Wednesday, May 31, 2006

For Sale: Luxury High Rise Condominiums

For the couple of weeks, construction crews have been dismantling one of my favorite buildings in Chicago. I haven’t been able to tell if anyone has lived in the building for the last 2 years that I've lived nearby. Although it seemed to be okay structurally, boards went up over the lower floors’ windows about a year ago. I would walk past the house and fantasize about the al fresco dinners I could have on one of its terraces and dream of the vintage ports I could savor inside in its sitting room.

It was a very stately brick building, probably built in the 1950s. While it had the air of a single-family home, its grandness led me to believe it was comprised of several luxury units. The building’s log spanned two streets so that it had two entrances; one on my street and another on the next street over. It was nestled that way between two towering apartment buildings, Charleston-style, so that the side of the building, with its shuttered windows and porticos, was actually the front of the building. The walls that faced the street, although stacked upon one another at different stair step levels, were relatively unornamented as though they were actually the sides of the building.

Earlier this year, I noticed two tall pylons had been erected on the street side of the building. I grew excited. Obviously, someone who saw in that building the same potential that I had seen was going to fix it up so that I may one day inhabit it. But a week later, a mammoth advertisement was slug between them. “For Sale: Luxury High Rise Condominiums.” I drooped when I first walked past it. Chicago doesn’t need anymore luxury high rise condos. What we need is more quirky, but stately buildings like the one on its deathbed behind that ugly sign.

The building remained untouched for several months. I was relieved when the sign was knocked down in a windy storm. It was never replaced on my street side. I hoped that the investors had backed out or the building was saved by folks as caring as me. It wasn’t until I was riding past the next street over that I noticed that the sign had been re-built at the building’s second entrance. That street has more traffic. More traffic meant more money.

Then, about a month ago, the construction crews came. Every morning, I heard their destruction from my room while I was getting ready to go to work. Loud and ugly sounds. Scraping and tearing and banging. I couldn’t stand to think about my future beautiful terraces being smashed to the ground.

On my way to work I surveyed the damage and my sadness was replaced by awe. It is rare to get to see a literal cross section of a building. As each day came and went, new treasures were uncovered. A powder blue tiled bathroom with a crystal chandelier; Scarlet velvet covered bedroom walls that conjured Rosemary’s Baby-esque images; Mahogany kitchens fit for a chef; interior windows acting as portals to other rooms. Everyday, I stopped and read these stories of past-tenants lives. Each room was every bit as quirky as the building’s exterior and told a very particular tale of its inhabitants’ existence; a story of which I wanted to be a part.

I kept telling myself that I was going to take photographs of these rooms. I imagined that my photographs would reveal mysterious “mists” in each room, the ghosts of residents’ past. But I never got around to taking those photographs. In some way, I think that is appropriate to the life and death of that building.

Then last week, on my way home from the bus, I saw that the building was completely gone. All that is left is a flat, barren and dusty lot. And an ugly sign that says, “For Sale: Luxury High Rise Condominiums.”

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Lost Dialogue

. . .

GLENN: I used to go muddin’ in my daddy’s pickup without his permission when I was 17. ... As mayor I believe we should help those in our community who may have alcohol or drug problems or mental illness. We should help them to get better, we shouldn’t lock them up. Unless they’re drunk or bothering other people with their illness. I had a father--

LORI BETH: Awww. Bless your heart.

GLENN: (Confused.) Thank you. (Back to the matter at hand.) I had a father who had dementia, which can be a mental illness. He would sometimes believe that people were in his house with guns and were about to kidnap him.

LORI BETH: (Matter-of-factly) I was kidnapped once.

GLENN: When was this?

LORI BETH: Two weeks ago. But enough about me. You know what sounds like dementia? Paprika. (Sprinkles Paprika on biscuits they are making.)

LORI BETH: (Awed) Are those your real eyes?

GLENN: (Pause) Oh! You mean my colored contacts. Without them, my eyes are a dull gray. Certainly not swimming-pool-blue like Paul Newman’s.

LORI BETH: (Alarmed) He was in a swimming pool?

GLENN: At some point I’m sure he was. He probably even has a pool. But I was referring to his eyes.

LORI BETH: I love Henley.

GLENN: (good-naturedly) Well, as mayor I bet I love it more.

LORI BETH: (laughing) No, I love it more.

GLENN: (laughing) No, I disagree. I love it more.

LORI BETH: (still laughing) No, I love it more!!!

GLENN: Well, then ... I guess we’re at a stalemate.

LORI BETH: What’s a stalemate?

GLENN: Well, it’s when two people ... you know what? You win. You love Henley more.

. . .

(Written by Carrie Barrett and Robert Cass)

Monday, May 29, 2006

Selling Out

I dislike the term “sellout”. It doesn't really mean anything to me. Its a blurry, shady area that is almost impossible to define because we can never truly know the motivation of others. Likewise, it is difficult to uncover the real driving force behind our own actions. Only rarely does time allow us the genuine objectivity needed to expose the truth behind our own reasons for making any given decision. Or maybe I'm just terrified of being a sellout. I definitely have it in me.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Over a year ago I wrote this email to my Sweetie:

Last night, I was researching old Chicago night spots when I recalled that one of these old haunts still remains intact in the basement of my old dwelling on Astor Street. As you may remember, The Astor Tower was once an extension of the famous Ambassador East Hotel. It was alike in its chic, but it was reserved for long-term guests – many of them entertainers with longer Chicago engagements. It was the stage for the major Beatles press conference wherein John apologized for declaring that the Beatles were bigger than Christ. It has a history of its own.

When I lived on Astor Street, I was fascinated by this old basement haunt. Its only entrance was through the back doors of the building, from which I only exited once – when I was escorting my mother’s friend, Robyn, to the car. I only caught a shadowy glimpse of its entrance. The bright red carpet in the entryway was only a tiny indication to the rest of the restaurant, but it spoke volumes of another era - one filled with a lively and elite set of Chicago’s finest. Robyn told me that it was an exact replica of Maxim’s de Paris, a very famous restaurant in, you guessed it, Paris. She also mentioned that it was only used for private events.

During the year and a half that I lived there, I only recollect Maxim’s being used twice. One of these times, I was stared down by a gang of strong men in tailored blue suits. As I walked outside, I saw that the street had been barricaded and there were helicopters flying overhead. Naturally, I was very curious as to what was happening. It was an hour or so later than I got my answer: President Bill Clinton was in town and was being entertained at Maxim’s. If my memory serves me, it was also used months later for a wedding reception.

So I knew that it was still being used, and was nice enough to accommodate the President on one of his rare visits. But, I didn’t know the full story behind it until last night, when I came across this website:

Now, as you can imagine, I am fully obsessed with it.

I am getting married in Maxim's in November.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Please call me Henri

I am eating what I believe to be Old Frenchman's Lunch. Two thin slices of dense rye bread, bits of cheese, green olives, a mini cucumber and yellow melon. I think its the best lunch I've ever had. If only I had a glass of red to go with it.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Quitting Is for Quitters; I Am Not a Quitter

Riding one’s bike against 20-30 mile per hour gusts is not as easy as one might think. One might have made the mistake of bicycling downwind on the first leg of one’s journey only to find that the ease that one found on one’s arrival was quickly and painfully diminished upon departure into a now blustery bike trail. If one is not an avid bicyclist (or an avid exercisist, for that matter) one might find that one must downshift to a very low gear so that one’s thighs do not burn in a matter befitting only hell. One who is out of shape might find that a jogger is running alongside one’s bicycle at the same speed yet with much less difficulty and a smile on his face. One might have to set aside one’s pride and health and either endure this slow and painful route or realize that walking one’s bike might prove to be easier. In the case of this one, one persevered with clinched jaw and sweating brow and last night slept like an exhausted baby.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


As I walked down Lake street I was showered soap bubbles falling from the sky. I looked up to see that high above me, hundreds of feet in the air, were 3 harnassed window washers, zipping up and down on their thick soft ropes, surrounded in bubbles.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Awesome Andersons

Jenni Anderson doesn’t want to spin 14 hula-hoops while standing on top of a chair that is teetering on her jumping father’s forehead. She wants to be getting rides to the mall from her friend Katie’s older brother, Thom. She doesn’t want to juggle freshly sharpened machetes while walking a tightrope held by her brother Russell and Uncle Eugene, who are balancing on huge brightly colored balls. She’d rather be wearing pink a lip gloss to Rec League baseball games to look at cute boys baseball caps. Why is she swallowing a flaming torch while submerged in a tank of sharks when she could be lying by her friend Christina’s pool and eating Fruit Roll-ups and tater tots? Jenni should be doing all of the things her friends instant message her about, but instead she’s stuffed in her family’s cramped RV, touring between waterlogged towns and musty theatres that have seen a better years.

She’s sick of answering awed audience members’ questions about her young age (14) and when she learned how to contort her body into a heart shaped medallion that swings from a cable in the air (She was 3). And if she has to take one more Polaroid with old ladies in green plastic visors and American flag t-shirts she’s going to scream. In the winter, she had to miss her favorite shows to train and now she has to miss reruns to her favorite shows to tour. But how can she stop? It’s what pays for her new Gameboy system, her father reminds her while he sharpens the Machetes, and if she didn’t tour with the family where would she stay?

Besides, her Mother repeats while sitting twisted like a pretzel at the RV kitchen table, everyone knows that she’s the most popular attraction.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Hotmail Haiku

Hotmail is for fucks!
Years of memories erased
All because they suck.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


The lady on the bus informed us that something was going on with Pluto and secrets now are being revealed. This angered one of the woman with whom she was in accord, just moments earlier, in a jolly rabble rousing exchange about the travesties of modern corporations. The middle section of the bus, all strangers, had struck up a group discussion about Haliburton and Enron when the Pluto comment was made.

“So you’re saying that Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling did all of that stuff because Pluto told them to?” Her transformation from warm to frigid was easy and immediate. “You’re saying that a rock has feelings?”

“I’m sorry, a rock?”

“Yes! Pluto is a rock! It’s a rock and it doesn’t make people do things! People are in control of their destinies. Not rocks!” Ms Volatile looked away, shaking her head as if she just had seen someone lick a dumpster.

“Oh, no, I didn’t mean that Pluto made them do it--certainly not--we’re in control of our lives. We all do what we want to. I just meant that the stars are aligned in such a way that those bad guys aren’t getting away with it this time because Pluto won’t let them.”

“That is ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. That’s one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard.”

The other conversationalists looked away partly with pity for Ms Pluto and also with fear for Ms Volatile’s unanticipated wrath. Ms Pluto was visibly flustered, but she maintained her original stance.

“Well, we are made of the earth and the earth is made of the stars. The sun and the moon control the tides. And we are made up of nearly 80% water, so of course we’re all connected in some way. But you don’t believe in astrology, so...”

“You’re right. I don’t believe that stuff. I make my own choices.”

After a long awkward silence, Ms Volatile gathered her stuff and moved to a seat at the front where she wouldn’t be bothered. Ms Pluto immediately turned her attention to the window. The streets of Chicago were flocked with sun fed people happily shopping, cycling and otherwise enjoying the beautiful day.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

For Real: I Overheard a Guy Walking Down the Street Yelling This into His Phone...

...He was all the way across the street, but I heard every word. He was carrying leftovers.

"I had my first slump buster last week. Brutal. She looked like Chewbacca. She had to be the ugliest fucking girl in Chicago. I busted a nut, but when I looked down there was blood. She was on the rag. Dan was busting my chops for days about it. It was so brutal. She was so fucking ugly. If she had been skinny, it wouldn't have been so bad, but she was fuckin fat."


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The TV

When I was young, my parents had a very peculiar old TV in their bedroom. While it wasn't so old that it had its own built-in hutch, it was old enough to be a relic. It was given to my parents by my grandparents and, since the early 1970’s, had remained perched atop a rickety TV stand at the foot of their bed.

In his working days, my mother's father was a successful home builder with his own construction company and is, to this day, known for being a very kind and generous man. When his friend, the owner of a competing company, fell ill and lay dying in the hospital alone with no family to care for him, my grandfather was there to comfort him. He would get his sick friend anything he needed, my grandfather. He wanted a color TV, his friend.

Despite the fact that the sick friend was bleeding rich and could afford about 100 TV’s with enough chump change left over to buy a fast car, my grandfather granted his request by buying him the best TV he could find, a very state of the art color TV with remote control, and installed it next to his bed in his private hospital room. Sadly, the TV didn’t get much of a workout, as the friend passed away shortly after the TV’s introduction. The TV was given to my parents, still a young couple.

The TV was peculiar because it was a color TV in a black and white TV’s shell, in that it couldn’t hold a signal, was blue around the edges, was just as archaic as any old black and white. It was heavy, made of metal and plastic, with a column of big silver dials. The remote was a big black plastic box with one big white button on it that, when pressed, would make a loud clicking noise that would turn the top channel dial. It would turn the TV on, cycle through all 12 channels, and then once the rotation was complete it would turn the TV off and so forth. A sound activated remote—the Clapper’s predecessor.

After a while, the TV started to fall apart. The antenna broke off, in its place went a metal wire dry cleaner hanger propped up against the door molding. And the knobs eventually fell off exposing a scary metal shaft that would only turn with the aid of my father’s strong hands and a wrench. So often, when I wanted to watch TV in my parents’ room in myself, I would need to get creative. By this time, the cover of the remote had also broken, exposing a metal coil that would make that loud clicking noise to which the TV would respond. After a few years of manually clicking the TV on and off, the coil came out and was lost.

This presented a problem; the TV could not be turned on and off unless my father volunteered to stop his hard-earned maxing and relaxing and come up to be my TV slave. “Yeah. Right.” So I did what any normal TV-grubbing child would do and I reached into my dad’s big glass jug filled with spare change and I shook the hell out of it until it made the same frequency of noise that remote made and the TV would spring to life.

I would like to say that I am the genius who discovered this, but alas, I am not. It was discovered by accident; whenever my father would shake the jar to add up his change, the TV would pop on.

Watching TV in my parents’ room took a lot of practice as the channels would erratically change at seemingly arbitrary moments when the many coins were clanging around. The worst was trying to turn it off. Sometimes, the shaking would mean that it would click off, and then on again, because it is hard to shake a jug of coins with precision. But by the time I got to middle school, I had perfected the art of channel “changing.” (Pun totally intended.) I discovered that you could get more control if you put a piled a bunch of change on the floor and dropped several quarters at a time into the pile. That seemed to do the trick just fine. But it took many frustrating attempts at watching Wheel of Fortune to get to that point.

The TV remained a fixture in my parents’ bedroom until the early 1990s, when my father and mother got a divorce and much of the house was dismantled and re-decorated as the households shifted. The old curtains went down, new ones went up and new furniture was brought in to fill in the gaps left by the old half leaving. The old TV was put out to pasture, along with other childhood relics; green plastic tubs filled with Lego blocks, baby dolls and tea party sets. But there is still a place in my heart for that damn TV.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Recurring Dream

I used to have this very scary recurring dream. I haven’t had it in years. In fact, when I think of it, I see it through the eyes of my seven-year-old self, which is to say that I don’t remember the details of it. I remember the color red. And black. And a huge mass—perhaps a rubber band ball—that is twirling and turning and wrapping around something. Although I can see it from a bird’s eye view, that something it's enveloping feels like me. I am in the middle of this vice as it is clamping down on me in slow motion. Meanwhile, I hear a cacophony of sounds, tinny sounds that are slightly louder and faster and higher in pitch than they are in reality. I simultaneously hear people talking, dogs barking, music playing, ambient noise; all jumbled together like an excerpt of Revolution #9. And when I’d wake up, startled having sweat through my nightgown, I’d not be able to shake that horrible feeling--that I was slowly being suffocated while the dissonant sounds of the world whizzed around me.

Naturally, I would run to my parents’ room to ask for comfort. “I had a bad dream,” I would tell my mother. “What was it about?” she sleepily would reply. Not knowing how to describe what I had just experienced, I would tell her I had a dream wherein I was in a car that was rolling down a hill and I couldn’t make it stop.

Clever, you are thinking, that I could improvise on the spot such a realistic alternative dream. Not really. As it were, my mother had mentioned to me that she had a recurring dream as a child. In this dream, she was trapped in a car with another little girl unable to apply the breaks while the car was rolling backwards. In her dream, her father could be seen on the horizon clutching his stomach, doubled over in pain. I thought that telling her that we shared the same recurring dream would make her sympathize with my pain. For the most part, I was right. Upon hearing the story, she would often let me sleep in the bed with her, whereas she’d usually turn me away when I woke her for other reasons.

The more interesting part in regards to my mother’s recurring dream is that, after 5 or so years of having this dream and explaining it to her mother, it came to life. When she was about 11 years old, her parents moved into a house on the hill. By this time, she had 2 sisters. One of them, Lynne, was in playing with her in their father’s station wagon, parked on the circular driveway in front of the house. Something happened, my mother pulled the emergency brake or shifted gears, and the car started rolling backwards. Both girls were screaming, my mother yelling, “My dream! My dream!” The car rolled down the driveway and into the street, where it slowly came to a halt. Thank God there were no oncoming cars speeding around the bend. Upon hearing the story, my grandmother immediately recognized the similarities between the dream (as told to her by my mother) and the real-life event. That night, my grandfather had to be hospitalized with what turned out to be a bleeding ulcer, making the reenactment of my mother’s dream complete.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Her fingernails

While he was cleaning up his desk, he came across a sliver of her fingernail. It had been flung across the desk by the force of clamping clippers. She used to absentmindedly groom herself—trim her fingernails and toenails and pick her nose and pimples-while sitting in front of the computer. It was cute. But today, the site of the yellowed fingernail made his stomach lurch. He ran to the bathroom and vomited into the sink. Was it or wasn’t it a myth that one’s fingernails keep growing after death?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

What a drip!

Me, that is. I’m the drip. I’ve spent the better half of my morning fervently reading “Guide to Grammar and Style” by Jack Lynch.

Juicier than any issue of USWeekly, the Guide has pretty much everything you’d need to know about the proper use, or, as Mr Lynch would prefer, the widely accepted use of English language. Too bad my memory is such that next month I’ll be back to bugging my copyeditor with non-work related grammar questions. I love to see the look on her face when, thinking that my questions are in regards to work, she asks, “Now, who wants to know the definition of an antecedent?”

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A short treatise on the word “Frond”

Frond. Unless you are a botanist, I don't see a need to use this word. Of course, I think choosing the right word is important. It just seems to me that this word is used only in conjunction with romanticizing an event.

"We had a little picnic under a palm frond."
"Oh, the party was gorgeous! Each table was set with Waterford and fern fronds. A real top-shelf event!"
"Hark! To hell my broken heart goes flying with wings of tree fronds.”

Its not that I am irritated by the sound of this word, such as the case of “Swab” and “Hoist” and “Adhere.” It makes a rather pleasing shape with the mouth as it rolls off the tongue. Frond. Fronds. I’ll admit, yes, its nice. And I like fronds as objects. I spend hours in conservatories, digging the hell out of both fern and palm. What city dweller hasn’t enjoyed a surprise encounter with a beautiful green frond? Show me who, and I’ll show you a cold-hearted bastard.

My dislike of the word is simply a tragedy of associating it with type of people who would use this word in casual conversation. You know who I’m talking about: Girls in gauzy dresses who are always casting nasty looks and writing in their leather-bound journals; Beige-suited meeting planners who pride themselves as “animal lovers” “well traveled” and “friends with homosexuals” although they don’t own an animal, have never stamped their passport and the only homosexual they know is their hairdresser or temporary co-worker; Creepy men who stalk their ex-girlfriends; Murders; Rapists; and Baby Torturers.

It’s sort of like the name "Mandy." I've had a handful of bad experiences with different persons of this name--excepting, of course, Mandy Patinkin who is great in Princess Bride and Crestor commercials alike. But, alas, I just cannot come to love that name. I shudder to think I was almost named Mandy.

To you, if you are a user of this word, may I suggest a few synonyms (as gathered from Roget’s Thesaurus): blade, bract, flag, foliole, frond, leaflet, needle, pad, petal, petiole, scale, stalk, stipule. I would give special consideration to using “foliole,” “petiole,” and “stipule.”

“I cannot see through all those folioles!”
“I’m happy to have the shade from these petioles!”
“Damnit! That stipule just poked me in the eye!”

Muuuuuuuch better, indeed.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

“I have a long stride, so I have to wear pleated skirts,”

...said the woman on the phone who called me mistaking my work line for a Pharmaceutical Drug Assistance Program Hotline. She has always lived within her means, always cooks at home, never buys prepared foods and never dines out. She sews all of her clothes (she has a long stride, so she has to wear pleated skirts) and always hangs them dry. Sometimes that’s tricky—when her clothes are still wet and she’s got to go to work. But it saves money. Since the age of 14, she has worked, most recently in Manhattan at her son’s jewelry store. She wouldn’t be working there, but her daughter-in-law “got a bleeding brain” so she’s helping out. Its all okay, though. God has graced her with a beautiful family. Every day she counts her blessings. She does not want to do anything illegal or lie or cheat but if it’s on the straight and narrow, she’d like to find out more about this drug assistance program. Her doctor ensures her that she’s doing the right thing in calling, because she needs these drugs, but she feels really nervous about it. Its not something she’s comfortable with—taking handouts.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Urban Witch

The Urban Witch walks about the streets of Chicago, waiting for mothers to turn their backs on their children. The Urban Witch has hair the color of raw steel that sweeps her waist. Taking utmost pride in it, she is sure to tangle it 100 times before bedtime. Her skin is draped about her face like tanned leather over skull. Taking utmost pride in it, she is sure to dry it out in front of a smoldering radiator for at least 2 hours a day. Her nails are yellowed and clubbed and caked with grime. Taking utmost pride in them, she is sure to gnaw at her cuticles upon waking every morning.

When she walks the sound of a tuba waltz echoes off the skyscrapers. Little ones look up from their ice-cream cones and lollipops to see the source of this music. Is there a circus in town? The wind kicks up in salute, disguising itself as a cold artic gust off the shores of Lake Michigan. The sun fearfully ducks behind a cloud. Birds, perched in rustling trees above, hush their song uneasily to watch her pick her next prey. The Urban Witch’s icy blue eyes are alert, darting from side to side, and waiting. Her pointed ears are listening for sounds of laughter. Her sharp cliff of a nose is worming and twisting to the scent of fresh-washed ears and baby powder wafting in the breeze.

Just as Mom turns around to ensure that her mocha will be served “sans whip,” the Urban Witch will briskly snatch her little apple cheeked darlings and take them back to her Urban Witchhole, her studio apartment in Uptown. Her little Hate Nest smells like cat pee and coffee and cigarettes and grapefruit and steak and is cluttered with a jungle of plants in macramé holders that have been trying their damndest, for over 15 years, to end their own misery. She will deposit each screaming toddler in his own antique curio cabinet, where they will stay until there are no longer cute. Then she will chop them up and eat them in a stew.

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Sage

My friend, Robert, wrote me to tell me that while packing for an upcoming move, he came across a book about Photography that I loaned him over a year ago. Apparently, during a subsequent conversation about borrowing and returning objects, I had said that I wasn’t any rush to get it back, but that he shouldn’t move with it.

I was surprised to hear that I had specifically advised against that. Although its sound advice, it’s not something that might come to my mind these days. But then again, I’m not surprised that I gave that recommendation I do love to give advice, suggestions, alternatives, etc. about pretty much anything.

“Always make the bed with hospital corners.”
“You should try putting cumin and nutmeg in your spinach.”
“You have a headache, eh. Are you dehydrated? Maybe you should try drinking water.”
“Here’s a great shortcut to the theatre.”
“A good iron and ironing board is a great investment.”
“I have the payroll clerk wire money into my savings account before I see it. That way I don’t miss it.”
“You should watch The Wire. It’s the best kept secret on the boob tube.”

Not only is this surely annoying, but also it often results with me having to put my foot in my mouth. More than once have I been caught red handed by friends who tell me that I once recommended a certain course of action, despite the fact that I myself have never done things said way.

“Practice what you preach.”

I certainly don’t follow that one. Case in Point #1

Carrie: Why are you putting the pillow cases on the pillows in that odd fashion?
Fiancé: Because you told me to do it that way.
Carrie: Really? When?
Fiancé: Last year. When we first moved in.
Carrie: Oh, that's smart. I'll have to start doing it that way.

Case in Point #2

Friend: I think of you every time I put on my mascara.
Carrie: Oh yeah? How come?
Friend: Because in high school, when you were doing my make-up, you told me that you should always put mascara on both sides of your top lash line.
That way, when you blink or look down your lashes are dark on both sides. And they look thicker.
Carrie: Really? I’ve seen that done before, but I haven’t done that in a while. I should start trying that!

(It really works, by the way.)

It’s no surprise that I’ve turned out like this. I’ve always been bossy. “A Leader” as my gifted specialist mother would say. And I have always been fascinated with “How To”. Saturday morning cartoons were for babies; I watched Bob Villa’s “This Old House”, Bob Ross’s “Joy of Painting” and “Quilting” by that lady who talked like she had had a stroke. Afterwards, I used to hole myself up in my bedroom for hours, pretending I was on a DIY television show about any number of activities:

How to Clean up Your Room
How to Decorate Your Wicker Trunk as if it were on the Cover of a Holiday Card
How to Write Carbon Copies of Things Like That Secretary in Granddaddy’s Office

Put me in the kitchen and I was a regular TV chef:

How to Scoop Mashed Potatoes with an Ice Cream Scoop Like They Do at School
How to Put Spices in Little Bowls Like They Do in Cooking Shows
How to Cut Cucumbers Like You Learned From Your Aunt

And it didn’t stop in the bathroom:

How To Wash Your Hair Correctly
How To Make Tonics Out of Things in Your Mom’s Medicine Cabinet
Bathroom Safety: How To.

So I am not to blame, you see. It was my upbringing. For as long as I can remember, giving advice has been programmed in my brain.

“Don’t make excuses for yourself. Just own up to your faults.”

Yeah. Right.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Your Wedding

You would meet at a dance. He was from the north. A Yankee stationed near your hometown. He thought you were pretty. He made you laugh. You might go out for drinks. If you lived in a big city--or if you were from a small town and came from a bad home--you might spend the night together. Dancing or walking and sitting on a park bench together, you would fall in love. You would write love letters to one another. You would gaze into each others eyes.

When the timing was right, after a few months or a year, he might write you a letter. Or he might propose while visiting you after the war. Would you be his bride? He’d present you with an engraved wristwatch. Or a ring. Or he’d offer a promise for a better future. Accepting that wristwatch, you would say yes. In your return letter, you would make arrangements. You would write a letter to your mother to tell her that you were engaged.

A month or two would pass. You were anxiously awaiting the ceremony. You might get married in your family church. Or you would have a small ceremony in a courtroom or in the country by a babbling brook. You’d wear a new suit with fresh stockings. Or an invory dress with a white hat. Afterward, your sister would have arranged a luncheon for you. Or you’d adjourn to the Fellowship Hall to have punch and cake. The cake would be wonderful. Smooth, white icing with ribbons and roses made of frosting. You would be too excited to finish your lunch. You’d spend most of it referring to your husband and laughing and hugging your friends and relatives. You were married.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A Proud Moment

Today is a big day for me. A day wherein I did something of which I am tremendously proud: I ate spoiled cottage cheese.

Gone are the days of yore when I would anxiously throw out milk the night before its expiration date. I’ve said good-bye to wasting Perfectly Good Food on the trash can for fear of food poisioning. After today, I can no longer say I’m a freak about Possibly Tainted Food. Because I’m not; Today, I ate suspect cottage cheese.

The expiration date had yet to come, but I wasn’t sure when the package was opened. My old self, I called Chris to confirm that date. He said it was it was opened about 5 days ago. We buy the organic kind. Real Food spoils rapidly, you know. I suscpiciously eyed the little hand-dipped tub of tiny curds, trying to discern whether or not it was trustworthy. Cottage cheese is my friend, I told myself. He would never hurt you. And despite the fact that it was questionably old and had been sitting at room temperature for 2 hours, I ate it. And I enjoyed it. And, for once, I wouldn’t let myself be nervous about it.

The 5 hours that followed were blissful, peaceful hours. Sunny skies and smooth sailing. But shortly after lunch, just as the cold and dampness settled on the city and large back thunderclouds blackened the skies above my office, my stomach started gurgling. And burbling. And bubbling. And Sloshing. And all of those other unpleasant things that one’s GI tract does to tell one that Something Is Rotten in Demark, were Denmark one’s bowels and that Something cottage cheese.

I will spare you the sordid details and simply say that I had one hell of an afternoon. Thanks to the power of adrenaline, my discomfort subsided long enough to audition for a Comedy Central pilot about an automotive body shop. (The irony being that I’m the one who needs the tune up.)

For as much as I my insides are now grieving and as largely the thought of food currently makes me want to vomit--a thought that would normally send me on a tailspin, as any one of my 2 consistent readers/friends would know—I am proud of myself for taking that risk. Because the cottage cheese tasted real good and the product is that I feel empowered (if not empty and lightheaded).

This isn’t so bad after all. I survived today, I can survive tomorrow. With that having been said, the first thing I'm going to do when I get home is to throw out the rest of the offending cottage cheese.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Sidewalk Astronomer

After my show last night, on the way to the bar, the castmates and I came across a man standing on the sidewalk next to a large telescope on a sturdy tripod. Initially, I gave little more than a smile to this man and his telescope. I was distracted by the barking beagle tied with a rope to the parking meter next to the telescope. The beagle was in a staring match with a tall, leathery homeless man who appeared to be in his 50s and who was standing across the sidewalk next to the entrance to the theatre. It seemed as if these two were communicating with one another: the man, telling the beagle to scram and the beagle barking his reply that he was here first.

But when we walked past the man with the telescope, on the way to the bar, my friend and castmate, Jeff, craned his neck up into the sky to look at the moon. It was slightly obscured by the 5 story building we just exited. Joe, another friend and castmate, stopped to talk with the man with the telescope. It wasn’t until I looked back at him that I saw a brown boxboard sign hanging from the front of the telescope. It read, “Sidewalk Astronomy Club: Look at the Moon” with the word, “FREE” written in mad scientist handwriting at the bottom.

The Sidewalk Astronomer was professorial, with a silver beard and unkempt hair. He has a starry twinkle in his eye. He was wearing a khaki safari vest with various pens and papers stuffed in its many pockets.

“Wow! Is that a waxing gibbous?” my friend Joe asked, still peering into the telescope.

“Yes, it is! You know about the moon!” The Sidewalk Astronomer replied smiling. Joe is a science teacher at an alternative high school in Chicago. They began to talk.

While Joe was talking with The Sidewalk Astronomer about the moon, Jeff and I spent some quality time petting his beagle. The homeless man had left defeated in his staring match. His sweet old eyes looked like his owner’s. He was comfortable with strangers. I imagined many evenings outside spent tied to various light posts and street signs while his over tried to catch glimpses of activity in the starless Chicago sky.

After Joe finished, I took my turn behind the telescope.

The moon was breathtaking. It was bright white and with perfectly crisp edges against the black sky. A small sliver of darkness crept up on the left horizon. There were hundreds of craters. Each crater was sharply outlined in shades of blue-gray. One ridge was especially deep. The sidewalk Astrologer informed me that it was the largest mountain range on the moon.

I have seen many photos of the moon. I have spent many nights on the beach, or in my front yard, or in my car, gazing at the moon. I have seen it through the telescope that my brother had gotten from Santa for Christmas ’86. I have seen photos taken from space. But this was different. It was one of the first mild nights we’d had since winter. A clear, warm night is a May novelty. No wonder The Sidewalk astrologer decided to take to the street. Seeing the moon in this city, surrounded by concrete and car fumes and a scary homeless man with a crazy look in his eye, was a singularly beautiful experience.

“Can you believe it is a quarter of a million miles away? Tonight it looks like you could reach out and touch it,” The Sidewalk Astronomer said while I was taking in its magnificence.

A moth flew in front of it. Amplified by the telescope’s enormous lens, it looked like a bird.

The Sidewalk Astronomer gave us a piece of paper with various star charts on it “These diagrams are pretty up-to-date, although you can’t see any of these constellations in the city.”

We thanked him. He smiled, thanked us and told us to have a good night.

As we walked away, on the way to the bar, I noticed there was a cardboard box between the legs of the telescope’s tripod. I could see that there were a few crinkled dollar bills and some loose change in it, but they were mostly obscured by a few books and papers on astrology that were set on top of the box. I did a mental inventory of my wallet. I didn’t have any small change on me. I didn’t want to make an awkward scene about it.

Later that night, on the way home from that bar, with my belly filled with beer and humus, I walked past the area where he had set up. He and his beagle were gone. I regretted that I didn’t make change to give to The Sidewalk Astronomer. He provided one of the loveliest memories I’ve had in the six years I’ve lived in Chicago.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Mamma Doesn't Always Know

She didn’t know that the free Lysol Sanitizing wipes were provided for customers to wipe off their carts and cart handles. Fox News says that there are more germs on your cart than in your toilet. So her neighborhood grocery store (in conjunction with Lysol) started providing two free containers of Lysol Sanitizing Wipes (in Citrus and Spring Waterfall). By 5pm, they are usually all gone, but she was lucky. There was one left and it was dripping wet with a mixture of Dimethyl Benzyl Ammonium Chloride. She did not see “Not Intended for Personal Hygiene” and “Do Not Use on Food Surfaces” written in bold on the container. She could not read English. So she grabbed her son’s hands and hastily wiped them clean. And then she scrubbed his face with the wipe. He started to cry. His face grew red and blotchy. She admonished him in her native language. He continued crying. She wiped away his tears, threw out the used wipe and left the store. Her son screamed all the way to the car.