August 29, 2002
A Woman or a Girl?

Nomenclature is such a difficult issue sometimes. Take this recent article in Women's E-News on how some feminists are taking exception to the widespread use of "girl" to refer to grown women.

"'Girl' is an infantilizing term for women," said Sherryl Kleinman, a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "This becomes clearest when the doctor uses it to refer to his assistant or secretary, even if she is 50 years old: 'Talk to the girl up front.' I have heard this numerous times in the recent past."

This is clearly a hot-button issue (I've had several e-mail exchanges about this issue this week) but I think the reaction may be stronger along generational lines. Maybe my political correctness radar isn't as well calibrated as it used to be, but I just can't get het up about this as an issue. Considering the current political climate, seems to me the women's movement has a host of other things to be worrying about right now.

But I've worked my whole career in mostly all-female environments, so I feel as if I don't have to worry as much about linguistic putdowns undermining my authority.

And then there's the whole Riot Grrl thing, which seemed to me to be a perfectly good name for a subculture. Bratmobile apparently hasn't given up on the word; their latest is called "Girls Get Busy."

And finally there's the perpetual scramble for youth: At what age do I leave behind being a girl? There never seemed to be a good dividing line, and considering that in some ways I seem to be careening through a perpetual adolescence, albeit with a better haircut, the illusion is that the line may never appear.

No resolution for this one, just thoughts.

On a less weighty, but somewhat related note, I noticed a woman (or a girl) carrying a CD rack on the train today. I thought about saying "Nice rack!" to her, but she might not have appreciated the humor.

Do people still say things like that out of cars to women on the street? Last year a couple of kids yelled "Nice caboose!" at me as I was walking home in my not particularly revealing yoga clothes. I thought it was kind of quaint, yet vaguely alarming. Does that mean I am a train? Sixteen coaches long, I guess.

Posted at 09:06 PM
August 28, 2002
Summer Escapes

I got in a taxi tonight and noticed that it was almost dark already.

Summer's escaping, and as usual, I haven't even noticed. In contrast to winter, which hangs around forever, summer is out the door before I've even noticed.

Not to mention that summer is easily obliterated. This year portions of my summer were obliterated by being sick and by jury duty. Last year, summer was obliterated by a new job and overwork. A few years ago, the wedding took out a big chunk. And so it goes.

The only summer I can remember that lasted too long was the summer before I went to college. I had no job, I hung around with my friends, I learned how to cook. I counted the weeks until I hit World.

And now, here we are. Even though I'm still wearing open-toed shoes, the days are getting shorter. Even though I slam the closet door as quickly as possible, the winter coats are waiting. (Yes, yes, your day is coming soon, but NOT TODAY! All right? And yes, we can all go to the dry cleaner.)

Summer escapes, it always does. It'll be back, but not a moment too soon.

Downtown recedes at 60 mph, almost as fast as summer.

Posted at 08:09 PM
August 27, 2002
A Kitty Joyce Manifesto

The Direct Mkting Assoc. has announced that it encourages its members "either refrain from conducting unsolicited e-mail and telephone marketing campaigns on Wednesday, September 11, or conduct those campaigns with the utmost caution and respect on this solemn day of remembrance."

The DMA notes that to "many Americans may not wish to receive any marketing messages on that day."

We here at Kitty Joyce can appreciate this sentiment. Here at Kitty Joyce headquarters, telemarketers inevitably ring right into our dinner hour, at around 8 p.m. It's very sensitive of them to allow us this day of rest, particularly at this difficult time. We do wonder, however, if anything can be done about the other 364 days of the year.

Be that as it may; at Kitty Joyce, we, too, wish to respect the nation's sentiments, whatever they may be (except for the people who want us to eat more kale. We don't respect that sentiment). So we pledge to you, our loyal constituency, that we, too, will refrain from direct marketing on the anniversary of our national tragedy.

You will receive no spam, no telephone calls, no irritating flyers on your windshield from us. We will also refrain from national advertising, billboard painting, and Burma-shave style road signage on that day. Furthermore, we will abstain from sending you catalogs, free samples, and "Have you seen me"? flyers.

We won't try to sell you things that burn you, or cause bloating, or cause a serious illness. We will send no spam and pop no pop-up ads. We will sell no wine before its time.

We hope you appreciate it.

Posted at 09:50 PM
August 23, 2002
The Island of Melba

Scene: Bistro Campagne, on Lincoln Avenue (home of the former Villa Kula).

I receive a salad with several biscotti-shaped slices of toast. As is my way with unfamiliar delicacies, I put them to the side of the plate, far away from the actual food. After a while, Eric decides to try one.

Me: How is it?
Eric: (crunching) Like a crouton. But sort of Melba-toasty.
Me: Who invented Melba toast, anyway? Who's Melba?


Me: Isn't that where Napoleon lived?

Eric looks surprised.

Eric: (patiently) No...that was the Island of Elba.


Eric: He lived there with his first wife, Peaches.

End of scene.

Want to learn more? The history of Melba toast.

Posted at 09:39 PM
August 22, 2002

Raise a stein! The Heidelberger Fass, circa 1995.

According to the 2000 census, in North Center, my old neighborhood, the median household income increased 32% in the 1990s. And the price of a home increased 106%.

I'm sure this is music to the ears of the real estate developers. For us, however, the jump in home price was part of the reason we moved away when we finally had the wherewithal to buy. Unless we wanted to buy a condo looking out onto a used-car lot, we could no longer afford to live in our own neighborhood.

Ironically, we chose that neighborhood for its lack of trendiness back in 1995. Fresh from a college town in Indiana, we wanted to live among families and kids and old people. We wanted to live as far away from Lincoln Park/Wrigleyville trendiness as we possibly could. We liked the area because it seemed so...rollerblade-free.

Those days, it seems, are gone.

I thought about these statistics the other day when I was walking home up North Lincoln Avenue. This was the first Chicago street I really got to know when I lived here. It had landmarks that I could recognize (the Lincoln Restaurant, with its enormous head of Abe out front; the Sulzer Library, further on up the road; and, eventually, the weird series of turns that leads you out onto Western and then back onto Lincoln at Foster) during a long walk. And it had legions of interesting storefront shops.

It's a different street now, definitely. With a Starbucks on the corner of Lincoln, Damen, and Irving Park, there's no turning back. Gentrification is here, and if you don't like it, you'd better move someplace else.

Lots of the businesses I remember fondly did just that; still more folded up quietly and disappeared. Here are a few North Lincoln Avenue establishments that are long gone:

Galgano's on Irving Park (OK, not technically on Lincoln, but it was on the way): In the mid-'90s, this was the home of the $1 LP. I stocked up on '80s vinyl here. They've relocated to Gurnee. Also in this building were the kind folks at Plass, from whom I thankfully bought an air conditioner in the hot summer of '96.

Little Seneca, on the corner of Lincoln and Irving Park, whose signs boasted "Best Tacos in Tawn" and "Hat Dogs"; during one of the several times they were shut down by the health department, a sign on the door appeared reading "Closet."*

Mia's Diner, across the street from Little Seneca; some years ago, this brightly painted restaurant with the nondescript menu made way for a Blockbuster.

Douglas the Giant TV, where we dragged our electronics to be fixed several times. $300K condos are on that block now.

Also in the Douglas building were the typewriter repair shop (not much business in recent years, alas) and the tiny second-floor bowling alley, where it was always busy.

The Philco store a block north of there is still there, but many of its neighbors have departed. I was sad to note the departure of JC Electronics, where Eric and I carried a failing lamp to be repaired for a mere $10.

Also in that area was a video store in the mid-'90s, where handwritten signs exhorted you NOT to rewind the tapes, because your equipment would ruin it, thank you very much. (They had a good selection, though.)

Further north on Lincoln was the Psychic Museum, long gone now.

Across the street from the Jewel grocery there's now an art gallery, but there used to be the first hair salon I ever frequented in Chicago. The owner, a fading beauty, kept a large photograph of herself in her glory days hanging in the entryway. It creeped me out so much I never went back.

Don't get me wrong--I love my current neighborhood and I don't look back, much. But when my route takes me to the eye doctor, or to the farmer's market at Belle Plaine and Lincoln, I look for things that aren't there any more.

The European Sausage House, circa 1995.

*Mildred's House of Signage has compiled a bevy of classic Chicago signs.

Here's an article along the same lines, only it has vomit. Those crazy kids!

Posted at 09:13 PM
August 19, 2002
Cream of Nice

Woe unto you if you are a famous person "branding" your personality as a magazine. Every misstep you take will end up being recorded, posted on the Internet, and even recycled in Weblogs.

Latest exhibit here is Rosie O'Donnell, who, according to this article at, is..shall we say..."difficult."

In addition to squabbling with her publisher and former editor, she's currently at odds with her present editor in chief, who "wanted to add some low-calorie cakes to a proposed Valentine's Day baking section that was laden with fattening items...Ms. O'Donnell retorted, "My people like to eat," according to people familiar with the conversation. "

Well, "Know your audience" is a mantra in journalism school, and it's good to know Rosie's taken this to heart.

According to the article, the financials for the magazine aren't bad, despite the personality problems. "The publication is generating revenue of around $70 million a year and is budgeted to lose only $1 million this year, they say."

Believe it or not, this is good, comparatively:

"Some start-ups cost as much as $40 million. Advertising is up sharply and the September issue will carry more than 120 pages of ads, the most since the launch issue."

(Via OJR)

Posted at 08:17 PM
August 18, 2002
I Was Here

And wonderful world, why are you full
of endless monotony and tiresome fools?

I used to listen to the first album by Del Amitri, a Scottish pop band, regularly in the late '80s. They've "matured" their sound beyond recognition (and beyond my interest, unfortunately), but I note that a new album has been released in the UK this spring.

Recently lead Amitri Justin Currie was interviewed by the Independent, including this strangely critical comment:
"A lot of the music our fans like, we kind of abhor really," continues Currie, doggedly. "You know: Deacon Blue. And I always suspect that a certain percentage of our audience has at least one Beautiful South record. And that's quite depressing."

Posted at 07:26 PM
August 15, 2002

Do you ever feel like it would just make things easier to go around wearing a name tag that says "Hello, my name is TARGET MARKET"?

I feel that way when car manufacturers use punk rock to sell autos. Or when advertisements use Moby to sell...anything. Usually I want to run from the oncoming tsunami of carefully granular targeted generation- and lifestyle-based consumer marketing. But sometimes the temptation to stop running is...overwhelming.

I felt that way today reading this NYT article (registration required, alas) on the upcoming crop of shelter magazines. ("Hello! Yes, I'm your target, that's me. Don't be shy, just come right on over here. Let me look at you.")

Loyal readers know that in the past I've expressed some confusion over how the heck to decorate my house. So maybe one of these publications will help...or maybe not. As interviewed here, the editors of each produce some pretty scary sound bites. There's LivingRoom, for women "in transition" who "love throw pillows as much as they love shoes." Well (squirm), OK. I guess.

Then there's Budget Living, ostensibly for people who have money but don't want to spend it. This so-called "new generation," according to the editor, are "aesthetic snobs, but we don't have the wallet to back it up." That sounds better, although it may not make for riveting shelter-magazine reading.

I still believe that what I need is "Decorating for Dummies" and maybe Chic Simple has the answer. The article refers to it as "a kind of 'Aesthetic Intelligence for Dummies'" so I think we're getting closer.

Posted at 08:58 PM
August 14, 2002
Sixth & Grant

Look! It's for rent!

My friends and I tried to rent this house when we were in school in Bloomington in the late '80s. We vaguely knew someone who lived there and even paid a surprise visit early one icy Sunday morning to survey the inside, much to the shock of the sleepy residents. To the best of my recollection, the inside was pretty much your run-of-the mill student housing--we're not talking Architectural Digest here, folks. But you couldn't beat the location, just a few blocks from campus and downtown, and the front porch, and the corner lot. And best of all, it had a steeple!

Alas, it never came to pass. There was some kind of disagreement with the then-caretaker, who lived in a garage out back. A furious telephone argument ensued between one of my friends and the caretaker, and when I came home later that evening the whole tentative arrangement had collapsed. We had to start over and finally took an apartment two blocks north at Eighth and Grant.

A few years later I heard through an aquaintance that another acquaintance claimed the house had "demons in the basement." I never had any evidence of this, but I don't suppose the demons could have made that particular year any worse.

The house is still there, looking almost exactly the same, maybe the better for a coat of paint every now and then.

My roommates and I have dispersed.
I expect the caretaker has dispersed, too.
I don't know where the demons are (if there ever were any). For all I know, they are still there.

Posted at 10:08 PM
August 12, 2002
I Hang Suspended

This week is sort of the final exam of stress tolerance. E-mails wait to be answered. Budgets wait to be done. Authors wait to be cajoled, nagged, or sweetly nudged, depending on who they are. CDs wait to be listened to and weblogs wait to be updated.

And where am I? Sitting in a courtroom serving jury duty. About 2/3 of the time so far has actually been relevant, the rest of the time has been spent sitting around waiting for things to happen. The wheels of justice turn as if they are coated in nougat.

I hope I am a little better behaved than Cameron Diaz, though.

Posted at 09:57 PM
August 08, 2002
Double Dare

Red Hot Pops, seen in a discount store in Columbus, Ohio
Things I like about this package:
1. The chili pepper is weeping, tears of joy (and heat) I guess.
2. The flaming maracas.
3. "Red hot chili pops filled with bubble gum." Two great tastes...
4. The sombrero and cowboy boots.
5. Only 10 per package! Everything has its limits.

Posted at 09:09 PM
August 06, 2002
Boop Boop Beep

Cool site of the week (although it's apparently been around for quite a while):

Via the indiepop list, I stumbled on Morr Music, a German label featuring the kind of ambient electronica I've learned to love. Bands of note include Isan, who has a song clip featured on the home page, Mum, and Lali Puna. Not much else there at this time, but some cute T-shirt designs featured. Evidently their seminal comp was titled "Putting the Morr Back in Morrissey."

This whole discussion prompted a poplister to ask: "if you cross shoegaze and electronica, do you get shoetronica?" Discuss.

Posted at 09:51 PM
August 05, 2002
You Don't Call, You Don't Write

F-16s Pursue Unknown Craft Over Region

H. likes to bring newspaper articles of interest over to my desk. When he brought over a page of the Washington Post, I was surprised to see that it wasn't the usual work-related fare.

Radar detected a low, slow-flying aircraft about 1 a.m. yesterday, according to a military official.

"You'd usually see this in the National Enquirer," he said. "Can you believe it's in the Post?"

Creepy, I said.

Controllers were unable to establish radio communication with the unidentified aircraft, and NORAD was notified.

"I'm getting tired of this," he said. "Who are these aliens, lurking around all these years, not even coming out and staying for dinner?" he said. "Who wants to meet them, after all that?"

Well, I said, maybe it's a publicity stunt for that Mel Gibson movie about the crop circles.

When the F-16s carrying air-to-air missiles were launched from Andrews, the unidentified aircraft's track faded from the radar, the military official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Crop circles!" he said, scoffing. "Again, what is it with these people? What are those things, anyway--intergalactic graffiti?"

[Renny] Rogers remains convinced that what he saw was not routine. "It looked like a shooting star with no trailing mist," he said. "I've never seen anything like it."

Posted at 09:25 PM
August 02, 2002

At Anthropologie this morning, all the clothes in the window were made out of paper.

Note the fine ribbon detail.

The neckline is a little frumpy for me, but that flower pattern is all the rage these days.

This one is my favorite. You know, those pleats had to take some time.

Posted at 04:40 PM
August 01, 2002
The Mind of the English Major

E.M. Forster by Dora Carrington

"Only connect," E.M. Forster famously wrote in Howard's End in 1910. Today, I was pitifully excited to be able to work this quote into something I was writing.

It's one of those phrases that has popped up in my head over the years, waiting to be adopted in some way or other. Indeed, some phrases have been in residence so long that they've become, in one way or another, mental furniture. They're always there, waiting formless and yet solid in the dark, waiting for me to trip over them.

This is one of the perils of being a former English major and an editor. For editors, as we endlessly churn out leads, headlines, and subheads, our best weapon is the clever turn of phrase. We know to avoid cliches. But at the same time, when a well-known phrase can be turned on its head, or changed by a word or a letter, and it has some appropriate resonance, that's a happy coincidence indeed.

What else is in the mental furniture attic? I'll probably never get a chance to use most of these, but you never know.

For instance, "Ou sont les neiges d'antan?" ("Where are the snows of yesterday?") crops up every now and then. I first became acquainted with this one through The Glass Menagerie, but it's actually a line from a medieval French song. Try saying this at a party when they run out of olives, and you'll soon see what I mean. You may even get the rest of the snacks to yourself. (Speaking of snacks, the strangest usage of this occurs in "Howl for Mayor McCheese.")

I have a theory that many English majors are romantic by nature. That's why we spent years toting around Norton Anthologies of Literature when everybody else was in business school. So, although I did not particularly care for this book, it should be no surprise that the final lines to The Great Gatsby ("So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past") are there, too.

And finally, I have been waiting for years to find a way to work "media assassin" into an appropriate context in the trade press. The moniker has been appropriated by just about everyone. However, we all know it rightfully refers to Harry Allen ("...I gotta ask him.") Here's a recent article quoting Harry on why black artists have been strangely silent during the recent public arguments about the economic nature of the music business.

Where was I? Oh, yes, E.M. Forster. Here's a new take: "E.M. Forster in An Age of Electronic Communication." Happy reading!

Posted at 09:30 PM