Friday, May 30, 2008

"A Perfect Comic"

That's what Tim Conway said in a brief audio clip on the CBS World News Roundup to describe Harvey Korman, who died yesterday from complications from an abdominal aortic aneurysm at the age of 81.

Korman will be remembered for many things, including his long run on "The Carol Burnett Show" (during which he won four Emmys and a Golden Globe) and his role as Hedy Lamarr ("That's Hedley!") in Blazing Saddles, and many, many other parts over his decades-long career.

But what was first came to my mind when I heard that he had passed away? His not one, not two but three roles in The Star Wars Holiday Special.

Yes, I am a sick man.

Rest in peace, Mr. Korman.

Friday is Bring Your Action Figure to Work Day

For the last two weeks, select co-workers and I have brought toys to work.

Maybe we've done it because we're bored. Maybe we've done it because we're geeks. Maybe we've done it because our place of employemnt is relentlessly bland--I've been in banks that were more visually stimulating. Or maybe we just bloody well felt like bringing toys to work.

Reactions amongst our other co-workers have been mixed. Some think the action figures are cool. Others think they reveal us to be not quite right in our heads. Still others ignore the situation entirely (then again, they ignore us as co-workers and human beings as well, so maybe it's best that they not take notice).

Whatever. They make us smile. And anything that makes us smile makes through the last workday of the week that much easier.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Three Minutes

Three minutes is not a great length of time. It takes longer--sometimes much longer--to do many things, like take a shower, wait for a bus or train, or eat dinner.

There are other times when three minutes can seem like an afternoon--like when you get on your exercycle after not having used it as anything but a convenient place to hand my shirts and stack my pants for at least the last couple of years and ride it for exactly that long.

I don't know why I chose Memorial Day to resume the slow climb to being in shape, or why I decided to clear the wire hangers off the handlebars (you thought I was kidding about throwing my clothing there, didn't you?) after having walked to and from the Davis to see Forgetting Sarah Marshall (which wasn't bad, but wasn't great either) and hopped aboard.

Maybe it was because eating better has reduced my weight, but at too slow a rate for my satisfaction. Or maybe it was because I got tired of having an enormous piece of unused hardware in my apartment. (And for those of you who read that as a euphamism for something've been on Dune way too long. Then again, I wrote it, and I thought it sounded like something something dirty, so...yeah, Dune.) Or maybe I'd just like to see my feet a little more often.

Whatever the reason, last night I cleared off the Schwinn Aerodyne, plugged in the Panasonic cassette player I'd bought that afternoon from from Laurie's Planet of Sound (it's bright yellow, weighs about 10 pounds and practically screams 1975 from its back-mounted speaker), popped in "Mix Tape #6" (don't ask me why I needed that exact tape, especially since I recorded it about 10 years ago and can't remember what's on it) and began by stretching while Liz Phair sand "Fuck and Run."

After about 30 seconds of reaching towrd the hardwood floor while it and my hamstrings mocked me mercilessly, I threw my left leg over the seat of the Aerodyne and hit the ON button. The display came up, the run time was adjusted down to three minutes (from the previously loft goal of four), and the start button was pressed.

The large fan that takes the place of the front wheel began to spin and throw out jets of air throughout La Casa del Terror, sending loose papers and nervous cats flying in all directions. The wheel/fan made a continual "ping" as I pedaled, as if something were sticking up through the grate and hitting it, but nothing was visible and the pedals worked as they should.


It took only three minutes, though it seemed much longer--every time I looked down at the timer, expecting a minute to have gone by, only to find ten seconds had elapsed--to discover how out of shape I truly am. After that brief effort, my legs were leaden and I needed a long drink of ice-cold water. And this morning, I felt soreness in parts of my body whose existence I'd almost entirely forgotten. (Those of you thinking dirty thoughts again...seriously, Dune.)

Does this mean I won't get back on again tonight for another three minutes? Hell no. I plan on doing three minutes a night, every night, no matter how late I get in or how tired I am, until three minutes feels easy enough for me to move it up to four. Then five. Then six. Then on and on until I feel like I can ride forever. (Again...oh, never mind.)

Monday, May 19, 2008

In Through the Out Door

Today, I closed down for the last time.

No, I hadn't finished migrating all of my old files from there to here--there are still essays, photos and movie reviews missing, and they'll stay missing for a while (or at least until I devote a lazy summer afternoon to uploading files from home).

The time had finally come to say goodbye. I wasn't using the old site anymore, and I was still being charged for it. More than anything else, though, it was time to let go of that part of me that started that site back in October 2001 at the urging of JB, Junebug and Red Secretary, among others, and most of those initial readers have stayed with me the whole time. For your love and support all these years, I remain grateful.

So this is now the only place where you can read my rambling diatribes and see my pictures of what is or was Chicago. It's a good thing, really--since I started this new version of the old blog, I've updated around twice a week (as opposed to the old site, where I'd update twice a month, if that).

One door closes. Another opens. This one will likely be open for quite some time. C'mon in and say "Hi."

Friday, May 16, 2008

Public Land, Private Gain, Part 2

As I (and many others) predicted yesterday, the Chicago Plan Commission approved the move of the Chicago Children's Museum from their cramped quarters on Navy Pier to new, spacious, subterranean digs in Grant Park by a vote of 13 to 2. Kudos to Commission members Doris Holleb and Lyneir Richardson for proving that they are, in fact, vertebrates. The rest of the members? I'm not so sure. (Do not be surpised if Holleb and Richardson are wished into the cornfield--and off the Commission--by His Honor in the near future.)

Not that the museum will be jammed into the turf tomorrow. There are many steps to be taken before the first shovel of dirt is thrown aside--the next being the City Council's zoning committee, which must approve the measure before it's brought up before the full council.

While many members of the City Council also do whatever the mayor tells them, they have a more difficult decision with consequences that reach well beyond the placement of the museum itself. The alderman of the ward in which the proposed new museum location resides, Brendan Reilly, opposes the plan. Usually, if an alderman opposes a project within the boundaries of his or her ward, that project dies a swift death.

So...are the members of the City Council willing to incur the considerable wrath of the mayor by protecting their longstanding privilege of giving a stamp of approval to anything that happens within their individual wards? Or will they cut out the middleman and slit their own throats by approving the measure over the local alderman's wishes, opening up the substantial probability that their own ward projects will now be fair game for the whims, wishes and warfare of their fellow council members? We shall see.

We shall also see if the Chicago Children's Museum's reputation, already damaged by the museum board's eagerness to jam this ill-conceived plan down the throats of the citizens of this city, continues to erode to the point where so much ill will has been generate that no one will want to go anywhere near their institution, no matter where it is eventually built.

My Left Foot

Last night, while on my way home, I wandered through the Sears at State and Madison, killing time before heading back to La Casa del Terror to feed the cats, watch Countdown with Keith Olbermann and whip up the latest batch of "bachelor's stew," which consists of whatever remains in the refrigerator or kitchen cupboards thrown into a bowl with lots of seasoning (or, at least, crushed red peppers) and a little prayer.

I wasn't looking for anything in particular--I've bought plenty of shirts and pants lately, but could always use a few more--and wound up in the shoe department, scanning the clearance shelves for something in my size that wasn't eye-burstingly awful. (There are reasons why these things wind up on the discount shelf.) My everyday shoes are starting to get a bit worn, and they'll need to be replaced sooner or later (prpbably sooner).

Finally, I spotted a "12" on a GPX box--good brand, decent price, could be something. I opened the box with hope...and held it open in confusion. I liked the look of the shoe in the box--I often wear bowling-style shoes, even though I rarely bowl and even when I do, I'm as likely to bowl a 50 as a 150--but there was the problem: There was just one shoe in the box, not a pair. I looked on the shelves and even cracked a few adjacent boxes, but the left shoe had gone missing. Where could it have gone? Did somebody walk out with one new shoe and leave the other behind?

I continued rooting around the shoe department, mostly wincing at either the styles of shoes I didn't like or the prices of shoes I did. I chanced upon another GPX box with my size on its side, and the style on display was very similar to the solo shoe I'd encounter before. I flipped the lid open and...found another right shoe with the left one nowhere in sight.

Did some shoplifter with two left feet put on shoes from two different styles and hope no one would notice? Were the left shoes lonely where they were/are? Did my left foot do something to offend the universe as a whole, or just the deity governing footwear in particular?

I left Sears with out anything but the money I had in my wallet when I came through the revolving door and the disappointment handed to me within.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Public Land, Private Gain

Millennium Park in downtown Chicago has always provoked mixed feelings.

Carved out of the northern end of the much larger Grant Park, Millennium Park is undeniably one of the most spectacular locations in the whole city: It has memorable sculptures (including the ultra-shiny Cloud Gate, better known locally as "The Bean"); a fountain visitors are encouraged to walk in that has building-high video screens at either end that spit water out of the faces projected there; a relaxing cafe; a wintertime iceskating rink; a bridge and music pavilion designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry; and a panoramic view of one of the greatest skylines on the planet.

The park also, unfortunately, represents much civic blundering: It ran well over budget; numerous deadlines for completion were blown (as the name implies, it was supposed to open in 2000--it didn't open until 2004); and that relaxing cafe is run by a group that just happens to have connections to the city's longtime mayor, Richard M. Daley and just happens to have gotten a great deal on the lease. (Daley has long denied that he had anything to do with what, to all appearances, was a sweetheart deal. However, given the numerous investigations and subsequent convictions for corruption throughout Daley's administration, doubts continue to linger.)

Now, the city is trying to add more to the area, already ten pounds in a five-pound bag, by moving the Chicago Children's Museum from its cramped quarters at Navy Pier to a a spot in Grant Park adjacent to Millennium Park currently occupied by a plaza named for Daley's father, Richard J. Daley (also a long-serving mayor of the city).

Numerous objections have been raised to this plan by groups concerned about protecting the intergity of the parks (and point to decades of legal precedents prohibiting buildings in public parks), by condo owners concerned about the increase in traffic in what is already a congested area, and by average citizens who worry that such a deal opens the door further for giving public land over to private institutions (even a not-for-profit one like the Children's Museum).

The mayor has no such concerns. He has been a vocal--even vehement--supporter of the move, sometimes literally and hysterically shouting down detractors of the plan as anti-child or racist.

I think it's a bad idea as well, but mostly because of the age-old realtor's mantra: location, location, location. It's a lousy spot for a hot dog stand, much less a museum. It's an awkward, out-of-character attachment to either park, a square peg being rammed into a round hole with excessive force. Other sites have been proposed, especially by the Chicago Tribune which has run a series of editorials suggesting alternate sites where the museum might be a better fit, like the "museum campus" immediately south of the downtown area (a campus that already attracts millions of visitors, including many children, every year) or areas that could use the attention the museum would attract, like Garfield Park on the city's West Side, a long-ignored jewel that could bask in the light shined on it by the presence of such a world-class institution.

The museum's choice of location--and the objections to it--have caused the board to attempt to please everyone with changes to the design of the structure, which now would reside mostly underground. That would be great if the children were moles or earthworms. That would also be great if citizens who, funny enough, would like to use the park land as park land could actually do so; the footprint of the new museum, even after it's been shovel as far into the ground as possible, still makes the land above it virtually useless.

It does not seem, however, that either the museum board or the mayor have any interest in entertaining suggestions for other, more suitable locations. The proposal for the move goes before the city's Plan Commission today, and it's expected to pass with little oppostition from the Commission board, which is entirely appointed by (guess who?) Mayor Daley. While civic groups and individual protestors will likely make noise at the Commission meeting today, I would not be the least surprised to see each commissioner take turns curling up in the mayor's lap and getting a tummy rub from His Honor. That would be far more likely than even one of the commissioners standing up and saying, in a clear and firm voice, "This is wrong, sir."

It does not matter whether this move is what's best for the parks, the city, the museum or, most importantly, the children. It's what the mayor wants. And what this mayor wants--from the midnight demolition to the lakefront airport, Meigs Field, to the hideous "renovation" of Soldier Field, the Bears' football stadium that now looks like the mothership from Close Encounters of the Third Kind has crashed within its classically columned walls--this mayor gets.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Lack of Drive

I don't have, nor have I ever had, a driver's license. I had a driver's permit in high school and passed Driver's Ed (just barely), but never went beyond that.

Most people express surprise, if not outright shock, when I tell them this, at least until I explain that I've lived in Chicago all my life and, therefore, have not needed to own a car. Public transportation here, spotty, dirty and unreliable as it can be, is still fairly comprehensive; there are few parts of the metropolitan area that I can't reach via CTA (city buses and trains) or Metra (suburban trains). And if I need to make a trip requiring a car or truck--say, for large amounts of groceries or furniture from that big suburban store with all the couches and chairs with virtually indecipherable Swedish names--I have plenty of kind, generous friends who will give me a lift to and from my destination.

Of course, this does hamper travel. Not that I travel much--I'm probably the least-traveled person you know (I've never been outside the U.S. and have only gone as far west as Dallas)--but when I do, I'm dependent on friends in the town I'm visiting to get me around. However, those friends usually want to show me around anyway, so this is no big deal.

Increasingly, though, I'm seriously glad that I don't have a license--or, at the very least, that I don't own a car. As I see gas prices punch holes through the ozone layer (this past weekend, I didn't see a single price lower than $4 a gallon), parking rates shoot up, parking availability decrease (especially anywhere near the lakefront) and cell phone use among drivers continue unabated, despite the city's claims that it is vigorously enforcing the cell phone ban, not a week goes by that I'm not nearly run over by some fuckwit babbling away instead of watching where they're going--last weekend, one of the drivers who almost turned me into a rather bulky hood ornament was a Chicago police officer who, presumably, was supposed to be enforcing the law that he was, at that moment, in the process of breaking.

As expensive, irritating and dangerous as driving has become in Chicago, I'm better off walking. The excercise will do me good.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Meanwhile, Back in the Trailer Park...

Now that cold and flu season is coming to an end (even if it's still going around at work and I feel kinda oogy today) and the weather is more consistently warm (even if it's about 20 degrees colder today than it was yesterday), I'll be getting out to see more movies than I had this winter. The goal was to beat last year's total of 26 movies seen on the big screen. And goals are good, right? Well, with all the snow and sneezing, I fell behind--I've "only" seen six movies (Sweeney Todd, Cloverfield, The Other Boleyn Girl, Diary of the Dead, Smart People and Iron Man), which is more than most people I know have seen so far this year, but that pace would put me well behind last year's total.

This renewed effort to get out and catch up on my moviegoing just happens to coincide with the beginning of the summer movie season, when one bloated blockbuster after another lumbers through the local multiplex. I've seen some of the previews, and they're not exactly inspiring:

Speed Racer. I loved the cartoon when I was a kid and, as an adult, bought the first DVD set when it came out. After watching a few episodes, though, I realized that what looks cool when you're 10 often looks more like 10 miles of ass when you're all grown up. The Speed Racer cartoon has limited animation, bad dubbing and batshit crazy plots that make little to no sense. Even if it had been beautifully animated and brilliantly written, though, the preview for the "live-action" (i.e., real actors working in front of green screens) version by the Wachowskis (creators of the terrifc Matrix and its two vastly disappointing sequels) would still give me a ringing headache. The CGI effects used to recreate the racing scenes are poorly animated, brightly colored nightmares--just sitting through the trailer damn near caused me to have a seizure. Sitting through the movie itself would likely kill me (or, at the very least, my soul).

Speaking of soul-killing...

The Love Guru. I'm one of the few people on the planet who didn't find the Austin Powers movies especially funny, though I did like the first Wayne's World very much. But Mike Myers' The Love Guru looks not only unfunny, but painful. If a two-minute preview doesn't contain a single laugh and many wince-worthy moments, what is the full-length feature like? You'll have to tell me--I won't be there.

Speaking of painfully unfunny...

You Don't Mess with the Zohan. I've never understood the appeal of shrieking manchild Adam Sandler, but his movies do well at the box office--at least as long as he's not trying to be serious. (The only movie of his that I've enjoyed is Punch-Drunk Love, which was semi-serious and gave context for his "hilarious" anger. Naturally, it tanked.) You Don't Mess with the Zohan is meant as a comedy, I think, although it's hard to tell from the trailer, where Sandler speaks in a "funny" voice as a terrorist-turned-hairdresser. I assume this means that Sandler will burn off any gay-panic jokes he didn't manage to wedge into I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry and that we'll be treated to yet another Rob Schneider cameo. I'd rather be shot in the forehead with a nail gun than see this movie.

All is not lost, though. I have seen a couple of previews for movies that look like they might not suck harder than an industrial-strength Hoover. Granted, they're both sequels--one long overdue--but at least the trailers do what trailers are supposed to do: Whet my appetite to see them, instead of euthanising it.

The Dark Knight. This isn't the easiest preview to watch, due to the prominent presence of the late Heath Ledger, but it looks like the followup to Batman Begins is just as thoughtful, exciting and moody as the original. Plus, large chunks of it were shot in Chicago, so I'll be getting yiffy over local landmarks as they flit across the screen. "The Board of Trade Building--yay, Art Deco!"

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Ungainly title and elderly action star (seriously, Harrison Ford is 65, people) aside, this looks like a whole lot of fun. Throw in Karen Allen (reprising her role from Raiders of the Lost Ark and looking damn cute doing it) and Cate Blanchett (as a, Communist in a Louise Brooks bob), and you've pretty much guaranteed my ass will be in a seat at a theater showing this flick.

I'm pretty sure I'll be able to catch up on my filmgoing in the next couple of months and pass last year's total by a movie or two--and, in the process, I'll probably see more trailers that will make me question the existence of (or, at the very least, the attention span of) God.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A Matter of Time

My birthday was celebrated with my best friends on Saturday, when we saw Iron Man at the Davis (and enjoyed it very much), ate dinner and drank Bloody Marys and the Daily Bar & Grill (and enjoyed it/them very much) and had dessert at Taste of Heaven (and enjoyed it very much), with many lovely and appropriate presents given (books about classic theaters and silent films, a DVD boxed set, an angel to watch over me). A lovely time was had by all.

Sunday, though, was my actual birthday. The evening was spent at Mom's house, where she made me dinner and gave me leftovers to take home. The only thing differentiating the evening from any other spent at her house was the chocolate cake and ice cream. Mom is allergic to chocolate--gives her migraines--so she sent the remainder of the cake home with me, along with nine boxes of various teas. (I'd told her I didn't need anything for my birthday, but she decided that I needed tea. Who am I to argue with Mom?)

Sunday morning and afternoon, however, were mine.

Even with the festivities on Saturday, I wasn't in the best of moods. No surprise there. Birthdays often make me moody and introspective--perhaps overly so. I look forward with apprehension. I look back with regret. I look at now like I'd look at vanilla pudding: Not bad, but not exciting, either. Is the glass half-full or half-empty? Answer: If there's anything left in the glass at all, you're not drinking hard enough.

When I'm in a mood like that, there are several ways I can shake myself from it. Watch some movies. Listen to music. Take a long walk. Shop.

I decided to combine the latter two: Take a long walk and do a bit of shopping. It would be just over two miles' worth of walking, and I'd take care of some needs and, maybe, some wants. Just the thing to vacuum out the cobwebs.

Because of our long, more-harsh-than-usual winter, I hadn't gotten out to take a long walk for a while--and my body had no problem letting me know that it didn't appreciate it now. My legs were leaden. My back ached. My arms didn't like the heavy, bulky shopping bags they supported.

But that all happened after I got back to La Casa del Terror. While I was walking, though, I felt little discomfort of either body or mind. I picked up many cans of Friskies for the Girlish Girls (who beg for a tin to be popped open first think in the morning, whether they've finished last night's kibble or not), then headed toward Target.

Target and I are great friends, especially with one within walking distance of home. Sometimes, our friendship is too great, as the size of my Target Visa bill will often attest. Still, there are things I need there--laundry detergent, mouthwash, boxer briefs and loaves of bread. There are also lots of things there that I want--action figures, scented candles, tasty foods that aren't remotely good for me and DVDs. (That last item is off limits for the moment, though, considering that I've bought a few lately and the ones I haven't bought are on my Amazon wishlist through the end of this month; after then, everything's fair game.)

But I had something nibbling at the back of my brain for a while--not a need, necessarily, but not really a want, either. More of a "Well, I've never bought one of those before, now have?" And while I was in Target, winding my way through the shoe department and back around to bed and bath, the nibble became a bite when I reached the jewelry counter--I wanted to buy a watch.

This may not sound like anything extraordinary, nor should it. People buy watches every day. far as I could remember, I never had. My family had bought me plenty of watches over the years--reliable, affordable Timex; stylish, sophisticated Perry Ellis; old-fashioned, impractical-yet-cool pocket watches. And this didn't even account for the watches inherited from family members who had passed on, like the half dozen or so pocket watches we found when Grandma died, or the railroad watch Dad left me. So there was never a need to buy a watch.

However, of all of the watches given to me in my life, only one is in more-or-less working order--the Timex Indiglo, given to Dad the same Christmas Mom gave me and my brother the exact same watch. Mine stopped working ages ago; my brother's may or may not be. But Dad's? Took the licking, kept on ticking. And it looks it--battered, scratched, Indiglo feature (that lights the face up in the dark) functioning only occasionally, crystal cracked and splintered. Keeps time pretty damn well, though.

Even so, it's not exactly an everyday watch. I needed something that that didn't look like it had been run over by a rush hour's worth of cars. I needed to buy my own damn watch for once.

I looked over the surprisingly large selection of watches at Target--mostly Timexes, most with the Indiglo feature (is it standard now?), all affordable. I quickly narrowed it down to two--one with a stainless-steel face and matching band, and one with an old-fashioned, off-white face with Roman numerals and a brown leather band. I could have chosen either one and not chosen poorly, but I came away with the old-fashioned face. Guess I'm just an old-fashioned kind of guy.

This doesn't mean that I won't wear the old Indiglo anymore. Given its relative functionality, it'll do just fine for weekend wear--kind of like that ratty old sweater that you've had forever and just don't want to throw away quite yet. But the new Indiglo? It's on my wrist right now. And it looks good.

Friday, May 2, 2008

"You think I'm stupid or something?"

That was Cubs manager Lou Piniella's reply to a reporter's question yesterday at the press conference following a particularly tough 4-3 loss to their divisional and geographical rivals, the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Cubs had gone into the 9th inning leading the Brewers 3-1. Starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano had been dominant (and also contributed to his own cause by hitting a home run), as had the pitcher who relieved him, Carlos Marmol. When it came time to use a pitcher whose first name wasn't Carlos, though--in this case, closer Kerry Wood--the game fell apart.

Wood hit the first batter he faced, never a good way to start an inning. The next batter drove the ball to left field, where Alfonso Soriano, fresh from a stint on the disabled list with a calf injury, couldn't catch up with what turned out to be a double, putting runners on second and third. A ground ball drove in the runner on third base, and the next two batters got on base (via a single and a walk), followed by a double over the head of right fielder Kosuke Fukodome, which drove in two more runs. Game? Over.

In a post-game interview, Soriano said he'd gotten "a good jump" the the ball hit his way, but the replay told a different story: He looked as tentative and awkward in the field as he had looked impatient and unpolished at the plate, looking at a total of seven pitches in his four at-bats and grounding out all four times.

Piniella has stubbornly insisted on sticking with Wood as his closer, even though he's blown three out of his seven save opportunities, and with Soriano as his leadoff hitter, even though he displays little patience when swinging at pitches and has seen his speed decreased by a series of leg injuries. Many fans and sports commentators believe that Marmol would be a more effective closer, and that a number of other hitters in the Cubs lineup (like Fukodome or Reed Johnson) would be a more effective leadoff hitter than Soriano.

It was a question about why Piniella hadn't taken Soriano out of the game for a defensive replacement that prompted Piniella's heated response: "You think I'm stupid or something?"

Doing the same thing over and over again--like sticking with Soriano and Wood in roles that ill suit them--and expecting a different result isn't the popular definition of stupidity, lou.

It's the popular definition of insanity.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Uno de Mayo

Brown squirrel
on peak of gray

garage roof
reaches up for

dangling green
seeds from

maple bough
and feasts.