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Were the holidays merry and bright in the Tristate?

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Tunnel Vision
Most people this time of year seem fixated on their "to do" lists. It switches from get the tree up to get it down, buy the perfect gift to return that perfect gift and, finally, make the resolution to break the resolution. It's our routine, and aren't we all creatures of habit? But do we stand in our own way sometimes?

A pleasant surprise dropped in my lap a week before the big day when we collapsed in a heap of exhaustion from all the preparations. My friend Betty approached me enthusiastically in the utility room of Anne's home by saying, "What are you doing on Christmas Day?" Well, I was planning on collapsing in a heap after all the presents had been opened, the Eggs Benedict prepared and eaten and the kiss on the cheeks delivered to my girls departing for their father's house. In fact, I was looking forward to it.

"Wait right here," Betty said and ran out of the room to return a minute later with an envelope she pressed into my hand. "I am so glad you can use these.


Go where? I was flattered that I was the last person on earth she had thought of to go anywhere — or I think I should be. Well, not really, but Betty often doesn't think before she speaks. It's OK. We all love her in spite of the fact that she makes plans to break plans and says the most incredible things. Case in point would be when she said she was having a cocktail party in November and proceeded to have us all mark our calendars for a particular Saturday. Problem is an invitation never materialized in the mail. She told Tina at Kroger that she ended up buying two Armani dresses instead.

Anyway, here I was thanking Betty for the mystery envelope during the solemn occasion of the death of Anne's father. We were all doing casserole patrol and the post-funeral open house for our mutual friend. Thank goodness, Betty was doing this discreetly in the utility room. She explained that the tickets I was holding were for Contact at the Aronoff Center for Dec. 25. Who knew they'd be performing on Christmas Day? No wonder no one could go? Suddenly divorced friends are great choices.

Broadway plays are something I enjoy selectively, and Contact was on my list of shows worth seeing, so I adjusted my "collapse day" to Jan. 1 and thought of who would do this with me. Jewish Guy would be available. Divorced Dad would be free. Hell, Divorced Mom might be, too, but Sally went to a spa this year as she was tired of the whole split holiday scene divorce creates. Gee, I think she's right. Spa is on my list next year.

I settled on Divorced Dad, who sounded a little like a Ken doll, but what the hell? Betty didn't want her subscription tickets to go to waste. Macy agreed as he was looking for any excuse to get away from his crazy parents. After checking with The Palace at The Cincinnatian for a reservation and learning they were closed Christmas Day, I went to the Omni Netherlands Hilton only to be told that it was buffet on the 25th. I hate bellying up to the buffet, which prevents me from cruising most seas and eating out on Christmas, it appears. Macy offered to take over, which was music to my ears. After enjoying a delicious dinner of crab cocktail and pork loin, we headed to the Aronoff to see Contact.

Halfway there we realized, while we had the tickets, neither one of us had any money or credit cards with us. This fact dictated parking on the street and partaking of the water fountain only. We laughed at our own stupidity and drooled at intermission over the patrons eating gourmet chocolates, sipping cappuccinos and gulping sodas. The funny fact is we seldom would crave any of those things, but knowing we couldn't have them made them more attractive in the same way window shopping at Tiffany's isn't the same as opening a robin-egg blue box tied with a white ribbon.

The theater was probably half full, but all eyes were riveted on the woman in the yellow dress in the second half. She had stage presence that was enviable, mesmerizing the advertising executive who was in the lead role. As the story unfolds, you realize that he's one fucked-up individual who's having trouble getting out of his own way. He idealizes the sultry woman in the dance hall while he fails to recognize the beauty of the downstairs neighbor at the mailboxes, in the elevator and on the phone as she repeatedly asks him to get a rug to diffuse the noise of his late-night antics.

How often have I been guilty of the same? The unknown or the unattainable is somehow more intriguing than the real person I pass on the walk of my life. Perhaps the time has come to take off the blinders and see what's sitting next to me.

— Wendy Robinson

Mr. Pink
This past Sunday was the unofficial end of the holiday season for me. I was pretty much set to just lay on the couch and watch the wildcard football playoff games when my friend Jen called a little after 1 p.m. and asked me to go to brunch. It turned out that she had asked her boyfriend first, but he had to go to a football party.

Jen and I have known each other for nearly six years now. She's been through four boyfriends since we first met, and I have no idea how many misadventures I've had. But we've always remained just friends, even when we've both been single at the same time.

By the time we were both ready and she picked me up at my house, it was nearly 3 p.m., so we decided to just go to Cody's for lunch instead. During the drive there I remembered why I hadn't been to Cody's for a while. I had a long discussion with a waitress the last time I was at Pomodori Pizzeria about the worst service we had had, and we both agreed it was at Cody's. Our Sunday brunch was no different.

We took a table near the front of the building near the front wall. There was a mini-refrigerator door with an ink print of Vanilla Ice on it hanging on the wall that was for sale for $300. I told Jen I wouldn't hang up a picture of Vanilla Ice in my house for free, much less pay money for it. She agreed, and we both tried hard not to look at it for the rest of our time there.

There were only three other parties in Cody's at the time, and the largest group was a table of three people. Still, it still took the waitress five minutes to come out, give us our menus and take our drink orders. It was another couple of minutes before she brought out our coffees. It was another five minutes or more before she came back and took our food orders. Thank goodness we weren't in any particular hurry.

I know this is going to sound a little like Mr. Pink, but when I order coffee I expect to have the waitress refill my coffee at least once. At Cody's, I normally have to get up, stand next to the coffee pot and look as pathetic as possible before they give me more coffee. Come on, it's not like we live in Europe.

The quality of the food at Cody's is what keeps me coming back. I ordered a Viva Zapata Turkey Burger, and Jen ordered a fancy grilled cheese sandwich. I'm normally a slow eater, but I was finished with my sandwich in almost no time.

After lunch we headed over to Urban Outfitters for some good old-fashioned window-shopping. Neither one of us ever buys much when we go there. The clothes are really fashionable, but they look so cheaply made that I'm afraid they'll fall apart after one wash.

All in all, it was a perfect transition out of the horrible holiday season I had and into another long five-day work week.

— R.L. Newman

Sowing New Year Oats
Somehow I've always been one to buck the system — or at least resist following the crowd — so my usual New Year's celebration is a tad unique. I like to be in the shower at midnight washing off the old year and, well, cleansing for the new. If someone happens to be washing my back and releasing the tension from my shoulders, all the better. But definitely I prefer hot water to mobs of people blowing party horns at midnight.

This New Year's Eve I managed to fulfill a commitment to a friend by making an appearance at his "house party" dressed in full pajama party regalia only to realize that not everyone got the memo about the PJ party theme — or they simply preferred not to come to the party in the nude. Well, I took the ball and ran with it by wearing my flannels with a robe, my hair pulled back and a facial mask smeared all over in a nice blue-green tint. I figured maybe my skin would start the year off looking 19. Hope does spring eternal.

I was home in the shower by 11 and ever so happy to be alone, as no one really had soap-on-a-rope worth inviting over. The proverbial ball drop occurred and yet I wondered, "Is this all there is?" Luckily, with New Year's falling midweek, I had only a couple of days until I could redeem my Wendy self and sow some oats.

Friday I opted to go see Chicago at Showcase Cinemas in Springdale, which is where I realized that a whole lot of people didn't care about the Fiesta Bowl. The movie was toe-tapping entertainment that even surprised me with its Versace-meets-Bob Mackie costuming. The dance numbers are plentiful. Trust me, you have never seen so many downright skinny and buff women dressed scantily in your life. Someone feed these girls fast or they might drift away!

My favorite scene is when they go into the "He Had It Coming" number and they look like S&M aficionados who enjoy giving it to him. I also loved it when the lead character says she started fooling around, then screwing around. She explains that screwing around is without dinner. I know a few guys who would love more women to screw around!

Post-movie I did watch Ohio State squeak out the national championship in a game that was better than any Super Bowl I've ever witnessed. Staying up late with the Buckeyes still didn't qualify as getting wild in 2003, so Saturday I vowed to try salsa dancing with a date after lunch and a matinee with my good friend Ally. We had tons of catching up to do but figured we'd better catch Jack Nicholson's latest, About Schmidt. Well, it might be getting good reviews, but this kind of dose of reality I can live without!

I needed a little life blown back into me after Schmidt took it out. My salsa date was hoping I'd do the same for him. Hey, here's to blowing more than just resolutions!

Bar Louie seemed the place to fire up for salsa, which doesn't get going until later anyway. I'm already a fan of Nick & Tony's, which the same Chicago company owns, so I expected to like Bar Louie. The trouble is finding it at Newport on the Levee, which is the same problem Claddagh's has there. Bar Louie is directly above Claddagh's, if that helps, and believe me the cute roguish bartender makes the hunt worthwhile. The crowd there was hanging at the bar, checking out the crowd and nibbling on bar grub.

We ventured down to Tropicana for comparison sake and found the crowd there older and slightly better dressed, if you consider leather and lycra to be improved attire. As we were finishing our cocktails, two guys strode in who had everyone buzzing. The full-length mink on the 6-foot-5-inch Elvis lookalike and the leather trench on his Italian-looking buddy were noteworthy even in a Jeff Ruby establishment. We shrugged our shoulders and headed downtown.

By this time it was 10:30 and Salsa Caliente was in full swing at Havana Martini Bar on Sixth Street. The crowd was dense and diverse. Salsa Caliente was starting its first-Saturday-of-the-month gig, which I find is a much better night for dancing than the Sunday night of prior seasons. This band was amazing, with 11 men rocking in black on the stage. The competition for a spot on the dance floor was keen and the level of skill varied, but everyone was having a great time. Definitely made me long for the hot, humid Mexican nights of past trips south of the border, but tonight my date was every bit the partner I crave on the dance floor. We seemed to click with the staccato Brazilian music best, or maybe it was the Argentina flair, but we made it up as we go.

He surprised me when he grabbed my arm and told me we were headed to Lava, the late-night spot on Main Street. Surely it wasn't that late already, was it? We took the brisk jaunt over a couple of blocks and found ourselves doused in red light. The crowd was decidedly young here, but again the dance floor was hopping — except the beat was all bass and treble. We made the adjustment and burned another sweat in a matter of minutes.

This surely must be great aerobic exercise, I told my date, and he said, "Yeah, but I guarantee when I get you home you're going to get your heart rate up and keep it up better than this."

Promise? Gee, I think I've stayed out late enough now to call it a new day in a new year.

— Wendy Robinson

You read Whirlygig every week, now we want to hear your stories. Send them to [email protected].

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