Sunday, August 31, 2003

Harley blog.

This weekend thousands of Harley-Davidson enthusiasts have ridden their hogs to Milwaukee to... I'm not sure what, but I think to ride around, eat and drink, at a mass gathering of other bikers. According to the newspapers, it's a big deal in the Harley world. Conservative estimates say that 100,000 bikers rode to Milwaukee for the Labor Day weekend.

Last Tuesday morning, after a good night's sleep in my room at the Drury Inn in north Indianapolis, I went to meet Gail for our "free" breakfast next to the lobby. The place was fairly busy, with two easily distinguishable classes of overnight guests: the businesspeople -- suits and briefcases -- and the bikers, who turned out in leather. Both groups were generally middle aged. Most of these particular bikers seemed to be from Memphis, if their Harley paraphernalia was any indication.

Other than they way the two groups dressed at that moment, there was probably no significant difference between them, socially or economically speaking. Harleys are expensive, after all. It's entirely possible that one of the fellows at the table that morning, decked out in enough leather to re-cover half a cow, has an orthodontics practice in Memphis to get back to next week.

I don’t have any special interest in riding a motorcycle, but I know I would have rather been on a road trip that morning than a business trip. The bikers were in a jolly mood, and who could blame them?

On our way back to Chicago on Wednesday night, we stopped for dinner just south of Hammond/Gary, at an Outback Steak House. Among the various permutations of chain eateries and independent restautants on that stretch of road, that was one we could agree on. Next to it was a Hooters. We went in for dinner just as the sun was going down, and noticed a number of motorcycles parked outside the Hooters. Emerging about an hour or so later, after dark, we saw hundreds of bikers milling around the Hooters parking lot, and row upon row of hogs gleaming under the parking lot lights.

Saturday, August 30, 2003

Tippecanoe and blogging too.

On this week's trip to Indianapolis, I didn't stop at that midway historic site, Tippecanoe. To judge by the paucity of people at the battlefield the two times I did visit, not many people get off I-65 to see it, though it's only a few miles off that highway. Maybe the problem is that it lingers only in that catchy 1840 campaign slogan for William Henry Harrison , "Tippecanoe and Tyler too." If you asked a focus group, people might recognize that slogan, but have no idea how it relates to a field in north-central Indiana.

The first time I went there, on May 9, 1998, was while Yuriko and Lilly were in Japan. "A pleasant green park," I wrote about it, "maintained by the state of Indiana. It's an irregular parcel of land enclosed by a sturdy iron fence and dotted with large old hardwoods in the flush of spring. The fence, I learned, approximates the edge of the encampment of Harrison's men just before the battle.

"Prominent in the park is William Henry Harrison's obelisk, honoring his command, since he didn't die there, and isn't buried there. It's made of aging gray stone and engraved with the names of other honored dead. A few of those dead have headstones in the park, officers only it seems. The masons [among the dead] have a monument too. Elsewhere in the park -- but not within the encampment area -- various plaques give the Indians their due."

The following is from the Tippecanoe County Historical Society Web site. I quote it at some length because it's a good description of what happened there:

"Early man and many Indian tribes roamed this part of the Wabash Valley before the thriving trading post of Keth-tip-pe-can-nunk was established in the eighteenth century. Known to many as 'Tippecanoe,' the village thrived until 1791, when it was razed in an attempt to scatter the Indians and open the land to the new white settlers.

"Seventeen years later a new Indian village was established on or near the old Keth-tip-pe-can-nunk site at the Wabash/Tippecanoe River junction. Known as 'Prophet's Town,' this village was destined to become the capitol [sic] of a great Indian confederacy.

"The town was founded in May 1808, when two Shawnee brothers, Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa (the Prophet), left their native Ohio after being permitted to settle on these Potawatomi and Kickapoo-held lands.

"Tecumseh and the Prophet planned to unite many tribes into an organized defense against the growing number of western settlers. In addition to being a seat of diplomacy, Prophet's Town became a training center for the warriors, with a rigorous spiritual and athletic regimen. As many as one thousand warriors were based in the capitol [sic] at its peak.

"The white settlers of the Indiana territory were disturbed by the increasing activities and power of Tecumseh's followers. In the late summer of 1811, the governor of the territory, Gen. William Henry Harrison, organized a small army of 1,000 men, hoping to destroy the town while Tecumseh was on a southern recruitment drive. The regiment arrived on Nov. 6, 1811, and upon meeting with representatives of the Prophet, it was mutually agreed that there would be no hostilities until a meeting could be held on the following day. Harrison's scouts then guided the troops to a suitable campsite on a wooded hill about a mile west of Prophet's Town.

"Upon arriving at the site, Harrison warned his men of the possible treachery of the Prophet. The troops were placed in a quadrangular formation; each man was to sleep fully clothed. Fires were lit to combat the cold, rainy night, and a large detail was assigned to sentinel the outposts.

"Although Tecumseh had warned his brother not to attack the white men until the confederation was strong and completely unified, the incensed Prophet lashed his men with fiery oratory. Claiming the white man's bullets could not harm them, the Prophet led his men near the army campsite. From a high rock ledge west of the camp, he gave an order to attack just before daybreak on the following day.

"The sentinels were ready, and the first gunshot was fired when the yells of the warriors were heard. Many of the men awoke to find the Indians upon them. Although only a handful of the soldiers had had previous battle experience, the army fought off the reckless, determined Indian attack. Two hours later, thirty-seven soldiers were dead, twenty-five others were to die of injuries, and over 126 were wounded. The Indian casualties were unknown, but their spirit was crushed. Angered by his deceit, the weary warriors stripped the Prophet of his power and threatened to kill him."

Friday, August 29, 2003

Courthouse blog.

The largest population center between Chicago and Indianapolis is Lafayette-West Lafayette, Indiana. Lafayette is the seat of Tippecanoe County, and the adjacent West Lafayette, is best known as the home of Purdue University. I've seen Purdue; and I've visited the Tippecanoe Battlefield, east of town. But I hadn't seen the courthouse, though I'd heard about it as one of the many places Garrison Keillor has lauded when his show is on the road. So I suggested a stop.

From the pamphlet "Tippecanoe County Courthouse Self-Guided Walking Tour," with my own notes in italics.

"The architectural style of the building suggests the influence of Baroque, Gothic, Georgian, Victorian, Beaux Arts, Neo-Classical, and Second Empire styles." [An agglomeration that has to be seen to be believed. Kitchen sink style, perhaps. But it works somehow, and the courthouse dominates the town square, as it should.]

"In 1880... The contract was awarded to Farman and Pearce for their bid of $208,000. However, Farman died before the first floor was completed in 1882... work stopped and the contract had to be re-bid. The bid of Charles Pearce, the surviving partner, was accepted by the commissioners for an additional $241,000. Originally, credit for the architectural design and plans was given to Elias Max. Additional research has recognized that James F. Alexander was probably the architect for the courthouse.” [He's what? Dead? Well, I'll be d---ed. What're we going to do now? A fine fettle this is. I daresay this'll cost us more money.]

"The cornerstone dedication was conducted by the Masonic Lodge on October 26, 1882. The courthouse was completed in 1884 at a cost of $500,000, twice the original estimate." [It's from the golden age of courthouse building, then. No bland functionalism for the citizens and officials of 1880s and 1890s America: they would have scoffed at the idea. Their courthouses, replacing the simpler buildings of the early 1800s, were going to be grand. And so they remain.]

"Indiana limestone and brick were used for construction of the walls... The courthouse has 100 columns, nine pieces of statuary and a cast iron dome containing four large clockfaces and a bell. [Inside, there were more flourishes, including portraits of William Henry Harrison and Tecumseh. A rotunda formed the courthouse's focal point, and I could imagine that the building could pass for a state capitol -- maybe of a small state like Delaware or New Hampshire.]

The smallest capitol building I ever visited was in Montpelier, Vermont, a town that bills itself as the smallest state capital in the nation. Both Lafayette and its courthouse, I believe, are larger that the capital and capitol of Vermont, respectively.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Corn & Soy Blog.

The Chicago-Indy run is about 180 miles, or three hours with the Interstate equivalent of a fair wind at your back, which is almost never the case until you escape the greater Chicago hive and its thick and gooey traffic. The exact place at which this happens is a little hard to pinpoint, though it's somewhere south of a town called Crown Point, Indiana, which 15 or so miles south of Gary. This is where the suburbs finally peter out, becoming the exurbs, and then even they peter out. From there, trending southeastward on I-65, you get farms, usually of the corn and soybean variety.

It's one of the duller Interstate drives that I know. It's flat, one corn field looks very much like any other, and there aren't many other things to engage the eye. Still, doing this run in summer is better than winter, since flat greenfields are better than flat brownfields -- to use that term in its literal sense, not its real estate meaning (that is, abandoned industrial sites).

Why not get off the Interstate, hit the Blue Highways, see the real America? As far as the Chicago-Indy run goes, there are problems with that line of facile thinking. There are two feasible non-Interstate alternatives, US 41 south to US 52, which goes to Lafayette, and then to Indy (all four-lane divided highways); or the two-lane US 231, which starts out west of the Interstate, meanders to the east of it, crosses it again a few times and ultimately connects with US 52 or US 136 for the final run into Indy.

The first option would probably add two hours to the trip, while the second would add three or even fours hours, and for what? It isn't as if those roads run athwart the majestic Tippecanoe mountains, with a drive through the breathtaking Wabash Valley gorge. What you get on these US roads would be the same flatland occupied by corn and soybean farms, with the added bonus of slowing down in every one-stoplight town along the way. A red spotlight, when you get there.

That said, I would consider the US 41/52 route if I were alone, and if time weren't a constraint. You never know what you'll see on those lesser roads, even in corn and soy territory. A curiously painted silo. An ostrich ranch. An unexpected business in some small town: Newton County Taxidermy, Stuffed Dogs Our Specialty.

But this was a business trip. Gail, the magazine's associate publisher, was with me. We needed to take this trip with some semblance of efficiency, leaving Chicago on Monday afternoon, attending our first business function early Tuesday morning.

Which is not to say that we followed I-65 rigorously, and didn't see anything along the way. But that's a subject for tomorrow.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Doughnut blog.

One of these Sundays I'm going to make it Daylight Donuts, which I've seen driving by several times now. Mainly, I like the name. Besides, it's good to support your local doughnateur. This morning, we went to Country Donuts instead, which is closer than Daylight. Not bad. They were doing a bust-up business, too, so the chains haven't squeezed all of the locals out.

I've read that in greater Los Angeles, the doughnut business is largely run by Cambodian emigre families. The nationals can't compete, because of the high quality of the product and the low cost of family labor. When I was in Orange County for a few days in mid-2001, I casually investigated the doughnut situation, and saw few -- no -- national chains, but a fair number of independents in strip centers. Of those I entered, the doughnuts were uniformly good, and the staff always Asian, though I didn't poll any of them to see if they were Cambodian, first or second generation.

Going to Indianapolis again tomorrow, so the blogging will pick up Wednesday or Thursday.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

Domestic blog.

Something short for this Saturday, which turned out to be fairly busy. Of course, we're still working on settling into the house. For example:

• Most of my books, and Yuriko's and Lilly's significant collections too, have been liberated from their boxes, but not all have found a spot on a bookshelf. Magazines, files and other papers are also loose.

• An amazing number of videotapes, mostly Japanese dramas or cartoons, have more or less found a home downstairs. So have buckets of toys, which have a way of creeping onto the floor when your back is turned.

• The kitchen is up and functioning, but the arrangement of the eating area -- not the dining area, which is a different place and without a dinning table at this juncture -- annoys me. Mainly because sometimes I have to move chairs around to cross the room. That was one of problems with the old house, so little space that I had to move things to walk around, and I don't want it again in this bigger house.

• Both the upstairs and downstairs bathrooms are in good shape. The upstairs bathroom has that woman's touch, with various bits of nonfunctioning decor; the downstairs one has a utilitarian vibe, courtesy the man of the house. Only lately did I toss the old toothbrushes, razors and other unusable debris left by the previous owners in the medicine cabinet.

• The garage is cluttered already, as a good garage ought to be. Sometime before the snows fall, we have to see to it that two cars can actually go into our two-car garage.

• Yuriko cleaned the empty boxes off the deck on Thursday, and today we took both breakfast and dinner out there. A number of bees took a serious interest in our strawberry jam at breakfast, calling their bee friends to come have a buzz in the vicinity, too.

Friday, August 22, 2003

Silva blog.

At noontime today I was casually leafing through the latest edition of the Reader, a Chicago weekly, when I ran across an article about a low-budget, locally made movie. A photo of the director was with the article, and when I looked at it, I thought, that fellow looks a lot like Tom Silva. Closer reading revealed that it was Tom Silva -- at least, the person of that name whom I've known professionally for four or five years. I know him as a PR man for a major Chicago-based developer, the Alter Group.

In that capacity, Tom's always been very helpful, and besides he has one of the more interesting backgrounds of anyone I know in publicity. A Malaysian of East Indian extraction, he grew up in Kuala Lumpur, was educated in schools modeled after British boarding schools, then attended university in New York and did some graduate work in Chicago. He's invariably interesting to talk to. For my part, I may be one of the few Americans he knows who has actually been to Malaysia.

But I had no idea he aspired to screenwriting and directing. His movie is being screened tomorrow evening at an art house downtown, so it's unlikely I will be able to see it yet, though I would if it were closer. (Tom himself is on vacation in Malaysia now, so he won't be there either.) This from the Gene Siskel Film Center program:

2003, Tom Silva, USA, 119 min.
With Jeremy Sklar, Kymberly Mellen

Made entirely in Chicago, The Quiet charts the creeping deterioration of the marriage of two affluent young professionals, Ted (Sklar) and Christy (Mellen). A north side town house filled with trendy lifestyle accessories provides an attractive front for a relationship that has long since taken a disturbing turn behind the scenes. Christy's passivity extends to ignoring the obvious signs of Ted's affair, while his deep-seated hostility is manifest in Christy's mysterious bruises. Actors Sklar and Mellen, both veterans of the Chicago theater scene, shine in roles that demand nuanced non-verbal communication. DigiBeta video.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Kelvin blog.

Hottest day of the year so far, the weather wardens say. Hit a peak of 94° F. at O'Hare, where the wardens keep the Mother of All Thermometers. Bah. It isn't really hot till we cross into the three-digit Fahrenheit zone.

The rest of the world, even our Canadian brethren, has deluded itself into believing Celsius is more "rational," or some such, than Fahrenheit. I don't object to Celsius for the purpose of science, and I certainly got my mind around it while living in Japan, but it's arbitrary, if not counterintuitive. In Fahrenheit, 100 is very hot and 0 is very cold. That's a system that speaks to the human body as it lives and moves through the atmosphere, not to something like the boiling and freezing points of water; and to a human mind that thinks in base 10 and its multiples.

To Celsius believers, I say if you want something really rational, something approved by the international scientific community, let's all use Kelvin. No minus temps to distract us, considering that below zero by definition doesn't exist in Kelvin. A warm day at the beach would be a nice 300° K or so, which is easy enough to remember. Water would freeze around 273° K. Anybody can learn that. It would be fun to see bank time & temp signs registering a scorching 310, or a bone-chilling 260. Which means as much, intuitively, as –10 and 40 C.

In any case, it was 'ot & sweaty on the walk back from the train today. No hitchhikers to be seen (see yesterday's blog). But the minor-league Schaumburg Flyers were getting ready to play a home game at Alexian Field, which is very near the station. It was hot, but people were happy to be milling into the stadium from the endless parking lot.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Tap-dancing albino monkeys blog.

All sorts of suspicious e-mails today at work. Just a few minnows in the vast schools of misbegotten e-mail at large in the world. Having a Mac, I think, helps hide me from some of these idiotic creations, but not all. After all, I've read that Windows and the lords of Redmond are the targets.

Suspicious taglines for the day included: "Re: That movie," "Thank you!" "Your details," and especially "Wicked screensaver." Who is creating all this nonsense? Could be anyone of any nationality, ethnicity, gender or even age, worldwide, but my guess would be anarchic teenage wankers. The electronic equivalent of tagging, which is the human equivalent of pissing on a fire hydrant.

While walking home from the station this afternoon -- this evening, really, since it was about 7 pm -- I saw a fellow ahead of me, on the other side of the road, where there are no sidewalks or bike paths. But on that side, traffic was going his way, and now and then he stuck out his thumb to hitch a ride. This was something I hadn't seen in a long time, at least in North America.

He didn't look especially dangerous, since he was about my age and wearing long khakis, a pale green golf shirt and a white baseball cap. But it was a doomed effort. "Riders on the Storm" sums up the definitive contemporary opinion on hitchhikers. Three-quarters of a mile later, when I left the main road, he was still at it.

The last time I remember seeing hitchhikers in any numbers was during a family vacation in California in August 1973. We drove California 1 up the coast to San Francisco, and saw plenty of longhairs bumming rides, and sometimes people picking them up. One in particular made us laugh. He was under a bridge, lying down. When the car got close, he suddenly stuck up his arm, thumb extended.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Barsoom blog.

Kind words from Martha T. in Connecticut: "Dees: Good thing the Blogspot is back in operation, or else I wouldn't have anything else to read. I went to a bar in my home state of West Virginia years ago called 'Wise Guise.' Can't remember which tiny town it was in."

Years ago I went to a bar in Nashville, at the suggestion of a friend of mine named Mike, which was called "Mike & Dees Pub." I think that it was really Mike & Dee's Pub, but the apostrophe got lost along the way. We were out of our element, but it didn't turn into one of those stories in which bikers chase you out into the parking lot.

I was probably the only one on the train who smiled this morning when the automated voice announcing the stations said, "The next stop will be... Mars." Not all the morning or afternoon trains stop at Mars, so I hadn't heard that one before. I did see the candy factory near the station, however, owned by the Mars Co. It's the only Metra transit station I know of that's named after an adjacent commercial enterprise.

It was still funny to hear. It made me think that in some early draft of A Princess of Mars, John Carter fell asleep on a train traveling through the desert, and when he woke up he got off at a Barsoom train station.

Monday, August 18, 2003

School blog.

Two suspicious-looking subject lines in this morning's e-mail at the office:
"Send Your Love to Any Part of the World" and
"A World Excluse utilizing DNA" [sic, and very likely, sick]

Only one had an attachment. Both vanished down the memory hole, put there by me. More importantly this morning, I dropped by Lilly's soon-to-be elementary school (public) to register her for kindergarten. A brick edifice probably built at about the same time as the neighborhood in mid- to late-1960s, the school had that elementary school feel to it, as if it were too small for you, an adult, even though you had no trouble walking in the door.

During lunch on Friday with a writer I know, a recently married chap living in the city, he asked me, "Would you consider living in the city [Chicago] again?"
My answer: "Not as long as the schools are a broken mess."

You can rant all you want about the injustice of American school system, but as a practical matter I don't intend to be caught on the short end of that stick, if I can help it. So there I was, filling out some papers, turning other papers over to the secretary, demonstrating to the district that I had, indeed, moved into a house within stone's throw of this suburban school. I didn't have to submit DNA samples to prove paternity, but somewhere, someone is suggesting that very idea, and administrators are thinking about it -- or will be, in 2020. Perhaps Lilly will have to do that, if she ever has a child to register.

It sounds like a sour experience, but actually it wasn't at all. I even got to met the kindergarten teacher, a woman who looked to be in her 50s, with long graying hair, and more enthusiasm in her voice about the prospect of taking charge of a room full of five-year-olds than I could muster. But that's why she's a kindergarten teacher, and I'm not.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

Dishwasher blog.

Did a fair amount of driving today, mostly to retail destinations -- to a fine, fine bakery in the morning; Costco later; a park with a water feature after that (just Lilly and me); and Target toward the end of the day. Got to examine the northwest suburban landscape in some detail. My favorite business establishment so far: Wise Guys Restaurant, whose signage promises Italian... and Indian cuisine. A combination I’ve never encountered before. I have to note that the "Wise" in the name is probably a play on its location on Wise Road.

But the excitement of suburban living didn't stop there. Late in the day, equipped with dishwashing detergent (Cascade, my brand because of the hypergreen box) obtained at Target, we fired up the dishwasher. I've never owned an automatic dishwasher, or lived in an apartment that had one.

Yet I had one growing up. In fact one of my earliest memories is of the dishwasher we had in Denton, Texas, when I was about four. Oddly, it wasn't built into the kitchen, but was a metal box on wheels, a configuration that probably isn’t made any more. Come to think of it, I don't remember how the water got into it, though I suppose there was a hose that attached to the faucet in the kitchen sink. What I do remember clearly was that while it was washing, an orange light on top glowed intensely. Or so it seemed. I remember staring at it, fascinated by its concentric rings and vivid color.

It's hard to know what a kid is going to remember later. I can only vaguely imagine what Lilly, not quite six now, thought of the move. Certainly she had the best time of any of us, even better than Ann, whose moods aren’t as linked to external events as the rest of us (but she'll learn). For Yuriko and me, the move was effort, uncertainty, stress. Such is adulthood. For Lilly, it was the biggest adventure ever! I think. She understood very well that this was a permanent move, though she did ask me once or twice about that very thing, just to make sure. She didn't show any sadness at leaving the old place, and was quite eager to stake her part of the new place.

All that feeling will probably evaporate in the coming years. Some detail along the lines of a glowing orange orb on a dishwasher will be all that's left.

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Unpacking blog.

Busier than a Saturday ought to be, but this isn't a normal weekend. We cut open a lot of boxes, distributed some of their contents around the new house, then dealt with the empty boxes and the newspaper used for packing materials -- a lot of it. If that sounds like an orderly transition, something done in stages, from the packed to the unpacked household, then I've given off the wrong impression. It's been in fits and starts, here and there in various rooms and in the garage, in between the requests and demands of small children, and the need to do ordinary things, like eat.

I've unpacked about a tenth of my books. I'm not sure how many I have. It's a lot of work taking them out of their boxes, but it's a lot more pleasure than unpacking, say, dishes. Some -- many -- are old friends. I almost never dispose of any books, though many of them have been in storage for periods of time, especially while I lived in Japan. A lot of them were in de facto storage in the basement of our former house. There's room enough in this house not to have to do that.

They're all sizes and shapes, within the perimeters of conventional book manufacture, but the majority are paperback -- cheaper that way, but some of the hardbacks didn't cost much either. A minority both paper- and hardback came at full price, but I avoid that if I can. The subjects are as varied their looks, but the tendency is toward fiction, history and reference.

The collection is also layered, in a way that only means something to me. There are some as old as my college days. Others I bought in Nashville, Chicago, Osaka, Massachusetts, Chicago again. I bought some on the road, at domestic and foreign locations. I've acquired them at book stores large and small, chain and independent, new and used; at garage sales and thrift shops; at the closing sale of a book store in Salem, Mass., and on the occasion of the retirement of a Methodist pastor at a downtown Chicago church, who was selling part of his collection; some were gifts, a few were lent to me and never returned (a bad thing, but I've lost books that way, and maybe it evens out). Three or four I saved from being thrown away by someone else.

The Internet's great, Google is a marvel, but what would life be without real books? Drab, at best.

Friday, August 15, 2003

Blog Day Afternoon.

Here it is the middle of August, and the days qualify as dog days, both for the steam heat of the air, and the position of Sirius. I haven't checked the sky lately, but it's a safe bet that the Dog Star is where it should be. As for the air, it's steamy, but not outrageously hot, not really (high 80s F). Nothing like my family and friends in Texas are experiencing, but hot enough.

When word of the Eastern blackout drifted into my office yesterday, I called the New York office, but only got a busy-circuit message, as you'd expect. This morning I was able to talk with one of our company's editors at his home in Long Island. He said he had gotten home, from his office in Midtown, at about 3 a.m. Another editor's boyfriend had managed to drive in during the wee hours of this morning -- the roads had cleared out by then, apparently -- and picked up several Long Island-bound employees of Real Estate Media, including the one I spoke with.

I also talked to a writer I know in suburban Detroit. He had simply driven home, through worse traffic than usual. It is Detroit, after all, where everyone drives.

The whole thing leaves me asking: what, no civil disorder? Not even in Detroit? Not like the good ol' days of '77. See my April 28 blog for a previous discussion of blackouts; maybe that meant I had a premonition that this was coming. Not just me either. With some creative interpretation, I'll bet you can find something about this in Nostradamus:

"In the third year after oh-oh-oh/
A great cascade from Canuck-land/
Will render a Great City dark, dark, dark."

Chicago didn't go dark, but if I know ComEd (our local power monopoly), they're pea-green with envy about now. Why does New York get all the glamorous blackouts?

Thursday, August 14, 2003

The return of the blog.


Not really, since our new house is still littered with unopened boxes, but the hard part is over.

August 11, 2003, isn't a day I want to repeat. It was Moving Day. It was also Closing Day. Double Closing Day, really, since we sold the old house and bought the new one. It was the day when most of the debris of our modern life, which usually sits still until needed, was in motion. In a truck I'd never seen before in the charge of men I'd never met before. It was the day when money sloshed around, in amounts bigger than even the prosperous bourgeoisie see in the course of day-to-day living: Watch out! Don't drop any of that! It's my equity! Attorney Brian O. was our guide through this swamp of paper-signing, as he was five years ago, the first time around. Thanks, Brian.

August 11 was that moment when everything comes unraveled, domestically speaking -- and then is dumped into a new place for you to put back together again. Anyone who has moved more than a minor amount of goods from apartment to apartment knows what this is like. I won't dwell on it, but I will say this: I'm glad the whole thing is safely in the past.

And so to the task of rebuilding a routine. It's already under way. For my part, I've re-established my walk to and from the train twice a day -- yesterday, the virgin run, and today, a more assured walk. It's longer, and in places a very different walk from what I did until only last Friday, but with certain exceptions, I'm already enjoying it. I will write more about this in the fullness of time.

I'm also noticing some of the details you don't when merely visiting a neighborhood. My favorite so far, after only 72 hours, are the airplanes. We now live closer to O'Hare International Airport than we used to, but as far as I can see there are no more jetliners overhead than at our previous house. Fortunately. But we also live within two miles of a municipally owned general-aviation airport, and the result is a steady stream of little planes overhead in the evening. Not constantly, but enough to draw your attention if you're not used to them. Most of them are small private planes, but unless I did some research, I couldn't hazard a guess on make or model. Better yet are the multi-prop, mid-sized jobs; and best of all (so far), as the sun was setting on Tuesday, I looked up and saw a biplane overhead.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

The smallest blog.

Time to bow to the inevitable. I'm about to be consumed by The Move. Time to sign off until about a week from now, if all goes well.

Last words from Ed H. in Phoenix (but who is headed for Alaska for a while soon): "I always go back to James Hilton, Lost Horizon: 'Laziness in doing foolish things can be a great virtue.' Hence the pile of unwashed dishes in the sink, perhaps."

Monday, August 04, 2003

A Monday Mircoblog.

Not a bad weekend, beginning with seeing the Tall Ships Festival on the lakefront on Friday afternoon. Packing and other duties ate up the weekend. Woke up today with a minor cold. Meetings all day, then a dinner with the rest of the staff and a visitor from New York. Makes for a tiring day.

The Move is at hand. One week to go. The blogs will get smaller for a while, and then disappear for a week or so.

Sunday, August 03, 2003

Still more notes from the past, spun into a blog.

August 2000.

Recently we headed west, to western Illinois, that is. A spot on the map called the Apple River Canyon State Park, in Jo Daviess County. “Canyon,” is overstating the case, but it’s a pleasant green riverside park with hills, which are uncommon in northern Illinois. We drove there by way of Rockford, Illinois, where on Saturday morning a thunderstorm caught us.

So we spent a few hours in Rockford’s fine science museum, which had a number of things to amuse the small fry, including a giant bubble-maker. Some lesson in there about surface tension; yeah, right. Things cleared up enough for us to make it to Apple River late in the afternoon and pitch our tent. It is the same tent I bought in the late ’80s, and it has become smaller in those years. Need a bigger one. Another thing to buy. Sometimes the pursuit of bourgeois accoutrements is a pain in the butt.

That evening we ate that traditional camping food… take-out pizza from down the road. Lilly enjoyed the surroundings completely, especially our walks on one of the simple trails. She also got a kick out of the little flashlight, pointing it this way and that. Yuriko enjoyed camping too, interestingly enough. She has no fond camping memories from her youth, such as mine at Bastrop State Park [in Texas]. Camping isn’t something the Japanese generally do, except for the enthusiasts, who do it fanatically in the few campgrounds Japan affords.

The next morning, Sunday, we packed up and went seeking Charles Mound, the highest point in Illinois, in the extreme northwestern corner of the state. So extreme that another half-mile north is Wisconsin. Turns out that the mound is on private property, and we had made no reservation to see it. I learned all these things after I got back, from a Web site called, devoted to facts and pics about all the highest points in all the states of the union. And the fanatics who have climbed them all. Still, if you’re going to be fanatical about something, better something eccentric than something pedestrian, like a sport.

Saturday, August 02, 2003

More notes from the past, spun into a blog.

August 1996.

...I went to Kansas City, Mo., a little while ago to attend the International Association of Fire Chiefs' Fire-Rescue '96 (to give the powwow's full title). They put us up at a most gaudy pink sort of hotel, an Embassy Suites looking like it was switched at birth with a minor hotel in Las Vegas, but the digs were comfortable, and I spent most of my time at the city's enormous convention center anyway, far bigger than I would have expected.

Lots of room there for the various species of fire trucks -- pumpers, aerials & heavy rescue -- plus plenty o' tools of the firefighting trade, like breathing apparatus, turnout coats, boots, wicked extrication tools, hoses & nozzles, water guns, and secret decoder rings... well, not exactly that last one, tho' there were a number of junk booths selling t-shirt, calendars and assorted other fire kitsch. Who woulda thought. The world is indeed vast, and full of subcultures; and subcultures within subcultures.

I attended a water gun demonstration near the Kemper Arena, which is right on the border of Missouri and Kansas (in fact, looking at a map, it seems that the demonstration site was on the border, such that we probably crossed and re-crossed it unawares a number of times). The water gun, made by a German company, is a way to extinguish fires with a minimum of water. They set a car on fire and put it out with about a gallon and a half of water, and then did the same with a foul-burning, black-smoky pile of burning tires.

The gun builds up air pressure behind a "shot" of water, and when you pull the trigger, phoomf, it makes a wide spray. The best part, of course, was after the burning demonstrations, when we got to shoot the gun ourselves, but not at any fires. I never did anything like that working for a real estate magazine.

Kansas City has fine barbecue, almost as good as Memphis, which remains my favorite (but perhaps I should try it again someday, since my last experience with it was in 1985). My publisher, my editor and I had dinner on night at a hole-in-the-wall called Arthur Bryant's, and it was exceptional. Apparently, the late Mr. Bryant had a local reputation. Hanging on the wall was a reproduction of an editorial cartoon from the Kansas City Star showing Arthur Bryant standing in front of the Pearly Gates. St. Peter asks: "Did you bring the sauce?"

Friday, August 01, 2003

Useless blogging?

The subject of useless information came up in recent blogs. Of course you never know when something is really "useless." My own best example of that is a job interview I had in Chicago in October 1986. It was a lunch with the publisher of a real estate trade magazine. We talked about commercial real estate, of course, but he was really more interested in talking about other things, such as the Civil War -- he was a Civil War enthusiast. One of the reasons he hired me to be an editor there, I am certain, was because I could hold my own in that discussion. I didn't (and don't) have a scholarly grasp of that conflict, but I did (and do) know a fair amount.

Still, you can't load up on useless information in hopes of impressing someone who might be in a position to help your career. Such things never happen by plan. It has to be for its own sake.

No less a mind than George Orwell weighed in on useless information, in his essay "Why I Write": "So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take a pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information."

In the same vein, my brother Jay writes: "I agree entirely: learning new things, especially wholly unexpected things, things with no obvious practical application, is one of life's great pleasures. It wouldn't be overstating it to say that the flow of new information is one of the things that keeps me alive, almost as necessary as oxygen and perhaps on a par with caffeinated drinks.

"As it happens, I did know that Sir Arthur wrote the tune to 'Onward Christian Soldiers' and a number of other tunes. It was the sacred music that got him his knighthood, in the mid 1880s, not his collaborations with W.S. Gilbert. Queen Victoria was reportedly unimpressed with their operettas and gave Sir Arthur his knighthood despite of them. Gilbert had to wait until the reign of Edward VII for his.

"Here's another collection of essentially useless but fascinating information: President Grant's granddaughter, Julia Grant, who born in the White House in 1876, married Prince Michael Cantacuzene in St. Petersburg in 1898, an officer in the Imperial Army. The Russian Cantacuzene family were descendants of the Voivodes of Wallachia (Vlad the Impaler belonged to this family) and claimed (rather dubiously) a connection with the Byzantine emperor of that name.

"Princess Julia and Prince Michael left Russia at the time of the Revolution. Thereafter she wrote two volumes of memoirs, Revolutionary Days: Recollections of the Romanoffs and Bolsheviki, 1914-1917 (1919) and My Life Here and There (1921) and lived to be 98 years old. They have a number of American descendants, one of whom I believe to be Rodion Cantacuzene, who practices criminal defense law in Midland, Texas. (He appears to use the name Ian Cantacuzene, too, judging from postings to Google, but Rodion is the name that appears on the roster of the State Bar of Texas.) There you have it: a descendant of General Grant and Vlad the Impaler defending the lowlife of the Llano Estacado."