from said entity to address the problem in less than an hour, He also tells you the contractors are idiots.

10. Take a leaf from the Negress’ mother who said, ” I don’t want y’all coming in here after I’m gone and saying, ‘Why in hell did she save this?'” Words to live by. They should ringing in your head as you pack.

Notes of a Chronic Negress: Spring Training

By the way, much of this is based on truth.

“I love you.”

Oh shit. If the Negress hadn’t been perched on those stairs with that guy right in front of me,  she could have gotten away clean.  The railing had her pinned on one side; the wall on the other. As it stood, she was going to have to respond to this tequila-fueled declaration. The truth was not an option. She can’t say to someone who is furry drunk that she only slept with them because she was out of batteries for the vibrator. Or that, every once in a while, she needed to feel someone else’s skin to remind you that you’re alive. He was still there, nut brown and swaying, hair sweaty with some other bad trouble who made him think a trip to the clinic might be in order.  She doesn’t know the other one,  but she worked at Centerfolds. This guy wasn’t the brightest in the world — read Dean Koontz, had van seats as permanent furniture — but who was she to talk since the Negress woke up bare-assed on a waterbed in his house on Mother’s  Day? The mother of his kid came by to drop off Junior and, at first opportunity, the Negress bailed.

The Negress’ wasn’t always like this or else there would be not story to tell. You wouldn’t always find her perched on the stairs of this bar listening to some coke fiend talk about interstate trucking. She does come here a lot, but she’s run out of reasons why. It was good trouble once, a place where a girl could go when she needed to be kissed but didn’t want to make breakfast for some jerk. Lately everyone was getting married, going to rehab or smoking so much dope that the mere thought of sex makes them tired and cranky. Why did marijuana have to make a comeback right at the time when sleazing around has been deemed fatal? What happened to the seller’s market she was used to?

Crueler friends might say 30 pounds happened, but her arms don’t keep moving when the Negress stops. Also, this baggy grunge rap fashion thing was a godsend to us women of substance. Real women eat and that’s all there is to it.

Which may also explain why she gave that restaurant  goof so much of her valuable time. In case you’re wondering, this isn’t the guy the Negress was looking at when this story started, although this joint played a  role in her running into him repeatedly. The Negress was bored, he kissed well and knew a thing or two about what she considered the finest of dining. When he came over, she would end up with rug burns and odd marks on the couch. His good trouble turned to bad when the Negress found out about the woman with the gun and the toddlers. And half the teachers at this one elementary school. And five other women she knew, one of whom confided that she was relieved when her clinic run turned out to be just a non-specific infection.

At this point, high mileage was not a good thing even though it did seem to improve technique. The Negress usually put latex where it belonged, but not always. You gave blood and lost some sleep watching the mail for a week or two.

 Oh yeah. Back to the guy in front of her. He was still swaying there, expecting The Negress to say something like, “Honey, I love you so much I’d go your bail before I’d pay my rent” or some other declaration that indicated permanent brain damage on her part. She thought she’d gotten away clean. We kissed one night after the Mother’s Day thing, but it felt like a Pekingese was trying to pick her nose. The Negress had seen him up here a couple of times since then, but he had been cool. No excessive mooning, no pining. He hung with this coke dealer who was a a total bore. The Negress finally shut him up with a reasonably coherent discussion of the economics of the baseball strike. One of the bartenders bought her a drinkfor her  trouble, saying that was the longest ol ‘Dillweed had gone without speaking. The Negress considered it a public service.

All right. The Negress has hatched an escape strategy. “Uh, Dick, can we talk about this some other time?”

“No,” he bleated. Dammit.

“Well, will you excuse me for sec? I’ll be right back.”

Thank God there was a side door out of there. She was down the steps and in her truck in no time. He wasn’t there the next time she came back so the Negress hoped he got the message.

Although it may be hard to believe from what the Negress is telling you here,  she can do celibacy with panache. She’s talking years, kids. Some 21-year old goober tried to pick her up with that tired old line about how she needed to relax. The Negress replied that she wasn’t going to end a two-year string of doing without for him. He looked ashen. “How could you go two years without having sex?”

“It’s easy. You get up one morning, brush your teeth, get dressed, do your hair,  go to work, go out clubbing, come home and what do you know? You didn’t have sex. A day becomes a week, weeks months, you get the picture.”

He asked her to leave his apartment  (The Negress was stuck there after some ill-advised drinking).  She thinks he thought it was some elaborate con. Sometimes the truth does work very well.

One of these days the Negress will find a man (or woman, but we’re getting to that) who will last from spring training to the World Series. She’s not lonely exactly, but sometimes an arm around you at night would be great. Or a phone call when Frank Thomas jacked one past the Russian space station (she’s waiting on this feeling from Adam Dunn). Or someone who would get the picture when you said something about sticking around for winter ball and hockey season. She was tired of explaining her jokes to people who were supposed to care about her (her tribe is out there and she will find it later).

Or maybe she’ll just settle for a good kisser who didn’t piss on her bedroom floor during an alcoholic blackout. That was bad trouble. She kissed so much during that day and a half, the Negress felt like the lower half of her face was smeared and runny. If  she could have attached those lips to someone who knew where the bathroom was, half the battle would have been won. He knew baseball but often forgot which league the Astros are in. He lost his scholarship on that basis alone (though, now that might not be a deal breaker. The pissing, yes.).

The problem is there’s a fine line between good and bad trouble. If you hang with someone and it gets too boring, it may be good for you. But it won’t make you drive across town with a raincoat thrown over your nightgown because your phone rang at 2 a.m. with a highly improper (not to mention potentially painful) suggestion. Good trouble can talk you into it because of some deep mystical connection or just plain madness. Bad trouble makes you get a restraining order and change your number.

Most people the Negress  talks to think the distinction is a massive rationalization. “You shouldn’t try to justify this trashing around you by palming it off on something nearly mystical in its incoherence,” said one 12-step veteran pal of mine. The Negress drank another bourbon and told her to shut up.

The Negress has had jobs and everything (though lately not so much), but that’s of minimal consequence. The hours were flexible enough back in the day that arriving in the office at noon wearing sunglasses made little difference in my performance reviews. Most of the Negress’  co-workers at the time had settled for something calm. She sometimes got the sense they viewed her as a mascot of some kind;  still weird enough to drive a pickup trick and not have day-care problems. Their lives make the Negress cringe so back to the bars she went.

Frankly, the baseball strike nearly made the Negress into a nun. She had found most of her trouble by arguing about ball in a variety of joints. The restaurant guy was a Tigers fan. Mr. I Love You went to the Dome with the coke dealer, but had a hard time following the game. He thought it was too slow and there was nothing to watch, which almost matched her assessment of him for a long-term contract.

One night, another friend told the Negress her standards were too high. She had brought the restaurant guy into the picture, and had sampled Mr. I Love You back before she fell hard for a good friend of hers. The Negress was at the point in the bourbon here belligerent muttering was about the best she could do. The Negress couldn’t explain the good trouble-bad trouble distinction because all distinctions were pretty blurry. So was the road driving home(please note, this is stupid and don’t do it).

That was during a brief period where everyone the Negress knew was giving her advice even though she hadn’t asked for any. Did she look that troubled? At one point, the Negress decided it was a weird mix of envy and concern and just decided to smile a lot and forget every word.

Anyway, the Negress had to hit the road. Minor-league ball was calling. There was a prospect in Tucson that might have made it to the majors if he kept his sense of humor and continued to remember my phone number. Like most minor leaguers, he wasn’t a prospect.

Notes of a Chronic Negress: The Early Years

If you want to know where you’re going, you need to know where you’ve been. So every week at this time, the Negress is going to share a bit of her past with you. She has mentioned on occasion her love of baseball, but the biggest shift in her consciousness was caused by hockey. Here’s how it happened (present tense since adolescence is still very much with her).

I volunteer for the black and white set upstairs. Since it’s a Sunday, the family has split like an amoeba to their separate pursuits. My sister starts the foundation of the  air castle of her future funk. Mom and Dad watch the NBA Game of the Week. I can live with the NBA, but I am not in the mood for my parents. It happens.

In the days of three networks, gerbil races and Captain Tugboat, Sunday is a harsh TV day. I want something faster than basketball; something almost as fast as I think. I fiddle with the antenna and click the dial. Suddenly it’s on me. There are skaters, hair flying. Goalies fling themselves at the little black thing, looking electric and spastic but lovely. The reassuring voice of Dan Kelly breathlessly chases the action.

The rules fall into place. Any pass across two lines in illegal (This is well before the red line at center ice becomes decorative). Any scrum that ties up the puck for more than five seconds results in a whistle. There’s a box where you go if you’re deemed bad. This is school, but with more speed and faster retaliation (I haven’t made the last day of class in years, thus ducking every bully who believed in delayed gratification). I am hopelessly enthralled. This is the game for me. This is hockey.

A lot of the Boston Bruins are very cute. I like Derek Sanderson, who is chippy and has a mustache. I don’t really notice the lack of variety of skin colors. This is a foreign legion, but I am willing to sign on.

I draw pictures of my favorites on my notebooks. I hurl myself around a sixth-grade classroom playing all five of my favorite players, who live together and get into trouble (No girls. Ick.) I am a fool among my classmates more than usual, but I don’t care. They are often wrong – about Vietnam, me and the order of the universe. I have hockey now and I really don’t care what anyone else thinks.

The Negress puts her hat in hand

At some point recently, the Negress ran out of options. The kindness of friends and strangers was exhausted, and the social services gang had nothing to offer but food stamps. There ‘s rent to be paid and job searches to continue via the Internet. She has acquired a roommate, a charming medical student named Nafees, but that’s not enough. Besides being too broke to pay attention, she is too broke to make a down payment on filing for bankruptcy (no excuses but there are reasons). If you can help, click on either of the “Go Fund Me” on this page. There may be knitting or pie in your future if you can help. Also, feel free to pass the word, all 60 of you who read this regularly.