Friday, February 28, 2003

All the blog that’s fit to print.

Many years ago, back when my family lived in North Texas, we spent a day at the Six Flags theme park in suburban Dallas, and when we returned to the car to go home, discovered that someone had pasted a gaudy bumper sticker on the back bumper of my mother’s car — I think it was orange letters on white background — SIX FLAGS OVER TEXAS.

Odd for a number of reasons. Even ca. 1967, who would think that slapping unsolicited stickers on your customers’ cars is a good idea? How does pissing people off contribute to brand loyalty? Pissed off, indeed, was my mother. On the other hand, maybe it was a band of AstroWorld employees out to generate ill-will against their nemesis, Six Flags. Of course, AstroWorld would disavow an knowledge of the Bumper Disinformation Squad if any of its members were killed or captured…

Perhaps it’s from my mother, then, that I acquired an aversion to putting like messages on the back of my vehicles. Never have, never will. But I’m always on the lookout for one that will amuse me on someone else’s car. (It would be very, very hard to top CAT: THE OTHER OTHER WHITE MEAT.)

I walk about a half a mile through my west suburban neighborhood most workday mornings and afternoons, to the train station and back, and not long ago I noticed something new pasted on a neighbor’s car. Car? No, it’s important to know that this vehicle is a Ford Explorer SUV. And it wasn’t a conventional bumper sticker, either. As befitting an SUV the size of a Jovian moon, big bold letters were pasted on the back window.


Prickly bastard, eh? You can make a decent case on either side of the SUV-supports-terrorism pickle, though I happen to believe that oil money to the contemptible House of Saud will indeed buy some terror in the USA. But by God, don’t suggest that to this oaf. As if his loyalty — which I do not question — somehow changes the facts of the matter, and means he can’t be a dupe, in some little way. It’s a fallacy big enough to drive a Ford Explorer through.

Thursday, February 27, 2003


My morning: Five well-known architects, a fine paneled room and a solid table, jugs of water and glasses of orange juice. The Third Annual Real Estate Chicago Architecture Roundtable, held at the Tower Club, high atop the Civic Opera Building in downtown Chicago. Live, but before no audience except three tape recorders — one primary, two backup — and three members of the Real Estate Chicago magazine staff. I moderated. The architects who had so kindly agreed to be in my magazine were ideal panelists: a talkative, lively crew whose subjects ranged from the way Mayor Daley seems to care about architectural detail in his town in a very un-mayor-like — but not necessarily bad — way, to their opinions on the THINK project at the WTC site.

At times like this, I realize how little I know. The architects talked of “The x project, very interesting, very controversial… the y building, on the campus of Z University, did you know that everyone in the School of Architecture hates it, just hates it… Building technologies will be so efficient in the future, the mind boggles… for example, the [I’ve never hear the term] process, a real marvel…” As much as I read and listen, professionally, to the goings-on in real estate, urban planning and architecture, a lot that was discussed was still news to me.

But I learn. The end result of this roundtable will be published in the March/April issue of my magazine, after I’ve taken the raw lumber of the transcript to my editing sawmill, to be made into the smooth planks of readable prose.

One surprise was how warm the architects were to the rebuilding of Soldier Field, as a design. Soldier Field, home stadium of the Chicago Bears, was new when “Yes, We Have No Bananas” was a hit, and late in 2001 (when people were distracted by the Afghan War and anthrax) the City of Chicago (i.e., Mayor Daley), in connivance with the State of Illinois (that is, former Gov. Ryan), rammed through a redevelopment scheme. Court challenges and a highly critical reaction to the design followed, especially from the Tribune. To no avail. The project will be finished in time for the Bears to play there in September.

Soldier Field used to be the sort of the oval stadium you associate with the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame, or at least with the era of leather football helmets. An imposing, gray presence, notable for its exterior-wall colonnades. According to the Turner Construction Co. (the contractor on the job), the redevelopment: “will restore and leave intact the existing exterior and colonnades and replace the existing seating bowl with a new 61,500-seat facility. The new bowl will be higher than the existing colonnades by 50 feet on the West side where the grandstands are located, and 40 feet on the East side where the skyboxes are located. A four level 2,500-space parking lot will be located at the North side of the stadium, beneath the grandstands and below grade. A two-level, 1,600-space parking structure located to the South, independent of the stadium, will also be below grade with landscaped ‘tailgating’ facilities on the roof of the structure.”

Last month, when I was driving downtown every day, I got to see the site from Lake Shore Drive. To me, it looks like they’re putting a Chihuly glass bowl inside the old gray bowl. It’s interesting, at least. But the aesthetics of the project have never been my beef with it. The operative word in the paragraph above is “skyboxes.” That’s what this redevelopment is about: public money used to make the multimillionaire who owns the Bears more money.

It’s a psychology I can’t fathom. Like Jack Nicholson’s character in “Chinatown” says to the sinister millionaire: “Why are you doing it? How much better can you eat? What can you buy that you can’t already afford?”

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Yes, we have no blogs.

It was in fact a long, difficult night last night. There you are — there I was — feeling quite relaxed and warm in a full-body sort of way, at the border crossing into the Land of Nod. My conscious self was just a happy shadow of its normal self when — wa. wa. waaaah. WAAAAH!

So it goes.

Less than a week old, this blog, and I’m already getting e-mail from Been There, Seen That readers. Of course, since my “readership” is only, theoretically (yet not too likely) the 30 or so people I e-mailed and told about this blog — all known to me personally — so it isn’t quite the same as the adulation of a real fan base. If I dangled one of my daughters from a hotel balcony, I would not get a pass from the DCFS because of my fame. But I’ll take what I can get.

Dr. Kirk F, known to those of you who attended Alamo Heights High School as I did, said: “I must say that I have always felt that new babies are something other than cute... more like a bloody mess... until they are cleaned up and asleep. Six is plenty enough for me on the ‘dads end’ though I have delivered over 300 myself. It just is never the same from the ‘docs end’ and I’m sure from the ‘moms end.’ I always tell the delivering physician, ‘That’s what I’m paying you for’ when asked to cut the cord.”

To add a little context, Kirk has six children of his own these days (attaboy, Kirk) and practices medicine in Nacogdoches, Texas, recently in the news as the sad recipient of pieces of the Space Shuttle.

Speaking of birthin’ babies, in a previous blog I forgot to mention something I noticed at the Hinsdale Hospital Birthing Center, the sort of detail that perhaps seems more important when running on empty at 3 a.m. the morning your wife is expecting to give birth. But, I don’t want to impugn the dedicated, even-tempered staff at the Hinsdale Hospital Birthing Center (except for one cranky nurse).

If you go the Birthing Center, you have to take an elevator from the hospital lobby to the fourth floor. The elevators open up to a mural on the wall: a collage of large photos, actually. Jesus is the focal point, and around him are a multiethnic array of happy infants. Well and good; the hospital is affiliated with the Seven-Day Adventist Church, after all, and in any case I want Jesus to look out for all the babies there, too.

It was a Jesus Triumphant. His arms open and welcoming, a broad smile on his bearded face, and a biblical robe as clean as if it had just come back from Galilee Dry Cleaning and One-Hour Martinizing. I spent some time looking at this Jesus. Something odd about that face. He looked just like… no, it couldn’t be… but it was.

The Birthing Center Jesus looked absurdly like Michael Palin. A young Michael Palin, too, back when he was with Monty Python. A little joke by the artist? A little joke by God? Go figure.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Onward, through the blog.

Cold overnight. Very cold. So cold the temperatures dipped into imaginary numbers. “Bundle up, folks. Overnight temperatures are expected to drop to around 5i, colder in outlying areas.”

I never did get my mind around imaginary numbers. Sure, the square root of –4 is 2i. I remember that. But it always seemed like something dreamed up because the rules of engagement for multiplication demanded that two negatives must mate to produce a positive. But what is an imaginary number, exactly? You can’t use them to count anything. (Unless they have a role in the federal budget — a possibility.) My high school calculus teacher assured us that “imaginary numbers aren’t real — real numbers are — but they exist.” Now, 25 years later, I have to ask, exist in what way? The same way that Thurston Howell III exists?

That only shows that I was never meant for higher mathematics, beyond that glass ceiling known as calculus, all of which I’ve forgotten anyway. I’ll never be John Nash, even if I start having paranoid delusions.

Today was an ordinary, and productive, Tuesday; got work done, etc. I got enough sleep last night, but Yuriko did not, which isn’t good for the balance of humors in our house, so I’m expecting a tough night tonight, if only to even things out.

Lilly has discovered an alarmingly girly Web site lately, Polly Pocket. I smell the influence of Mattel in it, and there must a toy — a doll — a doll-industrial complex, complete with outfits sold separately — out there that inspired it.

I’m not overly worried about gender issues here. Or even commercialism. The site just seems so… stupid. Oh! Let’s go shopping at the Polly Pocket Mall! A girl’s gotta have a new ’do! Help Polly pick it! Am I merely reacting as a former boy? Am I attacking girl culture? Am I wrong to call it stupid?


However, if I let her play it (and I do), she will burn out on it soon enough. I hope. We all played with stupid toys once upon a time, and only some of us grow up stoopid.

Monday, February 24, 2003

Does the blog lose its flavor on the bedpost overnight?

Woke this morning to a patina of snow covering my little part of DuPage County, Illinois. Just enough to dandy up the landscape for a short time, till the slush comes. Which may be a while. According to the weather savants, it will be cold enough to freeze off your kippers for much of the rest of this week.

In my line of work, editor of a trade magazine, I receive press releases by the bushel — or at least I used to, since these days press releases not only come on paper by U.S. mail and fax, which do bushelize on my desk, but also show up in the form of e-mail. I suppose e-mail could be measured in bushels, but the image isn’t quite right, since electronic messages occupy little physical space, and you can’t trade their futures on the Chicago Board of Trade. In any case, I get a lot of press releases as e-mail, that communications marvel of our age.

(I had to check: a bushel is four pecks. So being in a peck of trouble is one thing, but for serious problems, you’d be in a bushel of trouble, even though that doesn’t quite have the right ring to it. Maybe it’s the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony.)

I digress. A few weeks ago, a press release came to my attention. Only the first paragraph was worth my attention:

“With a record-breaking attendance of over 90,000, the International Builders Show last week in Las Vegas was filled with new products, ideas and wood, wood, wood. And its [sic] not Las Vegas without Elvis. If you missed it, the Wood Promotion Network's (WPN) Viva! Wood campaign employed a team of roving Elvi singing the praises of building with wood.”

Sunday, February 23, 2003

Blog on, blog on.

Last night was hard for all the adults in the house, since an infant’s sleep is fragile. Instead of a solid slab of three or four hours' sleep between eruptions, sleep for her, and us, came in nickel-and-dime sizes, which makes for a long night. Fortunately, Sunday morning followed. The Church of the Holy Nativity had to do without us again.

Big news from this morning’s Tribune. Guaranteed to generate more irate mail than that paper’s coverage of the war-to-be. Four comic strips disappeared from the Sunday funnies, and I understand that in any given newspaper each strip, no matter how bad, has its fierce partisans. The Tribune axed two ancients, “Beetle Bailey” and “Hi and Lois,” plus two non-entities not so old, “The Fusco Brothers” and “The Buckets.” I won’t miss any of them, though “The Buckets” and even “Hi and Lois” had occasional charms. What I want to know is why “Broom Hilda” survived the purge. Who enjoys this strip? What demographic is amused? And why isn’t the Wiccan-American community outraged?

As I pondered these questions, reading the comics over my Sunday morning tea — a minor but long-standing pleasure — I devised a mean-spirited way to end “Broom Hilda.” Hand her over to the Inquisition. Some suitably gothic Inquisitors can be borrowed from the lame “Non Sequitur,” and Broom’s dim animal friends can be obliged to testify against her. The last Sunday strip can end with the little green witch at the stake.

Yes, that is mean. In the same league of taking Häger the Horrible out with a broadsword to the neck during a raid on an Irish monastery. Better to have Broom just disappear, to be replaced with “The Piranha Club,” if that’s still any good.

Saturday, February 22, 2003

To blog, or not to blog.

The weather has turned, as promised by the weather pundits. Friday we touched the heights of the 50s F, only to return to more normal northern Illinois temps this morning, plus bitter wind, and a hint of snow. February is being its usual crummy self here. But even that wouldn’t be so bad if we had some promise of a spring that actually started in, say, April. We don’t.

Not everyone of my acquaintance got “President’s Day” off on Monday, but we at Real Estate Media did — a fine thing. I’ve heard, but I haven’t bothered to confirm it using authoritative sources, that federal law never called it that, back when the government took it upon itself to rationalize certain holidays in the early ’70s. It was, and remains, Washington’s Birthday (Observed), but a certain successor of President Washington, since disgraced and deceased, popularized the notion of “President’s Day.”

Well, why not? A day to dwell on the immortal deeds of Rutherford B. Hayes, Chet Arthur, Millard Fillmore and that greatest of presidents, William Henry Harrison.

I’m only half joking. One of these days, befitting this Weblog’s theme of Been There, Seen That, I’ll post thrilling accounts of visiting sites associated with obscure presidents — Benjamin Harrison’s house, R.B. Hayes’ home and grave, and the Tippecanoe battlefield, all within (relative) easy driving distance of metro Chicago.

Today of course is actually Washington’s Birthday — using the New Style calendar, anyway. Someone impressed Washington’s name on Lilly (I suspect the Montessori staff), and she repeated it to me the other day. “Do you want to see his picture?” I asked, intending to show her one regardless of what she answered, taking a dollar out of my wallet. “That’s George Washington,” I said, giving it to her for a closer look.

She looked at it carefully and announced she was keeping it.

Friday, February 21, 2003

And so to blog.

About three weeks ago, my second daughter, Ann, was born. This time around, the birth was similar, but also different, from my first daughter's, though I admit things had gotten a little fuzzy after five years. I suppose any birth of any child will be different from any other, but paradoxically, one birth will also be like any other, as long as there are no complications.

When the time came, we had one doc and three nurses: one longstanding pro and two student nurses. It was their first delivery (the students', that is). So that meant I had one up on them. But I didn't do anything, except hold Yuriko's hand through the waves of pain. And cut the umbilical cord, when the time came. Otherwise, like any dad I had a bit part. I'm glad someone knows how to help birth them babies, 'cause I certainly wouldn't be up to it.

Anyway, on the January 29th I was persuaded to go with Yuriko to her OB/GYN for the latest (and last, as it happened) of her weekly exams. Weekly visits are the thing to do, if the baby is at term, i.e., past 37 weeks. That milepost had been passed about a week before. After considerable examination, the doc said that mild contractions were under way.

"Really? Does that mean the baby will come today or tomorrow?" I asked. This was my layman's response upon hearing the term "contraction."

"Could be," she answered. "Or next week or the next." It's no exact science, even in the age of ultrasound, genetic screening, etc. But as it turned out, my impression was accurate. Call it a lucky guess.

By the way -- and I probably mentioned this to my regular correspondents five years ago after Lilly was born, but it bears repeating for those of you who have no children --- absolutely everything in TV or movie fiction you see about birth is wrong. Or, I should say, it's fiction. As realistic as theatrical sex, which is to say, not much at all.

After the exam, Yuriko wanted me to take Lilly to her violin lessons, and then to afternoon preschool, so I said I would. Thus I decided not to go into work that day. Over the week and a half previously, I had been driving downtown and parking in the Grant Park underground parking garage, on the theory that if labor did start intensely, I could get home faster than if I had to rely on my usual commuter train. To facility this, I had also been carrying a cell phone I acquired at the end of December. But ultimately, all the driving did was annoy me in the morning especially, and all I ever got were wrong numbers on that phone, including two that came ten minutes after Ann was born. I'm not sure why I even felt the urge to answer the phone at that moment. Habit.

By late afternoon of the 29th, contractions had started with some vigor, but it does take a while for them to really get going -- we had been overcautious with me driving to town every day in the weeks before -- and at about 9:15 pm, we decided to go to Hinsdale Hospital. We put Lilly in care of old friend Kevin D. for a while, and went to the "Birthing Center." (Oh, whatever became of the Maternity Ward?) It wasn't until about 12:30 am on January 30th that they decided to admit Yuriko, at which time I returned to Kevin's to find Lilly so completely asleep that I decided to leave her there --- the other option had been for me to go home with her until about 7 the next morning, at which time I would take her to a friend of Yuriko's, Yuko. This seemed like a reasonable plan, since we were fairly certain that the baby wouldn't come until well after daybreak, and even if it did surprise us and I missed the birth, no ill would come of it, really. (But I did want to be there, if I could.)

In any case, after consulting with Yuriko on the phone, I returned to the hospital in time to be kicked out of the labor & delivery room while she got her epidural. At that time -- now around 2 am -- I read as well as I could in a small waiting room just outside labor & delivery, and saw a small parade of newborns, headed for the nursery. Not precisely a parade, but a trickle, one after another every few minutes: a nurse pushing the new mother in a wheelchair, followed closely by the new father, pushing the newborn in its sturdy clear-plastic-sided crib on wheels, the likes of which you only see in maternity wards. One new dad in particular struck me -- he couldn't have been more than 22, pimply and unkempt. Welcome to the club, pal. (I myself had lost all notion of kempt, but that's par for the maternity ward course.)

At about 3 am I camped out on the labor/delivery room's uncomfortable La-z-boy-esque recliner. At about 6 am, I got up and returned to Kevin D's. Lilly, alas, had keep him up most of the night, having woken up after I left ("Good thing I had the Cartoon Network," Kevin said.) Lilly was somewhat upset by it all, but she had no objections to going to Yuko's house, where she has been many times, and where she knows Yuko and her daughter (nearly three years old) quite well.

I got back to the hospital at about 7:30 am, and things were moving along nicely, but I hadn't missed the main event. Before long, though, the show was on. At about t-minus 10 minutes (in retrospect, I can call it that) the doctor asked me if we knew it was a boy or girl. I said no. Do you have any names? Yes, Ann and Alexander. Duly noted. And so the baby came -- hard to find a verb here that really describes it -- pushed out, squeezed forth, slipped through bloodily, noisily, suddenly. "It's baby Ann," said the doc, which was a nice thing for her to do. When Lilly was born, there was much hubbub, the view was obscured, and no one mentioned gender until I asked.

Now it's been three weeks. Most of that time, Ann has been home, as you would expect, tho' we have taken her to see our regular pediatrician. Yuriko is nursing the child with tiring regularity, and we are supplementing with formula once or twice a day. When Lilly was born, it took several weeks for milk production to kick in, and she lost an alarming amount of weight, not quite enough to be dangerous, but close enough to the danger zone to look over the fence and say howdy. So we didn't wait for that to happen again. Ann has lost some of her weight, as newborns do, but not more than she should. With any luck, she’s now on an upward growth track... as indeed her sister still is.

Lilly's four-day-a-week preschool schedule was interrupted but once, the day Ann was born. Otherwise, she's taking it well, it seems, but as those of us with siblings know, it's early in the game. But she (Lilly) does periodically kiss the top of Ann's head, saying something like "Hello baby" or "Ann-chan" (that's the Japanese pet form of her name). Too cute, so I won't go on about it.

In short, we are tired but well, on the whole. Ann seems alert enough, and noisy enough, and medical inquires have all turned up normal. Most importantly, nutrition goes in, and biochemical byproduct emerges. I won't go on about that, either.