December 31, 2002
Last Day of the Year

On the train this morning, the girl in the seat behind me was intently putting on doing her makeup. (Anyone who has tried to deal with loose powder in a moving vehicle knows how tricky this can be.) When she finished, she looked exactly the same as when she started. What does it mean to do all that work for no visible improvement?

Speaking of square one, here's an article in which Art Spiegelman explains why he's leaving the New Yorker, again (via MediaNews). (Hasn't this already happened?) I was struck by his comments about the current and past editorship of the magazine:

Sez he: "From where I sit it looks like David's trying to sew Tina's gains back into the earlier tradition of the magazine. And it must be said--I never read the earlier editions of the magazine. David grew up loving [former editor William] Shawn's New Yorker. "

As exciting as it would be to work for such a magazine, I feel a little sorry for anyone who tries to do so. It must be hard to work where you are constantly being defined by the people who went before. Not just the people who were in the job last, but people from previous decades, people everyone knows by name. What is it like to work where, no matter what you do, you will always be standing on the shoulders of giants? To always be compared, favorably or unfavorably, to someone else? Maybe there's something to be said, after all, for toiling in relative obscurity.

Art's latest project, a comic strip dealing with 9/11, is being serialized in The Forward. It's not online in its entirety, though, so you'll have to hit the newsstand.

Here's what "standing on the shoulders of giants" means, according to one

Posted at 04:53 PM
December 30, 2002

Updated the sidebar for the first time in a while, including new additions to the blogroll. I change this every so often for the sake of variety, more than anything else. I fully expect that some of these just-added people, for reasons unknown to me, are going to decide to update their sites only once every three weeks. It never fails.

I also threw aside all the books I was reading and started anew. It's a liberating feeling, especially when one of the books you're throwing aside is The Golden Bowl. I know I'll come crawling back later, and he'll always take me back, even if I was seen sneaking around with Gone With the Wind. Henry is good that way.

Posted at 10:00 PM
December 29, 2002
Futuristic Dog

I was listening to "Atomic Dog" the other day and it triggered one of those Proustian memories. (This is probably a first for George Clinton, having one of his songs mentioned in the same sentence as Proust.)

I first heard that song in 1984, riding an a classmate's car to a French restaurant in downtown Columbus. We were on our way to lunch with the French Club, because somehow eating in an upscale restaurant filled with Midwesterners was going to help us have a better understanding of French culture.

At the restaurant, T. ordered mussels, and M. teased me mercilessly. I'm sure there were other people along, but those two are all I remember. Not sure what we learned, although the place impressed me by serving lemon slices in the ice water. Some of my classmates had apparently never seen such a thing, either, and attempted to make lemonade by squeezing the slices and adding sugar. "We're now a public spectacle," muttered T., the kid who worried about bending his knees too much.

On the way back, our car was surrounded by flocks of children on a field trip downtown, probably to stare at the Statehouse rotunda. There seemed to be hundreds of them. "Where do they come from?" asked T. "They're a pestilence," said M. bitterly. But I wanted to get out and join them, despite my good clothes and the car. I knew we were just playing at being grown up. We weren’t fooling anyone, even if we had reservations. And, although we had to be back by sixth period, we had nowhere to go.

“Atomic Dog” was on, loud, in the car.

The restaurant is gone now, and I haven't seen my classmates in a long time. All that is left is this memory, which keeps bouncing around in my brain.


Posted at 11:04 AM

Hipsters, hipsters, you never saw such devoted hipsters.

I've got a giant bleeding aqua Pikachu melting all over my hand. This is cutting edge.

Posted at 10:30 AM
December 24, 2002
Christmas on Rush Street

Bells & Whistles will pause for the moment. We here at KJ Productions have presents to wrap, food to cook, and guests to entertain. Ho ho ho!

Posted at 09:16 AM
Christmas Afternoon

Robert Benchley wrote this sometime in the first third of the 20th century, but in many ways Christmas really hasn't changed that much:

And finally Mrs. Gummidge passed the Christmas candy around. Mr. Gummidge afterward admitted that this was a tactical error on the part of his spouse. I no more believe that Mrs. Gummidge thought they wanted that Christmas candy than I believe that she thought they wanted the cold turkey which she later suggested. My opinion is that she wanted to drive them home. At any rate, that is what she succeeded in doing. Such cries as there were of "Ugh! Don't let me see another thing to eat!" and "Take it away!" Then came hurried scramblings in the coat-closet for overshoes. There were the rasping sounds made by cross parents when putting wraps on children. There were insincere exhortations to "come and see us soon" and to "get together for lunch sometime." And, finally, there were slammings of doors and the silence of utter exhaustion, while Mrs. Gummidge went about picking up stray sheets of wrapping paper.

And, as Tiny Tim might say in speaking of Christmas afternoon as an institution, "God help us, every one."

--From "Christmas Afternoon, Done in the Manner, if Not the Spirit, of Dickens"

Posted at 09:11 AM
December 23, 2002
Ken Comes to Dinner

At the Bells & Whistles/Pickhits/Planet Shwoop summit meeting this weekend, Ken Goldstein made a surprise appearance.

Not shown is me yelling "Honey, look out for the BUS!" as a Western Express nearly grazes photographer Eric.

A good time was had by all, except maybe the bus driver.

Posted at 07:58 AM
December 21, 2002
The Habit

In the past few years I've almost come to dread the annual weekend food shopping trip (make the list, get in the car, schlep to the grocery, etc.). But I do it anyway, because what's the alternative?

Despite the monotony, convenience and habit perpetuate these patterns. In the last year, however, we've moved to a neighborhood with more small groceries and specialty shops and it's easier to imagine changing the habit. Frankly, dumping the car/megastore/corporate food ritual is one part of the American experience I'd like to do without.

This site could just be the inspiration for doing that.

The idea, its creator explains, is to spend the next [while] not shopping at corporate grocery stores, living instead on food purchased at neighborhood places. i figure this way i'll save money, explore chicago's independent food sellers, eat better(?) or at least, more interesting food, and i won't be supporting the man.

It includes reports on the writer's interesting and usually thrifty experiences at small grocers in Chicago, a list of stores, recipes, photos (!) and a useful aggregate of links on nontraditional shopping.

Posted at 08:31 AM
December 19, 2002
How's That Again?

Quote of the day (from today's e-mail, reported anonymously to protect the innocent)

"The storm of the century has come and gone - and all of us on the West Coast are braising for the next."

The whole coast is braising? Wow! And I thought a lot of people out there were vegetarians....

Posted at 07:53 PM
December 18, 2002
Two Towers

OK, so these are not literally towers, but I can't stand being left out of the fun.

Mike has been doing some nice think pieces about the Tolkien books, explaining their significance to him and his memories of reading them. He also attempts to grapple with the unloved ideology issue that drove him to "put the books away" for a while in adolescence.

Tolkien's response to the industrial revolution and the social upheavals it engendered is to wish longingly for a feudal past that never was. If there's no heavy industry, how can there be sin, to paraphrase the Sex Pistols, and of course the Anabaptists.

In a way, I am glad I didn't read the books until now, because I can spare myself the political correctness that probably would have plagued me, too, as a student. Instead, I've found the reading experience to be a relief and a delight. I've devoured the books like snack food this year, marveling at the good story, the detail of the literary vision, and the liveliness of a good read.

Some days, that's all I want.

I won't be pushing any of the devotees out of the way at the theaters tonight; but I look forward to a twilight show over the holidays with friends, ideally at a theater with stadium seating, and popcorn.

See you there!

I expect I'm not taking this seriously enough for the hard-core fans, but that's OK. I'll be first in line at The Hours with my English degree on my sleeve.

Posted at 06:56 PM
December 17, 2002

I bet I'm a latecomer to discovering this site, but Chicago Uncommon has some great images of the city of real clarity and power. It's also a nice use of the MT interface for a photo blog, complete with categories, reading list, and prints for sale. If I was homesick for Chicago, I'd go here all the time.

Posted at 07:30 PM
December 16, 2002
Drive Friendly

Bad driving knows no borders.

On Sunday, after witnessing a spectacular display of bad driving on Western Avenue, we came up with the idea of designing signs to hold up in your car to offending drivers. (Much to my surprise, Caterina recently has had the same idea.) At the very least, it certainly would send a clearer message to people than the usual array of gestures.

My ideas:
For indiscriminate lane-weavers:

For mindless yappers:

For people driving as if they've had a few too many:

For solo drivers of behemoth SUVs:

And finally, for general displays of insouciant disregard for other drivers, a stern rebuke:

Posted at 09:57 PM
December 14, 2002
A Tribute To Soup

On a cold winter's night, there is nothing like coming home to a hot bowl of tom kha kai.

You have to envision this bowl steaming hot, which it was, although that is hard to photograph. Chips along the side of the bowl are optional, although at my house they are mandatory.

Here's a recipe, one of many out there.

Or, if you're in Chicago, you can go here.

Posted at 11:16 AM
December 12, 2002
Eaten by the '80s

During said stomach flu, I watched a lot of daytime cable TV. Perhaps it was my near-delirium, or perhaps I just didn't have the right channels, but I felt like I was being eaten alive by the '80s. Throughout the day it was a festival of poofy sleeves, spiky bangs, and Ray-Bans.

Two links to note in that spirit then, via the Marchlist:

Top 20 Pop Singles of the 1980s (as written by a reader of the New York Times).
You may not like them all, but you'll remember them.

And finally: Some people have way too much time on their hands. But this is worth a good laugh.

Heaven is defined a moose. (I owned this record, believe it or not.)

Posted at 01:00 PM
Bureaucrats, Melba Toast, and the No. 81

Friday, 3:30 p.m.
On the no. 81 bus to Jefferson Park, a chatty woman with a cane helps me hoist my suitcase. She offers to keep an eye on it for me and tells me how she's foiled several pickpockets on the bus. As we crawl up Lawrence Avenue, another woman, who can barely speak English apparently, offers to hold my shoulder bag on her lap, but that's not necessary. We're all in this together!

Later, I sit down next to the woman with the cane, who tells me her son's fiance has come up with an innovative alternative to cranberry sauce: applesauce mixed with melted Red-Hots and cherries. Yikes! Time to get off the bus.

Saturday, noon.
There's a lot of snow in suburban Maryland, and they don't really know how to deal with it. I appreciate for the first time Chicago's efficient dealings with snow. Intersections are cleared, salt is sprinkled, all with a minimum of fuss. This businesslike manner hasn't made its way East yet. In the downtown area of Frederick, we see some icicles that could easily put your eye out. Let's move along!

Sunday, 4 p.m.
Before it gets too dark, I wander around downtown DC, where nothing is open. Where the shops are open, everyone working there seems unnaturally friendly.

I search hopelessly for a Sunday Washington Post, but all I can find is the New York Times, alas. In the pale blue light, with everything silent and icy, the streets and buildings seem white and clean to me.

It's DC, I keep thinking. I could see a little piece of history today. I could run into anyone here! I could run into some of our leaders and we could sit down over some hot chocolate and work out our differences. It could happen. I mean, if something was open.

Monday, 7:30 a.m.
In the frosty morning, before the day officially begins, I find a little time to walk some more. I make it as far as the Washington Monument.

What's that I see? I think it's a bureaucrat! However, everyone is so bundled up, it's hard to tell the bureaucrats from the regular people.

The rest of the day is filled with meetings, cell phone calls, panic about the LCD projector, and finally dinner with Grumpy Sean and M. Hey, pass the chocolate mousse!

Tuesday , 5 a.m.
There seems to be a nasty stomach virus going around, and I've got it. This is not good.

Tuesday, 11 a.m.
Sitting in my hotel room, drinking ginger ale and chewing Melba toast. It just doesn't get any better than this.

Wednesday, 3 p.m.
After opting for an early flight home, I find myself back in Chicago. I feel fine as long as I don't eat anything, but I suspect this is not a long-term solution.

The rusty scenery, indifference of service employees, and urine-scented passageway to the CTA all tell me I'm home again. On the Walkman "All Things Must Pass" reminds me that it certainly wouldn't take much for tomorrow to be an improvement on today. And here I am, back in Jefferson Park, heading for the No. 81 bus.

Posted at 12:22 PM
December 05, 2002
Eye in the Park

Photo to contemplate during the pause:

Mosaic in People's Park, Bloomington, IN, December 2002

Posted at 07:25 PM
Notes from All Over

Off to DC for a few days. No more entries until after 12/11, when I return.

But first a few notes:

From the It's a Matter of Semantics Department:

You could call it a cut if you like. We're saying it's a return to the normal level of funding that we found in 2001.

--a spokesman for a federal agency involved in the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program, from which the Bush administration has proposed cutting $300 million (from its $1.7 billion budget), quoted in the New York Times.

I expect his office is heated, however.

And, from the Consider the Source Department:

I believe we should err on the side of sensationalism, rather than on the side of being boring....Because why should people read the paper if it's boring?

--Neil Steinberg of the Sun-Times, speaking at a panel featuring speakers from the Chicago media scene, including both daily newspapers, the Reader, and Northwestern's Medill School. (Via Media News)

Posted at 07:21 PM
December 04, 2002
What Time Is It?

The world's increasingly becoming a global village, but I still never know what time it is anywhere else. Recently I found myself puzzling over what time it is in Mississippi. Is it eastern, central, deep-south time?

The answer, I discovered at, is central time. You can find anything out on the Internet--even what time it is.

Even the Navy pitches in, which is considerate when you think about how much they must have on their plates these days. However, this page offers a baffling caveat, or an example of Americans taking things way too seriously:

Unfortunately, no U.S. Web page can provide official information on world time zones because nations are sovereign powers that can and do change their timekeeping systems as they see fit.

In other words: don't quote us on that.

It's nice to know that nations can change their timekeeping systems "as they see fit" although I don't recall ever hearing an example of this. It seems like something you'd want to keep on top of, for example when calling Cousin Joe in the People's Republic of Loosechangia:

You: Hey, Joe! What's up?
Joe: Can you call me back? It's dinner time.
You: ?? But it's 10:30 a.m.!
Joe: Dude, we changed our timekeeping system. As we saw fit. Hey, pass the potatoes!

Posted at 09:19 PM
December 03, 2002
Over and Over

Today I got to work and realized I had changed my system password yesterday and then promptly forgotten it.

I immediately went into one of those panic-driven fugue states in which the very realization I have forgotten makes it impossible for me to remember anything.

I once forgot my locker combination at the Y and had to have the door pried open with a crowbar. To this day, I have no idea what the combination was, even though I had the lock for several years.

Today was not so bad, however. I managed to track some mental breadcrumbs and remember the password. Shaken, I wrote the password down on a mini post-it and turned over my keyboard

(WARNING: DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. IT IS AGAINST THE RULES! Virtuous people do not write down passwords and hide them in obvious places, according to my IS department. This has been a message from the Council for Better Password Management)

only to find another post-it there, with a password from long ago and far away.

This feeling of doing things over and over again without even realizing it plagued me throughout the day.

By day's end, the soundtrack of my life was playing back the greatest record you never heard, John Giorno's "Put Your Ear to Stone and Open Your Heart to the Sky." It's not really a song but a recording of Giorno reciting a poem, multitracked and repeating key phrases two or three times each until it gets a rhythm of its own.

Twenty-one years old now, the recording doesn't seem to be available online, alas. Every so often I pull it out on my way to work, enjoying the banality

I'm standing by the sink washing the dinner dishes with a plastic sponge

or the well-articulated outrage at some unseen listener

and if there's one thing that drives me crazy it's stupidity

or the small, distracted details of compulsion that everybody knows, but nobody wants to talk about:

You're standing by the refrigerator spooning into your mouth Sara Lee light and luscious yogurt chiffon cherry pie, and you almost finished the whole aluminim pie tin all by yourself

I also get that bland ironic thrill of appropriating old-skool hipsterism to articulate early 21st century yuppie angst. This is OK; it seems to be part of my recommended daily allowance, like calcium, or guilt about the environment that can be mostly assuaged by recycling.

Can't get enough? There's a little Giorno material at the Barcelona Review and also at UbuWeb. And to bring it all back home, Bloomington's The Pin-Up runs periodic "time warp" features including this review, as well as flashbacks to local appearances by MX-80, Patti Smith, and, uh, The Make-Up (for memory-impaired mavens who miss the mid-'90s).

And me? I have done as the man says. I have put my ear to stone and opened my heart to the sky, and the only thing I have ever heard is myself, and possibly some air in the ductwork.

Posted at 10:00 PM
December 02, 2002
A Spell of Weather

We've had a spell of weather here lately (as if we ever have anything else, come to think of it).

8 am. A few wet flakes float to the ground on Michigan Avenue. I see a woman in front of me in bare legs and a miniskirt, and feel very cold.

11 am. Coworkers keep wandering over to the window to look at the swirling eddies between our office building and the neighboring buildings.

"Three to six inches, I heard," says one balefully.

Noon. I consider going outside for some air, think again, decide to go to the CVS and buy new toothbrushes instead.

4 pm. Coworker stranded in neighboring midwestern state calls. She has spent the day at the airport, unhappily for her. She will be out tomorrow as well, unhappily for me.

7 pm. I walk part of the way home, having spent most of the day covering ground between my desk and the printer. There's only a few inches on the ground, and many industrious people have already been at work shoveling. I do pass a few shovelers on my way. They inevitably pause as I crunch by, and I smile, guiltily.

As I near home, I expect to get a phone call from my family, wanting details on the weather, the start of a conversation where they will inevitably try to prove that Florida is the superior state to live in.

Maybe they're right, but I don't think so tonight. Not at all.

Posted at 09:39 PM
A Thought

People who order rabbit for dinner probably aren't going to think it as funny as you do when you persist in referring to it as "the bunny" all night.

"How's the bunny?"

"Do you like that wine with the bunny?"

"What kind of a sauce is on that bunny?"

It's amazing I ever get taken out to eat.

Posted at 09:31 PM