"Jest" your way to success

There's a Chicago restaurant, Ed Debevic's, built around the theme of the diner with wisecracking waitresses. As one website review puts it on centerstage.net: "The servers are all well-trained in mock-rudeness, an act which sometimes seems to border on the truth. The customers know what to expect, however, and the insults are taken as comedy." This approach has made the restaurant successful for at least twenty years.

This year, the Chicago Transit Authority adopted the same theme for its employees. In years past, when passengers transferred between trains at Howard Street, a voice over the intercom would say, for example, "Red line train to 95th pulling out, please use all available doors." On a recent Saturday, however, as passengers made the same walk between trains, a woman's voice squawked out of the intercom, "That's right, take your time, we just waiting on your convenience."

Another time this year after I disembarked from a Red line train at Fullerton, the train's operator stuck her head out the window and yelled to me, "You stupid! Stupid!" for not getting off the train sooner. I had waited for the doors to open at Fullerton but they were stuck shut, so I had walked the length of the car in order to slip out through the other doors, which were just closing, so I was late in getting out.

O CTA, the tourists may not understand, but I get it, and more power to you in your efforts to increase revenue.

Ignorant no more

Well, excuse me for thinking that "friends with benefits" means they have a 401k plan.

I knew that an entomologist studies insects, but when I heard that a friend knew a forensic entomologist I thought he was a guy who has to figure out why an insect died, and what tiny tools he must use, and why would anyone care why a particular bug died? It turns out that a forensic entomologist aids legal investigations by knowing things like how certain insects feed on corpses.

People used to whisper and point when I said a pandowdy was the same as a crumble. Looking back, those were my innocent days. (Link)

Get me rewrite

And they came with haste, and found Mary and Joseph and the babe lying in a manger.

"Uh, Luke, that's a tight squeeze. You might want to rewrite that line."
"What do you mean?"
"Mary and Joseph and the babe all lying in the manger? How uncomfortable."
"You know what I mean."
"Still, you should rephrase it. You know, for the ones who take everything literally."
"Okay, how's this?"


And they came with haste, and found the babe lying in a manger with Mary and Joseph.

"Same problem, you just rearranged it."
"Well fine, let's get wordy then."


And they came with haste, and found Mary and Joseph. The babe was there too, lying in a manger all by himself.

"Oh, that's poetic. It's starting to sound like a case of child neglect."
"You wanted the rewrite for clarity's sake. That's as clear as can be."
"Wait a minute, are we sure the shepherds saw just Jesus in the manger? How big was the manger? Maybe all three of them really were in there."
"Why would all three be in the manger? That's an excellent way to crush the kid."
"Right. But still, two lines later you say 'And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.' We're still wondering right here."
"Well, what would Strunk and White do?"
"Yeah, they'd cut it to the bone. Go with what you had in the first draft."

Stay for supper? No thank you

I really wanted to make a good impression when Y and I went to have a Sunday lunch with her mom and mom's boyfriend Rusty. This was around 1987, and Y's mom was living with Rusty at his small farm on the edge of town. Rusty raised pigs and chickens, and they had given us homemade bacon for Christmas the previous year.

It was a sunny summer afternoon, perfect weather. Y's mom had put out a big spread for lunch and we had just started eating outside at the picnic table set on a slight slope between the house and the barn. A big grey short-haired dog came out from behind the right side of the house, trotted past us, behind my back, and went back around the left side of the house. Rusty muttered something through his beard about the dog, and the animal came back from the left side of the house, pacing past us, and disappeared around the right side of the house.

The dog had looked skinny but with muscles, and Y's mom explained that it had been attacking Rusty's chickens over the past couple weeks. I don't know if anyone owned the dog. Rusty got up from the picnic table and went in the house, coming back with a shotgun. Y and I didn't say anything, but Y's mom said, "Rusty, you don't have to do that now, sit down and eat." Rusty strode around to the far side of the house, there were two shotgun blasts, and Rusty came back to put the shotgun in the house before rejoining us at the table.

I don't remember what we talked about for the rest of lunch. It may be a point of etiquette to assist your host when there's a proposal to shoot a dog during the midday meal, but I think Rusty understood that I wouldn't be much help, so I don't know that I ended up making that good an impression.

Her butt is sore because of Jane Austen

In a crowd, I don't know why strangers single me out to talk to. Last night, like many other people, I was waiting for a friend to arrive at the movie theater. I was standing in the lobby when people started meandering out from an earlier screening. A middle-aged lady who looked like a third-grade teacher came up to me slowly and said in a confidential tone, "I just saw Pride and Prejudice." I nodded slightly and my eyebrows went up. She said, "I didn't realize how long the movie would be. I'm kinda sore from sitting so long." My facial expression said, "I sympathize; that's too bad." She said, "It started more than two hours ago!" and she smiled. I said "Wow!" and she turned and made her way to the door.

The last time I saw Y, we had gone to Milwaukee Summerfest a few years ago. I don't even remember what band was on stage, but in the middle of the show I felt a punch on my left shoulder. It was from the guy next to me, and he gave a friendly smile and yelled over the music, "Dude, havin' a good time?" I smiled back "Sure!" and that was that.

Some big hairy guy once started talking to me in Water Tower Place and all I remember is what appeared to be a ramen noodle jiggling in his gray beard as he talked. The tap-dancing noodle looked like it could come loose at any moment, but it hung on.

Michael Stipe commercial endorsements

Not everyone can carry the weight of the world...
Talk about the Paxil
Talk about the Paxil

This one goes out to the one I love
This one goes out to the one I left behind
A new eyedrop to relieve bloodshot eyes
This one goes out to the one I love

Ham in the place where you live
Now eat pork
Think about some bacon
Wonder why you haven't before

That's me in the corner
That's me in the spotlight
Eating Jello pudding

A strange and very amusing evening

If you had been living in London in early 1941 and the Germans had been bombing your city for months, killing thousands, how would it affect your behavior?

Here's how playwright and performer Noel Coward reacted:
Had a few drinks, then went to Savoy. Pretty bad blitz, but not so bad as Wednesday. A couple of bombs fell very near during dinner. Wall bulged a bit and door blew in. Orchestra went on playing, no one stopped eating or talking. Blitz continued. Carroll Gibbons played the piano, I sang, so did Judy Campbell and a couple of drunken Scots Canadians. On the whole, a strange and very amusing evening. People's behavior absolutely magnificent. Much better than gallant. Wish the whole of America could really see and understand it. Would not have missed this experience for anything.
This diary entry is part of an article ("The Last of England") by Charles Glass in the Nov. 2005 Harper's Magazine. Mr. Glass contrasts the Londoners of 1941 with some from 2005, who, Glass observed, shut down the night life and stayed home from work after the July 7 bus and train bombs.

There are at least a couple reasons for the difference, Glass asserts. In 1941, U.K. citizens knew even after two straight months of bombing that mass emotional breakdowns could've brought the Germans closer to winning the Battle of Britain. Glass also sees Tony Blair's anti-terrorism efforts as encouraging hysteria while decreasing civil liberties.

The Man Who Cares More Than Anyone Else

Seen on Michigan Avenue... A man carrying items for an outdoor display: two wooden four-foot-high pink looped "ribbons" resembling what you might see to promote awareness of breast cancer.

My train ride friends

The boy is three or four years old and he rides the train with his mom every morning, presumably to daycare somewhere downtown while his mom works. It looks like the boy has been instructed to wave hello to every human being he sees, and most people smile and wave back when they see him.

So it made perfect sense that this morning as he left the train with his mom, he was wearing a Halloween costume that made him look like a spider. He had "spider legs" dangling by strings tied to his arms so that when he waved his usual waves to everybody, there were six arms bouncing and waving instead of only two.

The other train ride friends aren't quite as personable. They include the goateed young man who used to sit down across from me, place his hands on his knees, raise his head, open his mouth, and cough straight at me. The other guy I see a lot has the weathered face of a guy in his early fifties, but there's a mass of hair placed on his head that looks like it was lifted from the character of Andy Travis on "WKRP in Cincinnati."

Our little sparkplug

Reasons Betty has given for being too tired to work in the office this year:

* "A rainy day like this just takes it out of me. I need to get back to bed."

* "I stayed up way too late last night watching a movie. I didn't sleep and I am just fatigued today."

* "This office is too hot to work today."

* "I slept so much last night I am still tired this morning. I can't stay awake."

* "I can't work when the office is this cold."

* "On a day this nice and sunny I could nap all afternoon."

* "After putting that lotion on my hands, the hand massage has relaxed me into a stupor."

The laughing over the jazz

Thirty years ago, in seventh grade, I learned about the owner of a book store, someone I would know up until last year:
"They call her Mad Ruthie."
"Why?"
"I don't know, but there's a nameplate on the front of her desk that says 'Mad Ruthie.'"

When we were 13 a bunch of us boys would go across town (getting driven or riding bikes) to buy old comics at her store. She was intimidating to kids whose voices hadn't changed yet. She stayed seated behind a massive old desk near the store's front window and she had the deepest voice I ever heard in a woman. A smoker's cough and a smoker's laugh, with real weight behind it. She was clearly obese although I didn't see her stand up. A few guys always hung around her desk, skinny dudes in denim, t-shirts, and droopy mustaches. They talked about old movies, old music, and sports, and Mad Ruthie always led the conversation with that growly voice of authority.

The store smelled great because it was full of old paperbacks and comics. Get a paperback book that's older than you, hold it to your nose, flip the pages, and inhale: that's what the store's air was like. The music playing in the store was 1930s jazz. Mad Ruthie was surrounded by old comics and albums and paperbacks and records and movie posters occupying every square foot of wall and shelving. I still have a thousand of those comics stored under my bed, largely because she gave me a good deal on all the comics I bought with my allowance and then later, my minimum wage.

In later years, the store relocated down the street, and I moved to Chicago. I would go back to the hometown and visit the store, now getting a used copy of some non-fiction hardcover or an old Life magazine for a gift. The store was larger but still packed with old stuff for sale (and dust). Mad Ruthie (now I knew that wasn't her real name) even came to Chicago to work in book fairs that featured booksellers from near and far. She complained that the Chicago customers wanted to browse more than buy, but she still came to my neighborhood almost every year with a selection of merchandise. It was strange to see her out in the fresh air, sitting behind a flimsy cardtable instead of the heavy desk.

She quit smoking and lost weight when the doctor told her to, but she passed away due to lung cancer early this year. Her family told the local paper they would sell the store and the contents that also included thousands of pieces of sheet music, antique toys, pamphlets, movie star photos, graphic novels, and "spicy" paperbacks ("the kind that MEN like!"). One writer observed that this kind of store tends to go out of business now that eBay has made it easier to locate any collectors' item you might want to buy.

Mad Ruthie died eight months ago and I still think about her at odd times. In the store's basement, while browsing old magazines, you'd hear the floorboards creaking over your head and her laugh coming from upstairs, over a Fletcher Henderson tune chirping in the background. I'd usually find something surprising, something you'd hold up to a friend and say, "Look at this!" The last thing I got from the store was a 1968 album by Phyllis Diller titled "Born to Sing," featuring her version of "I Can't Get No Satisfaction." The album cover shows Phyllis, apparently in her messy home, singing into a milk bottle, while a small boy sits bound and gagged in a chair behind her. I can't find its photo on Google (yet) but it's typical of what you'd find buried in the stacks at the store.

Luckily the occasion wasn't all about me

Lately a number of people I know have had friends or family die of old age. At times like this, one needs to say and do the right thing to show support and sympathy. Unfortunately, my good wishes are paired with a lack of grace.

At the funeral of Joe's mother, Joe asked me at the last minute if I would be one of the pallbearers. My brain thought, "That would be an honor indeed, because your mother was always generous and treated all her guests just like family. I would be proud to share a little in the burden of your family's grieving by helping carry your deceased mother's casket." While those were my thoughts, my mouth blurted, "That would be great!"

I ain't no Dr. Dolittle

When I moved to this neighborhood I noticed right away how many squirrels there are. Not an exact count, but I got the impression that they're everywhere, and it's fun to watch them twitch and scamper around, like me at my previous job.

On one of the first occasions that I was waiting for a train on the el platform near my new home, a squirrel climbed headfirst down a tree branch right next to me. He looked at me and waited. I didn't have any food. The squirrel moved on.

I decided that I'd never be caught off guard again, so I got the healthiest squirrel treats I could think of: a jar of unsalted peanuts. I put some in a baggie and kept it in my jacket pocket. The one time I saw a squirrel on the ground and remembered my peanuts, I threw him food and he ran behind a tree trunk.

Weeks went by, and I rediscovered the peanuts in my pocket while I was out one day. I ate them all and bought more. Now, months later, I'm eating these unsalted peanuts seven days a week. I guess if aliens ever want to capture me, they'll know how to lure me away after reading this.

Credibility

I read something once about the nine Supreme Court justices having 110 years of combined experience on the Court, or some similar number. Duly impressed, I'm applying the same approach at work tomorrow. When my little ad-hoc committee has to make a report to the rest of the department, I'll mention that our committee members have a combined height of 29 feet 5 inches.

Secret of his success

Seeing the photo of the legless football player in the newspaper, I thought it was a hoax, but then I also found it on the internet so it must be true. (Link) He plays high school football in Ohio and is able to tackle the opposition by grabbing their legs and not letting go.

There was another article elsewhere about how when this young man was on the wrestling team in middle school a few years ago, his success was due to "upper-body strength." Well, I would think so.

Park City, by Ann Beattie

...my sister... is in an air-conditioned room at something called the Yarrow, learning how to perfect her screenplay about Sally Hemmings, servant to, and alleged lover of, Thomas Jefferson. Originally, the screenplay began in the present day, with the mounted heads of the animal trophies brought back by Lewis and Clark that were hung on the walls at Monticello talking to each other about the odd goings-on at night, but when I lost it entirely and almost died laughing, she was forced to see what she'd written in a new light.
-- from the title story of the short story collection Park City.

I'm no fun, but at least I recognize that I have a problem

Last week, a lot of co-workers were obsessed with the Megamillions lottery as it grew to $250 million. I never got excited about it because I tried to comprehend the slim chance of winning. People were pooling their money and organizing the purchase of tickets all over the city, thinking that if they bought at a variety of locations, it would somehow help them win.

Because if you spent $100 on tickets all at a single store, that would just be a waste.

I know it's fun to imagine what would happen if you won the lottery, so I kept this nasty comment to myself: "Hey Burt, if you win the $250 million, you're going to donate it all to victims of hurricane Katrina, right? That would be so cool."

Presidential Task Force Solution to Hurricane Katrina

Bomb Iran.

How to promote a fresh new comedy, 1975

I saw this commercial only once in September 1975 but it was unique; I'll describe it as best as memory permits. A young man and woman are strolling through the woods, talking quietly. They're speaking in Swedish and there are English subtitles. (This alone would've made it a memorable ad.)

Are the Swedes talking about romantic or philosophical matters? No, the man has heard about a TV show that will soon make its debut. It'll be called NBC's Saturday Night and it'll feature fresh young talent with original comedy and it'll have music too. The woman asks, "Where are they making this show?" The man says, "It will be broadcast live from right here in New York City."

The camera pulls back and reveals that the couple has been walking, not through any generic forest, but Central Park, and now we see New York's skyscrapers rising above the trees.

The woman, puzzled, says, "If we're in New York City, why are we speaking Swedish?" Words come onscreen: NBC's Saturday Night, premiering Saturday, October 11.

Everyone knows it's windy

Is this happening where you live? It used to be you could walk down the street without hearing your fellow man break wind. It used to be you could ride the train to work and not hear a passenger's flatulence. But twice in the past year, I've heard this, and both times the guilty party was wearing an iPod and ear buds.

I know the farting isn't due to the specific brand of portable music player. The same sounds could just as easily come booming out of someone wearing a non-Apple device.

Maybe people assume that if they can't hear their own butts, then nobody else can. Sadly, mi amigo, they are mistaken. Once it sounded like a door slamming and it came out of some skinny little teenage girl.

Will people become aware of their offenses? If they do, I predict that they will not exercise more control over their nether regions. Instead, home electronics stores will sell special air-powered speaker systems that fit in the seat of your pants. They'll play a bit of music, as needed, to cover up the occasional farting sound. The music will be as customized as cellphone ringtones, to allow people another opportunity to express themselves.

A year from now, if you're on an elevator and you hear a tinny little "whoomp! there it is!" coming out of a stranger's pants, you'll know why.

Duck duck goose

Then again, any neighborhood has its eccentricities. A few years ago at my mom and dad's house, I looked out the living room window. Across the street, Mr. Johnson was on his riding lawn mower, chasing a duck that was running in circles around his front yard. I called Mom and Dad to the window and we stood there watching for about one full minute. The duck wouldn't go into a neighbor's yard; he kept flapping and running within Mr. Johnson's property. And Johnson was no better; he never got off the mower, but kept driving after the poor duck. I don't know if he intended to run over the bird; I'm glad I didn't see that. Eventually the chase progressed to the Johnson backyard so I don't know how it ended.

I would like to say that after a minute Mr. Johnson came running back to the front of the house, chased by a duck driving a riding lawn mower, but that would be a lie.

Rules of the road

I don't know if I'll ever get used to some elements of the new area I've moved to this year. I saw graffiti all over some traffic signs. On the sign reading "DO NOT ENTER" it now says below it, "...without a smile!"

I own this town

At the office recently Dave said to me, "I saw you with what must've been your parents over the weekend."

"Where?"

"You were standing at a corner on Michigan Avenue."

"Oh yeah, they came to town to visit for a day and at that point we were on our way to Tucci Benucch for supper. Where were you? I didn't see you."

"I went by in a cab. I was going to roll down my window as I went by and yell 'McCluskey, you suck!'"

That would've been great: I would've recognized Dave but my parents wouldn't know him and I could've said something like "Oh yeah, that's why they call me the King of Michigan Avenue."

Forgot my manners

On Friday a bunch of us went over to Lake Michigan at lunchtime to watch the jets and planes practice for the Chicago Air and Water Show this weekend. Some planes would do acrobatics and some jets would roar over our heads in tight formation. As soon as we all sat down on the steps at the lakefront some planes screamed by, and I said, "Go faster!" Next to us was a middle-aged guy and his female companion. He was a barrel-chested squinty mouth-breather and he stared at me for the longest time. Jeez Louise, mister, it was just a joke.

How true, how wise

This text about a Yahoo "Pick of the Day" (Link) asserts that, "Perhaps... we all could learn something from the birds." Well, yes.
* How to fly
* How to eat a worm
* How to crap on the heads of strangers
* How to bathe in public
* How to push an egg out of your butt
* How to circle around the heads of people who just suffered a concussion

Facial profiling

Long ago, in a college class, the professor interrupted a discussion to ask why my mind was wandering. This disturbed me for days because I thought I had set my facial expression to be neutral as I daydreamed.

In the 1990s, I thought my girlfriend had a strong sense of "women's intuition" because she would look at me and respond to what I was thinking but not saying. Later I realized it wasn't intuition; it was just easy for anyone to read my face.

At the office, Dave gave me a piece of candy and asked a couple other people to watch my face. (Was I self-conscious? No, I crave attention.) The candy was called Warheads and it started out sweet and when it turned extra sour, everybody could tell just by watching me. Ah, good times.

Lately I've noticed how expressive my face is even when there's nobody else around. Reading or watching TV, my lips get twisted or my eyebrows point northeast and southwest as I react to what I see. Just writing this, it's happening again. Why are my facial muscles always working so hard? Would it be OK if i just start wearing a mask in public? Something unobtrusive? Maybe a flesh-colored mask? That wouldn't look conspicuous, would it?

The Position, by Meg Wolitzer

In this excerpt from The Position, 34-year-old Claudia has gone back to her old elementary school to visit her kindergarten teacher, Ms. Pernak:
But Doreen Pernak wore a cat pin with green eyes shining out from the matte finish of a 14-karat gold circle, and it seemed like the kind of gift that an entire class of parents would chip in to buy a teacher. And this would dictate the teacher's personal aesthetic. It could have been worse; she could have been forced to wear rigatoni earrings.

Mr. Charity

Yesterday when the temperature was 102, I looked out the window and saw a skinny grey squirrel across the courtyard. He was on a window ledge, sprawled out on his stomach and resting his head on the concrete, with arms stretched out in front and legs stretched out behind. He looked dehydrated.

I took a shallow bowl of water out to him, and placed it on the ground directly under his ledge. He jumped up and climbed up the building's brick wall, looking down at me from a safer distance. I went back inside and although I checked periodically, I never saw him approach the water.

This morning, I was happy to see the water bowl was dry. Sure enough, there was a stain on the wall where the squirrel had stood and peed against the brick. OK, I made that last sentence up. But I hope he got some water, because we really have had a drought in this part of Illinois.

The iPod that never was

"Ballad of the Green Berets" sung by Truman Capote

"Lay Lady Lay" sung by Porky Pig

and "We're All Alone" sung by Ethel Merman:

Close the windowwwwww
Calm the lights!
And it will be alRIGHT!
No need to bother nowwwwww
Let it out!
Let it ALLLL begin!
All's forgotten nowwwwww!
We're all alone
ALL A-LONE!

Apropos of nothing

Once there was a scandal involving a Republican president, and somebody recorded a novelty song (in waltz time) about the event as it became more public in 1973.

We're Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell and Dean
The way we've been treated is really obscene
To think that a bug worth hardly a shrug
Could end up by getting us tossed in the jug
We all got the gate for no reason or rhyme
You'd think we'd committed some horrible crime
Our minds may be dirty but our hands are clean
We're Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell and Dean

We're Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell and Dean
Our job was to see that the White House stayed green
We might have had flaws like bending the laws
But God only knows it was for a good cause
There's no power shortage where we were concerned
And what little profit resulted we earned
Four lovelier fellows you never have seen
Than Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell and Dean

We're Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell and Dean
Our past has been fat but the future looks lean
With backs to the wall we're taking the fall
But damnit we only robbed Pete to pay Paul
Just when we were getting to be well-to-do
The Watergate turned into our Waterloo
And now everybody is out to demean
Poor Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell and Dean

Yes we're Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell and Dean
We're perfectly willing to spill every bean
We've nothing to hide with God on our side
He knows we were only along for the ride
And so it won't come as a terrible blow
There's one little thing that we think you should know
Whatever we say isn't quite what we mean
We're Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell and Dean

Oh yes we're Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell and Dean
Things won't be the same when we're gone from the scene
But people will still recall with a thrill
Our sell-out performance on Capitol Hill
It just isn't fair to take all of the blame
When all we were doing was playing the game
Now all of Washington's caught in-between
Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell and Dean

The musical act was called the CREEP (Committee to Rip-off Each and Every Politician), and this information is courtesy of http://www.jerryosborne.com/12-7-98.htm. At the time the song was on AM radio, my little brother thought the song was about "Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Pickles and Beans."

Time in prison: H. R. "Bob" Haldeman: Nixon's Chief of Staff, served 18 months
John Ehrlichman: White House Counsel, served 18 months
John Mitchell: Attorney General, served 19 months
John Dean: White House Counsel, served four months
Convictions to the four included conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and perjury.

Favorite reply

"Oh, he does that all the time."
-- The response of a Borders Books employee in Lincoln Park upon hearing a customer describe a man peeping into the stalls in the women's bathroom. From the Chicago Reader.

The new estate

This new condo takes a little getting used to. It's an older building and I've never had floors this uneven before. The good thing is that my chairs all have legs of unequal lengths, so by careful placement, none of them will wobble. The kitchen appliances are finished in black and aluminum, so when I had to buy a new toaster oven I picked out a black and aluminum one. It looks like Darth Vader's toaster oven. "These blueberry Pop-Tarts shall satisfy my hunger."

I descend the back stairs in the morning on my way to work and my hair collects the freshest cobwebs hanging from the low stairs overhead. When I get out to the sidewalk, you can recognize me as the guy brushing at invisible strands around his head.

Because I care

I've been skeptical whenever there's a news story about how saintly some recently diseased person was. Whether the cause of death was war, cancer, a traffic accident, or all three, it seems as if the dead person was always full of good works, giving all their time to charity, with never a bad day or moody temperament.

However. I now know a married couple who are just like that; they really do donate their free time to helping people with food or housing needs. They're also fun to be with, they're good conversationalists, and have good senses of humor (i.e., they laugh at my jokes).

So I worry. I'm afraid they're bound to die horribly unless I can get them to stop with all the volunteering. I'm just not sure how to break the news to them.

Dragnet

Before I moved to this neighborhood, I knew it was relatively safe. Still, I was curious about what the local police blotter report would say, so I looked it up online last week. It listed the addresses of recent police calls and arrests all over my part of town. A month's worth of reports showed an unusual amount of arrests happening at one building just a few blocks from my condo: battery, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, etc.

I had to check this out; I'd been walking all over the place running errands but didn't remember any really troublesome-looking building so close to home. Maybe this place looked well-kept on the outside, disguising whatever mayhem occurred at all hours of the day and night. It was a sunny day so I headed out to see the place for myself. As I approached the address, I realized that maybe I did remember what this building looked like. Ah yes, it's the police station.

Needs a second look

The front page of yesterday's Sun-Times looked a little odd. It had a big headline, but the photo under it was about another story. The big color photo showed two people crying and embracing, probably grieving over a death. The headline above the photo implied that there might be a smoking ban in Chicago restaurants soon. So the effect was a little misleading, on first impression.

Nothing that color ever flew out of me before

I blew my nose and little bits of carrot flew out. I had been sitting in my cubicle at work eating carrot sticks when I coughed involuntarily. Since I was eating, I kept my mouth closed as I coughed. After a minute I had to blow my nose, and little bits of orange carrot magically appeared in the Kleenex. I went around the floor to show it to only two people, because to show a third person would have been gauche. Now there's no doubt how special I am.

I went back to my desk and had to blow my nose somemore. More carrot bits flew out. Are they all out? I don't know. I envisioned a life smelling carrots over everything. "Honey, that perfume is heady stuff, if you ignore the scent of carrot mixed in it."

But I don't smell any carrots at the moment, so don't be alarmed if this happens to you; you can prevail and maybe make a TV movie or write a song about it.

Shame of the city

Tonight on CLTV (Chicagoland TV), the nightly news was anchored by a nice looking young blonde woman named Amy Rutledge. She introduced a story about a new local report that says Chicago is one of the most segregated cities in the United States. Amy said Pamela Jones had the full story, and the TV screen split into two squares with Amy in one square and Pamela in the other. Pamela, a nice looking young black woman, gave her report from a separate room.

Belated karma

When I was young and naïve, I worked for a Chicago company that asked me to work lots of overtime hours for free, while they fired hundreds of people in other divisions. (There was also plenty of inferior management.) After a few years of that, I (and my friends there) quit, one by one, to work elsewhere.

The day I left the Bad Bad company is still one of my happiest memories, and my departure helped me understand why some women obsess over planning their wedding day, even though it's a one-day event. It's because the memory can make you happy in remembering for the rest of your life.

After I quit, the Bad Bad company continued to fire people, maybe in hopes of raising its stock price (it didn't work).

Now I get notice, via e-mail, that the Bad Bad company has apparently burned its way through the entire Chicagoland hiring pool. They've run out of people to hire and fire, so they're trying to locate ex-employees by building a club, writing: "As we continue to transform our business into a truly great organization, we would very much like to be able to learn from your experiences and industry knowledge, and spend some time socializing and catching up while we’re at it."

That is so cute! They could start by reimbursing me for the 2,100 hours in unpaid weekend work accumulated over my last few years there. That would be "truly great" indeed.

I don't recognize the current CEO's name on the e-mail; the poor guy must not realize what he's inherited.

Darndest things

My mom is a little less discreet than my dad, and occasionally she pipes up with some phrasing or fact I didn't see coming.

Mom in the car, pointing to the building where she and Dad lived as newlyweds: "There's the apartment where Bill was conceived!"

At the dinner table one night: "Well, the first time your dad got a vasectomy, it didn't take." (It was news to me that Dad had one vasectomy, let alone two.)

Oh crap, it just occurred to me that since your parents know your formative years better than anyone, Mom could be spouting off the verbal equivalent of naked baby photos about me. Is it possible to Google the air for spoken words yet?

What do you look like?

I am distracted by trying to imagine the descriptions of people in a magazine article:

"A fit, taciturn man in his early sixties who looks like a retired astronaut and dresses like a real estate agent..."

"...he has the face of a wise old janitor at a local high school who lets the kids sleep in his office and finds them jobs raking leaves."

"Hawkishly handsome, [he] dresses like a jazz piano player, in a black turtleneck and elegant gold chains that dangle from his wrists."

From the article "Buried Suns - The past and probable future of America's nuclear-testing program" by David Samuels in the June 2005 Harper's.

Life lessons

Finally finished relocating from condo to temporary apartment to new condo. I learned this much:

When you're looking for a real estate agent to sell your condo and you call the one located on the same street where you live, and she asks how to spell the street where you both are at that moment, it's a good idea to interview another agent.

When the cable guy comes over and in the course of installation asks for, and uses, a butter knife (and takes a chunk out of its tip), consider questioning the preparedness of the technician.

There should be three of these items but I didn't learn anything else. Wait: I bought Caffeine-free Pepsi by mistake and now have this endorsement: Caffeine-free Pepsi: It's not as bad as you might have thought.

Let's be friends

Mimi Smartypants recently wrote (4/26/05) about bonding with strangers on the bus who had been speculating about the awful things Michael Jackson must have done to children. The point was that it seems strange that talking about such terrible things can bring people together. Kinda like that, I made friends in college one year by agreeing with strangers in my dormitory about what a jerk my roommate was.

I walked past a room and two guys and a girl were talking about somebody's moist, disgusting appearance and obnoxious behavior. I lingered in their doorway long enough to confirm what I thought, and introduced myself by saying, "I know, he's my roommate." They responded with many sympathetic comments and we hung out and had fun together for the rest of the year.

Later that school year I embarrassed myself with respect to the disgusting roommate, whom I'll call George. Out of politeness or conflict-avoidance, I never told George that I thought of him as a glistening, revolting nuisance. I moved to a single room within the dorm at my earliest opportunity, which was nice, and I disassociated myself from George. Working on a campus magazine, I submitted a short story, one of a few attempts to be funny in print at school. It took until a couple weeks after it was published, and only then did I realize that the person who dies at the end of the story was my unedited, ugly portrait of George. Talk about writing as therapy. Jeez, it was so obvious, and I didn't realize it the whole time I was typing the thing out. Nobody called me on it, which I attribute to the low circulation of the magazine.

According to Google, twenty years later, my three friends are now doctors, scattered across the country, and George is on a list of donors to a local charity. Hm.

The Newsroom

From a 2004 episode of The Newsroom, in which we see pompous TV news anchorman Jim Walcott on his local broadcast:

Jim: ...and now with sports, I'd like to welcome a new member of our team. Live from the Skydome, Chandra Berman. Welcome aboard, Chandra.

Chandra: It's great to be here, Jim.

Jim: Great to have you, Chandra. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm thinking you must be pretty tired of people reminding you that you have the same first name as Chandra Levy. Am I right?

Chandra: Well, that doesn't happen a lot.

Jim: Well, she was a terrific woman and one that will be sorely missed.

Chandra: Uh, Chandra Levy, who was murdered over two years ago, was murdered, I believe, before the public had a chance to know her, Jim.

Jim: Well that's a very good point, and one that might just well be the real tragedy of this story: a public figure's life cut short before the public had a chance to appreciate who she really was. But you know, we all remember her parents so well from the Larry King show, and the suffering they went through night after night on national television, and it's actually almost a tragedy in itself that the body was found, and we won't be seeing the Levys on Larry on a regular basis anymore. You know, their courage was an inspiration to us all. And speaking of inspiration, talk to us about the winning streak that we're on!

From the episode "An Enormous Waste of Time," written and directed by Ken Finkleman, produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

His words, not mine

On a local radio news story tonight, a man who earned money solely through cleaning car windshields called himself "an independent entre-manure."

It's curtains for me

I'm looking for curtains for the new condo before I move in, and I look online for local merchants. I find one likely store via Google, and it's not too far from here. I search for more information on the store, which is named after the proprietor. Eight sites come up. Most are just telephone listings and the like, but here's something interesting on the city's online police blotter: The proprietor was arrested at his own store two years ago for domestic battery. He's in his late fifties.

Hm. I picture myself at his store, and I can't make up my mind which draperies and hardware to choose out of the thousands of choices. The old guy starts punching me on the shoulder, saying "Just pick one sonny, they're all pretty good!" Then he starts hitting a little harder, asking me to "get the lead out, slow-poke." I imagine me leaving the store, sheltering my head from little bappity-baps as Mr. Storekeeper chases me with a flimsy piece of a mini-blind.

(I ended up going to Home Depot.)

The spouse card

At the discount store there was a woman attempting to return a men's overcoat for a refund. Maybe the man who wore the coat had damaged the garment somehow, because the clerk wouldn't take it back. The clerk was very apologetic and the woman wouldn't give up. After a few minutes the customer raised her voice and announced, "Well, my husband is an attorney... and he will be VEH-ry upset!" Nevertheless, she didn't get the refund.

Still, maybe this would work in other situations. "My spouse is an attorney, and he (she) will be VEH-ry upset!" Try it if the judge won't let you out of jury duty. I don't know that this approach would work any better if the spouse had another profession.

"Our federal tax return is going to be audited? Well... my wife runs a pet store and, heh heh, she is going to be LIVID!"

"This car repair is going to cost $2,500? Well, my husband is a pianist... and he will be EXTREME-ly perturbed!"

Always the smartass

I keep forgetting that this one nice lady at work must have a sense of humor that does not overlap with mine. I get a puzzled reaction when she says that she likes my silk necktie and I reply, "Oh thank you, it's made from a material that shoots out of worm butts."

Words not found in ABBA lyrics

friggin'

arthritis

zinc

Congratulations!

Ernie at work announced that his wife was expecting their first child, and to celebrate he brought a moist lemon cake and some candy to share with the staff. Everyone gathered round to pat Ernie on the shoulder and give their best wishes to his wife, with the traditional talk about baby names, the expected delivery date, the happy grandparents, etc.

In a couple weeks I'd like to come in with a cake and tell the whole staff with a beaming face that I finally got some girl pregnant! Yay Bill! I sense, however, that the same mood of goodwill and fellowship might not prevail in my case.

Ouch

From an interview with Steely Dan, in which Walter Becker is asked if anyone has ever misunderstood their lyrics:

Interviewer: Can you remember any favorite misinterpretations, Walter?
Walter: I seem to remember that somebody thought that the line "the sparkle of your china" in Bodhisattva actually said something like, the spark of your vagina.

Link

Gapers and flamers

It must be really boring for drivers to commute to work in Chicago. The average one-way trip is about 33 minutes and the day-to-day routine is so dull that drivers slow down for anything unusual, like a car accident in the lanes headed the opposite direction. I hear about these delays every morning on the local radio traffic reports before I take the train to work.

There is a solution: stage flaming car wrecks along the expressway every quarter mile or so. When these sights become so commonplace that drivers can see 80 different calamities during the 20 mile drive to the office, crashes will no longer be a distraction.

Not only will commuters minimize travel time, but the actors and support staff required to populate and maintain all the car fires and artificial mayhem will decrease the local unemployment rate.

This could provide another decent job for the pyromaniac guy from my high school class. I still don't understand the impulse behind his setting that umbrella on fire but the last I heard, he was working for some town's water department, so maybe he's got his urges all worked out.

Gee, I didn't foresee this post ending there, but there you go.

Lucky charm

Last week I went to see a real estate agent and put down a written offer for a condo, knowing that there were two other people bidding on the same property. The agent was a nice young woman who happened to be a newlywed. She said that she wasn't allowed to tell me what the other bids were; I just had to make my best offer.

In times of uncertainty I think of superstitions or ways to improve my luck: should I have my offer end with a "7"? Should I have worn some lucky article of clothing? I didn't have one.

I met with the agent , filled out the purchase contract with my best offer, signed a bunch of papers, and the whole thing took about half an hour. Then while I was in that neighborhood I stopped at a record store and later picked up a few things at the grocery store. Then I headed home.

As I got back to my apartment door I looked down and saw that my fly was open. Shiny zipper all the way down. It had been like that the whole time I was out with the real estate agent and at the stores. Did she see? She didn't say anything. She didn't act weird, although I didn't know her so I didn't know what it would look like for her to act weird. She seemed very professional.

The next day I found out I had the high bid, I'm getting the condo, and now I know what I need to do the next time I need a burst of good luck.

Hope never dies

"When are you gonna send me a sexy young man?"
-- Overheard at work, spoken by a morbidly obese grandmother of seven talking on the phone

Order

In the past month:

Dad (to my mom): I'm impressed with how organized Bill's place is.

My real estate agent (on viewing my condo for sale): ...I can already tell you're the well-organized type...

My apartment manager (in her office during my application for residence): Whew! William's got it goin' on! Aren't you organized!

It's unnerving to hear three times in a month that I'm so organized because I don't think it's true. Just because I go to apply for an apartment with my papers sorted by subject in a three-ring binder with folders doesn't make me especially organized; that's just common sense. But if that means I've Got It Goin' On, I won't argue. It may be the only time I'll ever be informed that I Had It Going On at a Particular Place and Time.

Me plea

Recently I sold my condo, but before that, for a short time I was paying for both the condo and the apartment I would move to. During that time I was prepared to answer any beggar on the street who said, "Spare a quarter? Help the homeless."

"You're homeless?" I would say. "You don't know how lucky you are! I have two homes and I can't keep them straight! I get out of work and I don't know whether to take the northbound train or the southbound train! I keep toothbrushes in two homes! Do I have enough toothpaste in both homes? I don't know! Do you know what it's like to maintain phone answering machines in two homes? To have milk go sour in one home and have to travel miles to your other refrigerator to get a decent glass of milk? And don't get me started on the teasing I get! People at work asking whether I'll be 'weekending' at my northern property or my southern estate! You have NO idea!"

Unfortunately no beggar stopped me during that time, so I have to hope that they will read this and come closer to understanding a little bit of my plight during that stressful time.

My relatives are the best

Overheard at a family function, between two cousins, both women in their seventies:
A: Why do they call that restaurant Hooters, anyway?
B: Well, their mascot is an owl.

Theater student? Or just high?

About 5:00 pm on the Red line subway a young man stepped on the train and gave out a loud but obviously fake sneeze. He was a little shorter and thinner than average, with thick glasses. He projected his voice to the entire car as he said, "Aha! Perhaps I startled you, with my loud sneeze? Perhaps I made you jump! Because I sneezed so loud!"

A couple people muttered to him to shut up, and he responded by yelling repeatedly in the direction of the driver, "Help! They're trying to KILL ME!" The driver was in our car and we hadn't left the platform yet, so he walked back and talked to the troubled youth. The driver asked him to leave but the young man promised to behave. By now the Red line trains must've been stalled for miles behind us while our train's driver dealt with this distraction. The driver returned to his booth and the train moved forward. The young man, quieter now, left in a few stops.

I may be losing my sense of humor because I was in a hurry and while the little guy was begging for attention, I considered walking the length of the car back to where he was. I believed that I could have bumped him out the door without taking my hands out of my pockets. I think he would've thrived on the drama though, and I'd have been turned into the clueless sap with a Tom Green wanna-be.

Cool!

About a year ago in our high-rise they put up a notice that the TV show E.R. would be filming in our neighborhood on a Sunday morning, so some streets would be closed. This wasn't big news because they had been here before to shoot scenes in front of some of the older buildings.

The interesting part was that they would be filming an army tank running over cars on State Street. On the appointed morning I was standing at my dining room window looking out as the tank did test runs north and south on State. There weren't many TV crew people evident, but a few cops were there to keep onlookers out of the street.

Then they must've started filming for real because the tank, hiding behind a building, came around a corner and ran over a phony newsstand (I guess they didn't have a fruit cart) that had been set up that morning. The tank rolled north and veered over to the side of the street where it ran over a couple parked cars. Ah, so those were prop cars!

The first shot was complete and they paused to set up filming for second and third scenes where the tank ran over more cars on the same block, including what appeared to be a police car. By the time they were finished, there were seven flattened cars on State Street, some of them in front of the run-down building where homeless men stayed for $10 a night.

Filming completed, the TV crew left so the cops who were there for crowd control left too. After a while, two guys in shabby clothes stepped out of the homeless men's building and found two crushed cars parked right in front of them. The cars were only about knee-high now. The two guys stared and shook their heads. Then they looked to their right and saw five more mangled cars up the street. It looked like a terrible shame, but by mid-afternoon tow trucks had taken away all the evidence.

Silver tongue

I see now that it's bad form when your boss shows you a recent photo of herself and you say, "Oh what a good picture! You look so young!" because after that the conversation can take an awkward turn, as in "Young? As compared to in the flesh?"

One or two of those are from the Bible

So I have to get more checks for the checkbook and I have the order form with all the different kinds of check designs to choose from. A lot of them have different slogans or sayings on them, along the lines of "I love pandas," or something like that... whatever you feel the need to share with the automatic letter opening machine at the electric company.

On one check design there are two messages you can choose from: (1) "The Lord is my rock and my strength" or (2) "Surf the 'Net." (Intriguing set of choices.)

But what if people see the slogan "Surf the 'Net?" What would that lead to? Millions of people viewing the World Wide Web in their spare time?

Link

Hello fat kitty

The idea that you are what you eat has been enthusiastically promoted for years by Den Fujita, the eccentric billionaire who brought McDonald's to Japan three decades ago. "If we eat McDonald's hamburgers and potatoes for a thousand years," Fujita once promised his countrymen, "we will become taller, our skin will become white, and our hair will be blonde."

--from the book Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser

To the future husband of Jenna Bush

On your honeymoon night when you're enjoying conjugal relations with your bride in the missionary position, when you notice how much your bride resembles the 43rd president, will that be a good thing?

Blessed

Kathy at the office decided the time was right for her to have an iPod. She had reached a certain age and of all the friends in her circle, she was the last one without. When she brought it to work one day she said, "Once you have one, it changes your whole life. Wait 'til you get one of your own; I can't explain. It's so tiny, and when you hold it in your hands..." Friends have noticed a new serenity in Kathy now that her priorities have changed.

It's new for somebody

I was riding the Red line train for the millionth time under a dull gray sky. We rode past the same gray and brown apartments and houses that were there yesterday. Directly in front of me a mom and her four-year-old boy sat looking out the window. The kid wore a jester's stocking cap and had been blathering away for about 15 minutes. Then, still looking out the window he said, after a pause, "This is amazing!" Going past another gray building he said, "That's amazing." Then a brown building went by: "That's amazing."

Dichotomy of existence

The good news was that when I got to work I smelled like a campfire, which brought back many happy memories of vacations. The bad news was, I smelled like a campfire because I had to walk through the smoke and ash from a restaurant that was burning down that morning.

The good news was that I finally got new underwear. Unfortunately I thought it was regular underwear and I was mistaken; the waistband came up an extra inch, resembling some kind of tummy-control underwear that can probably be seen through my shirt and I don't really need tummy-control underwear but now people think I do.

Good news: saw the movie Hotel Rwanda, about the killing of nearly one million people in Rwanda in 1994. Bad news: it was "too melodramatic," according to the friend who saw it with me.

Mighty have fallen

The clerk at the hardware store seems to convey a sense of once having had a job with more prestige than store clerk. Then it struck me; he looks like Headmaster Charleston from Gilmore Girls. That's it: he used to be the distinguished but stuffy administrator of a private school in New England; now he's selling flashlight batteries. What happened? My guilt over observing his misfortune is exceeded only by my unease at confusing TV shows with reality.