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Epitonic returns!

This is wonderful news. When we went suburban in 2000 and I inevitably drifted away from my earlier indie rock mania, Epitonic helped keep me at least marginally current in my listening. Most of the music that I first discovered during the Aughts - especially Ted Leo, M. Ward and Death Cab For Cutie - was via Epitonic. I'm not sure I'll embrace the site quite like before - it was basically my soundtrack while I worked from home for a few years, and I can't stream audio or download at my current job - but it will still be nice to have it back when I need a fix.

August 30, 2010 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Summer of Classics winds down

This year's Summer of Classics has been a mixed bag. I liked Things Fall Apart, but not enough to consider it a classic. I found The Red and the Black to be an endless slog through 19th century French society. I loved Leaves of Grass, though I had to set it aside after a hundred pages lest it consume several more months of my life - I'll return to it eventually, probably finishing it in several more hundred-page increments, but I think I've already grasped Whitman's points about freedom, the commonality of mankind, etc. My reading output has been lower (in terms of number of books) than past years, as this year's batch have been mostly longer works - including Stendhal's, which never seemed to end.

I'm now wrapping up the summer with a re-reading of O.E. Rölvaag's pioneer epic Giants In the Earth, which I'm enjoying tremendously. The book (written in the early 1920s) is pretty unusual in that it's by a Norwegian-American, is set entirely in America, and yet was originally written in Norwegian. That latter aspect was probably more common in the nineteenth century with the surge in European emigation, but the original translator's preface (from 1927) indicates that it was already unusual by the time of publication. It's a fascinating story about Norwegian settlement on the desolate prairies of South Dakota during the early 1870s. I'm 150 pages in and the settlers are just starting to acclimate themselves to their surroundings, though it's still summer and what will undoubtedly be a brutal winter still looms months ahead. I'm enjoying it so much that I'll keep right on reading beyond the end of August - with a mediocre or even average book I'd be sorely tempted to give it up and return to more contemporary fiction, but not with this one. Giants In the Earth is every bit that great, and even after only 150 pages I already recommend it highly.

August 30, 2010 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

Ted Leo goes Broadway

Ted Leo And The Pharmacists -
"Bottled In Cork" (Official Video)

from Ted Leo and the Pharmacists

Beauty. Favorite line: "He died because he didn't believe in the power of punk."

August 29, 2010 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Boy's gotta have it.


August 24, 2010 in Books, Personal | Permalink | Comments (1)



One of the nice things about having a garage sale, or any other sort of clutter-purging, is unexpectedly discovering stuff that isn't clutter at all. Preparing for our garage sale of this weekend, I opened up a box in the basement that hadn't been touched in years. I assumed everything in there was junk to be sold, but was surprised to find a smaller box inside that contained the five glasses in the photo above. They're beer glasses, or more specifically Kölsch glasses, after the beer style native to the Cologne area of northern Germany. The glasses were a family hand-me-down from my cousin Bud in Green Bay, Wisconsin, who passed away during the late 1990s. We last had these glasses out on display in our condo in Chicago, more than ten years ago, but they were packed up when we moved and never re-emerged until just now. I knew they probably hadn't ever been thrown away, but still I always wondered where they were. Once found again, I cleaned them up and now have them on display in a cabinet.

The fact that they're Kölsch glasses has even greater meaning for me, given that Kölsch was the first real beer I ever drank (sorry, Heilemann's Old Style, you really don't qualify) during a visit to Germany when I was sixteen years old. In fact, the two glasses on the right - Küppers and Dom - are the two brands I remember consuming the most while I was there. So I'm doubly pleased to have these glasses again.

Of course, there's only one way to make these great-looking glasses look even better:


My local liquor store is pretty limited on German beers in general (the dudes in line in front of me were buying cases of Bud Light and shooters of Cuervo), and of course had no genuine Kölsch. So I went with Dortmunder Gold from Great Lakes Brewing (from Cleveland, Ohio), with Dortmund being as close as I could get to Cologne. Last night, after getting the garage sale remnants disposed of and myself cleaned up, I cracked one open, poured it in the Küppers glass, and had a wonderfully refreshing and relaxing time.

August 22, 2010 in Personal | Permalink | Comments (1)

"...unhurried, tawdry, expressionless..."

In the most recent Oxford American, William Caverlee discusses Elizabeth Spencer's short story "Ship Island", which is set in the Biloxi/Gulfport area of Mississippi, and specifically the Buena Vista Hotel. The essay itself (not available online) is interesting, but I was particularly struck by Caverlee's brief personal anecdote about the Buena Vista, from his 1960s-era visits as a teenage Key Club conventioneer.
Mostly, though, I stuck close to the Buena Vista, attending meetings and prowling about the place - which seemed composed of deep-shadowed colonnades and white-painted walls. Once, I walked by the hotel's swimming pool at nine in the morning, and five or six permanent residents - both male and female - looked up from their drinks. They were deeply bronzed, in their fifties or sixties, unhurried, tawdry, expressionless. I kept walking and they gave me no mind.
Bronzed, languid retirees idling around the pool, already drinking at nine in the morning. That image is just so vivid that it has me pondering the possibilities of a short story based on it - although, to my teenage protagonist, it wouldn't be a case of the poolside bunch "giving him no mind." Instead there would be some sort of confrontation, at least a mild threat of danger. I just haven't figured out the specifics yet. Having never been in that part of the Gulf Coast, I'm not sure my story would even be set there. But I do have vivid memories of swim clubs here in the Midwest from that era - replete with cocktail lounges - that might serve well as a setting instead.

August 17, 2010 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ben Tanzer is at it again...


My great friend Ben Tanzer has just published yet another book (his fourth overall, and second for CCLaP Publishing), entitled 99 Problems: Essays About Running and Writing. Inspired by Haruki Murakami's memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Ben's book is a lively account of his runs in various cities, during which he recounts not only the physical sensation of running and descriptions of his surroundings, but also his concurrent reflections on his writing-in-progress and personal life. Ordinarily I'd be less than enthused to read a book solely devoted to running (though in Ben's case I'd gladly read such a book anyway; such is fandom), but the way he weaves the running, writing and personal life elements together makes for a very brisk and entertaining read. Another winner from Ben's fertile imagination, and maybe the best thing he's written yet.

Like all CCLaP publications, the e-book is available on a Radiohead-style, pay-what-you-want basis, so there's really no excuse for skipping this one. Go get it.

August 16, 2010 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

"...the black raven with raucous glee..."

I love this brief passage from Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf which describes the weary hero retiring for the evening after defeating Grendel's mother.

That great heart rested. The hall towered,
gold-shingled and gabled, and the guest slept in it
until the black raven with raucous glee
announced heaven's joy, and a hurry of brightness
overran the shadows.

Interesting that it isn't the usual strutting rooster that heralds the dawn ("heaven's joy") but instead a black raven which typically has ominous overtones. Some of Heaney's phrases here ("a hurry of brightness", "overran the shadows") seem more modern in style and maybe not an ideal fit with this ancient epic poem, but I still like them quite a bit.

August 12, 2010 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


Caffe RoM on Franklin Street, 8:15 a.m. Four businessmen sit at two small tables, all of them wearing dark blue suits, all with eyes glued to their Blackberries and fingertips racing over the buttons, none of them conversing with each other. Their physical proximity seemed fairly pointless. The scene would have made a great photograph.

August 11, 2010 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

"The Last Final Copy"


Bottom Dog Press is a Cleveland-based indie publisher, established in 1985, which is devoted particularly to Midwestern literature. The press has released a new anthology, On The Clock: Contemporary Short Stories of Work, which is co-edited by Jeff Vande Zande and Josh Maday and is focused on work-related short stories. I am very pleased to announce that the anthology includes my story "The Last Final Copy" which imagines the final hours of Chicago's legendary City News Bureau, on New Year's Eve, 2005, when it was closed for good by its corporate overlords. The story was written four years ago and was in limbo for the past several years as I debated whether to leave it as originally written or expand it further; I ultimately went with the former and am very grateful to the editors and Bottom Dog for taking the story. It's a story that means a lot to me personally, and one that I'm particularly proud of.

On The Clock is now available for sale through the Bottom Dog website, and includes stories by many fine writers including Matt Bell, Michael Martone, Sean Lovelace and many others, and I'm truly honored to be part of their company.

August 9, 2010 in Books, Fiction | Permalink | Comments (2)

Farm Security Adminstration photos, in color



Terrific collection here at the Denver Post of color photographs from the Farm Security Administration archives. The FSA photographs that most people are familiar with are the black and white ones, which seem to create a considerable historical distance between the subject and the modern-day viewer. But color makes them seem more immediate and current, even when the subject matter is obviously far in the past.

The two photos shown above are my favorites out of the Post's gallery - the first is from Rutland, Vermont, by Jack Delano, and the second is from Clinton, Iowa, by Russell Lee. Carnival barkers and female railyard workers are totally things of the past, and yet these great photos make you feel like you're right there, even though it's now 2010.

August 8, 2010 in Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Fraternally, Brother Vonnegut"


Here's a lovely and collegial letter written by Kurt Vonnegut to first-time novelist Mark Lindquist in 1989.
The fact that you have completed a work of fiction of which you are proud, which you made as good as you could, makes you as close a blood relative as my brother Bernard.
What a great human being that man was.

August 6, 2010 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Posted Without Comment


(Photo by John V. Moore.)

August 6, 2010 in Chicago Observations, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2)

Pack up the house, honey...

...we're moving to Hungary.
A survey of about 12,500 people in 24 countries found that Europeans are the most casual when it comes to work clothes with only 27 percent wearing a business suit or smart clothes to work.

Hungary came bottom of the table with only 12 percent of workers saying they wore a suit or smart dress to work.

Among Hungarian workers, 46 percent said it was appropriate to wear shorts to work while 56 percent approved of thong sandals or flip-flops at work.
I wonder if the First National Bank of Budapest is hiring.

August 6, 2010 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Today, for one day only, Joliet is the preteen hotspot of the entire world

Jonas Brothers likely to snarl traffic

As of 7 o'clock this morning - six hours before the gates open - there were already a hundred youngsters congregating in front of Silver Cross Field, traffic was being diverted and police patrols were prominent. There are very few days that I'm glad to work an hour away from home, and this is one of those days.

August 6, 2010 in Current Affairs, Joliet | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...gaze on the tossing billows, and be refresh'd by storms..."

Although I'm really enjoying Leaves of Grass, it's also a fairly exhausting read. Whitman is very long-winded and repetitive, so much so that reading him almost requires physical effort. I think I'd enjoy the entire book more if I read it in 100-page chunks instead of all 370 pages at once (in the same way that savoring small morsels of a tapas meal is more satisfying than forcing down a three-pound burger), so now that I'm 100-something pages in, I'm setting aside Leaves of Grass for a while. I will take my leave (no pun intended) of Whitman with the following passage from "Salut au Monde!":

I see the places of the sagas,
I see pine-trees and fir-trees torn by northern blasts,
I see granite bowlders and cliffs, I see green meadows and lakes,
I see the burial-cairns of Scandinavian warriors,
I see them raised high with stones by the marge of restless oceans, that the dead men's spirits when they wearied of their quiet graves might rise up through the mounds and gaze on the tossing billows, and be refresh'd by storms, immensity, liberty, action.

That passage seems totally fitting, given that my next Summer of Classics book will be Seamus Heaney's highly acclaimed translation of Beowulf, which I'll start tomorrow morning.

August 4, 2010 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

Ernie Pyle

Library of America pays tribute to the legendary war correspondent Ernie Pyle, who was born 110 years ago today. Their post includes an excerpt from one of his reports from North Tunisia, which is such fantastic writing that I'll simply republish the entire thing here.
The men are walking. They are fifty feet apart, for dispersal. Their walk is slow, for they are dead weary, as you can tell even when looking at them from behind. Every line and sag of their bodies speaks their inhuman exhaustion. On their shoulders and backs they carry heavy steel tripods, machine-gun barrels, leaden boxes of ammunition. Their feet seem to sink into the ground from the overload they are bearing. They don't slouch. It is the terrible deliberation of each step that spells out their appalling tiredness. Their faces are black and unshaven. They are young men, but the grime and whiskers and exhaustion make them look middle-aged. In their eyes as they pass is not hatred, not excitement, not despair, not the tonic of their victory — there is just the simple expression of being here as though they had been here doing this forever, and nothing else. The line moves on, but it never ends. All afternoon men keep coming round the hill and vanishing eventually over the horizon. It is one long tired line of antlike men. There is an agony in your heart and you almost feel ashamed to look at them. They are just guys from Broadway and Main Street, but you wouldn't remember them. They are too far away now. They are too tired. Their world can never be known to you, but if you could see them just once, just for an instant, you would know that no matter how hard people work back home they are not keeping pace with these infantrymen in Tunisia.
Wow, wow, wow. I might just have to delve into Reporting World War II: 1938-1946.

August 3, 2010 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Metaphysical graffiti

I noticed these messages this morning, spray-painted on the sides of freight cars which idled on the siding adjacent to my commuter line.
And, even better...
I wonder how many moms have even noticed that second one.

August 2, 2010 in Chicago Observations, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

I have the best wife in the entire world!

Okay, so I have thousands of ways to back up that statement, more than I could ever fully elaborate upon here. So I'll cite just three examples from this weekend:

On Friday morning, she called me at the office. Fridays are when she and Maddie hit the local garage sales, hunting for unique finds, and the first thing she says is "What kind of camera do you have?" Long story short, I have two Mamiya-Sekor SLRs from the early 1970s, and she found me yet another, a 1000 DTL (I have a 500 DTL and a DSX 1000) in a complete kit. The camera's in great condition, but what really has me excited is the 50mm and 135mm lenses, both of which I've wanted for years. Once I get the lenses cleaned up, I think this will lead to a resurgence in my print photography. The fact that she was looking out for something I'd like to have, when she'd undoubtedly rather be hunting for Pyrex bowls or antique cast iron pans, really touched me.

Yesterday, after the three of us came home from another garage sale, I accidentally dropped the vintage Atari 2600 we had just bought for $3, and it's a testament to Julie that she didn't divorce me on the spot. Given how excited she was about the Atari - she's a passionate videogamer - she would have been totally justified in doing so, or at least locking me out of the house for the night. But instead she forgave me (I think!) and we found the Atari didn't sustain any serious damage. The Mario Bros. cartridge worked (albeit not to 2010 technological standards) though we still have to tweak the system somehow to get Asteroids to work.

Then this morning, I slept in until after 8 (very late for me) and awoke to the heavenly smell of Muffins That Taste Like Donuts. Julie's not a morning person, but she still got up early and baked this delicious breakfast from scratch. And now we're having our typical Sunday morning - sitting on the couch, surfing the web, drinking espresso, eating goodies, and watching TLC. I couldn't be happier, and Julie is most of the reason for that. (Maddie, too, of course, but Julie gets much of the credit for her as well.)

August 1, 2010 in Personal, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)