Friday, January 30, 2009

The Month in Photos: January 2009

Let it never be said that i don't learn at least some small things from experience: After waiting almost exactly a year to download the photos on my digital camera onto a CD, I waited less than a month to do so again. So here, for your viewing pleasure, is a random assortment of the images thus captured and preserved. Enjoy.

Friday is Bring Your Doctor to Work Day

Doctor Who, that is. (Or, as Superbadfriend would sing in tune with the show's theme, "Doctor Whooooooooooooo...")

Today, the fourth incarnation of the venerable British TV character (as played with curly hair, flowing scarf and wide grin by Tom Baker) graces the top of my workplace cabinet, along with his time machine, the TARDIS, and his faithful robot dog, K-9.

I've always been a sci-fi geek, and when I first ran across Doctor Who late on a weekday afternoon in 1978, which PBS stations across the country had just begun airing, I was hooked straight away, despite the low budgets, crappy special effects and abundant overacting. It was fun. (PBS originally aired the Tom Baker episodes in half-hour installments--same as they had aired on the BBC, but now with introductions by actor Howard DeSilva--but later ran the show on Sunday nights after their British comedy block of Dave Allen at Large and Monty Python in an edited movie format.)

There had been three Doctors before Tom Baker, and there have been several since (counting the remainder of the original series, which ran until 1989, the made-for-TV movie in 1996 and the revived BBC-Wales series that runs to this day on both sides of the Atlantic), but for many Americans, Baker, who played the part for more seasons (seven) than any other actor, simply is Doctor Who.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Failure to Deliver

During testimony before a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee yesterday, Postmaster General John E. Potter said that the U.S. Postal Service is in such a financial hole (they expect to lose $6 billion this year) that they may have to cut back from delivering mail six days a week.

I was surprised to hear this. Not because I'm surprised that the Postal Service is in financial trouble--who isn't these days? Not because the idea is so radical--the Postal Service has brought this idea up from time. Not because I oppose it--if they're hurting, they should be able to do what they have to do to survive like the rest of us are right now.

No, what surprised me was the idea that the Post Office delivers mail six days a week now, because I can say with absolute certainty that my local Post Office doesn't.

The days when a mail carrier hasn't ventured anywhere near La Casa del Terror are pretty bloody obvious. There are, of course, many occasions when I, as an individual, don't receive any mail. (Given that much of the mail I do receive consists of bills, this is often a blessing.) But if even one person in my building, which has eight units (six on my side of the street), receives mail, a plentiful supply of junk mail can be found in the bin below the mail boxes in the foyer. And yet, there have been many days (especially lately) when not only has the bin been empty, but there are no tire tracks in the snow from where the mail cart has rolled. I don't know what the carrier has been doing or where he or she has been doing it, but delivering mail to my building? That hasn't been happening often enough.

There are other peculiarities as well, like when the Postal Service's website tells me that they've attempted to deliver a Priority Mail package to my building and have left a notice telling me so, when no notice can be found. Or, even better, when the website tells me my package has been delivered, only to have it show up the next day (or, sometimes, a couple of days later).

If the Post Office is hurting for money and wants to cut back, fine. But I'd really like them to get their basic service right. So far? Not so good.

The Bacon Ain't the Only Thing Exploding...

Have you heard about Bacon Explosion?

My chest hurts just looking at it, but it's causing lots of buzz on the Interwebs in general and in my office in particular.

Me: "What kind of sausage do you use in Bacon Explosion?"

Co-worker #1: "It's Italian sausage."

Me: "What if I used chorizo instead?"

Co-worker #2: "That would be intense."

Me: "You couldn't just call it Bacon Explosion, though. You'd have to rename it. [To general area] What's 'heart attack' in Spanish?"

Co-worker #3: "AAAAIIIIIEEEE!"

Monday, January 26, 2009

My Best Friend's Birthday

Birthday greetings to JB, the bestest best friend a boy could have. Wherever you are today, sir, and whatever you may be doing, may the celebration be festive and the surroundings warm (though the latter may be more challenging, given that it hasn't been above 20 here in days).

Friday, January 23, 2009

Bloody Brilliant

I have no plans to see the remake of My Bloody Valentine, for a few reasons.

First, I'm not big on "dead teenager" movies. I have a few in my DVD collection--classics like the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Halloween, plus some retina-scarring bad ones like Cheerleader Camp (my longstanding crush on Betsy Russell overruled my common sense on that one)--but I've ignored the overwhelming majority of entries in the subgenre; you'll find no copies of Friday the 13th lying around La Casa del Terror.

Second, as little use as I have for dead-teenager movies, I have even less use for remakes of dead-teenager movies. And there have been a lot of them in the past few years: Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Halloween, Black Christmas, When a Stranger Calls and The Hills Have Eyes have all been done, with retreads of Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Last House on the Left on the way. (There have been so many, in fact, that I'm sure I've forgotten a few.)

Lastly, as noted here previously, Valentine's Day and I don't exactly get along, so going to see a Valentine-themed mad-slasher movie qualifies as the worst of both worlds for me.

However, I have to give credit where it's due: The marketing campaign for the new Bloody is pretty sweet (in a sick, demented way, of course).

The posters, which have been popping up on CTA platforms and abandoned buildings for weeks, feature, as the original movie did, someone dressed as a miner who's found a new use for his pickaxe--i.e., driving it into someone's skull (and since the remake is in 3D, it looks like he's driving it into your skull). This week, though, one of my co-workers brought me two other bits of advertising for the movie: A 3D version of the poster (known in the intersecting circles of printing and advertising as a lenticular) and a pickaxe-shaped keychain that also doubles as a bottle opener.

The lenticular is cool to look at--as you walk past it, the pickaxe comes RIGHT OUT AT YOU--and the keychain/bottle opener is made of sturdy cast aluminum, so it might find its way into my pocket on a more permanent basis. Plus? If I ever get trapped in a mine cave-in (with or without a crazed killer hunting me down), I could use the mini-pickaxe to dig my way out--except it might take, like, two years to do it.

Friday is Bring Your Robot to Work Day

Bob May, the man in the Robot suit for 84 episodes of the TV series Lost in Space, passed away this week of congestive heart failure at the age of 69.

It's fitting and appropriate, therefore, that even though the toy for this week's Bring Your Action Figure to Work Day does not speak with Bob May's voice (that was provided by announcer Dick Tufeld, who is still alive), it functions as a tribute to Mr. May nonetheless when it screams "DANGER! DANGER, WILL ROBINSON!" (much to the "delight" of my co-workers).

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Noms

The Oscar nominations were announced this morning and, as usual, contained surprises, both pleasant and otherwise.

It was nice to see Melissa Leo and Richard Jenkins, both longtime character actors, get nominations at all (for Best Actress and Best Actor, respectively), but most especially because the movies they were nominated for (Frozen River and the Visitor) came out months ago, indicating that maybe, just maybe, the Academy is finally developing a respectable attention span. Either that, or the studios are getting better at pushing their movies for nominations. Or, one hopes, both.

It was also nice to see the late Heath Ledger nominated for his last completed performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight; he took a character previously played for laughs by the likes of Cesar Romero and Jack Nicholson and made him a truly malevolent, dangerous creature--chaos personified. The nomination was expected, but still welcome.

What was not welcome, however, was the passing-over of The Dark Knight from all other major categories, including Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director (Christopher Nolan) and Best Picture. Roger Ebert called the exclusion "a startling upset," but was it, really? Action films get little love from the Academy (beyond the technical categories, like Best Sound Editing), super-hero movies even less. But The Dark Knight was not only a box-office megahit (second only to Best Picture winner Titanic on the all-time list), but a major critical success as well (94% fresh on, so shouldn't it have gotten a little more love?

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Slumdog Millionaire were certainly feeling the love, with 13 and 10 nominations respectively. Some critics were surprised that Slumdog snagged noms for Best Picture and Best Director, but none for any of the actors were recognized. I wasn't, though--the actors are unknown to Americans (who make up the bulk of Academy voters), and multiple actors play the three main characters (two brothers and a girl) through different stages of their lives, making it more difficult to choose any one actor for the acting categories.

A number of critics were also disappointed that WALL-E wasn't included in the Best Picture category (though it did score a nomination for Best Original Screenplay). Not me. I liked Wall-E--like all Pixar films it looks terrific, and the decision to play the front half of the movie nearly silent pays off better than the chatty second half--but it wasn't even my favorite animated movie this year; I had a lot more fun at Kung Fu Panda, which, along with WALL-E and bolt, was nominated in the Best Animated Feature Film category. There's another reason WALL-E didn't get a Best Picture nod: The Academy created the Best Animated Feature category specifically so they wouldn't have to deal with whether or not to nominate an animated movie for the top prize. As long as that category exists, the Academy doesn't have to actually think, and they like it like that.

I won't make my predictions yet--that'll come a couple days before the awards are handed--but this far out, Slumdog Millionaire looks like the film to beat. As with WALL-E, I saw it and liked it, but my life wasn't altered by it. Still, given the Academy's penchant for nominating and subsequently rewarding dreary melodramas, it's nice to see something somewhat uplifting get some recognition--and, come next month, some hardware as well.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Complexion of the Day

It can be changed by something as slight as a cute woman smiling at me on the cold snow-covered train platform this morning.

Yes, emotionally speaking, I'm still a 15-year-old. Your point?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

At This Moment...

Most of the employees in my workplace are clustered around a large-screen TV in the break room--the first time I've seen such a gathering since 9/11. Just tells you how momentous most people feel this day is.

Inauguration Day

It's cold in Chicago today--not bitter and brutal like it was last week, when we stayed under zero from Wednesday night to Friday morning, but the temperature is in the teens and lake-effect flurries are scything their way across the shoreline communities.

I don't think anyone here has taken much notice of the cold, though. Our eyes are turned east. To Washington, D.C. To the inauguration. To Barack Obama.

It's not just that Obama is a Chicagoan, though there's certainly a great deal of pride in that. And it's not just that he is the first African-American elected to the highest office in our land, though that is a momentous achievement long overdue in "the land of the free and the home of the brave." And it's not just that he represents change from the previous administration--one could argue that any change from George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, even the tag team of McCain/Palin, would represent progress.

It's more than that. It's about hope.

Hope that the economy steadies out. Hope that our men and women in the armed services can be moved out of harm's way sooner rather than later. Hope that America's international reputation can be repaired. Hope that the next four years will be better than the last eight.

This is a day of jubilation for many Americans, and rightly so, though I wish our government and the Obama team weren't dropping so much cash on the inaugural balls and hoohah at a time when millions find themselves out of work or, if employed, living from paycheck to paycheck. This is still a great day.

There's a lot of work to do, though--a lot of messes to be cleaned up from the previous tenant of the White House. Few presidents have come into office with more problems to solve, challenges to face, uncertainty to dissipate. President Obama looks ready to roll up his sleeves and get to it. Let's help him as much as we can. Whatever your political affiliation--liberal, conservative or middle of the pothole-pocked road--it's in your best interest, as Americans, for this president to succeed. We have to hope he does (and hold him accountable in the next election if he doesn't--if "change" translates to "more of the same partisan bitching that's clogged our governmental arteries for the past couple of decades").

But there's that word again--hope. In times like these, it's just about all we've got.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Another One

The same notebook has numerous other fragments, most undated but likely written to the left or the right of the New Millennium. So I have no idea, this far out, what woman I'm writing about below--my love life (if you can even call it that) was so disastrous that it could be any one of them.

Sometimes I think
"I haven't thought
about her today"
and light up bulb-
bright until I
realize that
thinking about
not thinking about
is still thinking about
and the light
goes out.

Many Tiny Scratches

I have many old notebooks in various places in La Casa del Terror. Most are old journals (yes, even in this electronic age, I still keep a private, hand-written journal), while others are leftovers from my various jousts with writing projects. In one of these notebooks I found the following poem, which I don't remember writing (not a first, though it seems, from the poems surrounding it a a couple of references in the original draft, it was sribbled sometime around 2000), nor do I remember dreaming all of these things. However, since I know that did dream some of these strange events (the woman in the see-through teddy and the London After Midnight discovery), I have to accept that the others did, too. And since the poem doesn't really end (it just kind of stops), it could conceivably go on forever.

In my dreams and nightmares
I can drive cars, pull out my
teeth one by one and spit them
into urinals, watch a woman I once
lusted after cross a long living room
in a see-through red teddy,
take Amtrak to Philadelphia,
find a dusty but pristine copy of
London After Midnight in
an attic, climb the clock tower
of my high school only to find
its bricks crumbling under my
fingertips, go fishing with my
dad, clone goldfish, piss plasma,
swing a loan shark over my
head with a lasso, use shovels
and pickaxes to cover rat burrows
in an otherwise empty lot, play
center field for the Cubs, swim
Underwater through a flooded
grade school, find a stash of
S&H Green Stamps, eat epoxy
on crackers, get my teeth
flossed by Angie Everhart in a
movie theater by the light of a
Claymation Woody Allen singing
an ode to the Three Stooges,
debate cinema with Gene Siskel,
until he drinks a beaker of
glowing green liquid and becomes
Karloff's Monster and promises
to enjoy tearing me limb from
reddened limb until I trick him
into ramming his head through
the front of a microwave,
escape Nazi Berlin on a
Schwinn Fastback, watch
a porn star named Soft Hart
crawl across a conference room
table toward me and eat a
Granny Smith apple in one bite.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Hey! I Know Them!

My friends Amy and Will are featured in the Showcase section of today's Chicago Sun-Times, talking about how their mutual love of the TV show ER brought them together over the then-newfangled thing called the Internet. (We're talking 1995 here, kids.)

You can read the interview here.

Friday is Bring Your Action Figure from a Crappy Michael Bay Film to Work Day

Yes, I know--calling a Michael Bay film "crappy" is redundant (kind of like saying "weird David Lynch movie" or "unfunny Adam Sandler movie").

However, until someone whips up a Sean Connery figure from The Rock, a Kate Beckinsale doll from Pearl Harbor or a Megan Fox anything from either Transformers movie, we'll just have to make due with this Bruce Willis toy from Armageddon, manufactured by Hot Wheels in a brief (and ultimately unsuccessful) foray into the action figure market.

(They also made a Ben Affleck figure from the same movie, but even if I had one, I'm not sure Bruce's big cannon and Ben's ginormous chin could fit atop my workspace anyway.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"I am not a number! I am a free man!"

Patrick McGoohan has passed away in Los Angeles.

He won a couple of Emmys for his work opposite Peter Falk on Columbo and starred in dozens of movies like Ice Station Zebra, Escape from Alcatraz, Silver Streak and Braveheart, but was best known for his highly influential TV series, The Prisoner. It ran only 17 episodes, but it was a politically astute, socially aware mindfuck flickering before our bewildered eyes years before David Cronenberg, David Lynch or Guy Maddin ever filmed a single frame.

It's a shame, of course, but more so because the so-long-in-the-"development"-stage-that-no-one-ever-thought-the-damn-thing-would-get-made remake/update of The Prisoner, with James Caviezel as Number Six and Ian McKellan as Number Two, due to air later this year.

Patrick McGoohan was 80.

ETA: Ricardo Mantalban died today, too. Dammit. (Or, more appropriately: "KHAAAAAAAAAN!")

Weather or Not

It would be easy--and by "easy," i mean "exceptionally lazy"--to write about the weather every day.

I mean, it's certainly an fascinating topic--for me, anyway--and when extremes are within reach--like, say, the snowiest winter in Chicago history, or the coldest--the historical implications hold the attention.

However, I can see how my widely spread readership might find it a little dull, if not silly.

Like, for example, my friends on the other side of Lake Michigan, who regularly get dumped on by the Michiana snow belt.

Or my readers in Minneapolis, who probably crack up when the words "coldest day in 13 years" spill out of a Chicagoan's quivering mouth and reply, "Shit, we just call it Thursday."

Or my correspondents on the East Coast, for whom a Midwestern winter would likely be a vacation compared to the "noreasters" that spin feet of snow all over them.

Or my West Coast peeps, who must contend with earthquakes, mudslides, wildfires and even the occasional volcano.

Snow? Cold? Not so bad by comparison.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

AAAAA! We're All Gonna...Hey, Wait a Minute...

The snow arrived in Chicago about the time the forecasters said it would--flakes started tumbling past the bright yellow lights on the el platform as I waited for the Brown Line train to arrive.

However, though it snowed vigorously through much of the evening--somewhere between two to four inches, depending on where you were standing--it was over well before midnight, and the predicted howling winds have yet to make their presence known.

Instead of waking up to a winter apocalypse, our fair city woke up to...Tuesday.

Monday, January 12, 2009

AAAAA! We're All Gonna Dieeeee!

Remember that part where I was going to Mom's for dinner tonight?

To quote Willy Wonka: "Strike that. Reverse it. Thank you."

Mom just called and asked me to "go home and be safe."

Is that just Mom being Mom? Not really. The National Weather Service has issued the following statement:

A blizzard warning is in effect from late tonight through noon Tuesday.

Given how well CTA runs when the streets are clear and how well the city has cleared the streets thus far this winter, who knows when I'd get to her house with wind-driven snow clogging the main drags?

Mom isn't being overly cautious. They'd find me in a snowdrift at a bus stop--sometime around the spring thaw.

Back from the Dead and Ready to Party

I took Friday off.

I had been sick the previous couple of days, but had gone to work anyway because so many others had the bug that I couldn't be sure my position would have proper coverage. Thursday night, I went to Mom's house for dinner--yes, I know, I shouldn't have gone near Mom with a cold/flu/what-the-fuck-ever, but I hadn't seen her since Christmas Day and, besides, she works in a drug store; she's much more likely to pass the flu on to me than vice versa.

Getting to Mom's house, however, turned out to be a much greater challenge than anticipated, thanks to the CTA.

There were problems on the Blue Line subway--a "medical emergency" had stopped trains running north and, as far as I could tell, south. (The last time CTA announced a "medical emergency," a train had "made contact" with a passenger.) So I loped back up the steps and onto the street, where I caught a Milwaukee Avenue bus headed north. It wound its way through the West Loop and eventually got me as far as Chicago Avenue, where a couple dozen commuters were already milling about, waiting for a westbound bus and shuffling their feet to keep warm.

I walked east to get away from the throng (and, by virtue of being in motion, to stay somewhat warm) and waited at a stop. And waited. And. Waited. Only one westbound bus came through during my 15 minutes there, and in was so packed that passengers were standing on the bottom step just to get on. In that same amount of time, five buses, all nearly empty, were gliding east. After the fifth one passed, I flagged down a cab and made it to Mom's about half an hour after I ordinarily would have been. I could have gotten there just as fast by walking.

And Mayor Daley wants to have the Olympics here, when the transportation system can't handle an average rush hour? Brilliant.

My adventure with CTA did nothing to make me feel any more well. If fact, I felt worse Friday morning, and my workload at the job was relatively light, so I called in sick, stayed in, watched the snow fall, ate soup and drank the Walgreens equivalent of TheraFlu for the next three days.

Now? I feel so much better. Just in time for the next snowstorm, which will hit around rush hour--right when I'm supposed to head for Mom's house.

Better start walking now.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


There's a new bug going around work--there always seems to be at least one.

My supervisor has it. One of the guys I back up has it. The guy on the other side of the cubicle wall from me has it.

Can you see where this is going? I'm sure you can.

Is it just me, or is each cold/flu season worse than the last?

Are the bugs mutating? Or are we?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Vanishing Chicago: Rock Records

The independent or semi-independent (regional chain) record store has become an endangered species in recent years, driven to the brink of extinction first by national chains (Sam Goody, Best Buy, Walmart), then by online sales (, and finally by downloadable music (MP3s). These days, you're about as likely to see a cougar running through your neighborhood as find a small storefront hawking CDs or vinyl.

There used to be several such stores dotting downtown Chicago, but as with the nightclubs and movie houses, the small record stores have faded away. Now, another has gone: Rock Records.

I shopped there when I was in college (since it was a short walk away from Columbia), back when it was known as Rolling Stone Records, with a second location in the Near Northwest suburb of Norridge. Years ago, though, the two stores changed names: the Norridge location added an "s" to "Stone" (thus becoming Rolling Stones Records), and the Loop location became Rock Records. (Given the slight change to the Norridge store's name, I'd guess that Rolling Stone magazine threatened legal action, rather than the geriatric rock band.)

I continued going to Rock Records into adultness (since it was right across the street from Cardozo's and various jobs I've had downtown). It never had the greatest prices or the most expansive selection, but they had stuff you didn't see in the big chain stores as well as a decent selection of porn DVDs in the back (if one can use the words "decent" and "porn" in the same sentence).

In the last couple of years, selection was pretty thin (even the porn), and rarely did I see anyone but the clerks wandering the aisles. (I gathered that there had been a change in ownership.) It was no surprise, then, that the day after New Year's a sign had been taped to the door to let customers (however few were left) know that Rock Records had closed.

Rolling Stones, on the other hand, not only remains open, but seemingly thrives in its Norridge location. (It seems to have split in ownership as well as name.) The CD selection is one of the best I've ever seen, and it has a small-but-spunky DVD section (including, yes, porn). And since it's an easy (if long) bus ride from La Casa del Terror, I visit it with fair regularity.

I won't be able to visit Rock Records anymore, though. The store is closed, the cardboard cutouts of celebrities (living and dead) are gone, the building is for sale. (I hope it doesn't vanish as well--it's a lovely little Art Deco job with a fanciful musical motif on its facade.) If I want to kill time at lunch, I can't wander down its long, empty aisles. I can take the longer walk over to Borders or F.Y.E. instead, but it's just not the same. Few things are.

Monday, January 5, 2009

She's Right, You Know

One of my coworkers noted that so far this year, he's successfully written the correct year every time he's had to do so, whether a check or an internal business document. I noted that I'd accomplished the same thing.

The coworker between us: "Maybe you're just really glad 2008 is over."

Good observation, that.

Happy New Beer...Er, Year!

I spent New Year's Eve quietly at La Casa del Terror, with a shepherd's pie, a bottle of inexpensive (but tasty) white wine fished out of the discount bin of one of (many) neighborhood liquor stores, Olivia curled up at my feet (something she's done a lot more lately) and some incessant channel-flipping from one network celebration to another. (The local coverage on Chicago's ABC affiliate featured two of the hosts shivering out on a deck at the still-under-construction Trump Tower--at one point, they were huddling together for warmth, and I'm not so sure they were kidding.)

At around ten minutes after midnight, after replying to JB's text-message New Year's salutation, I went to bed. Excitement! Given how disastrous most of the New Year's Eves spent out and about have been, though, going to bed early wasn't such a bad thing.

New Year's Day was arguably even quieter, with little more accomplished than straightening up La Casa a bit (it needs much more than "a bit" of straightening, but this will take time and effort) and packing up items I wanted to send to either storage or the Dumpster out back. I unearthed my exercycle (which had become a de facto coat rack) and weight set in the hopes of using both more frequently in '09 and put away all the Christmas decorations for yet another year.

I haven't made any resolutions for this year--since, in years past, I've broken most of them before January is over, I don't see the point. I just want this year to be an improvement over last year. Given how hard 2008 sucked, that shouldn't be too difficult.