Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Every Picture Tells a Story 4/30/13

Sparrows and robins hop
across the lawn before
La Casa del Terror to
beak the oatmeal bread
I lobbed there on my way
out the beaten door.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Every Picture Tells a Story 4/29/13

It's Monday--time to bust open the can of Wup Ass.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

On the Way to Work This Morning

The northern half of the replacement for the Wells Street bridge floats on the river, waiting to be installed next week.

Every Picture Tells a Story 4/25/13

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

On the Way to Work This Morning

Every Picture Tells a Story 4/23/13

This is Frank Sinatra.

I found him at my neighborhood second-hand store.

He has a pinky ring, a snazzy jacket and an undone bow tie.

He does not, however, have pants.

This seems appropriate.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

On the Way to Breakfast This Morning

I realize that many parts of the midwest are dealing either with flooding or blizzard conditions, but waking up to snow in late April still offends.

Friday, April 19, 2013

These Angry Waters

Yesterday, Chicago saw an epic amount of rain for this area--totals one side or the other of seven inches were not uncommon throughout the area. It wasn't quite that bad in my neighborhood, but more than bad enough. Sidewalks were flooded. So were streets. There was no walking around "puddles." You either walked through them or you didn't walk at all.

This is the lawn in front of La Casa del Terror. The numerous floating cigarette butts are courtesy of the hipsters next door, who take their smoke breaks out there.

This is Montrose Avenue. Okay, this a large body of water. Montrose Avenue is under there somewhere.

This is the Chicago River. It is angry. Not as angry as other rivers in the area, which have either overflown their banks or will soon do so. At it's northern end, the banks are lower and flooding has occurred in those streets adjacent to it.

But here? It's just pissed off--and higher than I've ever seen it before.

Every Picture Tells a Story 4/19/13

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Every Picture Tells a Story 4/16/13

This somewhat evil-looking tree is ready for spring...if that ever really gets to Chicago.

Monday, April 8, 2013

This Year's Amazon Birthday Wishlist

With my birthday now less than one month away, I'm going through the annual ritual of cutting myself off from my Amazon wishlist.

This is more difficult than you'd imagine. I don't buy from Amazon constantly--I do support "brick & mortar" stores whenever possible, especially those in my city and, specifically, my neighborhood. However, some items are only available (or are most readily available) through Amazon, and many books and movies can be found at a (sometimes steep) discount through Amazon Marketplace.

But the lockdown is now in session. I won't buy anything on this list from now until the end of May. Somehow, I will survive.

If you can't afford to buy anything, believe me, I understand--I've been flat broke much of this year and will likely not buy myself anything this year.

Hugs and kisses blown from afar work just as well for me--even better, maybe.

Every Picture Tells a Story 4/8/13

Friday, April 5, 2013

Where I'll Be Tonight

The Man in the Balcony

Growing up, the most exciting day of the week was Friday. Not just because it was the end of the week (though also that, yes), but because that was the day that Roger Ebert's reviews appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times. (Well, that was the regularly scheduled day. His reviews sometimes popped up on other days, and his essays and interviews could show up any day.)

It wasn't just that I wanted to read about the movies that were coming out that weekend, though I certainly did, even if I didn't have the money or theater access to see most of them. And it wasn't because I valued Ebert's opinion over that of any other film critic--say, Gene Siskel over at the Tribune or Dave Kehr at the Chicago Reader.

It was because I thought Ebert (whom I've referred to for many years as "Uncle Rog") wrote about movies better than anyone else. He was the best essayist of the bunch, the best at relating what he saw on the screen to his life experiences, the best with words. His reviews often came with stars to indicate whether or not he liked a particular film (a system he expressed contempt for more than once), but you didn't need to know how many stars he'd given a film to know what he thought about it--the reviews, as well they should, spoke for themselves.

The book shelves of La Casa del Terror are dotted with collections of Ebert's reviews, essays and interviews. The interviews always showed a side of the individual movie star that the public rarely saw, from riding in a car with Robert Mitchum to beating John Wayne at chess, from discussing how scary "fans" could be with Jerry Lewis to watching Lee Marvin's dog bring his master a pair of panties that most definitely didn't belong to Marvin's live-in girlfriend. The essays always illuminated aspects of classic films I'd never considered, noticing gestures, trends and contexts that made the movies more accessible and understandable. Not that he ever simplified things for the reader/viewer, but more that he made it possible for us to look at the movies in more than one way.

And the reviews themselves? Ebert was a prolific writer--the annual collection of reviews, when published, often resembled a phone book--and his negative reviews were often as educational and illuminating as his positive ones. There were also specialized collections--essays on films regarded as classics (The Great Movies), and, on the opposite end of the spectrum, groups of reviews of films that were often painful to sit through. (Ebert famously said that "No good movie is too long. No bad movie is short enough.")

I didn't always agree with Ebert. He hated some movies I enjoyed thoroughly. He adored some movies I despised. But he wrote about some movies, old and new, that I'd never even have known about, much less sought out, if he hadn't brought them to my attention in the first place.

Ebert not only made me want to see more movie. He made me want to write about what I saw. I'd never written a single review if I hadn't read Ebert.

Of course, there was the TV show with fellow critic Siskel (shown under various names over the years, including the awkward "Coming to a theater Near You," "Sneak Previews," "At the Movies," and the even more awkward "Siskel & Ebert & the Movies"), which brought film criticism to people who never had read a movie review before. I watched the show, sure, but the infamously bitchy love/hate relationship the two shared made it less important to catch the show on a weekly basis than to catch those reviews in the paper (and later on the Internet) every Friday.

In recent years, Ebert's health tried to fail him over and over again--thyroid cancer, salivary gland cancer (I didn't even know that was a thing), multiple surgeries, the loss of part of his lower jaw and, with that, the ability to eat (he was fed through a tube thereafter) or even to speak.

But even though Ebert could no longer talk, he never lost his voice. He continued to type out hundreds of reviews while also maintaining a beautifully written blog, a lively Twitter feed and books not only about movies, but about his own personal history (Life Itself) and even a recipe book for cuisine prepared in a rice cooker.

Earlier this week, Ebert announced that he would have to cut back his workload significantly because his cancer had returned. He announced this on April 2--the 46th anniversary of his becoming the film critic for the Sun-Times. He viewed this change with unguarded optimism, stating that now he could do something he'd always wanted to do: Review only the movies he wanted to review, with a team of talented writers (including Richard Roeper, who had taken up residence in the balcony with Ebert after Siskel's untimely death at the age of 54 in 1999) covering the other movies released in any given week.

It was not to be. Ebert died yesterday, aged 70.

The Friday Sun-Times--and film criticism in general--just won't be the same without you, Uncle Rog.

Every Picture Tells a Story 4/5/13

Monday, April 1, 2013

On the Way to Work This Morning

Fragile Creatures

Tuesday Night. I've just popped open one of the many, many books I have stacked next to my bed when there's a sound from within the darkness just outside the reading lamp's light. I strain to see what's making the sound--my eyesight officially sucks, and the reading lamp isn't helping--and I can just make out a dark silhouette against the slight filtered light of the hallway.

It's Olivia, asking permission to "come aboard."

Not that she needs to ask, really. She's always welcome to come up, curl up, and keep me company while I toss, turn or do just about anything but actually "sleep."

Company-keeping is not why she's here tonight, though. Tonight, she wants to play "Mousie."

If you have a cat, you've probably, at one time or another, played "Mousie." The game is simple: Stick your hand under a blanket or top sheet and move it around like there's a "mousie" under the covers, and the cat in question lunges at the "mousie" and tries to kill it (or, at the very least, catch it).

Olivia plays the game a bit differently. She knows the thing moving around under the plaid top sheet is not a mouse. In fact, she will only stand and watch until a bit of flesh is revealed--a finger, a thumb, a patch of palm--and only then will she strike. When she grows tired of the game, she'll jump up and grab the exposed forearm and, if she's really quick, she'll get a bite in while she's at it.

Sometimes, she stops playing and starts to take the game seriously: Her ears will flatten against her skull, and she'll kick with her hind legs, which still have claws on the paws. Many a night, I've had to shoo her off the bed because she was doing actual damage to the "mousie" (i.e., my hand).

Still, her willingness to play/maim is a sign that she's feeling pretty good on a given day. (Note: She plays "Mousie" most evenings.)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Today is the day I celebrate Olivia's birthday. (It is also the birthday of Lon Chaney Sr. and Rachel Maddow, which just goes to show that good things happen on April 1.) As I've explained before, I don't know with an certainty that she was born on this day, just that she was born sometime one side or the other of this day.

A year ago, though, it looked like Olivia wouldn't last one more week, much less 52 of them.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Saturday Afternoon. I'm in the dining room, doing a bit of writing at my now-14-year-old lime-green iMac. (Polly Jean can't get on the Internet anymore, but she works just fine for word processing or photo scanning.) Suddenly, the desk chair bucks forward, then back again. Olivia has jumped on the back of the chair--something she was able to do even when seriously ill last year, but now with greater speed and strength--and is now sharpening claws she hasn't actually had for several years.

"What are you doing, little girl?" I ask, knowing full well that the only answer will be a drawn-out and pointed "Meeeeeeoooooowwwww!"

"That doesn't tell me anything," I reply. She could not care less. She wanted my attention. She's got it.

I stand up, and she jumps off the chair and onto the hardwood floor, landing right next to one of the many paper bags scattered around La Casa del Terror for her to play in when she feels up to it. Sometimes, she runs into a bag and waits for me to shake the bag violently or pick the bag up and carry her around for a minute. (She apparently enjoys this.)

Today, I yell "KITTY IN THE BAG!" at her. And, remarkably enough, she sprints around the bag and right into it.

Olivia has learned a new thing. And, for once, she actually does something I tell her to do. Weird.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Olivia's numbers at diagnosis were awful: she was severely dehydrated, severely anemic, creatinine level of 9.5 (about four times normal). It did not look like she had very long to live.

Of course, those numbers merely represented where she stood before receiving any treatment whatsoever. With regular hydration and medication, those numbers would likely improve.

And so they did. Eventually.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Friday Morning. We both hate this, this sitting and waiting in the reception area at the vet. It's like when I took exams in school--even when I expected to do well, I was still nervous and twitchy. I have no reason to expect anything bad today. Olivia has been eating well--never thought I'd get so much pleasure from watching a cat clean a plate of food--and, except for a few scattered days of lethargy, has more or less been herself.

Finally, one of the vet's assistants leads us to the back examination room, which is one of my least favorite places on Earth--not only is this the room where Olivia was diagnosed with kidney failure nearly a year ago, but it's also the room where Ms. Christopher was put to sleep back in 2008. The assistant plops her on the digital scale, and we both get a pleasant surprise: Olivia has not only gained weight (which I knew, just from the way she feels when I pick her up), but she's now a hair over eight pounds! She's more or less regained all of the weight that she'd lost while ill.

A few minutes later, the vet comes in and chats with me for a while. She's so pleased with how Olivia is doing and gives me all the credit. Not so. Sure, I've worked at keeping her feeling as good as possible, though it doesn't actually take up that much of my day--if you added up the administration of injections, pills, fluids and phosphorus binder, it would come to about half an hour per day--but the vet's willingness to aggressively treat Olivia's condition (and never once bringing up the subject of euthanasia) has a lot to do with our success as well. And then, there's the little lady herself: If she didn't want to live, we wouldn't be here now.

The vet takes Olivia down the hall to withdrawn blood to send out to the lab. It seems to be taking longer than usual when one of the other assistants comes in to grab Olivia's carrier. Apparently, the "little lady" is being difficult. "She hasn't bitten anyone," the assistant says, "but there's been swatting."

I follow the assistant into the examination room where the vet and two other assistants are standing around, looking at a clearly agitated little cat. The carrier is placed before her. I consider yelling "KITTY IN THE BAG!" to get her to jump in, but it'd be just my luck if, this time, she just stands there while the vet and her assistants slowly back away from me.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It took weeks (and several medication/fluid adjustments) for Olivia's numbers to move significantly downward, but move they did. As of that last vet visit described so colorfully above, her creatinine level was 2.2--officially "high normal." Her phosphorus went down again, too. Only her calcium and BUN (blood urea nitrogen) levels remain above normal, and neither of those is very far above normal.

Olivia's numbers were so good, in fact, that the vet said we don't need to come in again for six months--something that makes me, Olivia and my bank account very, very happy.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Thursday Evening. After another wearying day at work in a long series of wearying days at work, I sit down on the big burgundy couch in front of the TV to eat dinner and watch The Rachel Maddow Show.

Then I hear a sound--paws pounding on hardwood. Olivia is running back and forth through La Casa del Terror, emerging from the darkness of the hallway at top speed, turning into the living room, stopping at the front door, spinning and heading back from whence she came, never slowing down a bit.

Was she chasing one of her toys? A moth? A mouse?

None of the above. Olivia is running back and forth...just because.

It's something she used to do back before she fell ill. Apparently, it's something she's doing again. And I'm on the verge of crying again--this time, tears of joy.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

We think of them as fragile, these small, furry creatures who share, in the great scheme of things, such a small portion of our lives. They need our protection. Need our love. Need to be fed (hey, those packets of Friskies Gravy Sensations don't open themselves, y'know). need to be taken to the doctor to ease their pain or, if necessary, to end it.

Fortunately for Olivia, that last thing hasn't been necessary. When I told Mom that Olivia had been diagnosed with CKD, she said, "Aw, you're gonna have to have her put to sleep, huh?"

I gave her the most honest answer I could at that moment: "I don't know, Mom."

Now, 12 months later, I know: "Not yet, mom. Not yet."

Yes, Olivia now needs daily injections, hydration and white, chalky gunk shot down her throat. (I no longer think of her as my sick kitteh, but my high-maintenance kitteh.) She, of course, loves none of it. Yet, after doing all of that to her, she'll curl up next to me on the couch, purring contentedly, rubbing against my hand, showing reserves of quiet strength, resilience and determination to live that no one would have suspected could be housed in such a slight calico frame, making me smile and bringing the tears yet again.

Maybe this small, furry creature isn't the one who is fragile.