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.


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. 


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. 


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."


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?"


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."