Unknown pleasures

I just found out that my oldest co-worker, the one closest to retirement, used to be a drummer in a postpunk band around 1980. This soft-spoken expert in government data had a secret past, I found, while I was looking for his research online. This was like discovering that Queen Elizabeth played baritone sax behind Little Richard on “Tutti Frutti” in 1955. 

In the ten years before this, the only time he and I talked about music was when he had gone to see Wagner’s Ring Cycle, an opera production so long that it takes four nights to see the whole thing. “My tastes have changed,” he admitted when I brought this up. 

His band had originally been punk, playing in the style of the Clash and Sex Pistols, he said, but they dropped their entire set list and switched to a Joy Division kind of sound just to attract a better-behaved audience to their live shows. 

Top ten military drones or Old Spice fragrances

1. Arctic Force 

2. Hercules

3. Pacific Surge

4. Outlaw Seahunter

5. Fire Scout

6. Danger Zone

7. Smooth Blast

8. Global Hawk

9. Hawkridge

10. Switchblade

Numbers 2, 4, 5, 8, and 10 are U.S. military drones; numbers 1, 3, 6, 7, and 9 are Old Spice fragrances. 

Why chicken, why?

At the office, it’s not that strange to see a newspaper discarded in the wastebasket in the men’s room.  But I don’t understand why I saw the remains of a chicken leg in that same wastebasket.  I wasn’t there to see who walked into the bathroom, lunch in hand.  

Theories: He needed privacy to eat.  The smell of bathroom deodorizer whetted his appetite.  He liked to watch himself chewing in a mirror measuring twenty feet wide and five feet high.  He went in there just to wash his hands before lunch but then on impulse he tore into the chicken like a lusty man.  He didn’t go in there to eat, but when he cleaned out his pockets he found some lint, a gum wrapper, and a chicken leg.  Or actually, he went in there after lunch and coughed up a whole chicken leg because he didn’t chew thoroughly.

Three eligible bachelors

I was on the train sitting behind a lone man who was talking loudly into his smartphone, using non-stop profanity to tell someone to leave him alone.  He wasn’t pausing in his speech; it was a continuous monologue and it was a classic, including references to the U.S. Marines, the Kennedys, and repeated threats of litigation.  I doubted that anyone would be on the other end of his call listening to all that abuse.  The phone's display indicated that he would have been talking to someone whose phone number was “9.”  

A woman sitting nearest to the man got up and moved to a seat further away.  This angered the man and he put his phone down to curse only at her.  She looked horrified until the man got off the train five minutes later.  Weirdly, he started talking into his phone again as he stepped off, saying he had a question about the album cover for the Rush album "Hemispheres."  

On another day, another train, a talkative single man was benign, simply asking every man who stepped onto the train if he was an attorney.  None were. 

The third case was again harmless but different.  He had come onto a train that was almost empty.  A row of aisle-facing seats was empty except for a young woman at the far end.  The man walked with confidence past all the empty seats and sat almost on top of the young woman.  She asked him to “please” get off her lap.  

This is when the few passengers present looked up from their phones and the man seemed embarrassed enough to curse at us all, especially at the one guy who seemed primed for a fight.  They both got off at the next stop, each daring the other to throw the first punch.  They were still standing awkwardly, arguing as the train pulled away. 

Because, in this country, guns are more important than life itself, I have to remember to keep my mouth shut.  In these cases (all from this year) some perverse part of me was tempted to say “He’s actually my daughter’s violin teacher.  He is so good with kids.” 

Sowiwoquy by Elmer Fudd

Bweathe deep the gathewing gwoom,
Watch wights fade fwom evewy woom. 
Bedsittew people wook back and wament, 
Anothew day's usewess enewgy spent. 
Impassioned wovers westle as one, 
wonewy man cwies for wove and has none. 
New mothew picks up and suckews hew son, 
Seniow citizens wish they wew young. 
Cold heawted owb that wules the night, 
Wemoves the colows fwom ouw sight, 
Wed is gwey and yewwow white, 
But we decide which is wight. 
And which is an iwwusion. 


Words and music by Justin Hayward and Peter Knight

Arizona business acumen

Last week Arizona’s governor vetoed a bill passed by the state legislature.  The bill would have allowed business owners, on the basis of their religion, to deny service to gay and lesbian customers.  I hadn’t been following the news closely so I’d missed the larger story that Arizona business owners have acquired the power to deduce a stranger’s sexual orientation just by looking at them. 

This is significant.  Gossip magazines and sites devote lots of space to whether certain celebrities are gay or straight.  As soon as famous people went to Arizona, they’d be outed, if necessary.  

How did business owners acquire the skill to spot the gay/lesbian minority on sight?  I suspect that it’s simply part of that discernment that boosts any person above the level of common employee to chief executive officer.  

Even though the bill didn't pass, all the same, whether you’re famous or not, if you’re in an Arizona convenience store trying to pick up a gallon of milk, men should be extra-masculine and women should be obviously feminine to avoid suspicion.  

But what if you’re another kind of Arizona business owner, like an internet service provider?  How can you confirm that all your customers are hetero when you can’t see them?  A quick fix would be to add another Terms of Service agreement to certify how the customer uses his/her genitals.  The downside is that when the company forwards all its customer’s private data to the government, it lacks the gays’ information.

In the big picture, for the sake of consistency, the state might consider expanding the “denial of service” concept to also prohibit “breathing the same air as gay people.”  The short-term remedy for businesspeople would be to hold one's breath, as was proven to be effective against cooties in the first grade.

How was your holiday?

We are living in the worst of all possible worlds and all news is bad news, according to the relative I saw over Thanksgiving.  At one point we were driving through my home town and as we passed various stores or restaurants, the relative pointed out how each place contained evidence that the Affordable Care Act was already destroying the country. 

I have no opinion yet about the ACA other than that the web site is crappy, but when the relative pointed out that a certain provision of the ACA had already caused the end of the world, I had to point out that the provision had actually been postponed to January 2015. 

Would this be good news?  No, the relative started to spin fantasies about the horrible effect of the delay.  

Family members are those whose psychoses you know best, but in this season I have to remember that it’s rude to mess with people’s dearly held faiths.

Yes boss, the training was definitely worthwhile

“Oh, those poor people,” Abigail said, looking out our office window.  She was looking  into a window of the skyscraper next door where we could see a conference room.  There was obviously some team-building exercise going on over there.  Around the long table people were paired off and standing to face each other, making silly gestures.  A young woman with long straight hair was at the head of the table, giving orders.  

I’ve had good and bad corporate training.  The bad reduced us to four-year-olds divided into teams and searching through piles of magazines to find pictures that illustrated “leadership” or “teamwork.”  After one minute of that I was even more impatient to be back at my desk doing something useful and challenging, so maybe the class was good for some. 

Mark well the lesson of my brother, who attended mandatory training on Honesty and Communication in the Workplace.  After the class he was asked what he thought of it; he said it was a waste of his time and the next day he was fired. 

Avian behavior and the marriage paradigm

As a child, I'd browse through the sheet music on the family's upright piano and look for the only pages that had a cartoon on the front: The Woody Woodpecker Song.  Here were the words that went with the song I heard on the TV cartoons.

Ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha!
That's the Woody Woodpecker song
Ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha!
He's a peckin' it all day long

He pecks a few holes in a tree to see
If a redwood's really red
And it's nothing to him, on the tiniest whim
To peck a few holes in your head

This described the character I knew, short and hyperactive.

Ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha!
That's the Woody Woodpecker's tune
Ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha!
Makes the other woodpeckers swoon

Though it doesn't make sense to the dull and the dense
All the lady woodpeckers long for
Ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha!
That's the Woody Woodpecker song

I didn't remember a lot of lady woodpeckers in the cartoons, but I'd take their word for it.

Ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha!
Woody Woodpecker's serenade
Ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha!
On the woodpecker hit parade

Though he can't sing a note, there's a frog in his throat
All his top notes come out blurred
He's the ladies' first choice, with a laugh in his voice
He gives all his rivals the bird

I wonder about the connotation of that last line when the song was written in 1947.  It was the next part I really didn't understand.

Ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha!
He'll be settlin' down some day
Ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha!
He'll be hearin' the preacher say

For the rest of your life you'll be Woody and wife
And the choir will sing along with
Ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha!
The Woody Woodpecker song 

Even though the lyrics said "He's the ladies' first choice," I couldn't get a grasp on how he was the marryin' kind.  "He'll be settlin' down some day"?  Will there be cartoons of that?  I tried to picture Woody and his wife-to-be standing at an altar of some apparently Christian denomination, and it just didn't compute.  

It was easier to imagine the post-divorce Woody seeking adventure again while his ex confided to her girlfriends about his fear of intimacy.  On the other hand, I believe Droopy Dog had a long and nurturing marriage.

Song by George Tibbles and Ramey Idriss, copyright Universal Music Publishing Group and EMI Music Publishing.

Informed consumers

Italian dictator Mussolini claimed an ability to make the trains run on time.  There's never been any evidence of a fascist takeover at the Chicago Transit Authority.

Elsewhere, this summer I tried my best to explore the incredible variety of entertainment available to a person.  I watched a highly-regarded movie by a French director I'd never heard of and then checked out a novel by a well-reviewed British writer I'd never read before.  It turned out to be the same story twice.  The movie was an adaptation of the book.  Movie: La Ceremonie directed by Claude Chabrol.  Book: A Judgment in Stone by Ruth Rendell. 

When I moved to this neighborhood years ago there was one grocery store and it was good.  Things have changed and now there's a spot where, depending on which direction you face, you can throw a rock and hit any of three grocery stores.  People wandering within a mile of the area, busy with their lives, will find themselves distracted by the thought of food.  They will be magnetically diverted to one of the grocery stores and, in a trance, spend a few dollars on artisanal broccoli or something. 

A few weeks ago I was on my way to a public restroom and found a little tableau directly in front of the mens room door.  A mom was kneeling down to a two-year-old boy while the dad stood nearby.  The mom was saying to the son, "Do you want to use the bathroom?  Can you do it yourself or do you want me to help?  Do you want Daddy to help?  Do you have to go to the bathroom? or would you like to visit the pet store?  Would you like to see the doggies? or do you need to go to the bathroom?"  The poor kid, already overwhelmed by the experience of standing up outside of his crib, was clearly doing his mental best to make a decision.  Wait 'til he gets to the cereal aisle.

(Love Theme from) Contagion directed by Steven Soderbergh


I enjoyed the movie Contagion (2011) starring Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow in a story about the spread of a deadly disease.  The movie lacked one thing that it would have had if only it had been made in the 1950s or 1960s: A song, the Love Theme from Contagion.

The song would've occurred in a scene in the first 30 minutes of the movie, where the male and female lead characters meet in a night club where there's live entertainment.  In the background there would be a singer accompanied by a piano player and a guy on conga drums, and their song would be played in a minor key to a moderate calypso beat, and it would go something like this:

Contagion
What I'm catching is you
It's raging
And it feels like the flu

I hope what I'm saying to you is truly 
Communicable
For I'm sure that there's no remedy
Swallowable or chewable

Infected
By the idea of you
Directed 
By a heart that is true

I'm plagued by the symptoms of something that might be 
Microbial
Let us run away to find a cure in my sporty
Automobile

Oh darling
Please do not quarantine me
This virus
Got someone and I mean me

…you get the idea.

No transitional sentences today

"I was going to do it your way, but to be fair, after we spoke, I had an imaginary conversation in which you agreed to let me do it my way."  -- Prepared excuse for the office; haven't used it yet; feel free.

Abrupt subject change:  Short men of Chicago: You need not wear extra-long shoes.  They are an affectation.  You don't see short men wearing sandals that stick out four inches ahead of their toes.  

Another abrupt subject change:  A man in the Chicago area was found guilty of murder Friday even though his attorney gave him wire-rimmed glasses to wear during his trial.  Years ago another defendant here put on glasses for his trial; his crime was running onto the field of a White Sox game and attacking the umpire.  The glasses in the courtroom are supposed to make you appear innocent.  (Link to article about glasses for defendants)

Nightly videos of violent offenders, all of whom happen to wear wire-rimmed glasses while on trial, are bound to have a detrimental effect on my reputation (I have to wear glasses).  Defense attorneys, please adopt another tactic because this one has worn out.  If you thought juries would fall for dressing murderers to look like tenured college professors, it shouldn't be a stretch to try The Mork (rainbow suspenders over a long-sleeved t-shirt), The Disney (a giant duck suit), or The Shirley Temple.  

Thelonious Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven and Thelonious Monk were very good piano players.  He also wrote music, including the Waldstein Sonata and Boo Boo's Birthday.  Duke Ellington, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Coleman Hawkins were among his primary influences.  Although he lived in Vienna for many years, he was born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. 

It was during wartime that he wrote some of his most famous compositions.  Round Midnight was written during World War II, and he wrote the Egmont Overture shortly after experiencing Napoleon's bombardment of Vienna.  

Well-known as a proponent of bebop and an innovator of symphonic structure, his ambition and creativity expanded all through his life, culminating in the Missa Solemnis and Live at the Jazz Workshop.  He was born in 1770 and died in 1982, but we'll always have his music. 

Art Fern Presents the Tea-Time Movie

…and now, back to Stacy Keach, Robin Leach, Larry Storch, Rachel Dratch, and Edna St. Vincent Millay in The Maltese Falcon Lays an Egg!

Christian Slater, James Spader, Bill Hader, Ralph Nader, and Juanita the Pensive Penguin in The X-Men Go To a Day Spa!

Shelley Winters, Spring Byington, Donna Summer, Autumn Reeser, and Jokey Smurf in Lion King 3: The Shedding!

Alan Arkin, Ellen Barkin, Jane Birkin, Claude Akins, and Louis the Belligerent Mime in The Dark Knight Takes a Wellbutrin!

Of the club

In 1992, attorney Lawrence Otis Graham couldn't join the Greenwich County Club in Connecticut because he was black, so he gained entrance by landing a job there clearing away dirty dishes from a dining room where club members ate.
At around two, Lois, the club's official secretary, asked me to help her send out a mailing to six hundred members after my shift. It seemed that none of the waiters wanted to stay late. And since the only other choice was the non-English speaking bus staff and dishwashers, I was it.  
She took me up to her office on the main floor and introduced me to the two women who sat with her. 
"Larry, this is Marge, whom you'll talk with in three months, because she's in charge of employee benefits." 
I smiled at the brunette.
"And Larry, this is Sandy, whom you'll talk with after you become a member at the club, because she's in charge of members' accounts."
Both Sandy and I looked up at Lois with shocked expressions.
Lois winked, and at the same moment, the three jovial women burst out laughing.
--From the book Member of the Club: Reflections on Life in a Racially Polarized World.  Lawrence Otis Graham told his story on This American Life earlier this month.

From when she was a new mom

Anne Enright on the breast-feeding of her firstborn:
This baby is pure need -- a need you never knew you had. And all you have to offer is a mute part of your body which, you are told, will somehow start 'expressing', as though it might start singing "Summertime."
From the book Making Babies: Stumbling Into Motherhood.

Smooth transitions


This month at work, a brand-new employee found an occasion to lecture me on what my company's priorities are, although she acknowledged, eventually, that she and I both learned these priorities at the same meeting.  I silently forgave her because she's so much younger than me.  Last month when my Dad said crazy things (previous post), I forgave him because he's so much older than me.  I don't like where this is going.  

I'll end up forgiving everyone around me for what I perceive to be shortcomings, until it gets to me.  I can't forgive myself because I'm not so much younger or older than me.  Never have been.

Different subject:  At the cat shelter where I help out occasionally, a staffer told me they used to have an adoption room dedicated to those cats who had herpes; they called it the Herpes Room.  The staffer added that some visitors were reluctant to enter a room with that name, even though the disease did not travel from cats to humans.  I admitted that I would probably avoid the Herpes Room as well as the Herpes Closet if there was one.  In the end, we agreed that a good name for an Edgar Allan Poe story would be The Tale of the Herpes Vestibule. 

Yet another subject: The in-house bakery at my neighborhood grocery store has an aisle display of European French Bread.  My fondest wish to you in the coming year is that all your French Bread be European.

Certainty

In the City of Bigness, it's a complicated world with the innumerable forces of millions of people acting in collaboration or opposition or in ways that bounce off each other in sometimes unpredicted ways.  In the Town of Smallness, however, there is certainty at every level.  A sole, simple explanation can be found for the complexities perceived elsewhere. 

I had the opportunity to visit the T of S over Thanksgiving, where my mom's personal beliefs about my health outweighed (in her opinion) the advice of my doctors at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.  Of greater global import, my dad let me know that the 2012 election was probably the result of a conspiracy masterminded by the entities that counted the votes.  That is, the true will of voters like him was blocked by people who, presumably, will be better at keeping secrets than General David Petraeus, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

If this conspiracy theory is true, then I hereby let the Conspirators know that your plan to secretly steal the election was almost a successful secret, in that you fooled the whole world except for my dad.  Ha!  Better luck next time.  When will I regain access to the simple truths that escape us in the City of Bigness?  One month to Christmas. 

Audio

During a recent illness, I listened to a lot of WFMT, the classical music station.  Overnight they'd play things I'd heard of already, like Tchaikovsky waltzes (great!), Chopin etudes (I was curious about those!), and many other composers I'd never heard of.  

Once, however, they played the thing I didn't need, a xylophone concerto.  I'm not going to link to one; you can seek them out yourself.  In my compromised state it sounded like a gang of preschoolers let loose in a roomful of musical instruments in a snowbound hotel overseen by Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall.

About another kind of music, when I was a little kid and I heard "Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey" on the radio, I thought the words were just another one of those things I would finally understand when I grew up.  I was mistaken. 

One more music thing: In 1981 when the Rolling Stones released the Tattoo You album and came to tour in Illinois, Chicago rock radio promoted the band heavily with contests and calls from breathless fans hoping for tickets.  In a nice moment of live radio, a young man called in and asked the DJ, "Say, I know that's Keith Richards on the back cover of the album, but [voice gets husky] who's that chick on the front cover?"  The DJ answered that it was actually Mick Jagger.  There was a pause and the young man said "Oh… uh, thanks" and hung up.  I always wondered what happened to that guy. 

Distraction

This year, how do you escape the pervasive reporting of US news classified as "politics?"  I learn bits about history, and I first heard about this item on a podcast about British history.  Painter Antonio Verrio, born in Italy, was commissioned in the 1690s to paint the walls and ceilings of Burghley House, an English country house that was already one hundred years old when Verrio came to work.  

Verrio decorated the interiors with scenes from Roman mythology.  During a four-year period of work on a series of rooms he cultivated an antagonistic relationship with the cook of the house, and painted a scene on a ceiling that included her nude figure with four extra breasts.  Verrio has been described by a modern-day owner of the house as "excitable" and "unpredictable."

Symptoms

Somebody at work said I "hadn't been smiling lately," which surprised me.  I thought I had been presenting a consistently average attitude.  Even on the best of days, I don't resemble Julie Andrews twirling on a mountaintop.  In fact, most of us in the office have been working while sick this month, and it must've showed. 

For one of my symptoms, my physician prescribed zolpidem, better known as Ambien, the sleeping pill.  The PubMed Health web page has this to say about its side effects:
You should know that some people who took zolpidem got out of bed and drove their cars, prepared and ate food, had sex, made phone calls, were sleep-walking, or were involved in other activities while not fully awake. After they woke up, these people were usually unable to remember what they had done.
This has to be one of the ten plots used in situation comedies.  It sounds like zolpidem would give me more energy than I've had in weeks.  

One odd thing I learned at the office is that if I blow my nose, it prompts T, two aisles over, to also blow his nose within 30 seconds.  What can I do with this newly discovered superpower?  All I know is that it comes with great responsibility.

Library tour, the audio guide

This municipal library in my hometown was the first one I ever visited, when I was six.  My friend Scott and I were taken by his mom.  We went to the children's room and we each picked out some books to take home.  I waited while the staff behind a counter did something with Scott's books before we left.  I walked out with my books (there was no theft prevention measure in 1968) and asked Scott's mom how long I could keep them.  Eventually it came out that I needed to acquire and use a library card in order to legally borrow my armload of books.  The matter was soon rectified.  Some years later this was one of the rooms where I would work, earning minimum wage as a high school student.  

Moving on, this area of the first floor with the floor-to-ceiling glass looking out to the street used to be the browsing area with new books, paperbacks, magazines, and chairs occupied by men sleeping all day long.  One morning, my boss told me, a custodian vacuuming the carpet asked a man sleeping in a chair to lift his feet.  The man woke up, stood up, and threw his chair through the plate glass window.  

Up to the second floor, I worked most of my library years here.  Standing at the reference desk across from the elevator, we heard the drama of the elevator buttons every time a parent brought children.  If there were two or more kids, the drama was about which kid would get to push the button to summon the elevator and then, once inside, push a button for a floor.  Every day there were tears, foot-stomping, screaming, and from the parents, hissing and shushing.  As the family stood inside the elevator the doors would close, gradually reducing the sound of grief like a turning volume knob.

One of our duties behind the counter was to hand out keys to conference rooms.  One summer, a teacher used a room to meet with adult students twice a week; his was a familiar face.  A year later and many miles away from the library, we saw each other on a crowded sidewalk in Chicago's loop.  We walked toward and then past each other, our momentum carrying us, but his surprised expression matched my own.

On the second floor I was shelving fiction one afternoon and heard the sound of tearing paper.  I followed the sound to a desk where a man sat, his back to me, carefully tearing selected pages out of a book on interior decorating.  It was one of the men who spent their entire day at the library.  I called for Security but was disappointed to find that the first and only responder was the chairman of the library, a nice man whose expertise did not include the issue at hand.  The chairman was most interested in avoiding conflict, so the book-ripper, when I accused him, denied the charge, the chairman asked him to please leave the building (without his selected pages) and that was the end of it.  

Going up to the third (top) floor, my friend Eric and I, as fourth-grade students, went to the east-facing windows to see how far we could see.  A middle-aged woman seated at a desk six feet away turned around and accused us of peeping over her shoulder.  We hadn't noticed her until then, but I saw she was writing a letter.  We backed away, she raised her voice and kept scolding us, we turned and walked away at a measured pace, arms stiffly down at our sides for some reason, and we heard her voice rasping away until we reached the stairwell and exited. 

The building itself, built in 1965, has an exterior that would look clean, simple, and modern if you could ignore the design elements glued on in the 1990s.  Those elements include a logo and signage crafted to appeal to preschool children.  From certain angles they make this once-dignified building look like a giant toy box.

Housing updates

"Think Jackie Kennedy" -- From a Chicago condo owner, sharing her vision of how the new flowers should be planted in front of her building.

I got a memo from the company that manages my apartment building.  At the bottom of the letterhead were the words "Experience, Strategy, Flexibility, Passion."  I am ashamed to admit that this only drives me to think, "What motto would you find on a prostitute's business card?"

That stretch of Division Street, between State Street and the lake, has sidewalks that are more likely to have dog droppings than any other street I've been on.  Sometimes I walk that block on the way to work instead of staying on the train all the way to the office.  What's the median household income on that part of Division?  $77,000.  Can't afford a baggie?  Never mind, I'm not a victim, I'm a survivor. 

The circle of life

A friend just gave birth with the help of induced labor.  I understand that to induce labor, doctors first encourage the muscles in the birth canal to relax by tickling the mother until she is laughing helplessly.  This continues for up to fifteen minutes; by then the baby slides out with a minimum of resistance.  I haven't confirmed this yet with the new mother, and I must stress that I'm not an obstetrician, but look forward to seeing the new baby. 

Not me

It was a typical Saturday morning; I was helping with the cleaning at the animal shelter prior to visiting the cats.  They asked me to go out to the parking lot and clean out the shelter's van.  I got in the van through the side door and left it open.  I was hunched over picking up hamburger wrappers and old cat toys.  My back was to the door and someone came up behind me and dug their fingers into my ribs and my spine instantly went vertical.  A woman behind me said "Ha! Caught you smoking!"  I turned around and she said "Oh I'm so sorry, I thought you were David!"  I said it was OK and she went on, "David said he was trying to quit smoking and I thought he snuck out to the van to have a cigarette…" 

The phone rang at my mom and dad's house one night, long after supper, and my dad answered.  The caller said, "Hullo?  Is this Dean McCluskey?"  "Yes," my dad said, not recognizing the voice.  After a minute of confusing conversation, my dad hung up.  The caller had been a student at the local community college and he had a problem with one of his instructors.  He got the bright idea of checking the phone book, found my dad's name listed, and called, thinking he would reach the chief administrator of the college.  Incorrect. 

My brother does not have that exact problem because he screens all his calls.  On a sunny weekend he was home watching TV and a woman called a couple times, leaving messages like, "I think you have a really nice body, I'm watching you on [some sports show on basic cable]…"  My brother switched channels and saw a guy with almost the same name as his, a musclebound guy with a shaved head, spattered with tattoos on his neck and arms, in some kind of wrestling kicking fighting competition.  My brother did not return the calls.

Disclaimer: These stories did not all happen in the same year.  

We are here for a short time

I went back to my hometown for the funeral of a distant relative.  It was as positive an experience as a funeral can be, because many family members enjoyed seeing each other again after a long time apart.  Still, it raised sobering thoughts about what it all means when I learned that I have a living relative who wears a mullet. 

Again with the clothing

If people of means are content to go out in public wearing pajama bottoms, why should the sight of them make me sad?

 Have you ever been outside and there's a flash of light off to the side and your eyes automatically look in that direction? That happened to me downtown, but unfortunately the flash of light came off a woman's bosom. She was walking toward me and when she saw my eyes she reached down and wrapped her sweater over herself. In my defense, under the sweater she was wearing an iridescent top with spangles, and subliminally I suppose the sight resembled a lady with a writhing rainbow trout glued to her chest.

 On my lunch hour, I was standing in line at Radio Shack behind a woman. There were two guys behind me talking. One of them raised his voice a little and said to me, "Hey man, how tall are you?" I said, "Six four, but I look taller because I'm wearing heels." Whoosh, that woman's head swiveled around to look at my shoes. All I meant was, I was wearing my good dress shoes for work, and they add something to my height. She must've been picturing something different.

Good for the soul

In Malcolm Bradbury's 1959 novel, Eating People is Wrong, the "frail, white-haired" Mrs. Bishop explains a unique feature of her church:
The church she attended made a practice of public confession, so that, as Mrs. Bishop explained, you not only had the pleasure of doing the sin, but the second, more sophisticated, pleasure of talking about it afterwards. As the weeks went on, the confessions got more lurid; competition grew up as to who could commit adultery the most times in one week. "Thirteen times," said Mrs. Bishop one week. "You wouldn't think anybody had it in them, would you?"

Seniority

I know, I know, whenever you think of John Ehrlichman you remember him primarily as Nixon's frowny White House Counsel in 1970, but he also had an interesting encounter with J. Edgar Hoover around that time. Hoover had been director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for decades, and he took full advantage of the fact that he lived in the pre-cubicle era of workplace design.
Ehrlichman approached the director with caution. His staff had warned him "that every meeting in Hoover's office was secretly filmed or videotaped. But they did not prepare me for the Wizard of Oz approach that his visitors were required to make." From the corridors of Justice, Ehrlichman was ushered through double doors guarded by Hoover's personal attendants. He walked into a room crammed with tributes to Hoover -- plaques and citations emblazoned with emblems of American eagles and eternally flaming torches. The anteroom led to a second, more formal room, with hundreds more awards. That led to a third trophy room with a highly polished desk. The desk was empty.

"J. Edgar Hoover was nowhere to be seen," he wrote. "My guide opened a door behind the desk, at the back of the room, and I was ushered into an office about twelve or thirteen feet square, dominated by Hoover himself; he was seated in a large leather desk chair behind a wooden desk in the center of the room. When he stood, it became obvious that he and his desk were on a dais about six inches high. I was invited to sit on a low, purplish leather couch to his right. J. Edgar Hoover looked down on me and began to talk."
From the engrossing new book Enemies - A History of the FBI, by Tim Weiner.

Literature, international cuisine, and foreign policy

Good to know: In libraries where non-fiction is organized by the Dewey Decimal System, cannibalism (394.9) is next to etiquette (395).

Another sad story from my home town, where sometimes people aren't all that bright: A single mother loves her teenage daughter so much that when the clock strikes midnight and the daughter is now 18 years old, the mother wakes up the daughter and says that for her birthday they're going out immediately to get her favorite breakfast, a breakfast burrito at McDonalds. They get dressed and drive out to a McDonalds that's open 24 hours, but unfortunately they don't make breakfast burritos at 12:30 am. The end. No! It's not the end! Do not think they are totally sad people! They got insurance to pay for complete home repair after it burned down, possibly due to cigarettes lit in the presence of the grandmother's oxygen tank (she lives there too). So they got that going for them.

Word to the wise Republican candidate looking for a standing ovation: Accuse the French of being un-American.

New way to meet people

The el train was full of commuters leaving downtown at the end of the workday. At one platform, a young woman got on; her petite build and short haircut reminded me of Tinker Bell. She seemed tired in some distinctive way. She wasn't winded from running… no, she looked the way I feel when I think I'm going to throw up. She looked like she was going to pass out, and a woman gave up her seat for her. After a minute, the seated Tinker Bell leaned forward and retched an orange mess that splattered directly between her feet. Another woman helped clean her face with tissues.

A passenger notified the train operator; he stopped at the next platform and came back to confirm that the woman was not having a medical emergency; he sprinkled sawdust over the orange puddle and the ride continued.

I was a little surprised to have seen it coming. I had an empty plastic bag in my backpack at the time, and I could've offered it to her preemptively. I'm just not sure of the most tactful way to offer it: "Excuse me young lady, you look like you're about to vomit. Would you accept this bag? Please forgive me if that's your normal expression."

Things I realized this year

In the year 2200, female astronauts will have names like Marge and Betty, according to science fiction stories from the 1950s.

When I get to the office first thing in the morning, the only sign of life is the occasional cockroach. I'm beginning to think we're never going to walk in and find a kitten.

I try not to take it personally that my favorite TV shows are sponsored by Abilify, a prescription medicine for depression.

If the people on the train suddenly lost their smartphones, they'd all have to bring lap desks to lay out the cards for solitaire.

Favorite lines paraphrased from a podcast episode of the Thrilling Adventure Hour:
German vampire: "My name is Nosferatu."
Sadie Doyle: "Is that what it sounds like?"
German vampire: "What?"
Sadie Doyle: "A Scrabble rack of leftovers played as a bluff?"

Every child at the library is quieter than the parent shushing him or her.

At an office downtown I saw an elderly hunchbacked man creeping along with the aid of a walker. He was wearing blue jeans and a black motorcycle jacket. I still don't know what to think of that.

I am quick to be offended but slow to forgive, so it balances out.

Next year the word "wheelchair" will be replaced by "empowerment chariot."

I had believed the whole movie up to that point

We always get training in the office for any new software or upgrades. Reference materials used to include printed text; now they come solely in the form of video tutorials which are much harder to tack to my bulletin board. But the training concept reminds me of a scene from the movie Independence Day that still bothers me years after seeing it. Jeff Goldblum settles into the chair of an alien flying saucer and takes about 1.8 seconds to scan the dashboard and declare that he can figure out how to fly the spaceship. This was the ship that traveled a distance too far to imagine, destroyed all the most picturesque architectural achievements of the planet, and measured 15 miles across. Oh yeah, and it was BUILT BY EXTRATERRESTRIAL ALIENS.

I've been in a software training class where an employee actually keeled over from an anxiety attack and had to be escorted to the hospital; clearly this co-worker was no Jeff Goldblum. Still, it's possible that in the movie we didn't see a dashboard screen aimed at Mr. Goldblum containing a little character saying, "It looks like you're hijacking the saucer. Would you like help?"

Disturbing the peaceful

This must have been tried by now but I haven't heard how it went: At the site of a peaceful protest in an urban area, I would like to see protesters set up a lifelike sculpture of a human being sitting on the ground, fully dressed, holding a sign, and probably wearing sunglasses to cover the dead eyes. Fill it with discarded animal organs and blood, or something similar. Wait for a cop to confront the motionless being and record a video of what happens when he finally whacks it with a club. I'm curious about whether he'd stop or keep going after the head explodes in a cloud of chicken livers.

Beatrix Potter Mud Flaps

These heavy-duty mud flaps are made in the U.S.A. of 3/4 inch durable high-quality rubber. Sold in pairs. Each features the characters of author/illustrator Beatrix Potter.

Easy to install and remove using your vehicle's two-inch drawbar or ball mount - no drilling required. All styles including best-selling Peter Rabbit and Squirrel Nutkin flaps have center hub and support rods of heavy gauge aluminum construction.

New Jemima Puddle-Duck flaps contain a two-pound steel plate molded into the bottom of each flap to increase flap weight and protect against windsail.

All styles including Appley-Dapply and Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle contain a layer of tear-resistant fabric for long-lasting quality.

Sale - 10% discount for Timmy Tiptoes and Cecily Parsley mud flaps, same quality construction as our best-sellers.

I'll see you

Today was Y's birthday; she would've been 44. Our best years together were in the 1980s and I'm starting to think I might not forget her. At the best times our senses of humor traveled side by side at the same speed in the same direction and it was exhilarating like nothing else. The night I learned of her death I fell asleep and dreamt the most basic form of wish fulfillment: The coroner had been wrong! When he pronounced Y dead, he had actually been examining a storefront manikin. He was simply an idiot, the death announcement was a mistake, she was still alive.

Here's how it worked at the memorial concert for George Harrison: Toward the end of the show, after the big crowded-stage noisy superstar numbers, when you thought that was the finale, musician Joe Brown came out and sang the final song accompanied by his ukulele playing. I've viewed it multiple times and the visual display that gradually starts just after the one-minute mark gives me the chills every time. (Link to YouTube, five minutes)

Uncertainty by Jonathan Fields leaves nothing to chance

This isn't funny ha-ha, just funny weird. A book on Amazon has a publication date of September 29, 2011 and on today, its publication date, it has 34 five-star reviews, all dated today, September 29, 2011. I can't think of another book that was purchased by so many speed-readers. (Link to Amazon page for Uncertainty by Jonathan Fields)

Honey, let's pull out all the stops tonight

Sex in the 1780s was one of the subjects covered by Ariel Levy in last week's New Yorker magazine, in the Books section. She writes:
Late eighteenth-century London even had its own fabled piece of erotic machinery, the so-called "celestial bed." It was invented by James Graham... In 1781, Graham moved to Pall Mall and introduced his "wonder-working edifice": forty glass pillars surrounding a twelve-by-nine-foot electrified bed, covered by a glass dome, tilted to what Graham promised was the ideal angle for conception, and wired so that a pipe organ produced "celestial sounds" as a couple copulated upon it
Due to a lack of imagination, I can only think of one song that a pipe organ would be playing in such a setting:
Roll out the barrel, we'll have a barrel of fun
Roll out the barrel, we've got the blues on the run
Zing boom tararrel, ring out a song of good cheer
Now's the time to roll the barrel, for the gang's all here

Three short paragraphs

I started to read the new Psychology Today article about narcissism, but when I found that it didn't apply to me I lost all interest.

Sometimes I speak before thinking, usually at work. I was at my desk leafing through a stack of reports in my lap to answer a question for a lady who had stopped by my cubicle. It didn't take long to find the answer and before the lady left, I made a point of telling her that all the reports I had been paging through were also available as free downloads from our company's network. The way I said it was, "Everything in my lap is available for free online."

Highly recommended: This episode of Affirmation Nation with Bob Ducca, in which a character experienced in healing strategies for body and mind reviews a new product, the Colonica Handheld Travel Bidet (Link to three-minute audio).

High society

F. Scott Fitzgerald must have had a fun time coming up with the names of the people who came to the parties at Jay Gatsby's house. They included:

The Chester Beckers

The Leeches

Edgar Beaver

Clarence Endive

The Stonewall Jackson Abrams of Georgia

The Fishguards

The Ripley Snells

Mrs. Ulysses Swett

S. B. Whitebait

Maurice A. Flink

Newton Orchid

The Catlips and the Bembergs and G. Earl Muldoon

James B. ("Rot-Gut") Ferret

George Duckweed

S. W. Belcher

The Smirkes

Faustina O'Brien

Mr. Albrucksburger and Miss Haag, his fiancee

Ardita Fitz-Peters

and Miss Claudia Hip

...so as you can imagine, it was quite a summer. (From chapter 4 of The Great Gatsby.)

Microphone and telephone

In an office environment, the person who steps up to speak at the podium can't resist creating this exchange:
"Good morning!"

Audience responds, "Good morning."

"Oh, you can do better than that! Good morning!"

Audience responds, "Good morning," a little louder.

The speaker cocks his/her head to the side, one fist on hip, and says, "Oh, let's try it one more time! Good morning!!"
This could go on. I've never seen it tried at a memorial service though.

Given the chance, it would be hard to resist power games at the office, like commanding a large group of people to speak, even though the outcome is to alienate the entire room.

At a previous job, we used to have an out-of-town VP whose bag of tricks, during a long-distance phone call, included uncomfortable silences to make you nervous. My boss warned me about it so I was prepared, when it happened, to let the silence play out when I had to give the VP an unwelcome answer. Years later, the VP relocated to work in our building and it was hard to be intimidated by a guy who looked like a big pink frog.

The sound of revelation

At the office I sent an email to a supervisor to get his decision on a part of a project. If I heard from him soon, I would be able to proceed and make the deadline. After half an hour I began to wonder when he'd reply. Then I heard "Pfffff. Fffffft. Ffft. Fffffffffft," from his cubicle -- the sound of compressed air being used to clean a keyboard... and I had a better idea of where I ranked on his list of priorities.

"I once was lost, but now I'm f-OW!"

I am ashamed to be one of the last people in the country to learn about Christian paintball, because as it turns out I've lived within driving distance of America's Best Christian Paintball Park, located in southeastern Wisconsin. (Link to Promised Land Paintball)

Their web site includes testimonials:
"I am very grateful for your ministry. One of the things my wife said she wanted me to be was more fun. Well now I have help." Ron
NOW I realize why my relationships have failed.
"We drove over 2 hours to get to your park. I came with a friend's youth group. It was my first time paintballing. Once I saw your park and many fields, I was in Heaven." Justin
That must've presented a challenge for the person who had to deliver your eulogy, Justin.

Obviously, there would be no problem opening a Muslim paintball park, and the competition would be a healthy one. [After five seconds on Google] Oh crap, I can't make up anything anymore: (Link to Muslim Paintball Games of Kentucky)

This Side of Paradise

There was a street fair in the neighborhood a few weeks ago. I do believe I've had enough Peruvian flute music to last me the rest of the year.

The high point and low point of the year are, so far, food and a phone call, respectively. A narrow range of experience. No naked marathons to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, no improvised explosive devices blowing my arms and legs off.

The highlight was discovering donuts and bacon on the treats table at work. Context is everything: It was a surprise, it was 3:00 in the afternoon, and for the year preceding, the treats table had nothing but stale licorice and dusty packets of generic microwave popcorn. Then on that Magic Day, March 3, I came around the corner and there was more bacon and donuts than a person could eat, and I was the last one to find it. I could take as much as I wanted because everyone else had already had their share. There had been a meeting of important people upstairs and they had cast off the remnants to the little people. When I first saw it I involuntarily made some little grunt. I took a handful of everything and scuttled back to my cube and made it disappear in an efficient manner. With great dispatch. You can go to Donut Lodge or Bacon Plantation and get the same food but it's not going to be a surprise; the impact will be like a tap on the nose. A light touch. (There were no ill effects.)

For the low point, understand first that I turned off my phone's ringer about ten years ago. If a caller is someone I know, they start to leave a message and I can hear that and pick up. But tonight I turned on the ringer in case my brother returned the message I left on his phone. I was anxious to hear whether he had landed a better job. The phone's ringer had been on for less than an hour and when it rang, like a chump I picked up instead of screening it, and godDAMN it was somebody else who wanted my money.

They are so good at my alma mater. My old institution of higher learning. Their highly refined technique is: Get a young female graduate who can maintain a smile (you can tell it's there) on the phone, be bubbly and act interested in somebody twice her age, strike up a conversation about the school you have in common, and propose that the alumnus pledge $200, or $100, or $50, or $25, or how about just $10, and Oh My God their endowment is $5.9 BILLion, I just looked it up (wow that girl is good) and now I'm glad I didn't pledge anything but invited them to send me a mailing. If girls had been half that interested in me while I was a student there, well, it boggles the mind, it would have been like... unexpected fried dough and cured meats.

Visit your local library

I found this document on a shelf in the downtown location of the Chicago Public Library some years ago, and it was so unique that I never threw it away. It's a photocopy of a four-page letter dated 1990, all hand-printed in capital letters on graph paper, addressed to a government official. Converted to normal capitalization, it begins:
Dear Sir:
I would like to take your time by addressing this letter to you as a son would to a father. There comes a time when a man is appalled over what is happening to him in his own country: His mail pilfered, his brain "wired" by a device that is simply constructed and implanted by the CIA...
The rest of the letter is hard to read because the sentences are lengthy and sometimes turn out to have no verbs corresponding to the nouns way back at the start of the sentence.

Eventually the letter charges the director of the CIA with treason but never reveals anything of interest. The letter's style is a mix of lawyer-speak and State-of-the-Union phrases like "all of the items contained therein and pertaining thereto," "both at home and abroad," "in times of peace and in times of war," and "my inalienable right."

The writer mentions the US Constitution at least five times. He gives his birth date and religion, for what it's worth. He takes care to note in his heading that he composed the letter at "0710 hours eastern standard time, 0610 hours central standard time." For good measure, he adds that he's sending a copy of the letter to the president.

To seal the doom of the accused, the writer finishes by claiming that he has evidence stored in three safety deposit boxes, and then he names the banks and their locations. Dude! You're not fully paranoid if you give away that kind of detail to the government.

Despite the writer's recommendation that the CIA director answer a list of questions while "under a truth drug," such events never came to light, and an online search implies that the writer must have died years ago, leaving no remains but those brain wires, I imagine.

Things I haven't missed from the last condo

1. One of the owners received complaints from the people living in the unit below his, that water was leaking from his bathroom down into theirs. So he called a plumber. The plumber examined the bathroom and said that his plumbing was fine but his bathtub needed a recaulking and that would stop the leaks. The plumber never got paid, because "he didn't do any plumbing." I don't know if that owner applied the same principle to good checkups at the doctor.

2. The condo management company cashed one of my checks twice, according to the bank, first as an "electronic transaction," and again the following day as a regular paper check. I didn't even know this was possible, and the bank teller's eyebrows went up when I showed her the paperwork and got it resolved. The condo management company was incompetent in many ways; this was the most innovative.

3. After the condo board fired that management company in favor of a better one, an owner contacted the new manager to say that he was about to sue the condo association unless they patched the roof above his top-floor unit. (This was his first call to anyone on the subject.) The manager gently explained that since the owner was a member of the association, he would, in effect, be suing himself for repairs. He backed down; good man.

And proud of it

A man in a business setting described his race as "first-generation Caucasian," and I lost track of whatever he said after that.

Mother's Day

The 39-year-old woman took a marker and wrote "PUSSY" on the leg of the boy who lay unconscious. The woman was at home with three kids: one was her 13-year-old daughter, and the daughter had invited two of her friends, a girl, 13, and the boy, 14.

The kids and the mom were in the woman's home on a Friday night, and among the four of them they had beer, pot, and cocaine. The woman also gave a couple of her prescription morphine pills to the boy, and that's why he was still unconscious on Saturday. That's when the woman wrote the word on his leg.

When the boy failed to wake up, they finally called for help, the boy died two days later in the hospital, and a year later the woman was found guilty of murder by a jury that included a relative of mine.

Salesmanship

A pitiful acquaintance, now selling a single magazine subscription door to door, visits Mrs. Bridge in her home:
At length he became aware that she was waiting for him to explain the visit, so he worked out of his pocket a crumpled little magazine which was titled The Doberman, and he held this up for her to see.

"Oh?" said Mrs. Bridge.

"I don't guess you or Mr. Bridge'd be much interested in subscribing to this, would you?"

She had suspected he was selling something, and she knew that whatever it might be she would have no use for it.

"I really hadn't planned on subscribing to any more magazines, Mr. Gadbury."

He nodded in complete understanding. "You wouldn't want it unless you had a Doberman." Then an idea came to him and he sat erect and asked, "You don't have one, do you?"

"No, we don't."

"Nobody does," he said despondently. "They eat an awful lot, I think."
From the novel Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell.

It's been 25 years

She said that she was working for the ABC News
It was as much of the alphabet as she knew how to use
Her perfume was unspeakable
It lingered in the air
Like her artificial laughter
Her mementos of affairs

By a bicycle factory as they sounded the siren
And returned into the dancehall she knew he was the one
Though he wasn't tall or handsome she laughed when he told her
I'm the Sheriff of Nottingham and this is Little John

The big light came through my window and it opened up my eyelids
And it snapped them up like roller blinds and told me things that I did
I can't face another day and night of good ideas and complications
And I'm thankful that I didn't open another bottle of inspiration

When we first met I didn't know what to do
My old love lines were all worn out on you
And the world walked 'round my mouth
I didn't mean to say it
I just blurted it out
As you pretended not to notice
Or be taken aback
And I loved you there and then
It's as simple as that

He's got all the things you need and some that you will never
But you make him sound like frozen food, his love will last forever
Still he knows what you want and what you don't allow
And I hope you're happy now

As I stepped out upon the landing my heart was already down the stairs
She's in the bedroom with that boy of hers
Though her face is creased and her eyes seem strange

What do we care if the world is a joke
(Tokyo Storm Warning)
We'll give it a big kiss
We'll give it a poke
(Tokyo Storm Warning)
Death wears a big hat 'cause he's a big bloke
(Tokyo Storm Warning)
We're only living this instant

In the spring of 1986 Elvis Costello released King of America; in the fall he released Blood and Chocolate. All lyrics by Declan MacManus.

Use words

When I was a kid, I couldn't tell a joke because I kept laughing. The punch line, coming out of my mouth, sounded like a combination of words and giggles that people couldn't understand. I worked on that until I could keep a straight face, and as a grownup in an office, a bunch of us had the most fun sharing a sense of deadpan humor and understatement that gave us a healthy perspective when under pressure.

Then emoticons were invented for email communication and deadpan humor was out of style. The little faces at the ends of sentences were like a poke in the ribs: Get it? I made a joke there! Here's a smiling face on its side to denote that fact! I know I'm out of step with everyone I know, but I can't get used to it, and I hope it never comes to this:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. :o)

Now is the winter of our discontent. :-[

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. : p

If you're like me you just read this book

An account of collegiate entrepreneurship from Mike Birbiglia's book Sleepwalk With Me:
Keith... was expelled for making fake IDs in his dorm room. He had built an enormous driver's license from Arkansas that people stuck their face in. And he would photograph them, and then laminate it.

Vented

A recently elected congressman says he's "...ready to go to war," in reference to his willingness to carry out his constituents' wishes. Somehow, I get the feeling that politicians who use war metaphors for a desk job are unlikely to have ever served in the military. This seems to be the case here, according to his House of Representatives web page biography. Source of the "ready to go to war" assertion: (Link to Time magazine)

Every day I'm reminded of the impact of heredity. When I intentionally offend someone, I get that behavior from my dad. But when I accidentally offend someone, I'm taking after my mom.

I never saw the movie Avatar, and don't plan to, because its advertising was too full of cliches. Avatar is one of 58 movies and TV shows that have used a version of "we're not in Kansas anymore" as listed in this compilation from some poor hard-working soul: (Link)

Baby names for your consideration: Harbinger, DeFault, Pandowdy

New book out: "1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die." Come and make me. I'm ready to go to war over that one. (Link to Amazon)

Drama in real life

Watching from the restaurant window, we saw the young couple, probably college kids, leave the restaurant and go out to their car, parked just out front. The boy plucked a slip from his windshield; it was a parking ticket. The girl beside him looked it over and they spoke for a second. The boy took a step away, held the ticket out in front of him, and ripped it into little pieces. Then he walked over in front of his car and knelt down to a manhole cover where he stuffed the paper bits into the hole. They drove off.

Dood! Just tuck the ticket into your pocket and go home, jeez. You're lucky the cop had moved on. (I assume the cop wasn't watching.)

She so funny

I lost her site and then found her again:
(Link to shoesonwrong)

Choreography

The union of music with movement of the human body can yield the most complete fulfillment of the human spirit's expression. The most famous examples include the ballet Swan Lake with music by Tchaikovsky, seen recently in the 2010 movie The Black Swan.

Another example of the triumph of choreography is available here, particularly at 50 to 54 seconds into the video. This performance enters into the realm where words become inadequate, and there is nothing left to do but watch and remember.

(Link, Brotherhood of Man, 1976)

Good thing I didn't play it on speakerphone

I did a lot of Christmas shopping online this year. My apartment has no place to receive packages when they're delivered, so I have all boxes sent to the nearest Ship N Save and I pick them up when I can.

The Ship N Save has my office phone number and they call and leave a message when one of my shipments has arrived. But when I played back the most recent notification, the lady with the raspy voice chose a new kind of phrasing:

"Hello William this is Judy from Ship N Save. You have a small package. Goodbye."

Holiday reruns:

(Link to Nov. 2004)

(Link to Dec. 2006)

Child rearing

"The kid's in there drinking my best gin. Get him out of here before I drive a spike through his head and make him a decanter."
-- W. C. Fields

Changing the clocks affects everybody

There's a store nearby that has two orange and white cats living in it. I walked past the storefront this morning and the cat in the window was obviously disturbed. Normally the cat and his sibling would be lounging in the window looking relaxed. But here it was 11:15 am, the store was closed, and this one cat was frantically looking out for the owner to arrive and set out their food.

We had turned the clocks back an hour last night, but the cat didn't know that. The store would open at noon. So this morning at 11:15 the cat was clearly not cool about thinking the owner was late. His head was snapping left and right, looking worried. I would like to have been there to see the cats greet the owner, but I'm not in the market for used women's clothing.

Disgruntled, disheartened, and bewildered

While waiting for the train yesterday morning, a guy asked me if I had a cigarette. I said sorry, and he sat down and pulled out his phone. He said, "Hi, it's me. I just woke up five minutes ago, outside, and I didn't know where I was. I have never been to this neighborhood. I didn't even know the train stopped here! Yeah. I went to a party last night, then I wake up outside, and all my merchandise is gone..." By then the train was pulling up so I missed the rest of the conversation. And that man was Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago. No no no, that last sentence is not true.

Still, my neighborhood, which is not that remote, has pulled in this kind of traveler before. (Link) This spot must be the end of some wormhole, receiving people somersaulting through multiple dimensions of space and time, only to crash here in the Chicago area, disappointed, disoriented, and far from home.

What the Tea Party Doesn't Know Yet - A Haiku

What's worse than losing:
Winning and then becoming
Gasp - an incumbent

Insufficient persuasion

There was an interesting story this morning on the radio:

[Beginning of transcript excerpts, NPR's Morning Edition, Sep. 21, 2010]

STEVE INSKEEP: ...We begin in the Senate, where a single provision is holding up a big Defense policy bill. Senate Republicans object to that provision, the one that would allow the Pentagon to end the policy called Don't Ask, Don't Tell. NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA: Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tried for the second time in two months to bring up the policy-setting Defense Authorization bill... It would take 60 votes today for the Senate to take up the Defense bill and that's why one person in particular has been urging people to call their senators.

LADY GAGA (Singer-songwriter): My name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, also known as Lady Gaga.

WELNA: Lady Gaga went to Maine yesterday in a bid to sway the votes of that states' two Republican senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both of whom remain uncommitted. Earlier, the pop singer recorded herself, calling her own senator, New York Democrat Chuck Schumer.

LADY GAGA: I'm calling to ask the senator to vote with Senators Harry Reid and Carl Levin to repeal Dont Ask, Dont Tell, and oppose John McCain's shameless filibuster.

WELNA: That kind of pressure has failed to sway South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham.

[End of transcript]

Let the record show that NPR's David Welna delivered that last line with a perfectly deadpan tone, and that the Republicans today resisted the political acumen of Ms. Gaga, even if it means they're lagging behind the increasingly tolerant minds of the American voting public.

It would have been a significant speech to witness if any Republican senator had faced his or her constituents to say that their vote on today's Defense bill had been influenced by someone of Ms. Gaga's notoriety.

Still, it brings to mind comparable instances in our history. Liberace and the Agricultural Act of 1954. Buddy Hackett and the Supplemental Defense Appropriations Act of 1967. Cyndi Lauper and the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985.

War of the Worlds panic explained

When I was a kid and learned about how many Americans panicked in 1938 because they heard a radio dramatization of War of the Worlds and thought Martians were truly invading, I always thought they were just stupid people.

It wasn't until I heard this episode of Radiolab that I began to understand what made that 1938 radio show seem so realistic. The Radiolab hosts convinced me that a combination of luck, timing, and audio techniques could've fooled me too, if I were alive back then and not listening carefully.

The episode from 2008, about 60 minutes long, is the single best podcast I've heard this year: (Link)

Appearances

Lately I've found that I do things unconsciously while I'm reading. At work I was proofreading a document for quite a while. I got up to use the bathroom and noticed in the mirror that I had been apparently gouging a groove in my forehead with my thumbnail while proofreading. On other occasions I've caught myself twisting my ears while reading; afterwards my ears were all red in the bathroom mirror. Solution: Quit looking in the mirror.

If you've ever been on North Michigan Avenue in Chicago, maybe you've seen a guy with a face painted silver and wearing silver clothing. At first there was just one silver man, standing perfectly still on a box, and I believe he had a container conveniently placed where people could contribute cash for whatever his solo tableau was worth. Later another silver guy or guys dressed in the same way, across the street, but I think they used music and robot movements in their act; I never stopped to watch. Last week I stood next to one of those guys on the morning train to work. Fun fact: His silver clothes smell like they've never been washed.

I was getting ready for work and checked out the condition of my pants before putting them on. There was a hole worn through the seat of the pants. How long had they been like that? I'm sure I wore those pants a couple weeks earlier. Supposed comments from fellow commuters waiting on the train platform: Gee, if it weren't for the gouge in his forehead, the red ears, and the hole in the seat of his pants, that old man would look pretty friggin' suave.

Dear Mr. Answer Man

Dear Mr. Answer Man,
Why do I keep seeing news stories about competitive eating? Where do people get the idea to do this stuff? I saw one where a guy ate 50 hot dogs in ten minutes.
Gary

Dear Gary,
It's all from the Christian faith. In a Bible story known as the miracle of the loaves and fishes, Jesus ate one hundred loaves of bread and seven fishes in one sitting. And since He did it on his birthday, it was a Christmas miracle. Thank you for your question.

Oh bother

Last week I moved to a new apartment and it's better than the old one, except for the water pressure.

My old apartment building went up around 1960 and the plumbing apparently was never modified to 21st century standards. The shower stream was forceful, the bathroom faucet blasted out the water, and the toilet flush was deep, resonant, and sustained like a nuclear bomb. I demonstrated it for friends, and I think it inspired the same shock and awe in them as it did in me.

On the other hand, the new apartment is great but in the shower, the water comes out so slowly it falls like feathers, hitting the tub floor... eventually. Standing under that shower nozzle with the water running is like being hit by dozens of watery little Winnie-the-Poohs, giving tiny hugs that you can barely feel.

Take Your Bike to Work Week

Chicago just finished Take Your Bike to Work Week, and while the event was again a success, some Chicagoans applied a personal interpretation, taking their bike to work on the train. Yes, this burns extra calories, lugging that handsome $1,000 machine up and down the stairs to the train platforms, but I feel it misses the spirit of the event.

I understand why people take their dogs on vacation; the dogs are family members who clearly enjoy the change of scenery, looking out the window at new sights and smells. But I never saw a bicycle display the same amount of enthusiasm, even when going on a big exciting train ride. Sure, they look interested, but they're always able to stand motionless, never drooling or panting.

Taking your bike to work on the train does serve to publicize the event, not only to the train commuters who see or step around the bike, but also to the two or three would-be riders who can't fit on the train because of the space taken by the bike itself. Those folks even participate in some indirect way, watching as the full train leaves the platform. Still, there is no better way for bicycles to learn firsthand about the opportunities available to them in the working world, so ideally more people will join in next year.

I'm no fun

My bank cracks me up. Every time I go over there for some errand that can't be accomplished through an ATM, the staff has to sit me down and try to sell me on some great new checking or savings account. I had almost forgotten that a friend who used to work at this bank explained what goes on there. It's a nationally known bank, rhymes with Space.

My friend's department got year-end bonuses based on how many "new" accounts they signed up. The best part was, it didn't have to be a new customer or new money. If they got somebody to move some of their money within the bank from Smiling Young Models Checking to Shiny Happy Checking, it counted toward their year-end bonus. The employee with the biggest bonus was the one who gamed the system most blatantly.

Today they also wanted me to start doing more banking online. In order to get on with my life, I had to bite my tongue and not tell them about my co-worker losing money during online banking when a computer virus read his keystrokes and fed his password to a scammer who was depleting his balance while he watched. (He got reimbursed, but still, I wouldn't volunteer for it.)

Mr. McCluskey in the Library with a Candlestick

"You are responsible for the death of my husband!" said the voice by way of introduction when I answered my office phone. I had given the usual greeting for my company and department, but after hearing that much instead of "Hello," I was so surprised I stayed silent for a moment, and the lady went on. "My husband did a lot of good work and you took his job away and he died!" she said. She went on to say that she had just received some bit of company mail from us, and didn't want to receive any more. She hung up as soon as she had unburdened herself. I got her phone number from my caller ID display.

After researching the issue, it turned out that the husband had concluded his employment with the company six years ago, and three years after that, he died. We couldn't find out if he was fired, or why, but he had worked in another state. I guess the lady had received company-related mail for a long time before deciding she'd had enough, but Jeepers. I was relieved to find out that I hadn't actually killed a guy on the east coast.

P R N D L

Got a flat tire on the highway of love.
Lost a second hubcap on the highway of love.
Drove into a ditch just off the highway of love.
Let off with a warning on the highway of love.

Eight-car collision on the highway of love.
Turn-signal flashing for ten miles on the highway of love.
Not looking at the roadkill on the highway of love.
Got stuck behind a Wienermobile on the highway of love.

Four miles to the Stuckey's on the highway of love.
Reading Spiderman #149 on the highway of love.
How long to the rest stop on the highway of love.
That car is from Delaware on the highway of love.

I sure could use a Nehi on the highway of love.
That trailer is "The Nelsons" on the highway of love.
I'll turn this car around right now on the highway of love.
I've heard the wind so long I can't hear it anymore on the highway of love.

Hypnotized by phone wires along the highway of love.
That truck is shiny clean on the highway of love.
A UFO has landed on the highway of love.
Inordinately proud of our hood ornament on the highway of love.

New radio stations, old music on the highway of love.
Fairly light traffic on the highway of love.

Can't resist

It was early on a spring Thursday morning near Michigan Avenue and a Streets and Sanitation worker was using a tool to open the valve for one of the water fountains that had been off all winter. He stood up from bending over the valve and tested the handle. A graceful stream of water shot twenty feet into the air, making a glittering parabola for a second. The worker looked over his shoulder, turned back to bend back down to the fountain, and completed his adjustments.

I think I can, I think I can

A few days ago: "We need a Brown Line train over here!" shouted the man on the northbound Belmont platform, although I didn't see if he was shouting at anybody in particular. I'd never thought of this: public transit on demand. Imagine a fleet of trains held in reserve so that when a citizen shouts, a crack team of CTA staff leap into action.

Fellow riders: When you step onboard the train, planting both feet to stand just inside the doors while you survey the area left to right for the Ultimate Seat, are you waiting for your name to be superimposed under your face like you're in the opening credits of a sitcom? 'Cause you're blocking my head shot; I'm right behind you.

I must've just missed the bank robber whose stolen money exploded with red dye at my subway stop after work tonight. The Tribune article couldn't be any more specific than to say it happened during "rush hour." Note to robbers: If your getaway vehicle is the Red Line, be prepared for waits of 5 to 8 minutes during that time of day. Unless you're counting on that new "Public Transit on Demand" to be in effect.

Craig Ferguson, young punk rocker

In his memoir, Craig Ferguson remembers the punk revolution of 1977, when he was a kid:
I formed or joined a slew of different but always awful bands with memorable names such as Night Creatures, the News, Prussia (what the f***!), and the Fast Colours. Truly woeful outfits that would rehearse in garages. They were literally garage bands, and they had the trademark of all fledging rock outfits, the one kid crowbarred into the group despite playing a hopelessly inappropriate instrument (flute/oboe/accordion) because his father had a car and was willing to ferry our instruments to practice. You have never heard "Anarchy in the U.K." butchered until you hear it with a clarinet solo.
-- From "American on Purpose."

A book about the making of The Simpsons

An animation executive producer talks about the reaction of producer James L. Brooks upon seeing the first episode of The Simpsons come back from the Korean animation studio in 1989:
He got really disappointed because none of the jokes worked, and then all of a sudden he started to scream and yell, saying, "What is this?" He just went off and he even started to demand extra camera angles, which was the funniest thing ever -- he never did animation in his life. He asked for coverage like when you're shooting a live-action movie. "So where are the other camera angles?" My producer and I were just looking at each other.
-- From The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History by John Ortved

Work, or the like

At the office, Jane is seven months pregnant and her baby-to-be, a boy, is doing a lot of kicking, we hear. That is, Jane told us he is kicking a lot, we don't actually hear the kicking.

A friend wrote about the current job market and theorized that she'd like a less demanding job, like "product tester in a Sharpie factory."

All I meant to say at work was that I'm sorry about my manager's poor health, and that I understand it's common for the parents of small children to catch whatever sickness the little ones bring home from day care. But in referring to his darling daughters as "germy kids" I'm afraid I may have used a poor choice of words.

Porn Star Steps Down After Allegations of Legislative Activity

Adult film actor Thomas Fryble announced in an emotional press conference today that he is dropping out of production on his current movie in order to devote more time to his once-secret second occupation serving on the Cook County Board of Commissioners. Mr. Fryble's position on the Board was alleged yesterday in an anonymous call to a local radio station.

Mr. Fryble admitted before reporters that he is active in Cook County government helping to pass ordinances, levy taxes, and oversee spending of numerous county agencies.

Fellow board commissioners were astonished to learn of Mr. Fryble's primary occupation as an actor in dozens of X-rated direct-to-DVD films. Correspondingly, members of the adult film community were appalled to find that Mr. Fryble had been elected to the Cook County Board in 2004.

Mr. Fryble's co-star Misty Meadows was expected to be standing beside him at today's press conference, but did not attend. A family friend speaking on behalf of Ms. Meadows stated that Ms. Meadows had just learned of Mr. Fryble's position in local government yesterday and didn't want to be seen with a politician.

[I'm sure this kind of story has appeared elsewhere, but I couldn't find it.]