Category Archives: Being Slovak

The Slovak Olympic Bandwagon is Now Boarding (via The Loop / Golf Digest)


The Loop / Golf Digest — I am flush with homeland pride because last night, or possibly tomorrow morning, I don’t really understand time zones, the Slovak Olympic hockey team upended the much-favored squad from the proud nation of Olympic Athletes of Russia, which has many citizens, four million conservative Twitter bots and is known to be pretty good at hockey. This is a very big win, akin to … OK well no other major Olympic Russian-related hockey upsets come to mind, but it’s a big deal. (As it happens, the non-NHL U.S. team lost to Slovenia, so basically Olympic hockey just got its bracket busted, or, as we say in Slovakia, bjysykd.)

The bandwagon is boarding, choo choo. 





This Enormous Falling Pierogi Pushed Me Right Off Facebook (via Vice Tonic)

pierogi drop 2017 whiting indiana

Real news.


Vice / Tonic — If there’s one thing we all know to be true, it’s that we should abandon Facebook now. I knew this. And in all likelihood, you know this.

You can’t swing a dead cat around the internet without bumping it into studies proclaiming how we’re all burning the precious gift of life on a yawning vacuum packed with screaming idiots, masked cries for help from vague sad people we no longer know and whatever our exes are doing, which, surprise, doesn’t help anything. (Science, incidentally, also frowns on swinging dead cats, but I couldn’t find any studies on that.)

So while we all should quit for very good reasons, I ended up quitting, like I do most things, because of pierogies. 





White Castle’s beer/wine sales to save customers the trouble of getting drunk and ending up at a White Castle

You can find me in da club

GateHouse — I don’t know about you, but I spent New Year’s Eve getting hammered at White Castle. Ha! That’s a joke, of course — as I’ve somehow ended up with children living in my home, what I actually did was nothing! Well, at least nothing that required me to apply pants that aren’t operated by a drawstring.

But if I had gone anywhere, it would have been to The Castle, because according to a newspaper article that has been received by the Vrabel family with something close to the reckless delirium we felt when the Bears won the Super Bowl, The Castle is considering expanding its current roster of menu offerings (Gruel, Gruel On Bun, Gruel On Bun Feat. Chili, etc.) to include beer and/or wine.

Now, first of all, why this is needed is a mystery. White Castle, of course, is a brand that needs no improvement, no upgrading, no bridge to the 21st century. White Castle is built on the idea of shoe closet-sized restaurants that serve construction paper-thick burger-type objects on synthetic breadsubstance, all delivered to you in an environment that would suggest you are eating the food of kings and queens, if your royal subjects were all 400 lb. NASCAR fans or on their way home from the bars and think they’re in a Taco Bell.

Obviously, this is not a negative. This is what White Castle does, and it does it magically. Seriously if they started serving “salads” or “shrimp” or even burgers that were made of burgers I would be the first to lead the nationwide uprising. Ron Paul-college-volunteer style. “BRING BACK OUR WHITE CASTLE!” I would shout into a megaphone I stole from a hippie, “THESE NEW MENU ITEMS ARE DANGEROUSLY CLOSE TO FOOD.”




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Doctors discourage boxing for kids, according to the September issue of Are You Effing Kidding Me With This

It would be easier to make fun of kids' boxing if this picture WAS NOT SO ADORABLE

GateHouse — Well, the chances are pretty good that if you’re the type of person who is moved to reflection by the headline “Pediatricians put the kibosh on boxing for kids,” you are already PRETTY WELL IMMERSED in the world of boxing for kids.

This is the sort of headline that only a country where half of the Major Presidential Candidates are still wobbly on this confusing “science” situation would require, the sort of news that’s news only if your daily planner includes the words “Nancy Grace” in pink bubble lettering, yet here we are: Last week the American Academy of Pediatrics and its Canadian counterpart, Rush, issued a joint report that came out against the sport of boxing for children and adolescents. Reasons included: a high risk of injury, potential for possible concussions and Listening To The Instincts Burned Deep Within The DNA Of Every Human Alive Over Millions Of Years Of Evolution.


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The green revolution = Totally a Vrabel family idea. You’re welcome, Gaia

(Moon 7 Media)

Hilton Head Monthly — You can say a lot of things about us Vrabels — that we are a stout, swarthy, Chicago Bears-loving bunch, that our surname is Slovak for “little bird” but we tell people it means “ferocious warriors wielding large hammers with jagged metal things on them” and that we whip up a mean plate of halupki, although most people who say that last one do so right before making other plans for dinner.

But we Vrabels are also a frugal lot, and by “frugal” I mean “some of us steal little jelly packets from restaurants to briefly postpone buying full-size jars at the store.” Once, deep in the recesses of my grandparents’ basement, I discovered a case of Pepsi cans commemorating an All-Star Game that had taken place about four years prior. I am related to people who are basically ninjas when it comes to garage sales. Basically if any of us go to dinner without a coupon of some kind, a brief panic sets in.

True story: After my grandfather died and we began the process of sorting through the astonishing mass of stuff he’d stashed throughout his basement, attic, back room and at least one closet no one had ever seen before, we started to find things like stacks and stacks of cigar boxes labeled “Scotch Tape Dispensers — Working” and “Scotch Tape Dispensers — Broken,” which was obviously an odd development unless Grandpa was working on a Scotch tape dispenser-fueled robot or something, which he might have been (he was that kind of guy). If you went through the garages of our extended family today, I guarantee you’d find at least 50 buckets of old golf balls that have been fished out of northwest Indiana ponds and lakes. And my cousin recently confessed that after eight years of marriage, it still drives him nuts to see his wife employ a piece of aluminum foil only once. “I die a little each time,” he told me, shaking his head sadly, “and don’t even get me started on the Ziploc bags.”


Tom Waits – All The World Is Green


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White Castle candles: Like a delightful bouquet of abandoned onions and my grandparents’ kitchen

Do not eat the candle, as much as you're going to want to.

GateHouse — A few years ago, upmarket luxury merchant Burger King launched its very own personal men’s fragrance, one designed to approximate the iconic BK odor, which is to say a char-broiled hork of theoretical meat patty which was flash-frozen in a Beijing agricultural facility in 1997 and brought via oil tanker or donkey or whatever to thousands of Burger Kings all over the South’s interstate highway exits. (Just kidding, Burger King,  you know I heart you and your Croissan’wiches. Let’s never fight again.)

Anyway, the BK cologne thing was called Flame, and we all laughed at it, because it turns out that Americans will put up with a lot of things, including Jay Leno, but attempting to purposefully smell like a restaurant you visit only mostly it’s across from the gas station is not chief among them. This country is being torn to pieces by jeez, I can’t even remember, taxes, President Kenya, immigration and the Planet, which is pretty much emptying its playbook of highly metaphoric natural disasters, but all ages and demographics found BK Flame to be a most displeasing proposition, especially since you could buy a double-cheeseburger for 99 cents and rub it all of your flesh for essentially the same olfactory effect.

But when it came right down to it, Burger King’s pioneering entry into the fragrance market failed for one clear reason: Burger King is no White Castle.



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It’s the Grammys vs. the Polka Community, and no one can truly win

polkaGateHouse — If you read the news these days with any regularity at all, if you take even a small time to try to keep with the disorder and disquiet in the world, then you already know these are very, very difficult times. For the polka.

I am saddened to report that the polka is dying, although I am mostly saddened to report it without the benefit of a depressed-sounding tuba honking gloomily in the background, so you’ll just have to imagine that part, and that it’s doing so unloved and under-respected, even by its musical cousins, the waltz, the mazurka and, of course, the modern oom-pah band. And sadly it is doing so as a relic, something believed to be practiced only by older men whose names sound like what would happen if consonants spent a day beating the hell out of each other, names such as Roman Rezac, Ernie Kuchera, Al Grebnic and, of course, Frankie Yankovic.

Because as of this year, the polka category is being dropped by the Grammy Awards. The. Grammy. Awards. Being shot down by the Grammy Awards is like being picked last in dodgeball in gym class, except it’s more like being instructed by the teacher to go lay quietly during dodgeball in gym class with your head on the floor facing the bleachers in a corner of the gym located, if possible, in an entirely different school district.


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Mrs. T’s Pierogi Pocket competition: Vote early and often, like you live in Chicago

Pierogies all up in this piece, WHUT

Island Packet — If you have never eaten a pierogi, if you have never explored the magnificent taste combinations that arise when you weld a doughy dumpling to the important parts of a potato, then all I can say is that I weep for you. I weep for you nightly.

Pierogies basically are like what God would eat, if he was a Slovak, like my family. You could be forgiven before not knowing much about Slovakia (national slogan: “No, We Are Not The Country Borat Was From, And Please Stop Asking”).

Slovak cuisine, as a rule, is boiled to within an inch of its life or originates from a goat, or both, but pierogies fall distinctly into that first category. According to Wikipedia, which is absolutely reliable when it comes to the identification of doughy snackables, “pierogi” refers to “a variety of Slavic semicircular (or, in some cuisines, square) boiled dumplings of unleavened dough stuffed with varying ingredients.” Sure, I know what you’re thinking: “Gracious almighty, unleavened dough? Stuffed with VARYING INGREDIENTS? WHY HAVE YOU KEPT THIS BEWITCHING WONDER TO YOURSELF FOR SO LONG?” My apologies. Just hang on.

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Whiting, Ind. loses pierogi competition, and I go nuts

The greatest travesty of justice in the history of everything.

GateHouse – RECOUNT!




Unbelievable. Regular readers of this column — and hello again to my mom and whoever keeps coming to my Web site looking for pictures of the Insane Clown Posse — will remember that a few weeks back, I wrote about Whiting, Ind.’s chances of being crowned the Mrs. T’s Capital of the Pierogy Pocket of America, via what I believed to be a legitimate online competition, but what was obviously an audacious swindle being perpetrated on regular, dumpling-loving Americans by the nefarious lobbying cabal Big Potato. Because there is no way on God’s green and increasingly toasty Earth that Whiting, Ind., would lose to the alleged town of Binghamton, N.Y., wherever that is — especially not with the vast, crushing power of the full-on media blitz I personally launched in late October (and by “vast, crushing power” I mean “me, my cousin and this guy Jim voted like twice a day,” but I mean, come on, it’s working for Ron Paul).

Still, we Whitingians are nothing if not gracious in defeat, because many of us are fans of Chicago baseball, and I would like to react to our loss by doing a few things, the first of which is pout like a 4-year-old girl. Then, I plan to dream up a wildly irrational conspiracy theory involving Mrs. T’s executives and the Falun Gong (it will have a chart, which will rule), then sob quietly into my pillow for about two days, then don a black cape and sit in a barn listening to Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska” for the better part of an icy and sleepless night. I do not deal well with loss, people, and frankly given my history as a Cubs fan it’s a minor miracle that I ever get out of bed.

Second, I demand a recount, and I can do that because this is America, and recounts are available in any and all instances, such as when somebody doesn’t like the outcome of anything, or when a result is statistically close, or when you know your governor brother and his minions will help you rig an entire carnival-show state. So someone get Katherine Harris and her implants off of that photo-op horse and have her rig up something, and let’s not pretend like she has anything else to do.

Listen, I’m sure the people of Binghamton, all 12 of them, are extremely capable lumberjacks or whatever, but you cannot tell me that their pierogies can hold a drippy Slovak candle to those of my ancestors in Whiting, Ind., where there is an annual Pierogi Fest that features a grown man dressed as “Mr. Pierogi” although his costume could also theoretically make him “Mr. Salt Shaker” or “Mr. Deflated Zeppelin” or “The Swedish Chef from ‘The Muppets'” and where 75% of the town’s electricity comes from the fumes produced by recycled dumplings.

But buried within the press release announcing Binghamton’s controversial and contested victory lies what I believe to be the nefarious secret behind it all: A quote from Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y. Mostly), which says the Democratic front-runner is “happy to hear that St. Michael’s Church has persevered in its pursuit of pierogi perfection.” Ah HA! See what happened here, it was the HIPPIE WOODSTOCK LIBERALS and their VOTE TAMPERING, while on THE MARIJUANA. So for all those who voted for Binghamton, you voted for a WEAK AMERICA and a GIANT GAY GOVERNMENT and a land where writers USE CAPS ALL THE TIME WHEN THEY CAN’T THINK OF OTHER JOKES. Anyway, enjoy learning French, freedom-haters.

Indeed, as I suspect a recount will not work out in Whiting’s favor and the Supreme Court is apparently off making decisions on free speech or whatever, I propose that we, the people of Whiting — and all those other adjacent towns that look and smell like Whiting — waste no more time in invading Binghamton, as soon as someone can locate it on Google Earth. We will take their land, discover their secrets and then, only then, will we, um, invite them to Pierogi Fest next year, because we are a kind and giving people, and because we hear they have a fantastic secret recipe involving bacon.

* Binghamton, N.Y., was awarded $10,000 to St. Michael’s Greek Catholic Church, which entered the competition on behalf of the city and which will donate the prize to the Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse, which distributes about 2 million pounds of food a year to local charities.

Mrs. T’s Pierogy Pocket Competition: Vote early, vote often for Whiting, Ind.

GateHouse – If you have ever had occasion to visit Whiting, Ind., you know that it is not often that the town is nominated for an an award, much less the potential capital of anything. If you have ever been to Whiting, Ind., the chances are good that sometime during your trip, someone in your party uttered one of the following things:

  1. Why are the skies here so orange?
  2. Can I swim in the lake?
  3. Why was that man sitting in White Castle every afternoon?

The answers, in order, are as follows: Because the steel mills have been belching low-hanging smoke for 100 years; sure, if you’ve been looking to add a pair of gills and a tail; and that was my grandfather, who, in his heyday, spent at least a couple hours every day in the White Castle on Indianapolis Blvd., meeting and/or chatting up what was apparently every human soul who ever set foot in Whiting, Ind. My grandpa was like that. He and Grandma lived most of their lives in Whiting, and as such it’s where much of my family hails from, the family having moved there from Czechoslovakia (whose official motto is “By the time you finish spelling it, we’ve changed the name”) in the early part of the 1900s to get a little of that burgeoning steel mill action and, of course, the various and delightful respiratory ailments that came with it (Whiting’s skies are sort of brownish-gold a lot of the time, except in the evenings, when they turn George Hamilton-orange, lit by tongues of flame that regularly erupt into the night sky). But to this day the town is lousy with Vrabels; you’ll generally find us in the Knights of Columbus hall on those rare occasions we’re not failing again at spelling our name over the phone (“NO, LISTEN – V, AS IN VICTOR…”).

So I have some history with Whiting, and it is with great pride and zero irony that I am asking for a little help, as it was recently brought to my attention by my cousin Kevin, no stranger to White Castle himself, that Whiting is currently in the running for Mrs. T’s Capital of the Pierogi Pocket of America.

What is a pierogi, you might ask, if you’re unfamiliar with the delightful cuisine of my eastern European ancestors? It’s OK. Unless at some point in the past you were my grandmother, you probably don’t often make pierogies, which are dumplings of unleavened dough that are stuffed with all manner of traditional Slovak delicacies, such as cheese, onions, sauerkraut, cabbage and cat meat (Kidding! I’m kidding! If we Slovaks love anything, it’s making people think we were the country Borat came from). Like many Slovak foods, pierogies are basically food hunks that have been shrouded in other, slightly more gelatinous food hunks. They are readily purchaseable in the Potato section of your local grocery, are best when sauteed in butter and onions and tend to make your entire kitchen smell like Bratislava. (Note: It has been recently brought to my attention that pierogies may not actually be a native Slovak food, but here’s the thing: It’s my column space, it would take like 30 seconds to Wikipedia, and besides, I’m not exactly writing the Encyclopedia Brittanica here, so let’s just, for the sake of argument, go with the Slovak thing. Cool? Cool)

Whiting would get the edge anyway, if I’m doing the judging, but especially so because of its Pierogi Fest, which happens every year, once featured Crystal Gayle (she is OBSESSED with unleavened dumplings) and helps keep the citizens’ minds off the orange skies. The Pierogi Fest features a Pierogi Toss, a Pierogi Eating Contest and once boasted the world’s largest pierogi, a terror-inducing behemoth that weighed in at 78 pounds. Let me reiterate that: There is a PIEROGI FEST. Every year! It draws like 50,000 people! The White Sox can’t draw that!

So I ask for your help in bringing a little sunshine to Whiting’s potato-loving people. Here are the details: Voting for the Mrs. T’s contest (I’ll even plug their pierogies, that’s how much I care about this) takes place at; voting ends on Oct. 23. Whiting is in the running with Clifton, N.J. (pfft); Binghamton, N.Y. (lame); Buffalo, N.Y. (what?); and Lancaster, N.Y. (ugh), all towns that are probably like nice or whatever, but cannot hold a candle to Whiting’s people and history, to say nothing of their White Castles.

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