Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Review: The Master of Disguise (2002)

You might well wonder why I'd even bother to see The Master of Disguise. It hit theaters a year ago. It left theaters about five minutes later. It's aimed at children. And its stars--Dana Carvey, Brent Spiner, Jennifer Esposito, James Brolin--all found their best successes on TV, not at the multiplex. (Yeah, I know, Carvey had the Wayne's World movies, and Spiner was in the later Star Trek flicks--both of which originated on TV. So stop giving me shit and keep reading, would you?)

So why did I see The Master of Disguise, you ask? Because the price was right.

For the past couple years, the Chicago Park District has sponsored a program called "Movies in the Parks." It's a smaller scale version of the city's "Outdoor Film Festival," which shows classic films--It Happened One Night, Rear Window, A Night at the Opera on a portable movie screen in Grant Park to an increasingly large (approximately 25,000 per film) and cranky crowd. "Movies in the Parks" play to smaller neighborhood crowds and include a mix of classics like The Wizard of Oz (which I saw in my local park last year) and more recent family fare like Spy Kids and Chicken Run. And, yes, The Master of Disguise.

So, on a Friday night with no prospects beyond parking on a couch in La Casa del Terror and watching one of our faltering baseball teams disintegrate a little more, I left La Casa right around dusk and took the short walk to Horner Park.

Horner Park--named for former Illinois givernor Henry Horner--is a fairly large rectangle of green on the western bank of the north branch of the Chicago River between Montrose Avenue and Irving Park Road. The park has the usual amenities, like baseball fields and tennis courts and winding paths for joggers or bicyclists or patrol cars to cruise. It also has, on its northern end, a sizable hill used for sledding in winter, jogging up and over in summer, and wishing upon stars all year round.

This night, the hill was being used as a temporary movie theater. A portable screen was on the south end of the crest, while viewers were scattered before it. Mostly, they were families with several small children, all in various stages of antsiness; the three brothers in front of me took turns pummelling on another, when the youngest one wasn't pretending that his dad was Mount Everest. There were also couples holding hands, an old man bearing a disturbing resemblance to the first zombie to appear onscreen in the original Night of the Living Dead, and a sleeping bag that occasionally moved with a suspiciously familiar up-and-down motion. And, of course, a tall, lanky man in glasses propped against the trunk of a maple tree.

Oh. Right. The movie.

Fabbrizio Disguisey (Brolin) decides to retire from the family business of being a "Master of Disguise"--a defender of the innocent and righter of wrongs (except for the making of this movie, which was very, very wrong) with the ability to disguise himself as anyone else. His last job involved dressing up like Bo Derek (the hell?) and busting rich, evil Devlin Bowman (Spiner). Fabbrizio then opens an Italian restaurant with his wife (Edie McClurg) and their son (Carvey), keeping his son in the dark about his legacy...his destiny...

Flash forward a few years. The son, Pistachio (unfunny "funny" name--always a bad sign), is now a clumsy waiter with an oddly thick Italian accent (given that he was raised in America) in the family restaurant, where he and his little dog, The Cuteness (even the dog has an unfunny "funny" name--yeesh), make friends with a little boy between bouts of uncontrollable customer mocking. When his parents get kidnapped, though, Pistachio learns of his legacy...his destiny...from Grandpa (veteran character actor Harold Gould), who shows up to teach his dim-witted grandson the ropes and help him hire an assistant (Espositio), who just happens to be the little boy's single mom, whose boyfriend is, of course, an abusive ass just waiting to be kicked.

And who has kidnapped Fabbrizio and his wife? Why, it's Devlin Bowman! Surprise! He forces Fabbrizio (Can I call you Fab? Really? Thanks!) to disguise himself as various lower-tier celebrities to steal "the treasures of the world" (which seem to all be American, like the Liberty Bell and the Declaration of Independence). Meanwhile, Pistachio (Can I call you Pist? Really? Thanks!) and assistant Jennifer search for Mama and Papa. Hilarity ensues. Or, in this case, not.

Carvey spends much of the movie hidden under elaborate disguises (an Indian fakir, a turtle, a Tony Montana-esque loudmouth and, most appropriately, a pile of shit) that make little in the way of sense and less in the way of funny. Spiner and Esposito are usually little more than bystanders for Carvey's schtick, but it's nice to see Harold Gould get a meaty supporting role. (Hell, it's nice to see that Harold Gould is still alive.) Gould at least gets to slap Carvey around. Too bad paying customers didn't have that opportunity when the movie first came out--it might have turned a profit.

I can bitch as much as I want about The Master of Disguise, but you know what? It wasn't made for me. It was made for a much younger audience. And a lot of the kids on the hill in Horner Park on a fine July evening giggled at the disguises and silly names and fart jokes. I wouldn't say they were rolling in the grass with laughter, but they seemed pretty entertained. And the movie is amazingly short--just over an hour, not including the lengthy closing credits--so their attention was held well enough.

No, I didn't like The Master of Disguise. (Gee, could you tell?) But I got to spend an evening relaxing in the park, and the movie cost me nothing but time, of which I had plenty anyway. So I really have little to complain about, do I?

Monday, July 21, 2003

My Best Friend's Parents

I only had a couple of occasions to meet either or both of my best friend JB's parents.

The first was after our college graduation ceremony. I barely remember anything about that night. Fragments at best. I had to give a speech before the throng in the Auditorium Theater, so I was stressing about that for half the evening, anxious to get out of Dodge the back half of the evening and on stage the whole time. After the ceremony finally ended after what seemed like 20 hours under searing spotlights, I ran backstage and gave my cap and gown to the first person who'd take them, something my mother has never quite forgiven me for (no picture of her baby boy, the first person in our family to attend college, much less graduate, in his graduation duds).

But I met JB's parents that night. And his sister, VB--the wisest, most at-peace-with-herself person I've ever met--as well. I know I did, because both JB and VB confirm it. But I don't remember it. At all.

Years later, I helped JB move out of the Bucktown apartment he shared with a co-worker to another just a few blocks away. I always offer to help friends move. I'm dumb like that. And JB was my best friend, so of course I'd lift furniture and carry boxes. No problem. (I'd also make him pay by asking him to help me move the following year. I don't think he's forgiven me for that.) Except that I was head over heels for his roommate (not my first romantic miscalculation, and not nearly my last) and their apartment smelled strongly of her scent, Lancome, something JB said he couldn't smell at all. (I was so tuned into this woman's perfume that I once smelled her as she drove past me in her VW Jetta. Really. I can't make up shit that weird.) Neither JB nor I had a driver's license (and we still don't--that would be cute, except it's not), so his dad drove up from the South Side to handle the truck.

So I know I talked to the man. I also know that he asked JB about me. "Is he okay?" Apparently, I looked sick, pale, drained. Probably because I'd been fighting the urge to cry or throw up or both the whole time. Toward the end of the move, the roommate showed up (with her weightlifter boyfriend) and I got out of there as quickly as my feet would carry me. (Trust me--that's damn fast.) So I didn't spend much time talking to JB's dad. Not as much as I should have, anyway. And I don't remember a word of any conversation we had.

I'm ashamed to say that, on both occasions, I was so tightly wrapped in my own dramaramas that I didn't take the opportunity to get to know the people who raised JB, who helped him become the fantastic friend he is, and who dispensed knowledge and wisdom through him from time to time. (My love life, twisted as it could become, needed wiser minds to try to untangle it.) Because I won't get that chance now.

Last week, JB and VB lost both of their parents--Dad to cancer on Saturday, Mom to a heart attack the following Thursday.

I can't wrap my brain around what JB, VB and the rest of the family going through. I can only comprehend a fraction of it. The whole is overwhelming. And saying "I'm there for you however you need me to be" seems woefully inadequate. JB and VB were there for me when my dad passed away. When Gray Cat had to be put to sleep. For every romantic conflagration. (I think that if one, just one, of my situations had worked out in my favor, they'd have been happier for me that I'd have been for myself. And maybe, someday, that can yet happen.)

I know that the family is large and tightly knit, so there is plenty of support at this sad time. And I know they know my heart is with them. I've thought about them constantly this past week. And I wish that I could have seen their mom and dad one last time, if only to tell them how wonderful their children are and how proud they should be for having brought such caring, loving, truly fabulous people into this world--people who've enriched my life more than I can ever properly express.

Somehow, though, I believe they already know.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

Saturday Night at the Laundromat

Saturday night. People across this city are doing all sorts of who-knows-what. They're out drinking. Dancing. Loving each other. Killing each other (or themselves). Staring at what passes for network programming. Laughing out loud at a party. Crying softly by themselves. Beating off.

Me? I'm at the laundromat next to the Pallid Poultry, making dirty things clean again.

I wish I could say that this is an optional trip. That I just felt like getting out of La Casa del Terror. Didn't like what was on TV. Wasn't especially hungry. Didn't feel waxing the tadpole. (Which I don't do much these days anyway. What's the point, really? I mean, the real joy of sex for me was in trying to bring my partner off. Haven't had a girlfriend in a bit. A while. Okay. Years. I've even tossed--no pun intended--most of my never-that-extensive-anyhow porn collection. Just wasting space. More room for storing action figures no longer on display.)

Nope. This trip to the laundromat is a necessity. Not just because I'm short on wearable clothing--how picky of society to dictate that we actually look and smell presentable when we leave our homes! The Nerve!--but because, without prior (or even post) announcement, the washers and dryers were removed from my apartment building. I found out the hard way: I was down to my last clean set of wearables--shirt, pants, boxers (or briefs, whichever it was) and mismatched socks--and I lugged an plastic milk crate's worth of clothing down to the basement laundry room, only to find four large, dusty squares where the washers and dryers used to be.

As I trundled back up the stairs, I passed the kids who live downstairs. "Y'know," I said, "It's really hard to do laundry without any washers or dryers."

They all chimed in at once. "Wha?" "They're gone?" "Oh, snap!" "That's messed up."

"That's as good a way to put it as any," I sighed, continuing my trip to the dark at the top of the stairs.

Not that tonight is my first trip to this laundromat. Oh no. I've been here plenty of times over the years, usually when one (or both) of the washers had broken down, or when I had way too much for the standard-sized units in our building to take, like blankets or the coverings for the futon.

Tonight, I load up the shopping cart Mom gave me when I moved with the basic, practical stuff. Shirts. Pants. Boxers and briefs. Socks that occasionally match. Nothing exotic. Just the stuff that gets me through the week. I also load up the canvas shopping bag. Detergent. Journal. Reading material. Coin purse bulging with quarters. Tennis ball (more on that later).

There's a TV at the laundromat--a Panasonic with iffy reception on its best night--and sometimes I pay attention to what's on the screen. Most nights, given that most of the viewers are Hispanic, we're treated to Mexican soap operas--much more explicit in terms of sex and violence than their north-of-the-border cousins--or variety shows--one show featured a busty blonde sitting next to a Fidel Castro impersonator; another had grown men with bushy mustaches dressed as school children. Other nights, American news magazines fill the bill. Tonight, it's one of the local access channels, starting off with Bollywood highlights and finishing with a preacher fumbling his way through the Scriptures ("It's Verse 53...no, 52...okay, it's 51...").

While the wash is going, I write in my journal. I get most of my journal writing done here these days. I feel sorry for any poor bastard who tries to decipher my cursive after I'm gone. Not like anyone's ever going to bother to translate the daily outs and ins. The love poetry never given. The private triumphs. The public flameouts. Life.

When I get tired of that--either my hand cramps or my mind does--I read whatever book I'm working through. Last week, it was If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor. Bruce Campbell's autobiography. (And don't you dare say, "Who?") This week? Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye. The mystery isn't the reason to read Chandler. It never is. He makes the language dance. Sometimes slow and close. Sometimes wild and winging. If you can ignore the racial epithets. And misogyny. And homophobia. Could chalk it up putting words in the characters' mouths. Or the times in which his novels were written. Or sun spots. If you choose to ignore them. I don't. I note them. Grimace. Move on with the dance.

Once the wash finishes, I toss the wet clothes into the dryers across the way and flip in a couple fabric softener sheets after. If I remember to. Which I usually don't. The first load goes in fine. The second is still sopping. The washer is broken. Not draining right. Extra quarters for that dryer. Maybe it'll work. Maybe it won't. Extra time away from home. Not a bad thing.

There are few things more soothing than watching a load of clothing tumbling in a dryer window. Watching Guinness settle in a pint glass, maybe. Or following a plane from one end of the horizon to the other. Or noting the rise and fall of the fur of a cat asleep. Or the swirl of the stars on a clear Michigan night. Or my reflection in the glass as jeans, plaid short sleeves, more-or-less-white socks tumble past.

There's only so much of that I can stand, though, so I return to reading. Or scribble some more in the spiralbound notebook. Or scan The Reader for a better job. Or walk next door to Pallid Poultry for something to drink. Used to be more fun to do that when the cute alternachick was behind the counter. Black hair cut in a bob topping white skin, direct blue eyes and a pierced right nostril. Just the kind of girl I could fall for. Just the kind of girl who could never fall for me. Just as well that she left Pallid Pountry a couple months ago. Shit job anyway. I pick up some Gatorade and return to the laundromat.

(Side note: I was just paying for my haircut at the neighborhood SuperCuts when the young man behind the counter called the next name. The name seemed familiar, so I turned...to find the alternachick in the waiting area, playing with her hair. "Sweaty," she said to the stylist. "I got mine done 'cause it gets curly," I chimed in. It's true--my hair gets what a friend affectionately referred to as "The Captain Von Trapp Wave." The alternachick headed for the hair-cutting chair. "Didn't you used to work at Pallid Poultry?" I asked, pretending to be unsure of where I'd seen her before. She confirmed that she did. "Nice to see you again." "You too." Then she asked to use the bathroom. That was all. That was enough.)

By the time the dryer finishes its work, I'm the last one left in the laundromat. I Usually am on Saturday nights. Everyone else has gone wherever they need to go. I unload the dryers. The load from the washer that didn't drain properly is still damp. Doesn't matter. Can spread the sweaters and undies out on the chest in the kitchen and let them air-dry. The Girlish Girls won't sleep on them. They much prefer sleeping on me.

I load the shopping cart up again, this time with folded, clean clothing, shirts on top (to be hung in the closet as soon as I get home). I cross the busy street quickly, but carefully. Once dropped a pile of clean dress shirts on the dotted line down the middle of the road. Scooped the shirts up and made the sidewalk just as headlights approached fast from the west. They weren't slowing down, either. Would be stupid to get killed over clean laundry. People have died for less. I'd rather not. Not just yet. Not for this.

I turn down my alley and take the tennis ball out of the bag. Cock my pitching arm back. Wait for sounds in the dark from either side. Been rats here lately. Big rats. First time in all the years I've lived in this neighborhood that I've seen rats. Racoons? Sure. Rabbits? Absolutely. Possums? You betcha.

But rats? Never. No movement tonight. Nothing zipping across cracked asphalt. Like the tennis ball would do much good anyway. Just an attention getter. Rats are strange. Sometimes they run away when they see lights or hear human footfalls. Sometimes they run toward the sound. Once, a rat dashed across Dearborn Street near Daley Center Plaza, ran right up to my feet, turned around, ran all the way back, vanished down the sewer. No rhyme. No reason. Just did what it wanted. I could learn a thing or two there.

Back home. Hang the shirts in the closet. Spread out the damp clothes on any open surface. Pet the girls. Settle in for SNL. (Mmmm...Tina Fey.) Not much to laugh about. On the TV or otherwise. But at least for the moment, La Casa is filled with the scent of fresh, clean clothing. There are worse things to smell on a Saturday night. And better, too.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Review: 28 Days Later...(2002)

The young man opens his eyes. Where is he? On a bed. Restricted by tubes and tape. A hospital. But where are the nurses? The doctors? No one in sight. He gets up. Pulls out the tubes. Puts on some clothes. Stumbles down the hall. "Hello?" No answer. Not in the hall. Not in the street below. Not in downtown London. Not anywhere.

He doesn't know about what happened at Cambridge. He doesn't know about the monkeys. Or Rage.

Animal-rights activists break into a research lab to set the animals free. A tech begs them not to. Says the chimpanzee is infected with Rage. They don't listen. Open the cage. Set loose the Rage. Doesn't take much. A bite. A drop of blood in the mouth or eye. An activist is infected. Then another. Then another. The infection spreads. The dominoes fall.

28 days later, a young man walks through downtown London and thinks the city deserted. If only it were.

These opening moments of 28 Days Later... are bloody near perfect. The wandering young man--a bicycle messenger named Jim (Cillian Murphy) who had the misfortune of getting sideswiped by a truck and knocked into a coma just before the outbreak--gets to stand in for the audience. With the exception of the information about the breakin at Cambridge, where we get to see the first moments of contagion, we don't know any more than Jim does. We can deduce more--that the infection wiped out London at least, if not all of England--but Jim find this out soon enough anyway when he makes the innocent-enough mistake of walking into a church filled with infected Londoners. Blood-spattered. Red-eyed. Hungry. Jim, weak but sensible, runs for his life. Other survivors arrive. Jim gets to live. For now.

This is hardly fresh territory. George Romero defined the flesh-chomping zombie genre with his trilogy of Living Dead movies, but even he wasn't the first to play on this gore-caked ground. Richard Matheson's novella, I Am Legend, about a plague that turns much of the world's population into vampires, set the framework for much of what was to come and was itself twice filmed (as The Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price and The Omega Man with Charlton Heston, with a third film version rumored for years).

Director Danny Boyle (of Trainspotting fame) and screenwriter Alex Garland seem fully aware of the restrictions and expectations of the genre they're working in and attempt to work around them. Their most noticable--and most welcome--change to the plague itself. Victims don't die; they are transformed, and hence aren't really zombies at all (they're referred to regularly as "infecteds"). And the disease itself is specific in origin--a biological weapon experiment that goes about as wrong as it can go--rather than vague (a crashed probe in Night of the Living Dead) or entirely unexplained (Romero's two Dead sequels). The Rage virus also has a demonic logic to it: Turn it loose in a city or country you don't like and watch its citizens tear each other apart.

Boyle and Garland do acknowledge their predecessors, though, especially Romero. When a group of survivors--Jim, Selena (Naomie Harris), Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and Frank's young daughter, Hannah (Megan Burns)--follows the directions on the one remaining radio broadcast and make their way toward a military outpost north of Manchester, they make stops along the way, including a shopping spree in a supermarket and a visit to a presumably deserted gas station, that echo heavily of Dawn of the Dead (which mostly took place in a shopping mall).

Unfortunately, the back third of the movie, which takes place after the survivors reach the outpost, also echoes Romero--but not in a good way. The soldiers, led by the deceptively calm Major West (Christopher Eccleston), prove to be a greater threat than the infecteds, just as the soldiers and scientists in Romero's third and least-effective zombie epic, Day of the Dead, wound up being more monsterous than the monsters could ever be. The shambling, slobbering things that were once like you and me might be out for blood, but only because it's now their nature. To be cruel, hateful, evil...these are conscious decisions. We, the survivors, the "normals," have a choice. The infecteds/zombies don't.

This last act may turn 28 Days Later... from a thoughtful study of characters under the ultimate strain to a more ordinary action/horror flick. But enough good will and interest in the characters' fates has been built (mostly through intense, sensitive performances, especially from Harris and the ever-underestimated Gleeson) that it's easier to stay with the movie until the end, even if that end could have been less cliched, could have been as finely detailed, thought-provoking, sharped-edged as the beginning and middle were.

Monday, July 14, 2003

Review: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)

I've long since given up on the notion of movies based on popular comic books matching their inspiration. After all, moviegoers have complained since the dawn of cinema that "the book was better," so why should comic book adaptations be any different or better, even if they are, in a sense, already storyboarded for Hollywood?

With The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, though, no one involved in the production of the movie seems to have gotten past the cover of the first issue of the comic book.

The concept, as originally dreamed up by writer Alan Moore and artist Kevin O'Neill, is basically the same: Take the modern idea of the superhero team--individuals with different powers banding together to fight evil--and make it retroactive to the Victorian era. Thus, fictional characters created by the authors of that time--Verne, Haggard, Wells, Stoker, Stevenson, Conan Doyle--could meet, talk and share adventures together. Director Stephen Norrington seemed like a fine choice, having done well with another comic book character in Blade; and screenwriter James Robinson is himself an award-winning comic book writer for series like Starman and The Golden Age.

And yet, beyond that basic concept, the comic and the movie have virtually nothing in common but a title.

The cast is led by Sean Connery as adventurer Allan Quatermain (not "Quartermain," as seen on a grave marker early in the movie; the end credits correct the spelling), reluctantly recruited by a mysterious government agent named M (Richard Roxburgh) to lead a team against a villain calling himself the Fantom, who's trying to start a war between England and Germany by rolling tanks through banks in London and Berlin and getting each country to blame the other for the crimes and who plans on blowing up a conference in Venice. The team consists of Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), the Invisible Man (Tony Curran), Mina Harker (Peta Wilson) and Dr. Jekyll (Jason Flemyng), all present in the comic series. Additionally, Norrington and Robinson toss in Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend) and Tom Sawyer (Shane West) for good (or, as i happens, not-so-good) measure.

Once the team is assembled, apparently knowing all about one another's adventures (as if they'd all read the Cliff's Notes for the novels they appear in), they rush about from one action sequence to the next, all of which are remarkably uninvolving (I guess there really is a limit to how much shit one can see blow up before one ceases to care) and none of which do much more than pad out the less-substantial-that-the-Invisible-Man plot, which could have cut in half without missing much. It turns out that the Fantom (why spell the name with an "F" when the proper spelling could have tied the character, however loosely, back to Gaston Lereux's creation?) is someone else, of course, who is yet another character from Victorian literature and whose identity is easy to figure out for anyone outside the movie itself.

Anachronisms and inconsistencies abound. Captain Nemo, in addition to creating his submarine, the Nautilus, also invented the automobile, which looks like a cross between a Rolls Royce and the Batmobile. And did you know that the canals of Venice are deep enough for a full-sized submarine to cruise down, or that Venice doesn't have all that many canals but lots of dark, winding streets for cars that haven't been invented yet to scream down? Neither did I.

The characters bear little resemblance to their literary counterparts--Mina Harker is now a full-on vampire, while Tom Sawyer is awfully handy with guns and automobiles (Mark Twain would be amazed) and Dorian Gray will die if he ever looks at his portrait, which takes all the damage while he remains pretty, pretty, pretty. The inclusion of Sawyer seems particularly gratutious, as if dumb Americans wouldn't go to see a movie starring a bunch of actors with foreign accents. They could have at least tied the character back to his roots somehow--a "white picket fence" reference or something. But that would require more depth than Robinson (or how ever many other chefs dipped their ladles into this soup) can manage. The actors do the best with what they're given; Connery is suitably gruff as Quatermain, Wilson scores well with both one-liners and fight scenes (not surprising, given her starring role in the La Femme Nikita TV series) and Shah expresses what he can from behind a blatantly fake beard (they spent all that money on CGI, but couldn't come up with decent facial hair?).

Maybe I'd have enjoyed the movie version more if I'd never read the comic book (or, for that matter, any book period). But I know the wonders that can be worked with these characters and the fine work that Norrington, Robinson and Connery have all done in the past, which makes this result all the more disappointing. It's been reported that Connery and Norrington fueded openly on the set and that Connery made edits to the final cut. But polishing a turd still only leaves you with one thing: a shiny turd. And League isn't even that shiny. In fact, it's downright dull.

Wednesday, July 9, 2003

Dog Daze

I stare out into
the backyard

through the silver-
barred back door

after sunset to find
lightning bugs clicking

on, off, on against
the deep browns

of garages and
apartment buildings

while skyrockets
paint the blue

with slashes of
yellow and green,

with the sounds
of bursting air.

I'm waiting not so patiently
for the sky to decide which
way it would like to spin
the dial--toward merely gloomy
midsummer overcoat or full-force
frontal passage with pea-soup wall
of smoke flowing forward over
North Side three-flats and
South Side commuter tracks,
over kids blowing off leftover
Independence Day incendiaries
and playing Hide and Seek through
empty lots, gangways, gray back
porches and black trash cans, over
my uncovered head leaning against
a rusting pillar just barely propping
up the Sedgwick El stop where
dime-sized storm drops start
to plink and dive and get sucked
down greedily by the dry
widened planks of the platform
as if the impending moisture
could make them trees again.

Thursday, July 3, 2003

Hot Fun in the Summertime

I can't say I'm that much in love with summer.

I don't like hot weather. When it's cold, you can put on more layers, but there are only so many layers you can remove in summer before the cops tote you away. And since La Casa del Terror doesn't have air conditioning, I need to have two huge box fans trained on my torso to keep me from melting Margaret Hamilton-style until I'm just an Ed-shaped stain on the futon. (Yes. I know. Ew.)

Still, I prefer that the seasons act like they're supposed to. Winter should be cold and snowy. Fall should be brisk and leafy. Spring should be...okay, Chicago doesn't really have a spring, so it really shouldn't be anything at all. And summer? Should. Be. Hot.

But June was, for the most part, like April and May before it--overcast and cold, especially right on the shoreline of Lake Michigan.

Anyone who has spent any amount of time in the Windy City is intimately familiar with the phrase "cooler by the lake"; it was even the title of a novel by Larry Heinemann. When the wind comes out the east it blows across the lake, which takes a long time to heat up from winter's chill, especially at its center, where it runs several hundred feet deep. In July and August, this is a boon, providing natural air conditioning to much of the city. When the prevailing wind is out of the east through most of the first half of the year, however, the city remains under a blanket of gloom far longer than normal (if Chicago weather can truly be referred to as "normal").

On June 11, I walked out of the building where I work and saw my breath. That is so wrong.

Amazingly, though, on the first official day of summer, the weather decided to straighten out its act and act like it was June, not March. The sky cleared. The air warmed. Overcoats were put away. Bikinis and sun screen became useful again. Air conditioning in movie theaters became refreshing instead of brutal--and thus sought after by those of us who don't have AC (or lives). La Casa del Terror turned into a broiler once more, and I slept sans underwear. (Yes. I know. Ew. Again. To the Nth.)

And I couldn't have been more thrilled. About summer. Not the underwear thing.

So when coworkers bitch about the heat, I shrug. "It's summer," I tell them. "What were you expecting?" They don't usually have a lucid answer.

Now I do some of the things I most love to do. Like put Sly & the Family Stone's Greatest hits on the new CD player. Or take long walks down to the lake and back again. Or snap pictures of the sights of summer. (I used to do this a lot on Friday afternoons, back when my company had "summer hours"--work an extra half hour the first four days of the week, leave at noon on Friday. They don't have that this year, though. Dammit.) Or just sit out on the back porch with a Red Dog in hand and kill a couple Salems. Or go out to Navy Pier and watch the fireworks go off over Monroe Harbor (something I'll likely do tonight).

Basically, I just find ways to waste time. But what better time of year to do it, especially with so much free time to be wasted?

Have a happy and safe 4th of July, everybody.