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"I will be damned if I propose to be at the beck and call of every itinerant scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp." - William Faulkner, in his resignation letter to the U.S. Postal Service

I would guess that his customer service skills were appalling. His resignation was undeniably a win-win for both literature and the USPS.

June 29, 2016 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

From the 'L'

Excellent series of photographs taken by Angie McMonigal from inside of Chicago's 'L' trains. (Yes, that's the proper nomenclature, including the single quotes. "El" trains are New York, not Chicago.) I think this one is my favorite. Some sort of metaphor there about being in the gritty outlying neighborhoods with the train taking you away to the Oz-like towers of downtown.

(Via Coudal.)

June 27, 2016 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fading Ad: Uneeda Biscuit


Fading ads for Uneeda Biscuit are far from uncommon (or within the small realm of fading ads, anyway; here's one I photographed in 2012), but the location of this ad is somewhat unique. I found it in the Penn Quarter area of downtown Washington, D.C. (specifically, at 7th and Indiana), which was probably once filled with ads but has now been all gussied up to such an extent that they have all but disappeared. Even this ad was a hard find; I happened to spot it from a block away, and the closest I could get to it was across the street, and could only photograph it from a narrow vantage point and at an awkward angle. I apologize for the lack of sharpness; with the sweltering D.C. heat, I was eager to get back into the shade, and didn't take as much time for composition as I could have.

June 25, 2016 in Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)


"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind." - Thomas Jefferson

June 24, 2016 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Farm Land

We just got home from a week's vacation in Washington, D.C. As much as I like the photographs I took there of all of the familiar sights (Lincoln Memorial, Smithsonian Institution, etc.), just as much I like these that I took of the passing countryside, through the car window.


New Baltimore, Pennsylvania



Schellsburg, Pennsylvania



Breezewood, Pennsylvania



Juniata Township, Pennsylvania



Edon, Ohio


Long vistas and high skies - characteristics that I associate more commonly with my native Midwest, but are also prevalent in the East. Though for obvious reasons (the Mail Pouch sign and weathered barn) I really like the Juniata Township photo, I think the New Baltimore one is my favorite. The lighting worked out really well there, I think.

June 24, 2016 in Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)


"All my jokes are Indianapolis. All my attitudes are Indianapolis. My adenoids are Indianapolis. If I ever severed myself from Indianapolis, I would be out of business. What people like about me is Indianapolis." - Kurt Vonnegut

June 19, 2016 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

South Side

This week I found myself taking photographs through my train window while passing through the far South Side of Chicago. These were originally posted to my Facebook and Instagram pages but I thought it would be nice to collect them all here.



92nd Place and Vincennes Avenue, Brainerd



91st Street and Vincennes Avenue, Brainerd



78th Street and Fielding Avenue, Auburn Gresham



76th Street and Normal Avenue, Auburn Gresham



76th Street and Normal Avenue, Auburn Gresham



75th Street and Eggleston Avenue, Auburn Gresham



72nd Street and Stewart Avenue, Englewood



Marquette Road and Yale Avenue, Englewood


These neighborhoods have special meaning for me, since my mom grew up in Auburn Park (now part of Auburn Gresham) and my grandmother in Englewood. Though the neighborhoods have changed significantly since my family lived there, both economically and racially, it touches me to see (albeit from the distance of a train viaduct) the streets and many of the same buildings that they moved amongst every day, up until the mid 1940s.

My method was fairly basic. Since there was no way to carefully compose photographs from a moving train, I simply had to take a flurry of shots in promising areas, and then sift through them afterward for the best images, which I cropped significantly to cut out the extraneous, and adjusted for brightness and contrast. Some were taken facing east toward the sun, which resulted in darker images after editing, while others were taken facing west (especially the Brainerd photos, which were the only ones taken under a completely clear sky) and were marked by more natural, vivid light. Any blurring was the inevitable result of the train moving at twenty or thirty miles per hour - instead of marring the photos, I think the blurring helps create a sense of motion.

June 11, 2016 in Chicago Observations, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)


"When I look at my life, all my misfortunes are pretty much self-made; the wonderful things the gift of others." - Lynn Becker

June 10, 2016 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Go through the motions, Adam."

I really like the following exchange in East of Eden between Samuel Hamilton and Adam Trask. Adam, once so boldly ambitious in his dream of developing his land in the Salinas Valley, is morosely despondent after his wife Cathy shot him, and then abandoned him and their twin baby boys.
Samuel leaned over the basket and put his finger against the palm of one of the twins and the fingers closed and held on. "I guess the last bad habit a man will give up is advising."

"I don't want advice."

"Nobody does. It's a giver's present. Go through the motions, Adam."

"What motions?"

"Act out being alive, like a play. And after a while, a long while, it will be true."

"Why should I?" Adam asked.

Samuel was looking at the twins. "You're going to pass something down no matter what you do or if you do nothing. Even if you let yourself go fallow, the weeds will grow and the brambles. Something will grow."

Adam did not answer, and Samuel stood up. "I'll be back," he said. "I'll be back again and again. Go through the motions, Adam."
So plainly stated, yet so deep with meaning. It's lately become obvious that the twins will ultimately become the book's Cain and Abel analogs - previously I thought those analogs would be Adam and his brother Charles. And though the story's ending is still far off, and thus there's still plenty of time for change, it seems like I won't be getting as much of the Hamilton family - and especially the wonderful Samuel - that I had hoped for. Instead, right now the focus is fully on Adam and Cathy and their suddenly separate lives. Which is great, too - both are fascinating characters in their own right.

June 9, 2016 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Book recycling


Yesterday was our first return to the annual Will County Book Recycling in several years. Last time, we were disappointed by the diminished number of books available (they explained that they get most of their books donated by libraries but, due to budget cutbacks, libraries were hanging on to their surplus books to sell at their own library sales) and later found other things to do that weekend. But yesterday afternoon it was rainy and thus a perfect time to browse for books, so we gave the recycling another chance.

And we were pleasantly surprised! It was crowded (a good sign, since more people being there meant more books being dropped off) and the tables were completely full. The photo above is my haul: John Steinbeck's The Pastures of Heaven (perfect for my Summer of Steinbeck), Kingsley Amis' Girl, 20, Richard Wright's story collection Eight Men, George Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier, the second volume of Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy, a collection of anecdotes ("hilarious and mostly true") by old-time ballplayer Rabbit Maranville, and an old history of Stoughton, Wisconsin (for a cousin of mine, who grew up there).

We mostly broke even - we donated a bunch of used textbooks from Maddie's homeschooling days and a few fiction books of hers that she didn't expect to ever re-read, and brought home about fifteen books, three of which I took specifically to give to other people. And the great thing is that any duds we picked up can be donated back next year.

The Steinbeck, Amis and Wright books are old mass market paperbacks with bold cover designs (which I'm always a sucker for). The Steinbeck and the Amis covers are typical of that era - each has a suggestive illustration and a teaser phrase to draw in the reluctant buyer. The former reads "MEN AND WOMEN...in a warm and seductive valley." The insinuation of that valley is blatantly (and comically) obvious, especially with the depicted man and woman (both earthily attractive) gazing coyly at each other. Though I'm sure the novel has sexual elements to it, since it's Steinbeck it's probably mostly about the brutal oppression of good working-class people, and not at all the trashy romance novel that the cover suggests.

The Amis cover illustration is more subtle, but is still somewhat suggestive - a partly obscured (but still obviously naked) and beautiful young woman. Again, from what I know of Amis, it's probably not a trashy romance novel but instead a comic skewering of social class differences, so the cover is likely deceiving. That cover seemed mildly outrageous until I went on Goodreads and found this priceless version:




Wow, just wow. There's no way I would ever dare to read that edition on the train.

June 5, 2016 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

"...a license to talk..."

Gregarious Irishman Sam Hamilton, from East of Eden:
"They say it's a dangerous thing to question an Irishman because he'll tell you. I hope you know what you're doing when you issue me a license to talk. I've heard two ways of looking at it. One says the silent man is the wise man and the other that a man without words is a man without thought. Naturally I favor the second..."
I really like Sam, and hope there's much more of him to come. So far (200 pages in) Steinbeck has focused almost entirely on the Trask family (where I'm assuming the Cain and Abel theme will stem from, and ending most likely with the demise of one of the Trask brothers), but now he seems to be bringing in the Hamiltons more.

The book is slow-paced and deliberate, but I'm being patient and giving it the time it needs. It's getting better and better as it plods along, and I've begun to think it's a top contender for the title of Great American Novel.

June 2, 2016 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)