Thursday, October 31, 2002

All Hallow's Eve

I never really got into the dress-up aspect of Halloween. Not that I didn't have the desire to be someone else as a child--when you spend as much time getting your ass kicked at school as I did, you spend most of your time wishing you were anyone else but that goofy-looking kid with the corkscrew teeth and the Jerry Lewis crewcut staring back at you from the mirror every morning. The costume choices of my misspent youth, however, did little to alleviate the situation--somehow, hiding yourself in a Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp costume just made the bigger kids want to chase me down the block that much more.

Even my one arguably successful costume--a homemade getup intended to bear some resemblance, however slight, to Elwood Blues--still brought more grief than reward, since the one question I got all day long was, "Where's Jake?" Telling the other kids that Jake was "still in the joint" or that he was "on a mission from God" just didn't do the trick. At least I got to wear sunglasses and a porkpie hat in school all day long.

So, perhaps understandably, throwing on a mask or makeup has little to no appeal for me, even as a relatively burly adult.

But decorating my swingin' bachelor pad for Halloween and watching funny/frightening/frighteningly funny movies with my friends? Does that appeal to me at all?

Oh. Hell. Yeah.

So if you are ever, um, unfortunate enough to be walking through La Casa del Terrorany night immediately before All Hallows Eve, you're likely to see any or all of the following:

Rubber bats dangling from the ceiling and affixed to the bathroom mirror (though, to be briefly fair, the bats on the mirror are there year-round); Godzilla duking it out with Gamera atop the refrigerator (which is decorated with old-fashioned Halloween postcards) while King Kong and Fay Wray look on in fascination/disgust; a glow-in-the-dark paper skeleton taped to a closet door; Mars Attacks lights wound around the shower curtain pole; a skull with a Weiner Whistle clenched between its teeth; a Bride of Frankenstein doll whose hair looks more mussed than usual (maybe she and the Monster had been vigorously shagging the night before? are my action figures getting more action than I am?); 18-inch tall figures of Bruce Campbell and Bruce Lee standing back to back under the living room lamp, with the Tick and the Terminator guarding them from behind; an honest-to-badness Ouiji Board, vintage 1937, with a crystal ball and a tarot deck before it, all waiting for the wrong person to ask the wrong question at the wrong time; pumpkin lights strung across the living room windows; a tin dollhouse, played with by Mom in her misspent youth, now desecrated with Blade climbing out of the chimney, Skeletor and the Shadow leaning out of the windows, and Winona Ryder and a Dalek on the balcony; posters for The Exorcist and The Blair Witch Project bookending the living room; and more monster toys, movies and postcards than you ever thought one person could reasonably possess.

You're also just as likely to see good friends parked on the couches or the futon or walking about the apartment, marveling at the display and wondering aloud if it looks like this all year round. (No, it really doesn't. As I told one friend this past Saturday, "For Halloween, I dail it up to eleven.") They come. They watch movies with me. They share my joy. They share my holiday. And those bittersweet memories of bad Halloweens past? They fade away like a vampire at sunrise.

I like Thanksgiving. I love Christmas. But Halloween? That's my day. And I hope it's yours, too. Have a happy and safe one, kids. And eat much, much more candy than you should--the sugar buzz will do you good.

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Nudge the World

As I compose this week's update at Polly Jean, the lime green e-mail machine, and sit in this desk chair whose springs have long since sprung and now threaten to depants me every time I sit in it, there is a coffee cup sitting on a Tiki-themed coaster atop my SuperDisk drive. Unfortunately, the cup does not contain coffee tonight, but, rather, Apple Cinnamon TheraFlu; I've been fighting a cold for the better part of a week, and as my sinuses remain jam-packed with fluids best not seen by human (or even nonhuman) eyes, I fear the cold is winning.

But it's not the cold, nor the coaster, nor the computer, nor the chair, nor even the sizable backside in the chair, that hold my attention tonight. No. It's the coffee cup, which came to me through a job I worked in one of Chicago's northern suburbs for just under five years (or about three years too long, depending on how you care to look at it) that has my eye--maybe even both of them.

Actually, though, even that's not entirely true: It's the words on the coffee cup that command me to stare at them in wonder. The cup itself is off-white (whether the "off-" part is by design or by age, I'm not certain) with a blue corporate logo on the side facing the Elizabeth poster (Ah, Cate Blanchett) on my "office" wall. (My "office" is really a bedroom which, since I now sleep on the increasingly uncomfortable futon in the living room, has been converted to house Polly Jean, the desk beneath her, the desk chair before her, and whatever other shit I can't fit into other rooms in La Casa del Terror--plants, action figures, free weights, comic books, clothing, porn tapes, a bicycle that hasn't been ridden in at least two years, etc.)

Facing me, though, are words in the same shade of pale blue as the logo. The words are attributed to the playwright Tom Stoppard: "...Words are sacred. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little."

I stare at those words often and remember that, when I graduated from college, I thought my fellow poetry mates and I were going to change the American literary landscape. No. Really. I thought that. Then I remember that, in one of my midterm conferences, my instructor told me, quite out of the blue, that the poet Wallace Stevens didn't have his first book of poetry published until he was 35. (Was he trying to tell me something?) The fact is, we didn't change the American literary landscape. Some tried, but failed. Others died before they could finish what they started. And still others abandoned the effort altogether and concentrated on children or careers or significant something-or-others. The arrogance and energy of youth settled into the bump-and-grind of everyday living.

And yet, even with all the years that have passed since then, and even with the time that has gone by since I left that job where I acquired the cup, its words keep coming back to me. "Nudge the world." Not "change." Not "reshape." Not "blow to fucking bits." "Nudge." Maybe that's how you go about changing or reshaping the world (though I'd rather not blow it to fucking bits, thank you)--with one little nudge at a time.

When I started this Web site exactly one year go today, I didn't go into it with the intent of changing anybody's world or mind or whatever; I really had no clue who would want to read what they'd find here (and I still don't); and I wasn't even sure how often I could get around to updating it (though, as it turned out, I posted 26 updates during that year, which averages out to one update every two weeks). More than anything, though, I just wanted a little corner of the Internet on which I could be somewhat creative--write, post photos, have a bit of fun. And if, in the process, I could "nudge the world"? Just a little? Even one tiny bit? All the better.

So here I am, sitting in a cluttered room, letting the springs in this chair eat my ass for dinner, and trying to gulp down the Apple Cinnamon TheraFlu before it goes cold. As good a way to celebrate the one-year anniversary of as any, I guess. And if I have my way--which doesn't happen often, but, every once in a while, the very fabric of reality is split assunder and I do have my way--I'll be trying to nudge the world for a while to come.

Special thanks to JB, VB, Red Secretary, Mr. E, Sister Dee, the Fluffies of St. Joseph, the Grays of Dallas and everybody else who has encouraged, inspired, poked, prodded or otherwise given support over this past year. You all rock.

Wednesday, October 9, 2002

This Sporting Life: Foul Ball

(WARNING: This week's update is entirely about the sucky state of baseball in Chicago. If you don't care about sports in general or baseball in particular, then the following essay will likely bore the shit out of you....which may be a good thing, if you happen to be constipated. Otherwise, this one just ain't for you.)

I'm told that in cities as far apart and different as Atlanta, Oakland, Saint Louis and Minnepolis, base ball fans are awake and alert, cheering their teams on in the playoffs with the hopes that their city will host a World Series next week.

There are no such hopes in Chicago, where, despite the fact that the city claims ownership of not one but two major league franchises, fans have packed away their pennants and gloves, their caps and spring dreams, for a long winter's nap. In truth, though, these fans needn't have waited until the final week of the season, nor even the final month. They could have gone into hybrenation somewhere around the Fourth of July and not have missed a thing.

The baseball season just concluded in the Windy City could easily be described as typical, what with the Cubs finishing near the bottom of their division (and only escaping the cellar due to the epic awfulness of our neighbors to the north, the Milwaukee Brewers) and the White Sox stinking up their sanitary, bland stadium for much of the season, only to come roaring back toward the end to reach the coveted .500 mark--and by losing as many games as they won, they basically could have gone without playing any games at all.

But there were aspects to this excruciatingly long six months that were far from typical. First of all, there was the labor strife all of baseball had to deal with. The idea that millionaire ballplayers would go on strike against billionaire owners was met with a collective "meh" from sports fans everywhere, most of whom simply asked, "So...when does football season start?" This is indicative of the apathy felt toward the game since the last work stoppage in 1994. (Hell, I'm feeling pretty apathetic now as I write reason for caring is what, exactly?) This is also indicative of how ineffective Major League Baseball has been in their attempts to get a grip on our collective attention: an extra round of playoffs, interleague play, brand new ballparks all over the place, etc.

On the North Side, there was the added spectacle of the ownership of the Cubs, the many-tentacled Tribune Company, trying to expand that ivy-covered shrine to all things good in the sport, Wrigley Field, at the expense of the views of some of the owners of apartment buildings across the street from the ballpark--building owners who've installed bleachers on their rooftops and charge big bucks to let people sit up there. When the owners kicked and screamed and filled community meetings with angry villagers, the Tribune Company responded in a mature, professional way--by putting up windscreens to block the sight lines of rooftop viewers, all the while claiming the maneuver was motivated not by pettiness, but by post-9/11 security concerns (like those screens could stop spitballs, much less bullets or worse). At season's end, no compromise or resolution had been reached. But did anybody but the immediate parties really care about this, another case of the rich being pissed off at the richer? Not really.

For added spice, the Cubs fired not one but two managers this season--it's not unusual for one to get whacked every couple years or so, but two in one year is kind of odd. However, it makes more sense when you look at how the team played: with the exceptions of Sammy Sosa, Kerry Wood and a few others (mostly younger players), the Cubs showed no hunger, no drive, no spark. And neither manager employed this year--Don Baylor for the first half of the season, Bruce Kimm for the second half--could inspire this sleepy bunch. I doubt if the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost could have gotten more out of these guys, most of whom played like they were anxious to grab their paychecks and walk (why show the energy to run?).

Not that matters were much better on the South Side. Aside from Mark Buerlhe, who won 19 games this season, and Magglio Ordonez, who made the All-Star team (again), the White Sox all looked like they needed compasses to lead them to a clue. The big off-season trade by general manager Kenny Williams of three young pitchers to the Pittsburgh Pirates for veteran Todd Ritchie turned out to be disasterous, as Ritchie lost 16 games and two of the three young pitchers entered the Pirates' starting rotation. And then, there was Frank Thomas, who sat out most of last year with an injury. He came back this year as grouchy and uninspiring as ever, refusing to talk to the media while also, apparently, refusing to figure out how to hit a baseball the way he did in MVP seasons past. His average and production climbed a bit by September--just in time for the team to watch the Minnesota Twins, who were supposed to be contracted out of existence this year, win their division by a wide margin and crawl to within a series, against the Anaheim Angels, of playing in the World Series.

Think about that for a moment, if you would: The Twins haven't been to a World Series since 1991, and the Angels have never been to a World Series. Meanwhile, here in Chicago, not a single World Series game has been in this city in my lifetime. Not. One. And not one World Series has been won in this city on either side of town since 1917. Not. One.

Why, then, do fans still turn out at all? I mean, Sox fans at seem a bit practical, showing up in dwindling numbers at the second Comiskey Park. But Cubs fans? They're like grocery shoppers buying gallons of milk, finding out that the milk is spoiled to the point of being chunky, and going back to the grocery store for more spoiled milk--over and over and over and over again.

But at least their self-inflicted pain is ended for another year, when eternal hopefulness and blind faith will again have a head-on collision with the weight of gloomy history. And who knows? Maybe hope and faith can win for once. Maybe.