Thursday, April 30, 2009

I entered this contest today, and two thoughts are uppermost as a result:

1. The contest is co-sponsored by the National Association of Letter Carriers, so in order to enter you actually have to submit your work to the vagaries of the US postal system, which turns out to be quite a frightening experience. You take an envelope you've spent hours working on and months thinking about to the post office and turn your precious baby--the original, mind you; the lone version--over to surly, contrarian postal workers. I took mine to the main post office, because it is the only place in Chicago you can have an envelope hand-canceled anymore. The clerk there told me No, they didn't have the stamp I wanted (they did); No, I couldn't touch the stamp (I could); and No, there was no way they could hand-cancel the letter (they could--the supervisor cleared that up). I was standing there, trying to remain helpfully mellow while I twitched and nervously clutched my entry, thinking...what the freaking hell. This may be the biggest post office in the whole world, and you can't hand-cancel an envelope. I felt like the contest was demanding I have more faith than I should in this clanking, mercurial, fire-breathing Gargantua of a bureaucracy. But in the end I had no choice: I gave the clerk the $.62 for the stamp, she took it off to The Back to have it hand-canceled then pitch it into the fiery depths, while anvils sang and chains rattled, and that was it. The full scope of individual civic involvement in an independent agency of the federal government in all its humbling glory. Oh please treat my letter well.

2. I've said it before and I'll say it again: calligraphy is not for wimps. You need large brass ovaries. You also need the caution of an eye surgeon or a scrimshaw artist or a bomb technician. Enormous risk-taking for which you have to be in charge of all the safety mechanisms. It's like jumping out of a plane or something, facing a blank page with permanent black ink in an implement in your hand. Brass. Big clanking brass ones. Not TOO stressful. Oy.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

From out of my mouth in the shower yesterday came suddenly this song. Hah! No idea how or why. But it was right there for the warbling. I remember being completely fascinated with their wooden bee lapel pins when I was a kid.

Playing yootoob from somehow led me from that song to...Sade! Blimey. Forgot about Sade. The thing I never noticed? How many songs about unemployment she sings ("When Am I Going to Make a Living?," "Feel No Pain"). I can get with that.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

bits n bobs

* I really enjoyed I Love You, Man. Laughed pretty much constantly the whole way through. I had all the qualities I enjoy in the Apatowian experience: (one-sided but) frank sexuality, decent story-telling, men who talk, a sense of fairness. It also manages to find yet new ways for the girl to be (interesting and cool and still) just The Girl and can't avoid the need for a big public denouement (why? always? why?). And the Rush conceit...I can't decide if the attitudinal problem was a generational one, or a class issue or what, but it struck a slightly false note with me. Rush fans worship Neal, not each other (I'm thinking about the concert here) in my experience. Anyhow, it was really funny. Jason Segel's way better as a flavoring agent (this movie) than a main course (Forgetting Sarah Marshall)--his repertoire of facial expressions is good but limited/kind of one side of the spectrum.

Major problem in movies these days, that! I think Hollywood should pretend that it is suddenly out of sound recording material and we're going back to silents. Make everyone re-learn how to communicate emotions with their face. One reason I regularly light a candle at the altar of Judi Dench.

* As of 11:00 a.m. yesterday morning I completed the last of a baker's dozen or so of appointments with il dentista, a huge and incredibly boring narrative arc begun sometime this fall comprising thousands of lost Gs, many numb rubbery lips, a lot of dental panic and/or the occasional Diazepam and my first root canal. Although really the whole thing started about eight years prior, of course, when I stopped going to the dentist (as Laura Ingall Wilder wisely put it, "The minute we need a thing, we begin paying for it whether we buy it or not"). Anyhow, THANK YOU JEBUS. I am still as gap-toofed as ever, but all the other teeth: workin fine until the next Jujube accident. Thank you to some much-squeezed stress toys and to Dr. D. I am eating popcorn in a brazen act of celebration.

* I wish I had had these (left) when I attended the Ring. Fabulous for the awake-staying, especially the "70" variety. And really yummy, yummy texture.

* I was sharing my lunch with the river birds today (sparrowspigeonsgullsducks) when there amongst the other birds suddenly appeared a cluster of red-winged blackbirds! I gasped audibly in nerdly shock. Must really be spring, despite the sodden sun-free 47-degree weather.

Monday, April 27, 2009

So...ubiqui-pubbery. "Irish" pubs in Chicago.

This is clearly a town that knew how to have bars, but what's replaced old man bars or taverns or whatever, at least in some neighborhoods, is The Brand New Old Irish Pub. Painted wooden fronts, gilt lettering, pub grub, cider on tap, dark wood interiors, maybe a fireplace. They are tyrannically similar, and often feature too much of the modern American high chair for adults, the bar stool.

One funny aspect of them is that they live in some seriously unlikely structures. The latest one I went to (I shan't name names) was inside a sleek modern building finished late last year. So this cozy Irish pub has 30 foot high ceilings and you could drive a Zamboni through the space around the bar.

In fact, they're all fake all through, is the point. Sewn out of whole cloth. Someone is making a killing selling old photos to put on the walls of these places and old Reader's Digest anthologies to stick in the bookshelves. The fake fireplace in this particular joint abuts beautiful glass windows that they covered over for that 'cozy' look.

The thing that really cracks me up about them is how they've come a long way only to be very close to the Bennigan'seses and Snuggieries of yore. The chicken strip-based menu is almost exactly the same when you squint at it, with the words "Jameson" and "bleu" and "port" added in places (and usually a "Shepherd's Pie" made with beef), and the crap-cluttered walls (sometimes skimpily so) are a very short hop from 70s fern bar and 80s Professor V. J. Cornucopia's Fantastic Foodmagorium and Great American Steakery style decoration. It can be a little depressing. They're Melman-ed; sometimes well (Fado), sometimes without nearly as much finesse or budget.

One ass-backward benefit of these places must be noted. GOOD BATHROOMS. Because they're all so new and cannot avoid ADA compliance, the women's bathrooms in these joints are capacious and not nearly as gnarly and cramped as real pub bathrooms.

And they can be more comfortable, period. It's nice there is room to breathe, to exist. Human comfort can be found in lots of inauthentic spaces that aren't particularly cool or likely or old. A local's a local, no matter what it looks like. But human comfort also exists in the organicness of a space, the way it feels well-used, well-loved, and as if it grew up around you on a human scale. Some of these places sure don't.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Yahoo headlines: NOT proofread ("drownsized," "Tyra banks," etc.).

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The heavens opened up with a huge clap and started pouring this afternoon at the end of Götterdämmerung. Perfect. Oh darling multi-talented Bea Arthur...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

* Hands up how many people's skirts were blown up by the crazy wind today, revealing perhaps more of their hidden personal infrastructure than they really felt like sharing with folks in this city? Oh dear. I am thinking about having weights sewn into my hems as the Queen (liz) reportedly does.

* More proof of a personality composed in part of fussy old lady, outside of my handkerchief collection: I NEED SWEATER CLIPS. And they are not to be had! At least, not new. There seem to be a lot of antique ones on eBay, but what oh WHAT is the point of sweater clips with unenthusiastic, antique grip to the clips? I was sure the Vermont Country Store would have them, but they don't seem to carry them anymore. What can I say, I've gotst the most narrah shoulders in the history of the sartorial world. Sweaters don't stay put.

* I was at an art supply store recently and suddenly transported back twenty years in my life to my first job, selling extremely expensive fountain pens for $6 an hour (the fact that I actually ran into an ex co-worker from that job who worked at this store probably helped). Working at an art supply store is hard. Endless hours standing, a vague but constant toxicity in the air, intense customer service, no matter what kind of customer. I think it was sometime during my fifth six-figure fountain pen sale of the day during Christmas rush that I started to think...$6 an hour! Fug this. Still love fountain pens, though. And art supply stores.

* Sometimes in my neighborhood they film 2nd unit/interstitial stuff for the shows that tape around here: Judge Big Meany, Dr. Whatever--reality shows. Interviews, walking shots to use with voiceovers. Yesterday I was sitting peacefully in the sun by the river when suddenly out of a van piled a Subject, a Producer and a Cameraman/Interviewer. They sat down about three feet from me while he plied the subject with questions about a personal tragedy in a prodding, leading fashion, and she responded in very practiced, clear tones, and the producer's cellphone rang every 30 seconds. It was really odd. I felt eye-rolling but curious, and thought about the stickiness of actual tragedy and how easy it is to be cynical and...whatever. If you hear a fat girl sighing ever-so-slightly in the background of an interview on a show like that, it was me.

Friday, April 17, 2009


So wonderful, so horrible, so surreal, so Vegas. I do not know that they intended a Chicago Bears color scheme with their Jell-O squares, but they achieved it. Hallos to A, H & J and to A's beautiful sparkly buffet nails.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

"My goodness, men like to see a little fore and aft."
Sophie Tucker, "I Don't Want to Get Thin"
I luv ?uestlove.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

In my usual on-it Cahiers fashion, I just saw last year's remake of Hairspray. I hadn't wanted to see it at all at first, remembering the excitement of ditching class in college and driving to the city with friends to see the original, but I caved. Watching this version was a head-scratching experience. It was technically very accomplished and positive, and as far as feeling all het up about its (or the musical's) existence in the first place, I get the sense from his public endorsement of the endeavor that John Waters is certainly against any snobbish nostalgia. That is, without really knowing (I avoided a lot of media coverage in my usual ostriccchian fashion), he seems--and I mean this in the nicest possible way--slutty about it all. Which is perfectly consistent with his POV. I don't know how to explain this right.

There weren't a lot of obvious holes to pick. How great to watch a chubby girl be the center of attention (although I feel like the camera had what I might call a--not male, but--Tall gaze; it did not know always seem to know how/choose to make the very short NBlonsky the center of the frame/action). It was worth watching for that. And I don't usually like modern musicals much, but there were a few bits I was humming the next day. I still feel ambivalent, though.

We are at a point of sophistication in our collective media consumption where naked wholesale re-engineering doesn't fly. The movie was, and I think had to be, quite 'loyal' to the original, in the sense that it kept a lot of bits and pieces, names and basic plot, etc. But I think that perhaps the original wasn't actually that well-served by imitation (being the sincerest form of F.). Travolta, for instance; the Clarence-Thomas-for-Thurgood-Marshall style casting there felt wrong. Or the (expected, but still sort of off) use of nasty, juicy John Waters bits as flavoring, rather than main ingredients. The remake borrows a lot--borrows both the space carved out by the original and its spunk--to
safely flavor what is a fairly conventional effort; leverages the attitude of the original to get even farther out of sticky, confusing history, and rebels against the same things, not new things. I mean...I dunno how positive John Waters movies are. They're fun, but I'm not sure they're positive. It's a weird kind of new revisionism to revise a parody of a take on a take of a version of history. Or life. I really dunno.

Does this sound ridiculous? I love pat goofball musicals. And Hollywood has actually been remaking everything forever, not just in my lifetime, but the way Hairspray was gobbled up and recycled at least twice in my adult life (not to mention being a model for new, nicer John Waters filmmaking in the first place) does kind of make your head spin. I get the feeling Waters would roll his eyes at this kind of thing (and probably has) and I don't think treating movies as sacrosanct is that helpful a stance to take in general. But still. Sometimes it feels like everything we digest these days makes us inured to things rather than sensitive to them. What can I say, I miss Divine!
One of the absolute nicest things about my neighborhood? The way that at certain times of the day and at certain times of the year and from certain angles the setting sun blinks for a second then reappears shining through the buttresses of the Tribune building. That, and the ducks who sun themselves wadded up on the docks. And the fact that the spire is halted (still so grateful). Oh (and) the nice chocolates at Fancypants & Obel. And the sweet apartment doggies on their walks.
Have you ever noticed how the structure of your thoughts can sometimes vaguely pattern after the rhetoric from various outside media or language? Today everything is framing itself along the lines, "How much more ____ could this ____ be? The answer is none. None more ____." Happens a lot with Tap, actually (too much bloody perspective / have a good time all the time / having a good solid piece of wood in your hand is often useful / yes I can if Frank Sinatra says it's okay / etc).

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Monday, April 13, 2009

Can't stop watching.
Yeah...I know. But it is so good!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Between Brünnhilde's ring of fire and the lighting of the paschal candle at church, seemed like a lot of intentional fire-setting yesterday. Felt that I should perhaps round out the day with some saganaki and carry the Olympic torch. And then go to Burning Man and have crêpe suzette.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Paws are clasped waiting for the last act of Die Walküre. It's making me remember the 2005 Chicago Ring, which I lurched through inelegantly, exhausted and squirming, but overwhelmed in so many happy ways. I want to say I didn't deserve that experience, which sounds mealy-mouthed--I did--but it has reverberated since in ways I never expected. I was dang lucky.

Urban weirdness: dabbing Fixodent on a broken temporary crown in the back of a cab and trying to mush it in place as we swerve around corners. Put it all back together with Fixodent and duct tape.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Bizarrely hypnotic.
O for a beaker full of the warm South!
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stainèd mouth

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

"She thanked Providence that at forty-five she still kept her figure--as indeed, she did, having been remarkably flat on both aspects the whole of her life."
(Dorothy L. Sayers, Murder Must Advertise)

Monday, April 06, 2009

monday mishmosh

* For reasons I shan't elaborate here I am wearing a clothespin on my nose today, à la Amy in Little Women. Strange Monday.

* Yelled by a protagonist in a dream I had last night: "I dis-a-fucking-gree!" I wonder if that will catch on. I wonder if my subconscious borrowed it? Don't you love your subconscious? The other night mine made up a documentary about Elaine Stritch to watch in part of a dream I was having. Very convincing, down to the shaky dated title sequence.

* Holly got BoingBoinged! Go Holly.

* Tap debuted on TCM this weekend. Oh how I love TCM. Spinal Tap, Best in Show, Real Life and Take the Money and Run, all in one luxe night. Plus two hitherto unseen Doris Day flicks, including one nobody ever sees (Starlift), a piece of Korean War propaganda that was sort of sweet and thought-provoking.

I never really know--I do not know now--why I like Doris Day so much, even because--in spite of her--being occasionally annoying or saccharine, at least superficially, but I think in part it's because of the really complicated persona her performances and characters describe, collectively. It's very subversive, somehow, very hiding in plain sight. I'm starting to think, seeing more of her early films, that the "virgin" thing arose because people just couldn't handle her as she was, in a weird roundabout way (since the "virgin" roles were actually in what were considered sex comedies at the time). Among other reasons, her energy is not a conventionally feminine one. She is also one of those performers who stays somewhat immune to her surroundings but is very defined by them at the same time. She was amazingly good when asked to be (Love Me or Leave Me, Man Who Knew Too Much) but tread water in so many bad movies, better than they deserved but still...not always easy to watch. She flowed from one to the other so easily, too--you get the feeling that she could have been almost anything.

Here I insert raw, punk-rock writing with contemporary feel to take the edge off everlasting Doris commentary. Hmmm. My Scrabble muscles hurt? Yay for all the new cute baby animal videos?

Saturday, April 04, 2009

I really must note: between the long, cold winter, the lack of employment and the general lack of funds, this town is looking very hairy these days. A sheer parade of male facial hair and rogue hairs clinging to coats and seat backs. Drains everywhere must be clogging.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Nobody smokes in bars and restaurants in Chicago anymore. I don't come home pickled in nicotine and squeezing tiny puffs of smoke out of my lungs the next day. I don't feel the urge to hang all my clothes in gale winds to air them out. My voice doesn't start to crack an hour into yelling in people's ears. I don't wake up with my eyes red-rimmed and hungover from secondary smoke.

I'm not smoking anymore. I haven't with any regularity for a long time, but now the occasional smoker exigency is leaving me too. I never want to. I'm not contributing to the haze, inside or outside.

My ability--actual physical ability--to smoke started to fade pretty soon after I began cultivating my strongest adult flirtation with it. I never knew when it was going to happen, but sometimes even one cigarette would trigger a whole sequence of allergic/bronchial reactions that ended up with a trip to the doctor for the Z-pak and horrid gut-level coughing (pretty). But not every time. Enough to make me nervous, but not enough to interfere with the imperative for a smoke.

I've generally been a pretty amateurish smoker. The heavest period was when I was smoking when I was writing; those activities match each other beautifully, unfortunately, and you can blast through way too many cigarettes doing that. But that urge is long gone, and even the occasional urge to smoke with a drink in my hand or out on a balcony on a city night, or when I might have normally wished for the (this is the best part about smoking) prop of a cigarette with which to gesticulate and in which to siphon your social energy, is pretty much gone. I was watching Lindsay Crouse power through (unfiltered) cigarette after cigarette in House of Games recently and could remember only distantly how appealing I found that then.

I was thinking about it all again this morning because after just 10 minutes of minimal, outdoor contact with smoke last night, nothing in the old scheme of things, my voice is about an octave deeper. (I want to record an audio book--I think I could acheive the right plummy tones for older female characters right now. In my prettiest fantasies I sound like Jeanne Moreau's voiceover in The Lover but probably it's more like Vera on In Living Color.) When I opened my mouth to speak I wondered who was talking.

I think I am grateful that my body has told me No so vigorously and that I--er, eventually--heard it. If my body loved smoking, craved it, it would all be so much harder. As it was, I finally caught up (I hope).