Pimping iron.

I don’t know what got me thinking about the Mr. Olympia contest the other day; probably saw a reference to it in the zillions of words that fly past my face in a typical crazy-ass day. The contest was held in September. In Vegas, natch, but for years it was held in little old Columbus, Ohio. In the early ’80s, before the internet, when personal fitness was barely getting started and bodybuilding was a weird subculture with a seriously gay vibe, I attended one. Alone. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I was working at the Dispatch, a rookie, in the women’s department, when the press people for Mr. Olympia came calling. I’m sure they’d started with the sports department, and struck out, because as far as the sports department was concerned, bodybuilding was not a sport. It was a weird subculture with a seriously gay vibe! No one wanted to be associated with that; no one in sports, anyway. And so somebody with Mr. Olympia called my editor in the women’s department and pitched a really crazy idea: Women who lift weights and train and do bodybuilding contests. It so happened that the reigning Mr. O, Frank Zane, was married to a beautiful woman named Christine, with whom he trained. We could interview them both at the Sheraton down the street that very evening. I got the assignment.

Thinking back, I’m amazed at how strange this idea seemed — a woman pumping serious iron. A friend of mine was working at the time at a fitness studio called Spa Lady. She wore tights and a leotard and leg warmers to work, as did all of the customers. They had dance classes and a few pieces of equipment, and if any weight was lifted, it was no more than one or at most, three pounds. You’d move more pounds putting away your groceries. Women didn’t lift anything heavier because, conventional wisdom maintained, she would get grotesque, Popeye muscles, just like the guys in Mr. Olympia. And if she for some crazy reason wanted such things, and then quit, all those muscles would “turn to fat.”

These are some of the things I knew to be true as I walked to my interview with the Zanes.

A publicist opened the door to their hotel room. This is approximately what they looked like, only they had more clothes on. In street clothes, she was a slender beauty and he, a guy with really broad shoulders. Charming, down-to-earth people. They told me what we now know about women and weights — that we lack the hormones to put on bulk, that a muscle cannot actually turn to fat, etc. And so on. I took notes, the photographer took pictures. As I left, I asked Frank to “make a muscle,” as people said then — flex his bicep. He did, and a bowling ball rose on his upper arm. I gave it a little squeeze. It felt like a bowling ball, too. The publicist handed me a couple passes to the event that upcoming weekend.

My story was just a lame advance for the contest, on a page that approximately zero people who were interested in it would read. But I started noticing more broad-shouldered people around town that week, of all colors, speaking languages I could only guess at, as they arrived to compete and watch. Probably a few thousand of them all told, from all over the world, and my dumb story on page D6 was the only notice the paper took of an internationally famous event.

When the contest came, I asked some friends if they’d come with me. None were interested. So I went by myself, carrying my Nikon with the longest lens I had, a paltry 135mm. Veterans Memorial was sold out. Let me tell you, it was an experience. The gay vibe became a full-throated roar during the pose-offs, hundreds of muscle freaks screaming like banshees as Frank and the others turned and flexed their lats and delts and so forth. Real appreciators of the human form, this crowd. I walked down the aisle and took a few shots as close as I could get, most of my new friend Frank. Who repeated as Mr. O, in the end.

The next day, the photo editor came out with a worried look on his face. The AP was calling, wondering why the biggest paper in town hadn’t covered this international sporting event, and could we give the co-op anything in the way of photos? It so happened I had the roll of film I’d shot, and handed it over, black-and-white Tri-X, my favorite. They ran it and brought me a contact sheet. Is this the guy? the editor asked. Yep, that’s Frank.

And that, my friends, is how young Nancy Nall got her first and only photo on the AP’s sports wire. Or any wire.

The Zanes are still together, and are still adorable.

I think this is what got me thinking about Mr. Olympia; I must have glimpsed a promo when it ran a few days ago, but just got around to reading it today, a profile of Phil Heath, who is …startling-looking, at least in the performance photos. This guy trains, eats and sleeps. Just like Michael Phelps, only his food bill probably isn’t $1,000 a week. And like Zane, he seems more or less normal. Not crazy, anyway.

What draws people to such things? The same instincts that push us up mountains, I imagine.

No more links today, because everything good I read today was posted by you guys in the comments yesterday. After you guys went off on a tangent about barfing, I was going to link to Atul Gawande’s magnificent 1999 essay on nausea, but it’s back in the paid archive. I reread it a few years ago, when Kate Middleton had hyperemesis of pregnancy — that’s the through line — but they locked it back up.

So no politics today! Woo! Just a few more days…

Posted at 6:12 pm in Popculch, Same ol' same ol' |

56 responses to “Pimping iron.”

  1. alex said on November 2, 2016 at 7:51 pm

    Ahnold the Governator had that seriously gay vibe, that seriously small dick in Spy Magazine, those seriously aggrieved women whose pussies he grabbed in Hollywood (a la Trump) and a love child with his cleaning lady. Blame it on the steroids?

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  2. alex said on November 2, 2016 at 7:56 pm

    Oh, duh. He was a celeb turned Republican pol.

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  3. David C. said on November 2, 2016 at 8:03 pm

    It piqued my interest how they get so big, so I looked it up. Like if figured, you can’t get there without steroids and HGH. It seems like having muscles like that would mostly just get in the way of having a normal life. Whatever turns your crank, I guess.

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  4. Sherri said on November 2, 2016 at 8:36 pm

    That kind of look and training does not happen without steroids or HGH (or both). Just not possible. The intensity level of training can’t be sustained without steroids.

    To show the difference that steroids bring, check out these pictures and videos of my personal trainer. Here he is, doing a contest without steroids: http://contest.bodybuilding.com/bio/121692/

    Here’s a link to a video of him training while he was using steroids (at about 2:50, you can see him doing lat pull downs): https://youtu.be/dRKdOy7hI50

    He doesn’t do bodybuilding anymore, though he still lifts, and looks like this: https://goo.gl/images/8uW3t2

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  5. Deborah said on November 2, 2016 at 8:48 pm

    I have a friend who got into body building, he’s gay, lives in Paris now. He wasn’t into the overly, bulky muscle look. He looked absolutely fantastic, very lean and fit when he entered a contest of some kind, but didn’t win anything. The funny thing is he had to use some tanning crap that made him look like a “mahogany side board”. That was a joke between us.

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  6. alex said on November 2, 2016 at 10:21 pm

    From snippets of conversation overheard in a restaurant tonight, a lot of #NeverTrump Republicans are “coming home” because they figure Trump will either self-destruct or flake off in the first hundred days and they’ll get Pence as their president, something that could never have been pulled off by way of the front door.

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  7. alex said on November 2, 2016 at 10:32 pm

    Oh, and Cruz will be veep.

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  8. brian stouder said on November 2, 2016 at 11:01 pm

    Deborah, indeed; the guy in Nancy’s last picture reminds me of nothing so much as those crabby trees that Dorothy has to deal with on her trip down the yellow brick road in Wizard of Oz. (“Hey, whaddaya think you’re doing?!”)

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  9. Dave said on November 2, 2016 at 11:04 pm

    Alex, that’s so depressing, as depressing as reading about the tightening polls.

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  10. Sherri said on November 2, 2016 at 11:32 pm

    You’ll probably have to google the headline to read the article, but it sounds like there were some FBI agents determined to find something, anything on the Clinton Foundation, and didn’t want to take no for an answer. Plus, everybody’s talking to their favorite writers now, trying to get their side of the story out there.


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  11. Deborah said on November 3, 2016 at 12:23 am

    I heard screaming outside so I thought the Cubs won, but I see they haven’t yet. I wonder what that was?

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  12. beb said on November 3, 2016 at 12:30 am

    wild baseball game. tied in the 9th, rain delay and now bases loaded. What a knuckle-biter!

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  13. Deborah said on November 3, 2016 at 1:00 am

    I typed my email incorrectly so a comment I made is in moderation. Basically I said there’s some shouting and honking but less than I expected.

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  14. jcburns said on November 3, 2016 at 1:07 am

    spoiler alert: Chicago wins.

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  15. Little Bird said on November 3, 2016 at 1:15 am

    As per Cubs win: yawn.
    However, it might be indicative of the end of the world.

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  16. Heather said on November 3, 2016 at 1:48 am

    I’m not even a sports fan but this is pretty exciting. There are tons of fireworks, air horns, cars honking all over the city. Going to be hard to get to sleep tonight!

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  17. alex said on November 3, 2016 at 6:42 am

    I lived in Boyztown/Wrigleyville the last time the Cubs had a good season and it was quite festive and noisy in the ‘hood for a couple of nights until some doofus in the stands caught the ball and became Public Enemy Number One. I probably couldn’t sleep through a night of that stuff anymore, let alone the usual white noise of traffic and sirens in that part of town. I kind of miss the energy of the place, though.

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  18. adrianne said on November 3, 2016 at 7:08 am

    It was a nail biter, but satisfying World Series: Cubs win! The Onion posted this: “Millions of drunk Cubs fans rioting in Heaven following World Series win.”

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  19. Suzanne said on November 3, 2016 at 7:58 am

    I can’t think about tRumpwinning & then resigning, Mullah My Pants becoming POTUS, and choosing Mullah Cruz as his VP. Takes all the excitement out of the Cubs winning the Series.

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  20. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on November 3, 2016 at 8:40 am

    YESSSSSSSSS!!!!!!! Ladies and gentlemen, the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs!

    The Cubs and Indians on the field, and their fans (at least on my feed) are showing the political world how to compete with all your heart and not lose your soul. It was truly a game for the ages last night and this morning, and a Game Seven for the record books, with Indians fans and Cubs loyalists all congratulating the heck out of each other.

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  21. Icarus said on November 3, 2016 at 10:01 am

    Is it ironic that a rain delay lead to the end of the Cub’s World Series drought?

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  22. Alan Stamm said on November 3, 2016 at 10:38 am

    You are such a fine storyteller, Nancy, and not just because you drop an evocative reference not seen for . . . oh, more than few decades now: black-and-white Tri-X.

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  23. Sue said on November 3, 2016 at 10:50 am

    Good one, Icarus. I’m stealing that.
    When the Indians tied it up late in the game and then there was a base on a walk, my husband and I looked at each other and started laughing. I mean, LAUGHING, because here we go again. So happy they won but *of course* they had to drag it out and take a few more years off of the lives of their fans. Loved watching all the fan shots for both teams. All that literal nail-biting. I identified with all of them.
    A co-worker insists that the death rate in Chicago is going to skyrocket as all those elderly fans who’ve been hanging around waiting for a win finally go on their way. I do know that most Cubs fans were thinking of deceased friends and relatives last night, I know I was.

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  24. Charlotte said on November 3, 2016 at 10:53 am

    Holy shit was that a baseball game! I left Chicago right after graduating college, and was never a True Fan, if anything, I leaned White Sox, but jeez oh pete I got sucked in and could hardly stand it. And the Indians were SO good — just ask Himself, a died-in-the-wool Red Sox fan. (I am sorry we didn’t get to see the Return of Drunk Napoli). There’s a gif going around of the Kris Bryant throwing that last out to Rizzo and it’s perfect — he’s laughing with joy as he throws it.

    And then I was so wired I was up too late. Time to put the day back together. Whew!

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  25. Deborah said on November 3, 2016 at 11:34 am

    I get that people are excited about the Cubs win but some people on Face Book are acting like they were on the field playing the game themselves. One woman, a friend of a friend, thanked her whole family, called them out name by name for sticking with her while she was a diehard fan. Sorry but that’s just weird. I’ve only been to one Cubs game, that was about 13 years ago. When I lived in St. Louis I went to about one Cardinals game a year, so I went to about 23 games maybe a few more. I like going to baseball games, I find it peaceful, which is odd, but I do. I’m not sure why I don’t go in Chicago.

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  26. jcburns said on November 3, 2016 at 11:45 am

    Well, the color Tri-X was complete crap.

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    • nancy said on November 3, 2016 at 11:48 am

      Yes, redundant to say black-and-white Tri-X, although lots of people probably don’t know what Tri-X is, or was. More correct to say “Tri-X, black-and-white film and the standard for newspaper photography in that era.”

      By the way, I still prefer those old Tri-X-pushed-to-1600 pix to today’s digital stuff. It says JOURNALISM much more clearly.

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  27. Kim said on November 3, 2016 at 12:07 pm

    My youngest’s team had to win last night in order to make their conference tournament and did in a golden goal OT against a team they’d never beaten in their Division 1 era, so that was epic. And then on the 2.5-hour drive home listening to the Cubs on AM radio I thought I’d need the defibrillator again – got home in time to watch the bottom of the 9th onward. Holy cow. What. A. Game. My grandfather, a chronic crabby man who was born on the North Side two years after the last World Series championship and died in 1995, spent his life rooting for “those bums.” I think last night’s win would’ve finally made him smile.

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  28. jcburns said on November 3, 2016 at 12:24 pm

    I like this tri-x picture you shot recently.

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  29. Sherri said on November 3, 2016 at 12:43 pm

    So, Theo Epstein has broken the curses of two franchises! Where should he go next?

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  30. Sherri said on November 3, 2016 at 1:12 pm

    Perhaps part of the problem at the FBI? https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/as-us-pushes-police-to-diversify-fbi-struggles-to-get-minorities-in-the-door/2015/03/12/01bd5806-c753-11e4-b2a1-bed1aaea2816_story.html

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  31. Jakash said on November 3, 2016 at 1:45 pm


    I’m a “recovering” sports fan — don’t pay even a tenth of the attention that I used to — but for many, their devotion to their team is akin to some people’s feelings for their religions. (And I don’t doubt that there’s a significant overlap between sports fandom and religious faith.) Some find religious folks to be “just weird”, as well, but there sure are a lot of them. Folks in Chicago (and expatriates all over the country) have waited their whole lives for this — not sure what would count as an over-the-top reaction to this event, but thanking one’s family doesn’t seem to qualify, to me. : )

    BTW, any Cubs fan worth their salt hates the Cardinals with a passion almost as great as, or greater than, they have for caring about the Cubs! ; )

    That game was truly unbelievable, and what a way for the Cubs to finally win a World Series. Neil Steinberg occasionally marvels at real life occurrences that would look trite or too incredible to be good fiction. That game had several.

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  32. Peter said on November 3, 2016 at 2:07 pm

    Sherri, he should run for president!! He’s rehabbed two old decrepit franchises, he’s ready to take on the oldest most decrepit franchise of them all!

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  33. Dave said on November 3, 2016 at 2:12 pm

    Sue at 23, today, on Facebook, one of my old co-workers brought up a long deceased-before-his-time friend, who we lost when he was only 42 in 1994. He said he couldn’t help thinking of Bill and how he would have loved seeing the Cubs win. I stole Adriane’s Onion quote and told him Bill was with all the rest of those heaven partiers.

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  34. Charlotte said on November 3, 2016 at 2:26 pm

    Even *I* hate the Cardinals, and I’m just a vestigal Cubs fan.

    It’s been eight years that Himself and I have been together, and while I haven’t been converted to football or basketball, I’ve really come to love baseball. Thanks to mlb.com and our Roku device, we can watch the Boston feed for most Red Sox games — I like the pace, and the skill, and the fact that even the best, most successful players still fail about 60-70% of the time. And those Sox, I mean, come on, look at this guy’s face as he realizes he’s throwing the winning out for the World Series! for the Cubs! It’s like catching a unicorn or something: https://deadspin.com/kris-bryant-smiling-through-the-final-out-is-my-favorit-1788534073

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  35. Icarus said on November 3, 2016 at 2:26 pm

    @Sherri, I vote for the Bears.

    @Sue, be my guest.

    @Deborah: there are much, much worst things on FB, as I’m sure you know. My guess is her post might have came out sounding odd, but it was from a good place — essentially apologizing for being so fanatical all those years.

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  36. Mouse said on November 3, 2016 at 2:47 pm

    What a great story Nance!Just when I’d had it up to here with the election BS,something cool like that comes along.

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  37. Jolene said on November 3, 2016 at 3:06 pm

    I saw somebody on Facebook–maybe it was our Jeff(tmmo)–say that there’d be no concern for size in many purchases of Cubs gear today, as much of it would be going on the graves of departed friends and family members.

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  38. Sherri said on November 3, 2016 at 3:12 pm

    Maybe Epstein should clean up the FBI before he takes on the whole country: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/03/fbi-leaks-hillary-clinton-james-comey-donald-trump

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  39. Scout said on November 3, 2016 at 3:40 pm

    Thanks for the election week palate cleanser. I’m needing more of those by the day.

    I have a good friend who got through the last few years of a bad marriage by getting into body building. She won the over 40 category twice and looked fantastic. Now she is divorced and remarried to a musician. The gym went by the wayside as soon as she was happier and spending time in nightclubs instead. She still looks good, though.

    Not a baseball fan, but cool about the Cubs. My SO is from Chicago and lived near Wrigley; although not a big fan either, she was pleased.

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  40. Deborah said on November 3, 2016 at 3:52 pm

    Yes, Icarus, I agree there is a lot worse on FB these days, although I don’t have that many FB friends and the ones I have happen to be mostly liberal, except for a couple of nieces so I don’t usually see the creepy stuff proTrump people post. I also agree that the woman who thanked her family members for putting up with her, was coming from a good place.

    Also, the only Cubs game I went to 13 or so years ago was when the Cubs played the Cards and I was with a bunch of people from St. Louis. As I recall the Cards won and the Cubs fans weren’t happy. Maybe that’s why I never went to another Cubs game? Not that I consider myself a Cardinals fan either. The thing I like about an occasional baseball game, is sitting outside on a pleasant summer evening watching some action on a green, green field. Drinking beer and eating a hotdog usually makes it more fun too.

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  41. Sue said on November 3, 2016 at 4:15 pm

    Dave, we have a Bill too. My father in law, three years gone, whose ashes are in a nice box in my MIL’s living room near the TV with a Cubs hat on top.
    Icarus, thanks.
    Jolene, I know someone who works at Dick’s Sporting Goods, apparently the Chicago-area stores have already done 2.5 million in sales.

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  42. Deborah said on November 3, 2016 at 5:08 pm

    These are the same people who call themselves pro-life http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/11/03/500420007/texas-medicaid-cuts-hit-rural-disabled-kids-especially-hard. This just burns me up. I think I’m crabby today, didn’t get enough sleep last night.

    They’ve publicized the route for the Cubs parade tomorrow. The manager of our building sent out an email telling everyone what the street closures will be. It starts at Wrigley and travels down to Grant Park, at one point it goes on Michigan from Oak to Randolph. I’ll probably walk over to Michigan at around 11, bum foot and all, it’s only about a block and a half though. It should be a zoo. I lived in St. Louis when the Cardinals won the World Series two different years, I worked downtown and the parades then were a lot of fun. This one in Chicago will probably be amazing, since it’s such a big deal to so many people.

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  43. Jolene said on November 3, 2016 at 5:44 pm

    The article from The Guardian that Sherri posted at #38 re the culture of the FBI and the antipathy toward Clinton within the agency is very disturbing. Even worse is this piece from the Daily Beast re the connections between Giuliani, the FBI, Trump, and Fox News.

    A few days ago on Twitter, Matt Yglesias said, “Imagine what Trump’s coalition of white supremacists and law enforcement professionals could do together in office.” It really is terrifying to think about an unstable, unprincipled, vengeful man like Trump could do with police powers or what people with police powers might be moved to do knowing that they have his tacit support.

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  44. Jolene said on November 3, 2016 at 5:48 pm

    Heard a little while ago that, on Election Eve, there’s to be a big rally in Philadelphia featuring Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton, along with Barack and Michelle Obama. If Clinton carries the city and the suburbs, Trump cannot win Pennsylvania or the presidency. Pray that they are all in good form.

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  45. Sherri said on November 3, 2016 at 5:49 pm

    Beyoncé and the Dixie Chicks blew the lid off the CMA’s last night with their performance of her song “Daddy Lessons”. Unfortunately, she’s not a member of the tribe, so there are some country music fans unhappy.


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  46. Heather said on November 3, 2016 at 5:58 pm

    I asked to work from home tomorrow so I could go see at least part of the parade. I actually have a lot to get done but I’m going to ride my bike down to Wrigley and join in the cheering for a little bit. I’m not a huge sports fan, but I am a lifelong Chicagoan, and this feels important. I’m also doing it in remembrance of my grandmother and Aunt Kay-Kay, who always had the game on in the den of their home on the northwest side.

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  47. Sherri said on November 3, 2016 at 6:26 pm

    Now, Comey’s surrogate is trying the don’t blame Comey, blame the press strategy for salvaging Comey’s reputation post-letter.


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  48. Sherri said on November 3, 2016 at 6:35 pm

    This is what rigging elections looks like: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-northcarolina-insight-idUSKBN12Y0ZY

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  49. Sherri said on November 3, 2016 at 7:04 pm

    Harvard cancelled the remainder of its men’s soccer schedule: http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/national-international/Harvard-University-Mens-Soccer-Season-Ends-Early-After-Scouting-Report-Comes-to-Light-399916441.html

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  50. Jolene said on November 3, 2016 at 8:22 pm

    As you may have heard, Melania Trump spoke earlier today. She left people wondering whether she had met her husband.

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  51. Sherri said on November 3, 2016 at 8:37 pm

    The most important information in this article is that Macedonian teenagers are running fake health site for Facebook ad money, not just fake Trump sites.


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  52. Sherri said on November 3, 2016 at 9:02 pm

    I just answered the door and assured a young man of color doorbelling for Hillary and Dems that I and the rest of my family had already sent in our ballots with votes for Hillary and Dems down ballot. He was very happy, as was I. I was also able to tell the phone bankers yesterday that yes, my 21 year old daughter off at college had mailed in her ballot, too. I learned the trick to getting your college student to return their ballot from our mayor’s wife: send them a stamp with the ballot, because they don’t get this buying stamps stuff.

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  53. Sherri said on November 3, 2016 at 9:21 pm

    Debunking the debunkers: http://deadspin.com/vox-scams-readers-into-thinking-prescient-world-series-1788554988

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  54. Charlotte said on November 3, 2016 at 9:33 pm

    I wonder if John Lester has had the duck boat he bought after the Red Sox parade shipped up for tomorrow’s festivities?
    Had a great email exchange with my dad, who has lived in Prague since the early 1990s. He got up at 1 am to watch the game stream on Fox … and was still just astonished and happy emailing me mid-afternoon my time. Said he’s been so wired he couldn’t go back to sleep.

    Also told me that the Dakota Pipeline protest is getting a lot of play in Europe. I had a chance to go this morning, but um, was with a woman I don’t know that well, and I don’t think is someone I want to go on a road trip with. So passed.

    But my pal Danny, a fellow Chicagoan and I, stood on Main Street in Livingston united in shock. The Cubs won the World Series. Portents and wonders. Now to get Our Lady of the Pantsuit over the line …

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  55. Sherri said on November 3, 2016 at 10:23 pm

    Melania’s tips for stopping bullying: https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/compost/wp/2016/11/03/melania-trumps-tips-for-stopping-cyberbullying/

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