Friday, September 26, 2003

Pre-Cleveland blog.

No blogging for the next few days -- I have to be elsewhere. Cleveland, as it happens. The butt of jokes, sometimes, but no matter where you are, there's always something to see, and I intend to look around. My first visit there, almost six years ago, was in January, and that of course makes it harder to be out and about.

Luckily, my irritating head condition seems to have passed, in time for me to get on an airplane without suffering too much inner-ear pain. One time I caught a cold in Kuala Lumpur, of all places -- nothing exotic for me, like dengue fever -- and it wasn't so bad until I had to fly back to Japan with stops in Bangkok and Seoul. Inner-ear hell.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Restroom Automation blog.

Another short blog. Not quite as busy today, and my head didn't hurt quite as much. But I can't remember the last time a night's sleep -- and I had a fairly good one last night -- that didn't completely get rid of a headache. Mine lingered on into the morning, and even a little now. I'll have to ascribe it to middle age.

Among the many press releases I've gotten recently, there was this (head and first paragraph only):

Mundelein, IL September 17, 2003 -- Technical Concepts in Mundelein, Illinois, a global leader in restroom automation, says more and more of its customers are discovering that touch-free fixtures restroom systems pay for themselves. Savings from reduced water and electric usage, and less maintenance add up to an average Return on Investment of 30% in commercial buildings.

It goes on for a page and a half. I don't know why the PR company sent this to me. It's far off on the periphery of commercial real estate, property management I guess, but nothing I would devote any space to. I suppose they wanted to expand their mailing list beyond the Journal of Toilet Technology, Bathroom Fixtures and the British W.C. Fortnightly.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Headache blog.

Late in my college days, I met the girlfriend of a friend of a friend, who suffered from migraines. "It's like this," she said. "Take your upper lip between your thumb and forefinger, and grip hard. Then pull it all the way around the top of your head."

I've never had a headache that bad, thank God, but the occasional ones I get are bad enough. Like today. It's my head's way of telling me to get more sleep and stop working so much. Sage advice, hard to take as a member of the middle class.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Elevator Blog.

Exceptionally busy day -- edited a 3,000-word interview and wrote half as many words in the form of two articles that I had foolishly assigned to myself. So I won't add too much to the word total for the day with this.

But I was out of the office for a few minutes. In the afternoon I got on the elevator at the 17th floor to go to the first floor of my building. On the 16th or 15th floor, a middle-aged man, somewhat but not too many years older than I am, got on. He was short, casually dressed and beginning to gray around the edges.

He glanced around a little uncertainly. "I'm glad I don't have to ride the elevator alone," he said. I wasn't expecting a conversation -- it's fairly rare in downtown elevators among strangers, and even if it were more common, that opener is a little off center. I didn't respond immediately.

"I think I like this elevator less and less," he said, as if to ask for my agreement. He looked a bit too nervous for comfort. My comfort, that is.

"It's better than most," I said. I was sincere. The Civic Opera Building elevators have handsome brass-plated doors, fine wood paneling, and generally don't make you wait too long.

"Yes," he said, shifting his ground a little. "At least it isn't hydraulic. Those are the worst."

We arrived at the first floor and that was that. I didn't understand that last comment. Or him. A claustrophobe fated to work on the 15th floor? A finicky elevator nerd? A freelance weirdo? Or just someone a little awkward, wanting to make idle chitchat?

Monday, September 22, 2003

Duck Soup blog.

Kevin D. writes: "Had a good, though busy weekend. Lots of house stuff [he moved recently too], but I did break away Sunday afternoon for A Night at the Opera. Glad to see the theater about half to three-fourths full, not bad for a beautiful Sunday afternoon and a repeat of Saturday. It was preceded by a Bugs Bunny cartoon I had never seen. People of all ages, including quite a few teenagers on dates, which surprised me.

"Strangely, the biggest laughs came not in the stateroom scene, but at the concluding opera debacle, where the old woman in horrible makeup is on stage singing, and Groucho goes 'Booga Booga Booga!' The entire theater roared."

Years ago I went with my family to a $1 matinee of A Night at the Opera at the Josephine Theater in San Antonio. That summer, maybe 1973 or 1974, the Josephine showed a raft of Marx Bros. movies, some as double features, and I remember seeing Duck Soup, A Day at the Races and Go West, as well. Thirty years ago the biggest laugh for Opera was "Booga Booga Booga!" Maybe it was funnier because no one knew what it meant, and it didn't matter.

We watched Duck Soup on tape on Saturday. I'm happy to report that Lilly watched some of it, and found some of the pratfalls pretty funny. I've seen it in the theater several times, of course, once even in London -- the biggest laugh it got there was the "call for help" during the battle finale, when motorcycle cops, swimmers, boaters, elephants, monkeys and fish all heed the call to help Freedonia, thanks to stock footage.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Rummage blog.

My drizzly nose hung on a little longer than I expected, along with a slight headache, minor sore throat and all-round vague malaise throughout Saturday. Not what I'd called an illness, exactly, but on the borderline, and a nuisance in any case. It didn't keep me from going out -- it was a warm, very pleasant day -- and spending some time in the sun, which didn't help. But I didn't need any over-the-counter elixirs to sleep soundly last night.

This time last year, we went to a large rummage sale on the grounds of a church in the town of Hoffman Estates, St. John's, which these days is a Church of Christ. We hadn't come that way just to go to the sale, and it was a long trip home for us that time. Turns out it is an annual event. I'd forgotten about it; but Yuriko remembered, and knew that it was yesterday, so we went. Now this church is about ten minutes' drive, and we did make the trip for it. She ended up with some pillows and glassware. Lilly got a doll.

I got to look at the church and adjacent cemetery again. The stones are in German, most of them, and date from the late 19th century. Most are worn, but some have held up remarkably well over 100+ summers and winters. The white frame church isn't very large, and clearly inspired by New England churches of a somewhat earlier period, which I suppose really goes all the way back to Christopher Wren. But I wasn't feeling like asking anyone about it, and I didn't see any written material around. A cursory look around the Web this morning turned up nothing.

Somehow, though, it suits me to guess at the history of this place -- a gathering place for German Lutheran farmers in northern Cook county who hired an architect who himself had come from New England, as so many settlers did in the Midwest. An aging and dwindling congregation of German Lutherans in the early 20th century, maybe as late as the '20s, when the suburbs really got under way hereabouts, and at last a conveyance of the building to a Church of Christ congregation. The take from this year's rummage -- at which some people obviously buy tables, so it isn't completely nonprofit -- seems to be going to retrofit the front entrance of the building to allow wheelchair access.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Nose blog.

Yesterday my nose, instead of quietly doing its duty fronting my face, made noise and demanded attention, something like the seven-month-old child who had passed the condition along to me. I was at work despite this, of course, doing what needed to be done, sneezing and blowing my nose all the while. Upon returning home, instead of devoting any time to a Web log, I calculated the precise dose of generic Nyquil and gave myself a blast. The nose is better this morning. I may post more later today.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Isabel blog.

"A storm the size of Colorado," said someone on the radio this afternoon about hurricane Isabel. I suppose that could have been a storm the size of Wyoming, too, but in any case it wasn't anywhere near those western states, or this Midwestern state in which I find myself. In fact, but for instant communication with the East Coast, we would have no notion that anything so violent was lapping North America, since today was a perfectly clear, very calm late summer day in Chicago.

A hurricane in Illinois would be a peculiar thing, but not as strange as you might think. In November 1998, a storm blew through the Great Lakes, damaging buildings, knocking down trees, blowing over things. According to one weatherman, at least, the storm would have been called a hurricane, had it originated in the Caribbean. He also noted that it was the same caliber of storm that had sunk the Edmund Fitzgerald 23 years earlier.

It didn't do any major damage to my property, but I did have to walk through the winds that night, and I have a clear picture in my mind of twin pine trees in someone's front yard with their trunks sightly but visibly gyrating, and their branches whip-flop-whip-snap-whipping.

Then there was the typhoon that hit Osaka square on, in September 1990. Actually, not a dead-on hit, since the island of Shikoku tends to absorb some of the energy of typhoons before they get to Osaka Bay. But it was a long night of wind, rain and rattling windows, which I thought might pop into my room and shower me with glass. So I moved the mattress away from the windows and passed the night restlessly. The windows held their own.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

The Barber of Sicily Blog.

Today our regional publisher was in town, and I went with him and one of our salesmen to the Civic Opera Barber Shop on the 15th floor of our building late in the morning. The last time he was in town, he wanted to know where he could get his shoes shined, and I told him that was the place, though he didn't have time for it then.

The shoeshine man shined us one at a time, naturally, and while we waited, we had a talk with Sam, my barber. Sam is of medium height and build, clearly in his 50s but not graying much yet, and speaks not so much with an accent, but an Italian flavoring. He's a fixture in the building, barbering there for the last 30 years. Time enough to built a loyal clientele. I know of one older gentlemen, a renowned real estate executive as it happens, who has Sam shave him every business-day morning that they're both near enough to the Civic Opera Building to make it practical. I get Sam's haircutting treatment about once every two months. He does a fine job of making me look respectable.

I asked Sam where he had been this summer -- I'd wanted a haircut in July and called a number of times, only to be told he was still on vacation. (I eventually went to another barber I used to frequent, over in the Wrigley Building.)

"I was in Italy for three weeks," he said. "My mother and brother still live there." Italy; Sicily in particular. He went on to tell us that he had left Sicily when he was 15, which I would put at about 40 years ago. Sam, on the whole, isn't chatty, which I admire in a barber, and that's more information about him than I've gotten in the last three years. He was between haircuts at that moment, and suddenly became interested in talking about Sicily. Even more so when our regional publisher told him that his mother’s family was from central Italy.

Sam had been to -- or heard about, I didn't quite catch it -- an Elton John concert at a Greek theater during his visit, mentioning that the pop singer had come by helicopter to do his show, all dressed in gaudy red. "Did you know," he continued, "that there are more Greek temples in Sicily than in Greece? In Greece, they show you a spot, and say, 'This temple used to be here.' In Sicily, the temple is still there."

At which point he showed us a coffee-table book about Greek ruins in Sicily, an impressive publication that shares the waiting-area table with the likes of Outside magazine, Penthouse and the daily papers. A barber shop is nothing if not a masculine institution.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Library blog.

The Schaumburg Township District Library, as it's known in full according to the large letters on the side of the large building, is a remarkable place. We went for a look on Sunday. A postmodern design, I suppose, with all sorts of art deco touches, this particular library was only finished in 1998 -- faith, I think, in the future of paper as a medium for writing. Blogs and e-mail notwithstanding, I'm a believer myself. I'm not going to gripe about the small fraction of my property taxes that goes to support this institution.

Size matters in a library. Books need space. For a suburban library, the Schaumburg Library is huge -- 146,000 sf, according to its Web site, making it one of the largest in Illinois. We had other errands to attend to that afternoon, and couldn't spend a lot of time there, but we did explore the three main lobes of the facility on the first floor: juvenile books and video; books for adult readers; and the video/CD/DVD/whatnot room. Lilly got herself a book and a tape, a Disney song collection. Yuriko got a tape, The King and I. An amusing musical.

King: ...Pairs of male elephants to be released into the forests of America. There it is hoped that they will grow in number and the people can tame them and use them as beasts of burden.
Anna: But your majesty, I don't think you mean pairs of male elephants.

These days I'm on a literary bender -- a Maugham bender -- so I went to Fiction and picked out Liza of Lambeth and Cakes and Ale, which will be the third and fourth books of his I'll read in a row. The former was his first published book, which came out in 1897. It's slim volume, and so far interesting enough. More like a long character study of the woman Liza, though of course in the end bad things will happen to her for loving a married man.

Monday, September 15, 2003

Peninsula Blog.

Busy day. I was entirely too productive for a Monday, but professional circumstances demand it. I'm in the throes of hammering a new issue of the magazine into place: hammering, cutting pieces off that don't fit, tightening the screws, checking the plumb lines, and so on. Somehow, though I don't have a talent for real carpentering, the analogy fits. That's all most journalism is, anyway. Building tables and chairs.

The place I went today, and the thing I saw, was the Chicago Peninsula Hotel -- or that might be the Peninsula Hotel Chicago, I forget how they style the name. It's a posh hotel, modeled after the posh hotel of East Asian fame, the Peninsula in Hong Kong. Yuriko and I wandered through that property some years ago. Memory isn't exactly clear on what I saw then, but this incarnation of the brand reminded me of that stroll.

I only saw some of the common areas, since I was attending a reception of the National Multi Housing Council -- a trade group for apartment landlords. Part of the function was at an outdoor terrace, about five stories about street level, with the tall buildings of North Michigan Avenue crowding close by the hotel and illuminated by the setting sun. The hotel could have been a more modest place, for all I cared; but that view was worth coming to see.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Macao blog.

(Back to posting items from the past on weekends.)

Sept. 7, 1990.

I spent a dusty, sweaty, absorbing day in Macao. The hydrofoil trip across the Pearl River estuary from Hong Kong wasn’t especially interesting, mainly because streaks of water obscured the view most of the way. But once I got there, customs was a mere formality, and I found myself in the last wisp of the far-flung Portuguese maritime empire. A short walk — Macao isn’t really very large — and after various misdirections, climbed to the top of the Fortalenza da Monte, a hilltop fort of old, now a shady little park and weather station.

Down from there are the ruins of Sao Paulo cathedral, which this day were enshrined in scaffolding. Then a long, hot walk to the sea and along Rua da Praia Grande, the ocean-side of Macao. Passersby here are almost entirely Chinese, without the very small but (at least in the Central district) visible Caucasian minority of Hong Kong. Most of the place names, including street names, are Portuguese, but I understand that the actual Portuguese population these days could fit into one room.

A restaurant called Bela Vista had been recommended to me, but when I got there, it was weedy and graffiti’d and quite closed, though it still had the bela vista of the ocean. So I ate nearby at Henri’s Gallery: escargot and roasted pigeon. As I pried my bird apart, I thought of various friends back in the States who might not entertain pigeon as a luncheon option. Once is enough for pigeon, however. Too much effort to clear too little meat from too many bones.

After lunch I grabbed a cab — a steal at M$5.50 — to the Hotel Lisboa. I wanted to see the gambling. The casino was a roundish building, not as bright or gaudy as something you’d find in Nevada, but popular all the same, with crowds of Chinese encircling just about all the tables. I watched a little black jack, and some other games peculiar to East Asia. At those tables, I had no idea what the gamers were doing, other than losing money. Before I left, I played the slots, which took Hong Kong coins. After initial success, I ended up blowing all of HK$8.

Saturday, September 13, 2003

Hiawatha blog.

Back to posting items from the past on weekends.

On the morning of Sept. 1, 1989, I drove into the Hiawatha National Forest, guided by an excellent, colorful map I picked up just outside the forest for $1. I plotted a course to Pete's Lake, a campsite right in the middle of the forest, half way between lakes Michigan and Superior. The road up that way, H-13, was smooth, practically empty, thickly wooded on either side.

Pete's Lake was sparsely populated, too. I went to a vacant walk-in campsite (7A): a patch of ground, fire-ring and table right on the lake. At night, the stars reflected off this little lake. In the mornings I woke to see whispers of fog playing across the water.

I pitched my small blue tent, and then took a walk following an out-of-season cross-country ski trail, marked with blue diamonds tacked on the trees. Later, I lost the thread of that trail, there among the pines and bushes and grassy fields. Got a little worried; the sun was inching lower, and for a time I didn't seem to make any headway. But about an hour before sunset I found H-13, and followed that back to the campground.

That night my feet hurt, I was mosquito meat, but I still stayed up to look at the stars in their glory. It was darker here, I think, than in Idaho. All the summer stars were still around -- Vega, Deneb, Altair -- I got a fix on Arcturus, and I even saw all the stars of Ursa Minor.

Friday, September 12, 2003

TV-free blog.

First real rain today in a month -- since the day we moved into the new house. Not counting the persistent drizzle of Aug 31 and Sept 1, which was just enough to wake up the grass, and make it grow to a mowable length.

Been a month without broadcast or cable television, too, except for the cable channels I saw at the Drury Inn in Indianapolis. Our television is set up near three cables sprouting from the wall: and my guess is that one is for cable TV, the second for satellite TV, and the third (the crummy one) for the antenna on the roof. I would need another section of cable to connect even the antenna, and when considering the matter, I decided not to do it, to see what would happen.

No one has complained so far. Everything that Yuriko wants to watch is on videotapes she borrows from friends or gets at sayonara sales -- all sorts of Japanese programming, some better than others, from the looks of them. (For a country with tight gun control, there's an amazing amount of gunplay on Japanese TV.) Lilly has a lot of tapes, too, some Japanese, some English, mostly bought for pennies at sayonara sales. My own tape collection is minuscule, but I don't care.

We also have the option of renting tapes, as we did last Saturday. Lilly picked some Barbie-imitation-princess-archetype story, almost unbearably bad for adults; Yuriko wanted to see Annie Hall, which I'm always happy to see again; and I chose The Gangs of New York, which I haven't been able to watch all the way through, since I won't let Lilly watch it.

There are good television programs out there. It might seem that I'm missing something, but I don't think so. I don't feel compelled to watch cloud formations every day. There will always be clouds, if I want to see them. TV is no different in that way.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Two years' blog.

I distinctly remember listening, as I sometimes do, to All Things Considered two years ago today, in the morning as I prepared for work. At about 7:45 central time, I turned the radio off, just as a report on an incursion by Israeli forces into the West Bank was beginning. I remember thinking that I didn't want to hear about it -- it's hard to listen to what amounts to the same damn story, year after year.

I walked through my neighborhood, and there was no unusual buzz at the Westmont station at 8, because like me most people meeting the train are temporarily away from any media except newspapers. Maybe some people heard something on their portable radios, but it generated no discussion that I noticed.

We got into Union Station on time, a little after 8:30, and there was a crowd around the TV at one of the bars. I'd never seen people crowding around a TV before at Union Station, so I figured something big was going on. The towers were still standing then, but clearly on fire. I watched for a few moments, but since no one knew what was happening, most especially the on-air commentators, I figured I would hear more on the radio at my office, and I didn't linger at the station.

I had planned to buy stamps in the Sears Tower, but as I got there, I was met with a large flow of people headed out, with the talk of evacuation in the air. So I decided to buy stamps later, and I headed down the street to my building, which is three blocks north of the Sears Tower.

Gail was in the office and had the radio on. Bonnie and Christina soon came in (Tony was off that day). Before long, Bob Edwards -- the morning man on NPR -- announced in the most astonished tone I've ever heard him take, that one of the towers had collapsed. There was nothing to do but listen for more bad news, and of course it came.

I'd scheduled an interview by phone for that morning, and when the time came -- 10 or so -- I called him, and we both decided to go ahead with it. I don't remember what we talked about, or even who it was now, but I do remember sitting at my desk, going through the motions of an interview.

The consensus in the office was to go home. By 11, everyone else was gone, but curiously I didn't feel an urge to leave. One line of thought was that something bad was going to happen to the Sears Tower. Not an off-the-wall idea, but somehow I didn't think it would happen. So I stayed in the office a while, even after calling Yuriko, who wanted me to come home right away. I didn't do any work, but wanted to sit alone and listen to the radio, so I did.

My company's New York offices are in Midtown, about two miles north of the site. The phones weren't working then, though we did get through the next day. Electronic mail was functioning in and out of New York during the day, however -- at least to my company's offices, with whom I traded messages late in the morning as they were leaving. One fellow, and I suppose this was a coping strategy, sent me messages asking questions about an article that I had written for Real Estate Forum, as if nothing unusual were going on. He didn't keep it up for long, however.

By late morning many of the downtown Chicago workers had made a reverse commute. Our office-of-the-building never asked anyone to evacuate, but most people did. I was there till about 1. When I left, the Loop was emptier than the quietest Sunday I've ever seen. It was bright and warm. I went to get stamps at the Haymarket Station Post Office, and absolutely no one except the workers was there.

Soon after I rode the train back to Westmont. Walking back through my neighborhood at 2 or so, I made a point of looking and listening to the sky, since it was hard to believe that air traffic had completely stopped. The sky was quiet.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

The Moon and Sixblog.

The stuff of my morning commute, as summarized by Metra, the commuter rail authority, was in a little note handed out to commuters this afternoon. That was a first. Usually incidents of this kind are never mentioned again.

"This morning the last half of our rush hour was seriously delayed due to an electrical fire in one of our locomotives," the note says. "At approximately 7 a.m., a fire occurred in the locomotive of the westbound train No. 2203 at Itasca. The Itasca Fire Department was called, and the fire was quickly extinguished. We immediately moved to send a spare locomotive from Elgin to move the disabled train [that] occupied the westbound track.

"Since the Fire Department was concerned that the fire could reignite, they shut down both tracks so that your trains could not move past the disabled train. As a result, you saw delays of as much as an hour or more. We apologize for this inconvenience."

I was on a train behind the burning locomotive, and I got into my office about an hour later than usual. But I'm usually ready for this kind of thing: all I need is a cell phone to call the office, and a book. Yesterday I finished The Razor's Edge, which I liked so much that I put The Moon and Sixpence in my briefcase this morning. I'd read the latter book before, on the trip I took to Korea in 1990. But I thought it merited a re-read, and this morning I was able to get pretty far into it. I was right, it's well worth another go.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Valli Blog.

What was it the Emperor Titus is reputed to have said if a day passed without him doing a good deed? "I have wasted a day," though it would be in Latin that I have forgotten. So much for my half-baked Classical education.

I don't shy away from an occasional good deed, but for me I've wasted a day if I haven't seen or done something new, no matter how minor. In fact, most new things need to be small, and thus manageable. A constant parade of stupendous new sensations would pave the road to madness, I think.

Today I visited a new grocery store, Valli Produce in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. It was, as I said, a minor new place to see. But interesting for a variety of reasons. It's an independent, for one thing. There seem to be only two of them, both in the northwestern suburbs of Chicago. But they aren't small grocery stores. Mid-sized, I would say, in the world of modern groceries, and arrayed pretty much like any other store, with aisles and sections for meat, produce, bread, etc.

Valli has the broadest selection of ethnic foods I've seen anywhere, and that includes in the city of Chicago, where space is at a premium and ethnic grocers tend to be more specifically East Asian or Indian or Central European or various subsets of those. Though I didn't have time to investigate Valli as closely as I wanted to, I got an eyeful -- I glanced at soft drinks imported from India, Polish confections, and vegetables usually seen in Chinese and Japanese cooking. My favorite: a sign hanging over one of the aisles letting customers know that Bulgarian Food was close by.

Moreover, the place was doing a bust-up business, just before closing on a weeknight. People representing many cultures wandered the aisles. Don't let anyone tell you the suburbs are homogeneous.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Tigers blog.

Read about the Hanshin Tigers today, an article on Time's Web site by Pico Iyer, which I was directed to by the Gweilo Diaries, a Web log out of Hong Kong. Ain't the Internet swell? Wish it had been an easy matter to keep a Web log in 1990, when I first went to Japan. It would have been a corker. So it goes. Instead of Japan in the bubble economy of the early '90s, you get a blog from exotic Schaumburg in the malaise of the early '00s.

Anyway, ca. 1991 I attended a Hanshin Tigers game. It was good fun, not so much for the game itself -- which dragged on, because of the peculiarities of the game as played in Japan -- but for the audience participation. The zealots were down in the front rows, standing up through most of the game and making the most noise (isn't that how diehard Aggies do their football?).

But even in the less enthusiastic seats, there were opportunities to show your support. At one point, someone came around distributing long, condom-like uninflated balloons. Just before the 7th-inning stretch -- I think it was then -- everyone blew these balloons up, and when the stretch came around, released them skyward. Thousands of balloons, psssssting up and around and in all directions. Who started this custom? Couldn't say. What does it mean? Can't articulate that, it would spoil things. Do they still do it? Dunno. But it was quite a sight.

Somewhere, unless we lost it in the move, we have a Hanshin Tigers hand towel. I don't remember where we got that, but I do remember a little shop on a pedestrian arcade near Namba Station, one of the main transit nexuses of Osaka; a little shop that sold nothing but Tigers goods. It was not near Tigers Stadium, which was miles away. In fact, it was much closer to a stadium formerly occupied by the Kintetsu Buffaloes, who had moved elsewhere only a short time before I moved to Osaka. But the Buffaloes never inspired the loyalty that the Tigers did, for whatever the reason, win or lose -- and it was more lose than win. Something like the Cubs.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Blogging willy-nilly.

Major reorganization today of my home office -- our house's "fourth bedroom." This meant moving my desk, and opening up a card table to put beside it. The scanner will go on this table, as soon as I can unbox it. Before I could do that, however, Lilly colonized the table with her drawing materials. Now she's sitting at it, drawing. "I have work to do," she says.

I also took a crack at the storage room, which, during the move into the house four weeks ago, received items willy-nilly; and had also been stuffed with warehouse-portion paper goods that we'd bought at Costco. So I stacked the willies in one spot, the nillies elsewhere, and a paper goods yet another place. About an hour's worth of effort went into freeing up a lot of space in the room, but I know it isn't final. There's a primitive desk built into one wall, and I want to use that for the primitive (1995) word-processor that still I own. But at the moment that wall of the storage room is being used for, well, storage space.

Visited a church this morning, one across the municipal line in another suburb. One of the ugliest church buildings I've seen in a long time. Someone's 1950s idea of breaking away from the dead hand of traditional church architecture, a church in the round made of brick. Set in a large, treeless lawn, it looks like a squashed pile with a steeple stuck in it like a toothpick in a sandwich. Inside wasn't much better -- no pews, just a circle of tired old wooden chairs. The altar was in the center of the building, behind support pillars that were flat black rods of metal.

Certainly, the church is really the congregation of the faithful. But... why would I spend time in an architect's mistake when I can go to a place that pleases the senses? I think, also, in the long run, that a building like this helps kill off a congregation. This morning's service was sparsely attended; the church has lost its priest; and according to one fellow there's talk of merging with another congregation. So it's imaginable that this awful building has finally taken its toll.

Saturday, September 06, 2003

Blogger was farked again last night... "Hey, Bill... watch out for that wire -- damn! We really oughta move that outlet... The whole system's what?"

This was what I wrote late last night:

The Star-Spangled Blog.

I listened to "The Star-Spangled Banner" sung live at Alexian Field at the opening of a baseball game this evening, as I was walking by, on my way home from the train station. It was many years into adulthood before I really appreciated the National Anthem, probably because I -- like everyone -- heard it every day in elementary school. Overexposure, I think, isn't good for a stirring patriotic tune.

Even now, I would say that hearing it no more than a few times a year would be about right. This would keep it special, which, if it's going to be the National Anthem, it ought to be.

I never believed the simple-minded criticism of the song, voiced most loudly about 30 years ago, that it's a war song, and thus unfit for peace-loving people, etc. Of course it does describe an event in the War of 1812, but -- unless you read the bloody third stanza of the poem, which no one ever does -- it doesn't glorify war so much as independence. Anyone who knew the poem when it was new would have surely acknowledged that war was a melancholy necessity in attaining that goal.

A more sophisticated argument would take on the song for buttressing nationalism and the ills inflicted on the world by the nation-state. Entirely too sophisticated, that line of thinking. To which I would say -- bah, take it back to the college debating society.

Other people say they don't like it because the tune was originally an English drinking song. Are they kidding? That adds humanity to the song. It wasn't written by committee or by a tunesmith in the pay of an autocrat. It was invented by free-born, English-speaking drunks.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

One last Ripple Blog.

Last spring, the Indianapolis Star published a long special section about the Broad Ripple district. Some of it was the sort of folderol you often find in newspapers -- the neighborhood is oh so neighborly, just like a country village, etc. But I was able to extract some good quotes:

" 'Indianapolis doesn’t have a lot of neighborhoods with identifiable character, but Broad Ripple is one of them,' said Bob Wilch, an Indianapolis city planner."

"Residents can’t even agree on its borders. The Broad Ripple Village Association defines the village boundaries as White River to the north, Meridian Street to the west, Kessler Boulevard to the south and Evanston Avenue to the east. However, many residents who live numerous blocks outside that area consider themselves Broad Ripple residents. It's a title they want, say local real estate agents." [This is "realtor creep," a process by which a desirable neighborhood name leaks into surrounding areas.]

"How Broad Ripple became a village is a question often asked of Elaine Zuckerman, the village association’s administrative coordinator. She isn't much help, saying, 'It just happened. Broad Ripple is just an unusual place that somebody can’t really create or plan.' "

"In Broad Ripple, socialization is a significant byproduct of the business being done, from the assortment of restaurants and coffeehouses to the trendy boutiques and specialty shops. Even the local McDonald’s jolts the senses once inside, where a pastry counter and gourmet coffee bar seem the most astonishing additions -- until you round the corner to the piano lounge. As part of that evolutionary upswing, the area's commercial diversity is evidenced, in part, by the growing number of professional offices in what had been homes in the mixed-use zone north of the canal. In some instances, the entrepreneurs selling mental, physical, legal and architectural services make those new offices their homes as well."

"In the back of the narrow bar, the square dance floor is jammed with sweaty 20-somethings dancing to the booming music. The DJ gets on the mike for a birthday shout-out; then it's quickly back to the booming bass. Seated at the end of the bar is Russell Quarles. Sipping on his drink, Quarles gives his explanation of why most of the people in the bar are there. 'People come to Broad Ripple for two reasons,' he said. 'To get drunk and to get laid.' "

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

More Ripple Blog.

We arrived at the Broad Ripple district of Indianapolis not long before sunset, at the end of a hot day (last Tuesday). A few things were immediately apparent, especially about the street that gives the area its name, Broad Ripple Ave. For one, it's at odds with Indy's street grid, which is more-or-less north-south-east-west. Then there are the pedestrians. A lot of them. Some follow the Monon Trail, which cuts through the area, but most are on the narrow sidewalks. For a block or two, the avenue is alive with walkers, who are strolling among shops, restaurants and bars, which are thick on the ground here.

It isn't that this kind of urban setting is unusual. By turns, I was reminded of other places -- any number of streets in Chicago, Deep Ellum in Dallas, the Drag in Austin, the street that radiates from the capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, just to name a few domestic examples. More remarkable was its location in Indianapolis, and the fact that -- as it turns out -- it's one of those places that everyone knows locally, but almost no one from anywhere else does. I certainly didn't, and I've been visiting Indianapolis for years. Guess I wasn't paying attention.

We ate at Mezzaluna, which was stylishly tricked out and offered good Mediterranean fare. It wasn't especially busy, but did seem to be popular with young couples on early dates (early in the relationship, that is). My food was their version of Moroccan chicken, which I think was defined by saffron. But it was one of those dining experiences marred by an inattentive waiter, who would vanish for long stretches. We could only theorize about what he was up to. Perhaps he had to change into another black pair of pants or black shirt after spilling something on them. Or maybe he was working on the design for his new tattoo, sketching ideas on a napkin in the kitchen.

After eating, we took a walk with the rest of the pedestrians. The restaurants were a mix of chains and independents, as were the shops, which largely sold expensive clothes or designer knickknacks. Gail wanted coffee -- she hadn't wanted to wait for the waiter at Mezzaluna to bring it -- so we slipped into the neighborhood Starbuck's, which featured a roaring fireplace, and the air conditioner turned very high.

The clerks were a chipper pair of college girls, and at the end of the transaction, I said, "We're not from around here. Why is Broad Ripple like this? Why is it here?"

They didn't really know, but offered the opinion that it had once been home to "a carnival," and that grew into the distinct of today, somehow. I've done some reading on the area since then, and, though vague, that's as good a theory as any other I've come across.

Blogger was bunged up last night, so this is the Sept 2 entry.

Broad Ripple Blog.

Overall, it was a tiring day. But the foundation work for a three- or four-page article in the first issue of Real Estate Mid-America has been done, and it will be an interesting one, too. More on that later (if I remember to write about it).

Last Tuesday, after a long and occasionally tedious day of meetings in various Indianapolis office locales, I was charged with finding a place to have dinner. Actually, Gail exhaustedly said, anywhere you pick is fine with me. A mid-level sort of place, something interesting but not so expensive that it would set the company CFO a-wondering.

So the stage was set to discover someplace new. I hadn't been giving Indianapolis much credit, at least in terms of offering the curious visitor -- me -- something to pique my curiosity. I did note something odd that morning, however, when I was reading in a report about the Indy retail market. The report noted an assortment of retail submarkets, most of which I knew, ones that revolved around one mall or another. But I also saw one called Broad Ripple. Funny name. No explanation.

I looked over an Indy guidebook that evening before dinner, and started to notice a clustering of restaurants, and some other points of interest, in an area called Broad Ripple. Of course, I remembered that peculiar name. It seemed to be a district in the mid-north side, somewhat east of the zero-street Meridian, near a bend in the river that runs through town, the White River. The guidebook really didn't offer much detail about Broad Ripple, which, as it turned out, seems like a serious omission. If I were its editor, I would have created a special boxed article about Broad Ripple for the book.

I picked a safe-looking place: Mezzaluna, presumably Italian, right in the heart of this mysterious district. (Gail, bless her heart, isn't adventuresome about food. I sometimes would tease her by pointing out a sushi place, and suggested that for lunch or dinner.) And off we went. To be continued.

Monday, September 01, 2003

The essence of Labor Day, a short blog. (Based on a real conversation.)

"Daddy, are you going to work today?"

"No, Lilly, today's Labor Day."

"What do you do on Labor Day?"