Sunday, February 29, 2004

Leap blog.

The Academy Awards is somewhere near the top of my list of events I pay no attention to. Or it would be, if I compiled such a list. But if I compiled it, that would be paying too much attention.

I'm not absolutely indifferent to the awards. In 2001, I found myself in Hollywood, and I did take the time to wander into the Roosevelt Hotel, and briefly see the Blossom Room, where the first awards were held in the late '20s. As far as I'm concerned, dead movie stars are a lot more interesting than live ones. Bet the Roosevelt Hotel has some entertaining spooks.

I'm more interested in the fact that today comes but once every four years. It also happens to be my mother-in-law’s birthday, so she's one of those people who has a Leap Year birthday. Her birth year can be cast into a riddle: Today is her 16th birthday, and she was born in Showa 15. What year was she born?

Leap Year brings to mind the lore of King Numa reforming the early Roman calendar, Julius Caesar (and Sosigenes) replacing lunar with solar, Caligula trying to name a month after Germanicus (at least according to Robert Graves), Pope Gregory ordering his change but the Protestant parts of Europe ignoring it, and so on. When I was a kid I was fascinated by calendars, and would draw my own sometimes. In high school, I read about the history of the calendar on my own time, because it wasn't part of any class. Even now I have some interest, though not as much as a fellow I know who spent time calculating the dates of Easter in the far distant future -- thousands of years further than the standard Easter tables. I think he even wrote a computer program to do that for him.

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Saturday, February 28, 2004

Requiescat in pace

Native of Mississippi; physician; husband of Jo Ann; father of Jay, Jim and Dees; posthumous grandfather of Sam, Dees, Robert, Lilly and Ann.
d. February 28, 1964, aged 41.

Friday, February 27, 2004

Declining Winter blog.

Warm(ish) weather ahead. Here we are at the butt end of February, and I hear that temps on Saturday and Sunday -- when they matter the most -- will be in the 50s F. Winter, of course, isn't remotely over. It's in a declining mode, and this weekend might represent protospring, but winter will be back, maybe with a vengeance. One of the wickedest ice and snow storms I remember here in Chicago was in early March 1998, and all the people I know who grew up here have stories about Easter-season snows. But at least snow at this time of year has a way disappearing in a few days.

Even now there's little snow on the ground. Melted snow in February leaves ugliness in its wake. Brown grass, mud, bare trees, naked bushes, exposed and blowing garbage, plastic bags and dog turds.

Political signs are sprouting near the roads like the dandelions we're going to get in about two months (the Illinois primary is in the middle of March). The first one I saw along my route, at the beginning of the week, campaigns for a man running for a subcircuit judgeship here in Cook County. Maybe this year I'll be a good Citizen of the Republic and educate myself about the candidates for these too-important minor offices. (Pause.) Nah.

Walked home late several times this week, well after dark. Not too cold, but the sky still has that winter clarity -- and excellent winter constellations -- Orion, Canis Major/Minor, Taurus, etc. Ursa Major and Cassiopeia in opposition, defending their turf on either side of Polaris. Plus a waxing crescent Moon, Venus as the Evening Star, and I think Jupiter off to the east. Or maybe it's a slow-moving UFO. According to a planetarium show I attended years ago, the UFO Jimmy Carter supposedly saw was actually Venus. If you stare at a bright celestial object long enough, it looks like it's moving, a little. This optical illusion you can confirm by, well, staring at a bright celestial object long enough.

The sky is good for inspiring idle speculation, though most people don't need any help in that regard. But it can make you think along certain lines. Or not. Once I saw a Gahan Wilson (I think it was him) one-panel cartoon featuring a gnarled old man standing on a balcony in front of a brilliant nighttime sky. "Oh, yeah?" he said, looking up at the sky. "You don't make me feel insignificant."


Thursday, February 26, 2004

ASBPE blog.

Had a late night tonight, attending a meeting of the American Society of Buisness Press Editors. The meeting was inconveniently (for me) located south of the Loop. But I am amazed to see the assorted new development, retail in the wake of condos and apartments, along those stretches of South Michigan, Wabash and Indiana -- all streets that as recently as the mid-90s were desolate urban wastelands. I keep track of this sort of thing professionally, and I'm still amazed. Maybe because I don't go there all that often.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Jury blog.

Late last week Yuriko, who is a resident alien, received a summons for jury duty from Cook County. One option to reply to this was by e-mail, to say that she was not a U.S. citizen, so we did that. We received the following in reply. It's clear enough that she doesn't have to go, but I'm still trying to puzzle out whether she will ever get any more summons, even if we send documentation regarding her status.

"Enomoto, Yuriko:

"Thank you for your email. Please disregard current summons, as you have been excused for the 03/16/04 service date. Although you may receive another summons in approximately 6 months.

"Otherwise, you may send in documentation showing that you are not a U.S. citizen such as, a current copy of your alien resident card, current work/student visa, current I-94 form, or current employment authorization card, etc. No expired dates or passports will be accepted.

"Mail your request with your signature, and the original/copy of summons or juror number to: Jury Administrator, Richard J. Daley Center, 50 West Washington Street, Room 1000, Chicago, Illinois 60602, or you may fax this documentation to (312) 603-5460.

"We receive our potential juror names from three different sources, Cook County Elections, Chicago Elections and the Secretary of State. Your name was selected from the Illinois Secretary of State list. As long as your name is with any of these sources, you may again be called for jury service once a year.

"Unfortunately, at this time, we can only keep data for a one-year time frame and then a new list of randomized jurors are selected. Sorry for this inconvenience, and if you require further assistance, you may call the Office of the Jury Administration at (312) 603-JURY (5879).

Jury Administration."

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Mardi Lindbergh blog.

Fat Tuesday. No carnival in metro Chicago that I can see, but considering the temps barely above freezing, that's probably just as well. I've never been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and I doubt I ever will go. Any fool can do that, and it sounds like a good many do. But attending Mardi Gras in Mobile, Alabama -- now that's a worthwhile ambition.

More on Lindbergh (I'm at the point in the bio at which he and Anne Murrow are married. A. Scott Berg's account of the trans-Atlantic flight and the way the world went mad for Lindbergh was astonishingly good ). My nephew Sam (21) writes: "I haven't yet read the blog [February 19 and 20], so I'm not sure why you ask me this question, but as I recall Charles Lindbergh was the man who flew the Spirit of St. Louis across the Atlantic in the mid to late 20s, landing in France... I've seen the little movies they made of him taking off/landing, and I remember seeing the Spirit hanging in the Smithsonian when I visited in 8th grade, as well as various and sundry replicas around the country.

The name Lindbergh also brings up a number of The Simpsons episodes to mind. One -- doubtless where Dees and Robert are getting the Lindbergh baby reference -- features Grampa attempting to stall the police as they search for Homer's scofflaw mother, getting up and yelling, "All right! I admit it! I'm the Lindbergh baby! Waa Waa! Goo Goo! I want my fly fly dada!"
To which the police respond: "Sir, are you trying to stall us, or are you just senile?"
Grampa answers, "A little from column A, a little from Column B."

I'll never be that well versed in The Simpsons. Geof H. writes: "I didn't ask my children if they know who Lindbergh is. Tim is asleep right now and Erin at college, so I'll have to wait on that. Lindbergh's always had an easy out in history. He's remembered as a great hero for figuring out ways to urinate alone over the Atlantic. (A frightening prospect -- such a trip at that time -- I grant you, but it is equivalent to being the first person to drive 100 miles an hour: an accomplishment and maybe memorable, but something soon to be repeated, something ununique.) Firstness, by itself, isn't much. And he and, to a slight degree, his wife (the reasonably good writer Anne Morrow Lindbergh) are remembered for having a son murdered -- the child's sex almost never discussed, I notice. Americans -- or those who know of him, at least -- recall his bravery and feel sorry for the loss of his baby (20 months old, by the way).

"Amazingly, we almost never remember the Lindberghs now for their views, which defined them as thinkers and citizens of the world. Amazingly pro-Nazi, they would've been thrown in jail (as one of my relatives, alas, was) at the time -- if they hadn't been so famous. They believed -- as, sure, many did at the time -- in the superiority of the white race, in eugenics, in all manner of racist claptrap."

Monday, February 23, 2004

Holy ale blog.

Some fun spam lines to start my Monday:
• Beef up the size of your willy!
• Unhappy with your short comings?
• Turn your Spud into a Stud!

Haw, haw. My willy? I'm fond of it, as is. You might say I'm attached to it.

It was a new products weekend at our house. Or rather, we tried a few things that we hadn't before. One was because the long arm of marketing managed to reach us, even though our television and radio consumption is measured in hours per week, rather than per day. The other was seemingly random, but I have to wonder...

Yuriko pays more attention to the circulars in the Sunday paper than I do, and she pointed out some coupons for a chain pizza joint known as Papa Murphy's. A name like that -- the best pizza pie in Galway! -- gets your attention. Turns out a franchise had just opened down the road from us, in one of the endless strip centers in my part of the world.

That was the first I'd heard of the chain. No surprise there, I'm out of most of the world's loops. But when I went to pick up the pizzas we ordered Friday night, a sign at the shop informed me that his was the 800th Papa Murphy's. According to the company Web site, it's mainly a Western and Midwest operation. Its gimmick is this: you buy the pizzas uncooked. They aren't frozen, but they do have to spend 12 to 15 minutes at 425 F in your oven.

Verdict: Not bad. Better than frozen, slightly better than Papa John's and its ilk. But something about having to cook it at home irked me, even though I knew I would have to, going in. But the pizzas are cheap. Sort-of-fresh pizza at frozen prices. Still, the business model works, it seems.

On Sunday, I washed down my hayashi rice -- a slightly spicy brown sauce with vegetables, covering steamed rice -- with Monty Python's Holy Ale. I'd bought it a few weeks earlier on impulse at a small grocery store in the northern suburbs. Made by Black Sheep Brewery, Yorkshire. The label actually says, "Monty Python's Holy Grail, with the "gr" crossed off. "Ale" is written under that, along with the words "Tempered over burning witches." A sound method of brewing, I'm sure. Verdict: A tasty brew.

Sir Bedevere: There are ways of telling whether she is a witch.
Peasant 1: Are there? Oh well, tell us.
Sir Bedevere: Tell me. What do you do with witches?
Peasant 1: Burn them.
Sir Bedevere: And what do you burn, apart from witches?
Peasant 1: More witches.
Peasant 2: Wood.
Sir Bedevere: Good. Now, why do witches burn?
Peasant 3: ...because they're made of... wood?
Sir Bedevere: Good. So how do you tell whether she is made of wood?
Peasant 1: Build a bridge out of her.
Sir Bedevere: But can you not also build bridges out of stone?
Peasant 1: Oh, yeah.
Sir Bedevere: Does wood sink in water?
Peasant 1: No, no, it floats! It floats! Throw her into the pond!
Sir Bedevere: No, no. What else floats in water?
Peasant 1: Bread.
Peasant 2: Apples.
Peasant 3: Very small rocks.
Peasant 1: Cider.
Peasant 2: Gravy.
Peasant 3: Cherries.
Peasant 1: Mud.
Peasant 2: Churches.
Peasant 3: Lead! Lead!
King Arthur: A Duck.
Sir Bedevere: Exactly. So, logically...
Peasant 1: If she weighed the same as a duck, she's made of wood.
Sir Bedevere: And therefore...
Peasant 2: ...A witch!

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Run-on blog.

What follows is probably the longest single sentence I've ever written, composed three years ago now. It brings to mind certain junior high school and high school English teachers, who would have surely marked it up in red and scorn for its "run-on" nature (but not Mrs. Tibbets, may she rest in peace -- she would have gotten a kick out of it). As for the others, I fart in their general direction. The sentence is perfectly grammatical, and has a good internal rhythm. I've been a professional editor for years now, and have solid opinions in these matters.

Not that they were bad teachers (but come to think of it, my seventh grade English teacher was a bad teacher). But I can't think of much useful that they imparted, in the sense of learning to manipulate the English language. I got better advice on the matter from a couple of history and social studies teachers, and my Latin teacher. Without further ado:

March 4, 2001.

Since February 20, I've put another issue of the magazine to bed, sat through a windstorm watching my front yard pine tree sway just a little too freely (it still stands, however), played with Lilly in the basement many times (catch, pushing her in a kiddie car, etc.), been to a couple of relatively uninteresting formal dinners, seen O Brother Where Art Thou? at the cinema, read a book on the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, seen George Bush the elder speak about globalism and free trade, spilled hot chocolate on my pants at work, taken pictures of a mall in the northwest suburbs while looking out for unfriendly mall security, heard the song "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner" for the first time in many years, read a number of magazine articles including one on Edgar Rice Burroughs and another on Augustus Saint-Gaudens, ridden the Burlington Northern commuter train a good many times, noted the position of Orion in the clear winter suburban skies -- he's shifting westward -- washed dishes, thrown out a good many pounds of trash (including debris from the fall reflooring of our kitchen and bathroom, long buried by snow), written a good number of checks, fielded too many phone calls, apologized to a man whose name we misspelled in print, taught Lilly a few new words, let Lilly brush my hair, gotten my hair cut by a first-generation Italian barber, eaten barbecue at Uncle Bud's, listened to A Prairie Home Companion, discovered a running electronic conversation between people named Stribling at a genealogical Web site, walked several miles, planned part of our trip in May to Nevada and California, helped Yuriko e-mail messages to her friends in Japan, vacuumed the living room, talked with Yuriko over a number of dinners and breakfasts, made pancakes twice, watched Law & Order twice, read many newspaper articles including one about Mies Van Der Rohe’s "God Box" on the ITT campus, eaten sushi, dreaded computing my federal taxes but otherwise did nothing about them, scanned more photos using my scanner, composed a handful of postcards and e-mails but no real letters, "watched" entirely too much of the Japanese cartoon Draemon, attended a photo shoot that I organized, interviewed people over the phone (mostly about the industrial real estate market in greater Chicago), dribbled a blue ball on the basement floor, missed Ash Wednesday services, read some books to Lilly but made up most of the text myself, pored over my road atlas pondering remote spots, spent some time with the World Almanac on such subjects as the presidents and eclipses in 2001, talked with my associate editor about work and other matters, felt the cold wind on my face one day and a hint of warm sun on another, and have slept about a third of the time, more on weekends, and had some lovely dreams that evaporated once I returned to the waking world.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Another item from a previous February.

Late February 2001.

It was a pleasant visit to Iowa, though as cold as you would expect in February. Most of the ground-covering snow has melted in Illinois, but there was still a fair amount in Iowa. Eastern Iowa also had more hills than I would have thought, like a corner of Illinois, around Galena, that has its share of hills.

The Hoover Library and Museum is a few miles east of Iowa City. Before we arrived there, we had lunch in Durant, Iowa, at a place recommended by a guidebook I had handy. It was called White Way, an uncomplicated place that served good pork chops. In Iowa, that seemed appropriate.

There was a children's magician doing a show at the same time as we were at the Hoover Museum, coincidentally, so while I wandered through the exhibits, Yuriko and Lilly went to the museum auditorium to see him. The exhibits stressed Hoover's humanitarianism, saving Belgium from starvation and all that, more than his ill-starred term of office. There was a film clip of his inauguration in 1929; on that occasion Chief Justice Taft, former President Taft that is, swore him in. It was also the first inauguration widely broadcast on the radio.

We spent the night near the Interstate at a Country Inn, which I selected largely because of its indoor pool. Lilly enjoyed it as much as she usually does. On the whole, it was a pleasant motel, though nothing special. Spending the night there did mark the first time I had overnighted in Iowa. I thought about it, and Iowa seems to be the 39th "overnight" state for me... besides the states I've never visited (Alaska, both Dakotas, Montana, Oregon and South Carolina), I've only passed through Delaware, Colorado, Rhode Island, West Virginia, and Wyoming, not stopping for a night.

Before we headed home, we also visited the Amana Colonies, towns near Iowa City that once belonged to a utopian settlement, founded by Germans in the 1840s. Not only did they practice agriculture, but also manufacturing, which later evolved into Amana appliances. It was a nice set of towns, which a large share of craft stores, and Yuriko was pleased with that.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Charles Lindpig blog.

Fairly busy day at the magazine factory. A good deal of cutting and polishing: two features out the door, or rather, send by electronic pathways to other hands, that will do different kinds of cutting and polishing. Little time to go out at lunchtime, but it rained -- rained, not snowed --most of the day anyway. Then, by nightfall, it started snowing. But it was sissy snow, flakes that melted on the ground.

The subject of Lindbergh inspired this from brother Jay: "I asked Robert -- the only one of your nephews at hand -- to identify Charles Lindbergh. His response: 'Ahh, um, Lindbergh baby?' I reminded him that Lindbergh had flown the Atlantic. Oh, yes, he said, he'd heard that but he had forgotten. Admittedly, he looked about half asleep when I put the question to him. [Robert is 15.]

"Out of curiosity, I sent e-mails to the other boys [Sam and Dees] putting the question to them, too. I know Dees is familiar with the name, at least, because of a Halloween costume he's worn the last two or three years. It's a plastic pig's head mask and a blue-grey rubber imitation of an old-style leather flight helmet. When asked who or what he was supposed to be, he identified himself as 'Charles Lindpig.' "

As it turns out, nephew Dees (18) couldn't place Lindbergh. He responded: "I actually don't have any idea who Charles Lindbergh is, although the name sounds familiar. When I see the name I think of the Simpsons episode where Granda [sic] Simpson says, 'No, I'm the Lindbergh baby.' "

Interesting how the Lindbergh baby echoes through the years, but maybe ghastly murders have that kind of staying power. It would be nice if they knew who Lindbergh the aviator was, but I'm not the sort who thinks something of this kind portents the End of Civilization. It only means that fame, even the greatest measure of it, fades. Though I'll bet Lindbergh's name has some life in it yet, if only among aviation buffs and Simpsons writers.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Lindbergh blog.

Today I both supported an independent bookseller near my office, and satisfied my itch for a more substantive book for my commute, when I bought Lindbergh by A. Scott Berg at the Stuart Brent Books remainder table for $5, which I consider a fair price for a paperback. Read the first couple of chapters on the way home. I chose well. The first chapter is a gripping in medias res description of the surging tide of French humanity around Le Bourget airfield near Paris, anticipating Lindbergh's arrival.

I wondered on the walk home -- walked again, and glad to -- how often you have to hear about someone you don't know before he or she is fixed in your mind. There's no answering that question, really, since fame is such a variable creature. My mother has told me that her parents told her that when she was a toddler she would say, "Lindbergh! Lindbergh!" (or more likely, something like "Lin'bug!") on those rare occasions she would see an aeroplane in the sky over small-town South Texas ca. 1928. That only goes to show how quickly and completely his name had been woven into the fabric of the world.

Of course, his fame had dimmed by the time I came along, but still it's a name that I can't remember actually learning. It was still part of the fabric of the world. (Maybe this is different now. I ought to ask my nephews.) In one episode of the TV sitcom The Odd Couple aired sometime in the early '70s, I remember Felix entering Oscar's chaotic room -- always a mine of jokes for that show, with Felix finding moldy half-sandwiches, etc., there -- and he picked up a page of yellow newspaper. "Well," he mock-read the paper, "Lucky Lindy made it!" My mother had to explain that nickname, but not who Lindbergh was.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Walking blog.

February is the longest month in the Northern Hemisphere, no matter what the calendar says. We're at the cabin fever stage of things, even though we leave our houses, go to work and go to stores. It isn't quite as bad as being in your Yukon cabin, out of food and hallucinating that your mining partner is a tasty chicken, but still the late February atmosphere itself is oppressive, and by now we say, enough. Nature says nothing in return.

That said, it was above freezing during the daytime today -- the first such day in weeks and weeks. I took the opportunity to walk the mile to my train station in the morning and back in the evening, also for the first time in weeks. It was good to get out, but considering what happened last March, me vs. the ice, I was hyperconscious of the ground ice. It was there. Waiting. Quietly. Yesterday there had been some meltage, and it had re-frozen in spots overnight. But I navigated the paths without trouble.

The other walking news in our household is that Ann -- Annie, we usually call her -- is walking, at just short of 13 months old. It happened over the long weekend. She can cross the distance from one support prop to another; a table to a chair, or vice versa. Second and third children usually pass such events with less fanfare than their oldest brother or sister, so I thought I would at least mention it. I can only hope that these are the first of countless thousands of steps for her.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Gurnee blog.

Had a fine long weekend, Presidents Day weekend, but I didn't mull the careers of my favorites U.S. presidents: William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, James Garfield, et al.

Visited the vast Gurnee Mills mall on Monday, way up north toward the Wisconsin border. We needed to get out of the house; we were going to be nearby anyway; we needed an indoor spot; and someplace that didn't charge admission, though going to a mall is always a financial risk. We'd only been there once before, when Lilly was very small. At that time Yuriko bought some shoes, and I first encountered the Rain Forest Cafe. I took an instant dislike to its faux-eco-rain-forest-poison-frog-50-simple-things-earth-day-la-la pretenses, its irritating concept-is-more-important-than-the-food ambience, and its motto, the word order of which tells all: A Place to Shop and Eat.

A real rain forest cafe would have mosquito coils at every table, and urchins coming by to beg. And it wouldn't have a menu like Bennigan's. Have I eaten at the Rain Forest Cafe? Can I really judge it without actually eating there? No, and yes.

I did visit the ailing KB Toys. Lilly and I did. I can't remember if KB was in any of the malls I knew as a youngster, namely Central Park mall and North Star mall in San Antonio. If not, there were stores like it: moderately sized, brightly lit, stocked with toys nearly from floor to ceiling. The market, typically in the form of a Toys R Us, has bypassed KB and its ilk. KB filed for Chapter 11 this month, and has already closed some of its stores.

I bought Lilly a discount-bin Barbie, one she picked out: interestingly, an African-American Barbie. A little diversity for her horde of Barbies, I suppose. Also in the discount bin: a series of hamsterish dolls, named after Brady kids, and dressed like them. I wish I was making this up: their faces were rodent-like Hamutaro imitations, their clothes like "Jan" or "Greg" or some other character in that long-gone and should-be-forgotten show. Who thought this up? What kind of meetings went on before production was started? I suspect most of them will grace landfills soon.

Friday, February 13, 2004

Chief magistrate blog.

I take even minor holidays seriously, or at least as opportunities for sloth, so NO BLOGGING till after "Presidents Day."

But I will type up something meaty for today. One of my travel hobbies, whenever it's possible -- and it isn't too often -- is to visit presidential sites. I've only been doing this since about 1996, so I can't call it a life-long pursuit. And I rarely go out of my way to see a presidential site. But if it's around, I'll seek it out.

Why presidents? There's a certain fascination with the office, and the characters who have occupied it. So it satisfies an historical curiosity, while at the same time not offering an unrealistic challenge -- there have been only 42 separate individuals who have held the office, after all.

Listed below are the sites I've managed to see, with a little commentary.

Washington Monument, DC. Inspired by Egypt, hotbed of democracy. But a fine work all the same.

Monticello. Fascinating place, but I understand that home improvements drove Jefferson into penury.

Jefferson Memorial, DC. Doesn't inspire quite like the Lincoln Memorial.

The Hermitage, Jackson's home in Nashville. Made quite an impression on me when I was 8. Still good as an adult.

Tippecanoe Battlefield, where Wm. Henry Harrison won his fame. The best diversion on the dull drive between Chicago and Indianapolis. See the Aug. 30, 2003, blog.

Polk's grave, Nashville. A neglected president, because his style of imperialism is out of fashion.

Lincoln's tomb, home (Springfield, Ill.); Lincoln Memorial, Ford's Theater (DC). Lincoln's name seems to be on every other brick in Springfield. A new Lincoln Library will be opening there soon, so I'll have to see that.

Andrew Johnson's birthplace, Raleigh, North Carolina. The only president who was born dirt poor, and you can tell that by seeing this tiny house.

Grant's home, Galena, Ill., Grant's home, St. Louis. At the latter, my brother and I looked around for empty whisky bottles, but no luck.

Grant's tomb, NYC. Marvelously restored, and the area's not so dangerous anymore. Worth seeing.

Hayes' home and grave, Fremont, Ohio. The docent was really glad to see me. Stopped there to break up a trip on the interminable Ohio Turnpike.

Benjamin Harrison's home, Indianapolis. This docent was glad too. Nice Victorian house.

Benjamin Harrison's grave, Indianapolis. Too simple. Some governors of Indiana had better headstones.

Teddy Roosevelt's boyhood home, New York City. A well-done replica of the original brownstone, which actually has a brown exterior.

The Blackstone Hotel (Smoke-Filled Room, Harding), Chicago. Supposed to have been converted into condos, but last I heard they weren't selling well.

Hoover Library, Hoover's birthplace, Hoover's grave, West Branch, Iowa. I admire Hoover because he was a well-traveled man.

Truman Library, Truman's home, Truman's grave, Independence, Mo. There's something a little odd about being buried on the grounds of your library, but there he is with Bess.

LBJ ranch, LBJ grave, Stonewall, Tex. The historical re-enactors at the ranch refused to give me, the only visitor, any of the pie they had made.

Nixon Library, Nixon's boyhood home, Nixon's grave, Yorba Linda, Calif. Where President Nixon lies still.

Carter Library, Atlanta. Every now and then I have a touch of nostalgia for the Carter administration. No mention of the Killer Rabbit incident or Billy Beer at the library, however.

Reagan's boyhood home. Bizarre statue next door of Reagan holding kernels of corn.

George HW Bush's Kinnebunkport home, Maine. I was a little lost on the coastal roads of Maine that day, I'm pretty sure I saw it from a distance in 1989. I'm surprised I was able to get as close as I did, but I suppose he wasn't there that day.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Princely sum blog.

We've entered some kind of winter stasis. No snow recently, no dives into subzero abysses, but no rises much above freezing or meltage either. The roads and sidewalks are dry and clear, but the yards are under at least eight inches of snow, accumulated inch by inch over the last few weeks. According to a map published in the Tribune a few days ago -- and the Tribune has a great daily weather page, as jammed with useless stats as a sports page -- more than half the surface area of the contiguous 48 states are covered by snow.

Add the snowy parts of Canada and Alaska and that's one big snow field. And there's another one too, all the way from Norway to the Bering Strait, but not even the Trib weather page is that detailed.

Hard to believe that the spring thaw is, say, 60 or 90 days away for most of the snow field. It will be fine to see the return of greenery and the gradual lengthening of the days. But all I really want from spring is a slow melting of the snow. No rain on snow, which would test the sump pump here in the new house too strenuously.

I have another thought about ticket-price inflation, which came up on Monday. Some years ago I was in the Rock 'n' Roll McDonald’s here in Chicago, which is an otherwise ordinary McDonald's decked out like a Hard Rock Cafe, and I made a close study of one of the posters on the wall. It advertised one of Elvis Presley's gigs, somewhere in the South, sometime early in his career -- 1956, I think. Tickets: $3.50.

I think of that when I read or hear about insane ticket prices for pop singers. Elvis got $3.50. No pop singer should charge more than Elvis in his prime. I mean, he's the King, after all. Of course, I'm not so simple-minded as to confuse the nominal value of money with its purchasing power, so that nominal figure has to be adjusted to convert 1956 dollars into current dollars. As it happens, the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis' Website has an inflation calculator that will do exactly such a conversion.

$3.50 (1956) = $23.65 (2003). Round up a little, and that tells us the maximum price for a pop concert: $24. Paul McCartney can take his $200 tickets and... well, not that I would pay any money to see him, but that's an example.

Just me blowing smoke rings. I know the market doesn't work that way. Still, I enjoy the rings.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

The vocab blog.

The vocabulary of the English language is a trove as great as Ali Baba's cave. Other languages have their own treasures, I'm sure, but this is my cave. It has more jewels than any one person could know or use. I pity people who have this treasure at their reach, but ignore it.

English is famously absorptive in its vocabulary. Years ago, I was visiting some friends over Labor Day weekend, and one of them set up his hibachi on the balcony of his apartment to do some grilling. We freely referred to this little grilling device as an hibachi. His girlfriend at the time, a multilingual French woman, asked us: "Don't you have a word for that?" Meaning, I suppose, a genuine English word instead of an import.

"That is the word," her boyfriend answered. We went on the explain, though we didn't put it quite this way, that "hibachi" had migrated from Japanese to fill a linguistic gap in English. It described something that grilled like a barbecue, but was too small to be a barbecue, since barbecues are large devices here in North America. And lucky us, there's no Academy of Language Purity to tell us what's a civilized word and what's an invading barbarian one. I don't think she was convinced of the merits of this lax Anglo-Saxon approach to language; but that's just one of those things, and the only thing to say about it is -- c'est la vie.

I got a kick last week out of being able to use the word "yegg," which I've known for years but never have been able to use in print. It's a denizen of the late 19th and early 20th centuries more than now, I think, so you don't see it much. It means thief, or can have the specific meaning of "safecracker," which was perfect for what I was writing about. Some dictionaries trace it to Yiddish, others say origin unknown, as criminal slang often is.

My brother wrote: "It's been a while, too, since I saw the world 'yegg' in print. I can remember learning it from a Scrooge McDuck comic book. It was used in the plural to describe the Beagle Boys. I have the idea that it appeared in a story called "The Status Seekers" -- I didn't remember the title; I Googled it up just now -- which involved the quest for the Candy-Striped Ruby, the world's greatest status symbol, but I'm not sure.

"I also recall learning the words 'baleful' 'williwaw' and 'billibong' while reading Scrooge McDuck comics. In the case of 'baleful' I remember the specific cartoon panel in which it appeared. Scrooge McDuck and company had gone to the Yucatan, where they discovered a lost Mayan city. Scrooge fell (or dove) into a cenote, a water-filled sinkhole, and was pulled towards the bottom by something he was holding, possibly a Mayan mask or some similar ritual object. Towards the bottom he noticed 'baleful lights.' He feared that they might be the ghostly eyes of Mayan sacrificial victims, but they turned out to be gemstones."

I probably learned some vocabulary from Carl Barks by way of Scrooge McDuck, too, but I don't remember any specifics. But I did learn "williwaw" from my brothers, and now I know they got it from McDuck.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

High-protein blog.

I was so glad to read today in the WSJ that the late Dr. Atkins was a fat man that I went out and had a cheeseburger for lunch, which, truth be told, I don't eat all that often. I made the unfortunate choice of going to Herm's, a greasy spoon directly across the Chicago River from my office building. I remember now why I haven't been there in two or three years: low mediocre, even by Chicago greasy spoon standards. Herm's only virtue is its nearby location. Otherwise it's fairly far from the Platonic Ideal of the Greasy Spoon, which if I remember right was discussed in Book VI or VII of The Republic. (Maybe as part of the Allegory of the Diner.)

Cheeseburgers include dread carbs in the form of a bun, of course, but it seemed the right thing to eat. The Journal article was the perfect story at the right time -- at the height of the absurd Atkins diet bubble, which is now. Those few among future generations who care to read about our time will make wry note of this fad, just as we smile at chloroform parties.

Shouldn't speak ill of the dead. Well... I might anyway. I feel qualified to write about this, as a fat man myself. In fact, I'm just about the same size as the diet guru, height and weight, which puts us less than grossly, morbidly obese but more than current medical opinion thinks is good. I may well end up in ill-health like Dr. Atkins in 30 years, if I live that long. Which means I need to get busy to think up a brave, fly-in-the-face-of-a-callous-medical-establishment fad diet to make me rich (and fatter) before I die.

Poor old Dr. Atkins had heart problems, according to the article, besides being fat and 72. In a way, his heirs are fortunate he died in an accident, rather than slumping over a plate of beef and beef, which might have been bad for Atkins branding efforts.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Kvetching blog.

Not too cold today, but exceptionally windy, and in the dead of winter winds blow in only one direction: in your face. Outdoor photo shoot today, four interviews over the phone, editing for on-line publications, answering the phone, scouring my inbox of its spam, etc., etc. So today made me a little irritable. If it had been Tuesday or Wednesday or even Thursday, it wouldn't have seemed so annoying, this crush of tasks. But it was Monday on top of everything else.

Might as well go with this mood to kvetch. For a few moments today I passed through the State of Illinois Building, that round glassy UFO of a building downtown also known as the Thompson Center, for it was then-Gov. Thompson who commissioned it from Helmut Jahn 20+ years ago. Near the entrance, there's a kiosk that promotes tourism in Illinois, and I paused there for a moment. Never know what you'll find at such a kiosk.

One leaflet announced: "FORBIDDEN. The Field Museum Chicago." Those were the words on the cover, along with a painting of a Mandarin. As it turned out, he wasn't actually a Mandarin, but the boss of the Mandarins, the Emperor Qianlong (18th century, descendant of Manchus who done good). On the back, there's more explanation: "Splendors of China’s Forbidden City: The Glorious Reign of Emperor Qianlong."

Which is the Field's latest megashow, running from March to September. It looks interesting: high art from a high despot. Elegant vases, elaborately carved furniture, bowls of distinction and taste, that sort of thing. With the added panache of being from the FORBIDDEN city.

I'm not kvetching about the subject, or slant of the leaflet, or the idea of megashows, or the Field Museum -- a fine museum all around. This is my gripe: "Tickets to the exhibition, including basic admission to the museum, are $17 for adults, $14 for seniors and students with ID, $8 for children 3-11." Total for two adults and two children: $50, not counting transit, snacks, or gift-shop baubles.

Forget it. The Manchus might be interesting, but they're not that interesting. I suppose if you had a passion for this kind of art, and can't make it to Beijing, this show would be for you. But if you're not altogether sold on this megashow, that price is too damn high.

I checked my notes, and the admission Yuriko and I paid to see the Forbidden City itself was about $7 per person. Granted, that was 10 years ago, but that's beside the point, which is this: the cultural/entertainment inflation of the last 20 years or so pisses me off. I'll bet the proprietors of museums, concert halls, live theaters, night clubs, sports teams, and so on would cite an increasing cost of doing business, but their price increases have far exceeded inflation over the years. Somehow, those institutions survived before the days of ticket inflation. Lately, they've just been sticking it to the visiting public.

A minor gripe, in the scheme of things. But a legitimate one, I think. I generally avoid megashows, and I’ll have to live without gazing upon this fine set of Manchu objets d’art.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Gentleman Jim blog.

Today's post is not quite so far in the past, only six years. But when I read about Lilly as a little baby -- and then look at her now -- I have a hard time remembering that part of her life. I figure my recollection of it will only get hazier as time goes on.

Also, the Tennoji Research Society was my name for Wednesday night get-togethers I attended at a particular izakaiya (pub) in the Tennoji district of Osaka in the early '90s. Usually it was me, a couple of Australians, a Scotsman, and a shifting array of Japanese. It was the only time I in my life I drank regularly -- that is, once a week -- mostly beer and nihonshu (sake).

February 19, 1998

Some of this week's milestones were baby's first passport pictures and Dad's first sports telephone marketing survey. Tuesday night someone called me up to ask about my "sports preferences." I went along with it because I did similar survey work myself, briefly, and I didn't call her on the half-truth that the "survey results were being supplied to the media" (as though various corporations weren't actually paying for the information -- especially, if my suspicions are correct, American Express).

One question was who was my favorite boxer. Since she didn't specify "active" or "living" as she did with other games, I said Gentleman Jim Corbett. It sounded like she hadn't heard that answer before. I also claimed that Mamba was my favorite beer. I don't have a particular favorite, actually, but it is my favorite beer bottle, complete with crocodile and palm trees on the label, and my favorite country of beer origin, Ivory Coast. If she'd asked for more brands, I might have said Ichiban Shiburi, a Kirin brew, because that was a consensus favorite of the Tennoji Research Society in Osaka, or Carlsburg, because I toured the brewery in Copenhagen once upon a time.

Lilly is three months old today. Her colic seems to be diminishing, her weight increasing, and her interest in everything around her very high.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Stream of typing blog.

I have in my possession a document created 22 years ago, two sheets of yellow paper filled with typewritten lines. It dates from my junior year in college, when several of my friends, along with me and my roommate Rich, were gathered in our room the night before we left town for spring break that year; there were eight people all together. For some reason one of us, Mary V., started typing an account of what was going on in the room, as it happened.

Some background: Rich and Danny were going to drive to Chicago the next day (I went to Florida that year). I was apparently on the phone to my brother part of the time. The wax refers to three wine bottles, joined like Siamese triplets, that Rich and I were slowly covering with candle drippings. Other things were going on: drawing, juggling, listening to music. I don't know who Carol was, but I think Danny was going to call her, since no one of that name was there.

I've cleaned it up some, but it's fairly true to the original text. I added the headline a little later. Even then, I was an editor.

The night of February 26, 1982. Five specific minutes.

Enters the bearded one, Danny, full of sorrow, for the restaurant where Suzy-the-buzz-saw-Callahan once put a lampshade on her head is now closed. Eight hours of studying John Locke on the way to Chicago does not sound like fun, he says. Howard wails, "re-e-ed, re-e-ed." Mary T. hands him a red pen. Rich notes that the wax now dripping on the wine bottles is the color of root beer. Howard proclaims his picture is "the Antichrist." Geof draws. The figures are odd geometries. Mary T. seems obsessed with eyes. She draws them (several to a face) on each of her pages. Dees talks on the phone. To his mother? A friend? An enemy? His brother, Jay.

Everyone is creating. Drawing, dripping wax on the bottles, etc. Danny notes that it is his last spring break as a Vanderbilt student. "Don't pick the wax out!" Rich yells. Danny is bombarding me with chucks of wax. Howard's about to leave, he says. Danny and Rich are going to try to get Carol to leave now, as soon as Dees gets off the phone. No more music, unless it's classical, says Rich. Dees comments on Mary T’s picture -- "Man in an Urn." That's a bad situation to be in, says Dees. Danny's obsessed with something, Geof says -- because Danny said that the beer in the refrigerator was bought by Vareen B. Carol can't go yet. Danny says let's do something to this place [this dorm room]. Rich says, clean it up for us. Danny asks when they are leaving tomorrow. Rich says noon. Danny says he has to go to the library first to get the [expletive] magazine (an Atlantic from a couple of months ago) because Steve misplaced it.

Silence. People start singing. Rich sings the Lowenbrau commercial. Someone contemplates throwing things out the window, but Rich says no -- last time they called and said to stop. Rich juggles with balls, until I look. He starts again, with apples. Danny assists -- they're juggling together -- they almost got it. An apple rolls away, no one can find it. Danny suggests that the apple lost while juggling may have been eaten by fungus under the table. Rich finds the apple. Danny proclaims a complete juggling food show -- a couple of days ago in the Pub they did a French fry act. Danny can't get the hang of juggling. His hands are sticky, icky. Howard brings him a little rubber ball. Danny asks what we all ate before he came -- eggplant again? No, we tell him, spinach, peppers, onion, etc. all sauteed in a wok.

Silence again. Howard says his candle got hit by an apple. Geof is trying to juggle. Rich is being encouraging. Mary T. sits by, chuckling every once in a while. Andy, Danny's friend the magician, used to juggle. Once his bathrobe caught fire. Rich begins to read from The Tao of Physics. Howard asks why tao isn't spelled with a 'd.' Something Dees and Mary are discussing "looked like an orb." Rich asks if Danny wants to stay in his sister's room. Geof and Rich start playing with the little rubber ball.

Friday, February 06, 2004

Rude Clown blog.

After I looked around the Pittsfield Building, it was nearly lunchtime, so I crossed the street to the Garland Building, a building of similar vintage with tenants of a similar ilk -- a lot of doctors and dentists. In fact, we'd published a sidebar about the Garland in my magazine a few years ago, as an example of an old medical office building in a feature about new medical office buildings. But that was well in the back of my mind.

At the Garland Building, I beat the lunch crowd by a few minutes to a small restaurant called Heaven on Seven, where I enjoyed a plate of red beans 'n' rice, plus flecks of sausage. It's a New Orleans-style eatery, very popular considering its out-of-the-way location on the seventh floor of the building, as the name suggests. But its popularity is no mystery. It's really good eating, just about as good as in New Orleans.

Right now the place is decked out for Mardi Gras, with a purple, gold and green streamers dangling thick from the ceiling, plastic beads hanging here and there, and balloons. On one wall there's every hot sauce known to man on display, mostly in Tobasco-sized bottles. I guess some of the sauces aren't made any more -- there couldn’t be a demand for that many kinds, not all at the same time. Heaven on Seven had a couple of decades' worth of bottles, at least.

But that's just restaurant frippery. The soul of the joint was on my plate, spicy beans 'n' rice, the real kind, with the right spice and texture and light aroma. All of which naturally reminds me of the Rude Clown of Jackson Square.

Back on a stiflingly hot day in 1989 -- a steamy, normal south Louisiana day in May -- I had lunch at a cafe on Jackson Square with my girlfriend of the time. We'd just gotten to town a few hours earlier. I had red beans and rice, of course, and wandered out of the cafe mighty pleased.

Suddenly a man came up to us, someone I hadn't noticed lurking around Jackson Square. It's anachronistic, but I can describe him this way now: it was as if Billy Bob Thornton had decided to make a movie called Bad Clown instead of Bad Santa. This clown (figuratively and literally) had put on clown makeup and costume, but beard stubble poked through the white on his jaw, his mop wig was dirty and crooked, and his rainbow suspenders were tattered.

"Hey," he snarled at me, "Are you a homo sapiens?"

Coming off a fine meal in a fine setting, I wasn't much in the mood to be snarled at, but I'm not easily angered either, so all I did was stare blankly at him for a second. I'm fairly sure he didn't want me to answer, anyway. Or maybe he got the same answer so many times that he heard me say it, even though I hadn't.

"Well, think twice before you deny you’re a man," he said, and walked off.

After the initial surprise, my girlfriend and I got a good laugh out of this. Later in the trip, or for that matter, after the trip was over, we'd joke about running into the Rude Clown. It was one of those never-to-be-explained experiences. Who was he? A pierrot manque, sacked by Ringling Bros. and spending his days as angry drunk? A performance artist? A local Character? Someone compelled by vague righteous anger to stick verbal pins in vacuous French Quarter tourists? I might have been a tourist, but by God I'm not vacuous, and would have gladly claimed my place as a homo sapiens -- a category, I might add, that would have included my girlfriend, so the Rude Clown was as careless with words as his costume.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Transom blog.

This week I toured a building that has transoms. Better than that, I got to see an office that could have been Philip Marlowe's or Sam Spade's, were those real places. Marlow's office of course had transoms, along with a certain kind of fan, a certain kind of telephone and a certain kind of desk. The office I saw was empty -- no desk, no fan, no mysterious lady client with great gams -- but its style and layout were still evocative.

Whatever impression I have of that kind of office is a conflation of things I've seen in the movies, plus written descriptions by Chandler and Hammett, and even the second-hand iterations in comedies or Star Trek's holodeck. But it's quite another thing to walk into an office like that, eye the heavy woodwork, listen to the squeak of the cracked floors, and wonder if shades still show up for work every weekday, and sometimes stay late.

I was in the Pittsfield Building, which dates of the golden age of downtown Chicago skyscrapers, as far as I’m concerned: the 1920s. It's a fine example from that age, hulking at street level, tapering up to the top because setbacks for office buildings were mandated in the 1923 zoning code. Periodic renovations notwithstanding, it still looks and feels like a building of that time, with a gorgeous ornate lobby, small elevators, and offices with transoms.

It's a jewel, but a generally overlooked one. Certainly I've overlooked it. Among all the scores of buildings in Chicago that I've been inside for one reason or another, the Pittsfield wasn't one until recently. The invaluable American Institute of Architects Guide to Chicago devotes only 15 lines to it (by random comparison, the Getty Tomb by Louis Sullivan in Graceland Cemetery gets 27).

"1927, Graham, Anderson, Probst & White. This tower was briefly Chicago's tallest building. Its emphasis on verticality and the use of setbacks recall the era's art deco highrises, but it uses the Gothic vocabulary of earlier skyscrapers. The building accommodated the special electrical and plumbing needs of the medical and dental offices and the security requirements of the jewelers…" says the AIA Guide.

The main body of tenants in the building are still doctors, dentists, and jewelers, which is part of the reason I'm writing about this building for my magazine. The other part of the story is that the owners are actually spending some money now to upgrade the building -- especially in cleaning the facade and completely retooling the elevators, which are sluggish dinosaurs. On the whole, though, the building's going to continue to be a warren of doctors, dentists and jewelers.

The office I saw had been, for more than 50 years, a jeweler's office. It would take a good deal of work -- called buildout in real estate circles -- to make it into a tolerable modern office. But it had a fine view of icy Lake Michigan from the 22nd floor, and one relic of the jewelry business: an enormous wall safe. I didn't take notes, unfortunately, so I can't repeat here what kind of safe, but it was clearly state-of-the-art at one time, a pale green box of the strongest steel, five feet tall at least, sporting a dark lone nipple of a dial. There was also a darkening of the metal along the edges of its twin doors.

It was closed. The broker who was showing me around made some stab at humor by mentioning Geraldo Rivera, and speculated that the edges of the doors had been blackened by a blowtorch; a yegg trying to break in. I didn't think so. It looked like it had been discolored and worn by five decades of the jeweler opening and closing it.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

King Tut replica blog.

Tip for bloggers: When tired and in need of a posting, consult your notes. If you're like me, you have piles of notes. Such as:

Nov 3 [2003], ATA flight to Minneapolis. Been leafing through Sky Mall, a cousin catalog of Sharper Image and Hammer-Schlammer upmarket gewgaw & gimcrack purveyors, and I came across this –-

Measuring taller than most men (6.25 feet), our sarcophagus of King Tutankhamen replica opens to reveal 14 storage shelves. Handcrafted of solid wood with resin details, and hand-painted in a regal palette of jewel tones, it can be mounted to a wall for added stability. $895. (freight $145).
Also available, our King Tut CD Cabinet.

What, no replica mummy? Handmade in Egypt, which could use the hard currency generated by exporting replica mummies.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Kid doc blog.

A visit to our new pediatrician this afternoon -- been putting off getting a new one closer to the new home long enough, even to the point of taking Ann for her last round of vaccinations to the old doc, which meant driving back to the old neighborhood. But the time had come for more shots, those associated with her first birthday, so I picked someone from our insurance list, and scheduled checkups for both girls.

I liked the place right away, since it was a smaller office than our previous place, and usually no one else was in the waiting room. There were four or five doctors in the previous practice, which was served by a large waiting room. Inevitably, there were a lot of kids in that waiting room, and I was certain they were all vectors of some disease to give my daughters. The new place is a two-doctor practice, anonymously located in a medical office building amid the strip centers that line Schaumburg's major roads.

(Medical office buildings are a significant submarket among office buildings, and unlike most other kinds, some are actually being developed these days. As a nation, we are getting older, and have always had hypochondriac tendencies anyway.)

The doctor was affable and well-spoken, which is pretty much what you want from a doctor. Had a grumpy nurse, though. She seemed to be slightly affronted that Lilly couldn't generate a urine sample when asked. That was a first for Lilly, and it was difficult to explain. She was also shy about letter the doctor examine her, but he'd obviously dealt a lot with reticent children, and was able to look at her without alarming her.

He was able, as doctors often are, to tell us what we already knew. Lilly is large for her age. Ann is small for hers. Both are healthy in other regards.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Shooting the elephant blog.

In the mid-80s, I worked as a subeditor for a magazine publisher in Nashville, a small shop that had three or four titles, mostly local, though the only real money-maker most of the time was a trade magazine for nursing home management. At one point, Mr. H, a man of distinguished gray in his 50s, was brought in to be the publisher of the company's lifestyle magazines.

In the magazine world, a publisher's job is to annoy both the editors and the ad sales staff. That is, he's supposed to be the boss of both, but both sides are notoriously hard to manage -- the editors because we create the product, dammit, and the sales staff because we generate the income, dammit. It's hard to be a good publisher, but possible. The key seems to be to let both the editors and salespeople run the place day-to-day as much as possible.

Also, in many cases, the publisher has to come up with new products, lest he be considered a slacker. At the time Mr. H joined, the company published a city magazine plus a few annual city guides under the lifestyle banner, hardly enough to satisfy an ambitious publisher. It wasn't long before he hatched a plan to publish a new quarterly magazine.

It was to be an imitation of Playbill, but for the local market, distributed at concert halls, theaters and so on. Slick, small in size, focusing on performance-oriented editorial, heavy on upper-end advertising. It wasn't an altogether bad idea, since for a city its size, Nashville is thick with live-entertainment, especially music, venues. And I believe the actual Playbill wasn't in the market at the time, perhaps (just a guess) because its Eastern publishers didn't see any great shakes in a hillbilly town.

The sales staff challenged Mr. H on one essentially point. "Isn't this going to take ads away from Nashville?" said W, the sharpest of the ad salesmen. That is, it would cannibalize existing ad sales.

"No, it won’t," answered Mr. H. "It certainly won't. That's not the intention. It's going to create enthusiasm, and we'll get some new advertisers coming in."

Of course, Mr. H has his way, and the magazine -- I've forgotten the name now -- started up a few months later, ran a few issues, and folded in a pool of red ink. Not enough advertisers had been interested, but worse still, it had cannibalized many of them from the city magazine, just as the ad staff thought it would.

Later, I heard from reliable sources that Mr. H's experiment cost the company about $300,000 that year. I also heard that the company essentially broke even that year. In other words, Mr. H prevented the company from making a profit. Was he fired? No. He was a friend of the CEO's. As far as I know, he stayed with the company till it went bankrupt a few years later.

When I was younger, I attributed this incident to Mr. H's thick-headedness. He wasn't stupid; in fact, he was articulate and knew a lot about a lot. But he seemed to be one of those people who knows too much to listen to anyone or learn anything. (We've all had professors like that.)

With a little more my life behind me, I believe that that pigheadedness was only one factor in the debacle. Once Mr. H had invested his time and energy in this project, backing out at the behest of the sales staff would have caused him to lose face. It makes me think of Orwell's essay, "Shooting an Elephant" (1936). In it, he tells a story from when he was a colonial policeman in Burma, and is obliged to chase down an elephant that had killed a man, but when he finds it, followed by a crowd of Burmese, the elephant clearly isn't a danger anymore. In the end, however, Orwell shoots the elephant, but not for any of the obvious reasons.

This is the last paragraph: "Afterwards, of course, there were endless discussions about the shooting of the elephant. The owner was furious, but he was only an Indian and could do nothing. Besides, legally I had done the right thing, for a mad elephant has to be killed, like a mad dog, if its owner fails to control it. Among the Europeans opinion was divided. The older men said I was right, the younger men said it was a damn shame to shoot an elephant for killing a coolie, because an elephant was worth more than any damn Coringhee coolie. And afterwards I was very glad that the coolie had been killed; it put me legally in the right and it gave me a sufficient pretext for shooting the elephant. I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool."

Sunday, February 01, 2004

February comes around again blog.

The good thing about February is that it means that we're shed of January. Otherwise, it's a kidney stone of a month. But I have managed to dig up some material written in other Februaries.

Regarding the comments in this one, I still think we ought to go to Mars, but not until the Space Shuttle program is dead and there's a relatively inexpensive way to get into Earth orbit. Could be a long time in coming, as in not in my lifetime. The man to read on that subject is Gregg Easterbrook, writer for The New Republic and other magazines. Anyway...

February 17, 2000.

About seven-eights of the snow on the ground here has melted, leaving a dirty residuum, but the Weather Bureau says that a mess more snow is crossing the Rockies, headed our way, even as I type. A storm missed us earlier in the week, instead whipping through the North Woods of Wisconsin and the UP, but so what? That happens up there in June, for crying out loud.

I had a fine time at Cape Canaveral and the NASA Space Center (there's that late 20th-century center again; more aesthetic would be "Space Port"). It was a thrill for someone like me, who followed the Apollo program very carefully. All eight- to 12-year-olds should have that opportunity. Which is why we should go to Mars, just to thrill a generation. The Space Shuttle has no panache, and neither does the International Space Station, parts of which -- mockups, really -- were on display at NASA. Those modules have all the thrill of the Omaha Greyhound Terminal (and I've been there).

I had obligations back in Orlando that afternoon [February 6], but I was free in the morning. Time enough to take the NASA bus tour, see some of the visitor center exhibits, including the "Rocket Garden," and eat lunch at the cafe -- roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, tea and Key lime pie. The bus tour takes you to (1) and observation deck some distance from Launch Pad 39, where the Shuttles lift off; (2) a large building with a genuine, restored Saturn V rocket suspended from the ceiling (it's a large building); and (3) and exhibit about the yet-to-be finished Space Station. The Saturn V rocket exhibit was worth the price of admission alone. It is, of course, a big thing, but more impressive was what it did. NASA brags that it was the greatest machine ever built, and I think they have a case.

Whatever one thinks of space exploration, at least Cape Canaveral was a good alternative to that central Florida empire known as Disneyworld, At NASA, real people do and achieve real things; at Disneyworld, false people do only one thing, take a lot of your money. That said, Disneyworld had its interests.

Now I've forgotten what those interests might have been. Nice fireworks. And something about dancing ersatz Aztecs just outside the entrance of Epcot... but it's a fog. I did learn what Epcot originally stood for, but now I only recall that the last three letters stand for "community of tomorrow," as in planned community. The term should be enough to send you screaming for the door.

My time in the Mouse Empire was mostly spent in and around the twin convention hotels at Disneyworld, known as the Swan and the Dolphin. I was astonished by the size of the Disneyworld complex, much of which I "toured" on the shuttle bus from the airport. The last time I visited was in March 1982, when the Magic Kingdom -- the Disneyland-like part of the property -- was the only game in town, connected to hotels by a monorail. Since we were driving up from St. Petersburg, we didn't stay at any of them. Now, there's Epcot, MGM and a bunch of other things, along with a lot more hotels, and a spot called "Downtown Disneyworld," which has nightclubs and such. Everything is expensive, because Disneyworld is like its own island, with everything imported.