Anthony Bourdain Says Goodbye to the Mortal World

Anthony Bourdain, born June 25, 1956 in NYC, died June 8, 2018 Kaysersberg, France.

On June 8, an important voice of generosity and tolerance was silenced. Anthony Bourdain, the renegade chef, globetrotter and storyteller, succumbed to whatever demons haunted his earthly domain, as he took his own life at the age of 61. Bourdain had traveled to Kaysersberg, a small village in the Alsace region of France, near the German border, to shoot scenes for Parts Unknown, his popular adventure travel show, when friend and fellow celebrity chef Eric Ripert, found Bourdain unresponsive in his room at the Hotel le Chambard, having hung himself.

Bourdain was a tough character to pigeon hole. He wore many hats: chef, author, father, avowed drug addict and sharp-tongued critic. But his love of life and the conduit by which he offered his inherent gifts to the world, flowed from the idea of availing one’s self through the preparation of cuisine, and by sharing that passion with others round a dinner table, it opened doors to communication and often to a free exchange of ideas.

Through his worldly treks and subsequent writing, Bourdain emphasized how the simplest of people can often relay the most telling lessons about life. Sometimes we need only to slow down and put ourselves into another person’s shoes in order to ask the right question that will put a stranger at ease. In turn, a certain comfort can be achieved and perhaps pave the way for a discussion of the history behind some closely-held family recipe, or insight into a foreign political philosophy.

Bourdain earned his fame, having graduated in 1978 from The Culinary Institute of America in New York, but began his career shucking oysters and cleaning dishes in Cape Cod seafood shacks, then toiled for decades working 12/13-hour days for $10/hour as a line cook in a variety of questionable kitchens. It was this gutter up philosophy that made him the man he became. Add in his abundant charm and kitchen mastery, and together this later landed him the prestigious job of executive chef at Brasserie Les Halles in Manhattan.

Yet it was the publication of Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, a 2000 bestseller, that launched Bourdain into a second career and celebrity chef stardom. This offered foodies a glimpse behind the scenes of how their favorite restaurants really operated, and provided insider tips on how to gain the upscale dining experience many sought. That drugs, booze, sex and rampant misbehavior existed in the restaurant business was obvious when one considered the days and hours worked, but Bourdain’s first person prose of Gonzo-esque journalism earned him a place at the table with the good doctor, Hunter S. Thompson.

With his sudden fame came television. A Cook’s Tour on The Food Network, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations on the Travel Channel, and his ongoing success with Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown seen on CNN. These took cuisine to a different kind of edge, geographically and politically. Bourdain knew well from his travels that America remained a young country that failed to grasp the greater importance that comes with eating well, and even less could America comprehend traveling to strange, exotic and far away destinations, where dining on regional specialties was a necessity to engage in more meaningful conversations with locals, allowing for a deeper understanding of a people and place.

Bourdain took viewers with him to war torn regions of the world that news outlets in America had ceased covering. This offered Bourdain and his crew a chance to delve into the reality of political decision making playing out in tragic ways for peoples’ lives on the ground long after the bombs stopped dropping. It showcased how hard life can be in these far off lands, and the love and understanding people can have for one another – often on display during mealtime.

Yes, sometimes that meant eating some rather questionable cuisine, but that was worth the price of admission to share insight into the human condition of people located geographically a world away. Travel broadens a person, and that was Bourdain’s currency.

He depicted tolerance and appreciation of things not understood in a time when American leaders on both sides of the aisle do little than throw rhetorical fire bombs at one another, and our illegitimate boy king president is about as broad as a child who only eats overcooked hotdogs and soggy Freedom Fries.

Bourdain was a fellow traveler, a mutant of the highest order, and as a consequential result of all his first person forays into work and recreational play, was a beautifully broken individual. He was a seeker of the unknown, intrepid in his endeavors, willing to put himself wholly into all he did and not shy away from using his own foibles as vehicles in his storytelling.

“I should’ve died in my 20s. I became successful in my 40s. I became a dad in my 50s,” Bourdain told Todd Aaron Jensen in a 2016 interview for Biography.com. “I feel like I’ve stolen a car – a really nice car – and I keep looking in the rear-view mirror for flashing lights. But there’s been nothing yet.”

I am selfishly sad for Tony’s premature departure. I am truly sad for the hole his absence leaves in the lives of his family members. He gave so much, maybe there was no more left. I will say Anthony Bourdain left all he had out on the field and considering his shortcomings, his accomplishments soar that much higher to the heavens.

Happy travels Mr. Bourdain. You lived well and will be missed.

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Shack in the Back BBQ is Hickory Smoked Perfection

There is something instantly recognizable about a plume of hickory smoke filling the air. That’s barbecue baby, and that distinct fragrance means it’s close by. On a recent jaunt to Jefferson Memorial Forest, located just south of Louisville off I-265 (Gene Snyder Freeway)/KY-841 W in Fairdale, I caught a big whiff of hickory that caused me to deviate from my path back to the interstate.

Amidst a smattering of ordinary commercial properties sat a diminutive wood cabin with a drive-thru window. This it turns out was Shack in the Back BBQ. I’ve known of this restaurant’s existence for some years, but failed to comprehend where it was located and actually make the journey. This turned out to be my day for some Shack in the Back.

Pulling around to park I noticed the heaping stack of hickory wood piled up outside the pit area. Owners Mike and Barbara Sivells subscribe to a traditional, wood-smoked barbecue methodology to cooking their meats. This sinks that smoke ring in even deeper than most typical commercial smoking techniques, and brings out a deeper flavor in the finished product.

Opened in 2006, this old school barbecue haven is built around a 19th century log cabin. Inside exposed wood beams give off a rustic feel as vintage photographs line the walls, accentuating a trip back to bygone times. There’s a definite pig theme going on, as several saucily-dressed statues denote the savory meat of choice served around here. Classic Coca-Cola signage rounds out the quirky roadside ambiance.

Orders are placed at the front counter for pick-up. There’s a menu on display, or grab one of the paper ones to get familiar once a line has formed. It’s best to be ready to order when the time comes. Folks get moved through here quickly. A handful of tables allow 15 people to dine in the cabin, with seating for a couple dozen more beneath an attached covered patio.

Having stumbled upon Shack in the Back by surprise I hadn’t done my homework on what best to sample. The gal working the counter said her favorite was their turkey ribs, a specialty here, that is served with a homemade White Lightnin’ sauce. Having no benchmark for this delicacy I went with a half rack of ribs and a pound of pulled pork, with sides of Nanny’s potato salad and mac & cheese.

Racks of ribs rotate inside the pits at Shack in the Back BBQ, as they absorb the wood-fired hickory smoke. | Photo by Alton Strupp

The ribs were fall off the bone tender, sweet and tangy, with a distinct brown sugar essence noticeable. They are dry rubbed and simmered 14-16 hours, slow cooked at 250 degrees, in one of the two homemade pits. Sivells employs a rotating shelving system allowing the meats to self-baste, with the fat and juices from each item dripping down onto the racks beneath as they cycle around, keeping the meats moist amid the wood-fired hickory smoke.

The ribs didn’t require sauce, but I tore off pieces of the charred bark and dipped the edges into a Styrofoam cup of the house Hot BBQ sauce. It was delectable.

I found the pulled pork to be even more compelling. This is such a common way to serve barbecue, making it all the harder for a restaurant to elevate its version to a discernible level above others. The pulled pork at Shack in the Back was masterful. It was tender, smoky and had a luxurious texture. You could put sauce on this, but it would obscure the wonderful char-grilled flavor already locked inside.

The potato salad was substantial and really tasty with a splash of the house Tangy Mustard sauce on it. The mac & cheese was impressively substantial and tasted homemade. All the sides are done fresh daily right in this kitchen. It’s hard to go wrong with any item.

Of note, Shack in the Back is one of the few barbecue places locally that offers Burgoo, a dense and spicy meat and vegetable stew that can be purchased as a side or by the gallon. This dish dates back some 150 years to unknown origins, and no two people make it the same. At Shack in the Back they stir in chicken, andouille sausage, pulled pork and brisket, some cooking upwards of 16 hours on the pits first, combined with 13 different vegetables that together offer a pleasant kick.

Considering the quality of the items I sampled, I’m excited to give other barbecue staples here a whirl, like the smoked sausage, chicken wings and smoked bologna sandwich. Take the ride out to Fairdale and find this little log cabin with the smoke rolling out its stacks – the food is inexpensive, hand-crafted and impeccably delicious.

SHACK IN THE BACK BBQ | 406 Mt. Holly Road | Fairdale, KY | 502.363.3227

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Memorial Day Visit to Frankfort Cemetery

My thanks for the sacrifice by all who have served in the armed forces. Happy Memorial Day everyone!
@TheFrankfortCemetery | Frankfort, KY

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Santa Fe Texas High School Shooting Leaves 10 Dead

Crosses line the lawn in front of Santa Fe High School to mourn the victims of this latest school shooting. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Another Friday, another 10 people killed in a school shooting. This one in tiny Santa Fe, Texas,  population 12,222, located 35 miles southeast of Houston. Here a scorned 17-year-old, Dimitrios Pagourtzis, smuggled a shotgun, .38 revolver and improvised explosive devises into Santa Fe High School, opening fire shortly after 7:30 AM on May 18, killing eight students and 2 teachers.

Few warning signs foretold the violence this child was prepared to unleash. He was a loaner, introverted, but considered part of the Santa Fe community. He made the honor roll and played on the jayvee football team. This made it all the more difficult to witness him racking the slide on a sawed-off shotgun as he told victims, “I’m going to kill you.”

Once again bullying is alleged as a possible motive. Another contributing factor was the rejection Pagourtzis received from his continued advances to date victim Shana Fisher, 16. This might explain why the shooter targeted certain kids who he told police had been “mean” to him, while other classmates deemed “nice” were left alive to tell his story.

The suspect arrived at school Friday morning wearing a trench coat to help conceal his weapons, combat boots and a “Born to Kill” t-shirt. The entire deadly rampage was carried out within the school’s art complex, consisting of four rooms, interconnected by interior hallways. Pagourtzis methodically moved room-to-room, taunting students as he selected victims. Several were shot while hiding inside closets, as he fired through the doors.

Police officers with the Santa Fe Independent School District engaged the shooter within four minutes of the first shots being fired and were quickly joined by a Texas state trooper. This allowed remaining students and faculty to evacuate safely. Instead of committing suicide as intended, Pagourtzis surrendered to police amid a shootout some 25 minutes after beginning his attack. He is being held without bond at the Galveston County Jail, charged with capital murder and aggravated assault on a peace officer.

Afterward, law enforcement officials discovered homemade explosive devices in the school and nearby, including pipe bombs, at least one Molotov cocktail and pressure-cooker bombs similar to those used in the Boston Marathon bombings.

Not four weeks after these same students participated in the National School Walkout to protest gun violence in schools, shots rang out in their hallways. School was almost over at Santa Fe High School. Graduation and prom were right around the corner. But now, instead of joy, it’s candlelight vigils, memorials and funerals. I continue to applaud the efforts of the kids in Parkland, FL, for their composure and commitment to the #NeverAgain movement, but there is a sickness in America and slogans will not remedy it.

It would be nice if this was the shooting that finally brought people to their senses, even in Texas, that stout gun control laws are needed nationwide. Because “thoughts & prayers” aren’t doing a damn thing to improve the situation. It’s astounding that so-called sensible Americans are willing to sell out the deaths of our children, in schools, simply because the NRA and President Trump want to pitch the fairytale that more guns on the streets are not part of the problem.

Admittedly, outlawing assault weapons, requiring background checks, instating waiting periods and other sensible gun control measures will not bring an end to all gun violence, but it will help. More importantly it would send a message to the children of America that adults are trying to keep them safe by doing the right thing and allowing fewer guns to hit the streets and making access to deadly weapons more stringent.

Use the ballot box come November and vote every incumbent out of office that will not support sensible gun control measures, locally and nationally, and only then will Congress act and the NRA recede back into its murky swamp.

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Dale Chihuly Glass Exhibit at Maker’s Mark Leaves Impression

Glass artist Dale Chihuly’s “Spirit of the Maker,” installed at Maker’s Mark distillery in Loretto, KY.

This tale is for the bourbon drinking art lovers out there. I’m Kentucky born and bred, meaning I’m accustomed to the sight, smell and flavor of this dark mysterious liquor being around my universe since before conscious memory. Step inside the boundaries of the Bluegrass State and bourbon is everywhere to be found – to drink, to smoke, to eat, to collect, to wear – this elixir can be dressed up and brought along to any occasion. Now add to that list, to behold, as a work of art and inspiration for creative expression as seen in a recent exhibit at the Maker’s Mark Distillery.

Admittedly art isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when considering a visit to Maker’s Mark. Certainly bourbon is high on the list, but the elements facilitating its creation surround the senses when in Loretto. Consider the wood from the barrels, water from Whisky Creek, the aroma of raw mash in the air, and those distinctive square bottles hand-dipped in red wax. Put all those together and a masterpiece is the resulting product.

World renowned glass sculptor Dale Chihuly sensed this work of art and the craftsmanship that goes into making a fine bourbon. He was first approached by Rob Samuels, chief operating officer of Maker’s Mark, about commissioning a signature installation for his family run distillery’s 60th anniversary. The Seattle-based artist enthusiastically agreed and the result was the “Spirit of the Maker,” unveiled in 2014, that permanently resides in a small rick house visitors walk through connecting the distillery’s tasting rooms and gift shop areas.

The Barrel Wagon, with Chihuly’s “Red Reeds” visible in upper left background.

Yet a grander vision was imagined by Chihuly on his visit for the unveiling that would stretch his creative canvas across the distillery’s grounds upon which his unique style of handblown glass sculptures might pay homage to the artistry and local natural resources that combine in the production of Maker’s Mark. Three years later six additional installations were selected to join the “Spirit of the Maker,” rounding out the exhibit “Chihuly at Maker’s.”

Loretto remains a dedicated journey from most known paths. Located 60 miles southwest of Lexington, it’s not a place one casually runs across. A sure giveaway to know you’ve arrived in Maker’s Mark country is when black buildings with red shutters start dotting the landscape.

This once sleepy distillery has transformed in recent years to a bustling operation. Partly due to the success of Maker’s trendsetting Ambassador program, which coincided with the meteoric rise in bourbon’s popularity and the distillery’s inclusion as a stop on the widely popular Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

“Amber and New Oak Chandelier” as seen displayed in Maker’s visitors’ center.

These are credited with significantly increasing tourist traffic to this tiny hamlet of 709 residents. Add to those enticements a tasteful new visitors’ center, a recently opened underground limestone whisky cellar and the availability of a restaurant on the premises in the renovated Distiller’s House.

I visited around Christmas, which lends a favorable color scheme to Maker’s Mark. The landscaping and Christmas decorations put a festive spin upon our arrival. Inside the antique-feeling visitors’ center the Jimi Hendrix classic “All Along The Watchtower” emanated softly from the sound system as my mom and I purchased our tour tickets.

Above the concierge desk resided what became the first stop on the Chihuly tour, with his recently created “Amber and New Oak Chandelier.” With colors ranging from a deep brown glass to almost white, the hundreds of textured pieces used to assemble this piece form a collage effect in melding the colors to take on an amber hue when looked at from a few feet back, signifying the color of bourbon. No interior lighting is included for this sculpture, instead the hundreds of textured pieces are designed to ingest natural lighting and reflect it from all directions.

While we waited for the tour to commence, complimentary bourbon-brewed coffee was available. Out back is a wonderful terrace offering a scenic vista. Don’t be surprised if the house cat, Whisky Jean, doesn’t saunter over to say hello.

Leading down the hill to the still house from the visitors’ center is a swerving pathway outlined by “Red Reeds.” Here some 175 red glass posts ranging in size from 6 to 10 feet marked the way and reminded walkers the color that sets this brand off.

Exploding from a wooden row-boat perched upon rocks mere feet from the stone fence that borders Whisky Creek was a glass menagerie of what can be imagined as flower petals, its leafy sepal, translucent eels and jutting reeds all bursting forth in brilliant animation. “The Crimson and Chestnut Fiori Boat” is pure Chihuly and is set off in bizarre fashion against the elemental rocks and grass situated below.

From left: “Sapphire and Platinum Waterdrop Tower,” “Summer Sun” and “Crimson and Chestnut Fiori Boat.”

Across the waterway in a neutral green space is what could be considered the centerpiece of the exhibit. “Summer Sun” is a swirling orb of commotion. Some 1,600 pieces of glowing red, orange and yellow glass stand an impressive 12 feet tall and 12 feet across and deep. You could say it has presence. From a distance it almost seems to float. This one must jump out in the evening sky if here for “Chihuly Nights.”

A big part of life in the creation of Maker’s Mark centers on water. Chihuly honored this aspect with “Sapphire and Platinum Waterdrop Tower.” This 12 foot tall drink of water appears to shoot up into the sky, like a geyser erupting from its rock and earthen base. Its reflective sapphire blues, whites, and platinum catch the liquid element so integral to whisky making as if it were flash frozen in time.

With water in mind the tour took a subterranean turn into the earthen enclosure that is Maker’s new limestone cellar. The air inside is naturally chilled to around 50 degrees and an odor of rock and soil sticks close. In the rear the polished limestone rock face remains exposed, directionally lit, highlighted in the darkness, like a portrait that only nature could create. Heavy wood racks store some 2,000 barrels of Maker’s 46 and Private Select that require a cooler climate to finish the aging process, so production may continue year around.

“Red Baskets” inside the limestone cellar at Maker’s Mark.

In this darkened atmosphere Chihuly’s “Red Baskets” sat. Five individual pieces, red in color, perched on a crisp white counter and spotlighted from above. Each was meant to resemble a woven Indian basket, that had grown soft with age and become lopsided. The lighting offered a separate dimension of viewing as a red shadow was cast down upon the white surface each sat upon. These intricate pieces were somewhat dwarfed by the enormous rock face they sat before, but introduced a fragile element into this thick earthen, rock atmosphere.

The tour now delivered us to the spot whence this exhibit began, with the “Spirit of the Maker.” This for me was the show stopper, and distinguished itself from the other pieces in that Chihuly crafted it especially for Maker’s, and its choice of placement and grand scope make it a unique creation to Loretto.

I knew it was coming as I traipsed down the dusty wooden walkway leading toward the gift shop. Having just consumed several samples from the different labels Maker’s Mark has to offer, including its Cask Strength that ranges in barrel proof from 108-114, my eyes were in an advantageous mood for the grandeur of what was to come.

A peek inside Chihuly’s “Spirit of the Maker.”

Aged barrels stacked from floor-to-ceiling walled in the pathway that funneled guests toward this 37 foot long by 6 foot wide transparent Persian ceiling, filled with all manner of Chihuly created glass wonderments. They resembled sea anemone, shells and undulating jelly fish, all in astounding translucent colors.

The pieces are warmly lit from behind to project a kaleidoscope of changing colors that shift across the wooden exterior below. From a few paces off the “Spirit of the Maker” stops visitors in their tracks to take in its complexity and unexpected juxtaposition. But walk up under the installation and viewers can find hidden treasures, like little cherubs floating majestically above.

For those that haven’t had the pleasure of a drive to Loretto. Do it, you’ll thank yourself. Even though the “Chihuly at Maker’s” exhibit has since closed, the “Spirit of the Maker” remains and is worth the adventure by itself. Visit on a Friday or Saturday during the summer months and take a tour with your dinner at Star Hill Provisions to see Maker’s Mark in a different light. A trip to Loretto is a day well spent in the heart of Kentucky’s Bourbon Country.

MAKER’S MARK | 3350 Burks Spring Road | Loretto, KY 40037 | 270.865.2099

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Giuliani Says Trump Funneled Hush Money to Porn Star

From left: Former NYC Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and the Trumpster.

In a stunning admission by one of President Trump’s new legal team members, Rudolph Giuliani admitted to Sean Hannity that Donald Trump knew about the $130,000 payment Michael Cohen made to porn star Stormy Daniels, and afterward reimbursed his personal attorney for this hush money disbursement designed to quiet her discussion about an alleged affair with the president.

This unexpected disclosure by Giuliani even gave Hannity, a veteran Fox News host, pause at the implications suggested. On April 5, while traveling aboard Air Force One, President Trump stated he knew nothing about the payment to Daniels. These new revelations directly contradict the president’s story, placing him in legal jeopardy. Likewise Cohen is on record stating he made the payment of his own accord, without President Trump’s knowledge and was never paid back.

This creates a conundrum for the conspiracy-riddled Trump administration. Either the president and his personal attorney, along with Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kellyanne Conway, purposefully lied to the American people, or Giuliani is egregiously spreading untrue explanations for what Trump knew and the actions Cohen took.

The way Giuliani tells it, Cohen borrowed the cash through a home equity line of credit in order to make the payment to Daniels out of an affinity for Trump, and to spare Melania from hearing about yet another affair involving her philandering husband. I’m curious to see if the purpose of this loan on Cohen’s application actually reflects the money was intended to “pay off a porn star on behalf of another party to keep her quiet about an affair that supposedly never happened with the future President of the United States.”

That is one ballsy loan officer who approved such a request. More likely Cohen lied, which is a problem considering the “Know Your Customer” laws currently in place safeguarding against the utilization of funds for false purposes. This is why transactions above $10,000 trigger reporting to financial authorities. In fact lying on official bank reporting documents carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

The unfortunate reality appears to be the money was used on Oct. 26, 2016, mere days before votes were to be cast in the presidential election, to silence Stormy Daniels about her affair with Trump. Being the Access Hollywood tape had already caused significant reputational damage to the candidate, the explicit intention of the payment was to prevent any further public escalation of a narrative about Trump being a molester of women or serial adulterer.

Giuliani tried to make this payment sound like it was normal business. That attorneys do this sort of thing all the time for their busy clients. When in fact, no attorneys are cutting checks for $130,000 against their family homes, without the knowledge of their clients, to pay off porn stars for affairs that never happened. That doesn’t even make sense.

The following morning Giuliani continued digging a hole for himself and his new client on “Fox and Friends,” saying the $130,000 wasn’t a campaign finance violation because Trump “funneled” the money through Cohen’s law firm to a private LLC, and this magically laundered the cash.

When trying to make a case in the court of public opinion that your client did nothing wrong, I would advise Giuliani against using the word ‘funneled.’ It implies an unlawful act. Besides, regardless of how this money entered the Trump world, while running for president all funds of that nature must be disclosed for campaign finance.

Giuliani further indicated Trump sent regular payments to Cohen in what appeared to be a slush fund dedicated to paying for silence from those involved with the president in extramarital affairs and other unseemly activities.

Additionally, Michael Avenatti, the attorney for Stormy Daniels, revealed in a dossier that Cohen received hundreds of thousands of dollars from a company connected to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. The dossier went on to state, “Vekselberg and his cousin Andrew Intrater routed eight payments to Cohen through a company named Columbus Nova LLC beginning in January 2017, and continuing until at least August 2017.”

Cohen’s week devolved even further after it was learned that three days after President Trump was sworn into office, AT&T inked a $600,000 deal with Cohen to gain Trump’s help with the company’s proposed merger with Time Warner. An additional pay-to-play deal was negotiated by Cohen with pharmaceutical giant Novartis for $1.2 million. It appears approximately $4.4 million was deposited into Cohen’s shell company, Essential Consultants LLC. Whether Trump received kickbacks from this money remains unclear.

So much for draining the swamp. If the Loch Ness Monster and the Creature from the Black Lagoon mated, and were exposed to extreme radiation, that might spawn a swampy beast on par with the president and his henchmen. These creeps would steal money from the purses of little old ladies while helping them across the street.

A more plausible explanation for the conflicting storylines emanating from the Trump camp is an immense smokescreen of lies is necessary to help distract from something even worse. Most likely, the mounting case against Trump and numerous members of his administration about their collusion with Russians, the conspiracy to influence the outcome of the 2016 election, and how they continue to obstruct justice in covering it up.

Trump must prepare the public for coming indictments and the possibility of his taking the fifth to avoid self-incrimination. By subverting the legitimacy of prosecutors and filling the air with enough lies to stir confusion among Americans about the truthful nature of whatever crimes may be alleged, the possibility is there for Trump to escape prosecution.

The full picture remains obscured, but Giuliani provided a key piece of the puzzle by outting Trump and Cohen as liars to the American people. This legitimately opens the door to consider what if Trump, his campaign, the family, and those complicit in the administration lied about all the allegations alleged and the worst is yet to come.

That is a reality the public needs to start getting prepared to comprehend.

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One Giant Derby Day Dilemma

It was a quiet morning at the House on the Corner. Spring had arrived in all its glory upon this first Saturday of May. With the snow gone, the grass rejoiced in the sun’s embrace, becoming a vibrant green, energized, and filled with life.

The flowers planted a few weeks prior endured a tough night or two of low temperatures but were blooming bright today. The blanket of grass spread across the front yard was doused in shades of red, yellow and white, as tiny flowers, tulips and daffodils mixed and matched. The raised front porch burst with blooms of violet and orange protruding from perched pots decorating the concrete edge.

This was the house where Isabella lived, all 4’6” of her. At 6-years-old and a whopping 65 pounds, Bella was the personification of an imagination realized. Her feet seemed always at the ready to jump into action. There was just no knowing when the child would go off chasing dragons, minions or unicorns.

At the center of it all was her front yard. This served as Isabella’s performance space. A stage of sorts, where she could rush out onto the porch and be greeted by walkers-by, neighbors, dogs, cats and whatever else might be creeping about for her daily improvisational engagements.

Once winter’s chilly embrace receded, Isabella could be found outside most all the time. One of her favorite activities was fetching the watering can off the gardening shelves to offer liquid refreshment to the many different plants residing in her yard. All around the porch’s edge, down the steps, and out to the sidewalk, Bella went from plant-to-plant, mumbling to them about ‘purple huffy snuggle bunnies’ or some such thing – watering each, sometimes too much, but better sloshy than not enough.

Placing the watering can under the spigot always triggered Bella’s imagination, sometimes she thought about riding in a boat, or feeding seals on a beach, swimming with dolphins or diving deep into the blue sea to make a house-call on a family of Hammerhead sharks. My the stories they could share over tea and crumpets Bella considered.

Anything was possible, but in that moment, it was pure Shangri-La simply running back and forth to fetch more water in her trusty “Dora the Explorer” watering can, and then scoot about her yard pouring away as she quenched each ones’ thirst.

Every so often she would pause to listen to the squirrels and birds chirping away in fevered conversations. Some even braved sampling seeds from the feeder not an arm’s length away, which Bella and her brothers, Gabriel, 15, and Jacy, 13, put out for the local wildlife to enjoy.

Buzzing about haphazardly were several plump bumblebees. How they flew with such rotund bodies and smidgy wings was a mystery to Isabella. They may not move fast but they sure do stay busy hopping from flower-to-flower. Between the birds, bees, crickets, squirrels and other assorted jeepers, creepers and crawlers, a musical symphony was performed for Isabella each time she stepped out the door.

“Sing my friends, and thank you for making me feel so welcome,” Isabella announced to her yard this Saturday morning.

Now all these critters were on fair notice to watch their behinds, because at the House on the Corner resided a serious mouser of a cat named Uni. He might be referred to as Colonel Uni if we were being formal or Ünst for short. Regardless of name, his reputation was widely acknowledged for being a calculating feline, and often shall we say, unpredictable.

Sometimes he was satisfied wiggling about on the sidewalk, scratching his back against the rough concrete exterior. But other times he was on the prowl and would swat at hovering bumblebees or put a few teeth holes in an unsuspecting garter snake. So beware nature, Uni is watching, always watching.

What set this morning off from others was Derby Day had arrived. That is the running of the Kentucky Derby, which comes each year on the first Saturday in May. Whether rain or shine, a magnificent field of thoroughbred horses gallops from the gates at Churchill Downs for what is known as The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.

Only 3-year olds can participate in this race, which is something Isabella always found funny because she had been 3 not that long ago. It made her feel that if those horses could run so fast at that age, she too could become a champion.

While all the fuss about starting positions and wagering were nonsense to her, Bella was impressed with how majestic and noble these creatures appeared. It seemed fitting that the winner should be given a blanket of roses for coming out on top in the “Run for the Roses.”

Usually Bella watched all the pageantry unfold on television with her dad. Frankfort is less than an hour away from where the race takes place in Louisville, but oceans of people descend upon Churchill Downs and Bella imagined how easy it would be to get swept away by the crowd and excitement.

One day she would go to see the horses, but for now she was content watching from the front yard as neighbors gussied up in their finest duds, packing to make the drive to Louisville. My goodness the ladies sure did wear funny hats. One had fences going around the top, while another had different colored polka dots. Those would make funny kites if only strings were attached.

“How do those things not blow away?” Isabella questioned, as she sat on her stoop watching folks load into cars.

Besides, on Derby Day there was a huge party to enjoy right in her hometown at the Downtown Derby Celebration. Frankfort was festooned with colorful spring flowers and banners hung of jockey silks in varying shades from lampposts and buildings, fluttering, as if to trumpet the arrival of spring in the state capital.

On this morning Bella and her family were wide awake bright and early, filling backpacks with snacks, drinks, a stuffed animal or two, and some Band-Aids (you just never know), prior to making the short trek across the river to the city’s annual celebration of all things Derby.

It is a bonanza of kid entertainment, with a Derby Dash foot race in the morning and real pony rides offered in the First Christian Church parking lot. Isabella is particularly fond of bouncy castles and they have huge ones by the train depot and a giant bouncy slide in the same parking lot by the ponies.

Bella would hop-hop-hop, fall, jump, hop, bounce, skip, tumble and go-go-go till she couldn’t bounce any more. Sometimes the bigger kids didn’t see her because she was smaller, and they would knock her over, but even that was fun because Isabella could bounce and trounce and flounce just like Tigger in “Winnie-the-Pooh.”

Having seen the ladies earlier this fine morning in their funny hats, Bella got a charge out of crafting her own kite-worthy Derby chapeau. At the hat-making station there was lots of rolling of paper, taping and gluing, fixing and fastening of all sorts and means, until her very own super special Derby hat was complete. Bella decorated it with pink & black polka dot ribbons, black bows, and two big yellow sunflowers were pasted on the front. She was looking pretty fancy with her new hat and pink “Hello Kitty” sunglasses.

Next was a fishing game, with prizes no less, a stick-pony race, tons of food, and breakfast drinks or Mint Juleps for all the big people. Bella’s daddy was fond of breakfast drinks. The stronger the Bloody Mary the better, especially when lots of kids are running around screaming like Captain Insano.

And we can’t forget the annual “Pedal for the Posies,” a midget bike race down Broadway. All these big people in stockings, wigs and ill-fitting costumes, furiously pedaling down and back on little-kid bikes. Watching them try to pedal so hard really made Isabella chuckle, especially when the occasional contestant would wobble over and take a tumble.

“Isabella, come on sweetie, it’s time to get our stuff together and head home,” said daddy. “The Derby will be coming on soon, and we need to get back to see all the pretty horses.”

“Okay, just one more bounce, please, please, please…???,” begged Bella.

“One more, but we have to get going after this one,” daddy agreed.

To Bella it seemed like she could keep bouncing all day. Bounce, bounce, bounce, romp, romp, bounce – her legs never got tired. One more time down the bouncy slide and that would do. It’s harder than it looks getting down that thing, and all those big kids need to get out of her way.

“I’m only 6 you know,” exclaimed Isabella as she jetted down the slide. “W-E-E-E-E!”

Once her parents had everything packed up, and the big brothers were wrangled back into the fold, the happy clan commenced their walk back to the House on the Corner. They went over the Singing Bridge, which is one of Bella’s favorite spots. The bridge talks to her and reminds her to look below where the Kentucky River moseyed down its path.

“There’s something about that river I like,” Bella said aloud only to herself. “It’s so big and quiet. Where does all that water go?”

It was a pleasant walk home, and when they arrived the sun was shining down on the flowers, bees were buzzing and there was Uni right outside on the sidewalk waiting for their return with a big, “Meow!”

“Isabella you can stay outside if you like,” said daddy. “I’m going to let Essie out and we can take her for a walk.”

‘Yes, yes, yes, high-five to that,” Bella said with excitement, exchanging repeated up-top hand slaps with her brother Jacy.

Out of the house bounded Essie, like a caged rabbit. She was wound up like a shot of quadruple strength coffee, hence her name being short for Espresso. She might be small, but that dog came on fast. Essie liked to run figure eights around Isabella as she feebly attempted to catch but its shadow.

Gabriel, the oldest brother, put the dog on a leash to go for a stroll. Essie was still a puppy, and didn’t always listen to what she was told, much like Isabella, so in Essie’s case a leash was best when going on walks.

“Let’s go guys,” shouted daddy. “Do we really need to take a Nerf gun and all this stuff you won at the festival on a dog walk?”

It was kind of a ridiculous question really. Of course they did. Bringing along zombie defense weapons on dog walks became second nature after one watched enough episodes of the “Walking Dead.”

And away the five of them strolled down Campbell Street. Then something happened none of them expected. The trees on the sloping hillside leading down to their street began to shimmy and shake.

“This is not good,” said Bella. “Why is everything shaky?”

As the movement grew closer the ground began to rumble. There were footsteps, one right after another with each louder than the last. Boom! BOom! BOOm! BOOM! Big footsteps, and they were coming straight at ‘em.

Isabella was scared and grabbed her father’s leg. Yet Essie stood fearless. In fact the little terrier scooted out in front of her family and barked angrily at the growing clamor approaching.

Suddenly the sun was gone and no sounds could penetrate the whooshing of leaves and cracking of timber as the “BOOM-BOOM-BOOM” surrounded them.

Isabella looked up but could only see darkness in the eclipsed sun. The trees whirled about in a furious wind as whatever was in there now was upon them. Bella’s legs were frozen in place. She couldn’t run even if she wanted to.

Bursting through tree limbs in a rush of destruction came a humongous giant. He was not unlike the fellow that resided at the top of the beanstalk who harassed Jack. He was tall as the sky and wide as a dinosaur. Aside from being terrifyingly large, he was dressed rather dandily, wearing a green felt vest with white flowing silk sleeves, and trousers tucked into knee-high brown leather boots. Gold buttons on his vest protruded from his gorged belly.

Those trousers looked mighty tight from where Isabella was standing. Maybe that was why he appeared so disagreeable she thought.

“Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum, I smell the flesh of a Kentuckian,” bellowed the giant. “It’s meats I seek to fill my knishes, something tasty, something fresh, something wiggling in its flesh. You five bites look just right to add some flavor to my fricasseed delight.”

The four family members looked at one another in bemused puzzlement, like when Bella runs around the house naked trying to paint the cat. Not that there’s anything wrong with that specific pursuit of happiness. It’s harmless enough, but intervention is required. Now this giant situation was a whole other matter.

Out of the stunned silence came a random question from Jacy, “What is a knish?”

That was a fair question really, since at least three of them didn’t know the answer.

“Imagine a pastry filled with meat and baked till brown,” the father informed his kids. “I promise you none of us would enjoy life from the inside of a knish.”

“I says we crushes and mushes them so their bits all get mixed. I loves to have blended flavors in me knishes,” was the comment heard coming from beneath the giant.

For it turns out the big fellow was not traveling alone. Out from between his legs came two unlikely and unwelcomed henchmen: The Big Bad Wolf, who had clearly made the knish comment, and the Abominable Snowman.

“Well if that doesn’t seem stranger than Darth Vader in a pair of red high heels,” said daddy perplexed. “What sort of craziness is this now?”

The snowman looked similar to the one seen on television at Christmas, with his round body and bow tie, but he had a mean face with nasty dark coal eyes, a scraggly carrot nose and pointy teeth. He just snarled at everything. I suppose being in Kentucky on Derby Day might make a snowman feel abominable. It was a smidge warm out for snow demons.

Bella did not like that wolf one bit. She’d heard lots about him. He hides in the woods and tries to eat Riding Hoods, chases pigs and blows down their houses. He is no good at all.

Bella’s daddy put his hand on his daughter’s head and bent down, whispering in her ear, “Don’t worry baby girl, it’s all going to be okay. Your big brothers and I will protect you.”

She didn’t feel so scared after that.

“What weapons do we have on hand?,” asked Dadji (Bella’s word for her father).

“I have the wood sword I won at the Derby festival,” said Gabriel.

“My Nerf Zombie Strike Blaster is fully charged,” Jacy exclaimed, racking the slide to load a dart in the chamber.

Isabella’s trinket of choice was a pink and black racing starter flag with a pointy end at the top of the wood handle. She won it that morning for running so fast and loved waving it about.

“That’s plenty of fire power,” whispered Dadji. “Gabriel hold your sword down against your leg so those creepy critters don’t see it, and Jacy get the barrel of your zombie gun pointing down toward the street and put your arm over the scope.”

“Isabella you are our secret weapon. Can you be a brave little girl and come out here in front with Essie and wave that flag wide and high? Your cuteness is so grand it will blind these foolish beasts. Giants and wolves see little girls as irresistible morsels, too delectable to pass up,” said Dadji.

It made her tummy feel woozy to go stand out there, but her father, Essie and both her brothers were right there, so Bella stood tall and waved her new flag, and sure enough the goofy old giant and his buddy the wolf came trudging over.

“That tiny mite sure looks scrumptious,” said the giant. “I bet she rates five muttons on my taste-o-meter. Good as a mess of lagoon fairies they is.”

“No,” said the wolf. “That mini-delight is mine’s. I shall eat her up and don her flower hat to trick her mom into thinking I’m her precious. Then we will see who gets double brunches on this fine day.”

“I’m not for eating,” Bella blurted out with a stern look on her face. “But gaze upon my hair fine fellows. It’s like pure spun gold. If you come but a bit closer you will see this to be true.”

The giant and wolf looked at one another, curious about the girl’s comment.

“Usually they don’t speak,” muttered the giant. “They just scream and run about till we pick ‘em up and squishes them.”

But he was intrigued by the brightness from which her hair glowed in the sunlight. Anything shiny was enough to distract the giant’s attention, so the towering behemoth bent down.

Bella implored him to peer closer. “Come look how my hair glows Mr. Giant,” she enticed.

The giant crouched down nearly on his knees, bending at his waist to lower his huge frame to Isabella’s minuscule level. She was so small compared to the giant that he had trouble focusing his lazy eyes on her exquisite hair. The glare didn’t help as the sun lit her locks into a brilliant golden hue – it was like ‘spun gold.’

“You do smell lovely,” said the giant. “I think a taste would help me appreciate your beauty even better,” he said as a thick stream of drool escaped his mouth and splashed on the roadway below. He reached his clumsy hand down to try and grasp the child, already in a feeding frenzy anticipating the flavor burst to come.

At just that moment Bella seized her opportunity and plunged her pointy racing flag into the eye of the giant.

He instantly snapped to attention, standing upright and clasped both hands over his wounded eye, as if a bee had placed its stinger spot-on in his peeper. He yelped and groaned, cursed and stammered as he listed backward. The wolf and snowman looked on in shocked surprise.

The sneaky ‘ole wolf instinctively lunged toward Isabella to try for an irresistible nibble. Gabriel and Jacy had steeled themselves for the anticipated attack. Flanking out from behind Dadji they both took action amongst the commotion, bringing their arms to bear.

Jacy raised his Zombie rifle, quickly acquiring the airborne wolf through his scope and fired repeatedly striking the creature several times with automatic battery-driven fire. This knocked the pesky wolf off his track but still he continued clawing his way toward Isabella before her father tackled him and forced his growling snout into the pavement.

Gabriel raised his sword and pursued the stumbling giant, bravely striking at its leg until the colossus was covering his damaged eye with one hand and holding his bleeding calf with the other, causing him to hop on one leg.

“Leave my baby sister alone you friggin’ nimrod,” screamed Gabriel as he lashed at the giant’s leg with his wooden blade.

The ground shook from his hopping, till the giant lost his balance and stumbled backward, falling into a tangle of electrical wires, giving him a frightful shock, before the cables snapped from the telephone poles, wrapping him up tight. His tumble caused a tremendous rumble, and knocked neighbors near and far right out of their socks.

Two intruders were down, but one danger remained.

The Abominable Snowman snapped his wood pipe in half as his foolish accomplices went down to defeat. Speaking in an eery cadence he proclaimed, “If dirty deeds need doing right I simply must do them myself!”

With that his dark coal eyes narrowed, and a focus came over the snow monster as he took aim at Isabella, and blasted her diminutive leg with his laser freeze vision.

It was so cold and stung her mightily, causing Isabella to drop to the ground with a scream of pain. Suddenly brilliant neon blue freeze ray blasts were firing off in all directions.

Releasing the wolf from his clutches, Dadji crawled over and placed his warm hands on the spot where Isabella was struck. That made it feel better. Right then the snowman fired a double blast that hit true, striking Dadji in his back. It’s full force knocked him against Bella and he was stunned as the frostbite took hold inside his chest, preventing him from being able to breathe momentarily.

Jacy put some Nerf suppression fire on the snowman, striking him repeatedly, but this only angered the creature. His bottom two sections didn’t move a twitch but his head spun around backward with icy speed to face the direction of this pesky assault.

Jacy immediately realized his dilemma, and uttered, “Monkey Biscuits,” as the snowman lit him up with an icy ray.

Gabriel tried to advance from the flank as his brother was hit, but was foiled in mid-advance with a strike of cold lightning, causing his trusty wooden saber to go flying from his hand.

“Motherpussbucket, my dumplings have been freeze-dried,” Gabriel shouted as the blast froze his blue jeans solid.

All four of the family members were on the ground moaning, except for Essie, who kept barking as the snow creature approached Isabella and Dadji.

Glancing Essie’s way, Abominable said, “nice doggie, want a treat?,” as he smiled glibly, then knocked the brave pooch halfway across the street with a cold shot from his frosty black eyes.

Looking down at Isabella and her father the snow beast mockingly sneered, “who’s your daddy now?”

“I’ll see you melted in the street you miserable excuse for a snow cone,” Dadji replied.

Abominable glared narrowly at that comment. He reached up and pulled the scraggly orange-haired carrot from his face that served as his nose and whacked Dadji across the face, bloodying his nose, then crammed his sniffer back into place. This only infuriated Dadji further as he dove into the bottom layer of the snowman, throwing him off-balance.

Thankfully the giant’s fall had gained the attention of Bella’s mom and that of GiGi & Pop-Pop, her grandparents who lived next door to the House on the Corner. All looked out upon the action transpiring on the street in horror.

With the whole family, including their puppy, wounded from freeze rays, the wolf approached thinking easy-pickings were here to take.

“The dinner bell is a ringing for meeeees,” the wolf ruefully cooed, “and little miss golden hair you are the first item on my menu.”

Just then GiGi & Pop-Pop opened their front door and turned Quincy the Wonder Dog loose on the unsuspecting man-eater. With blazing fast speed, the black Australian Shepherd streaked to their aid and seized upon the wolf, knocking him down and sinking his teeth into the evil predator’s tender flesh. This caused the wolf to yelp in pain as he sprung up and ran for the hills.

Abominable grimaced in disgust at this additional setback and focused his freeze ray eyes in an attempt to take out Quincy, when Maia, Isabella’s mom, came storming out of the House on the Corner, approaching from Abominable’s blind side.

The snowman didn’t see her until she was upon him. He rotated around to find her smiling at him with her fierce blue eyes sparkling.

Putting his nastiest coal-toothed sneer on, the snowman stated, “I think you are about to find this no laughing matter Mommy-kins.”

“You look chilly SnowPoke. How about sucking on 1800 watts of super conducted heat,” replied Maia, as her eyes narrowed and she raised a gleaming Revlon StyleMaster Turbo hair dryer.

Stretching from inside the house and out across the lawn was the bright orange extension cord that Bella’s mom used to reach her intended target. As Maia’s thumb paused a half-instant below the on-switch, the snowman’s dark coal eyes grew wide. With one flick the blast furnace ignited inside the gun-shaped dryer and the turbo jet engine sent fire-level heat into the face of the snowman, melting a hole clean through his rotund nugget.

Momentarily his thin stickly arms made thoughtless circles as they searched for an answer to why he was missing his top unit. But that moment passed as Maia turned the heat on the snowman’s torso, reducing him to a puddle of mush.

This brought the giant to his feet, snapping the cables that entwined him, and off he stomped into the tree-lined hills following his slinking wolf friend.

“All my babies are hurt!,” Maia exclaimed. “What happened out here?”

“Do you know we have three of the bravest kids to ever walk upright,” Dadji declared, “and both these two rough and tumble doggies are nothing short of superheroes.” “Come here Quincy. You and mommy saved all our behinds. If you two didn’t bust some serious moves out here today the five of us were going to be served on a buffet line fit for monsters.”

Quincy walked into the carport and bit the handle of Bella’s red Radio Flyer wagon and pulled it over to where the family members were scattered on the pavement. Dadji rose and delicately placed Isabella and Essie into the bed of the wagon.

“You really are a wonder dog,” Dadji said as he gave Quincy a pat on his head.

Together once again, the tattered family headed back to their House on the Corner. Gabriel remained concerned with the persisting numbness still causing his bits & pieces to tingle, most likely because this might interfere with his ability to play Minecraft to the best of his abilities.

“I got first dibs on a hot shower,” said Gabriel. “Hey I want a shower too,” Jacy screamed back.

“Everybody will get to warm up guys, relax,” Dadji responded. “How about we don’t start fighting with each other the instant after surviving a battle with a giant, a wolf and a friggin’ snow demon.”

“How’s your leg Bella?,” Dadji inquired.

“It H-U-R-T-S,” she told him.

“I know it does baby girl. We’ll get you cleaned up in a minute, and then we can kick back and watch the horses do their thing in the Kentucky Derby. I think we’re going to need to put some medicine on your boo-boo though, to make it better. Is that okay?”

“I can take it. I’m a big girl.”

“Guess what else Bella? You get a great big Band-Aid for your leg. A BIG one.”

“Really,” said Isabella, as her face lit up with excitement. “Can I have a Hello Kitty Band-Aid?” she asked.

“Baby you can have any Band-Aid you like.”

“I like Hello Kitty. She’s pink.”

“Then Hello Kitty it is.”

“Hey Dadji,” inquired Isabella.

“Yes my brave girl, what is it?”

“Does that mean I get a piece of candy, too? At the doctor I get a lollipop and a sticker for when it hurts.”

“You must be feeling better if you’re asking about candy,” implied Dadji.

“I am feeling better. My leg still burns, but we went HOUSE on that nasty ‘ole wolf and his creepy friends! It was really scary, but we did it! I have awesome brothers, the best mom & dad, and this brave little doggie,” declared Bella as she picked up Essie and gave her a big hug.

Looking her daddy straight in the eye, a bewildered wonderment percolated from the girl’s expression, and Isabella asked deliberately, “The question is, what adventure will we take on next?”

#     #     #

In memory of Quincy, who passed away in 2017. He was one of a kind, a true ‘Wonder Dog’ and an honorable member of our family.

This tale began as a bedtime story I dreamt up for my daughter Isabella. Thanks to her for the continued inspiration she provides, and to Maia, Gabriel, Jacy, Mom and Pop, who tolerate my adventures and helped make writing this bedtime story possible.

Happy Kentucky Derby everyone!

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