newyorksubalien has evolved. New city, new life, new blog

newyorksubalien has evolved. New city, new life, new blog.

Yes, I’m still socially-insecure and still deemed too primitive a life form for a bank account. I still can’t say ‘water’ correctly and voice-recognition software still doesn’t understand my number 8.

Meanwhile Superalien is still as super (at least in my eyes), Male Mini-Me is taller than all of us and Mini-Mum has returned to the home of the Mini, only popping back from London to sleep, be fed and help balance out testosterone levels.

But in my new home of Chicago, I can at least lay claim to my own subgroup. I’m now Chi-rish as in Chicago Irish. Apparently the hyphen is important so as not to be confused with Chinese Irish or the town in Armenia. But I’m trusting my readers not to be churlish and to forgive these, my (hyphen-less) Chirish chatters…..

Friday, February 6, 2015

Going native

I have a new home. And I don't even need to pack this time.

It was the "pants" thing that did it. I realised I was starting to go native. Or rather I was starting to feel local.

So I've gone local, joining the esteemed family of Chicagoan bloggers that make up ChicagoNow. Although I won't be able to say the name properly. ChicagoNigh? ChicagoNao?

Anyway, come visit....

Friday, November 14, 2014

Pants in the bedroom but still can't get my head around the balls

It all began with pants in the bedroom.

For those of you born and raised on this side of the pond, there’s nothing too unusual about that. But for Windy City blow-ins like myself, the use of the word "pants" in the bedroom had previously been restricted to non-legged undergarments as in “the dog’s got your pants again – that’s what happens when you drop them on the floor”.

But last week I caught myself asking Super if he wanted me to take his pants to the dry cleaners. What’s worse, he understood. It was then I realized that the conversion from Irish to Chirish was well underway. I’m even getting used to seeing "realized" spelt (spelled) with a “z”- and can say “zee” rather than “zed”.

I’ve written before about how sharing the same language hasn’t meant conversations with the locals don’t get lost in translation. Our first summer, we did the obligatory trip to Navy Pier and I tried to buy water from a hot dog stand. The conversation went like this. 
"Two waters, please”
“Two orders of what?” 
This was repeated several times until I realized I had forgotten the “pretend you have a piece of fluff at the back of your throat which you are trying to regurgitate” method. I also tried to hand out Hallowe’en rubbers to trick-or-treaters this year – until I remembered they are called erasers.

But I do now go to the grocery “store” to buy “produce”, with the emphasis on the “pro” rather than the “prod” – perhaps that’s a clever ploy by the locals to stop you doing just that with the avos and peaches. There they laugh at me when I say I don’t need a bag as I’m just going “down the road”. Although to be fair, with a Northern Ireland accent, even my British friends laugh at me when I say that. Sidebar, if you meet someone from Northern Ireland, get them to say “How, now, brown cow”. Better still, google Liam Neeson talking about his role in a cowboy movie and you’ll get my point.

I talk about my kids being in 10th Grade or being a sophomore (still had to check how to spell it ‘though) and I’ve even discussed an upcoming Manchester United "soccer" match. But that leads me to one thing I am still struggling to come to grips with – all the balls, be it foot, base or basket.

Now this I appreciate is a true crime in Chirish-land where if there is more than one team in a particular sport, you must decide for one or the other. Actually this is in a way similar to my wee corner of Ireland where you have to be either Protestant or Catholic. To the extent, that when Super discovered he had Jewish ancestry, our local 90-year old farmer, in all sincerity, asked him “But are you a Catholic Jew or a Protestant Jew?”

My inability to sort out the balls is so bad that I have to use my own mnemonic tricks to remember who plays what. So (in my mind) it goes “cubs” rhyme with “clubs” so the Cubs are baseball, “bears” make me think of “barefoot” so the Bears are football, “bulls” go with “balls” so that leaves basketball. 

The Blackhawks I have no problem remembering as we moved into our new home just before they won the Stanley Cup. The cheering that night made me first think of football games in Brazil while the window-smashing and police sirens later took me back to my wee corner of Ireland. I haven’t worked out anything yet for the White Sox so needless to say if asked which baseball team I support, I’m for the Cubs.

Plus it took me a while to see their team logo says ‘Sox” – sorry, back to the bedroom again!

Friday, October 24, 2014

"Bone-ing" up on the local underground history

We’re surrounded by bones, half-empty graveyards and ghosts. And not just in our neighbours’ Hallowe’en-bedecked gardens.

It all started on a dark, windy night. Well, actually, it was a sunny, cloudless day when, walking in Lincoln Park, I noticed an innocuous sign marked “Hidden Truths”. “Hidden Bodies” would have been more appropriate as it explained Lincoln Park used to be a city cemetery and the final resting place for an estimated 35,000 souls. That was until the city decided at the end of the 19th Century it needed the land and that those resting places weren't so final.

But with only 10 men reportedly given just over a month to complete the task, not all of the bodies managed to make it to new graves. Some researchers estimate over 10,000 people could still be buried there to this day. That’s a ballpark figure. To include the ball park, the Lincoln Park Farm Zoo and the Chicago History Museum. A museum which, by the way, literally proved to be history in the making after builders constructing its underground car park in 1998 discovered the remains of 81 early Chicagoans and an iron coffin. As the bones were over 100 hundred years old, they at least did manage to find a final resting place - the Illinois State Museum.

Our underground Lincoln Park neighbours aren't the only local ghosts we have to watch out for next week. Just down the road from us at 2122 North Clark Street is the site of the 1929 Valentine’s Day Massacre where arch gangster Al Capone had seven men gunned down in a garage. Six of the men worked for Capone’s rival Bugs Moran, the seventh was an unlucky car mechanic. The garage has since been torn down and now is the garden of a retirement home. No irony there. 

Apparently some of the senior residents have reported seeing gangster ghosts and hearing screams and automatic gunfire. Others claim that dogs walking past the site become very agitated. This, the paranormal experts say, could be due to a "psychic imprint" left by Highball, the unlucky mechanic’s dog, who witnessed the murders and was apparently permanently traumatized by the event.

I decided to test this one out by walking the Irish Wheaten Terror past the spot the other day and for once he was as good as gold. For some reason, all he wanted to do was go and dig holes in Lincoln Park….

Monday, May 5, 2014

Celebrating 50 years with a return to nips, poops and naps

We have a new member in our family. And after two weeks together, I’m amazed that all our other body members are still intact. For the latest addition to our brood is a “Chirish” Wheaten Terrier called Cadbury whose bark is (thankfully) non-existent but unfortunately, at only 14-weeks old, the same can’t be said about his bite.

Cadbury joined us to celebrate a monumental birthday and if I thought a pup would make me young again, I was wrong. I am currently feeling all of my 50 years and more, and the only nipper in the family has four legs. But we love him. Especially when he’s sleeping.

The baby similarities are scary. Super and I have been reduced to discussing poops and pees, frequencies and consistencies. I receive a morning report by text with the overnight and first shift update. Complete with that little emoticon of steaming brown doop. I’m learning to hate that emoticon.

We’d discussed having a pooch for many years but apartment living, landlords and frequent moves have always been our excuses. Now we have a house, or more importantly our own home, and we are right beside one of the biggest doggie baths in the USA, Lake Michigan.

His name came with him and with his chocolatey-coloured coat, both milk and dark, I think it’s perfect. It’s already been shortened to “Cabbie” which is also appropriate as I seem to spend hours shouting it after a rapidly-disappearing, fast-moving object.

The men in the family have launched a campaign to rename him, with Fergie or Giggsie popular suggestions after a certain football team (Moysie was never an option).

Male Mini-me is also pushing for Dougal, not because beloved pooch’s shaggy coat reminds him of the Magic Roundabout character (what do you mean, you’ve never heard of him?). Rather his goofy, slightly bemused air does resemble the young pup priest in the TV series “Father Ted”. If you've never seen it, you’re missing Irish dry humour at its best.

While coming to grips with the doo-doo’s and don’t’s of puppy training, I’m also having to learn puppy-owner etiquette. Cabbie now knows he has to sit nicely and wait until the approaching dog-owner (usually female) decides whether he is sufficiently well-enough behaved to socialize with their darling. 

I have a feeling I met the Park Mother on our first outing together. Our British accents passed muster so Cabbie’s limited manners were overlooked – this time. And I was given the nod to attend “Yappy Time”, the ultimate pet gathering, held between 5:30 to 7pm every week day, although apparently it’s more relaxed at the weekends. 

After five years in the Big Apple, I thought nothing would surprise me as to the lengths dog-owners will go here to pamper their pets. I was wrong. Telling a friend about our latest arrival, she confided in me about amazing boarding kennels near O’Hare airport where you can leave Fido to play while you fly away. Makes sense, I thought, especially when you can apparently leave your car in their car park while you are on holiday. Positive bargain, I thought.

Then I looked it up on the internet. First, I chose the wrong noun. It is not a kennel, it is a resort. The dogs do not have pens, they have suites. There are slumber party and relaxation lounges, bone-shaped pools and a host of additional extras such as pool-view rooms, personal cuddle time and mineral water. I’d be afraid that a stay at the $100/night Top Dog suite with a full-size human bed and a flat screen TV may mean Cabbie would never want to return home. Especially as he would have a bed-side photo of us all to watch over him. And I discovered you have to pay extra to park your car -  and supply its family photo yourself, I assume.

I suppose in a world where "come" and "down" are the norm, no one notices if you slip a little "on" in there......

Monday, April 14, 2014

In Al Capone's town and elsewhere, the Taxman cometh

This time of the year is a very taxing one here in Chirish-land and throughout the US as across the country, the good folk of America race to meet the April 15 IRS deadline and file their income tax returns.

IRS stands for Inland Revenue Service but other popular alternatives are Infernal Revenue Service and Income Removal Service. No doubt Chicago’s most notorious resident Al Capone would have had his own version after finally being caught, not for his illegal gangland operations, but for failing to file his taxes.

Along with learning how to navigate health insurance options, understanding tax requirements has to be one of the biggest challenges to living this side of the Atlantic. There is one basic rule we quickly learned – if in doubt, pay it out. Unpaid taxes are a thing to be feared here, attracting penalties like Al Capone’s enemies attracted bullets.

In the UK, we file our taxes and wait for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs Service to send us a polite letter if it needs more money. Here, even when you file your tax return on time in April, if you haven’t actually paid enough taxes between January to December, you are already liable for penalties. So not only do you have to calculate how many noughts you owe but also how many more you owe for being naughty. And perish the thought if you still underestimate because that’s when the penalties really start.

It doesn’t help that you generally have to file a federal return and a state return. And if you are living in certain big cities such as New York, they are also due their own significant chunk of your earnings. Working out who gets what is enough to make anyone ready to be submit themselves to the Intelligence Retrieval Service.

The good news is that for most people, the fear of falling short leads them to pay too much tax throughout the financial year so they end up actually receiving a refund. Last year this averaged around $2,800, which sounds great except, as some have pointed out, it also means they essentially were giving Uncle Sam an interest-free loan.  A loan, which for the 2012 tax year totalled just under $310 billion, according to statistics from the IRS (this time standing for Interest Rates are for Suckers?).

Refunds are helped by deductibles, an encyclopedia of tax allowances and deductions which could easily be described as Imaginative Reporting of Spending. Had a rough year at the bingo halls? Never mind, the tax man allows you to deduct your total losses up to any amount you won. If your doctor signs off on it for specific medical reasons, wigs, weight loss expenses, clarinet lessons and even swimming pools can be used to stop you going bust. And talking of bust, there is even the famous case of a professional exotic dancer who managed to persuade the tax courts that her breast implants were a work expense and therefore deductible.

There are also other ways of getting something back. Several restaurant chains have special “Tax Day” offers to help you fill up while you fill out your forms. From McDonalds where you can grab a second Big Mac for just a cent, to the Hard Rock Cafe, where if you grab the mike between noon and 2pm, you can “sing for your supper” (I know, I told you people eat early in Chicago).

And it’s not just food handouts. Over at Office Depot, they appreciate the necessary cathartic process required after tax filing so they’re giving customers the chance to shred up to 5 lbs of paper for free. I however prefer the therapeutic service being offered in our local wine bar which is picking up the tax amount on all food and drink tomorrow. That’s my kind of IRS – Imbibing Rioja Slowly.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Chicago home comings and goings

It’s always good to go home. It’s where I went last week, and it's where President Obama popped back to, dropping in on Chicago the same day we returned from the Emerald Isle. Except he didn't have to stop at traffic lights as he sped into town from O'Hare airport.

Chirish-land is proud of its presidential son but perhaps not so keen when he heads home to water the houseplants due to the inevitable traffic snarl-ups. Unlike other recent heads of state, his family home is not a ranch in Texas or California but a 6 bedroom, 6,200 sq ft red-brick house on a relatively quiet residential street in the South Side of Chicago.

Apparently not a great deal has changed since the Obamas had to move because of his job relocation. Except that the street is now a good deal quieter as it is blocked off completely by those nice men in black suits and sunglasses. And as the same nice men are reportedly looking after the garden (and most likely the houseplants), Obama himself has admitted the lawn has never looked better.

It must be a little tough on the neighbours 'though. All visits have to be announced in advance and I pity any local teenagers hoping to throw an impromptu house party while Mom and Dad are out of town. And then there are the tour buses, inching their way through the busy residential streets, just for the fleeting 3 seconds it takes to drive behind the back of 5046 South Greenwood Ave.

The area is not new to celebrities. Just around the corner is the former abode of Boxing World Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali who also co-founded the city’s largest mosque a few blocks away. Obama will no doubt have been pleased to discover he also now has a permanent monument in the nabe which will outlast his presidency. A local shopping mall has immortialised the spot Michelle and he shared their first kiss after a Baskin Robbins ice cream with a 3,000 lb granite boulder. Probably to mark where he "bowled her" over.

At the start of his first presidency, Obama said he hoped to return home every few months but in reality he has had few opportunities to visit what is nicknamed the “Western White House”. Many are questioning whether the family will eventually return once his Presidency ends in 2017. There was already speculation towards the end of his first term the Obamas' house was going on the market and the possibly no-longer 1st family would be moving to the 50th state (as in "Hawaii 50"), where the lawns are always green, with or without the Secret Service.

The President no doubt was relieved not to have had to give up the day job last year. He's still reportedly paying off his mortgage on the home he bought for $1.65 million in 2005. But at least house prices have picked up a bit, with his home currently valued at just over $2 million by some real estate websites.

Of course when he comes to sell, he won't be able to boast of living in the "The World's Ultimate Gated Community" as was the case when his neighbours put their house in the market in 2009. But at least his lawn will be looking good.

Friday, March 21, 2014

You know it's Spring when the cigarette buds start to appear...

Yesterday officially was the first day of spring and we awoke to a light covering of fresh snow and a lovely Google Doodle of a little man (who bears an uncanny resemblance to my other “Super” half) making flowers magically appear from what, to snow-weary Chirish eyes, looks like our backyard until a few days ago.

To be fair, a more realistic doodle of things sprouting from the Chicago snow banks would be cigarette trees, going by the huge number of cigarette butts which have emerged from the melting ice packs on the streets.

So far the only fields of green I’ve seen were the hordes of be-hatted, be-scarfed and be-jewelled St Patrick’s Day revelers who filled the streets last weekend. And yes, the river did look like a psychedelic bed of clover.

But the city is definitely emerging from its winter chrysalis. Along the lake shore, the runners are back, stretching their wings after several months literally spent on a treadmill. And if I, in any way, doubted the Irish heritage of our new home town, the swiftness with which the locals are donning shorts and bareing their legs the minute the temperatures rise above freezing has convinced me that I truly am in Chirish-land.

Perhaps one of the biggest signs for me that Spring is here was a solitary male member of the 'metallus detectoris" species that I spotted yesterday amongst the trees in Lincoln Park. Known for its distinctive high shrieking call, this elusive creature emerges when the snow has finally melted, spending its days wandering the grasslands in the search of materials with which to feather its nest.

This particular specimen may have been a little premature as while the snow may be gone, it would take a metal grinder not a detector to break up the ground. And while this is not a huge issue for those of us with only a small backyard and in no rush to unearth the garden trowels,  for the maintenance teams at the city’s baseball fields, drastic measures are being adopted.

At the US Cellular Field, home to the White Sox, the crew is facing 30 inches of permafrost. If that sounds like some hairdressing salon disaster, the remedy does even more so. Essentially the ground staff are using something akin to a giant hairdryer under a tarpaulin to blow hot air on the frozen pitch in an effort to thaw it out before the season opener on March 31.

From an energy-saving point of view, where are the city's infamous long-winded, full-of-promises politicans when you need 'em!