Thursday, March 30, 2006

A Spot of Spring

During the daylight hours, we could walk through the doors to the outside without feeling a sudden slap of cold, or even much difference in temp. Spring! Get out the Maypoles. I don’t think Schaumburg has a municipal Maypole, but it ought to. Or maybe we should leave Maypole erection to the private sector, since I understand that Maypole nationalization in the UK didn’t really work out as well as the reformers thought.

I may be wrong—I don’t get out enough—but it seems that Maypoles, in this country away, are more creatures of illustration than tangible items, like a burglar’s mask or a hobo’s bag tied to a stick. Every one knows what one looks like because illustrators copy other illustrations.

Whatever the status of Maypoles, it was warm enough for the kids to play outside without coats or even jackets. Warm enough to return a couple of folding chairs to the deck, and park myself in one of them for the few minutes that I could spare. Warm enough to enjoy the wind on my face (it was windy today too). Trouble is, the day’s warmth will in no way be sustained. It may not freeze again much till October or so, but there will be plenty of cold days to come.

But never mind. Carpe diem, which in this case meant lounging around outside and reading for fun in the wind.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

All the Way the Paper Bag Was on My Knee

My cousin Jay in Mississippi e-mailed me to let me know that the plane I saw at Pilot Pete’s (see yesterday) was likely a species of “ultralight aircraft,” the kind that enthusiasts build and fly. I’ve heard of such, and seen pictures, but I don’t think I’d ever seen one myself, which only goes to show that you never know what you’ll see out in the inexhaustible, variegated world.

I forgot to mention it, but my favorite bits of decoration at PP’s weren’t the planes, but the reproductions of travel posters from the early days of jet travel. Why the proprietors picked jet travel, I don’t know, since jets do not land at the airport in Schaumburg, but there they were in the small waiting area just inside the entrance.

FLY FINNAIR TO FRIENDLY FINLAND said one, illustrated with a lush scene of lakes and trees and a blonde bathing beauty ca. 1960 style. Funny how you can feel a touch of nostalgia for a time when you weren’t quite born yet—but something of the newness of jet travel, the progress it represented over slower airplanes in getting you to exotic destinations, comes across in the posters.

There was also a poster for destinations served by BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corp.), another distinct bit of airline nostalgia. A lyric in the Beatles song “Back in the USSR” is probably where I first heard of BOAC, which in a fit of rationalization in the 1970s -- the British had several such fits in that decade -- was merged into another state-controlled airline to form British Air. I had a good couple of flights on BA once upon a time, but it doesn’t quite have the distinctness of the older name.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Pilot Pete’s

I’ll say this for the owners of Pilot Pete’s, located at the Schaumburg Municipal Airport: they did their branding homework. Though not actually a unit of a far-flung restaurant chain, the place certain felt like it. It had the neutral tables and booths, thematic décor, fair-to-middling food and reasonably good service you’d expect in a formula restaurant. It cost about as much as a mid-level chain eatery, too.

Sometime ago, Lilly got a certificate from the local chapter of the PTA for learning the Greek alphabet or something, and it was good for a free kid’s meal at Pilot Pete’s or one of the other two restaurants with different names owned by the same owners. I was intrigued by the fact that Pete’s is part of the airport, which isn’t too far from where we live (small aircraft pass within sight of our deck on their approach to the airport, and on some summer weekends we enjoy quite a parade of little planes).

The theme was aviation, of course. Photos of planes and their pilots, small paintings of the same, and a number of models of them too—early military planes or general aviation, with one or two jets thrown in. Then there was the full-sized airplane hanging, Spirit of St. Louis style, from the ceiling. We sat in a booth not far from that plane, and while Lilly had a view of the picture windows that looked out onto the runway--dark and still when we were there--I spent my meal facing it.

So I got a good look at the plane. Single-winged, but the propeller was behind the cockpit, which wasn’t really an enclosed area, but more of a mounted chair. The fuselage was a metal frame in the shape of a fuselage, without covering, except for the tail. There were no distinctive markings. It was an odd-looking thing, and yet to my untutored eye, it looked like a real plane that could fly. I imagined it might be a trainer from the 1920s or ’30s, but I didn’t know. I asked the waiter, and he didn’t know, either. “I just bring the food,” he said.

And so he did. Lilly had a cheese pizza that was intensely cheesy. I had meatloaf, mashed potatoes and vegetables. Quality: not bad. The potatoes were very good, the meatloaf pretty good. Quantity: my slab of meatloaf was like a calving from the Ross Ice Shelf. Some of it sits even now in my refrigerator.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Dentists’ Fish

Took Lilly to the dentist today to face the inevitable when it comes to a genetic disposition toward tooth decay—both her parents sport many fillings dating from our youth, and one or two of more recent vintage, tucked away there in the semidark—and a diet rich in processed sugar and corn syrup. Sure enough, the dentist spied a few budding holes. We will return soon for repairs.

It was an opportunity to see the large aquarium, stocked with colorful tropical fish, that the six-dentist practice maintains in the waiting room. Which must be some kind of mandate from the state that comes with a license to practice dentistry: “Licensees are required to maintain in a public area of their practice an aquarium (fish tank) inhabited by not fewer than four (4) aquatic creatures, preferably tropical varieties…”

Besides a thumping water-pump that made the aquarium hard to sit next to, our dentists had about six fish, and large rock complex, but no bubbling diver or chest o’ gold or shipwreck. The joint Illinois House-Senate Subcommittee on Decorative Aquarium Features must have decided to make those features optional during its deliberations, despite the urgings of the Model Seachest Manufacturers Association, headquartered in downstate Effingham.

Sunday, March 26, 2006


A few hours after grilling some meat, I almost always forget I still smell like smoke and feel a momentary alert: what’s burning in this house? No, wait, that’s my hair and shirt and pants. Standing near a wood-and-charcoal fire for a couple of hours passes along an odor that later morphs into house-on-fire, for a moment.

But it was dry and nearly warm by Sunday noon, and I was inspired to roll out the black ovoid grill – any simpler in design, and it would be a pit in the ground – and load it with charcoals jazzed up with lighter fluid, plus an assortment of large and small sticks, and fast-burning newspaper from bags in the garage. The papers were put there sometime in the fall of 2004. From the looks of them, there seems to have been some kind of election going on at the time that the newspaper people thought was important. A record of historic doings. I burned them anyway.

I cooked beef, pork and chicken. It was shredded pork, the sort you cook at your table at a Korean barbecue restaurant. So to do it up right after grilling, you wrap the cooked meat in a lettuce leaf dabbed with Sasum Deer brand red-pepper paste. Ah, that’s my kind of fusion cuisine: grilled up Occidental style, spiced by the Orient.

Got a postcard last week from Geof Huth, one of the nation’s foremost visual poets and a regular reader (hello, Geof). “Welcome to spring, tho I expect Dees to complain about the lack of vernality in his blog,” he writes (the card is addressed to all the Striblings under this roof).

Been meaning to get around to just that. Sunday’s short warm spell was the exception. On Friday morning, for instance, we woke to a thin coating of snow everywhere. By about 10, it had melted. A few hours later, huge snowflakes started to fall, coating ground and bare trees. It too melted in a few hours. The equinox may have passed, but that’s not springtime. Spring hasn’t had its first cup of coffee yet. It’s still in its bathrobe, thinking about whether to shave first or make some eggs.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Shuffle Off to Buffalo?

Spent much of Friday letting my immune system deal with a low-grade virus, the result of which was throwing up early in the morning, a headache the rest of the day, periodic visits to the toilet, and much of the day on my backside. Lilly had it early in the week, then it was Yuriko’s turn, and then mine.

We got an Underdog DVD in the mail, for the purpose of entertaining Lilly and Ann. Heard once or twice, the theme song is a pleasant reminder of grade school days. Play it ten times and the charm wears right off.

My condition didn’t keep me from writing a story on GSA property disposition in the morning, though writing conditions weren’t ideal—painful head, queasy gut, a toddler who wanted me to be her personal jungle gym. At times like that, you want to say, “Who cares that the GSA is selling an office building in Buffalo? It’s Buffalo, after all.” But I’m a pro. I filed the bastard.

Besides, there’s a certain fascination with cities past their prime—the likes of Buffalo or Detroit or Ur. History teaches us that cities have their ups and downs anyway (I tend to favor the one-damn-thing-after-another school of history). Strangely enough, I actually want to spend a day or two in Buffalo someday, to take in whatever’s downtown, or see one of the Frederick Law Olmsted parks, or pay my regards to President Fillmore, who’s buried there. Any fool can make a long weekend of it in Vegas. It takes some imagination to enjoy the sights of Buffalo.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

3LDK Silo, Must Sell

Today I spent so time looking at the General Services Administration web site. Since the GSA manages property for the federal government, I went there to learn about real estate disposition by the agency for an article I’m working on.

This counted as a frequently asked question:

‘What is the process involved in acquiring missile silos for private individuals or public agencies?

“GSA disposes of abandoned missile sites for The Air Force pursuant to Public Law 100-180, as amended by Public Law 103-160. During the 1960s and early 1970s, silos were disposed of intact and were available for purchase in their original structural condition. However, the current missile site decommission process is vastly different. Decommissioned silos are now destroyed by implosion. The land, along with any easements, is made available for purchase by qualified adjacent landowners.”

My question is why did the Air Force change its decommission process? Why is it destroying perfectly interesting structures whose adaptive re-use possibilities are just about endless? A former missile silo could become a really cool bachelor pad, a six-story underground bar & grill, a capsule hotel, a compact mink ranch, a rave venue, or a lair from which to plot world domination. Maybe President Nixon was afraid of that final possibility, and ordered the Air Force to quit selling silos to any shifty-eye mad scientists who came along.

Still, silos for private use exist and are on the market.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Latest from Toyota Marketing

“Life is not a race,” the direct-mail ad for a nearby Toyota dealership tells me helpfully, “it’s a journey.” Pithy. Below that, there’s an illustration of an on-board DVD player. “Bring your family to our showroom to experience Toyota’s DVD Entertainment System.”

No, no. No again. And one more time, just to make sure. We’ve got a real-time, multimedia entertainment system in our car, which happens to be a Toyota. I call it “the window.”

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Labor Strife on Sodor

So many unanswered questions. Today I ponder the mysteries of Thomas the Tank Engine, the televised version, or at least one or two mysteries. The engines on Sodor Island are clearly autonomous, even sentient beings who make decisions about their future courses of action and then follow through. Why then do they need drivers? Every now and then a driver will pop out of the cab to do something, such as make an emergency call for help, usually after the engine has done something thoughtless.

Do the engines ever get into arguments with their drivers? One time one of the engines got it into his steam-powered head to drive into an abandoned mine shaft. If I were that driver, I’d put on the brakes before that could happen. So what happens when the driver wants to stop but the engine doesn’t?

But most of the time, the drivers are shadowy figures who don’t seem to do much, certainly not driving. Maybe the rail workers’ union insists they be there anyway. Margaret Thatcher might have broken the power of some trade unions, but not the drivers of Sodor! (Assuming Sodor is part of the UK, which seems a safe bet.)

You’d think Sir Topham Hat wouldn’t brook any of this union nonsense. I’m waiting for the episode in which the drivers go out on strike, and Thomas and some of the other engines go scabbing for Sir Topham. Being useful and all. That is, until Thomas is derailed on a lonely stretch of track by a gang of union men. The damage is too expensive to repair (says Sir Topham), and Thomas is sold for scrap.

Labels: , ,

Monday, March 20, 2006


Here it is, late March, and I’m still getting spam offering “Medicines Before Valentine [sic] Day!!!” The sender, “Ralph,” must be suffering from a serious calendar disconnect, or maybe he’s urging us to stock up on stud pills for next year, which I’d call serious planning ahead.

In Japan, Valentine’s Day has been successfully imported by merchants, especially chocolate sellers. The oddity (to Westerners) was that the strongest gift-giving custom was that women were supposed to give chocolates to men on that day, and not necessarily boyfriends, lovers or husbands, but also school- and even officemates. Occasionally, even in recent years, I’ll say to Yuriko on February 14, “Where’s my giri-choco?”

Giri being a prefix signifying social obligation and choco being chocolate (as in Choco-Pie! a Moon Pie sort of confection sold in Japan, an old favorite of mine). Yuriko, who knows about Valentine’s Day customs outside Japan, blows off this request, as I know she will. I do the giving: a pot of lovely lavender hydrangeas this year.

Once I read about a case in which some high school girls, short on funds to buy giri-choco, had been caught shoplifting sweets. So the devotion to the day can be intense. Men, on the other hand, seemed to have no special obligations on Valentine’s, but for all I know since I lived there, Viagra hucksters like Ralph might be making headway. Some efforts had been made to introduce in Japan a thing called “White Day” on March 14, a day on which men would buy women chocolates or other gifts. As far as I could tell, this succeeded as well as “Boss’s Day” or “Take Your CPA to Lunch Day” has here.


Sunday, March 19, 2006

Leftover: March 2000

Early in 2000, someone ratted me out to Vanderbilt, my alma mater, which—despite me being in phone books, published in certain magazines and at certain web sites—had never had my correct current address before. At once VU started begging for money to add to its roughly $2.2 billion endowment (a billion dollars ain’t what it used to be). Sorry, no. If I ever have any extra money to donate to higher education, it’ll go to Fisk.

Vanderbilt has tracked me down, which means that from time to time items arrive by mail, some asking for money, others — such as the publication A&S Cornerstone — trying to interest me in goings-on down at VU. Anyway, such a Cornerstone arrived recently, with an article about a “Southern writers conference” to be held on campus. I read in it that “writers with Vanderbilt ties will be well represented at the conference, [including] novelist Elizabeth Dewberry (BS ’83)...”

By golly, Betsy. I knew her (but not very well) in Walter Sullivan's creative writing class in the fall of ’82, and I recall that she wrote a reasonably good story for that class. (Mine was good too, but my hold on literary talent I have is like a leaky balloon’s hold on air.) This morning I looked for her on and sure enough, Betsy is the published author of two novels, Many Things Have Happened Since He Died: And Here Are the Highlights (I like that title) and Break the Heart of Me, under the name Elizabeth Dewberry Vaughn.

According to Amazon, both sound like they’re within the Southern-gothic-dysfunctional family with secrets tradition, and both are out of print, despite good reviews. Guess that’s the price of not being chosen by Oprah®. (That trademark is no joke: There it is at the Amazon site, a Hound o’ Hell guarding the commercial rights to O’s name.)

Labels: ,

Friday, March 17, 2006

Readings by Ashley

Every week or so, a collection of rectangular circulars arrives in the mail promising big savings on things I need. Sometimes I give it the thumb-through. Oil changes. Landscaping. Tanning. Jim’s Plumbing & Drains “R” Us (Power Rodding As Low As $60. Easy Access [?]. 1 Year Guarantee. 1 Free Rerod. *Some Restrictions Apply). I’m not sure what power rodding and a free rerod might be, but as long as people practice them in the privacy of their own homes, that’s fine by me.

Best of all was a yellow slip of paper advertising World Gifted PSYCHIC READINGS by ASHLEY. That should be “World Gifted,” since I’m having trouble figuring out how those two words are supposed to mate in a meaningful way. Ashley promises a number of psychic services, including “insight to your future,” “peace of mind for the present,” and “meaning to your past,” which covers all the temporal bases. Also, she’ll “remove all obstacles that have been in your way of happiness.” (Hm. Well, she’s a psychic, not an editor.) Finally: “Specializes to [sic] bringing back lovers.” In case that stalking hasn’t been working out.

But there’s more! “1 Free Question by Phone With This Coupon.” Oh, that made me grin. The teenage prankster in me grinned, that is. Not that I was much of a prankster as a teen, but I should have been. So I should call Ashley and have a little fun, except maybe she has caller ID and would hex me bad if I trifled with her. Anyway, I spent a little time today thinking about which free question I would ask.

What’s that screaming in the basement?

How do you know I really have a coupon?

How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

What was the capital of ancient Assyria? (Or, what’s the airspeed velocity of a coconut-laden swallow, either European or African?)

What’s the difference between a duck?

How many pancakes does it take to shingle a doghouse?

That’s cheating, because I know the answer to that last one: 42. Forty-two is the answer to all important questions about life, the universe and everything. Also, it’s because oranges can’t fly, ice cream has no bones, and motorcycles have no doors.

Don’t mind me, some days I feel absurd and have to write through it. It’s especially absurd that Ashley can make a living at that—takes Visa and MasterCard, she does.


Thursday, March 16, 2006

Lunch & Dinner

Long day. A real estate-themed luncheon and a dinner to go to, a rare double-header of chicken and peas. But the point was to meet and talk and (sometimes) make notes, and I did these things.

The lunch was in Oak Brook, a western suburb, so I drove there, since the network of suburban commuter rail lines isn’t a spider web, but bicycle spokes radiating from the city. The dinner event, the Greater Chicago Food Depository fundraising dinner and awards hootenanny, the biggest event of the year in local commercial real estate, was in the city, so I rode the train from my former regular station in Westmont (free parking!) and walked through light but persistent snow to the Sheraton on the Chicago River, which took about a half hour. Enjoyed walking downtown again after some months, even in the snow.

It wasn’t really a hootenanny, since there was no singing, but I get to use that word so rarely. It was a teeming event, however. More than 2,000 of people attend it, so it needs to be at the Sheraton, which reputedly has the largest ballroom in the city. And it is huge, though awfully bland. Hundreds of tables of with a dozen plates of chicken and vegetables: the kitchen logistics boggle the mind. Since this was a fundraiser for the hungry ($800,000+ raised, they said) I made sure not to waste any of my dinner, since that wouldn’t be right.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

I Yam What I Yam

Anecdote for the day, involving cute behavior by our resident three-year-old. One of the songs Ann knows is the Popeye theme song, because of repeated viewings. The other day as she was (sort of) brushing her teeth, she was (sort of) singing it.

I chimed in and sang the version I know, along with some whistling. She looked at me and said, “That’s cool, Daddy!”

Ah, but she said the same thing when I refilled the liquid soap dispenser in the bathroom a little while later.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Demented TV

Our TV, a Sanyo that has followed us around since 1995, had a serious fit the other day. A few minutes of electronic dementia, you could call it. Under the machine’s “setting” functions, there’s a choice between “cable” and “air,” and it’s always been on air, meaning that it’s attached to an antenna, the way God intended Man to receive Television (look it up, it’s in Leviticus somewhere).

We were watching one of our Popeye DVDs—which Ann calls a DVDV; I like that extra letter—when without warning and without anyone pushing any buttons, the TV switched to the “cable” mode and started searching automatically for channels. Since we’re not hooked up to cable, there were no channels for it to find, so it was stuck in a kind of infinite loop, switching from snowy channel to snowy channel as fast as it could.

Moreover, it didn’t respond well to my efforts to switch it back to “air.” There’s a certain way to do that, and I was certain I was doing it, but the TV would respond unpredictably, sometimes doing what I wanted, other times doing something completely from left field, such as changing the “tint” setting. (Who uses the tint setting anyway?). At times like this, the most awful thoughts go through your mind: I’m going to have to buy a new TV.

Then, as suddenly as it happened, it stopped. Popeye was back on the blank Channel 3, and the “air” setting was in force again. It seemed longer, but this weird electric fit must have lasted all of two minutes (Ann’s comment: “Daddy, I’m scared.”). I was perturbed. What could this mean?

I’ve come up with a few ideas to explain this incident.

1. Sunspots. When in doubt about electronic mischief, sunspots are surely to blame.

2. Demonic possession. TV and cable especially being tools of the Devil, it seems to follow that itinerant evil spirits sometimes infest a TV. When this one discovered that we don’t have cable, it gave up to look for a set that does.

3. Poltergeist. Maybe this house is haunted after all. But perhaps a lazy ghost, which would account for us never hearing from him (her, it?) before. Finally pestered into fulfilling his quota of ghostly deeds, he decided to muck around with the TV.


Monday, March 13, 2006

PL, Observer of Mars

Sure enough, Sunday was wet, cold and dank. But today was clear and warmish again -- in the morning. Then, around noon, things trended cold and dankish again. The wind blew so hard that one of the large plastic toy cars we keep parked on the deck came perilously close to crashing into one of our back doors, the sliding one made of glass, which would have made quite a noise at first, followed by the tinkling of broken glass. I don’t need that kind of diversion in my day, so I secured the toy car against the wind.

That’s March for you, a Manichean struggle between the forces of spring and winter. Or would that be more of a Zoroastrian struggle? Maybe just mud wrestling between the seasons.

Today Google featured one of its headline illustrations as part of its name, a telescope on Earth looking at Mars, which sported a pair of little green men. It was a link to “Google Mars” that went nowhere the time or two I tried it. But I know a little about astronomy, and guessed that the illustration had something to do with Percival Lowell. Sure enough, today is his birthday.

(Coincidentally, today was also the day Uranus was discovered. King George III might have deserved the honor as a patron of the sciences, but I’m glad “Georgium Sidus” didn’t stick as Uranus’ name, because by that pattern Neptune, discovered at the Berlin Observatory, would have been named after Fredrick Wilhelm IV of Prussia, and Pluto after Herbert Hoover.)

Which brings us back to Percival Lowell, since Pluto was discovered at the observatory at Mars Hill, Arizona, which he built, though he didn’t live long enough to see the ninth planet himself. Lowell has a curious place in the history of science, I think. For someone whose observations -- canals on Mars -- were so completely a product of wishful thinking, he’s still widely remembered. So much so that standard histories of astronomy devote space to his erroneous ideas, Google honors the man, and I can make a semi-educated guess that today was his birthday.

On the other hand, being right isn’t everything, and maybe we should remember some who were boldly wrong. Canals on Mars = a hell of a fine idea, after all. Lowell ought to be acknowledged at least (and maybe he is) as one of the godfathers of science fiction.

Labels: ,

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Breakfast at Capote’s

Saturday was the first day of spring here in northern Illinois. The catch is, it won’t be followed by many more spring days for at least a week, if not longer. Think of it this way: Saturday was a brief springward jolt in the tug-of-war that spring will (eventually) win against winter, but don’t count out hoary old man winter just yet. He came back on Sunday, and there’s talk of snow later this week.

The day was all the more a pleasure for its transience. It was a collection of small pleasures, really. The light wind against your face doesn’t bite. You can wander around outside without a coat or even a jacket. Everyone else in the neighborhood is, and the sidewalks and yards are livelier than they have been in months. A few foolish young bulbs are poking through the ground, though the wiser trees have no hints of green yet. All in all, the thing to do one a day like that is take your kids to a park and sit around and read while they do kid-things on the kid-equipment.

I did that Saturday afternoon. In the park I finished Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which unaccountably I’d never read before. Can’t get around to everything. Or maybe I was put off by the blowsy weirdo that the late-life Truman Capote seemed to be when he was on Johnny Carson. Anyway, it’s probably just as well that I didn’t read the book when I was young, since it’s decidedly for grownups. I’ll admit to being influenced in my reading choice by a movie, Capote. While the rest of my family was watching Curious George at a multiplex a few weeks ago, I saw that.

What’s-his-name the lead actor (I’m not very good with actors’ names) certainly deserved his Oscar. It was an exceptionally fine performance in an intelligent movie. Is that so much to ask of the movie biz? Yeah, most of the time.

I left the movie thinking, I need to read more Capote. So I thought I’d start with Breakfast. In a while I’ll pick up In Cold Blood. We had that around the house when I was growing up, and I think I started reading it early in high school, but didn’t get far. As I said, that’s probably just as well.

I did, however, see the movie adaptation of Breakfast 15 years ago or so, and as I read the book I couldn’t shake the notion that the two were miles apart, with the movie doing all sorts of remarkable contortions to avoid offending sensibilities of the time. At least I think so, because I don’t remember the movie all that well. So I ought to see the movie again, while the book is fresh in mind, just to check.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Unrelated Themes

Yesterday I used the word wanker, as I do from time to time. Among the terms I picked up from my Commonwealth friends in Japan, that’s a favorite. That and bollicks! used as an interjection. Both from England originally, I think, spreading to Australia and New Zealand but not so much here in the States.

Such useful terms. The road, for instance, is full of wankers. The other day, I was at a red light waiting for a right turn against fairly busy traffic. My light turns green, and not a split-second later the wanker behind me honks at me. Perfect word for him. Moron or idiot are tempting, but for all I know he’s a PhD candidate in exobiology at the University of Chicago. Which doesn’t mean that you can’t be a wanker who has the patience of a toddler or thereabouts.

In such cases, by the way, I ease into my turn verrrrrry slowly, treating the horn-blower to an extra few seconds’ wait. I did this the other day. And, as usual, the horn-loving wanker zoomed around me as soon as he could. He was in a hurry to get to the next red light, and he did so a few seconds ahead of me.

The latest issue of Crain’s Chicago Business has a list of the Chicago area’s top tourist attractions, measured by how many people experience each one annually. Curiously, this year, there are really two lists, “sightseeing” attractions and “cultural” attractions. Meaning that I can’t go sightseeing at the Art Institute, which is on the “cultural” list and which is bulging out the doors with sights to see; or that I can’t appreciate the clear cultural aspects of the Lincoln Park Zoo, which is in the “sightseeing” ghetto? Seems like a silly distinction to me.

Sightseeing is a term of mild degradation anyway, at least as many people use it. Spend a day sightseeing and not only haven’t you gone about the important business of doing any work, but you haven’t even improved yourself culturally. All you’ve done is wander around and look at things. Mere sightseeing. Idle sightseeing. A day under your beach umbrella, or maybe a little sightseeing, dear?

That’s not how I understand it. Sightseeing is looking for and at the patterns, the details, the little weirdnesses, human and natural, anywhere you go, places both famous and obscure. Sightseeing is active engagement in seeing the world. Or it can be.

Labels: ,

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Moody iMac

Soggy day and a soggy night, with more cold rain promised, but unless the water finds its way into some previously unknown aperture in the roof, I don’t mind. I was out for a while before the rain, and it actually felt like March ought to be, but rarely is: almost warm enough to lose the jacket.

The computer behaved strangely for a while today, following some suspicious e-mail, not the sort that promises a bigger penis or Canadian meds at pennies on the dollar, but which freezes up the system as you try to delete it. One or two of those bombs flies in uninvited every week. Do spammers do this deliberately? Wankers. Or is it an unintended byproduct of spamming? They’re still wankers.

“Strangely” isn’t quite the word, really, maybe just moody, as in it crashed when it was in the mood, which was much more often than usual. But it got better. That’s my iMac. Of course, now that I’ve mentioned these possibilities—roof and computer failure, both expensive notions—a leak is going to appear over my computer some dark and stormy night.


Wednesday, March 08, 2006


At times I wonder, what’s this doing on my desk? Today it’s an orange slip of paper advertising the Galena Canning Co. that says (Sic, except that it’s all in caps. I’ve used all caps only for the largest line, which is about 36 pt.): “Chef Ivo’s Award Winning Galena Canning Company NOW ONLINE… Over 75 fine gourmet products. Custom gift crate’s-basket’s. Need recipe’s, talk to the chef, coming soon to the Food Network. Order for the Holiday’s.”

Chef Ivo, we’ve got to have a talk about those apostrophes. They’ve infested your ad like ringworm. Only one s is apostrophe-free in fact, and I fear for it.

Oops, I just threw it away. Chef Ivo will have to do without my editorial butting in. But about 20 years ago in Nashville, I was driving along late one night and I saw a fellow changing the marquee outside a KFC. “Now Excepting Applications,” it was about to say. I stopped and told him, politely, that it ought to be “Accepting.” He asked if I were sure, I said I was, and he started to change it.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Target Ants

I found myself in Target today, first time in a few months. The store had been completely re-arranged since Christmas, in the way stores do without warning. That’s how I passed through lawn and garden—en route elsewhere. I wasn’t really in the market for them, but plenty of lawn and garden items were prominently displayed there, since the dandelion season is on the horizon.

Among the garden statuary, including the usual-suspect frogs and pseudo-barnyard animals, I noticed black metal ants for sale. Not really that big, but big enough to be a nightmare if they came alive—about a foot long and half as high. “Foot-long ants.” Fairly ant-like detailing too, not too cartoonish.

Fun, but not for me. If I had one—or better yet a line of such ants—I would, at some point, run one of them over with my lawn mower. Besides, if I had metal ants in the backyard, I’d want really big ones, man-eater-sized—the sort of ants featured in Them, so big that they’re visible using Google Earth, poised menacingly near the deck, maybe. A conversation-starter during summer barbecue season.

Monday, March 06, 2006

My Kind of Typos

First things first: Remember the Alamo!

Here up north the snow came on Sunday afternoon to remind one and all that winter, as always, plans to be a lingering guest. Still, the view out my home-office window, looking at a minuscule fraction of suburbia, was gray and white and better-looking than all of February. The trees coated with snow. So did the ground.

A pleasant day for a roaring fire and whatever the best people drink in front of roaring fires. We do not build roaring fires, or even meek ones, in our fireplace, however, out of a (probably) ungrounded fear that Ann would find something interesting to do with a cooling but still fiery ember, like hide it under the couch cushions.

I have a long history of making certain mistakes in writing that I usually (but not always) catch at first-draft stage. Often, for instance, I omit the “r” from “your,” but that’s not very entertaining—just a few million synapses misfiring. But also have a longstanding practice of using a completely different word in place of what I meant. I don’t know if this is a common sort of typo or not, but I remember as long ago as 8th grade writing “ball hall” for “band hall,” for example.

Today I was writing a headline, and on my read-through before filing the story, I noticed: “$60M Mixed-Up Development Slated…” Instead of Mixed-Use, which is the completely logical real estate term for a project that contains more than one of the following: office, industrial, retail, multifamily residential or hotel. These elements tend to be separated by something, such as parking lots, but “mixed-up” would be a little more blurred. An office building, say, with a mixture of cubicals, retail kiosks (those knickknack islands in malls) and a few hotel-pool cabanas. The Random Business Park. Chaos Crossroads. Salmagundi Executive Suites.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Support CL

Primary elections are fast approaching here in Illinois, and for people like me who have that device called a “telephone” in their homes, that means assorted local politicos have started calling to beg for money, exploiting a loophole that exempts nonprofits from the Do Not Call, I Don’t Want to Talk to You List. On Sunday morning at about 10:30—the doughnut hour, if you’re lucky—some yahoos from “Citizens for CL” called.

At least, that’s what it said on the little screen on my fancy, 21st-century-type receiver that tells me who’s calling, unless it doesn’t. Sure, other people have had this feature since before January 1, 2001, but I’m a late adopter of technology, minor and major, so I still marvel a bit at it. Got it in ’04, I did.

Sometimes it merely says “Private Caller,” or “Out of Area,” which represents useless information. In those cases, I have to make a judgment as to whether to pick up. I usually do during business hours, since a fair number of people do return my calls for interviews. Much of the time, though, I can screen the calls. The Citizens for CL were either going to talk to my answering machine, or not talk to me at all. They didn’t waste their time with my machine.

Citizens for… Clean Living? Hey, that sounds like a something we can all stand behind. Mostly. When applied rigorously to other people. Or maybe it’s Citizens for Cleghorn, who may be running for re-election as fictional senator. In that case, I’ll be happy to donate fictional money. Another possibility: Citizens for Chloride, which is usually aligned with Sodium, but perhaps they’re trying to distance themselves from that element this election.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Sam and Mimi

Not long ago Netflix delivered I Am Sam to my mailbox, and I saw it yesterday.

For those of you who missed it in 2001 as I did, I Am Sam stars Sean Penn as a somewhat retarded man named Sam who, through peculiar and barely explained circumstances, fathers a child that he raises by himself in a not-too-shabby LA apartment he mysteriously affords on his $8-per-hour busing job – with the assistance of a seemingly agoraphobic friend from time to time – until the age of seven. Then the state of California takes away the child. (The really remarkable thing was why it took the state that long; but then again, the wheels of bureaucracy grind slowly.) Many weepy scenes ensue. Plus dramatic family court scenes, as Sam and a stereotypically selfish lawyer (who learns life lessons from simple Sam in not being so selfish) fight to get his daughter back.

The movie would have the audience believe, in almost literal terms, that “all you need is love,” and that if you believe that a grown man with “the mental capacity of a seven-year-old” might not be an adequate sole parent for a child of any age, then you’re just a big meanie (as Sam might say). If you love your kids a lot, then all those other little details will work out.

This is Hollywood baloney of the worst sort. The movie went to great lengths to assert that you don't need to be Einstein to raise children, as if anyone really believed you do. You do, however, have to have the capacity to do the grunt work involved in child-raising, not to mention the forbearance necessary to put up with the whelps at their worst moments, and enough experience with the world to anticipate ordinary dangers. My experience with people “with a mental capacity of seven years old” – that is, with my older daughter, until she turned eight – tells me that someone like Sam, alas, doesn’t quite have what it takes, even though he wuws his little girl.

Of course, my daughter isn’t a 40-year-old retarded man, but somehow the comparison is apt. “Mental age” might be a nebulous construct foisted by an uncaring mental-health-industrial complex on the differently-abled, but somehow I can’t shake the notion that it has real meaning. There are half a dozen good reasons I don’t tell Lilly (8), “Your mom and I are going somewhere warm for a few weeks. Here’s a few hundred dollars. Take care of Ann.” (3)

But Sam I Am... no, I Do Not Like Them, Sam I Am... no, the movie, also goes to considerable length to say that people of more ordinary intelligence, or even (gasp) high intelligence, can make lousy parents. In fact, that message is hammered home repeatedly, as if it were startling news. And as if it means that people of more limited mental skills must therefore be OK parents, provided they love their kids (a lot!).

There’s formal a name for that kind of fallacy, but I forget my college logic training just now. The informal name for that kind of thinking is “wrong.” To draw a comparison: Sometimes people with functioning eyesight have problems seeing – Sun’s in their eyes, they misplace their glasses, it’s a dark and foggy night, and so on. Therefore it follows that a legally blind person ought to be able to get a driver’s license, because hey, so-called “normal” people can have trouble seeing.

Enough of that. But I haven’t disliked a movie so much since Patch Adams.

On the other hand, I do like Mimi Smartypants. She keeps an on-line diary that’s a lot of fun to read. My friend Ed recommended her to me recently, and he did not steer me wrong. Naturally, she’s been writing for years, has written a book, and has been featured in more conventional media, and yet I’ve never heard of her. Things dribble down to me pretty slowly. Anyway, here are a few samples:

“My soup was good, but someone at the grill might possibly be from Neptune and never heard of a grilled cheese sandwich, maybe because Neptune cows give a sort of crystalline milk and thus cheese is only meltable under certain atmospheric conditions. Or maybe the grill guy was just really stoned.”
“I noticed that a Red Lobster, of all things, has opened downtown at Dearborn and Ontario. [She lives and works in Chicago.] I did a literal double-take on the street since I could not believe my eyes.* Who in their right minds is going to eat at a Red Lobster in downtown Chicago? There is exponentially better food mere steps away, everywhere you turn. Food that was not freeze-dried and reconstituted in boiling water, even.

*Okay, I have had one beer and my associations are all loose and muffled, but you don't even really want to know how long I kicked around some weirdo Macbeth allusion ("Is this a Red Lobster I see before me, the door handle toward my hand?")”
The next day's celebration [for her birthday] was much better, although since I had spent part of the day reading the latest issue of Brain, Child I was a little off-kilter when it came to the candle-blowing birthday wish. They should have renamed the magazine Death, Child just for that one issue---at least two articles dealt with the topic… and the child-deaths were not even statistically-improbable, make-you-feel-better deaths like "I Took My 6-Month-Old Scuba Diving And He Touched A Poison Rockfish Even Though I Repeatedly Made The Sign For 'No' Underwater" or "Live Crocodile Playland: McDonald's Issues Formal Apology." They were things like slight cold = meningitis = death!

Labels: ,

Thursday, March 02, 2006


Last Friday (Feb 24) I forgot to mention an optional, but important, ingredient in successful Japanese curry, the kind that holes-in-the-wall near JR train stations serve. That is, fukujinzuke, a fine word that rolls around the tongue a lot better than the English “seasoned radish.” Even seasoning, to my thinking, can’t save the radish from its place as the Wally Cox of vegetables.

And yet the Japanese do it right. Fukujinzuke comes in small rectangles as bright blood red as, well, blood. Crunchy and mildly sweet, its part in the Japanese curry ensemble is to contrast the brown curry’s spice and gooey softness. In a curry shop, usually next to every seat, along with the mandatory soy sauce bottle and even more mandatory ashtray, is a stainless steel box (spotted slightly blood red) heaped with fukujinzuke with a small spoon sticking out. As soon as you receive your heapin’ plate of curry, you spoon it on here and there. So simple, yet it works so well.

At home we have a 7.05 oz plastic bag of fukujinzuke. Unlike the curry we have, it wasn’t made for export, but has an English language “Nutrition Facts” sticker pasted on it – a telltale sign that they don’t export enough for the stuff to rate its own English bag. From this stick-on label I learn that eggplant, beefsteak leaves, lotus and ginger are the happy vegetable ingredients in this product besides radish. And then there’s corn syrup, of the high-fructose variety no less. I’m happy to know that Japanese food technology is every bit as advanced as that of our own corn-syrup-loving nation.

From there, if you're an artificial ingredients worrywart, things only get worse: MSG! Potassium sorbate! FD&C Yellow No. 5 and Red No. 40! Well, I didn’t think radishes came that color, but with any luck, advances in GM foods will someday produce radishes that need no jazzing up with food coloring to be distinctive blood red.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Marvel of the Internet, #31376

Feed “Belushi Lion Lamb March,” which sounds like the subject line of a spam message, into Google and it isn’t long before you can dig up the following transcript:

Chevy Chase:
Last week we made the comment that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. Now here to reply is our chief meteorologist, John Belushi, with a seasonal report.

John Belushi:
Thank you Chevy. Well, another winter is almost over and March true to form has come in like a lion, and hopefully will go out like a lamb. At least that's how March works here in the United States.

But did you know that March behaves differently in other countries? In Norway, for example, March comes in like a polar bear and goes out like a walrus. Or, take the case of Honduras, where March comes in like a lamb and goes out like a salt marsh harvest mouse.

Let's compare this to the Maldive Islands, where March comes in like a wildebeest and goes out like an ant. A tiny, little ant about this big.

[holds thumb and index fingers a small distance apart]

Unlike the Malay Peninsula, where March comes in like a worm-eating fernbird and goes out like a worm-eating fernbird. In fact, their whole year is like a worm-eating fernbird.

Or consider the Republic of South Africa, where March comes in like a lion and goes out like a different lion. Like one has a mane, and one doesn't have a mane. Or in certain parts of South America, where March swims in like a sea otter, and then it slithers out like a giant anaconda.

There you can buy land real cheap, you know. And there's a country where March hops in like a kangaroo, and stays a kangaroo for a while, and then it becomes a slightly smaller kangaroo. Then, then, then for a couple of days it's sort of a cross between a frilled lizard and a common house cat.

[Chevy Chase tries to interrupt him.]

Wait wait wait wait. Then it changes back into a smaller kangaroo, and then it goes out like a... like a wild dingo. Now, now, it's not Australia! Now, now, you'd think it would be Australia, but it's not!

[Chevy Chase tries to interrupt him.]

Now look, pal! I know a country where March comes in like an emu and goes out like a tapir. And they don't even know what it means! All right? Now listen, there are nine different countries, where March comes in like a frog, and goes out like a golden retriever. But that--that's not the weird part! No, no, the weird part is--is the frog. The frog-- The weird part is--

[Has seizure and falls off chair.]