I have one of the great temperaments

Travel and a change of scene can broaden the mind — the old cliché is true.  I used to take the first car on the morning train but on a whim I switched to the fifth car.  Completely different world.  I looked all around me and the people were all different.  The smells were alien to me.  The train stopped at my stop and when I got out it was like a platform in a foreign country.  I expected to see old women in shawls with young goats, or old goats in shawls with young women.  Come to think of it, you do see that last pairing on the Gold Coast.

If you buy more guns now because the president is going to take them all away, isn’t that like spending lots of money on comic books just before your mom throws out the entire collection?

I had forgotten what a good short story “Sea Oak” is, by George Saunders:
"What a nice day we've had," Aunt Bernie says once we've got the babies in bed.
"Man, what an optometrist," says Jade.

Mostly others

This is too easy but I cannot help myself: This year’s OCD Conference is held in Chicago. The keynote speech will be given July 29 at 9:00, 10:00, 11:00, 1:00, 2:00, 3:00, 4:30, and midnight. 
Consider, as a twenty-first-century working-mom artifact, my poor twelve-year-old 140,000-mile Volvo… So many of the Volvo’s dashboard lights are on, each trying to alert me to one malfunction or another, that turning the ignition key is akin to plugging in that big Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center.
— From The Madwoman in the Volvo, by Sandra Tsing Loh.  (Note: Despite the title and the excerpt above, there is very little about cars in this book.)

In the short story “The Introspections of J. P. Powers” by William Trevor, a driving instructor (Mr. Powers) is teaching Miss Hobish how to drive. She has been taking driving lessons for five years and she is 73 years old. Mr. Powers occasionally likes to remind her, for safety’s sake, to signal a turn not only with the car’s turn signal, but also with hand signals out the window.
On Tuesday September the twenty-first, Justin Parke Powers gave Miss Hobish her two hundred and forty-first driving lesson. He sat beside her, feet and hands alerted.
‘We’ve had no summer, Mr Powers.’ She sighed, settling herself. ‘One, two, three, four, up and back for reverse. Are we ready, Mr Powers?’
She drove raggedly from Cave Crescent to Amervale Avenue.
‘Hand signals,’ said Mr Powers, and Miss Hobish extended a scrawny arm and waved it arbitrarily about.

Please be normal

“Please be normal.  Please be normal.” A mother to her two children, heard in the elevator on the way up to the floor where the mother worked in our office building on the most recent Take Your Kids to Work Day.

My dad is at that awkward age where his stated preferences apparently contradict his economic well-being. He wants to abolish government’s role in health care. Unfortunately, my mom gets a funny feeling in her chest every few months and they have to go to the emergency room. The last bill for this situation was $5,100 and Medicare paid for almost everything. If government got out of health care like Dad wants, they'd have gone broke years ago. He continues to grind his teeth over the tyranny of government. Just one more reason to bite my tongue on the next visit. (I’d rather keep the peace.)

On the train platform the woman with wiry grey hair has old shoes. Their heels, seen from behind, are beveled at a 30 degree angle to force her to walk bow-legged. She moves like a chess piece, a knight, while waiting for the train to appear. Step-step-stop. Step-step-stop. Thirty seconds in this direction, thirty seconds in that direction. 

The old man on the train plattform has a worn-down posture. When he walks in front of me from left to right he looks like the letter S. This could be me in some years. While waiting for the train he moves like a rook on a chess board — shuffling in a straight line, head down.  He’s not looking where he’s going but the grey-haired woman is, so one piece has never captured the other. 

It did do someone a lot of good

Somewhere in the world in the early 1990s there was a woman who adored Prince so much that she sent him a gift: a purple and pink afghan that she knitted herself. She mailed it to Prince at Paisley Park Studios in Minnesota. My brother worked there at the time. 

One of the Paisley Park staff opened the package and pulled out the bulky afghan. He carried it through the building on his way to the trash bin when my brother intercepted him, got the story about the origin of this gift, and offered to take the afghan. He imagined how much work had gone into the knitting (having received one from our grandma) and he didn’t want to think about all that work lying in the bottom of the Dumpster. 

He gave it to me and that’s why there’s a cat sleeping here on a purple and pink afghan every day. What is the lesson here? That if I have a Prince story, everyone in the world has a Prince story.

Disenfranchised

I saw a discarded Victoria’s Secret shopping bag on the grounds of a retirement home.  Make up your own story. 

If Humphrey Bogart had been allowed to carry an ice cream cone on the set of Casablanca: “Where I’m going, you can’t follow. (Lick) What I’ve got to do, you can’t be any part of. (Lick) Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. (Lick) Someday you’ll understand that. (Lick)”

Voted Chicago’s Best Pizza.  Best Cheese Selection.  Best Sub Sandwich.  I have missed the voting for all these local elections.  

Voted Chicago’s Best Plumbing Company.  Best Air Duct Cleaning.  Best Children’s Magician.  Fortunately, I lack the experience to nominate someone or cast a vote in some of these contests.  

Voted Chicago’s Best Doughnuts.  Where was I for this one?  Are there term limits?  Is it too late to send an absentee ballot?  I’m willing to vote for bacon too, when the time comes.  

Voted Chicago’s Best Wedding Photographer.  Best Martini.  Best Therapeutic Massage.  For some of these elections I would have to be pretty busy in order to make an informed decision. 

Reminiscence

The executive vice-chairman of Kellogg’s, the cereal company, recalls his long-ago one-night encounter with the college student who was the only woman he ever loved:

“On the final week of the semester, she told me that she was questioning everything in her life, that her relationship had in fact been over for some time, and that she didn’t know what to do. We continued to talk about this for the rest of the afternoon, over dinner that night, and the next morning over a balanced breakfast.”

From the short story “Kellogg’s” by B. J. Novak.

That you so richly deserve

At the office, my work email account gets a message with the subject heading “Congratulations! You reached a milestone!”  It's from an organization that tracks how many people have read work-related papers that you’ve published online.  

“Your research is in the spotlight,” the headline says inside.  Well, this is flattering to hear.  Under the title of my article is the message “Your article reached 20 reads.” This is for an article published ten years ago. 

Twenty reads in ten years.  That is some kind of milestone, technically.  I’d forgotten about it and frankly, I wasn’t lying awake nights wondering about the readership of what was truly a trivial piece.  It’s OK if no one else remembers it.  

Oh wait, there’s more to the email.  “Your achievement is shown on the home feeds of your colleagues and co-authors.”  Fantastic.  

The email won’t drop it: “Go to your home feed now to see your peers’ recent achievements.”  Yes, I need to see how popular everyone else is.

The parting comment is choice.  “Add a profile photo so they can instantly recognize you.”  No doubt so I can live through my own personal version of Beatlemania.  I should play along by sending them an image of Gollum just to see how long it stays up under my name.

More from Hometown

“Careful, it’s loaded,” my cousin said as my brother pulled the handgun from its hiding place.  We were in my cousin's living room for Christmas and my brother had been wandering around the room touching things at random as I told a long boring story.  “Loaded and cocked,” the man of the house said, and Brother put the gun back where he found it.  How many years have we visited that house not knowing there was a loaded gun within arms’ reach?  Jeez.

There in Hometown, Brother knows the woman who manages the grocery store because they went to grade school together.  He went in to pick up another seven day supply of Bachelor Chow and the manager flagged him down from several aisles away, as she often does.  “Shelly was in first thing Saturday morning and got four bottles of cooking sherry!” she called out across the store as she walked up to him.  “She finished the first bottle before she got in her car!”  Shelly was another classmate and the manager had been tracking her decline over the years. 

Finally, a car in a Hometown parking lot:

Loose cannon

In the office there is a young Cerebral Fellow, untroubled by the social conventions that regulate most people’s behavior.  He stepped into my cubicle to make a request and in so doing, he stood beside where I sat so he could point out something on my computer's screen.  

The C.F. talked and talked and then paused in mid-sentence, still facing the computer.  His face froze and I got the sense that he was tensing his stomach muscles.  A puff of air hissed out of his behind, right next to my ear, and he resumed talking.  It took just a moment and I didn’t acknowledge the faux pas. 

It’s becoming more common for me to feel out of touch with the customs of younger people.  But given that I was dealing with a C.F., I won’t assume that this episode represents some standard of Millennial business etiquette until I receive confirmation.

Bosses and notes

Heard over the cubicle wall, a boss talking about a huge project: “…when I get back from the Bahamas after New Years I want all this to be done.”  Employee replies quietly: “I’m taking a vacation too.”

This was the third boss I’d heard over the years thinking that (1) they’re the only ones taking a vacation over Christmas and New Years and (2) they wanted to be absent from the building while their staff carried out some big unpleasant task. It just gave me a little charge to hear the employee’s reply. 

Speaking of bosses, how many U.S. Secretaries of Defense inspire poetry from the people they command?  

Rumsfeld is a dick
Won’t flow the forces we need
We will be too light

The poet was Army Colonel Steve Rotkoff, inspired to write while preparing for the 2003 start of the Iraq war (Information from chapter 11 of State of Denial by Bob Woodward).

Something not about bosses: “Bemsha Swing” by Thelonious Monk was in my head this week for unknown reasons and then I heard the start of it in the CTA station.  When I waved my CTA pass over the turnstile reader it gave that two-note audio confirmation that I could go through and the G note going up to C was the same as the start of the Monk song.  Thereby lending credence to the conventional wisdom that CTA employees, black and white, thin and fat, young and old, are all hard bop fans.

Too marvelous for words

“My butt must be good luck,” I thought on the crowded rush-hour train, “for as often as people need to rub it.”  People were pressed against me left and right, front and back.  Then there was a little poke in my back.  I turned and looked down and a little man growled, “I told ya four fuckin times to get out of the way!”  Most of the people on the train got quiet. 

He was sad, middle-aged, heavy-set, and hobbling along with a cane and one leg in a plastic brace.  I leaned over onto the kids bouncing around near their seated mom and the man squeezed past me.  A young man gave up his seat and the sad man eased himself down.  

I looked at his face.  He yelled “Don’t you fuckin look at me, after the day I had, or I’ll…”  He ran out of words.  I stayed silent like the rest of the train and he calmed down.  

It was like seventh grade.  That was the first year when some boys, strangers to me in the new school, would come up to me and be as aggressive as they could manage.  I didn’t understand until I noticed that they were about a foot shorter than me.  They never articulated what their problem was, but they all had that one thing in common.  Nowadays, grown men are socialized enough to keep it to themselves, but it might still be in there somewhere.

Secular grieving

Yes, there’s a God but there is no afterlife.  Gotcha!

The cat was lying by the door to greet me when I got home but she didn’t get up. 

Sure, there’s an afterlife but there is no God.  It’s like a high school lunchroom. 

The cat was lying by the door but she couldn’t stand up.  I had a year’s advance warning of this. 

Her age was the equivalent of 88 for humans.

The vet came to my door and I stood up. 

A third of my life with that cat

The first injection made the cat tuck her head down and fall into deep sleep.

She was always free of ringworm and fleas; something I hope to say at age 88.

When the home is suddenly empty of pets you have a 25-hour day, an extra hour that throws off your rhythm.  My day is going back to 24 hours later this year.

Shelter

In an upstairs room of the cat shelter where I volunteer there used to be an adult cat named Hans.  He loved to sit in my lap and nibble on my shirt right over my stomach.  Then one day, staff coming through the room saw this and said, “Oh that’s adorable; he’s nursing!”  Suddenly I wasn't sure I wanted people to see this.  

If all goes according to plan, this shelter might be torn down a year from now.  The organization is building a new facility north of here to replace the current one which must’ve originally been a private home built around 1930.  

People want to give their cats to the shelter for various reasons.  One winter, a young man brought his cat to the front door but was told that the shelter was full (over 100 available for adoption, dozens in clinical care) and it lacked the resources to take on more.  The man threw his cat across the threshold and left.  That grey tabby was kept and was scared of all humans (go figure) until he finally got a good home.

It looks like short-term handiwork has held the house together for decades, and there must be ten layers of paint smoothing out the contours on what would be some interesting carving on the woodwork framing the rooms.

You do get to meet a variety of customers here.  A middle-aged lady came to the door on a Saturday morning and said she was going to adopt Butternut the kitten.  Staff told her that the shelter would open for business at noon, please come back in a couple hours.  She got angry, cussed out the staff, and stomped out of the building and down the stairs to the sidewalk.  The shelter’s child volunteers were out front selling cookies to raise money and the lady’s parting shot to them was “...and your cookies are crap!”

The house is not ideal; it’s been expanded and compromised to serve its current purpose.  I’m going to miss it anyway because I know its rooms so well as a comfortable spot to sit with a cat and dispense imaginary milk.

The endorsement deals were disappointing

Remember when “manspreading” on public transit was not a problem but just a friendly competition? (Link)

Fact checking of history

It’s important to beware of the unreliable narrator when reading history.

1974 - Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting by Carl Douglas

"Everybody was kung fu fighting"

Strictly speaking, not true.  In many Presbyterian congregations, large proportions of people did not participate in the kung fu fighting. 

1977 - Car Wash by Rose Royce

"You might not ever get rich
But let me tell ya it's better than diggin' a ditch
There ain't no tellin' who you might meet
A movie star or maybe even an Indian chief"


Working at the car wash was, in fact, better than digging a ditch.  The likelihood of meeting a movie star or Indian chief varied by location, however. 

1976 - Disco Inferno by The Trammps

"To my surprise, one hundred stories high
People getting loose y'all, getting down on the roof”

This was true.

"Folks are screaming, out of control
It was so entertaining when the boogie started to explode”

Also correct. 

"I heard somebody say
(Burn baby burn) disco inferno
(Burn baby burn) burn that mother down
(Burn baby burn) disco inferno
(Burn baby burn) burn that mother down”

I heard someone say the same thing verbatim.

"Satisfaction came in a chain reaction
(Burnin')
I couldn't get enough, so I had to self-destruct”

Here is where things might deviate from the historical record.  There was no doubt that satisfaction came in a chain reaction.  Nevertheless, to claim that self-destruction was inevitable simply because one could not get enough is paradoxical (where did the author go?) and could cause one to question the veracity of the entire account up to that point.

Everybody Loves Raymond

“I’m an occasional drinker, the kind of guy who goes out for a beer and wakes up in Singapore with a full beard.” 
— a character in the short story The King in Yellow, by Raymond Chandler 

Reading the signs

I swear I thought the ad in the grocery store said “Discover Poopability” because it was one of those ads posted on the floor of the store and I was looking at it upside down.  It was actually “Discover Poppability” with respect to Snyder’s Pretzel Poppers.  I should’ve known; I wasn’t in the pharmacy section.

I’ve got to be sure to give a good co-worker review of Emily; she’s the only one in the office who can stifle a yawn while I’m speaking.

Interpreting that memo from Human Resources was like looking at an Escher print. 

When you sit down in the haircutter’s chair and she starts in with the sharp instruments and you smell alcohol radiating out of her mouth, that’s not a mandatory cause for alarm, is it?  It worked out OK. 

Virtue of youth

[Mrs. Pardiggle] was a formidable style of lady, with spectacles, a prominent nose, and a loud voice, who had the effect of wanting a great deal of room.  And she really did, for she knocked down little chairs with her skirts that were quite a great way off.  As only Ada and I were at home, we received her timidly; for she seemed to come in like cold weather, and to make the little Pardiggles blue as they followed. 

“These, young ladies,” said Mrs. Pardiggle, with great volubility, after the first salutations, “are my five boys.  You may have seen their names in a printed subscription list (perhaps more than one), in the possession of our esteemed friend Mr. Jarndyce.  Egbert, my eldest (twelve), is the boy who sent out his pocket-money, to the amount of five-and-threepence, to the Tockahoopo Indians.  Oswald, my second (ten-and-a-half), is the child who contributed two-and-ninepence to the Great National Smithers Testimonial.  Francis, my third (nine), one-and-sixpence-halfpenny; Felix, my fourth (seven), eightpence to the Superannuated Widows; Alfred, my youngest (five), has voluntarily enrolled himself in the Infant Bonds of Joy, and is pledged never, through life, to use tobacco in any form.”

From Bleak House by Charles Dickens.

The final stage is bequeathing

I just discovered that I can increase the ringing in my ears by pressing on the top of my head with both hands, so now I have something new to do on the train. 

The New Yorker magazine is 90 years old and has published well over a hundred cartoons.  I like this one.  (Link)

In the middle of the work day Daniel came over to my cube and said, “Look at this old postcard I just found in my desk.”  He handed me a postcard from the 1980s in which you could see our office building.  “You can have it,” he said.  I said, “Hey, are you thinking of quitting? This is what Cathy did the day before she resigned.  She came over and stood where you are and gave me a stack of old reports she said she didn’t need anymore.”  Daniel said, “Oh, no no no,” and smiled.  Two months later he quit after 20 years with the company.

The Wake Up Shot

From The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene:

For a moment Yusef seemed about to sink again into drugged sleep; then with an effort he got on an elbow… 

He shook his head, so that the white lick of hair flapped; then putting out a vague hand he stretched for the syphon…

Yusef dragged the syphon towards him across the table knocking over the bromide glass; he turned the nozzle towards his face and pulled the trigger. The soda water broke on his face and splashed all round him on the mauve silk. He gave a sigh of relief and satisfaction, like a man under a shower on a hot day.

From Joy in the Morning, by P. G. Wodehouse

“You can’t go by what a girl says, when she’s giving you the devil for making a chump of yourself. It’s like Shakespeare. Sounds well, but doesn’t mean anything.”

— Bertie Wooster advising a friend on how to deal with criticism.

Meditation for busy people

When should I meditate?

Ideally, practice meditation at least once a day for 10 to 20 minutes.  Twice a day would be better, if you can. 

Where should I meditate? 

In a quiet place where you can close your eyes, sitting in a chair or on the floor, in a comfortable position. 

How do I meditate?

Think of a nonsense word and repeat it to yourself to empty your mind of distractions or worries.  Don’t be surprised if distracting thoughts or worries occur anyway, because our minds are prone to wandering all the time.  When this happens, pound yourself in the forehead three times and whisper “dummy.”  Then let the distraction or worry pass downstream and go back to repeating your nonsense word. 

Why should I meditate?

By practicing how to be aware of when your mind wanders, you can eventually improve the ability to concentrate even when you’re not meditating.

Isn’t the “nonsense word” also known as a mantra?

Sure, if you want to be weird about it. 

How do I know when the 20 minutes are up and it’s time to stop meditating?

This is essential.  Before you begin, connect a timer to an electric buzzer or horn of the type used at NBA games to signal the end of a quarter.  This will free you from the worry of watching the clock, allowing you to achieve a tranquil, meditative state.

Donuts, coffee, and hot romance

The guy was probably just trying to establish some kind of rapport, but when he was ahead of me at the donut shop and said, “Those pumpkin spice donuts — are they any good?” I had to wonder what he expected as an answer: “No, they’re essentially baked vomit with frosting on top. And don’t get me started about the rats’ tails inside.”

Imagine here a clever transitional sentence from donuts to coffee.

One particular guy at work used to be a Navy Seal and he carries his official Navy Seal coffee mug wherever he goes.  Once he must’ve been in top physical condition.  He still uses military slang in his casual conversation.  I have this perverse idea to buy the identical Navy Seal coffee mug for all coworkers, male and female, young and old, so that we can all carry them around the office. 

Here would be a good place for a graceful change of subject from Navy Seals to little old ladies.

I was standing (up straight) at the PC terminal at the public library and an elderly lady brushed against my butt as she walked past.  I attributed it to faulty eyesight or unsteady legs.  When she brushed against my butt a second time walking in the opposite direction, I had to speculate.  Still, I did not pursue this relationship with someone who, as Dana Gould says, “shouldn’t buy any green bananas.”  It would’ve been a charming story to tell how we met, though.

Hands up don't taunt

In my suburb police torture is distressing to the locals.  Cops will confiscate your smartphone and replace it with last year’s model.  They will force grown men to ride their bikes in the street instead of on the sidewalk.  They will take a black permanent marker and mark out the “H” in the logo of your North Face jacket so it looks like “The Nort Face.”  

They will use that same black marker to draw big circles on the headlights of your BMW so that the front of the car looks like it’s cross-eyed.  They will glue junk food to the flowering shrubs in front of your house so it looks like they're growing Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.  They will trick you into thinking that, under the teachings of traditional Chinese medicine, your dominant element is Metal when in fact it’s Earth.  Advocates for reparations are getting organized. 

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."