Thursday, November 29, 2007

Product Endorsement Thursday

The upstairs bathroom sink has been draining a mite slow recently, achingly slow in fact. I was certain that I'd have to go out and find the only product I use to free up water flow: Power Plumber. Looking in the storage space in the bathroom, I discovered that sometime in the past, I'd already bought a new Power Plumber. Within two minutes, the clog was gone. Such is the strength of a product based on difluoroethane, which generates a blast of gas in the direction of the clog, though not strong enough to blow up the pipes -- at least not in my ten years or so of using the product.

If I were famous, I'd take money to endorse it. Since I'm obscure, I'll have to make my endorsement for the mere satisfaction of it. Rare enough is the product that works as it's supposed to, doesn't cost a fortune, and replaces a class of unreliable, toxic, more expensive products -- by which I mean liquid drain openers. WIth the added bonus of not being made in China. Not yet, anyway. See this site for more information.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Shut Up, Chipmunk

Another Thanksgiving weekend event involved going to the movies, to a smallish theater complex in Elk Grove Village -- a mere eight screens, which would have been extravagantly many when I was a movie-going lad. The movie: Enchanted, of course at the request of the kids.

The prospect of a Disney movie makes me hold onto my wallet and ask, rhetorically and futilely, why? Why more money to Disney? Haven't I given them enough? From nowhere a faint, squeaky, voice -- it's the Mouse -- whispers, "No, give me more! More!"

So I do. Fortunately, Enchanted wasn't bad at all. It missed a lot of opportunities to be stupid, which is saying something in a movie (1) made in our time and (2) by the Mouse. For example, the animated part of the movie started out with a stock Disney animated character, the wisecracking rodent (or other small animal) -- a chipmunk in this case -- who sounds like he's from the Bronx or the Jersey shore or somewhere else with a grating accent. He too made the transition into the human world, which is the movie's central premise, story-book characters coming to a world "with no happy endings" (ours). After that, the chipmunk can't speak because, well, he's a chipmunk and animals don't talk in the human world. In other words, the director shut the character up, and not a moment too soon, I thought.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Art of the Complaint Letter

The following is a genuine complaint letter to a certain retailer. Actually it was Yuriko who was on the receiving end of clerkly rudeness, but I'm the designated complaint-letter writer in the family. Names and other details changed.

ATTN: Rufus T. Firefly, Executive Vice President, Behemoth Retail Corp.

November 27, 2007

Dear Mr. Firefly,
On the evening of November 26, 2007, I went shopping at the Behemoth store in Schaumburg, Ill., and experienced rude treatment from one of your checkout clerks.

Her name was Dana. I don’t know her last name, but she did ring me up at register X, transaction no. Y that evening.

I wanted to use a gift card I had acquired from Behemoth some time earlier to pay for part of my purchase. It had a $5 balance, and neither I nor anyone else in my family had used it. Dana informed me, however, that the balance was zero. I told her that was not the case, at which time she brusquely told me I was wrong, implying that I was trying to get something for nothing. Her only suggestion after that was to call the number on the back of the card.

Probably at that point I should have asked for the store manager, but I was angry, and wanted to leave, so I did, after purchasing more than $60 worth of items from your store, without the gift-card discount I was entitled to.

About an hour later, I called the number on the card, and the automated system told me the card still was worth $5. Dana was mistaken, and displayed a “not my problem” attitude. The card number is X-X-X-X-238.

Five dollars is a small amount. The amount of good will Dana cost your store and your brand is considerably more.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Circle Sausages

Leftover turkey is the customary meal of the days after Thanksgiving -- you might call it a derivative tradition -- but all of the leftover turkey this year is at our friends' house. We were offered some take-home meat and even accepted the offer. After all, turkey sandwiches can be good. But we forgot to load any into the car.

Instead, our diet quickly returned to normal. At one point over the weekend I fixed hamburgers for everyone, and Ann informed us she wanted to eat one of those "circle sausages." I haven't been that amused by one of my child's own phrasing since Lilly called fireflies "light crickets."

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Turkey Did Not Die in Vain

For Thanksgiving, we shared a feast with friends of ours, at their house out on the fringes of metro Chicago. They have two children, and so do we, so the occasion had the motion of four kids. Ours are older, so even Ann got to be something other than the smallest person around for a while. Lilly got a bit of small-child management experience, ahead of the day when someone might pay her to do so.

Pictured below is part of the feast, including the turkey, the star of the table, in a shot taken just before we ate. Look carefully and you'll see that the salad was adorned with fritos, instead of croutons. It was a nice, crunchy touch.

I noticed in the fat Wednesday paper ad section that JC Penney was opening its doors at 4 a.m. on Black Friday. Actually, I have a real estate journalist's respect for Penney's -- not too many years ago, Penney's was predicted to be the next big retailer to evaporate, along the lines of Montgomery Ward. But no. It has survived, even turned things around.

My respect for the retailer's business acumen doesn't extend to seeking out any of its stores at 4 a.m. on any morning. They're going to have to pay me to shop that early, and I didn't see that offered in any of the Penney's ads.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Setzer for (Next) Christmas?

Back after Thanksgiving. Overcast today, rain tonight, more rain slated for tomorrow, maybe even snow come Thursday. Probably the melting kind, but you never know this time of year. Fall's just about thrown in the towel.

I looked into getting tickets for the Brian Setzer Orchestra Christmas Extravaganza Tour, which plays at a venue in Aurora, Illinois, next month, but my procrastinating ways meant that tickets were sold out before I got around to buying any. I had the good fortune of seeing Mr. Setzer solo at the Chicago House of Blues some years ago, and would pay to see him again.

Maybe next year. Till then, or until they're removed from the site, clips like these will have to do, and there are plenty besides these three. This is a lively take on a lively TV theme (one of the best themes, I always thought). Purists may not care for this, but who cares? And, since it is almost Thanksgiving, a little Christmas music from the BSO.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A Decade for Lilly

Sometime before sunset today, the Sun was clearly visible not as an object you can't look at directly, but a large orange disk, distinct but not too bright, as if someone had painted it on the sky. Such mellowed-out Suns are fairly common right at sunset, but this was unusual in that it was still about 30 minutes till sunset, so the ball was hanging fairly high. It had been cloudy most of the day, but had cleared up somewhat by afternoon.

I was out driving around with Lilly at that moment, who said, "Cool!" Lilly has now seen ten trips around the Sun. I looked around recently for some written description of her birth back in 1997, but I don't seem to have created any. She was born at the former Prentice Women's Hospital in the Streeterville adjoining downtown Chicago -- just last month a new building replaced the one she was born in, a Bertrand Goldberg designed-structure. He did the corncob-like Marina Towers not far away, and his fascination with roundness extended to the windows of the old Prentice, which are oval. Unfortunately, the old Prentice seems doomed. Probably I should take Lilly down there sometime soon, while I can still point to a building and say, "You were born there." (More on Goldberg here.)

A number of attendants were crowding around when Lilly was born, and one of them said "code green," which I suspected was a good thing -- later I heard her Apgar was 9 -- but my view was obstructed, and for a few moments no one bothered to mentioned whether we had a son or daughter. So much for the scripted "It's a boy!" or "It's a girl!" I had to ask, and was told. An echo of the amazement of that moment lingers even now.

Lilly, May 2002

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Marque & Reprisal

The weather over the weekend fulfilled its Novemberish duty. Overcast all the time, drizzling some of the time, neither very cold nor warm at all. We've been promised a slide into real winter temps come Thanksgiving. Wot fun.

I recently poked around the Library of Congress' "Thomas" system, which provides endless detail about the many bills, resolutions, joint resolutions, treaties, committee reports, letters of marque and reprisal, pie fights, hootenannies and other activities of the Congress of these United States. Actually, in my search, I couldn't find any letters of marque and reprisal enacted by the 110th Congress, and I have to say that as a taxpayer and honest citizen, I'm disappointed.

At one point, I did a search that turned up 92 actions by Congress -- which turned out to be an interesting sample, I'd say, of the day-to-day business of government, much of which matters not at all. The re-naming of post offices and other nameable federal facilities represented a lot of the sample, for instance. (The respective committees that oversee such re-namings are the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, in case you were wondering.)

Other examples of congressional non-events include: S.RES.366: A resolution designating November 2007 as "National Methamphetamine Awareness Month," to increase awareness of methamphetamine abuse; S.RES.367 : A resolution commemorating the 40th anniversary of the mass movement for Soviet Jewish freedom and the 20th anniversary of the Freedom Sunday rally for Soviet Jewry on the National Mall ("Save Soviet Jews, Win Valuable Prizes"); and S.CON.RES.54 : A concurrent resolution supporting the designation of a week as "National Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and Automated External Defibrillator Awareness Week."

My favorite: S.CON.RES.55 : A concurrent resolution commemorating the centennial anniversary of the sailing of the Navy's "Great White Fleet," launched by President Theodore Roosevelt on December 16, 1907, from Hampton Roads, Virginia, and returning there on February 22, 1909. This is something we can all get behind, the memory of the Great White Fleet.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Law & Order: Amtrak

After examining the metal moose, I walked on to Union Station to go home, and near the Adams St. entrance just west of the bridge across the Chicago River, noticed a number of cops arresting a man. It was a peaceful surrender, it seems. I was close enough to see that the suspect, a black man probably in his mid-30s dressed neither expensively nor shabbily, looking fairly calm about the whole thing.

Then they took him down into the station -- down the same way I was going, so I walked behind the suspect, who was in handcuffs, and one of the cops next to him. Coming up from behind were four more cops, three men, one woman. I thought their uniforms, which were cop blue, didn't quite look right, when I noticed that they were Amtrak police -- it said so on their shoulders. The suspect was talking to the Amtrak cop next to him all the way that I walked behind them, though I couldn't hear what he was saying. It didn't look like he was saying anything along the lines of, "It wasn't me! A guy came up to me and gave me the bag!" From the look on his face, he might have been talking about the weather.

Maybe he'd been down this road before. They must have been taking him to the small police station near the main ticket agent in Union Station. From there, I don't know. Cook County Jail? A special Amtrak holding car? The dungeon under Track 13 for a little waterboarding? If that were the case, he might not have been so composed.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Michigan Avenue Moose

Not much time today for words -- that is, the non-paying kind, but I did think to take my new pocket-sized digital camera on my expedition downtown yesterday. I walked from North Michigan Ave. back to Union Station, and noticed a thing or two I hadn't seen before. Such as this, on Michigan Ave. just south of the Tribune Tower:

It's what every city needs, a sculpture of a moose made of car bumpers. Turns out it was part of "Artists and Automobiles," an outdoor exhibit dreamed up by the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. Interestingly, the press release linked above was from the summer of 2006. Maybe the moose proved so popular that he stayed.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Lake Erie Perch

A note about Lilly's birthday party: it was more than a week ahead of her actual birthday. We wanted to steer the event clear of the weekend ahead of Thanksgiving, which is also the weekend ahead of her birthday, so November 10-11 got the nod.

I went downtown for lunch today, to a place just off Michigan Avenue. It was a business lunch, but a pleasant one. There was some discussion of exotic resort real estate.

"Lake perch" was on the menu. I asked the waiter, which lake? "Lake Erie," he said. That sold me instantly. Lake Erie has come a long way since that embarrassing Cuyahoga River Fire in '69.

Later, I learned that Lake Erie produces a lot of fine fat fish of the perch variety. Eric Sharp, writing in the Centre Daily Times on May 29, 2005, noted that "dramatic changes in the ecology of the Great Lakes, most brought about by the arrival of exotic species from the oceans and Europe, have resulted in equally dramatic reductions in perch numbers and sizes throughout much of their Great Lakes range.

"The one place that has not been the case is the Canadian shoreline of Lake Erie, where the bottom topography and food web remain nearly perfect for producing not only large numbers of perch but exceptionally big ones."

Bet I had some Canadian perch on my plate. Tasty fish too, even if the value of a Canadian perch has increased significantly in recent months, pushing higher than the equivalent US perch.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Dance of Girl Electrons

Veterans Day passed quietly hereabouts, especially after the gaggle of girls that Lilly had visiting for her birthday party sleepover went home, mostly early Sunday morning. From early evening on Saturday until then, however, the house was a din of giggles and girltalk – some call it Venusian, but that would be rampant binary simplification based on gender roles, eh? Still, those were some giggly times. Pizza and cake eaten, gifts unwrapped with gusto, and juvenile videos mostly not watched, because of too much talking and giggling.

I think about six girls showed up for the event. I’m not sure. They were bouncing around like electrons. I couldn't be certain who was where at any given when. Call it a Heisenberg party, a subatomic bash, a particle soiree. But I know that everyone managed to return home at some point.

Actually, Saturday evening to Sunday morning was good timing for the party. Lilly and Ann now go to Japanese school on Saturday mornings, and so the party couldn’t be Friday evening to Saturday morning, as it was last year. At the moment Japanese school is the only non-school organized activity the kids do, so we aren’t in any danger of overscheduling the whelps. What a nuisance that would be. Not only that, misplaced thinking: more experiences = better experiences.

Since a number of the girls had activities early Sunday morning, they went to bed just before midnight. In fact everyone did, unlike last year, when they pushed it to 2 or later. The downside was that giggling and more girltalk woke me up -- wafting all the way upstairs at about 5:30.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Armistice Day 2007

1914 IV. The Dead

These hearts were woven of human joys and cares,
Washed marvellously with sorrow, swift to mirth.
The years had given them kindness. Dawn was theirs,
And sunset, and the colours of the earth.
These had seen movement, and heard music; known
Slumber and waking; loved; gone proudly friended;
Felt the quick stir of wonder; sat alone;
Touched flowers and furs and cheeks. All this is ended.

There are waters blown by changing winds to laughter
And lit by the rich skies, all day. And after,
Frost, with a gesture, stays the waves that dance
And wandering loveliness. He leaves a white
Unbroken glory, a gathered radiance,
A width, a shining peace, under the night.

Rupert Brooke (1887-1915)


Thursday, November 08, 2007

My Own Drive

It never occurred to me until today to see how many streets around the country have the same name as the one I live on. A couple of hundred, it seems. Then I thought, in a not-so-rare moment of self-regard, how many streets named "Dees"?

Not as simple a question as it sounds. According to the site I used, there are streets named -- among others -- De Dees and Dee Dees, Dees Cemetery, Dees Home, Dees Pond, Elmer Dees, Gunn Dees, Mance Dees, Old Dees, R Dees and Six Dees. But there is also a category simply called "Dees," so I looked into that further, and 84 streets so named are listed in 23 states. That's streets, roads, drives, lanes and so forth.

That's a lot of Dees-named thoroughfares. So large and variegated is the world that, in the course of visiting 47 states over the years, I've never seen one of them. I think I would have remembered if I had. (I have, however, seen Stribling Street in Philadelphia, Miss.)

In Illinois, there's exactly one -- a Dees Drive, in a burg called Monroe Center. Which isn't far south of Rockford, meaning it isn't too far from where I live. My first impulse is road trip. Soon I realize that I'll wait until the next time I'm in that part of the state to seek it out. Someday, though, I'm going to drive on it: Dees drives on Dees Drive.


Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Il Greenbriar Mall di Atlanta tenta di rivivere i giorni di gloria

I like this. Somewhere out there, probably in Italy, is my Italian translator. Of course, he or she probably doesn't recall translating my article, which I wrote about a year ago, but it was translated, so someone did it -- probably as one of a stack of articles, paid as piecework.

This is the lead sentence that I wrote for the article: "When it comes time to fix up 1960s-era malls, often enough it means they get pulled down, but that isn’t happening to Greenbriar Mall, one of Atlanta’s oldest enclosed centers."

This is the same lead, in Italian: "Quando arriva il momento di risistemare i centri commerciali degli anni ’60, piuttosto spesso ciò significa demolirli, ma non è quello che accadrà al Greenbriar Mall, uno dei più vecchi complessi al chiuso di Atlanta."

I wouldn't give up my affinity for English for anything, but it would be great to be fluent in a language so fine as to include phrases such as "il momento di risistemare."

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Filling Your McMansion

Visited Costco for flu shots recently, for the adults of the house (kids get theirs at a municipal clinic next week). Boy, you can get just about anything at Costco, though lately Christmas decorations and a large selection of toys have taken over the place, at least in the vast middle part of the store. Everyday items remain in the side aisles.

Easily 90 percent of what they offer, I don't buy, but I always enjoy wandering through the stores. Somehow it's good to know that if I really, really wanted a pool table or a jukebox or a turkey fryer, I could go there are get one right away.

I wonder, who has room for some of these things? Then it occurs to me that a major demographic for the warehouse store is people who live in McMansions. After all, if you've got a McMansion -- a house so big you have to capitalize it, because "mcmansion" doesn't look right -- you have to fill it with things. Otherwise, you live with yawning voids, and I suspect that makes people uncomfortable, especially someone who's gone to all the trouble to supersize his or her house.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Santa is Not Coming to Town

A lot colder now, but it seems that the leaves hereabouts are at peak coloration. I've heard different explanations for that -- a wet summer, a warm fall until recently, but whatever the reason, it seems that peak coloration is now. If I remember right, the first week or so of November was when peak happened in Middle Tennessee, back when I lived there, 20-odd years ago.

Think I'll blame the shift on global warming. Whatever happens, it's global warming.

Including this. Note that the web site for this radio station calls the music holiday lite. On November 2, I was wandering up and down the radio dial -- an occasional pleasure that will be lost to future generations, unfortunately -- and I passed this station. It was playing a Beach Boys Christmas song at that moment. I thought that so odd that I listened to the rest of the song, and then found out that the station has already changed its format from "lite rock" to Christmas music.

Global warming has addled their brains. Given the standardization of radio, this is probably some companywide practice and 40 stations around the country are doing it. But Christmas music on November 2? Who wants to hear Christmas music now? No doubt they can cite focus groups who want Christmas music right after Halloween. Those people are addled too.

I actually sent them an e-mail expressing my opinion. So far no answer, not even an automated one.

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Got the TB Sanitarium District Blues

Took a detailed look at my latest property tax statement the other day, just for... not grins, exactly, taxation never inspires grins, but to see what's odd. My favorite is the $2.80 I spent this year to support the Suburban TB Sanitarium District. Of course, TB hasn't vanished, not even from Cook County, but the wisdom of maintaining a TB district with taxing powers seems more applicable to the early 1900s rather than the early 2000s.

Curiously, the Village of Schaumburg gets $0, while the Town of Schaumburg gets $44.86. I thought Schaumburg was incorporated as a village, not a town, but then again I'm fuzzy on the difference between the two in Illinois. All I know is that when I pay the water bill, the check goes to the Village, not the Town.

The Cook County Forest Preserve District gets $31.96, which means that I'll have to take more walks in the woods, to get my money's worth. Mosquito abatement cost me $5.05, which might be a bargain, except that the abatement efforts seem to have stopped before mosquito production did late this summer.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Halloween Wrap

Lilly and Ann went trolling for candy on Halloween with a friend of Lilly's and that friend's neighbors, a couple of older girls, in a neighborhood not too distant from home, but not our block. When they got home loaded with sweets, they were too tired to make the rounds on our block, and I didn't insist out of some sense of spending precious time with my kids. I've done the rounds with them before, and probably will again.

About 15 kids showed up at our door, which is a fairly light turnout, and mostly before dark. The majority were smaller kids, too, which is good. If you're in high school, you're too old to trick or treat. That's the way it was in 1975 and that's the way it should be now.

I dispensed "fun size" Snickers, 3 Musketeers, KitKats and Milky Ways. Maybe I should have bought a gross of Snickers or somesuch at Costco and given those away -- full-sized bars are much more fun than "fun size." Every kid, and I mean every kid, carried a pillow case for their candy. What's up with that? Even Lilly asked to carry one, and we obliged her, and also gave one to Ann. She says her teacher suggested it. Maybe there was a memo from the PTA.

Only one costume stood out among the usual suspects. One of the last kids to come by, a boy of about 12, wore a fairly realistic nun's habit. Make what you will of that.

Lilly and Ann's hauls included -- not an exhaustive list, and in no special order -- Skittles, Act II Butter Mini Bag microwavable popcorn, KitKats, Reese's (original and pieces), Snickers, Summer Harvest bite size mini pretzels (with a witch on the bag), Ritz Bits peanut butter crackers, Sour Punch Twists, Nacho Cheese Doritos, Yogos Rollers (what?), Milk Duds, Milky Way, Mike and Ike Original Fruits, Twix, Swedish Fish, Now and Later banana candy (product of Mexico), PayDay, Gummy Skulls, Hershey's, 3 Musketeers, Smarties, M&Ms, Heath bars, Jolly Rancher, Butterfinger, Junior Mints, Mr. Goodbar, Baby Ruth, Kasugai litchi candy and Bourbon Raisin Sand (Japanese candies), Starburst, Nerds brand gum balls, Almond Joy, 100 Grand, Tootsie Rolls, Creme Savers Apple Pie a la Mode, Cry Baby Bubble Gum, Sweet Tarts, Goetze's, Blow Pops, Oreos, Dots, peppermints, Wonka Bottle Caps, and various lolly pops and gum varieties. Some of the first-string chocolates -- Snickers, 3 Musketeers, et al. were regular size. One of the full-sized Snickers had "Green Shrek® Filling! Same Snickers® Taste!"