Flannery Correspondence

July 4, 2011

How Terminator 2 Taught Me How to Live

Filed under: Ever Wonder, Funny or Odd, Survival — BrianOFlan @ 16:00

Chin-ups on an upturned hospital bed.  Desert cache of weapons.  Artificial intelligence and advanced computer chip technology.  Minimizing civilian casualties.  Bilingualism and friends who will help you when you’re on the run.  Tough women who approach motherhood with the same tactics they use to avert nuclear apocalypse.  How to treat unstoppable opponents.  What to do when a sniper opens fire on your family home.  How to prove you’re from the future.  How well a shotgun fits in a box of long-stem roses.  How to outrun a semi-trailer.  How to run backwards in bare feet on a smooth floor.  How to save time by checking for injuries while hugging.  How to spend your last breaths saving lives while controlling the explosive demolition of a corporate headquarters.  How to pump a shotgun with one hand.  How to love a machine enough to kill it slowly.

No fate but what we make.


June 3, 2011

Dork Phase, Aspect 1: Fanny Pack

Filed under: Funny or Odd — BrianOFlan @ 23:22

My name is Brian Flannery and I used to be a dork.  Still am, many people would say.  (Unless they knew how much it hurt me.)

One clue available to normal humans during those years of hardcore dorkoholica may have been my fanny pack.

What’s a fanny pack?  Don’t act like you’re so cool you never wore or even heard about this invention.  In England, Australia and their related English-speaking countries where “fanny pack” is a verb phrase, they call them bum bags or belt bags.

Every now and then I still have moments when I can’t believe no one else finds it outrageously useful to put all their gear and pocket debris into one container that attaches in a hands-free way to the body.  Keys, wallets, coins, chewing gum, chapstick, mobile telephones, handkerchiefs and whatnot:  Sometimes my skin-tight clothing just doesn’t have enough pocket room for it all.

I’m not about to go around with a purse.  For one thing, purses must be held or slung over the shoulder.  Grip it under your arm or leave it on the restroom floor.  No thanks, man bag.  I imagine fanny pack favor will return when people realize how neo-cowboy they can be.

Neo-cowboy fanny pack

Isn't that hot?

Of course, my fanny pack in elementary school didn’t have keys or wallets or telephones.  It had survival equipment:  Pens, pencils, paper, notebooks, a pencil sharpener.  I had buttons in case I needed to MacGyver the sharp pin into picklock form.  I kept one of those small Gideon Bibles in there in case the Rapture snuck up on me and I needed to review my elevator speech.  I kept a small English dictionary because I always needed a spell check, what with all those writing utensils.  I also had a Spanish-English dictionary in case I was kidnapped and taken to South America.  I wish I were making this up.

Maybe all these things happen for a reason.

PS.  They’re still for sale.

May 27, 2011

Trip to Chicago, Part 4

Saturday, May 21st

We awake to the sound of bells, early.  We try to fall back to sleep while listening to someone ring the bell at the front desk two hundred times in a row for 30 minutes before giving up.  By the time we leave there is a pile of room cards at the front desk from those who could not wait and checked themselves out.  No one is at the front desk.  For the first time, Christa is craving some cold cereal and milk but she is out of luck.

We buy a small, warm breakfast at Dunkin’ Donuts (there’s a Dunkin’ Donuts on every single corner).  We skip the doughnuts and go for their breakfast tortillas and hash browns.  Still leg sore from yesterday’s marathon, we walk slowly around Millennium Park where the School of the Art Institute is holding its commencement ceremony.  From there we walk to Lakeshore Drive and along the coast to the Navy Pier.  (Photos:  Stained glass museum.)

We meet Clifton and Lanetta at Capi’s Italian Kitchen.  Lanetta lived with Christa’s family for six months when Christa was still in school.  Now she lives in Chicago with her husband Clifton.  We are glad they made time to see us.  We have a great lunch at Capi’s and talk until they have a parking ticket.  Clifton is a police officer and tells about a recent high-speed chase in which he followed someone all around, well, our hotel’s neighborhood.  The suspect escaped but lost $15,000 worth of cocaine.

After lunch, Brian and Christa walk peacefully up and down the pier, contemplating all we have to live for.  The rain threatens but never arrives.  The weather in Chicago has been delicious: Partly cloudy but it never rained on us, providing cover from the sun but not too cold or even too windy. Just when the heavy bags and long hiking would start our sweat, a cool breeze would relieve us and keep us at a perfect wandering temperature.

We hop a bus to the old Chicago water tower.  On our way from the bus stop, something distracts us.  We catch an elevator to the 96th floor of the John Hancock Center.  They have an extremely expensive restaurant up there so we turn around to take the elevator back down.  There is a long line so we enjoy the view from different angles before plunging down.  Your ears pop in the elevator.  It takes about ten seconds to go 96 floors.  Tickets to the proper observatory are expensive (not as expensive as the restaurant).  Tickets are also prohibitive at the rival Sky Deck atop the distant but taller Willis/Sears Tower.  We find this out after smuggling up and down for free and feel dishonest.

Giddy with vertigo, we burst into the beautiful Fourth Presbyterian Church in the middle of a wedding and tip-toed back out.  We finally arrive at our original destination, the Chicago Water Tower, one of the few structures to survive the great fire.  It looks like a castle and smells wet — not mildewy, just damp and fresh.  It houses a gallery of then-and-now photos showing other historic Chicago buildings that survived.

A delightful pit stop near the water tower is the pump station, across the street.  This also looks like a castle but inside is a visitor center, local performance ticket vendor, a branch of the CPL, free Wi-Fi, a socially conscious café, and clean restrooms.  The bouncer at the front door keeps hobos out but lets us in for some reason.  I pretend to read the local event newspaper (Irish festival in July!) while Christa napped, sitting.

Refreshed after a half hour of loitering, we walked the Magnificent Mile, past the expensive luxury shops, ogling architecture, and stopping only for the Lego Store.

Christa is delighted to see wedding photographers snapping bridal parties on bridges, nooks and overlooks (and even on medians in the middle of traffic).  Footsore to the point of amputation, we stump back to the train station — but wait!  Christa is hungry.  Not just any hungry, she’s Panda Express hungry.  We walk city blocks in circles for another few miles to find the demanded eatery.  We eat like zombies.  The restrooms are locked and the workers couldn’t find the men’s room key.  Time to go home.

“Home” was our hotel room.  Christa finally notices the midnight noise and mentions it in the morning.  There are two Indian guys who work the front desk with duty and courtesy in the evening.  Two women work it in the mornings if they remember to wake up.  For them, working the front desk is more of a lay-across-the-lobby-couch-watching-TV kind of duty.  We’re pretty sure they also live in the hotel — across the hall from us — in the creepy room with no number, no carpet, no windows and no rules.  Their door is always open and a TV sits on a chair, always on.  There are crazy sounds that don’t come from the TV.

When we walk past on Saturday night, someone is standing on a chair (not the TV’s chair), singing along to the radio and dancing clumsy.  We heard the Indian guy hassle them in the middle of the night.  “Be quiet.  You’re making too much noise.”  He’s the one who told us to go to the other hotel.

(Late the next morning one of the women asks us when we are checking out already.)

There are other mystery rooms whose doors are always open.  Some have numbers; some don’t.  One has exercise equipment, loose scattered wires and an unpainted wooden frame near the entrance.  This gym is not yet open to guests.  Another door is a closet full of dirty old mops but it’s always open and it lives right next to the drinking fountain and ice machine.  Now they all taste like dirty mops.

There is a casino game machine, converted to accept quarters like a video game.  There is also one of those coin-operated claw games where you control the claw for a few seconds then it drops and if it grabs anything, you get to keep it.

There are a few regulars who are always in the lobby but not working there.  The only lodging more affordable than the rooms in this place is the lobby.

We requested two room keys. They are magnetic cards but they keep failing. You never know when someone will be available at the front desk so we’re glad to have two keys. So far we have replaced three and another one just went out.

In our room, only two electrical outlets work out of 12. One of these is dangling out of the wall. Two dim lamps use both working outlets so the cellphone and netbook can recharge only at the expense of light. One lamp blinks with crackling zaps when you touch it or its end table.  We accidentally fail to electrocute ourselves.

The ice bucket smells like cigarettes. It is a nonsmoking room. The smoke detector is visibly destroyed irreparably behind its tamper-proof cage.

The hotel’s ad offers free cable but the only TV channels seem like local broadcast, HBO and a porn station. We leave it off.

Later, on our last evening, we will discover that the air conditioning works. We will enjoy it very much.

I love this place and can’t decide whether to anonymize it or endorse it.

(Last part: The greatest museum ever — plus clues towards affordable vacations.)

May 26, 2011

Trip to Chicago, Part 3

Friday, May 20th

We sleep in until 9:30 AM. I guess we needed the rest. Dress, teeth, shower. By 10 AM we miss the free cold cereal breakfast. We visit the grocery store across the street and pick up some fresh bread, fruit and a sandwich. I have a bag of carrots. We take the train into the city and walk to the library to scout it out as a future resource — a pit stop to sit and catch our breath.

From there we take the long way to the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) — weaving through the nearby Grant Park, watch Segway tourists find their balance, tip our hats to Abraham Lincoln, but miss the Buckingham Fountain by oversight.  The entrance to the AIC is flanked with two great, green lions that do not mirror each other.  For one thing, the tail on one curls up; the tail on the other goes down.

Inside we check our heavy bags at the coat check.  (We’re still lugging anything valuable with us, including three books.)  Trouble is, they inspect your bag and forbid anything perishable.  Remember how much food we bought this morning at the grocery store?  We carry it with us in Christa’s purse at the coat check girl’s unofficial suggestion.  The ticket takers do not inspect purses.

We cross over every square foot of this museum and see every painting, sculpture and relief except a few of the blotchy paint-splatter modern art displays.  We’re not art smart but we know what we like:  Medieval paintings especially, except some of the monotonous religious ones.  Brian likes the surrealists (original Salvador Dali‘s and Yves Tanguy‘s here).  Christa likes some of Picasso’s more legible stuff like The Old Guitarist.  We both likes American Gothic even though some of its surrounding modern art was weird.  Many old illuminated books at the Early Renaissance France exhibit.

It is a big museum.  At near collapse, we limp to the next train station according to the map, miss it (the blue line is a subway, not an “L”), take the wrong train, find it at last, and travel to the Red Canary.

Walking into the Red Canary feels like walking into an old movie when women wore dresses and men wore hats.  Everything is black and white and red.  Not like White Stripes but more like a black and white film updated with dark, maroon red hints so you can see where the ghosts of mobsters belong.  The restaurant/bar/lounge is larger than the website indicates.

Everything about its interior is impeccably designed.  A long, curved glass window lets you view into the kitchen as you walk down the hall towards the restrooms.  A matching long, curved mirror paces it on the other side.  There is seating in the main room, at the bar and in an adjoining lounge room.  Upstairs is another lounge and a wide balcony with many more tables and room for parties.  Out back, where we sit, is a beautiful patio crawling with aesthetic ivy and old trees.  The food is wonderful.

If this sounds like a commercial, it is.  We enjoyed the Red Canary as a hidden treasure.  A close friend recommended it.  Her brother runs it and he was generous enough to give us a quick tour.  If I were you, I’d go to Chicago just to eat there.  If you are a student of design, you can find nothing better.

Full and delighted, we leave the Canary and find our room turned over with new sheets (no cigarette burns, stains or bleach holes) and new towels — two! instead of one.  Friday nights are a bad time for this hotel.  We didn’t bring ear plugs with us.  The party lasts until dawn:  Someone has music playing, someone is carrying a broken TV around and strange smells come through our shower grate, through the washcloth.  The wildest voices we hear are from the people who work there.

(Next: A pier, a high-speed police chase, some towers and “home”.)

May 24, 2011

Trip to Chicago, Part 1

In May of 2011, Brian and Christa Flannery escaped the home for five magical, fun-filled days in Chicago. No kids, no rules, no money. With a few gift cards from some generous friends and arrangements with a team of babysitters, we attacked the Windy City.

Why Chicago? We had airplane ticket vouchers from a delayed flight during the 2010 summer of weddings. The airlines don’t make those easy to redeem but Christa found a way. With a long list of cities where friends and relatives abide, we picked one place where no one would find us.

Midway International Airport lost us for a few minutes until I made Christa ask for directions. We found the train station, bought our ticket and hopped on the CTA orange line (on the famous Chicago elevated “L”). We stand out in the crowd as newcomers. When we get off the train at the first stop, the closest train stop to the airport, everyone stares in shock and concern.

We walk out of the train station. Our hotel is right on the main road but we don’t know how far. So we walk. Other things on the main road: A few restaurants, a strip mall, all the signs are in Spanish, the only newspaper is La Raza, west side gang graffiti, gold pawn shops, cambio de cheques, a dress shop full of brightly colored wedding/quinceañera dresses and many of the street-facing windows are broken.  A beat up old building called “Crossroads Hotel” looks dangerous.  We don’t stay there.

We walk past a mattress store that’s never open.  Next is a bar with the Mexican flag around its always-glowing neon sign.  It has dark tinted windows and all its doors are padlocked shut from the outside.  Past this is a parking lot with an old wooden wagon cart holding a broken sign with no letters.  Beneath the wagon are many broken liquor bottles and one sock.  This is our hotel.  (Not the wagon, the hotel behind it.)

We walk into the lobby and introduce ourselves at the front desk.  The guy looks intrigued.

“Did you book your room online?” he asks.  We did.

“You’re only staying two nights?”  We’re staying five.

“Oh.  I don’t know.  Maybe you want to get a room at our partner hotel.  We’ll help you.”  We like this location.  It’s close to the train station.

“The other hotel has a shuttle.  This one is better for short stays.  The rooms are small and don’t have bath tubs.”  We don’t need bath tubs.

“Well, I’ll show you the room and then you can decide.”  The first room looks good — a bed, a toiled and a shower.  No floor — the bed takes up 98% of the room.  Christa conspicuously checks for bed bugs and hot water.  It passes.

We say we’ll take it.  He takes us to another room.

This room is bigger, more floor.  For example, you can walk around three sides of the bed.  He says this has a better window — it faces the street, not the alley.  (What goes on in the alley?)  We take it.  He shakes his head.

We spend the evening with maps, listing what we want to do and planning the next day.  Our plans will extend no more than one day in advance on this trip.  We intend to satisfy some of our top interests:  Literature, architecture, art, inventions and density of experience.  For literature, we venture into the suburb surrounding Wheaton College to see the C. S. Lewis Museum (actually devoted to seven authors including Lewis, Tolkien and George MacDonald).  For architecture, we visited Chicago where a terrible fire happily destroyed most of its original buildings and inspired more than a century of cutting edge architectural experimentation.  For art we visit the Art Institute.  For inventions, the Museum of Science and Industry.  For density of experience, the Navy Pier, a long, artificial peninsula full of every experience possible:  A ferris wheel, eateries, trinket shops, a stain glass museum, a beer garden, live music, an over-sized anchor, a view of a lighthouse, cruise ships, profane orange-costumed clowns, classy restaurants, an IMAX, a puppet show, multicultural ethnic dancing groups, every branch of the military.

Thus planned, we resign to bed.

About the bed:  The sheets don’t fit the mattress; every time you roll over the un-tuck-able bottom sheet comes with you, exposing the bare mattress.  The mattress doesn’t match the box springs (two twin box springs for one king mattress).  The bed frame is missing a leg so an inverted ice bucket holds it up.  The sheets have cigarette burns and other stains.  Brian and Christa argue about whether or not hotels have to wash the sheets between guests, no matter how cheap they are.  Christa sleeps soundly.  A beat up old place with barely enough room to set our stuff down reminds her of our house.  She doesn’t wake up or notice but Brian does:  In the middle of the night some idiot is yelling up and down the hall.  Just like at home.

(Stay tuned for Part 2:  One Hobo Plus Five Dollars)

July 5, 2010

Surreal Cereal

Filed under: Funny or Odd, Surreal — BrianOFlan @ 22:49

In this post-Far Side world, I love finding a comic both equivalently bizarre and sufficiently funny.

Speed Bump

Speed Bump

Speed Bump
(Far Side-esque animal humor!)

June 19, 2010


Filed under: Funny or Odd, Good News for a Change, Human Gold — BrianOFlan @ 13:04

In line for the RedBox, a carefully dressed black man approached me. He was not well dressed — his button-up collared shirt was worn, plaid and maybe flannel but it was tucked in and every button done. His baseball cap was old but his haircut tight. Everything about him was old but careful, especially his perfect posture. What struck me was how lively his movements were for being an antique.

I started talking to him because he started talking to himself. Extra loud, almost belligerent.  I thought having a conversation would be better than watching him rave on to nobody and everybody.  The whole time “The Ballad of Curtis Lowe” played in my mind.

They should have those RedBoxes outside so people won’t line up and get in the way.  But, oh no, it’s all about the dollar.  No concern for customer safety or convenience.

America isn’t here anymore; it’s lost.  I’m 76 years old and I remember when America was real… then it all started to change.  Used to be, a little girl could walk down the sidewalk at 9PM at night, six blocks or more without anything terrible happening to her.

Everything’s for sale, from Obama on down — anything you want, no problem, just hand over the money and tell us where you want it, you got it — and all the people you need to work it.  We have slavery every day.

Child molesters don’t get killed.  They stay alive in prisons with murderers and rapists.  I tip my hat to policemen.  They have a hard job because America’s not the same.  If you want to clean up this country you’d have to round up and kill men.  You’d have to lynch 200 men a day, from the time the sun comes up until it goes down.  Heh heh, that sounds bad but that’s what it’d take.

I wish there was a way to change the system, restore some good name for America.

It’ll never happen.  You try to change politics or clean up this corruption, people will kill you.  They like the corruption.  Everybody’s in on it.  Nobody wants to see anything true.

So you’re 76, how have you spent your time?

Well, my wife and I raised three children.  Now they’re grown up but they say, “Dad, you were hard on us.  You were strict.”  I put them in private school because I wasn’t about to send them to public school where the teachers weren’t allowed to whip them with a belt.

Grandchildren?  (Yes.)  Good.  Everyone healthy?

Yes, everybody’s healthy but they got an education, you know.  I worked two jobs my whole life to make sure to pay for their schooling.

Where’d you work?

I worked at the same company for over thirty years — a good union job doing industrial deliveries.  I got into the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).

Wow!  Few people can say they spent a solid three decades with one company.  Do you still work?

Working that long is the only way to draw a good pension.  I retired in 2005 but the IBEW still sends me letters saying they’ll put me to work if I ever want it.  They take care of their own.

It’s nice to be able to retire.

Sure… but I still want to work.  If you go home and just sit around then you die.

It was time for him to order his food so I shook his hands and we parted.  I wish I could figure out a way to get his name.  I’d look him up and invite him to Sunday picnics in the front yard.  (I have a hard time asking total strangers who they are.)

I don’t agree with everything he said.  Advocating lynchings, for example.  He thinks America is a lost cause:  “Nobody wants to see the right thing happen.  Well, maybe a few individuals here and there but not enough.  Everyone’s for sale.”  I hope we’ll turn to make one last stand for civilization.

It did my heart good to see an old timer so determined to avoid death-by-retirement.  I hope I’m so capable when I’m in my fourth quarter.

Moral of the story:  Talk to strangers.  Offer them your name.  Find out how they’ve spent they’re decades.  What’s more important than people?

Polyamory and the limits of monogamy

Filed under: Family and Friends, Funny or Odd, Good News for a Change — BrianOFlan @ 06:27

I love my wife. I promise the following paragraphs have nothing to do with marital alternatives or freaky stuff.

Lana’s fourth birthday party is tomorrow. While preparing for the big day tomorrow, Christa somehow kept me in mind. As early Fathers Day presents, she dumped three treats on me:

  1. Raspberry sherbet instead of ice cream. Dairy undermines any hope of my enjoying a sulfurous-methane-free evening.
  2. Mashed potatoes with cheese and bacon. Do you want to live forever?
  3. Honey Bunches of Oats (awww). Actually, the generic equivalent cereal — the kind that comes in a bag, not a box.

I love consumable gifts. It’s an important reminder that life is fleeting so don’t miss a drop.

I spent ten minutes talking to a 76-year-old black man in our neighborhood McDonald’s. I was in line for a Red Box but he just wanted something to eat and a public forum for loud conversation. I can’t believe how many people fail to take advantage of RedBox’s internet interface: Reserve your movie online! Walk up, press one button, swipe your credit card and you’ve got your movie. Instead people spend fifteen minutes complaining about the line and then — when they have the RedBox to themselves — spend twenty minutes reading every single blurb about every single movie before finally settling on the evening’s entertainment.

Talking to that guy was like watching three movies at once. I should just hang out in that McDonald’s and document other people’s amazing lives. More about him soon.

We rented a dumb romantic comedy. It thoroughly surprised and delighted us. When in Rome features Napoleon Dynamite as Lance, a magician (“don’t you want to be dazzled?”). Spoiler alert/hint: Thought you’d seen the last of Pedro?

One protagonist’s actor, named Josh Duhamel, appeared in 2004’s Picture of Dorian Gray. You might remember that Prince Caspian played Dorian in 2009’s Dorian Gray. That one kid from 7th Heaven was 2007’s PoDG. Two adaptations of the Oscar Wilde story are expected this year, followed by three in 2011 and probably a Fibonacci sequence in subsequent years.

Another When in Rome surprise:  The most poignant lines come from Danny DeVito, who has never played Dorian Gray.

The music was hot, climaxing in a trumpeted Paolo Nutini number. Watch it with subtitles on — they cite every song by title and artist, even traditional and classical background music (eg. Ave Maria, Tarantella, Wagner’s Bridal Chorus). The rare kind of movie we sat through the credits until it went black just to hear every song.

It’s a clean movie unless you consider art as obscenity: One painting bears human breasts in the adult female fashion. No foul or offensive language. (Why did we waste time watching this while the kids were asleep?) It’s not a thinker but it is light and fun with a twist ending, besides Pedro.

Next movie is my pick: Zombieland.

Please don’t search the internet for “polyamory”.

June 6, 2010

Then how does it work?

Filed under: Ever Wonder, Funny or Odd — BrianOFlan @ 00:58

Somewhere in the middle of a long, boring summer, a child will resort to rummaging through a dusty old attic and discover a secret but timeless boredom cure.

Speed Bump


June 5, 2010

Where to Find Chocolate

Filed under: Funny or Odd, Surviving Parenthood — Tags: , , , , , — BrianOFlan @ 19:08

Zella, our neat-freak child, has as much gross-out potential as the rest of them.

Our minivan is falling apart. Christa noticed that yesterday, driving from south Denver to Thornton in the noon heat. First the AC stopped feeling cool. Max AC ought to fix that, right? No? Still blowing hot air? Why is the engine revving up and down like that? The transmission is surging, shifting down too low for the speed, revving high, then shifting back up. What do all those gauges and dials on the dashboard have to say?

Well, the thermometer isn’t at the bottom of the “Normal” band anymore. It’s all the way at the top by that big capital “H”. Let’s turn the AC off and roll the windows down. Only five minutes away from the destination, van full of kids, the only thing worse than stopping on the side of the road would be blowing up in traffic. Think we can make it?

They made it. The 1996 Mercury Villager survived. Christa has two hours to kill while Jude does a foster care visit with his biological parents. She checks the coolant reservoir. It’s boiling and bubbling above the max full line up to the top cap. She’s smart enough not to mess with the radiator cap. She leaves the hood up and hauls the four girls into the social services waiting room for two hours.

By then the engine has cooled. The coolant reservoir has stopped boiling and is now empty. Refill with water to the max full line and risk the 45 minute drive home. (Loading all five kids up for these visits is a first. She usually has someone else take Jude to the visit or a babysitter watch the girls while she takes them.)

As she transfers them out of the stroller into the van, some stray. Barefoot and loosely dressed, they are already too hot. They want to stay in the shade of the minivan without actually going back in the hot vehicle. She finally gets them in their car seats and buckled in time to pick up Jude from the social worker and drive home with nothing but open windows and hot highway air to cool them.

They scream the whole drive home. I’m too hot! I want out of my seat! Unbuckle me! Incoherent yodels of outrage! While all her sisters cry, Zella cries a little but something distracts her. From the mirror, Christa watches in horror as Zella contorts her own foot up to her face and licks it for at least ten minutes.

What could possibly taste good about the bottom of her foot? Then it dawns on her: Near the van in the social services parking lot there was a melted fudge bar — only the wrapper and the stick and the inedible residue of chocolate remained. Zella’s naked Indian soles must have picked up enough of that sweet, sticky germ culture to look and taste just right for that long, hot ride home.

I don’t care how cute she smiles with those cheek dimples. I will never kiss her again.

PS. Let me know if you have any Penicillin lying around or maybe a 12 passenger van you’re not using.
Zella and the offending foot

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