Essay: Pitbull in a turtleneck

It’s ten past nine in the morning and my ass boasts the gridiron stripes of a beach chair.

I’m trying to read my book—a jaunty little beach read about AIDS in the 1980s—but I keep getting distracted.

I’m getting distracted by the beautiful Dominican women who are getting distracted by the Speedo-clad European men who are getting distracted by the unmistakable sounds of Pitbull drifting ashore from the island about a mile out.

Maybe I’m misremembering, but isn’t there a G-20 rule that Pitbull is only allowed to be played strictly between the hours of 11pm and 4am? You know, the timeframe when you can shamelessly acknowledge that you somehow know every word to every Pitbull lyric. Of which there are three.

I guess that rule doesn’t stand in the Dominican Republic, which is where I’m staying for the week with my husband and mother-in-law. It’s day three of our much-needed vacation, and we’ve each taken the morning to do our own thing. This was an unspoken arrangement necessitated by the former evening’s discontent slash disembowelment courtesy a dinner at the resort’s French restaurant. There should be a G-20 rule that Caribbean island hotel chefs don’t attempt French cuisine. Yes, the food here is total shit. I’m hungry and have been sustaining the past two days mostly on room service pineapple slices and the rogue mints strewn about the resort’s makeshift lounge areas. Their clear candy dishes double as ashtrays in the evening. Everything here is damp.

No matter. I still give this Caribbean island resort 10 out of 10 stars. Because it is, after all, a Caribbean island resort. But to be honest, trying to decide what to do with myself this lazy, self-directed morning has been a bit of a task for me. Three reasons:

  • Like a forlorn beached whale, I feel uncomfortable and exposed, flown in here from the gaping wounds of the Midwest cornfields. This means I am a white lady that’s as white as the putty-colored sand I’m now trying to happily dig my toes into, and I have to apply SPF-100+ sunscreen every hour to avoid sun poisoning.
  • Having fun, enjoying myself, playing, are not things that come easily to the bumper crop of workaholics from which fate has planted me like a rotten apple tree. In some twisted way of coping with the undercurrent of guilt I’m experiencing for enjoying myself on this vacation, I feel a bit relieved that the faux-French restaurant’s attempt at a lobster thermidor the night before tasted… like the putty-colored sand I’m now trying to happily dig my toes into.
  • As stated, the book I brought to read on my super-duper-fun-time-vacation is making me fall in love with characters who will ultimately die terribly, tragically from AIDS.

Equally disheartening is my sudden awareness that the last time I was supposed to be lounging sublimely on a foreign beach, for my honeymoon, the book I had brought along to read was about a man with an addictive overeating habit searching for his lost, troubled son with an addictive heroin habit. It’s as if my subconscious tries to armor me with subtle reminders that where there is pleasure found, there is almost always potential-pain afoot. My subconscious is like an annoying shoulder-angel dressed completely inappropriately for this vacation in a turtleneck. I assume my shoulder-devil looks like Pitbull.


This spiraling train of thought is interrupted by a neon orange flying saucer careening toward my head. It plops a foot away from me, but not before I can pretend to give a socially-acceptable level of effort to stop its descent. Like a Dominican Republic Daria.

“Ay mate,” says the strapping hunk of meat strapped in Speedo now inches from my face. He bends down to retrieve his frisbee. “Beautiful day, no?!”

“Yes,” I say.

“I’m having such a wonderful time,” I lie.

American to Aussie (in a land we’re pretending is ours when it’s convenient) we nod good day. I watch him walk away, thankful for the opaque sunglasses that let me surreptitiously stare at his Speedo bum while I appear, to anyone watching us, to read.

How do I become someone like that? A person who has a healthy enough respect for pleasure and the spiritual fortitude to enjoy it that I remember to pack a toy while I dally in the breeze that threatens to carry that same toy to <<<shudder>>> the beach next door where children are allowed. Instead, all I find remarkable right now is the way the palm tree waving above my head looked like a bodacious, billowing burlesque feather from my balcony an hour ago. But now, upon closer inspection, looks and sounds like sun-beaten, hairspray-crusted, dusty, rattling window blinds.

I apply sunscreen for the fourth time. I mostly associate palm leaves with Catholic Sunday school and Lent. I feel like, when I trace my lifelife, that there are always people, scared adults mostly, along the road reminding me like soothsayers that there was some man somewhere, sometime who died for me to live this way—so modern and unencumbered. Jesus. Soldiers. AIDS victims. Starving monks. iPhone makers. Pineapple pickers. Mermen.

Meanwhile, a seagull suicide bombs into the ocean.

Pitbull croons undisturbed.


Four days later, my husband and I are back in Chicago. We’ve deposited my mother-in-law at her car to drive herself back to Indiana. She’s glowing like golden corn silk with her new tan. I’m glowing like gooey glue paste with no sunburn. This is considered a win by all involved.

And despite notions I’ve give you to the contrary, I’ve decided I had a ton of fun on my vacation actually! After all, on our last day the islanders let us sail a catamaran on the ocean unattended. No training or anything. Just a life jacket and a wave. They told us where to sit as we hoisted our privileged American asses on the totally-unmotorized plastic ship and pushed us off with giant, totally-unsarcastic grins.

COFFEE IS HOT warning label-era child that I am, I’m used to having to sign a waiver of liability to do anything except cut my own toenails. Our next of kin could have sued the resort had we gotten eaten by sharks at sea, corpses on a catamaran. But instead they just let us figure it out ourselves. It was fun… refreshing, even if the food wasn’t.

It’s snowing in Chicago, but we’re both still on this oh-catamaran-my-catamaran high. So much so that we put off unpacking our bags and checking our emails and decide to play a game instead. And not just any game. We’re going to play the Ten to Ten, a game devised by my husband, Justin. Justin is our two-person family’s self-appointed Minster of Fun, because clearly I’m no good at things like having a good time, unless you count when I am drunk, but I can’t do that anymore because I did drunk as dangerously and as extremely as I do sadness.

We started playing the Ten to Ten this summer. Here’s how it works.

From a miniature velvet drawstring bag, one of us draws a dice. There are three sets of dice in this pouch, and each set is a different color of a CTA line near our apartment. Depending on which color we draw—red, brown, or blue—we will take a CTA train from that colored line to a destination. Our destination is determined by the number we roll next using the drawn dice. Once we have our color and our number, we refer to a map. On this map, we have numbered stops on the red, brown, and blue lines that we don’t visit that often but would like to see more of.

The rules of the game are that we have to now travel to that destination on the CTA and spend 12 hours exploring around the area—from ten am to ten pm.

This game is the most fun thing I’ve done since I quit drinking. I think that’s why Justin created it. He knew that, without unchecked alcoholism to help quiet my brain’s chaotic queries of crucifixes and syphilis, civilians droned and babies caged, I didn’t know how to have fun in a healthy way. He knew that, in fact, I probably never knew how to have fun in a healthy way. Fun to me used to look like a blackout.

But today I am almost two and a half years dry. And today, destiny has handed us a good mood and selected us a Brown dice and rolled for us a 6. Off we cruise by bus, then traincar to the Wellington stop.

First, we stop by a place that calls itself a bread café and eat dinner over a tiny table for two. I take a picture of the lace curtains that have happy chickens sew onto them. We stop by a free art gallery we stumble across as we traverse the neighborhood’s sidewalks. We get ice cream. The beauty of the Ten to Ten is that if forces us (me) to get out of our heads (my head). Without having a specific destination or two to hit up before heading back home, we find things we never would have otherwise.

For example, by 8 p.m. this evening we’ve ventured South enough to be on DePaul’s campus. Passing a gymnasium, we see volleyball players warming up through the crack of the heavy gym door. A game is starting. Do we wanna watch? Why not. They have volleyballs to kill and we have to hours to do the same. We fork over five dollars and climb the staticky bleachers to a seat.

As we cheer for the Lady Blue Demons, of which for the next hour we are diehard fans, we remark that we never would have done this together had it not been for the Ten to Ten. We finish out our evening strolling the campus, poking fun at the college’s marketing slogans by night that I very well could have written in my job by day. When we finally get back home, I smile behind Justin’s back as he unlocks our apartment door. It’s a real smile, as if I’m pushing clueless foreigners out to adventure and sunset on a catamaran. In this moment I feel so genuinely happy and I’m thankful for this person. A person who manages to always show me happiness despite his own lifeline landlocked by distress and anxiety, fear and sleep apnea.

He is a game maker and a game changer.

My very own Mr. Worldwide with a conscience.

My Pitbull in a turtleneck.

And a Speedo if I ask nicely.

To do: Timber Lanes bowling in Chicago

Old school wooden lanes and you track the scores yourself. Like a real man!


Timber Lanes Bowling Alley

1851 W. Irving Park Rd.

Chicago, IL 60613

There are several things about Timber Lanes in North Center that you can’t beat. They include:

  1. The price: $2.50 per game. Bring cash for games, shoes, and/or drinks/snacks at the bar.
  2. The digital jukebox, where frequently played favorites include 38 Special and Ah-Ha.
  3. The vibe. The ghost of The Dude is near.
  4. Me on Game 2. Bowled a 127, baybay! Must’ve been Steely Dan on the juke.

Home of Hamm’s Hamm’s Hamm’s Bowling Team.

Hell Mary.

Beat that. (Not pictured: My many gutter ball zeroes during the first game.)

#The10to10: Brown 9 to Sedgwick

Justin and I played our second round of #The10to10 last week! He drew brown, rolled 9, which led us to the brown line Sedgwick stop.

Here’s what we found.


  • Take a ribbing from your partner that you brought a book to read on the bus ride to the L
  • Fuel up at Nookies, a cute, spacious breakfast spot unafraid of serving chili on eggs
  • Head eastward and stumble upon Green City Market
  • Keep walking until you hit the free Lincoln Park Zoo, on your way, snap a pic with Hans Christian Andersen, writer of childhood dreams/ nightmares
  • Ride the 3D underwater simulator and the carousel (yes, even in a skirt!) at the Lincoln Park Zoo 
  • Take in the view at the Lincoln Park nature boardwalk
  • Stop by the Chicago History Museum and feed your brain with famous stories about Chicago, social movements, and so much more
  • Take two Divvy bikes (we use this app to find our bikes!) via side streets to Portillo’s and feed your tummy with famous cased meats
  • Take the bus up to Lincoln Park for aggression release by way of Bad Axe Throwing
  • Take a million photos of you and the axe that you landed in the bullseye because it’s pretty much guaranteed you will not even hit the board after you do that no matter how many times you try (No? Just me?)
  • Get a glazed donut at Stan’s, because battle axe throwing is tiring
  • Watch a movie at Century theater, located in the same building as axe throwing (This has proven to be our go-to ending for #The10to10 days. Perhaps we were a bit ambitious trying to stay out and about for 12 hours straight. We’re always beat the next day. So, spending the last two hours in a dark air conditioned theater has proven an excellent decision. This time we watched “Leave No Trace.” I cried a lot and am recommending it to everyone now, including you.)

P.S. Here’s a PDF of a customizable #The10to10 map so you can create your own version! I guess this game could work for bus lines or highway exits, too! Whatever you’re down to explore.

P.P.S. If you want to play with lo-class dice like ours, just shoot me a message! We can send you a pair in your fave color: red, brown, purple, blue, or green.

#The10to10: Red 8 to Grand

For our first edition of #The10to10,  I picked a red die and rolled an 8, so to Grand we went.

I was a little bummed at first when we rolled Grand because we’ve already been down in the heart of Chicago. A lot. I was kinda hoping our first fate-driven adventure would launch us into parts unknown. But Grand turned out to be the best starter pack! We still found lots of great stuff we’d never seen before, and since it’s a hot stop for tourists, we got a crash course in Chicago’s history and greatest hits.

Here’s what we found.


  • Fuel up with a prime beef sandwich and Italian sodas at Eataly marketplace
  • Visit City Gallery in the historic water tower (There’s also the Loyola University Museum of Art nearby. It’s free to visit, as is the City Gallery in the bottom of the iconic water tower.)
  • Visit 360 Chicago, the observation deck in John Hancock Tower (Chicago residents get in half price! Woohoo, tax dollars!)
  • Do the 360 Chicago Tilt (If you dare… I have already blacked out most of this terrifying experience of being tilted out 94 floors above Chicago)
  • Walk Lake Shore Drive
  • Visit Oak Street Beach and hang out on the dock
  • Refuel at Doc B’s Fresh Kitchen
  • Window shop at the Gucci flagship store
  • Sit in a recliner (Hello, air conditioning) and see a movie at AMC theater (We saw Superfly with our Movie Pass!)
  • Get ice cream at Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop by the water tower
  • Kick it at the water tower fountain
  • Pick up tacos to eat at home while you rest your feet and write to your reading-age niece and nephew on the postcards you picked up at Hancock’s gift shop 🙂

P.S. Here’s a PDF of a customizable #The10to10 map so you can create your own version! I guess this game could work for bus lines or highway exits, too! Whatever you’re down to explore.

P.P.S. If you want to play with lo-class dice like ours, just shoot me a message! We can send you a pair in your fave color: red, brown, purple, blue, or green.

Introducing: #The10to10, Chicago’s favorite new summer game

Happy Summerrrrrrr!

Summer in Chicago is renowned for being the reason so many of us who live here are willing to put up with its insane wind tunnels, lake effect snow, and polar vortexes. Spending a day chilling on a Chicago beach, with the iconic skyline floating on the horizon through the sunny, lazy haze? It’s living the dream.

This + you in a bikini = Summer Forever.

And now that SUMMMMMERRRRR 2018 has finally arrived, Justin and I came up with a game to help us get out and explore our city. Actually, just Justin came up with the game because “making life fun” is his number one contribution and responsibility to our marriage.

Because he’s excellent at it.

Case and point: This new game #The10to10.

Here’s how #The10to10 works:

  1. Choose an L train line and number the stops you’d like to explore as 2 through 12.

  2. Roll the dice.* Add up your numbers. And at 10 a.m., take the L to the stop that corresponds with that number on your map from Step 1.

  3. Start your journey there. Don’t come home until 10 p.m.

* We got a few sets of colored dice to represent the color of the L train lines we want to explore: the blue, red, and brown lines. We blindly draw a die out of a bag. Whatever color die we draw determines the train line. Then we roll two dice to get our stop number in Step 2.

Here’s our #The10to10 map. You can see how we numbered the stations.

We’re pumped to dig into some neighborhoods deeper than we already have and visit some we’ve never really hung out in before. So many times we end up going to a neighborhood for just one destination and then head back home.

But you know you have to stay a while, get your hands and feet and soles a little dirty, to find the b-e-s-t, gemstone-in-an-alleyway kinds of spots. When you spend a lot of time just walking around somewhere, you truly get to know a place. And I think we’ve finally decided we want to truly get to know this place. Plus Chicago, the city of neighborhoods, has so much potential for adventure.

We’re doing our first #The10to10 today! Follow us on Instagram @jackiemantey and @justingolak to see where we end up and what we find.

P.S. Here’s a PDF of a customizable #The10to10 map so you can create your own version! I guess this game could work for bus lines or highway exits, too! Whatever you’re down to explore.

P.P.S. If you want to play with lo-class dice (like ours below), just shoot me a message! We can send you a pair of dice in your fave color: red, brown, purple, blue, or green.

Lo-class approved!

Words on the Street: May 19, 2018

Ad coming soon.

Find the dick!

You do you, wall.

Black Velvet, White Jesus is the name of my new fake band. 

As seen at the AIC. 

As seen waiting in the dressing room line at Forever 21. I’m a creep.

So hot, in fact, we can’t waste any time doing spell check! To be fair, it makes sense to think extremely would start with “extra.”

This building is a physical manifestation of me in relationships in my early 20s. “YES. NO. YES. NO.”

I just love this for some reason…

As seen at the SafeHouse restaurant in Milwaukee. Everyone picks their own agent name. I keep giggling at this one.

Rudy Not For Sale.

To do: Lavender Cola at The Gage in Chicago

Like most wonderful surprises, I found The Gage by chance. Well, by Google keyword, which counts for chance in the 21st century.

A friend was visiting Chicago to run a race and she wanted to meet up for brunch while in town. I quickly Googled “restaurant + downtown Chicago.” Ha! And a star was born.

The Gage is a lovely contemporary white tablecloth restaurant that’s my go-to for elegant but accessible fine dining. It’s right across from Millennium Park, and all the various attractions located within, and walking distance from the Art Institute, which is my other sure bet for giving visitors a fun taste of the town without boring myself to death.

Example: We took our Cleveland cousin Maria to The Gage, where she unknowingly ordered a very carnivorous breakfast. She didn’t need to eat again until dinner.

We worked off the meat sweats by heading across the street for the Chicago visitor must-have: A photo at The Bean.

Then we walked the skybridge to the Art Institute.

My favorite thing about The Gage, other than the location and the food, is that I can make reservations on Open Table. The place is cavernous, so I never have trouble saving a seat, but they’re super busy during peak hours and it’s worth it to make a reservation just in case.

Since moving to Chicago I’ve become a reservation queen! I don’t always need them, but it brings me peace of mind that I won’t have to wait for a long time or waste my time commuting to a place that can’t serve me.

But for all my visits to The Gage (I went there for my bachelorette party and they gave me free dessert! WITH a candle! Not all heroes wear capes—some wear aprons!) and all my complaining that not enough restaurants and bars offer cool alcohol-free drinks on their adults menus, I didn’t try their specialty sodas until recently.

Among The Gage’s zero proof options: Organic Seasonal Cordial, House-Made Ginger Beer, Abita Root Beer, and Lavender Cola.

The Gage’s Lavender Cola

The Lavender Cola is a clear (surprise!) favorite. Not too sweet, with the lavender smoothing its way in more as an aftertaste to the citrusy carbonated treat. They serve it in a bar glass with a garnish, which helps me feel like I’m still getting all the fun of an alcoholic brunch but without the hangover, wasted day, and status updates to delete later. 😉

To do: Old Louisville

Our recent travels included a stop in Old Louisville for Justin’s 5 For the Road comedy tour.

I’m always excited when we get to go to Kentucky. For all its redneck-ian hullabaloo, that is a gorgeous state with gorgeous stems (read: trees). And Old Louisville, a historic neighborhood located near the heart of the city, never disappoints.

Here are some recent discoveries from our latest trip you should hit up the next time you’re in Derby City.

Central Park

Once the idyllic country estate of the DuPont family, this 17-acre park is the perfect place to post up when you need to hot spot and people watch. While working from a park bench I saw a dad teaching his daughter how to ride a bike, three drunk old men shooting the proverbial shit on a neighboring bench, a date happening on the tennis court, a lot of people walking their eager dogs, and this squirrel, my co-worker for the afternoon.

North Lime Coffee and Donuts

This new bakery and java joint was within walking distance from our Airbnb, and, as Louisville luck would have it, the walk there included a veritable tour of grand estates. I love Old Louisville’s old architecture. Every house has a treasured new-old surprise to share. Aging lace curtains. Grand stone staircases. Wrought iron gates overgrown in ivy.

North Lime didn’t disappoint either. I got us a coffee to go and a few fresh-baked donuts, including a sprinkle version with an apple butter glaze. It was the best thing I ate the whole trip.

Mag Bar

This dive joint was the comedy tour’s show host. Trivia night was happening in the other room and drinkers were enjoying the weather on the outdoor patio. You could also kick it old-school and play some arcade games they had on tap like Mortal Kombat and Battletoad. Old Louisville indeed.

Sheherazade Gallery

After the show, we walked home and spotted this glowing pink art installation. I was drawn to it like an ant to discarded cotton candy. After some hashtag searching, I learned this was Sheherazade, a one-car garage turned gallery space. Rotating exhibitions fill up the whole open-air space and the clear glass gallery-wide door means it’s viewable after hours. It made our walk home weird and magical. Just like we like ‘em.

Filson Historical Society

Right by our Airbnb was the Filson Historical Society, so I went to check out their WWI exhibits during my lunch break before we got back on the road. Louisville native Jack Speed was an officer in the 150th Field Artillery on the Western Front. As an amateur photographer, he used what Kodak marketed as the “soldier’s camera” to take photos during the war. The camera folded into itself to about the size of an iPhone 4. I took photos of it on my Google Pixel. Cool to see how photography, cameras and humans (thank goodness!) have evolved since then. Stop by the front desk and ask to see their displays. An exhibition guide will give you a tour.