unPHILtered – Phil Ponce's Blog

And the winner is…

Yesterday I asked readers to see if they could find the hidden image in our cat’s fur.  And yes, we have a winner!   Blue Sunflower “saw a 5 and possibly a 50” on Macy’s coat.  Congratulations, Blue Sunflower, whoever you are, on your keen eye.  Although I have to admit that I can kind of make out a girl with pigtails as julieako suggests.

Had we noticed this “50” emblazoned on her coat when we first got her from PAWS, “Macy” (a family name on my wife’s side) might not have been our name of choice.  In homage to the non-controversial rapper, 50 Cent, we probably would have named her “Fitty” (something we occasionally call her anyway).  Not that it matters.  The only thing Macy really responds to is the rattling noise made by the box of dry cat food as a serving is poured into her dish.

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In A New Light

Normal View

If you’re like me, it’s easy to stop really “seeing” someone or something that you think you know really well.  You’ve downloaded an image and unless there’s a radical and immediate change, that image persists.  It may be laziness triggered by familiarity.  But I had the experience fairly recently of seeing something completely new in something I thought I already knew intimately.

New View

We’ve had our cat, Macy, for several years; she’s affectionate and well-behaved.  I’ve always thought her markings were random and attractive.  But one day not too long ago, I was looking at her from a particular angle and a distinct image jumped out at me.  It was startling and funny.  See if the image jumps out for you too. If so, post your answer in the comments below!  (For those of you who see nothing, the answer tomorrow.)

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Time Passes

Even before the recent heat wave, I had stopped wearing my watch every single day.  It finally dawned on me that wearing it was largely redundant since my cell phone always has the time on its face.  Not wearing a watch just seemed like one more way I could simplify my daily routine.  And I was put off by the thought of strapping it onto my wrist on recent days when the heat index was above 100.

Apparently more people may be feeling the same way.

There was a recent report that Swiss watchmakers are worried that younger generations rely so much on cell phones to get the time, that luxury watches may fade into fashion history (like spats , I guess, which, incidentally, the conductor at a recent Ravinia concert wore, making him look like a gesticulating penguin).

So the Swiss are ramping up their marketing efforts to get Americans to buy luxury watches as status symbols, a status they apparently have in Europe.  That may be a hard sell.  If the political parties don’t get their act together on the debt ceiling soon, our 401(k)s and mortgage rates will take a hit and people will clamp down on personal spending even more.  A luxury watch resurgence may have to wait.

I will still wear a watch occasionally, I suppose, but until Tom Skilling tells me the coast is clear, my left wrist will go blessedly unadorned.

P.S. No offense to the Swiss, of course.  The watch I normally wear is a $125 Swiss Army watch — an idea I copied from my ex-boss, Jim Lehrer — who does not wear spats.

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Cabin Fever

I normally think of “cabin fever” as a winter malaise.  I remember once in the dead of winter when my wife and I were so tired of being cooped up that we walked about eight blocks to Graceland cemetery for a self-guided tour.  It was fascinating, but really cold and bleak.  (The highlight was finding a five-dollar bill–which we promptly lost, too!)

The past few days as this hot air “dome” has settled over the Midwest (it reminds of the dome the government put over Springfield in The Simpsons movie) the same kind of disquiet has settled in for me.  So many of us have become virtual prisoners to air-conditioning.  We’ve struck a Faustian bargain: we stay cool in exchange for a lack of freedom.

Another disquieting realization?  There was an article in the paper this morning about how the amount of water in the body declines with aging, from about 80 percent in young adulthood to about 55 to 60 percent for people in their 80s.  That’s why it’s so important for older people to drink water when it’s hot–because as you age, your body doesn’t hold as much water as it used to. Bottom line:  we’re prisoners of the heat who are in the process of drying up.  Arrgh, what a wretched realization!

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A Rubber Chicken in Every Pot

Loved, loved, loved the recent article in the Chicago Sun-Times about the town of Cicero buying 250 rubber chickens. According to the report, the town bought them to “hand out to children who attended an event the town cosponsored to salute the achievements of local television personality Son of Svengoolie, whose use of rubber chickens in his act is well known.”

Source; http://www.flickr.com/photos/zoomar/139506760/ (Photo credit: zoomar)


The thought of hundreds of children walking around with rubber chickens is a hoot.  I just love a town with a sense of humor.  But there other novelty items the town might consider purchasing in the future:

  • Joy buzzers for town officials to use when shaking hands with visiting dignitaries
  • Magic 8 Balls to help the town board make decisions
  • Chinese finger traps to help school kids walk in twos
  • Snake nut cans to add life to boring public hearings
  • Whoopee cushions for interrogation chairs at the police department (nothing breaks the tension and helps establish rapport like a good laugh!)

I invite municipalities to call me for other creative ideas on how to strategically use novelty products at taxpayer expense.  I would do it pro bono, of course, so it would be money well spent.


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A Note About Cursive

Not for Analysis

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My Oddest Night at the Movies, Part 2

Imagine going to see “The Hangover” and having the theater manager tell the audience beforehand that the plot may seem confusing but not to worry because a photo montage at the end will explain everything.  Or going to see “Bambi” and being told that something terrible happens to Bambi’s mother but everything turns out fine because Bambi becomes king of the forest.  Or being told before “Black Swan”  that the lead character is really hallucinating and… well, you get the point.

Something akin to that happened to me Friday night when I saw “The Tree of Life” at an out of town movie theater.  First, our small group was warned by the ticket seller that the movie was abstract, long and an art movie (this, at an art movie theater.)  Then, just before the movie started, the manager walked in and addressed the movie-goers reiterating that the movie was abstract and an art movie.  But then he went on to tell us a  key detail about the movie as a form of reassurance!  (Spoiler alert:  I will give you that detail below, should you choose to read it.)

My reaction:  say what???!!!  Did you just tell us something essential about the film that the movie-maker wanted us to experience and put it into context for ourselves???  I was flabbergasted and too stunned to say what I was thinking:  we aren’t children, we can figure things out on our own, let us encounter the movie with no preconceptions.

I was irritated, but the movie was so strong, engaging and moving that the irritation dissipated.  After the movie, I looked for the manager to give him some feedback but couldn’t find him.

Clearly, there must have been some complaints from movie-goers that the staff was trying to anticipate.  The movie isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.  And Brad Pitt fans will be disappointed if they’re looking for a sequel to “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.”  But there’s got to be a better way to defuse complaints than by generating a new batch.


“The first half hour of this movie is very abstract.  It’s got a lot of confusing images.  But don’t worry, the rest of the movie is about a family and more or less what you’d expect.”


Reality:  the first half hour of the movie was anything but abstract.  It was direct, literal and gave necessary context to what followed.  Secondly, I had no expectations of what the rest of the movie would be like, but the manager’s comment made me think I should have had.  In other words, his comments played with my head and temporarily clouded full engagement with the movie.  But fortunately, art prevails and that which is strong can withstand thoughtless comments, foolish criticism and even too much praise.

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My Oddest Night at the Movies, Part 1

I really wanted to see the movie “Tree of Life.”  I’d read some reviews, was intrigued and my interest was further piqued by a rave review by my Chicago Tonight colleague, Paris Schutz.

So when I found myself out of town last weekend (in a Midwestern city which will go unnamed, but rhymes with “Minneapolis”) with a free Friday night, I decided to see it.  I convinced my wife and her parents to see it, too.

The movie was showing at the local “art” cinema–a pleasant multi-plex in a high-end shopping mall.  We walked up to the ticket seller and told her what movie we wanted to see.  She said something that struck me as very odd:  “You know this is an art movie, don’t you?  It’s very abstract and it lasts about two hours.”  Those were the words that came out of her mouth, but her tone was asking, “Do you know what the H you’re getting yourself into?”

I’d never been challenged by a movie ticket seller about my movie choice and didn’t know quite how to respond so I just mumbled something.  But it definitely made me feel like a third-grader.  Little did I know that class was just beginning.  Tomorrow, how the lesson continued once we got inside the theater!

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Annuals, Be Gone!

As an obsessive gardener, I have come to the conclusion that annuals are a waste of time and have not planted a single one this year.  They are simply too much work for short-term pleasure.  My epiphany came last summer when I planted a huge bed of sunflowers from seed.  I babied them and they looked great for about a week before the squirrels and rats got to them.  What a disaster.

That was it.  Now I only plant perennials:  Siberian iris, day lillies, hosta, sedum, grasses, etc.  Yes, you eventually have to divide them and they may not give you a full range of colors, but so what?  At least you know you’re getting several years bang for your buck.

So impatiens, marigolds and others of their ilk are no longer welcome in my yard.  I have planted them in the past only to see them wither and die come fall.  They are officially banished.  (Well, there are some in large pots that my wife has appropriated, but that’s another story.)

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A Mayo Kind of House

Last night, Kris Kridel outed me on Chicago Tonight.  It came at the end of our weekly business segment right after she’d discussed a marketing “war” between real mayonnaise and Miracle Whip.  I asked her what camp she was in and she said she was a Miracle Whip person.  Then she asked for my preference and I told her the truth:  my wife doesn’t allow Miracle Whip in the house.  She insists on real mayonnaise.

And she doesn’t allow margarine or Cool Whip.  A co-worker thought I was kidding.  Nope, my wife is an authentic-ingredients kind of person.  Her philosophy is the same as Julia Child’s:  use real ingredients (even if they’re higher in fat and calories) and you’ll actually wind up eating much less because your taste buds will be satisfied.  My wife’s been slim all her life, so that approach works for her.

Other banned items:  pre-baked pie crusts, grocery store cookies and any kind of squirt cheese, to name a few.  But I’m glad for the higher standards.  Left to my own devices, I would be happily lost in a world of Ho-Hos, store-bought pies and TV dinners, oblivious to the wonders of a fresh sandwich, made with real mayonnaise, crisp lettuce and a juicy slice of tomato.

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