RIP Nala, 1999 – 2017

So Nala has been dead for a while now, and I have always found something else to do, other than write this post. But it seems like an event that needs to be recorded here, since Nala is woven so much into the fabric of this blog. Sara and I got Nala before we were married, and Nala lived with me a while, just the two of us. Nala lived in 4 apartments / houses with us. She was there when we brought each of our kids home from the hospital.

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In fact, my 2nd post ever, way back in February of 2004, was about how annoying my cat was. If I would have had any idea at all that cats could live to be 17 years old, there is absolutely no way I would have agreed to this in the first place.

Nala was old, and sick. I was rubbing thyroid medicine into her ears, twice a day. She wasn’t super mobile, basically sticking to one spot unless she had to go to the bathroom, was rail thin, and to top it off we moved, which was a lot of stress for a 17 year old cat. So for some time we had been saying to the kids, “You know, guys, Nala isn’t going to live forever…”

Even still, it was a bit of a shock. We were coming home from our trip to Arizona, arriving home late from the airport. Often Sara and I will run in to do a quick check to make sure Nala’s okay before letting the kids in, but this time we didn’t because someone had checked in on her while we were gone and she had been fine. So Evelyn is the one who found her, and it was a rather unfortunate end to our trip.

The next day the big kids and I drove her up and buried her at the Haven. It was raining a little bit, and the three of us sang, “Goodnight, goodnight, sweet baby” to her. Ollie seemed pretty unphased, but Evelyn was a bit broken up about it, and I was sad to see Evelyn be sad (and certainly ONLY crying for that reason!)

We tried to explain a little bit to Alex, telling him, “All done, Nala” and “Bye bye, Nala”. He just shook his head and said, “No! More Nala!” However, he still calls all cats “Nala” and still looks around for her from time to time. I know he won’t remember her (though he will probably wonder why he called cats “Nala” for years).

As for me, I will mostly remember the years of spraying her with water and yelling for her to shut up, her peeing pretty much wherever she wanted, and getting matted up hair on everything. It’s easy to want to remember a glorified version of her, but any search through this blog will quickly show the TRUE nature of that nuisance cat. If you want to hit the highlights (or lowlights), here are a few “greatest hits” to get you started:

  1. I Wish the Cat Would Stop Talking With Her Butt
  2. Grumpiest Cat
  3. One Nuisance Cat For Sale
  4. Email From the Past

Although I’m glad that ankle-biting, loud-mouthed, worthless hunk of fur is gone, I cannot deny that this is the end of an era. Say what you want about her, she sure was good at Acquire, though…

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Officially a Chicagoan, or, My First Mugging

I assume most people have heard about this at this point, but a lot of people are curious about the details, which I totally understand.

I have to walk a little under a mile from the train to home, and rather than walking on the main, busy street I have taken to walking one street off the main street. It’s much quieter and full of these huge, old, interesting houses.

On this particular day it was pouring rain and I was carrying a giant Amazon package which had been delivered to work (a birthday present for Oliver), so my hands were full. I was coming towards a giant puddle and there was someone walking toward me from the other direction.

We were both angling in the same direction and I remember thinking, “Why is this guy forcing me to walk into this puddle?” I noticed that he had spotless white sneakers on so I thought maybe that was why he was taking such a strange angle. “No worries,” I thought. “I will be the nice guy and walk in the puddle,” and I tried to squeeze between him and the fence.

When I got close enough to him, he kind of chest-bumped me with his body and said, “Don’t say anything or move, I’ve got a gun. If you say anything, I’ll shoot you.” He kind of indicated his right coat pocket, but it was closed so I didn’t see if there was really a gun or not.

Now, you’d think this would be kind of panic inducing, but honestly I was not at all scared in that moment. Not even angry. I feel like I was just thinking really fast and I just kind of felt like, “Okay, this is new.”

He reached in my pocket and took out my phone. “Oh, it’s an iPhone 4s,” I said, honestly thinking surely the guy would go, “Lol, nevermind.” He didn’t. “Give me your wallet,” he said instead. “Hey, take the cash, but not the wallet, okay? All of my stuff is in there,” I said. I mean, even a robber understands what a pain it is to go to the DMV, right?

He was not convinced.

I feel like this part took a long time because I didn’t really know what to do, and there were a lot of fumbling exchanges and things. I kept thinking, “Surely someone will look out the window and see this and call for help.” But I guess 1) time might have been a little sped up for me, and it might not have taken as long as it felt like, and 2) anybody who happened to see us probably would have just thought two people were talking.

“What else you got?” he said. “Nothing else. What else would I have?” I said. What I did not say is, “DEFINITELY NOT A HUGE WAD OF CASH IN MY OTHER POCKET!!” Because, see, I had just gotten out an unusually large amount of cash (seriously, who uses cash? What are the odds this happened on this particular day when I just happened to have cash?) (and before you ask, no, he did not follow me from the bank)

He started patting down my pockets. “You holding out on me?” he said when he hit my pocket. “No, I don’t have anything!” I insisted but he reached in and grabbed the cash. His eyes lit up and he ran for it (at least one of us was having a good day). I didn’t realize it until that minute, but there was a car running, waiting just up the block, and the guy hopped in.

“Hey, can you leave the wallet though?” I forlornly called after him. “Just leave the wallet, okay?”

As they drove away, my first thought, crack detective that I am was, “Oh hey, I should get a picture of the license plate!” and reached for my phone. Which of course had just been stolen. And then in my confusion and disappointment from realizing I didn’t have my phone, I didn’t actually catch the license plate (which I have been kicking myself for ever since…stupid, stupid!)

I stood there for a minute, and then started walking home. I just started walking quicker and quicker until I was almost running. I think that’s when it started sinking in. I really hadn’t felt bad or anything more than frustrated until then, not even as he was running away with my stuff. Honestly, it didn’t seem real, like it was a scene from a movie and I was playing a part.

It was raining pretty hard but I kind of forgot about my umbrella, which was just dangling from my hand. When I got home I remembered that I had given my gate key to Sara and the buzzer didn’t work and naturally I didn’t have my phone. I had no idea what to do. I really didn’t know what to do without my phone, and I think I wasn’t thinking that clearly.

This was my lowest point; it felt worse than the robbery. I was cold and soaking wet and the adrenaline was starting to ebb, I scraped up my arm trying to break into the fence and everything just felt so, so hopeless. I thought, “If I just stand here in the rain, maybe eventually someone will start wondering where I am and come looking for me?” It just felt like there was a big weight pressing down on me.

Finally I managed to force the gate open and came inside. “Sara?” I yelled. “I’m really busy right now!” she said in a no-nonsense voice from the kitchen. “I’m busier!” I yelled back, voice cracking, verging on hysterics. I think there was something in my tone, because she did come pretty quick. I was pretty close to crying.

The kids were a little upset (I really wish I could have handled all of this without them knowing, but it just would not have been possible), and of course we needed to call the police and cancel the credit cards and everything. The CPD were surprisingly quick and they canvased the neighborhood with surprising efficiency. My phone was registering that it was nearby, so they took off over there, but it turns out they had just chucked my phone out the window of the car (hey, I tried to tell them…nobody wants an iPhone 4s!)

Getting my phone back seemed like one bright spot in all this, but it turned out not to be since the phone was damaged. I’m still glad to have it back. It feels so…weird that someone has all of my stuff. My mind keeps going to the business card Evelyn gave me when they made their businesses in 2nd grade and how somebody else has that now.

I always imagined if I were in a situation like this, I would fight back. “I bet he didn’t even have a gun,” I told Sara. “There are a lot of guns in Chicago,” she said, “I think it’s safe to assume he had one.” It’s like there is the logical part of me that says, you did the right thing, everything worked out okay. Obviously the main thing is that I was not hurt; the rest is just money. And then there is another part of me that thinks I should have fought him off or called his bluff or ran or taken another route or infinite other possibilities. Hard not to keep replaying it.

That night I thought I was fine. I had a lot of extra energy; I couldn’t stop pacing. “Maybe you should run on the treadmill,” said Sara. Everything just kept looping in my head. By the next morning I was really wishing it could stop looping in my head. By the time I was waiting for the train, I was feeling some massive anxiety. My heart was racing and I felt sick to my stomach. I just felt like there were so many people and I was trying to look at all of them. Why is that guy looking at me? Why is that guy coming toward me? Oh, he’s just getting on the train. I had to put my back to a wall.

I had planned to walk home from work, but Sara had offered to pick me up, and I uncharacteristically took her up on it. I knew that I was going to have to walk sooner or later, and usually in that case I figure might as well get it over with. But I put it off until Monday.

Naturally Monday was rainy, just to simulate the exact conditions as closely as possible. I got anxiety just looking at the weather report. But of course it was fine, and Tuesday was fine, and every time it’s going to get a little bit easier.

At this point, I think everything is more or less back to normal. I have wavered on publishing this post, because I feel like I want to talk about this and put it out there as honestly as I can. I wrote most of this the night it happened because Sara, understanding very well how I work, encouraged me to write it down, knowing that’s how I process things.

But on the other hand I don’t really want any sympathy from anybody. I really, truly don’t. It’s a thing that happened, and now it’s over. Life moves on.

The thing that gets me the most is that I don’t want to walk around my neighborhood anymore. That’s what was really stolen from me. I was really enjoying that walk, and now instead I have to go on the busy street and evaluate everybody for threats. I worry about Sara walking, or the kids. I wonder if by sharing this I am somehow justifying every person from back home who thinks that Chicago is not safe and you shouldn’t live here.

One last thing I want to say. If someone tells you that they’ve been mugged, do not say to them something like, “Whelp, you gotta be aware of your surroundings!” I can tell you from many experiences over the past few days, this is the absolute worse thing you can say. It is the worst kind of victim-shaming nonsense. I assure you that I was 100% aware, and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it. I saw him, I stared at him, I knew something was strange about him. It’s why I had such a good description of him for the police. I am not the one who did something wrong.

I could have walked a different way. I could not have taken that package home and had my hands full. I could have had less cash. That does not mean I deserved to be mugged. That guy was going to mug someone, and I was the only one on the street at the time.

I understand that people say this as a way to reassure themselves. I was the same way; I always thought, “Well, I don’t walk around at 2 am” or “I don’t walk around with my phone out” or “I don’t do the dumb things that *those* people do, so it won’t happen to *me*.” Well, I was aware and it wasn’t 2 am and I didn’t have my phone out and it happened anyway. If you want to reassure yourself, fine, but don’t do it on my back thank you very much.

In a weird way, I guess I’m glad that it was me that was at the wrong place at the wrong time. If I would have taken a different route or looked like a less tempting target, then the guy would have waited for somebody else. It could have been Sara or someone else with a kid, it could have been a teenager, it could have been someone who already had some kind of mental problems. It could have been a tough guy or a nervous guy who could have tried to fight back, and it could have gone poorly.

I came through unscathed. Let’s hope that was my one, and I’m good now. You hear that universe? We could really use a break.

 

Living my best life, two stories

How you know you are living your best life: when you get a text on a Saturday afternoon that just says, “We’ve got the trebuchet going on the midway by the rink if you’re interested…”

(Note: this, unfortunately, is not the actual picture of their trebuchet)

The only thing better than seeing a siege engine in action was what I saw on the way home Friday night:

I was walking down Michigan Ave., just about to go underground to the train. Right as the light turned green, some show-off, meathead, a-hole on a motorcycle gunned it so everybody would look at him and his sweet bike. Not merely content with everybody in a three block radius shaking our heads and going, “what a show-off, meathead, a-hole on a motorcycle”, he had to go one further and pop a wheelie.

Well, he had our attention.

Except his wheelie kept going, and he flipped over backwards, landing in the middle of the street. The bike traveled for a bit before wiping out and laying down sideways, leaving a trail of pieces scattering it its wake. The guy somehow wasn’t dead, but instead sprung to his feet and ran down the street after his bike.

It was the most perfect, glorious episode of schadenfreude I have ever witnessed. This guy was so clearly an idiot, and got what was coming to him in such a perfect and public way…

Universe, I don’t know what I did to deserve witnessing it, but thank you. Thank you.

Moana

The day after Christmas, the kids and I went to see Moana (mild spoilers ahead).

Now, I’m going to start off by saying that I very much enjoyed Moana. I want to say that right off the bat, because I’m going to send some mixed messages in my review here.

Moana was perfect in every way. A little TOO perfect. Like, so perfect that it almost falls into the “Uncanny Valley:

the phenomenon whereby a computer-generated figure or humanoid robot bearing a near-identical resemblance to a human being arouses a sense of unease or revulsion in the person viewing it.

I don’t just mean the plastic-skin-eyes-too-big-for-the-head-Bratz-style animation, I mean everything about it. This movie is as formulaic as formulaic can be. I played this game with Sara:

Me: “I bet you can guess every single thing about the movie without me telling you.”
Sara: “Is there woman-empowerment?”
Me: “Plucky girl with a hilarious sidekick? Check!”
Sara: “Let me guess…she has to go on a journey. To find herself.”
Me: “Check!”
Sara: “And someone important to her dies, like maybe her dad.”
Me: “Her Grandma! Check!”
Sara: “And there’s a guy…”
Me: “…and they don’t get along at first! But they’re stuck together so they have to make the best of it!”

You get the idea.

It feels like every movie Disney has made for the past 20 years has been leading up to this. Each Disney Frankenstein has gotten closer and closer to fooling the Turing test, and now they’ve finally cracked the code. They took every good part of every Disney movie, learning each time what worked and what didn’t, and then somehow mashed them all together seamlessly.

And the worst part is? It works! It’s such a good movie! You would think that a movie that follows this closely to the script would have no heart, but it does have heart! And a great soundtrack! (yes, I am aware that Lin Manuel was involved, and I am not exactly an unbiased source, but) And jokes where there should be jokes and sadness where there should be sadness and not a single hair out of place.

And it totally works. I’m like one of those birds that can be tricked by a superstimulus into feeding some other hatchling while my own babies starve.

I know I’m being manipulated, and I still like it anyway. DAMN YOU WALT DISNEY!

Christmas 2016

We started out on Christmas Eve with the play at church. Evelyn and Oliver are both in the choir, Oliver was set to be a lamb, and Evelyn was set to be Mary. What we did not expect was that Alex got conscripted to be baby Jesus (which means Sara was conscripted to play the “Innkeeper’s Wife” and help on stage). Alex is a little big to play a newborn,but was absolutely slaying the audience with his toddling around, saying, “ma ma” and playing with the hay. It didn’t hurt that Evelyn is his actual big sis, so was much more comfortable around him than the typical Mary.

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Evelyn naturally nailed her big speech. That girl just has an absolute lack of stage fright, which means she is able to deliver her lines slowly and clearly in a way that most kids just can’t manage. Like, she would say it the same whether talking to me at home, or orating to 1500 people (yes, 1500 people! We always tell her she’ll probably never play to a bigger audience than the Christmas play!)

And for Oliver’s part, he was the most adorable sheep you’ve ever seen:

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Vania got all three kids matching pjs and they were THE BEST. There are little t-rexes with Santa hats on them! They are the exact pajamas I would have picked out (assuming I even knew such a thing existed!)

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Barb knit Alex some *adorable* hat and mitten sets:

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However, those pictures don’t really give the…flavor of the experience. Alex HATED having them on. You can see above that we had to constantly bribe him with raisins to get him to leave them alone long enough for the pictures. I would say this is a more accurate representation:

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In fact, Alex hated the hats so much, that after that he refused to open any more presents. He reached in, felt the tissue paper, pulled his hand back like he got burned and then just shook his head “No!” We had to open them and show him they were not hats before he would accept any gifts.

Other than that, though, Alex has a phenomenal first Christmas. He loved his car set from Santa, loved having everybody home to play with, loved all the boxes and wrapping paper, and most of all, loved the “na na” that Evelyn gave him. He hands it to you, demands, “Na na!” and then sticks his tongue out and goes “blubalubalubalub”:

Sara and I have officially been married too long, since we got each other the EXACT SAME PRESENT. Sara opened hers first, and since I wasn’t sure she would really like it I rushed to explain all the features that I thought she would like (Ceramic burr grinder! Doesn’t take up space on the counter! No batteries required!). Sara just kind of smiled and nodded through the whole thing, until Ollie said in a very confused voice, “Wait…I thought you got that for daddy?”

“It’s like Gift of the Magi!” shouted Evelyn.

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I thought it was such a unique gift! I didn’t even mean to get a hand-crank one, but when I saw it I thought she would like that one better!

Finally, there was one truly enduring gift that will be remembered long after Christmas is over…

I’m talking about Ollie’s fitbit.

Ever since last year when Evelyn got one, Ollie has been pining for a fitbit of his very own. And just like when Evelyn got one he is obsessing about it every. second. of every. day. Nary a step is taken without a full reporting. He spent the entire day yesterday pacing up and down the hallway. The number of times we had to say something like, “Oliver! If you don’t sit down and eat your supper I’m going to take your fitbit away!”

Naturally, Evelyn responded in the way any big sister would: by pacing up and down the hallway behind him, making sure he doesn’t get more steps than her. Just the two of them doing loops, all day long. Luckily it was like 60 degrees for no reason, so we did get them out of the house for a bit, and Oliver managed > 20k steps for the day (and that was with going to see a movie!).

Better that than another hand-crank coffee grinder I guess.

Vivid Nightmares, Puppet Master Edition

I have always had very vivid dreams until lately when I think I have been so sleep deprived that my body doesn’t have time for that crap.

But the other night I had a real doozy, and I can’t seem to shake it. If you are not into creepy murder puppets, I suggest punching out now…this gets pretty gross.

So somehow I had befriended these puppets, right? I think I was hired to dust some dead lady’s house or something. And the puppets were all like “hey man, it is so not fair that they keep us locked in this room, you know?” And eventually I was like, “Yeah, that’s really not right to treat these guys that way!”

So I let them out of their room and the first thing they wanted to do was to kill these two people who had imprisoned them. I was a little uncomfortable with that, but I kind of thought, “Yeah, well okay. I mean I guess they’re pretty mad they had been wrongfully imprisoned, and who am I to say I wouldn’t feel the same way if I were them?”

So the puppets killed these people and then we all went back to their ancestral, underground homeland. They had these magical tunnels that connected to the ventilation systems of every building in the world. And they were so happy to be home! And there were suddenly, like, hundreds of them. Way more than I remembered releasing.

Now, it turns out these were some bad puppets. I mean these things made Puppet Master look like Sesame Street (except for Leech Lady because UUUUGH *nothing* could be worse than Leech Lady). Specifically I remember this one came down the aisle pushing this old fashioned pram that was like spraying blood out the sides like a sprinkler and all the puppets were just going nuts like this was the best, awesomest thing ever.

Right about then I realized that maybe I done goofed by letting these things out.

So there was this one puppet that looked like a sailor or something and I was asking her where all these other puppets came from and she was like “Oh yeah, we can like turn into regular people so we can pass and like get closer to our victims.” It turned out that each puppet had like a really specific type of person that they liked to kill (for her it was sailors). Then I realized this puppet on the other side of me that was all black with like a quilted, plain-white face (facial features, like a nose, but no like eyes or anything) was actually my co-worker Amy. And I was like, “Oh man, I never even knew you were a murder puppet! You’re so good at pretending! So who do you like to kill?” and she was like, “Feminists” and I was like, “Yeah, I guess that makes sense.”

So then I was like, “You know what? These puppets really were my friends so, in for a penny, in for a pound: I’m just going to turn myself into a murder puppet too.” I had a vague notion that if I just ate what they were eating I could turn into a puppet, so I thought maybe I could get some of that blood that was spraying out of the pram. But then someone handed me a little paper plate with like some meat on it and they said it was a child. And I was like, “Man, I really don’t want to eat any children, but it looks like chicken and it’s in a nice vindaloo sauce, so really this is probably my best bet.” But I couldn’t quite bring myself to eat it, so I was just like carrying around the plate because I kept thinking I would get to it in a minute.

So this party was getting wilder and wilder and all the puppets were like disbursing into the ventilation systems to go out and spread murder into the world, and the puppets didn’t seem to mind that I was there, exactly, but some of them were getting a little TOO friendly, and that’s when it finally occurred to me that:

  1. All of the puppets that I knew were no longer in sight,
  2. It’s possible that they were never really my friends in the first place, but it was all a ploy to get me to let them out, and
  3. There very well could be a puppet who had a really specific type of person they wanted to kill, namely, me

Right about then the lights went out and I was sitting in the dark thinking about how this whole thing had really gotten away from me, and I hadn’t eaten any kids yet, so I wasn’t a puppet myself, and I probably doomed the world, and also there might very well be puppets crawling towards me in the dark right that very second…

And then I woke up.

And then the next day Amy knocked me out of the fantasy football playoffs in my work league SO SHE’S OBVIOUSLY A MONSTER AFTER ALL.

The end.

Hamilton Redux

I know people have been waiting to hear what I thought of Hamilton, but it is difficult to get time to write on the best of days.

I know that people think I am obsessed with Hamilton, but bumping up against that fandom as I do, I can assure that I am on the low end of things. Still, I cannot deny that I know all of the words to every song, gobble up Hamilton-related trivia, and got 10 out of 10 on a quiz where you have to identify the song and character by only hearing a single “yo”.

I fought for tickets the day they went on sale, and ended up with matinee tickets on a random Wednesday. Sara and I planed a nice lunch at Topolobampo before going to the show. Topolobampo was actually AMAZING, but I know that’s not what you’re here to hear about.

My day started like:

Followed by a long chorus of “La-la-la-Topolobampo!” in the shower.

We took the train downtown, ate an amazing 3 course lunch, and then finally it was time:

The cast was overall very good. Miguel Cervantes was fantastic as Hamilton. José Ramos knocked it out of the park as Laurens, and all of the women were great (including Aubin Wise, who was stepping in as Eliza). I thought Chris De’Sean Lee did a good job too, as Lafayette/Jefferson, but I have to admit the two people I really wished I could see were obviously Daveed Diggs and Leslie Odom Jr.

Our tickets weren’t the best (if that’s the price I have to pay to see it, then so be it). We were at the back of the dress circle, with the mezzanine over our heads. We could see the stage just fine, but whenever anyone was up on the second level, we could only see them from the ankle down. Still, that wasn’t *too* bad…the giant sitting in front of Sara and the lady with big hair in front of me were more of a problem. We actually had the 30 most amazing seconds of our life when they realized they were in the wrong seats and tried to switch with the two most petite people in the world, but then they all agreed to stay where they were and our hopes were dashed.

Seriously universe? Why?

There is clearly an entire level of nuance that you get seeing everything rather than just listening. For example, Hamilton hiding his letters from Angelica from his wife Eliza gives the whole thing a more illicit tone, or all the people delivering Hamilton’s copious letters during “Your Obedient Servant”, or just seeing Burr and Jefferson’s faces (and/or celebratory dancing) when they realize Hamilton is endorsing Jefferson. So many little nuances, like Madison wiping away a tear after Philip dies. I don’t know if I would have caught everything if I wasn’t so in tune with what was going to happen.

In fact, the show is also a lot funnier when you see it in person! It’s amazing how much humor an actor can pack into a sarcastic raise of an eyebrow (we saw Jin Ha as King George, and he was hilarious!) Thomas Jefferson is MUCH more insufferable when you see him dabbing, or generally enjoying someone’s downfall.

The entire stage is like two levels of turntable, and there were some really awesome visuals, like everything swirling around a stationary Hamilton singing “Hurricane”. I love how the set changes are choreographed into the dancing. One of my favorite visuals was when time stops after Burr fires his gun and one of the white-clad ensemble members used a fist to represent the frozen bullet.

I will admit that I was a little surprised at how old, and how white the audience was. I kind of figured it would mostly be people like me, who loved Hamilton, had fought for a ticket, and would just go whenever they had a chance. Instead it was the usual theater crowd; people who could afford to pay $ and take a day off of work. As a result I was pretty surprised at how much of the audience seemed to not really be familiar with the soundtrack or the story. In some ways it was fun to see them discover it, but I will admit I felt a little condescending towards the lady next to me who audibly gasped when Philip died.

It’s funny, though: if I had only experienced Hamilton by seeing it, I would probably have a whole different set of favorite songs. The soundtrack does not adequately capture the emotion of the actors during “Yorktown / The World Turned Upside Down”, nor does it capture the sheer whimsy and delight of “The Reynolds Pamphlet”.

I know, I know, you want to know if I cried. Oh man did I cry. I have a secret to confess: I pretty much always cry even when I’m just listening, as long as I’m paying sufficient attention. But I would like to say for the record that I DID ALSO HAVE SOMETHING IN MY EYE during that song, no matter what Sara thinks. I mean, it probably got there from all the tears I was wiping away, but still.

I would love to see it again, but it would be hard to justify the money. I do recommend that everybody see it sooner or later (eventually tickets will be cheaper, right?) And if you do, I fully expect you to take me with you!

Until then, we always have the performance from the Tonys: