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Yeah, I know I just got finished complaining about how little blogging I could do from the new office, but I just have to pass this along today, in order to maintain some modicum of timeliness: the fine literary stewards at Time Out Chicago present three Halloween-themed short stories, by Keir Graff, Patrick Somerville and Joe Meno. Admittedly, I haven't read any of the stories yet (again, the cursed open desk!) but it's hard to go wrong with any of those writers. And even if you don't read the stories, all of those links are worth following just for the eerie accompanying artwork by Blair Kelly.

October 31, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)


It's been brought to my attention that I hadn't posted to the blog in a while, so much so that the person in question was concerned for my well-being. Rest assured, all is well. Trouble is, my desk setup in my new office (wide-open cubicle with zero privacy) makes posting damned near impossible. I can barely get away with reading other people's blogs as it is - I have to make a conspicuous effort of only reading blogs while eating lunch at my desk, as if to say "Hey, stuffy employer, if I went out to lunch I'd be out for an hour. I'm giving you a break by brown-bagging my lunch at my desk, so cut me some slack on me reading a few blogs while eating my PB&J."

For the indefinite future - at least until I find another job - my posting will largely be confined to a few posts on the weekends, with the rare midweek post. If you haven't heard from me here in a while, drop me an email or something.

October 30, 2007 in Personal | Permalink | Comments (2)

Ruined Haiku

The website Ruined Music is all about songs that once greatly signified people's romantic relationships, but once those relationships went awry, the people who once loved those songs could no longer bear to listen to them any more. The site recently ran a haiku contest, asking readers to write a haiku based on such a "ruined song."

I entered the contest, but with a 180-degree twist. You see, I don't at all fit the profile of the typical Ruined Music contributor, since I was never really in love until I met Julie - and we've now been together for over ten years and will be for the rest of our lives. In other words, I never had (and never will have) a bitter breakup that permanently ruined a song that was inextricably linked to that relationship. But I entered the contest anyway, with the twist being that I chose a great "breakup song" that was forever nullified when Julie and I got together. One of my favorite breakup songs is Yo La Tengo's "I Was The Fool Beside You For Too Long" which, now that I have Julie, will never truly resonate with me emotionally. So, in a way, this breakup song was "ruined" for me by finding the love of my life. (And, of course, I'm eternally grateful for the song being ruined in such a pleasant manner.)

Hence, I penned this haiku:

"I was the fool be-
side you for too long." Not true.
Still here, loving it.

October 22, 2007 in Fiction, Music | Permalink | Comments (1)

The Past, Good and Bad

Sometimes I think it would have been better to live fifty or a hundred years ago, and other times I think we're much better off now. True, times were slower and simpler back then, but many of our modern advancements make our lives safer and more convenient. The photoblog Shorpy.com recently ran two old photographs of Coney Island from roughly the same era that capture that good/bad conundrum.

First, this 1913 photo of Luna Park shows a magical, fanciful dreamworld that so many public spaces strove to be in those days, full of bustling, vibrant energy. But then comes this photo of bathers on the beach, circa 1910-15, all of which seems crowded, dirty and worn.

I guess the past was far from ideal, just as today is. There's plenty of wonderful things we've lost, but plenty of equally wonderful advancements have been made as well, the most immediate of which being that in 1913 I never would have been able to examine these photographs from the comfort of my easy chair, likely hundreds or thousands of miles from their physical location. So I'll gladly take today.

October 20, 2007 in Photography | Permalink | Comments (2)

Weekend Multimedia

Just one item this week - and you'll thank me for being brief, since after just a few minutes of this you probably won't be able to listen to anything for the rest of the day - but it's a wonderful, awful gem. While there's some dispute over whether the culprit was a tape played back at the wrong frequency or a live keyboardist playing the snyth part of "Jump" in the wrong key, there's no argument whatsoever that the result was a "trainwreck" and an "atonal mess". Hard to believe that a song that was so bad to begin with could be made to sound even worse, but the geezers of Van Halen managed to pull it off. Nice job, ya old farts.

(Via Boing Boing.)

October 20, 2007 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Raymond Carver, Minimalist?

Upon further review, it appears that Raymond Carver wasn't a minimalist at all - but his editor was. Carver's widow, Tess Gallagher, is pushing to have his original manuscript of stories (ultimately published as What We Talk About When We Talk About Love) published, under the title Beginners, arguing that the final product was heavily the work of the editor, and really not what Carver intended. The publisher, Alfred Knopf, says no dice.

“I would rather dig my friend Ray Carver out of the ground,” (Fisketjon) said. “I don’t understand what Tess’s in terest in doing this is except to rewrite history. I am appalled by it.”

"Rewrite history"? Or restore history? Admittedly, I've never read Carver, but based on the comparative passages included here (which, for all I know, may be extreme examples), I'd say it's the latter. If these two passages are at all representative, it would seem that the finished version of the book was as much the editor's creation as the author's. But it's Carver's name on the book, not the editor's, and if Carver's widow wants the world to see her husband's original conception for the book, then Knopf should make it happen, either by publishing it themselves or allowing another publisher to do so. It's not as if the editor fixed a few grammatical errors - this appears to be full-scale rewriting, and something that Carver wasn't at all comfortable with. The fact that Carver himself republished several of these stories in their original form strongly suggests that he wasn't pleased with the editor's slicing and dicing.

If Fisketjon really wants to be appalled about something, it should instead be that an editor would vivisect a writer's work to such a degree that the finished book barely resembles what the writer originally wrote, and ignores the writer's pleas to reconsider.

October 18, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (3)

"...you only have time to explode..."

In a rather nice coincidence, when I arrived at the office this morning the following notice was in my inbox, just minutes after I finished reading The Day of the Locust.

It's the birthday of novelist Nathanael West, born Nathan Weinstein in New York City (1904), who wrote two great novels that mixed tragedy and comedy: Miss Lonely Hearts (1933), about an advice columnist who's overcome by the sadness of the world, and The Day of the Locust (1939), about the Hollywood subculture of failed actors who become stuntmen, extras, criminals, and prostitutes. West had terrible luck as a writer, and his books sold few copies. In a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald, he wrote, "Somehow or other I seem to have slipped in between all the 'schools.' ... I forget the broad sweep, the big canvas, the shot-gun adjectives, the important people, the significant ideas, the lessons to be taught ... and go on making ... private and unfunny jokes." Eight months after he got married, he and his wife were killed in a car accident. Most of his work is collected in Novels and Other Writings, published by Library of America in 1997. Nathanael West said, "Forget the epic, the masterwork ... you only have time to explode."

I enjoyed the book quite a bit - in tone and mood, it reminded me a bit of Jim Thompson, but without the grisly murders - and may have further commentary here soon.

October 17, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Farewell, Six Word Stories

I have finally closed the comments function on my old post "Six Word Stories." Thanks to all of you who posted thoughtful, imaginative contributions over the past few years, but no thanks to those of you who used it for spam purposes or to publish crude, obscene or hateful messages. While that post is by far the most popular this blog has ever had, enough is enough. If you really want to post more six word stories, then set up your own site or something.

October 16, 2007 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (2)

Weekend Multimedia

On Sound Opinions, Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis dissect one of rock's greatest albums (and one of my favorites), the Replacements' Let It Be. The dynamic duo discusses the album with Jim Walsh, Minneapolis scenester and author of The Replacements: All Over But the Shouting. The segment starts at the 20:00 mark of the broadcast. (But shame on you, radio producers, for deleting the word "boner" from the repeated references to the song "Gary's Got a Boner." It's a legitimate word, meaning "a clumsy or stupid mistake." Well, that's one of the definitions, anyway.)

Lest we forget: Nirvana covering Leadbelly's "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?", from the legendary MTV Unplugged broadcast, which is finally being released on DVD. I didn't see this for the first time until years after Cobain's death. At the very end of the song, when Cobain sings "shiver" the final time, he opens his eyes with a look that seemed so vacant and lost that I remember sitting there stunned, saying "My god, he was gone already." What an incredibly powerful moment. Cobain was a truly great and singular artist, and his death was a loss for all of us.

Trailers for the documentaries King Corn and Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten. Both look fascinating - then again, I'd find Joe Strummer reading his grocery list to be fascinating. (Via Coudal.)

October 13, 2007 in Film, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fundamentalism, here we come.

The Illinois state legislature has overturned Gov. Blagojevich's veto of "The Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act", which mandates a moment of silence at the start of the school day in all of Illinois' public schools. Not surprisingly, lawmakers are quick to say this isn't about prayer in schools, when of course that's exactly what it's all about.

Here's the comment I left in the Tribune's discussion forum:

Okay, Springfield lawmakers, read this once again: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." This applies to state lawmakers as well.

I can't even begin to describe what terrible public policy this is. While lawmakers will certainly try to claim there are no religious motives behind this, the very name of the legislation - "The Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act" - belies that claim. Making the moment of silence mandatory just opens the door for teachers who are religious to suggest, whether subtly or bluntly, that their students spend their quiet time in prayer - most likely of the Christian variety. "Come on," I can hear teachers saying. "You have to be quiet anyway, why not just pray to Jesus?"

This legislation is the most slippery of slopes, and I really don't like what awaits us at the bottom of that hill.

This legislation is the latest in a long line of reasons I'm grateful that my wife is homeschooling our six-year-old daughter, and keeping her as far as possible from the public school system.

October 12, 2007 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2)

Great Chicago Novels

Chicago Magazine weighs in with its list of "the ten essential Chicago novels." No real surprises on the list, nor any glaring omissions either:

The Cliff-Dwellers (1893), by Henry Blake Fuller
Sister Carrie (1900), by Theodore Dreiser
The Pit (1903), by Frank Norris
The Jungle (1906), by Upton Sinclair
The Studs Lonigan trilogy (1932-35), by James T. Farrell
Native Son (1940), by Richard Wright
The Man with the Golden Arm (1949), by Nelson Algren
Maud Martha (1953), by Gwendolyn Brooks
The Adventures of Augie March (1953), by Saul Bellow
The House on Mango Street (1984), by Sandra Cisneros

Several of my favorite novels - in general, not just Chicago ones - are on that list. And I still really have to read Augie March and the last two books of the Lonigan trilogy. It's also nice to see Bayo Ojikutu get a nod on "the new school" list, for his debut 47th Street Black - his latest, Free Burning, is one of the best books I've read this year.

(Via Bookslut.)

October 10, 2007 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Richard Grayson for Congress

I'm assuming this is legitimate (and I wouldn't be at all surprised, since he's tried this once before): my friend and fellow writer Richard Grayson is running for the U.S. House of Representatives, in Arizona's 6th District. With all the big money behind his main opponent, it looks like I'll be buying up a lot of Richard's books to bolster his finances.

October 10, 2007 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2)

Bumper Sticker of the Year

Seen early this morning, on a minivan in Joliet:


October 10, 2007 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

On Apocalyptic Fiction

At the Kenyon Review blog, Sergei Lobanov-Rostovsky has a thought-provoking piece on apocalyptic fiction, focusing on Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake.

... the apocalyptic novel becomes less prophecy or cultural critique than writing in its purest form, as the imagination can quite literally run wild, like a child in a rage, trashing his room. There’s a cathartic pleasure in that gesture, and a strain of masochism as well, since the first thing to vanish in any apocalypse would be literature. But the literary imagination averts that threat, asserting its creative power even in these acts of destruction.

At home we have a copy of Atwood's novel, which I suddenly very much want to read. Continuing on this theme, Jim Crace's recent The Pesthouse is also on my list, and of course, like the rest of the world, I read Cormac McCarthy's The Road earlier this year.

End of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.

October 9, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Columbia College Acquires The Center for American Places

Two great organizations get together: Columbia College Chicago has announced the acquisition of the publishing house The Center for American Places. I own one CAP volume, Gary Stochl's gorgeous On City Streets: Chicago, 1964-2004 and the press also has several other noteworthy Chicago-related titles, including Bob Thall's City Spaces: Photographs of Chicago Alleys and At City's Edge: Photographs of the Chicago Lakefront, Brad Temkin's Private Places: Photographs of Chicago Gardens, Scott Fortino's Institutional: Photographs of Jails, Schools, and Other Chicago Buildings, Jay Wolke's Along the Divide: Photographs of the Dan Ryan Expressway, and Julia Bachrach's The City in a Garden: A Photographic History of Chicago's Parks. Lovely volumes all.

October 9, 2007 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Hear, hear!

In a speech in New Hampshire, Mr. Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate from Illinois, called for imposing a national cap on carbon emissions, investing $150 billion over 10 years to develop new energy sources and reducing dependence on foreign oil by 35 percent by 2030.

“No business will be allowed to emit any greenhouse gases for free,” Mr. Obama said in Portsmouth, N.H. “Businesses don’t own the sky, the public does, and if we want them to stop polluting it, we have to put a price on all pollution.”

Obama's thoughtful proposal is in sharp contrast to George Bush, whose endlessly-repeated call for voluntary reductions in emissions willfully and ignorantly ignores the fact that big corporate polluters feel a much greater responsibility to their next earnings report than to the public at large, and thus will only curb pollution if it doesn't cost too much. And, admittedly, reducing emissions is an expensive proposition, so don't expect industry to willfully do so on its own. But fighting global warming is something that must be done, regardless of the cost, and it's those companies that produce the greatest amount of pollution that are going to have to bear much of the financial burden.

Sometimes, corporations and people can't be counted on to do the right thing, and have to be told what to do. And this is one of those times. Mandatory limits on emissions are the way to go, and should have been instituted long ago.

October 9, 2007 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

And now we pause as I suck up to my favorite litbloggers, some of whom may someday review my novel.

In alphabetical order (since assigning rankings would be even more shameless), here are my favorite litblogs of the moment. I apologize in advance to the dozens of others I read and enjoy regularly.

33 1/3 (David Barker)
Probably the best publisher blog out there, with regular announcements of 33 1/3 author appearances, generous book excerpts and the like. Admittedly, however, the site might not be of as great of an interest to anyone who’s not as obsessive about music as I am.

Black Garterbelt (Traver Kaufman)
Traver doesn’t post nearly as often as he did during his Rake’s Progress heyday, but while I generally don’t share his literary tastes I always find his posts to be invigorating reading. He's got his opinions and he's not afraid to share them.

Blog of a Bookslut (Jessa Crispin)
Jessa is still mostly flying solo, and quite valiantly so, after the lamented departure of her longtime blogging sidekick Michael Schaub, but between blogging, running Bookslut magazine and overseeing its monthly reading series, she’s still doing more for literature than most people. Even without Michael's hilarious musings I can hardly complain about her efforts.

The Book Inscriptions Project (Shaun)
It’s always fascinating to see what book-givers write inside the front cover - kind of like a literary FOUND Magazine.

Bookninja (George Murray)
Hands down, the funniest litblog on the planet. Get this man a Fulbright or something, so he can make this a full-time career. The potential contributions to Western culture are nearly limitless.

Books for Breakfast (Kristin Dodge)
The reviews are brief, the language blunt, and the cocktail-based rating system often has me worrying for her children’s welfare. But anyone who cares this much about reading is probably minding the kids too.

Campaign for the American Reader (Marshal Zeringue)
Other than the tireless Ed Champion, Marshal is the hardest working man in the litblog business, at last count operating nine litblogs. Everything here is worthwhile, though I must point out his Page 69 Test, which I now use pretty much every time I go to the bookstore.

Edward Champion's Return of the Reluctant (Ed Champion)
Between a full-time job, his freelance book-review work, his Brooklyn social life, and his endless hours spent interviewing authors for the priceless Bat Segundo podcast, Ed has apparently either discovered the 48-hour day or a very reliable source of amphetamines. Acerbic, witty, iconoclastic and fearless in relentlessly challenging the self-appointed arbiters of literature.

The Elegant Variation (Mark Sarvas)
Besides tirelessly promoting good literature, Sarvas once stood up to Steve Almond, emerging the vastly better man in the exchange. And one of these years I’m going to win that Friday giveaway, dammit!

LitKicks (Levi Asher et al)
I first started paying attention to LitKicks last year, when Levi Asher knocked the stuffing out of several vaunted literary titans, and I’ve been eagerly reading it ever since. Levi has faithfully kept the “reviewing the Sunday book review” concept (with him, the NYT) long after other litbloggers (covering the L.A. Times, S.F. Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, etc.) have given up all hope for cajoling book review sections into reaching for their vast but mostly untapped potential.

Maud Newton (Maud Newton)
The first litblog I ever read on regular basis. Maud doesn’t post nearly as often as she used to, but when she does it’s always worth reading. Thanks to Maud and her friend George Murray, the phrase “screaming thigh sweats” is now a permanent part of my vocabulary.

The Outfit (Various)
I admit to reading very little modern crime fiction, and also to first reading this group blog of Chicago crime writers almost exclusively for the ponderings of my friend Kevin Guilfoile. But now that I’ve been reading for a while, I’m hooked on the entire operation. Always very thoughtful posts, not always about literature.

satoriworks (Damon Garr)
I probably post more comments on Damon’s blog than any other, with the possible exception of Ed Champion’s. I think he and I are kindred spirits.

Syntax of Things (Jeff Bryant)
Great taste in literature and music, and the Friday photo of his baby daughter never fails to elicit an “Awwww!” from my cynical, hard-hearted self.

This Blog Will Change Your Life (Ben Tanzer)
Obsessive use of the royal “we”, repeated links to his self-produced promotional videos on YouTube, lamentations over the current Amazon ranking of his debut novel, and shameless but tongue-in-check hucksterism are just a few of the endearing qualities which mark Ben Tanzer’s blog.

Ward Six (Rhian Ellis and J. Robert Lennon)
Husband and wife duo, neither of whom I’ve read but would very much like to. I always enjoy bloggers like them who are brave enough to join in the comments section arguments.

October 9, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (7)

A great meal at Keefer's

I'm not much of a gourmand - I'm convinced that I have an undiscerning palate, and living in restaurant-challenged Joliet doesn't help either - but I really have to put in a strong word for Keefer's, in Chicago's River North. I'm one of three brothers-in-law in my wife's family, all of whom have birthdays in the fall. Rather than having three separate birthday get-togethers, we have one big dinner in October at a nice Chicago restaurant. This year it was Keefer's (surprisingly, it was my suggestion, having enjoyed a company holiday luncheon there a few years ago) and it was a truly excellent experience. Great food, courteous service, beautiful atmosphere. And the waiter even directed us to a nice Irish bar around the corner for a nightcap. I'm still savoring the halibut with wild mushroom sauce. Mmmm.

October 8, 2007 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

That irrepressible Pippi

Nice appreciation here for Pippi Longstocking and her creator, the Swedish author Astrid Lindgren. (That new Lauren Child illustration captures Pippi's spirit and spunk almost perfectly.) Pippi Longstocking was one of my favorite books as a child, though I really hadn't thought much about it for years. Villa Villekulla, Mr. Nilsson, the horse on the porch - all of it is flooding back now. Nice memories. I think Maddie and I will have to start reading this wonderful book again as her bedtime story.

(Via Bookninja.)

October 6, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Weekend Multimedia

After all but taking last weekend off, this week's offerings are a veritable cavalcade.

PC dominoes. No comment necessary. (Via Boing Boing.)

Irony of ironies: James Dean on driver safety.

Hüsker Dü's video for "Could You Be The One?" Not exactly from their Zen Arcade or Flip Your Wig heyday, but still far better than most what passes for rock and roll these days. (Via Pitchfork.)

Trailer for the upcoming Silkworm documentary, Couldn't You Wait?. Maybe it's just their demise - longing for what can't be recovered - but I'm appreciating the band more and more as the years go on.

Stephin Merritt, of the Magnetic Fields, doing a Volvo ad. Hey, everybody's grabbing for the brass ring these days, and at least it wasn't one of his own songs being compromised. I had seen that commercial a few times before, but hadn't realized it was Merritt.

Shalom Auslander, whose story collection Beware of God was one of my favorite reads of 2006, is back with a memoir, Foreskin's Lament, the wonderful trailer for which is here. (Via Bookslut.)

And turning to the political, we have a somber reminder of U.S. failures - yes, failures - in Afghanistan, on the sixth anniversary of our "intervention." And on a lighter but no less pointed note, the unseemly, wide-stance relationship of Congress and the agribusiness industry. Oink.

October 6, 2007 in Books, Current Affairs, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

High Praise for Hammett

Although the final sentence of her review definitely won't appear as a blurb on the cover of the book's next edition, Jamelah Earle at LitKicks absolutely raves about Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon. Just like her, I saw the movie before reading the novel, and was also struck by how little Bogart resembled Hammett's description of Sam Spade. (I also remember reading that Spade's office windows had thick, lush curtains - not at all like the Venetian blinds I always imagined.)

Lately I've been searching high and low throughout my house for my old single-volume copy of the complete novels of Hammett. The one place I haven't looked yet is the attic, and after reading Jamelah's review I think I'll check there this weekend, despite the godawful October heat wave we're having. It's probably 120 degrees in the attic right now, but finding that book would make the discomfort more than worthwhile.

October 5, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Obama on the Chicago Bears

See that? It's Obama that's a uniter and not a divider because, outside of the Grossman and Griese families, plus Lovie (The glass is not only half full, it's overflowing, in fact it's at least two glasses!) Smith, I think pretty much the entire country agrees with his politely blunt assessment.

SCARBOROUGH: I hate to ask you the tough question right off the top, but it has to be asked. What the hell is wrong with the Chicago Bears?
OBAMA: We've got a quarterback problem.
SCARBOROUGH: You do have it. You've got a Rex Grossman problem.
OBAMA: Don't you play quarterback? We're looking for one.
SCARBOROUGH: Yes. Well, Rex Grossman ain't it, is he?
OBAMA: Rex isn't it. And, you know, Griese is not proving to be the savior.
OBAMA: So, in fairness to them, you know, I think our offensive line isn't too great either, so we haven't given them much protection. But, you know, we're looking for our Tom Brady.

You really have to appreciate a presidential candidate who isn't afraid to get in an honest dig at his local football team.

October 4, 2007 in Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

For the Love of Poe

Philadelphia stakes its claim to Edgar Allan Poe ("while living in Philadelphia, Poe wrote the bulk of his greatest work"), while a proud Baltimorean (is that the right term?) fights back in her city's defense. Poe lived in the Bronx for a while, too, so I wouldn't be surprised to see a New Yorker join the fray. If I had even a shred of evidence that Poe had a fleeting literary thought while standing on Chicago's swampy soil, I'd gladly put in a dubious claim for my hometown, but alas...

(Via Sarah Weinman.)

October 4, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

Damon Runyan

Not sure exactly why I'm posting this, other than that I was struck by the description of this nearly-forgotten writer.

It's the birthday of Damon Runyon, born Alfred Damon Runyon, in Manhattan, Kansas (1884). He started out as a newspaper man but made his breakthrough as a fiction writer during the prohibition era, when he began to write about gamblers, bookies, fight managers, theater agents, bootleggers, and gangsters in New York City. He wrote semi-fictional sketches of real people, and he gave them names like Dave the Dude, Harry the Horse, Nathan Detroit, Benny Southstreet, Dream Street Rose, Big Julie from Chicago, and Izzy Cheesecake. He helped popularize the slang of the era, in which a woman was called "a doll," a gun was called "a rod," money was called "scratch," and people didn't die, they "croaked." His short stories were collected in books such as Blue Plate Special (1934) and More than Somewhat (1937), but he's best remembered for the musical Guys and Dolls, based upon several of his stories and characters he created. Damon Runyon said, "Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment."

Next time I'm at the library I'll be sure to scour the shelves for some of his works. Meanwhile, I think I'll spend some scratch on my doll.

October 4, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Dumpster diving

My company is in the process of relocating, as we're moving to a new building (three blocks away) within the next few weeks. The new office is a lot more compact than our current one, which means everyone is going to have significantly less storage space than before. So, in preparation for our move, everyone has been purging all of the extraneous matter that inevitably accumulates in an office, dumping much of the non-confidential stuff in a huge portable garbage bin right outside my office. (Yes, I lead quite a glamorous professional life.) There hasn't been anything of consequence in the bin - though I did scrounge a few three-ring binders yesterday - until this morning, when I was quite surprised to see this resting atop the scrap heap:


My guess is that one of my colleagues received this as business gift, had little interest in it, and didn't feel like lugging it to the new office. Anyone who knows me at all will not be the least bit surprised to hear that I quickly grabbed the book, and discreetly spirited it to my office. Being from National Geographic, it's a typically stunning collection of photographs. I'm a big sucker for photo collections as it is, and when a book like this is just sitting there, free for the taking, I really had no choice.

Yes, I am a very weak man.

October 3, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (3)

"Union Station"

My photograph "Union Station" has been published as the cover of the latest edition of South Loop Review, the creative nonfiction journal of Columbia College Chicago. This issue's theme was travel, so I submitted what I thought was a very appropriate image. I was thrilled just to have them accept my photo, and absolutely delighted to see it chosen for the cover. If you're so inclined, South Loop Review can be purchased at Columbia's bookstore located in - you guessed it - the South Loop.

October 2, 2007 in Photography | Permalink | Comments (2)


Christmas, 1978. Dwight can't find that Star Wars game he's looking for, gives Joe a copy of On the Road instead. Sounds mildly apologetic in doing so.

October 2, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"It's where we've ended."

This morning I finished reading William Trevor's story collection The Hill Bachelors, yet another marvelous work from one of my very favorite authors. Trevor's prose is as gorgeous, lyrical and understated as ever. There are too many stunningly beautiful passages to count, but one passage, from the story "Of the Cloth", really grabbed me.

The story involves Grattan, the rector of a dying Protestant congregation in rural Ireland whose wealthy benefactors have all returned to England, leaving the rectory in slow decay. After the funeral of his Catholic handyman, Grattan is visited by one of the priests of the local parish, which is thriving, partly at the rectory's expense. Grattan is understandably envious of the parish's success, but the priest, Father Leahy, hints that despite all outward appearances the Catholic Church is itself in steady decline. As the priest enters the room, Grattan hurriedly covers up a copy of the Irish Times, which carried a photograph of a grinning priest who had just been convicted of child molestation.

"Time was, a priest in Ireland wouldn't read the Irish Times. Father McPartlan remarks on that. But we take it in now."

"I thought maybe that picture--"

"There's more to it all than what that picture says."

Something about the quiet tone of the voice bewildered Grattan. And there were initimations beneath the tone that startled him. Father Leahy said:

"It's where we've ended."

So softly was that spoken, Grattan hardly heard it, and then it was repeated, increasing his bewilderment. Why did it seem he was being told that the confidence the priests possessed was a surface that lingered beyond its day? Why, listening, did he receive that intimation? Why did it seem he was being told there was an illusion, somewhere, in the solemn voices, hands raised in blessing, the holy water, the cross made in the air? At Ennismolach, long ago, there had been the traps and the side-cars and the dog-carts lined up along the Sunday verges, as the cars now lined up now outside the Church of the Holy Assumption. The same sense of nourishment there'd been, the safe foundation on a rock that could not shatter. Why did it seem he was being reminded of that past?

"But surely," he began to say, and changed his mind, leaving the two words uselessly on their own.

October 2, 2007 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


Once again, it seems that the Illinois Department of Transportation, or IDOT, needs one more "I" in its name. Because this is utterly ridiculous.

The Illinois Department of Transportation is requiring that Bronk's Corners not only widen the portion of Illinois 59 that runs past the shopping center, but also widen lanes on the other side of the intersection up to the entrance to the Wal-Mart development to the south.

"IDOT did not require Wal-Mart to make a lot of the improvements on Route 59 that we're now required to carry the burden on," said Gary Davidson, an attorney representing the development group, which is headed by Ardmin Properties out of Woodridge.

Davidson added that it would be "incredibly difficult" for the developer to move forward with Bronk's Corners while taking on all the costs of road widening and infrastructure improvements.

A quick recap: Illinois Route 59 is an older highway that runs through the far west side of Joliet, an area which has had explosive growth in residential development during the past ten years. Route 59 is rapidly becoming a major commercial strip, with all the usual big box retailers - Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Staples, etc. For the most part the road is still only two lanes, as the state has dragged its heels on widening it. As a result, traffic congestion in the area is quite bad (a factor which, incidentally, contributed to our moving away from the area three years ago).

This new retail development, Bronk's Corners, is to be built at the northwest corner of Route 59 and Theodore Street. Wal-Mart built a new store a few years ago on the southwest corner but, despite the huge upsurge in traffic that Wal-Mart drew, the company wasn't required to pay for critically needed infrastructure improvements for the intersection. Now, the Bronk's Corners "lifestyle center" development, which was supposed to open this fall but hasn't even broken ground, is being required by IDOT to pay for the widening of the intersection entirely on its own.

Wal-Mart, which undoubtedly draws more traffic than the lifestyle center will, stands to benefit from the improved traffic flow without having to pay a dime for it. Meanwhile, the local developer of Bronk's Corners is expected to foot the bill, effectively subsidizing both Wal-Mart and the retail center on the opposite corner. (The fourth corner is currently vacant, but is undoubtedly being eyed for some sort of new development, as raw land on this attractive strech of Route 59 is now all but non-existent.) Never mind that the road should have been widened five years ago, before Bronk's Corners was even on the drawing board. Now, when the state finally gets around to widening the road, they're giving Wal-Mart a free pass and instead leaning on the Bronk's Corners developers as a condition for getting the project completed. And it sounds like the City of Joliet is just meekly going along with IDOT's questionable decision.

I know that state and local governments bend over backwards for new Wal-Marts, regardless of whether those stores are good for the community or not, but this is going much too far. Why isn't Wal-Mart being required to pay its fair share of these infrastructure costs? Am I completely missing something here? Does this seem at all fair?

October 2, 2007 in Joliet | Permalink | Comments (0)