June 29, 2002
Summer in the City

It's a boiling hot weekend in Chicago, and people are keeping cool as best they can.

But there's still work to be done. As far as jobs go, I would not want to be:

a) one of those kids selling M&Ms on the street
b) one of the guys selling newspapers at Damen, Elston & Clybourn
c) the sad Ghirardelli's employee below, whose job it is to hand out coupons and wear a giant fiberglass hat shaped like an ice cream sundae.

Today it was off to the Lincoln Park Zoo. (Recommended: flamingos, monkeys, and seals!) Then a wander through Lincoln Park and a stop at this lovely fountain, whatever it is.

There has to be some universal symmetry in this picture. The statue with the fish; the guy with the shirt on his head. Note the graceful mirroring of the arm movements. It made me think of odalisques, which in turn led me here. (Also see "Bunny Bacchus.")

Posted at 06:45 PM
June 27, 2002
The Long Walk Home

Connors Park, one of the city's "urban plazas." It's been overly rehabbed a bit of late, but its Parisian air is one of the things that made me want to work downtown way back in 1995.

I’ve never been one of those people who can leave home, get on the train, and go straight in to work. Even back in the days when I lived in Indiana and walked to work, I never wanted to go straight into the office. I used to devise little long routes for myself, through the park or around the square or through the meadow—anything to give myself a little breathing space between home and my desk.

Today I no longer walk to work, but I'm still finding ways to add a little extra space between here and there. When I’m not too late, or the weather isn’t too bad, or I’m not carrying too much stuff, I sometimes get off the subway at Clark and Division and walk the 1.5 miles to my office.

Most of my friends and colleagues think this is crazy. “What are you doing all the way up there?” some say. But it’s one of the nicest walks I know in Chicago, especially since the city has seen fit to rebuild Wacker Drive by the river for the last 14 months. I usually only make two stops in the morning: to a convenient ATM and to Treasure Island to buy genuine bagels (no puffy, Einstein-style faux bagels here).

It’s also a quick walk in the morning, because nobody’s around. I can usually make the trek in 30 minutes. Then it’s 8:30 and I’m up to read e-mail, reasonably virtuous and pleasantly breathless.

I’m trying to ramp up my exercise of late, so I opted to take the same route home. It’s a very different walk in the evenings.

When I leave my office and cross the Michigan Avenue bridge on a day like today—80 degrees and clear as glass—I am almost always glad to be there. More important, as I see hordes of other office workers just like me, I am almost always glad to be me, and not someone else.

Michigan Avenue in the early evening is almost always teeming with tourists, and they clog the sidewalks in several problem spots:
-Garrett’s Popcorn, where people will stand on the sidewalk for hours, ostensibly because they never have an opportunity to eat caramel corn
-In front of Neiman Marcus, where some kind of construction has caused them to build a wooden walkway in front of the entire building, wide enough only for two people to walk at a time
-Most unfortunately, both sides of the street around Water Tower place. On the west side you’ll be diverted into a little mini-park where people are usually milling around staring at mimes (Staring At Mimes—the name of my next band). On the east side more construction and reconstruction have caused very large numbers of people to try to walk in very narrow areas. I usually bump into people here

North of Walton Street, things usually open up again and I have to cut over, either on Walton (past the Urban Outfitters) or on Oak (past Bravco, the best store in the world). A few blocks more and we’re on Rush Street. I always liked the storefront restaurant-aspect of this area, which reminded me of Paris when I first moved to Chicago. In the morning it’s mostly the province of me and the odd restaurant employee hosing down the sidewalk. In the evening, though, it’s a whole other story, and I have to fight my way through legions of sunglasses-wearing, cell-phone-slinging Yupsters, usually standing in large clumps on the sidewalk trying to telephone their friends and relatives.

Gotta keep moving, past Gibson’s, where people are eating steak topped with butter, and Carmine’s, where people are eating very nice salads off very nice stoneware. There’s a lot of people wearing shorts and at least one bleached blonde trophy wife type wearing expensive sunglasses and a tank top. One of these peers at her dining companions as I walk by and proclaims decisively: “Noodles are noodles!” Yes, indeed.

More good stops along the way might include Anthropologie, where I was last tempted to buy overpriced silk pajamas, Barnes and Noble, with a temptingly large magazine rack, and Albert’s, the tiniest French café I can think of. But I gotta keep going because we’re almost to the subway.

And then it’s down the stairs.

Onto the train.

Up to Belmont and onto the other train, where I find a seat, efficiently turn off the Walkman, and pull out the book I’m trying to finish.

At Montrose the guy sitting next to me gets up to leave. I have to grab all my bags, stand up, and sit down in the window seat this time.

Whereupon I look over and down and see that I have been sitting in the remains of a candy bar the whole way home.

Posted at 07:12 PM
June 24, 2002
Owed to Joy

In last week's e-mail I found a reference to a particularly apt quote, something to the effect of: "Against stupidity, even the gods struggle in vain." This person had taped the sentence, in German, to the wall of her office. I don't speak German. but I thought the quote might make a nice thing to scribble on the margin of my notes during two-hour meetings. So I set out today to find the original owner and the exact quote.

Naturally, nothing is ever easy. Probably due to difficulties with translation, there are multiple iterations of this saying. More disturbingly, as I found with the geese earlier this year, there are multiple attributions. Here are some of the many permutations:

This is the basic quote, attributed, most likely correctly, to Schiller.

Others (OK, "Dr. Weevil,") attribute it to Nietzsche.

Another view says that Nietzsche actually said "Against boredom, even the gods contend in vain," which I don't think is half as catchy, in response to Schiller. ("Dear Friedrich: Sorry, but it's boredom that's the real problem. My kids have been driving me nuts this summer. Love, Friedrich.")

I found two slightly different German versions, which I can't translate:
Mit der Dummheit kampfen Gotter selbst vergebens
Gegen dumheit kempfen selbst die Goetter vergebens (this one, by the way, attributed to Goethe.)

I also found multiple attributions to Isaac Asimov (or, as one hapless person put it, Azimov.)

Even the Aryan nation idiots have latched onto it. I found several song lyrics, too creepy to link to, making reference to the same quote.

Wouldn't they hate to see that someone else attributes the quote to the author of The Joy of Yiddish, Leo Rosten.

In desperation I turned to Bartleby.com, which confirmed that the quote originally comes from Schiller, in The Maid of Orleans, his tragedy in which Joan of Arc is burned at the stake. Ach, du lieber!

Posted at 09:44 PM
June 22, 2002
Thing I Wish I Hadn't Said on the Internet

Everything you say lives on forever on the Internet. For some time I ignored this reality, but it's true. Everything you write--from incoherent college-student rants to posts to work-related listservs--will live on thanks to spiders and search engines. I haven't said that many embarassing things, but from time to time it may be necessary to recant.

For instance, in the spring of April 1994 I wrote that a Bloomington, IN-located "alternative" event (Culture Shock) featured a dwarf toss. The original piece was in the long-gone Indie-List Digest, which Eric and I edited and which apparently no longer exists online anymore. It got picked up by a Yo La Tengo fanzine and now lives on in perpetuity. I was once even contacted by a person from Europe who was researching dwarf tossing who wanted to get some details.

OK, people, it wasn't real! I made it up. I do not endorse tossing people of any size. Culture Shock featured many things--garage bands, disengaged hippies, hacky sack, and mud--but it did not feature a dwarf toss.


Eric and Sean, where are the I-L archives now? Despite my above rant on my past coming back to haunt me, I think we should bring them back, wherever they are. Read a few issues of the I-L's infrequently published little sister, Telegraph e-Zine, here. Not a complete set, either, but better than nothing for your early to mid-90s nostalgia. (Hey. Remember the '90s?)

Posted at 07:22 AM
June 19, 2002
Consultants and Bunnies

Last week PriceWaterhouseCoopers Consulting announced that it is changing its name. The new name?


According to a press release, the name change is part of an identity shift following the consulting group's separation from PWC "and to distinguish its management consulting and technology services from those of its competitors."

See the irritating Flash presentation "about" the name here.

On a related consulting note, I'm waiting for Deloitte Consulting to announce its new name as well. I received a e-mail message last month inviting my feedback in a Web survey DT's marketers described as "the largest focus group ever." Participants were invited to give input on the company's new name.

I took them up on it because I hoped the contest would be something fun--maybe stringing together some random letters and words ("E-Bunny Tomato" sounds like a fun name, or maybe lunch)--but they actually wanted real suggestions. I was not able to oblige, considering I had given it about 3 seconds of thought. I'm sure they'll be able to come up with embarassing things on their own.

Stay tuned. Or, depending on the quality of suggestions received, not.

Speaking of bunnies, here's a nice one I found on the Gold Coast last week.

And there's everyone's favorite Japanese bunny, Oolong. Have you checked in on Oolong lately? I thought not. Do it now!

And then it's off to North Lincoln avenue for Putt-putt at the Bunny Hutch.

Posted at 09:21 PM
June 17, 2002
Ain't Too Proud to Read

Black Lamb, Gray Falcon by Rebecca West has been on my current reading list for a while now. It's not going away any time soon either, because at 1100 pages it's a serious reading commitment.

It's not that I don't want to finish it--it's reasonably absorbing. And it's helped me understand, in sort of a patchwork way, the history of Yugoslavia, at least through the 1930s.

But I am getting to the point where other books are starting to look awfully good. I felt better, though, when I stumbled across this bit of a review of BLGF on Amazon:

...The prose was exemplary, however, the length was daunting - it took one busy executive six months to finish the book, while another executive finished it in two months, as he was able to read it during staff meetings.

Those meetings must be real barn-burners. "What? Of course I'm listening! ...Oh, this? A paperweight."

Posted at 10:05 PM
From Russia, With Love

With Father's Day safely behind us, I guess it's now safe to admit that I was a litle stumped for gift ideas this year. I did a desultory search on "Father's Day Gift Ideas" and by far the most interesting thing I found was Sovietski.com--your source for Soviet/Russian uniforms, Tsarist-era paper money, and decorative weaponry.

Why not get dad a Soviet-era camping stove? (Pork and beans optional.) Or a Russian Army hat? My dad would be the coolest in the gated community with one of those, for sure. "My dad can beat up your dad...with his machete!"

Alas, he'd probably never make it through airport security with something like that.

I had to settle for buying golf shirts.

Posted at 09:56 PM
June 16, 2002
Favorite Site of the Week

New favorite site of the week: Burke and Wells, in Paris.

Who: Two American guys move to Paris.
What: Nice pictures and good writing, with an emphasis on food.

They'll be in the states in July and August, so there'll be less emphasis on Paris in the next couple of months, alas. In general, though, lots of stuff to feed my Francophilia (or your Francophobia, depending).

Posted at 11:29 AM
"Before the Rain, the World Is Green"

After eating lunch at Penang in Chinatown, I take the train back up north to meet Eric at the coffeehouse. It's early, though, and it's raining intermittently, so I buy an umbrella and start walking around among the ritzy houses on streets like Scott and Astor and Dearborn. I like the way the houses and buildings are all human-sized, just blocks from the tallest buildings of Michigan Avenue.

For a densely populated area, I barely see anyone outside. Between the raindrops, there are some nice moments.

I stop in Goody Park, a playground I've never seen before, and sit on one of the benches underneath the trees. There's just enough foliage to keep me from getting wet during the moments of intermittent rain. Mostly the other inhabitants are moms with their kids, mopping down the swing seats and see-saws.

Two women with an Asian baby come to the swings and plug the baby into the seat, although they seem more interested in talking to it (and each other) and taking pictures than actually swinging. As any kid knows, this is a waste of good swingset time. Shortly thereafter follows a red-haired mom in sweatpants with a curly-haired baby of indeterminate gender, a little older than the red-haired baby.

Red-haired mom makes a tremendous show of giving a big push and acting very excited about swinging. Curly-haired baby is delighted.

Meanwhile a man is walking around me, pushing a little boy with a helmet pedaling sort of a proto-tricycle. The man is wearing chinos and a sweater vest, as if he thinks he was an undergraduate in the 1950s, or as if this is how he has dressed throughout his entire life since college.

Back at the swings, the Asian baby is watching the curly-haired baby and looking deflated. The two women don't seem to notice this loss of momentum. I feel sort of sorry for the Asian baby. He thinks the other kid is having a better time than he is, and he is right.

The rain starts again, more definitively. It's time for me to go back to the Third Coast. Eventually he'll meet me there, and we'll read and drink coffee for a quiet hour, and then we'll take my parents to dinner.

Posted at 10:33 AM
June 12, 2002
Memo to the Handbag Manufacturing Industry

OK, people, I've had it up to here.

I have owned four handbags in my life. Four! For a woman of my age, this is hardly representative. I have owned so few handbags not because I am incredibly thrifty or because I have a lot of pockets. I have owned so few because I dislike shopping for them. Because, invariably, YOU PEOPLE don't know what I want.

Clearly, what we have here is a failure to communicate. So now I am telling you, the designers and manufacturers and marketers and buyers of handbags for women across the globe, what I want.

1. A bag with a long strap. Walk down Michigan Avenue and take careful note of how many women are wearing bags across their chests, down by their waists or hips, or dangling from their shoulders. You'll find this is almost universally true (the rest are wearing backpacks). I am BUSY. In addition to handbags, I may very well have to carry shopping bags, tote bags, extra shoes, CDs, books, lunch, flowers...and that's an average day. A clutch purse is not practical under these circumstances. Lots of bags have straps, but they are too short to comfortably sling from one shoulder without whapping the person behind you in the chin. Long straps, people!

2. A bag that can be secured. I live in a big city, I ride the subway, I walk by myself. I want to zip, snap, and fasten my bag together and know that I'm not easy prey for any pickpocket who stands next to me on the Red Line. Help me keep my wallet safe!

3. A bag that has a pocket in the back for my Walkman. This is strictly optional in my case. But even women who are not music-dependent like me appreciate easy access to a pen, lipstick, a cell phone, etc. Besides, we like the illusion of being organized, even if we don't use the compartments as designed.

4. A bag that I don't have to coordinate. It is incredibly difficult to find all of the above components in a package that's sleek, water repellent, and reasonably contemporary. (Please don't make cute products only in brown. I have a black leather coat and black shoes and I want things to match within a reasonable margin.) Life's hard enough without having to coordinate and switch purses every other day. Simplifiez!

5. A bag that I can afford. I am not a millionaire, alas. I am not able to invest hundreds of dollars in a purse, unless said purse is made of some material that will appreciate with time, like gold. (And that violates rule no. 4.)

Are we clear now?

Don't say I never mentioned this.

Posted at 06:43 PM
June 10, 2002
Travel Clocks of Columbus

James Thurber famously wrote, "the clocks that strike in my dreams are often the clocks of Columbus." I've found this was also true for me as well. In the year since my last visit I've found myself flashing back to specific locations in my hometown, with no explanation.

Mention Ohio State and the picture in my head is the slum rental apartment a high school friend had on Chittenden near campus. Flossing my teeth I am back at the gates of Schiller Park near where my parents used to live. My life is all remembrances of things past and no madeline. Or maybe it's all madeline. Anyway, the incessant echoes were making my head hurt.

Visiting this weekend was a good way to sort through some of the trippyness of no longer having a home in the place I consider my hometown. Even though I haven't lived there for 15 years and will most likely never live there again. Good to see friends and see what's changed, what hasn't changed, and where the bagel shop is.

"What do you mean, 'shop for lederhosen'?" Eric in German Village.

Because I'm usually coming to or from the airport at some insanely early or late hour, the streets of Columbus are usually empty for me--as they were on Sunday. I call this "The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Walker," that tiny figure you see crossing the street.

When I was growing up, the renovation of the Old Southern Hotel was quite the talk of the town. Now that I'm a grownup, I can actually stay there. I enjoyed the pillows (not pictured)....

...and the cool signage.

Posted at 06:08 PM
Yes, I Really Do Work

I'm doing a research project on electronic scholarly publishing. While it's nowhere near as fun as the project I did a couple of years ago about online publishing models for consumer magazines, it's certainly engrossing.

Enough scientific publications now are jumping on this bandwagon that there are finally some viable case studies. The only problem that hasn't been solved--and I don't know how to solve it, either--is the continuing debate amongst academics about the value of these publications when it comes to securing tenure. Oh, the irony--in order to get tenure at universities--precisely the setting where the early Web started to flower--you have to get published in a traditional paper journal to be "valid."

It's too bad, but I expect the tide will turn--if somewhat glacially. All the kids want things to be online, anyway. Having a top-notch peer review system is probably the key.

In the course of this project, I started off liking First Monday. But having plowed through a number of articles, I find that for actual scholarship, you can't beat the Journal of Electronic Publishing.

What I may actually need--but haven't read yet, because it is a 60-page PDF-- is this manual for planning the launch of a nonprofit electronic publishing venture. Found via this weblog on e-journals and, uh, Morris dancing.

Posted at 05:49 PM
June 09, 2002
For that Matter, "Who Were They Then?"

It's fun to play "Where Are They Now," isn't it? Here's a couple from indie rock/grungeland that I don't even know.

Whatever happened to Tar? The Touch & Go band, that is. I don't think this is them. Or this, but it's hard to tell.

For that matter, what happened to Tad? I did find out that evidently he has a new band called "Hog Molly." Whew.

Posted at 10:07 PM
June 07, 2002
Consumer Confidence

Two or three years back, I used to joke that I wanted to write an opera about the process my husband and his co-workers went through launching their software start-up business. Now that the bubble has burst, it's clear that the scenario is less Gilbert & Sullivan and more Gotterdammerung. As we enter into round XVI of layoffs, I find myself moving certain items further and further down the "to do list": Buy new curtains. Renovate the office. Schedule that vacation. In the face of the potential loss of half our household income, big-ticket items don't seem like such a good idea.

While I'm probably being overly cautious, it occurs to me that I'm perpetuating the cycle of consumer confidence that the analysts are always talking about. Average folks who are worried about their jobs tend not to buy as much stuff. So Pottery Barn, Home Depot, and the carpenter who could build us record shelves don't get any business. On an individual level, this doesn't make a dent (except for the poor carpenter, maybe). But what if there are 20,000 people doing the same thing as me? Or 200,000?

On the other hand, I'm a terrible cheapskate and will bargain-hunt relentlessly if I think I'm not getting my money's worth. Maybe the retailers ought to breathe a sigh of relief that I'm staying home.

Posted at 09:02 AM
June 03, 2002
Heads of State Breathe Sigh of Relief

On the automotive front, I'm pleased to report we successfully attatched a new H onto my car. If only prying out the crystallized SweetTarts from the inside of the glove compartment were so simple.

Mmm, shiny.

Posted at 10:04 PM
More on the Glass Ceiling

Is there a glass ceiling for women in publishing? I may not be the only one who thinks so. Womensenews, a nonprofit independent news service covering issues of particular concern to women, reports that "Study after study into sex roles in the media continue to show that women have a long way to go before their voices are really heard, either as guiding forces from within the news organization or as credible sources from without."

The article quotes the chair of the Internatonal Women's Media Foundation: "One of the things that we'd like to do during our tenure is to reach out to more up-and-coming journalists to help them find the paths they most desperately wanted to find in leadership." Hel-lo!

The IWMF also follows these issues. Last year they published a report, which I doubt I ever saw or heard about at the time, called "Women Reaching for the Top: Initiatives for Media Leadership."

I liked this bit:
"Perhaps most relevant are the report's analysis of the barriers to women's success in news leadership positions and its strategies for overcoming them. As Gail Evans, executive vice president of CNN, pointed out during the May 2000 International Leadership Conference, sometimes the barriers are self-constructed.

"'If there are six seats at the [management] table, and five of them are held by men, and one is held by a woman, every other woman in the organization thinks there is one seat open. …There isn't. There are six seats open. …We pit ourselves against each other because we only see one seat.'"

There's also a nice women in leadership resource list.

Posted at 09:49 PM
June 01, 2002
Hosta La Vista, Baby

June 1 and one of the first real days of summer. Today it is about 90 degrees outside.

Sometimes I think this sentence will sum up my life in Chicago: For seven months of the year, she was too cold. The rest of the time, she was too hot.

The condo gardening experience is going well, though. We managed to avoid many of the weekend crowds by shopping at Home Depot on a Friday night. So this morning, it was all about the dirt.

I always want gardening to be more an art, not a science. I just want to stick some stuff in the ground and water it and hope that it grows. From what I've read, though, you have to be more organized than that. You have to worry about things like soil pH and composting and insects. I just want to turn our back courtyard from a concrete ghost town into somewhere we can hang out with our friends and enjoy lemonade and cookies.

I am a little worried about some marauding gangs I saw around here last year, though. Not the Latin Kings--the squirrels. I saw them tearing out my potted plants on the porch last year and throwing them on the floow. I swear I saw vindictiveness in their little beady eyes. If they come back this year, I'm going medieval on them. They'll be sorry they ever messed with me.

For the moment, though, we worked with our neighbors and made some nice containers and a new bed for the FedEx rose bushes that my folks sent last year before they moved. I hope the roses make it. I really miss my dad's garden back in Columbus, maybe because its grape arbor and cherry trees and other exotics connected me back to our garden in the house I grew up in. I don't miss the houses so much as I miss those outdoor spaces, which were private and beautiful and quiet. We're a long way from recreating them here, but maybe a little closer.

The stars of the show this year are some New Guinea Impatiens. I really like this arrangement, done by Pete.

More Impatiens, in a different color. We tried to mix in some foliage as well, hence the cozily named Dusty Miller.

Our last visit to Columbus was in August 2001. This somewhat posey photo in my Dad's garden belies the fact that I was so stressed I was mainlining Advil for a perpetual headache...not unlike this week, really.

My dad was fond of growing a plant called "Hosta." I keep thinking I should buy some, but its name reminds me of an upper respiratory disease. ("Sorry I couldn't make the party, I came down with a bad case of Hosta.")

Posted at 05:09 PM