Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Clock We Live On

I'm sure that I learned about Leap Year at an early age, like most people. But I never knew the details -- Caesar and Sosigenes, the longest year in history (46 BC), Julian and Gregorian calendars, etc. -- until I read The Clock We Live On.

When I was in San Antonio last year, I noticed this book off in some corner of my mother's house, its pages yellow and crumbling away. It's never good to throw away a book, but this one's time had come (note the tape; it had long been worn from use). Still, I remembered it so fondly that I saved the cover. The inside cover has an example of my father's handwriting, something I don't have too much of, so I wanted to save that too. Apparently he bought it in 1963, the year before he died.

I first read it in 1977. Besides the story of the western calendar, there was plenty of other interesting topics -- why days have 24 hours and hours 60 minutes, the development of clocks and chronometers, the establishment of meridians and time zones, and so on. The calendar chapter formed the basis of an oral report I did in high school Latin class.

Strangely enough, Ann brought home a book from the school library the other day: Venus: A Shrouded Mystery, by none other than Isaac Asimov. Late Asimov (1990) and a book for kids. But maybe that's not so strange. The man was a writing machine, even back in the days of typewriters, carbon copies and human typesetters, so probably a lot of his books are still stocking school libraries.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Parked Wienermobile

There I was today, driving along Higgins Road in Rosemont, Ill. I had an event to go to, starting soon, but then I saw a Wienermobile. I had to stop for that.

I'd seen one before, but never in the wild. Sources tell me that there are eight of them active on the nation's roads at any one time -- including one today, license plates BIG BUN, parked near a hotel in Rosemont. No driver (hotdoggers, they're called) was in or near the vehicle, or I would have gotten his or her picture, too.


Monday, February 27, 2012

Snow Coat

We had a regular winter-like snowstorm starting last Thursday and continuing well into Friday morning. Not a blizzard, but a nice steady snowfall. On Friday morning, the view out the front door looked like this.

And from the back door.

It was wet, sticky snow. Note the way the snow coated the tree limbs -- it's been a while since we've seen that. In fact, we haven't seen that kind of winter dandification of the local flora all season. But the coating was the first to go, lasting only a few hours. Now, on Monday, almost all of the snow has melted. It's been that kind of winter. Suits me.

One year we visited the Morton Arboretum after an early March snowstorm that had coated the trees in exactly the same way. It was stunning -- something like this, if you can imagine being in the picture. Later, I found and bought a postcard at the arboretum that pictured the exact winter scene I'd just experienced. Rare are the times I get to be in a postcard.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Item From the Past: Cachi the Falling Poodle

In late February 1992, I saw a short article in one of the English-language newspapers in Japan with the attention-getting headline: Poodle's plunge fatal to 3 people. It was a Reuter-Kyodo story with no byline, but a Buenos Aires dateline.

"A dog that fell from a 13th-floor balcony Friday night triggered three deaths in a row in central Buenos Aires, police and witnesses said. The dog, a poodle named Cachi, hit 75-year old Marta Espina on the head and both the woman and the dog died instantly..." the article began, citing anonymous police sources. Another woman in the crowd watching the incident died when a bus hit her, and a man at the scene had a fatal heart attack, according to the article, which ended: "It was not immediately clear why Cachi fell."

Twenty years later, the way to share an article like that would be to hit the forward button. In 1992, I photocopied it a few times and, since the article was short, used the blank parts of the pages to write letters. At the time I'd recently visited Toba, Japan, the place where cultured pearls were invented, so that was the subject of the first part of the letter. The main thing I can say about that visit now is that at Mikimoto Pearl Island, you can see a one-third-sized replica of the Liberty Bell, made out of cultured pearls.

I added my own comments about the article to the letter, in the form of paragraphs in between the description of Toba and other things.

"Not clear why Cachi fell, indeed. I say these are more drug-related deaths. Remember puppy uppers?"

"Why did the cop request anonymity? Maybe he's afraid of the poodle gangs of Buenos Aires. They're mean and they look out for their own."

"Surely you heard about the attempted coup in Venezuela. Poodle gangs had infiltrated the military's office corps in that country, you know. It's a problem all over South America."

"Remember the Shinning Path in Peru? Perhaps you don't remember their quaintly Stalinist slogan, 'All Power to the Workers' and Poodles' Soviets!' "

Just now I ran Chaci poodle Buenos Aires through Google, something not possible in 1992, and it seems that the story of the falling South American poodle is lost to the Internet. Rather, I got hits like this: Tom Bosley Dead at 83.... Oct 20, 2010 ... Condolencias para Buenos Aires de @elReydeInternet ... The chicks loved the poodle skirts and the '50s styles, the dudes loved the cars and ... Days were "Laverne & Shirley", "Mork and Mindy", and "Joanie Loves Chachi."

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

201 W. Madison, the Poetry Garage

Snow tonight, the kind we usually get often from December through February, not just on scattered days during the winter. The entire day was cloudy, with some drizzle. In the early afternoon, I looked out the window and saw light rain and large snowflakes falling together -- almost straight down, since there was little wind. There was no reason to go out today, so I didn't.

Yesterday I needed to be downtown for a few hours. On the way back to my train, I noticed that the parking garage at 201 W. Madison now calls itself the Poetry Garage. I used to pass by that structure often, but never noticed that it had a floor-remembering scheme. I've seen other such memory schemes, of course, including one featuring a different Chicago sports team for each floor at the long-term parking garage at O'Hare. But this is the first one I've ever noticed, and may be the only one anywhere, that uses poets or any literary figure toward that end.

"Each level will be represented by a culturally significant poet from various historical periods and poetic genres," says the facility's web site. "Sights and sounds of poetry will entertain parkers and enable each guest to remember where to find their car. With a facade designed by Lucien LaGrange, this architecturally significant parking garage was designed to exceed the stringent and evolving city aesthetic code requirements for parking garages."

I'd be surprised if the city's "aesthetic code requirements for parking garages" is actually that strict, but never mind. Good idea, Lucien, if that was your idea (he's an architect I've met a few times). The poets and their floors are as follows:

2nd Level: Billy Collins, "Forgetfulness."
3rd Level: Ernest L. Thayer, "Casey at the Bat."
4th Level: Emily Dickinson, "Success is Counted Sweetest."
5th Level: W.H. Auden, "The More Loving One."
6th Level: Alberto Rios, "The Cities Inside Us."
7th Level: Kay Ryan," A Hundred Bolts of Satin."
8th Level: Carl Sandburg, "Languages."
9th Level: Langston Hughes, "Harlem."
10th Level: Robert Frost, "Mending Wall."

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Volkening Heritage Farm

We also visited the Volkening Heritage Farm on Saturday. Been there before, of course, but not lately. The residents were up and about to greet us.

"On a visit to Volkening Heritage Farm, you can help with seasonal farm chores, participate in family activities and games of the 1880s or simply visit the livestock and soak in the quiet," the park district's web site says, without adding that you can soak in the smells, too. We opted for the quiet and the smells.

Supposedly the place is closed to casual visitors until March 1, but the days have been so warm(ish) recently that someone at the park district must have decided to leave the gate near the parking lot open. Besides cows and horses, the farm's collection of chickens were out -- we watched numerous hens harassing one that had a bit of food it was trying to eat -- and so were the farm's surviving pigs. Sometime earlier in the winter, the pigs were thinned out to become 1880s-style meat.

From the look of things, new spring piglets will be coming soon (and calves, too). This is the pig shack, though in good weather they're usually taking in the mud next to this structure.

I've always liked this windmill.

Halladay Standard, it says. The U.S. Wind Engine and Pump Co. of Batavia, Ill., used to make these, and the Batavia Historical Society says that "by 1881, the company was called the largest institution of its kind in the world." Why the wind engine -- what a fine alternative term for windmill -- also says, "U.S. Supply Co. Omaha Neb.," I don't know and don't have the energy to track it down.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"Spirit of the Prairie" by David Alan Clark

Schaumburg Square here in the northwest suburbs is mostly retail -- a grocery store, some small in-line shops, a freestanding ice cream parlor and a restaurant. It also includes the Schaumburg Township Library and a pond with a fountain that sprays in the warm months. Near the pond (and the ice cream shop) is "Spirit of the Prairie," a bronze pair by David Alan Clark installed in 2002.

Saturday's warmish weather encouraged me to take a close look at it.

The Wyoming-based Clark's web site says that he specializes in "public monuments, portraits, wildlife and historic themes." I'm glad to see that he's done a statue of John Wesley Powell, located at the Sweetwater County Museum in Green River, Wyo. The Schaumburg Square statue counts as an historic theme. Schaumburg used to be a farming town, after all.

Now it's the Retail Capital of the Universe. That's my nickname for it, anyway. In the background above is the square's clock tower, fuzzily documenting the fact that the picture was taken at about 3:10 p.m.

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Friendship 7

Worth remembering: John Glenn's flight around the Earth 50 years ago today. I'm not old enough to remember that day, but I learned about it not so many years later from space-flight books and a back issue of National Geographic, complete with that magazine's trademark vivid pictures and illustrations. I checked just now: it was the June 1962 issue, the fourth cover in this gallery. More about the creation of the article is here.

There's a lot of video material about the flight online, including this slick but informative short from NASA.

These are mediocre times for the likes of NASA and the U.S. space program, so I can see why the agency might want to remind the world of its salad days. Such is the uneven course of exploration, or human affairs for that matter. Still, I suspect that the agency, or some successor entity, or private initiatives, will see other space triumphs in future decades, and the stall of the early 21st century will be forgotten.

Also worth remembering: the July 21, 1961, flight of Liberty Bell 7 by the luckless Gus Grissom, who came before Glenn but after Alan Shepard, and whose Mercury flight tends to be ignored compared to those other two. At the end of Grissom's suborbital, his spacecraft sank in the ocean and he almost drowned. And, of course, he died with Ed White and Roger Chaffee in early 1967 in the Apollo 1 fire. That mission had originally been slated to fly 45 years ago tomorrow.

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Mild Winter Walk

It wasn't exactly warm on Saturday, but it was above freezing and sunny. Compared to what February could be, and usually is, a fine day for a walk. My route took me within sight of Busse Lake, which is part of the Ned Brown Forest Preserve.

The white on the blue is ice. In more normal winters, ice fishing happens on the lake. I doubt that there's been any at all this year.

It's still very much winter, though. The trees are still waiting. A warm winter isn't enough to get them to leaf.

Winter hasn't been harsh, but spring won't be any less welcome for all that.

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Things I See on an Un-February Day

Word from my brother this morning is that Deb is doing a little better, though she's still in intensive care and has (as he put it) a "deep dark woods" to go through before recovery. I was glad to hear that she's no worse; every time I've seen a family member on caller ID recently, I've worried that it would be very bad news.

Closer to home, today was a warmish, un-February-like day. I got to see it mostly sitting at my desk, which is my worktable for sentence and paragraph assembly, where they are cut and fit into the overall architecture of whatever article I happen to be working on. My long-working Brother printer had its final breakdown early in January and -- I would never have thought this possible -- much of what I do now never sees paper.

For articles more than about 1,000 words, I still prefer a printed copy for line editing and proofreading before I file it, and so have been printing them out at the public library for 8¢ a page. But that isn't something I need to do every day, so I haven't replaced the printer. I've looked around, though, and I see some remarkable wireless printers for not so much money. I'm not sure they were even on the market when I got the old one in 2005.

Also visible from my window today: a parade of dogs and their walkers. There are always some, but the weather seems to have brought out more. The dogs are very fond of peeing on the two large rocks -- small boulders -- next to the sidewalk in the front yard, which have been visible since we had the bushes growing around them removed last fall. This activity counts as canine texting, I suppose, and the rocks are their medium.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Pray for Deb

A message from my brother Jay early this morning, regarding his wife:

Please pray for Deborah Stribling, who, as of Tuesday night, is in the ICU at Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, suffering from complications arising out of emergency surgery to relieve an intestinal blockage.

(Deb and my nephew Robert at his college graduation last May.)


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

More Evidence of a Misspent Youth

I was doing a phone interview this morning, talking about a certain segment of commercial real estate here in the Chicago area, and the fellow at the other end of the line said, "There are three things driving the market -- no, make that four."

I had an urge to say, "The three drivers are fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope. No, make that four..." But I held my tongue.


Monday, February 13, 2012

A Chipper Voice

Light snow at this late hour, at the end of a busy day. BTST usually isn't a place to post about how busy I happen to be, but this week is exceptionally so. Features and shorts must be done. There's nothing like deadlines to inspire flying fingers.

Other members of house were watching the Grammies last night, but even if I hadn't been busy then too, I would have skipped it. Still, at one point I couldn't help overhearing Adele's speaking voice, which I'd never heard before. What a delight, an internationally famed singer who talks like someone who takes your order at a fish and chips shop.

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

But I Think They'll Remember HAL

"Is this Planet of the Apes?"

"This is weird, Daddy."

"I don't get this movie."

"This music is creepy."

"Wait, what planet is he on?"

Recently I decided it was time for my nth viewing of 2001: A Space Odyssey. It's been a number of years since the last time. So I rented a disk and watched it yesterday evening. I didn't ask any of the rest of my family to watch it with me.

But they hung around in the living room anyway, mostly doing other things with their electronic gizmos, but apparently with one eye on the seemingly incomprehensible doings on the screen. Lilly and Ann provided the comments above as the movie progressed.

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Thursday, February 09, 2012

Late '60s Postcard Relics

Ahead of our family's move to San Antonio in the summer of 1968, my grandmother took me to her home in Alamo Heights, mostly (I realize now) so I wouldn't be in the way of moving preparations. During that visit, I went with Grandma to the world's fair -- HemisFair '68, it was called. She got this card for me, and we sent it to my mother and brothers back in North Texas. "We had a good time at the Fair," my grandmother wrote. I signed it with my name.

I don't specifically remember going to the fair with Grandma, but I suspect that any memories of that visit have bundled with a later visit with my mother and brothers, after they'd moved to town. I don't remember the September 15 monorail accident at all, but I must have heard about it.

The card isn't dated, but it is postmarked July 12, 1968. The cancellation mark on the stamp mentions HemisFair. The front depicts the Institute of Texan Cultures, a worthwhile museum that's still in operation.

In summer of 1969, so famed for Apollo 11 and Woodstock's crowd control issues and the murderous doings of the Manson family, we headed out on the comparatively new Interstate system for a drive around the South: Texas to Oklahoma to Arkansas to Tennessee to (briefly) Georgia to Alabama to Mississippi to Louisiana and back to Texas. Chattanooga was as far east as we got, and we stayed here.

On that trip, we'd previously stayed only in one- or two-story properties, so a five-story motor lodge was positively enormous. When you're eight. Again, my memories of the place are sparse, though there was the thrill of staying on the fourth floor, and I'm pretty sure a vending machine at the Chattanooga Howard Johnson's cheated me.

Cursory investigation reveals that there's only one Howard Johnson's in metro Chattanooga these days, in Cleveland, Tenn., which isn't the property on the card. If the structure is still there, it's flagged by another brand, and probably renovated beyond recognition. HoJo is a Wyndham Hotel Group brand now, incidentally, and I can't remember the last time I saw one. I never did associate Howard Johnson's with ice cream or food; for whatever reason, we didn't eat at them much when on the road. Mainly, they were the motels with orange roofs where we occasionally stayed.

According to Wiki at least, the brand is a b-school example of how not to deal with an adverse economy, especially if you're in the customer service business. The spikes in the price of gasoline beginning in 1973 cut into U.S. car travel, and so the company "attempted to streamline company operations and cut costs, such as serving cheaper food and having fewer employees. It proved disastrous as guests were finding this new era of Howard Johnson's restaurants and motor lodges unsatisfactory, compared to the services they had come to know for years." Oops.

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Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Cavern Inn '72

The ultima of our family trip in the summer of '72 was that classic destination, Carlsbad Caverns NP. The cave was impressive, of course, but I was 11, so just going to stay in a motel somewhere was fun. We ended up at the Cavern Inn Motel in Whites City.

The back of the card is incredibly busy, with bullet-pointed lists of motel amenities (including "clean mountain air" and "sky ride to Indian Cliff House"), information about the national park (hours and admission), and a map. There's barely any room to write a message on the oversized postcard.

I was glad to learn that Carlsbad Caverns charged $1.50 admission at the time for everyone over 16, which means my visit didn't cost anything. These days, over 15 admission is $6 for admission without a guide, which is what I think we did, so in real terms cave admission is cheaper than it was in the early '70s, since $1.50 in 1972 equals about $8 now. That's assuming the card wasn't that old when we got it, which is a fair bet since it's got both a zip code and an area code on it, and besides, look how important orange and aqua are to the color scheme.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Silver Surf Motel '73

It's postcard week. Why not? It's a gray chilled February and I have a lot of regular work to do, both of which cut into going there and seeing that, much less writing about it.

Back in the summer of 1973, during a family trip to California, we spent the night in San Simeon, with the idea of visiting the Hearst Castle the next day. But it turned out that without reservations, the wait to get in would have been many hours, so we went on up to coast to San Francisco. One of these days, if I live long enough, I'll drive up the California coast again and make sure I have reservations to get into Xanadu.

(I checked the Hearst Castle web site today and discovered that it "will relive its Hollywood heydays of the 1920s and ’30s for one star-studded night during the 'Hollywood to Hearst Castle' event on Friday, March 9th." Among other things, the event will include a screening of Citizen Kane, which was not known to be William Randolph Hearst's favorite movie. Heh-heh.)

We stayed at the Silver Surf Motel that night. Our single souvenir from the visit to San Simeon is this postcard, a relic of the time when hotels and motels provided postcards and stationery to guests, supposedly as a convenience but of course really as marketing. The marketing effort has certainly worked in this case: the place is getting a mention almost 40 years later.

I don't remember much about the Silver Surf, specifically -- all the motels I visited before ca. 1980 have fused into a single memory of a room with shag carpets, a color TV with bad horizontal control, orange and aqua furniture, a bottle opener attached near the sink, a paper Sanitized For Your Protection ribbon, and occasionally Magic Fingers. The back of the postcard says, "a charming garden motel... 40 attractive ocean view rooms... enclosed heated pool... putting green... children's playground... coffee and TV in rooms... 3 restaurants and cocktail lounge adjacent... all major credit cards." That last one included BankAmericard and Carte Blanche, by gar.

The Silver Surf Motel is still around. Except for the motel marquee and the color schemes, its web site pics don't look that different than on the postcard.

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Monday, February 06, 2012

A Fergus' Ark Two-Color Postcard, With Commentary

My brother Jay recently sent me a batch of blank postcards. I was glad to get them, since my supply is down to only a few hundred. The nearby resale shop that used to sell me cards at 25¢ each, or even 12.5¢ on sale days, has jacked up the price to $2 and $3 a card. At that price, forget it.

One of the cards he sent depicts Fergus' Ark, a floating seafood restaurant formerly in Wilmington, NC. The card must be 50 years old, and produced as cheaply as a color card can be -- a two-color printing job, which just screams cheap.

Note the writing on the card. Someone made a comment on the restaurant, presumably after a visit, and it wasn't favorable. "ordinary no good no atmosphere expensive for what one gets"

This is scanned from the back of the card. Not the entire back, which has a space for writing a message and a address like any postcard, but only a corner of the card. The mascot fish wears a top hat and carries a cane, for that touch of piscine class.

The Cafe Fear Museum web site tells me that "the first Fergus’ Ark (1952-1965) was a floating restaurant moored at the foot of Princess Street in Wilmington. The ship the Ark, originally named the General Frederick C. Hodgkins, was built in Wilmington in the early 1920s. According to the restaurant’s menu, the Ark had been a banana boat, a floating casino, a quarter boat for members U.S. Coast Guard in World War II, and, in 1946, the U.S. Maritime Commission’s office space. Then Ivon Eldridge Fergus (1914-1998) bought the Ark in September 1951 and converted it into a restaurant.

"The first Fergus’ Ark closed in February 1965 so that a coast guard facility could be built in its place. Mr. Fergus then opened a Fergus Ark on Market Street and two others on Carolina Beach Road and Oleander Drive. At one point, Fergus owned four restaurants... As for the Ark, it was initially sold to a Florida businessman. Over the next decades, it changed hands a number of times yet it was still afloat in the 1990s, serving as the office of a Florida boating supply company."

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Sunday, February 05, 2012

Among the Bills and Circulars

This postcard arrived from the poet Geof Huth last week.

28 January 2012

"Dees ----------------

The reverse of this card... I used to practice three poems that were physical in nature, three poems that I could not start over because I was creating each onto surfaces that I had only one copy of, so this is colorful, messy, exact, crayoned, inked & impressed onto & tomorrow I may begin another one of these. Geof.

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Thursday, February 02, 2012

Die, Hormigas, Die

The ant highway (see January 30) was practically deserted today. A few stragglers made their way, but it was a lonely trip for them -- provided ants have any such concept. Only a day ago, I was ready to call the ant traps a failure, since the bugs were still numerous, and I couldn't see any of them entering the traps. But they must have.

So I'm now ready to call the traps a success: Raid brand, as it happens. Kills Bugs Dead.® Everyone knows that, because Foote, Cone & Belding taught us so. This product Kills the Colony (Mata a la Colonia), the box says, but not Kills the Colony Dead, Sows Their Fields With Salt, which I would have put on the box. Or Kills Them Dead as Crassus at Carrhae. That's why I'm not a product copywriter.

And they aren't traps, but "ant baits" (cebos para hormigas). Nice to learn that hormiga is Spanish for ant or worker ant. It's got a sinister ring to it. Do not trifle with the hormiga, my friend. He will kill you.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2012

The Global Jukebox, Lomax Annex

Another warmish day, a freak of a mild winter to begin February. Too bad I needed to stay inside most of the time, tending to the word mill. It's going to be a busy month from beginning to end.

Even so, the time I put in at the computer also has its rewards, such as finding out about this by chance. Imagine that, 17,000 music tracks collected by Alan Lomax, soon to be accessible to anyone with a computer, no extra charge.

Not that it's practical even to listen to a modest fraction of the recordings, at least for those of us who have much else to do. And some of the recordings are probably so fixed in their place and time that it might be hard for an early 21st-century listener to appreciate them. Still, I'm looking forward to sampling the collection, as I would wander around a new city or a thumb through a fat reference book. Unexpected pleasures await.