May 30, 2003
Art Wreck

While in New York we visited the Guggenheim which is featuring Matthew Barney's Cremaster series (this series of films is also playing in Chicago currently). While it was interesting to watch videos of people scaling the walls of the museum and flinging molten Vaseline on the floor, I was frustrated by exhibit's impenetrability. Everything seemed laden with meaning and symbolism, but nothing moved me. What's more, Barney himself is featured in a number of the films, usually in costume, which gave the whole thing the feeling of an expensive vanity project.

We left after a few hours, but the exhibit stayed with me until the next day, when I found two straws in a bag from a deli and held them to my forehead as I charged across the hotel room at E., yelling, "Look! I'm Matthew Barney as 'The Ram'!"

This is why E. is convinced he married a Philistine, and why I am never invited to any of those swanky art opening occasions.

I was unable to find the photo of "The Ram" character coated in whitish goo that was featured in the exhibit. You'll just have to imagine.

Posted at 03:21 PM
May 29, 2003

Here's the grownup version of "Let's Pretend": If money was no object, which kind of Oriental rug would you buy?

E. and I like to play this game, although for different reasons (he was raised to think an Oriental rug is required, while I was raised to think it is something other people own).

We stopped in a store in New York and rug-watched for a while last weekend. I watched an officious-looking guy in a suit supervise as dozens of rugs were rolled back, one on top of another, for some indecisive-looking people. When the group went away, an older salesman, nattily dressed in a navy blazer and a turban, stepped over to us. "Don't listen to that idiot," he told us, quietly. "He doesn't know what he's talking about."

Since we weren't actually in the market to buy anything and we hadn't been listening to anyone anyway, this was easy enough. He sized us up quickly and said sternly to E.: "She is trying to improve your environment. You listen to her." (Couldn't argue there.)

Later he caught up with us again in another room and started explaining to us about the intricate weave of one of the rugs. "Don't walk around the rugs here," he told us. "They are here to be walked on. You should always walk on a rug before you buy it."

This somehow led to a discussion of the various prejudices he has endured recently because he wears a turban and many people, even in New York, don't know what a Sikh is. "They think I am Taliban," he said. "In March, I am retiring. I am going home to India. I have been disgraced here."

We felt guilty, predictably, even though we weren't to blame, but in the back of my mind I thought it was a strange kind of sales pitch. He didn't seem too put out that we weren't buying anything, though, and throughout the whole rant he never lost his twinkle.

When he finally moved along, we skittered toward the door, only to be pulled back by the salesman one more time. He gave us a photocopy of an article in a rug industry publication that described him a a Persian rug expert, as if we had called it into question. And when he finally let go of us he patted E.'s arm with both hands, as if in a vague kind of benediction.

As I left the store I was careful to walk on all the rugs.

Posted at 09:02 PM
May 21, 2003
Hi, I'm Adam Sandler

B&W is on the road starting tomorrow. We'll return to our regularly scheduled postings on or after May 29.

Photo to contemplate during the pause:

Anger Management Nation, Madison & Wabash

Posted at 08:54 PM
May 19, 2003
Losing It

And in the first moment of her waking up
She knows she's losing it, yeah she's losing it

Just to add insult to injury, yesterday I walked away from Home Depot unknowingly leaving behind a notebook I'd had for a couple of years, in which I'd maintained, on and off, lists of everything I'd bought for the garden last year, some half-baked travel journals, a 40-year plan for me and E. (complete with nice illustrations, including us living in a barn), a list of ideas from the early days of B&W, a detailed plan for a zine we've always meant to do, etc.

Gone. Gone! I ran back a couple of hours later and stared at strangers' carts like a deranged person, but no luck. I talked to the unhelpful people at the store lost and found ("Well, sometimes we get lost stuff. But not always") but again, it was going nowhere.

What am I going to do about this? I can't keep losing things at this rate, or I won't have anything left.

At least with the lost shoes I could imagine that maybe some homeless person had made use of them. I can't imagine there are many homeless people hanging around Home Depot, though. And while none of this stuff is going to make the National Enquirer, its loss does sorely inconvenience me and is unlikely to be of much use to anyone else.

So if you do find a blue spiral notebook out there in Home-Depot land, you know who to contact. And please don't laugh at my drawings.

Posted at 09:54 PM
May 18, 2003
Pink Glass Vase

My grandmother had a lot of grandchildren, and so she had to be judicious in her gifts. Nevertheless, when I was a kid, I was delighted to be given the miniature pink glass vase and matching pitcher that I used to admire on the stand in her dining room.

As a child I also made it my business to note the preferences of all the important adults in my life: favorite color, favorite food, favorite animal, etc. When we got the call this morning she was gone, we were at Home Depot buying flowers for the beds and containers outside our building. As I walked back to our shopping carts filled with annuals, I noticed that by chance we had chosen mostly flowers in her favorite color: red.

She had been very ill for some time, and when the news came that she had pneumonia we all started preparing ourselves for the worst. When I tell people she lived to be 94 they seem surprised. I always have to restrain myself from retorting that I'd hoped she'd make it to 95.

Since then, I've been trying to move past the last few visits and assemble my good memories. In the end it's not a series of moments, like you'd think, but a series of actions that I remember. I remember my grandma who made peanut butter cookies, who taught me the days of the week in German, who played a mean game of euchre, who graciously forebore to eat spaghetti on Thanksgiving in 1988 when we realized we were the only two people in Ohio who didn't know how to cook. I didn't find it a funny story at the time, but she always reminded me of it later, with a laugh. She was there at every Christmas, every Thanksgiving, every Easter. Like me, there were a lot of things she refused to eat. Before the guests came she would hand me her comb and ask me to fix her hair.

She had strong ideas about how things should go. If you had doubts about where you should sit at a party or a funeral, she would tell you. She understood her place in the world through her relationships with other people. For many years she was the locus of all the news and was able to deliver a detailed account of the doings of all my relatives, and all their relatives.

Now that she's not here to tell us how to plan her funeral, we are all a bit adrift.

My last good memory is that she came to Indiana for my wedding in 1998, with "my bodyguard" as she referred to her companion. There's a lovely photo of her talking to my best friend. Grandma's looking a little serious, one finger raised, as if she's delivering a lesson on raising sons.

I've noticed that I don't have many pictures of her by herself. She's always part of a group: with her many brothers, with her husband, with her sons, later with her grandchildren or great-grandchildren. My favorite picture, though, is from one Christmas when my dad decided to give my grandmothers joke presents. Hers is something in a bottle, I'm not sure just what. In the picture, everyone is in a sea of Christmas wrapping paper, laughing. As always, she is part of a group.

But here, for once, Mary, the picture is just you.

I'll miss you.

Posted at 11:13 PM
May 17, 2003
A Damn Fool in Distress

My horoscope yesterday said "Travel is not a good idea," so on some level I wasn't surprised when my car hit the Biggest Pothole Known to Man (TM) and flattened my right front tire, leaving me stranded at the Citgo at Western, Diversey, and Elston. My idea of responding proactively to these situations is to have someone else fix them, but as I was in the midst of calling Triple A a nice man in a truck appeared and offered to change my tire. I felt helpless and stupid and I should know how to do things like this, but I am also realistic and realize that I'm probably never going to get around to learning it.

And I drove on the teenytiny spare over to the tire store and bought new tires, because the old ones were six years old and I considered the flat tire a sign of more bad things to come. I hadn't read up on the choices and thus was faced with a menu of options I didn't understand, plus lots of miscellaneous service charges and odd part expenses, and 400 exasperated dollars later the only solution I can think of is to get rid of the car and take the bus everywhere, forever and ever, amen.

In doing so I would be following in the footsteps of my grandmothers, who never drove, and my mother, who has pretty much stopped driving. They never had to worry about changing a tire, but they were helpless and dependent in other ways, and deep down I don't want to go down that road either.

So to speak.

And by the time everyone showed up for dinner I was pretty much over the whole thing, and even a little bit proud of my new tires, and for some reason I elected for us to drive downtown, because I wanted to see Lake Shore Drive in the evening light.

And we drove and ate pizza and watched night fall on the city, and I felt very American, except I guess if we were really going to be in step with the nation we would have been on our way to see The Matrix.

Posted at 09:18 AM
May 15, 2003
A Touch of Cranky

A worrying family situation* is running down my battery these days, so posting is expected to be light, with periods of clouds and showers. Cooler by the lake.

Mimi Smartipants rejects the Drifting Alienated Orb Of Adulthood, and so do I. Join us!

My, the spammers are getting defensive lately. I received this signature on a choice slice of spam yesterday:

Under Bill s. 1618 Title III passed by the 105th US Congress, this letter
cannot be considered Spam as long as the sender includes contact information and a method of "removal." If at any time you no longer wish to receive email from me, you may send an email to:
(sniparoo) With the word REMOVE in the subject line.

Here are just a few worrying aspects of this disclaimer:

1. Errant capitalization. Legislation or no legislation, the e-mail is not Spam, with a capital S. It is spam, lower case. So technically, they are correct. Neither is it a piece of processed meat product (in which case it would be all upper case). But who are they kidding? Of course it's spam, no matter how you slice it.
2. Uninformed use of quotes. Their reference to 'a method of "removal" ' is a little "unnerving." Are they going to "remove" me by force? In that case I won't be sending my address, I'll be changing it. In any case, the quotes cast the intent into doubt. It tends to make me think they're only "kidding" about "removing" my address.

You know, I still don't want to respond. I'd prefer a disclaimer to the effect of:

If at any time you no longer wish to receive email from me, you may send an email to: (sniparoo) With the word REMOVE in the subject line and I will immediately go outside and set myself on fire.

Not too much to ask, I think.

*Before you panic, know that these problems are NOT due to:
-Kitty eating disorders (chewed-rubber-band-orexia)
-Eric's compulsive hoarding of packaging materials
-My little matchbook-collection "problem"

But I am concerned about our unread magazine habit. Darn you, Internet!

Posted at 06:43 PM
May 11, 2003

I took a sort of "literary landmarks" tour yesterday, riding in an actual school bus with some other literary-minded folks. The trip began with an impromptu celebrity sighting as Studs Terkel, still spry at 90+, sprinted past us on his way to hail a cab. (We offered him a ride, but he waved us off, looking justifiably apprehensive.)

The tour ranged from the Northwest side to Humboldt Park and Hyde Park and finally wound its way downtown. Unfortunately, almost all of the houses were not on my side of the bus, so the photo quality is decidedly mixed. Even more unfortunately, many of the places the literary types lived or hung out in are now gone, so we found ourselves looking at more than a few parking lots.

Here are a few worth noting. This book is also reportedly a good source of similar information--probably better researched, albeit without that zany B&W spin.

Carl Sandburg apparently lived here, near Hermitage and Leland on the North Side.

I always imagine Nelson Algren living in dive-y sorts of places, but this brick house in Wicker Park is nice indeed.

Writer and screenwriter Ben Hecht's house in Hyde Park looks oddly shiny and candylike from here.

Meanwhile, back on the Gold Coast, Poetry magazine founder Harriet Monroe had a lovely home. Hmm, now that the magazine has been bequeathed $100 million, they could buy this building.

Posted at 06:05 PM
May 08, 2003
Personal Tinkerbell

Flesh and bone
By the telephone
Lift up the receiver
I'll make you a believer

Although it is the paradigm of the moment, I am bad with the electronic leash. Rather, I am indifferent to it. I have a cell phone that I usually don't turn on and when I do turn it on, I turn off the ringer. It exists solely for my convenience, so much that I have to look up my own phone number.

All this aside, I do like the current model of my little phone, which, like all of my phones, has been selected for its cuteness factor. I've found a fun trick: power up the phone in a full elevator and watch heads turn when it emits a silvery, glockenspiel-like tune. So far I've bashfully assured everyone "It's just my cell phone" but I think I'm going to have to get imaginative.

If I can figure out how to conceal the phone I'm going to start pretending I'm making the music. Or that it's my "personal guardian angel" checking in. Or maybe a sharp "Tinkerbell! Stop it!" will get them talking.

Any ideas?

Posted at 06:30 PM
May 07, 2003
The Baby Question

So, do you/are you/when are you having kids?

My way of deflecting this question is: "No, but we have cats. Wanna see pictures?"

As I reached my mid-30s I've found myself more and more out of step with people my age who are moving to the burbs and having families. As for me, I'm no more inclined to have children than I was 10 years ago. After much ruminating, I've realized that my real answer to "The Baby Question" may be "No, not now, and possibly not ever."

Most of the time I am able to believe that it's OK to feel that way. But there are a lot of societal messages that tell me that my answer is not, indeed, OK. (Do I need to make a list?) So sometimes I still question my own judgement.

As I get older, the stakes seem to get higher. They're apparently high for a lot of people, because the issue inevitably makes people on both sides of the fence feel defensive at best and hostile at worst. I wish it wasn't so divisive and that there were more ways to see comfortably across this particular fence. The author of this article takes rather a more generous view than is usually heard in this highly loaded discussion.

Posted at 06:54 PM
May 06, 2003
New on the Block

Ooh. Look!

Gapers Block, a Chicago-centric collaborative Weblog. Morning News and Gawker, scoot over!

Posted at 07:20 PM
Pot and Kettle, Again

Lois stopped in here and made a good point about the blogging vs. journalism debate that has occasionally raged here:

For example, would you say that an article printed in a club newsletter is journalism? Does something qualify as a newspaper if there are only 5 copies printed? 50? 500? If no one buys it (or runs ads to support it) and it's someone's private podium, is it still a newspaper?

When is a one-woman publication "journalism"? If I write things and let others read them -- it could be a newsletter, it could be self-promotion or advertising, it could be vanity, it could be a serial book or a journal.

Whether in print or electronic; I think it is the content, the intent, and the public-ness which determine if something is "journalistic" or not.

An interesting perspective and one we could debate endlessly. We'd need to define the terms a bit more specifically, I expect. As for intent, I came across the "Journalism statement of shared purpose" at which is the closest thing I can find to a definition of the profession.

Thanks for stopping, Lois!

Or maybe this should be titled "Dead Horse, Flogged, Again." Should I even go here, Google searchers?

Posted at 07:13 PM
May 05, 2003
City Mice

Coming soon: "City Mice, or Kitty Joyce Goes to the Suburbs"

Can two 30something Chicagoans find happiness, or even the place they're supposed to show up at, in the heart of the suburbs? This spellbinding epic explores such issues as:

Traffic: a survivor's story
Tolls: Why there's never enough nickels
What to Bring: Bottled water, magazines, music, maps...what else is in Anne's tote bag?
Relationships: How to keep from crying when your spouse erroneously takes the turn to the airport instead of home at 11:30 p.m.

SEE our hero and heroine try to determine the difference between Highland Road, Highland Parkway, and Highland Avenue (all in close proximity)
LAUGH as they sample the fare of the suburbs (TGI Fridays, anyone? "Actually, that chicken thing wasn't half bad.")
GASP as they gawk at huge McMansions ("LOOK AT THE SIZE OF THAT HOUSE!")
CRINGE as they try to cross streets with no sidewalks, dodging oversize SUVs and singing their school fight songs to keep their courage up

You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll wish you'd never left home.

In theaters soon!

Next summer: "City Mice II: Electric Boogaloo"

Posted at 10:52 PM
May 04, 2003

Way back in 1991, E.'s dad and grandmother showed me some of his baby pictures. They recounted with amazement how small he was (a preemie) and how his head could fit into the palm of his dad's hand.

I remember how proud they were and how lovingly they told me the story. Today, I know his folks would still be proud.

Meanwhile, how cute is this picture?

Cape May, August 1967. I wish I was in this picture, it is that cute.

Posted at 11:52 AM