November 28, 2002
Drive with Pie

Today is Thanksgiving, which means today we eat pie.

I am fairly ambivalent about Thanksgiving food. Most of it (sweet potatoes, stuffing, etc.) is too heavy for me. (Cranberry sauce, however, redeems the day.) The worst, by far, is the infliction of pumpkin pie, which I've never really warmed up to. My solution, then, is to bake an apple pie, which usually satisfies everybody.

My mother always said it was difficult to make pie, so she rarely did it. I think she was referring to the crust, for which she may have had overly high expectations. I've found it's pretty easy to make the crust, certainly easier and less tedious than peeling and chopping 8 or 9 appples (a combination of Granny Smith and Macintosh).

Tip: Pre-cooking the apple slices in butter and cinnamon before you put them in the crust will soften and slighty caramelize them. You want caramelization, whether you know it or not.

My favorite part is brushing the top crust with milk and topping with sugar. And don't forget to carve a cryptic message into the crust for venting purposes. (Ours, though it may be difficult to make out, reads "This guitar kills fascists.")

Bake for 20 minutes with foil around the edges, otherwise your crusts will burn. Bake for another 20 minutes or so without the foil.

Get in the car and drive with pie for at least an hour, until you get to wherever you're going. Or, stay home and admire.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Posted at 10:15 AM
November 27, 2002
Revolving Door

According to this editorial, the kind of news that gets reported in major newspapers may be affected by the gender of the newsroom management. For instance:

...male and female reporters covered a similar agenda of issues if they worked for a newspaper with a large number of women in managerial positions. However, if they worked for a paper with a low number of women newsroom managers, there was likely to be a skewed pattern in assignments, with males more often covering politics and females more likely to cover education and human-interest features.

Is this giving the people what they want? This article says no, although I daresay the perception is relative:

...certain types of content have a greater potential to make readers read more. At the top of the list is "intensely local, people-centered news, which includes stories about ordinary people," and lifestyle news--the positive material surveys find is associated with the presence of women newsroom managers.

There's a certain leap in logic here that I don't completely follow. Isn't it just a short slide from there to the news nuggets about the percentage of Americans eating celery that USA Today has brought to us? But maybe that's getting off topic.

Just 1 in 5 of the nation's top female editors say they definitely want to move up in the newspaper industry, according to a study released this fall by the American Press Institute and The Pew Center for Civic Journalism. In contrast, almost 1 out of 2 said they expected to leave their company or the news business entirely, far more than the 1 in 3 men who say they want to move up or change careers.

I'd like to see more about what's causing this exodus, but the literature hasn't done a great job of addressing this yet. Are the women leaving because they're fed up, overworked, underpaid, quitting to raise families? These questions remain unanswered, but I see the door revolve every day and it makes me wonder.

Posted at 09:38 PM
November 26, 2002
The Nerds Live On

Brian's musing set off a whole train of thought about the Ashtray Boy song "I Am Sponge" which is a song told from the point of view of a sea sponge. The band's Web presence seems kind of sketchy, but I thought this picture was pretty fun.

Their 1996 (!) tour diary includes some amusing musings on the "Ajax nerd" and if you lived in Chicago in the mid-90s, you know what the narrator is talking about:

This is a qualitative description of a subculture of indie enthusiasts--they are almost always bespectacled males in their early/mid-20s. They are always friendly, posing Chicago-gossip-related questions with bated breath...

I am not a bespectacled male, but I expect I was indeed some brand of Ajax nerd, especially when they had their own store down on Chicago Avenue. During the first year I lived here, we made a monthly trip to Ajax, where I spent my carefully budgeted entertainment dollars on CDs, zines, and 7" records.

The label is gone now, and the store is, too. But, as we like to say here at Bells and Whistles, the nerds live on. Here's a recent article about what Tim Adams is up to these days, and a link to his new label.

Posted at 07:33 PM
November 25, 2002
Bon Voyage

...So the others retired to the kiosk,
Only to discover the cakes iced a peculiar shade of green
And the tea-urn empty
Save for a card on which was written the single word:

What is it about November that makes people want to move? Seems like everybody's doing it.

In the virtual world, on my very own bloglist, Megnut, Burke and Wells, Expiration Date and Dooce are all on the verge or in the throes of moving. And in the real world, today Chicago said goodbye to our own Cokokat, who is moving with her husband to take a turn at small-town living.

All this moving makes me feel a little wistful, for no good reason. I certainly have changed residences enough times in the last few years; there were years I should have invested in leading packing tape manufacturers. What I miss is the sense of Big Adventure.

Now, make no mistake: Big Adventure is certainly a lot more desirable when it's happening to someone else. When Big Adventure makes its way back around to me, you can count on me reacting with a howl of fury, at least in my bad moments. I will back into a big opportunity with my eyes shut if I can at all help it. It's just my hard wiring.

For the moment, though, I'm on the sidelines. Fortunately, we are good at keeping track of our friends. We visit them wherever, in Indiana or in Seattle or in North Outerwear, WI.

Still, it is hard to say goodbye. At the last minute, after the stuffed peppers and the rum cake and the stories about our old school, I kept stumbling over the idea that there was something I borrowed that I should give back, or something I loaned out that I should ask for. What are we dealing in here--a book, a CD, a piece of clothing? In the end, what is the currency of friendship?

I kept looking around for the answer, because it seemed important to do one more thing.

The currency is memory. The currency is today. The currency is tomorrow.

See you soon.

This is the text of the famous Gorey book quoted above, although it seems to have gotten the chronology wrong, or maybe they are just trying to evade the lawyers.

Posted at 08:48 PM
November 20, 2002
Pardon this Popup

According to the AP, has waived subscription fees for readers willing to click through a ten-second interactive commercial.

It's insanely hard to prove value for online advertising, short of outright sales of products, and that's where this is coming from. Television Without Pity, another good read, recently posted a plea to readers to click through its banner ads to keep the content free.

I can sympathize with these companies. It's no fun to run a Web site, or a publication, on no money and keep standards of quality.

It is unnerving, however, to see the iron fist of commerce crashing through my monitor every day. It's not enough just to put up with the ads, we have to INTERACT with them. Ideally, we should rush off and buy an X10 right now.

Working in magazines, I've always been grateful that no one has come up with a way to force readers to read magazine ads. (Let's all thank our lucky stars that a complimentary neck brace that forces you to look straight ahead at the magazine is not really cost efficient.) In the magazine world there is (or was) value to being a reader. Magazines do surveys and audits to describe their readers and why it's a good thing these people read the magazine loyally.

Because it's harder to collect demographics on your audience on the Web, it's harder to know who the reader is.

In the reader/readee conundrum that is the Web, the relationship is increasingly becoming devalued. Because they likely don't know who you are, what becomes important is what you do.

Chances are whether or not you visit a Web site loyally doesn't matter as much to a Web advertiser. They just want you to give them something, anything. And so they create more obtrusive popups, more obnoxious ads in the middle of stories, and so on. You can't just read it, you really have to click it. And ideally you'll haul out that credit card, buddy, and give us your e-mail address for more special offers! Because YOU HAVE NOTHING BETTER TO DO THAN CONSUME.

The "reader" becomes the consumer and the commercial transaction becomes secondary to the reading transaction--in this grim little scenario.

What's the alternative, then? Ignore the pop-ups and let the advertisers go begging? Great, until they pull their ads from our favorite online publications. Be prepared to kick in for the subscription fees then, or find somewhere else to go.

This blog remains brought to you free, courtesy of Bells and Whistles, a division of Kitty Joyce Productions, Ltd. All rights reserved. Do not spindle, fold, or mutilate. Offer good at participating locations.

Posted at 08:46 PM
November 19, 2002
"I Must Look Like a Dork"

A couple of notes I wanted to make last week before the Great ISP Crack-Up of 2002 began:

We saw Sigur Ros last week from the top of the Riviera Theater. Really an interesting show. Not sure what it means that I work with language all day long and yet go to see a band who sing in a foreign or made-up language, depending on the day. Not that there's anything wrong with that...just ask the Cocteau Twins.

Enjoyed this review of SR:
...listening to Sigur Ros is one of those experiences that makes a guy wonder if he isn't one step shy of reading Self magazine.

Speaking of the '80s, I've been entertained by the Pitchfork Top Albums of the '80s List. These lists are always fun to find fault with, but I enjoyed sauntering remembering what was required listening for hipsters or proto-hipsters in those days. (Now playing, coincidentally: The Minutemen, "Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing")

Speaking of hipsters, those wacky QAX alumni are everywhere. I found this one at random.

Does anyone actually WANT "Internet that Logs on to You"? As frenetic and busy as we all are, I'm not sure I want to be at the Internet's beck and call. Doesn't the Internet have anything better to do than logging on to me when I'm trying to do something else? We ought to get it some hobbies.

I AM a dork.

What are you? Be creative. I know you're spoiled by those "What kind of cheese/drink/flavored water are you" quizzes, but I don't have the time to put one of those together, so you'll have to answer the old fashioned way: use your imagination, or steal something you saw on TV.

Posted at 05:38 PM
November 18, 2002
First Snow

I woke up yesterday morning and everything looked strangely white outside.

I started exclaiming and woke up Eric, who thought the house was afire, and the cats, who thought it was time for breakfast.

And so it was. Time for breakfast, I mean. Not on fire! But first, I put on a sweatshirt and some slippers and some flannel pajamas and ran outside with my camera.

First snow of the year--untouched. Well, almost.

Later, of course, it melted.

Posted at 09:44 PM
November 15, 2002
Farewell, Orange Crates

Now, as I was saying.

DZ has been trying his hand at woodworking lately. His first outside assignment has been to help us organize the multi-media nightmare that is our office.

So far, it's been a success. On Monday he delivered a seven-foot-high CD shelf made of solid maple. (Yes, we have a lot of CDs. We are music people.)

It's exciting because it was custom made for us by a friend and didn't require a trip to Ikea. It's also an exception to the rule that most of my furniture is either a) from Target, b) found in a thrift shop or c) inherited from family. It allows us to say farewell, orange crates! Goodbye, particle board!

As you can see, he did a great job. (Pig and Opus not included.)

Posted at 09:40 PM

Lord, I've been trying to post to my blog
Lord, I've been trying to understand the error log
But each time it gets a little harder
I get the message "Sorry, this file is write protected"
But I'll try again.

With apologies to Bell/Chilton.

Posted at 09:34 PM
November 12, 2002
Civic Duty

Dear Mr. Mayor,

I was walking home tonight along Michigan Avenue and started to wonder about something. Namely, along one of the most heavily trafficked streets in the city, where nearly everyone wants to hand you something, where are the trash cans?

I wondered this after I passed numerous people handing out copies of Red Eye, assorted Chinese restaurant menus, and two well-dressed guys handing out flyers to an Escada sample sale. I took the last item, read it, and decided I'll never go to the sale, because who am I kidding? Anyway, I ended up carrying the flyer for blocks because I couldn't find any trash cans.

What is the policy here, anyway? Is the homeland security thing still such an issue that we can't have trash cans on the Magnificent Mile (although there are still some outside the building where I work, thanks very much)? Has there been a problem with homeless people, say, sleeping in the trash cans? That hardly seems likely. Is this part of a plan to justify the cost of those street-sweeping bubbles on wheels (Green Machines) I see city employees driving? I don't want to hurt their feelings. And the last thing I'd want to do is get run over by an irate street-sweeping bubble driver. But hasn't this gone far enough? Please, Mr. Mayor, let us dispose of our trash!

Well, that's all for now. Have a great week!

Your friend,
Bells and Whistles

Posted at 07:09 PM
November 11, 2002
Food Rules and Work

Pluses about working from home:
1. Less compulsive e-mail checking.
2. More extended periods of concentration and thus a greater likelihood of getting things done.
3. Instead of 45-minute commutes to and from the office, I can substitute kitty bonding time and strolls around the neighborhood.

1. Neighbor across the street turns on mega-size TV in front of his/her front window at 3 p.m., making me want to go watch reruns instead of sitting at the computer.
2. Posture? What posture?
3. Irresistable urge to eat nothing but peanut butter all day long. This can't be healthy.

Yet anyone who has known me for a while is aware that arbitrary eating is a way of life in my household. For entertainment purposes only, I present a few of my arbitrary food rules:

1. No nuts in food, although I have nothing against nuts on an individual basis. I object most strenuously when nuts take up space in a baked good, space that could have been used by a chocolate chip. I also feel this way about raisins.
2. No cheese in food, although cheese is fine on its own.
3. I would prefer to avoid mayonnaise, pecan pie, and cauliflower in any combination or on their own.
4. Bananas should be slightly green and not bruised. If they are getting too sweet and speckled with brown, give them to Eric, who will let them turn black and then make banana bread out of them.
5. Speaking of banana bread, I would just as soon skip it. As I would all fruit breads. Fruit and bread are fine on their own, but in combination they makes me unhappy.
6. Please don't make me eat gourds. I just can't do it and will leave the room as a way to avoid it.

Surprisingly, then, I enjoyed reading about Poupou's chocolate peanut butter surprise recipe. Even though I don't really like...surprises. But with such great directions, you'll be laughing all the way to the food co-op.

Posted at 05:18 PM
November 09, 2002
Mice that Roared

Kurt Cobain is back in the news again, and the papers can't get enough of the guy who gave such a mighty roar of disaffection in the early '90s. "Here we are now, entertain us," indeed.

On election day, ironically enough, I find myself thinking about Galaxie 500, who voiced similar sentiments in a much quieter, less frenzy-inducing fashion in "Tugboat" in 1988, when the Seattle sound was just poking its head out of the northwest.

I don't wanna stay at your party
I don't wanna talk with your friends
I don't wanna vote for your president
I just wanna be your tugboat captain

It's a place I'd like to be
It's a place I'd like to be
It's a place I'd like to be
It's a place I'd be happy

(repeat ad nauseum)

You can hear a sample here.

It fused bratty ennui with a simple, elegiac melody and never went out of my head. It was not "stupid and contagious" but it made an impact on me.

If you like this band, you'll like this! Check out the "artist browser" on Allmusic here.

In recent years, G500 has enjoyed a renewal of interest from the kids. How much do you know about them? Take the Galaxie quiz.

Who was the tugboat captain? This FAQ says it's is a reference to Sterling Morrison, "guitarist for the Velvet Underground, also worked for a time after VU's demise on a tugboat."

But this interview says that Damon K. used to work on a tugboat. You be the judge!

In other Cobain hype, Pete Townshend recently reviewed the diaries in the Guardian. As usual, he pulls no punches:

It is desperately sad for me to sit here, 57 years old, and contemplate how often wasteful are the deaths of those in the rock industry. We find it so hard to save our own, but must take responsibility for the fact that the message such deaths as Cobain's sends to his fans is that it is in some way heroic to scream at the world, thrash a guitar, smash it up and then overdose. (via OJR)

What are the kids listening to today? I enjoyed a saunter through Nonstop Pop, whose author goes to more shows than anyone I know. This week's entry is an eyewitness account of indiepop luminaries at CMJ.

Posted at 08:16 AM
November 06, 2002
November Rain

It's hard to hold a candle/In the cold November rain.

Once the election's over, it's all downhill from here if you're not a winner. They are not long, these days of wine and roses--or, perhaps, Guns and Roses.

Yes, I did vote. But in general, I am awfully disaffected when it comes to current politics. For this reason, then, it was ironic that I read the following item about the federal budget yesterday, Election Day.

(Note: Hey, don't stop reading! Most people's eyes glaze over at the mention of the federal budget, and in many ways I am no exception. However, this process is where the government spends our tax dollars, so it is in theory worth following.) The government's appropriations are usually decided in a series of 13 appropriations bills related to different federal departments. As a rule (but not often in practice), this process is supposed to be completed by October 1.

To date, the only two appropriations bills for FY 2003 that have been signed into law this year are for Defense and Military Construction.

Good to know: whatever happens, we can always afford war.

Read more here and here.

Also, The American Institute of Physics keeps a vigilant eye on this stuff, with an interest in the scientific bills. Here's a recent update.

Posted at 09:23 PM
November 04, 2002
The Silence

My parents visited this weekend and, as always, I got to find out a little more about the various members of my rambling, clannish family. This time my dad felt like talking about his father, my grandfather.

Grandpa was unusual in the family in that he was deaf. As the story goes, he was deaf because the doctor used forceps on his head when he was born. His mother was able to rudimentarily teach him how to speak. But when he was a boy, he was sent (about 100 miles away) to Columbus to what is now the Ohio School for the Deaf.

The school, according to historians, was the first "established on the principle that the state must defray the entire expense of providing a complete education for the deaf." (My father still refers to it by its former and politically incorrect name, the School for the Deaf and Dumb.) Today, the site of the school is the location of the city's famous Topiary Garden, where Seurat's "A Sunday Afternoon On The Island of La Grande Jatte" is recreated in shrubbery.

I can't help but wonder what it felt like to be that little boy, sent away with his trunk, to a big city and a strange school. The school helped him, though, by teaching him to speak and read lips.

Grandpa returned to northern Ohio and had various careers and stints in the family businesses. He was a barber for a while, then he owned a hardware store. For a while he was a bank president in his little town. Later in his life, my dad says, he saw the bottom fall out of the hardware business and decided to return to barbering.

He married my Grandma on October 21, 1926. I never got many details about their courtship, although she did mention to me once that in their youth they went to parties and played spin the bottle. I have this idea that her wedding dress--a long-sleeved, lacy '20s dress--was pink, but no one has corrorborated. In the early photos he is a handsome young man, with curly dark hair and dark doelike eyes. A good catch for my grandma, who must have been thrilled.

They had three sons and were married for 53 years.

By the time I came along, he had a hearing aid and it was hard to tell that he was, indeed, deaf. He never acted any different from the rest of us, except sometimes he turned off the hearing aid and retreated into his own world. This seemed to frustrate my Grandma to no end, and she (always a loud talker) would just talk louder, as if to penetrate the silence.

I don't have anything he wrote; I don't know what he liked to read. Because of the deafness and the silence, he was mostly an enigma to me. He liked to take us for drives (maybe to escape the shouting?) and would drive my dad and me around in his big blue car. He didn't talk or play much, but he was a peaceable presence on holidays in my otherwise rather excitable family. My mom says he was always very nice to her, which must have been a good thing for a daughter-in-law unused to so much hubbub.

In early September 1975 Grandpa had a heart attack, and I missed the first week of third grade as we sat in endless hospital waiting rooms to see if he would get better. He did get better, but the next four years were a litany of illnesses. In the end his heart didn't get him, but cancer did.

He died on September 10, 1979, when I was 12. His funeral was like visiting another planet. I remember the group of elderly relatives who stood around the coffin, loudly and tonelessly praying the Rosary. And I remember after the burial, we all went over to the Moose Hall and had lunch.

Grandma has now outlived him by 23 years. I'm not sure she expected to wait that long.

Years after he died, I dreamed he appeared to me looking much as I remembered, wearing his straw hat with a little round feather. My reaction, in the dream, was to reflexively burst into tears. But he looked at me kindly and shook his head gently, as if to say "no." And in the dream, I stopped crying. What this means, or meant, I have no idea. But it was certainly vintage Grandpa: calm, gentle, and without words.

Posted at 08:57 PM
November 01, 2002


I talk too much in public these days, and it may be getting out of control.

It started when I (audiby) said "Wow, that's a boatload of popcorn" when the guy in front of us at the movies bought, indeed, a boatload of popcorn. This made Eric nervous, although, as I pointed out, calling something a "boatload" is not a value judgement. It's just what everyone else is already thinking.

But there's other things, too. I tend to talk to bad drivers, especially when I'm a pedestrian in an intersection and they are blindly surging forward at me in their Range Rovers, talking on their cell phones. I sincerely doubt they hear me screech "THANKS FOR STOPPING!" It feels empowering anyway, but I suppose it could get me into trouble.

Jessamyn writes about being kind to the poor. How we relate to the less fortunate--to the homeless and the panhandlers and the Streetwise guys--is a problem for any thoughtful person who lives in the city.

This week, a new problem arose. I felt bad when I complimented a Streetwise saleswoman on her jeans. I actually thought they were nice jeans, patchworked together with different colors, and I spontaneously said "Hey, I like your jeans!" She looked a little surprised, then thanked me.

Then I wondered if I had done something inappropriate. It it the mark of a shallow fashion victim to compliment the homeless on their apparel? Would it be more appreciated to say, "Here's all my spare change, and I'm running home to call my congressman and demand more attention to social problems in America?" Am I not taking people's problems seriously enough? I wondered.

On the other hand, what must it be like to be ignored ruthlessly by the same self-absorbed business people day after day? Or to be treated as a symbol, rather than a person ("Hey, because I have given you a dollar, I have Helped the Homeless (TM) today! Excuse me while I go back to insider trading!"). Is it a bad thing to say "Hello, fellow human being. You have nice pants," and mean it?

Dunno. Too late to find out.


Posted at 09:38 PM
The Slow Life

Joan Juliet Buck, former editor of French Vogue, is now writing a column for House & Garden (not online, alas) on "the Slow Life" now that she's moved to Santa Fe. The article reads like one of those "living more simply" stories, how she got bored with her Manolos and traded them in for hiking boots, discovered the thrill of mountain climbing, etc. More fodder for disenchanted yuppies, annoying but believable. Until the end:

"It's been a month now that the Atalaya has been forbidden to us. The hiking boots are almost clean....Today we were getting a little bored here in the slow lane, so we went to dinner at El Nido in Tesuque at 6:30. We still wanted some excitement as we drove back into town. I remembered that a new Albertson's was opening at the de Vargas Mall. The parking lot was almost full. A banner over the door said 'Grand Opening.' We stepped eagerly toward it. We were trying to crash the opening of a supermarket. "

It's touching, in a way, when someone is so out of touch with the way most Americans live that they think it is a novelty. Driving to the suburbs? Visiting the mall? Crashing the supermarket opening? An Albertson's, for pete's sake?

And you wonder why the kids dream of moving to New York, or Paris, or anywhere?

And as they head out of town, away from their simplifying elders, they are all breathing one prayer: "Please, please, don't let me turn into that."

Posted at 09:32 PM