Monday, August 22, 2011

Alternate Routes

Get thrown under the bus enough times, and eventually you'll stick to the side streets where the buses don't run.

Stuff I Hate

This is the first of a potentially long (practically endless?) string of blog entries about people, places, and things that I despise...

I hate parents who aren't environmentalists. I try to do most of the right things. I recycle, I turn off the water while I brush my teeth, and I don't pour used motor oil down the sewer. But every so often I ask myself why I bother. Most of the bad shit that could happen to the Earth is projected, even in worst-case scenarios, to happen sometime after I'm dead. I don't have any kids. So why am I bothering to be "green"? It must be for your fucking kids, you resource-hogging, Hummer-driving, teabagging, EPA-hating, climate-change-denying, Republican assholes!

Seriously, if you have children, how can you not care about the world you're going to leave for them and perhaps their own children? I mean, I can understand your selfishness in not wanting to waste your time, money, or energy for the benefit of society (isn't that what America in the 21st century is all about?), but how can you screw over your own descendants?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Art Imitates Life / Blown Away

I went to see my friend's Creedence Clearwater Revival tribute band The Fortunate Sons at Tailgaters in Bolingbrook tonight. Before the show, he told me it was going to be a Live in Europe night because their second guitarist wasn't there. CCR recorded that concert album as a trio after Tom Fogerty quit the band. He quit because he couldn't get along with his brother John. When I recognized the parallels, I laughed so hard I nearly cried in my vodka tonic.

The bathroom at Tailgaters had the most awesome hand dryer I've ever seen. When I first stuck my wet hands under the fan, sprinkles of water hit my face. That's how hard this dryer blew. Then I noticed that it was rippling the skin on my hands. Naturally, I was fascinated by this and spent a minute or so moving my hands around and watching the ripples. Thank God I was sober; if I'd been drunk I might still be there playing around!

Friday, August 19, 2011

"The Biggest Asshole in the Universe"

Contrary to popular opinion, it's not me.

I've long suspected that former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan was something less than the economic "maestro" he was lauded as. In the second chapter of Griftopia, Matt Taibbi exposes the real Greenspan, and it's much worse than I imagined. From an interview, here's a taste of what makes Greenspan so, er, distasteful:
Greenspan is a classic con man. A guy who reached power by sounding smart and giving pretty speeches to politicians who didn’t know what he was talking about much of the time... And he stayed in power by giving the powerful what they wanted. There were disastrous consequences for everybody but him. In the process, he presided over this period where more and more political decisions were moved to unaccountable financial bureaucracies. That’s a big part of the story too: how guys like him gained power and the politicians officially lost power.
My wife snatched the book from me at Christmas, literally picking it out of my gift pile, but now I'm finally reading it. Taibbi is my favorite political writer -- the best (only?) reason to subscribe to Rolling Stone -- and so far Griftopia doesn't disappoint.

Grandparents' Estate Sale

My grandparents had a ridiculous quantity of stuff in their house. It wasn't junk like crazy old people have, either. They had a basement full of sports memorabilia, and Grandma had lots of collectible plates, dolls, and figurines from Hummel, Norman Rockwell, and others. After we picked out everything we wanted, we had to turn to an estate sale.

Although the sale isn't for another week, the estate salesperson has posted 150(!) photos of everything online already. Check them out, and keep in mind that this is all the stuff left over after the rest of us took all we could absorb into our homes!

Grandpa's Coolest Souvenir

Throughout July, people took various items from my grandparents' house. They owned a lot of stuff, most of it valuable (think collectors, not pack rats). There wasn't much that I wanted. I'm not the collector that I used to be, and our house already looks like an episode of "Hoarders" without adding more to it. Since I was at best fourth in line (actually more like sixth), I watched patiently for several weeks to see whether anyone showed interest in the prized memento of Grandpa's youth. Incredibly, no one did. Now it's mine.

Encased in a wood frame and covered with glass is a wooden paddle made by the Hi-Li Sales Company of Shelton, CT. Originally the half-inch-thick paddle would have had a ball attached with a rubber cord. The goal was to bounce the ball off the paddle as many times as possible without missing. I remember similar paddles from my youth, but lower quality. Grandpa's looks just like this one except the colors are faded and there's writing on it:
CARL BECKER, JR
CHAMPION
ENTERED HI LI CONTEST EMBASSY THEATER (sic)
SEMI FINAL
8/25/36 WON ROLLERSKATE
8/28/36 FINAL CONTEST
WON BICYCLE
Yes, that's right. My grandfather won a bicycle for being the best at paddle ball! And it was just a few days after his eleventh birthday.

The Embassy Theatre stood at 3956 W. Fullerton Avenue, just east of Crawford Avenue (the street name changed to Pulaski Road in 1933). Built in 1926, the theatre was in its prime when my grandfather won his bike. Alas, like most of the grand theaters built in the 1920s, the Embassy fell on hard times. It reopened in 1957 as a ballroom and remained so until 1981. I can't help but wonder whether my grandparents ever went there as a couple. The building was demolished in the mid-1990s. Now it's -- what else? -- a drugstore. There are photos from around the time of demolition here.

Looking at this Hi-Li paddle, I have so many questions I never thought to ask. Did Grandpa practice a lot, or was he a "natural"? Was there some trick to doing it well? How many other kids competed? Were the competitions held as the "opening act" or between shows? Who sponsored the contest -- Hi-Li, the Embassy, or someone else? Of course, even if I could ask those questions today, Grandpa may not have been able to answer them. Seventy years is a long time to carry around a memory.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Inevitable

I always end up being cast as the bad guy. Amazing.

Motivation

WIFE: So what are you doing today? Going for a bike ride?

ME: I don't know. I thought about going for a ride but I don't really feel like it.

WIFE: My mom's coming over this afternoon.

ME: Well, then I guess I'm gonna go for a bike ride!

I chose Waterfall Glen, a hilly, curvy, crushed-limestone loop that's just under 10 miles. Sadly, it totally kicked my ass. My original intention was to do the loop twice (once in each direction), but by the third mile it was obvious that wasn't going to happen. I rode my mountain bike for the first time all year instead of my trusty Americano. So I'll just blame everything on the bike rather than my utter lack of fitness.

Here's the kicker: my mother-in-law never showed up at our house anyway.

An Un-Macho Moment

I'm always a little anxious about meeting the policemen who work with my wife. Many of them are super macho. It's all an act, I know, nothing but a big authority trip, blah blah blah. Just because I married a cop doesn't mean I've forgotten how much police annoyed me in my younger days. Suburban cops have nothing better to do than harass males under 25, whether it's writing speeding tickets or worse. City cops aren't nearly as petty as their suburban brethren, but they still have that macho attitude.

In contrast, I always feel like a bit of a weenie working at a computer and lacking the authority and the big iron on my hip to patrol the mean streets of Chicago. Actually, most of my wife's district is Lincoln Park and Lakeview, so it's not like these guys are duking it out with Kalashnikov-toting gangbangers every night.

Anyway, last night when I went to pick up my wife, she introduced me to a couple of the guys. As they walked away, I turned on the car stereo to play a David Bowie CD. Then I pulled out the Jen Lancaster book I'm reading (and loving btw). Sheesh, is there anything less macho than listening to David Bowie while reading chick lit? I mean, at that point I may as well have had a purse full of bonbons and cosmetics slung over my shoulder.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Non-Fiction

People often ask me why I don't write fiction. Okay, that's a blatant lie. Most people don't want me to write fiction. Here's an example why. Today I was thinking of writing a story about a man who stars in porno movies in Poland. All I have so far is his nickname: the Turgid Pole.

Here's another idea I've been kicking around for awhile. A woman meets a guy. They start dating, and things are going really well. Then he loses his job. She says maybe it's time for them to move in together, but he refuses to stay at her place. His excuses get lamer and lamer, and she can't figure out why he can't commit. It turns out she lives across the street from an elementary school, and unbeknownst to her, the guy is a convicted sex offender.

My ideas only get worse from there...

Friday, August 12, 2011

Context

First I read this:
He spent time during the lockout working out in Arizona and lifting weights at Lake Forest Health and Fitness Center. The bulk of his grunt work occurred at his north suburban home, running laps in his backyard and completing drills in his front yard.
I had the funniest mental picture of a guy running in circles in his suburban backyard, maybe dodging a swing set or a Weber grill. Then I imagined a guy working out in the front yard next to the driveway, the lamppost, the mailbox, and maybe a flower bed.

But then I read this paragraph:
"I did it there because I have (10 acres) of land,'' [Brian] Urlacher said. "It's nice when you don't even have to leave the house.
Oh. That's different.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Chain of Rocks Loses Title

At 5,353 feet, the Chain of Rocks Bridge across the Mississippi River just north of St. Louis has been described as the "longest pedestrian bridge in the world" for the past decade. Unfortunately, I learned last weekend that the Walkway Over the Hudson in Poughkeepsie, New York now holds that title at 6,767 feet. It opened on October 3, 2009, nearly two years ago.

Chain of Rocks fans can take comfort that their bridge is much more impressive architecturally to users -- its steel structure is above the bridge deck for walkers and riders to admire, whereas the Walkway's structure is hidden beneath. Of course, the Chain of Rocks also has ties to legendary U.S. Route 66 rather than the Walkway's long and forgettable series of railroad operators.

The Longer I Have to Think About It...

... The more I wonder how we got along as well as we did for so long.

He exemplifies all the backward-assed exurbanism (i.e., redneckedness) that I escaped. He doesn't like gays. He hates Hispanics, especially Mexicans. He is ignorant of politics -- and most things aside from cars -- and usually (surprise, surprise) votes Republican. He's damn near impossible to reason with once he has formed an opinion about something. We have some overlap in musical tastes, but he hates a lot of the stuff I like (and he's one of those assholes who must constantly remind you that he doesn't like something while you're trying to enjoy it -- don't ever take him to a concert if you like the opening act and he doesn't). He doesn't read. He doesn't think logically. He generally has two kinds of ideas: his original ones are usually bad, and the others are just repeated from Mom (I call him Mom's Fox News). I've invested thirty years in trying to steer him straight with little success.

Ironically, even though I scolded him for blowing off Grandpa's wake, I felt pleasantly liberated by his absence. Grandpa's wake without him passed much faster than Grandma's wake with him, and I got to talk to a lot more people, too.

The main thing we have in common is growing up under the same roof. And beyond that shared history, maybe there's not much of anything at all.

Defending Newsweek

Newsweek magazine is catching a lot of flak this week for their cover photo of Michele Bachmann. Many, including NOW, are calling it sexist because it is supposedly an unflattering photo that makes her look crazy.

But here's the problem with that criticism: Bachmann is crazy. She's 100% certified bat-shit nuts. She's a right-wing radical who wants to do things like shut down the EPA, to give just one recent example. Saying a photo makes Bachmann look crazy is like saying a photo makes Lady Gaga look flamboyant. It's not even news, much less a controversy. When I saw the Newsweek cover, my only thought was, Oh, that's Michele Bachmann. I didn't find it the least bit unflattering; that's just who she is. In fact, I give credit to the photographer for capturing her essence so well.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Door Slammed Shut

I have never wanted to have kids. Well, actually I did for about two weeks twenty-odd years ago in a moment of weakness (which didn't matter because I had no partner), but for the rest of my life, I've had no desire to have children.

Yet somehow this decision became more firm this summer. After my grandfather died, I realized that now I'll never change my mind. This caught me by surprise because I had never considered the two things to be linked. But when he died, I couldn't imagine raising a kid who never met my grandparents. Oddly enough, when I shared this thought with my wife, she said she felt that way after her grandparents died, too.