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Friday, March 21, 2003
 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Life During Wartime, Day 2
Chicago protesters block Lake Shore Drive Thursday March 20th. Photo copyright Chicago Tribune
Whew. Last night I narrowly escaped what could have been a harrowing - but exhilarating - experience: the "civil disobedience rally" that took place yesterday in downtown Chicago made the national news when thousands of anti-war protesters left the confines of the Federal Plaza and decided to march north up Lake Shore Drive, effectively blocking that major thorofare for hours. From the Chicago Tribune:
The crowd grew as it absorbed more protestors and may have reached 10,000, Chief of Patrol Jim Maurer said. Police officials said later that the only way to control a crowd of that size was to move with it and try to contain it, but not to try to stop it. Police attempted to keep the march in the northbound lanes of the drive, but once the crowd passed Navy Pier, it overtook the southbound lanes as well, with people weaving in and out of stopped traffic. Several protesters even climbed over cars as they marched. Some drivers cheered on the protest while others responded with obscene gestures. One woman left her sedan to try to take away an anti-war banner from a teen-ager. The two scuffled briefly until police broke up the confrontation and the woman returned to her car.
I generally drive home from work via LSD northbound, so I missed the excitement by about 30 minutes or less. That was quite the sight from the aerial newscams - marchers weaving among cars and buses, carrying signs, traffic srarled up for hours. It was a fairly peaceful stand, and I have to admit Chicago seems to do a pretty good job of handling protests these days, providing police escort and observation but not interfering too much. All considering, the 1968 Chicago protests must have been unbelievably chaotic; I've seen footage and still shots of the rallies back then, and the waterfront area looked like a warzone itself.

Dumbest quote from the protest I heard in the news: "I don't see what the point of protesting is. I mean, the war, like, already started, so what difference is it gonna make?"

However, after about 10:00pm, police here started to tell the remaining marchers to disperse and go home. A small crowd of a few hundred refused to break up, and were promptly encircled by dozens of officers in riot gear, like bacteria being corralled off by white blood cells: then, a few at a time, the stalwart (some unruly) protesters were cuffed, arrested and carted away in "paddy wagons." Fun in the city - I'm glad I wasn't there.
Heard of a van that is loaded with weapons
packed up and ready to go
Heard of some gravesites, out by the highway
a place where nobody knows
The sound of gunfire, off in the distance
I'm getting used to it now
Lived in a brownstone, lived in the ghetto
I've lived all over this town

This ain't no party, this ain't no disco
this ain't no fooling around
No time for dancing, or lovey dovey
I ain't got time for that now

---"Life During Wartime", Talking Heads
There's something both extremely funny and disconcerting about watching Ted Koppel "Nightline Live From The Front" on ABC News last night: in the Kuwaiti desert, dressed in full chemical gear, analyzing the 3rd Infantry Division's caravan of tanks and materiel rolling towards Baghdad. He's acting as a so-called "embedded journalist," traveling with the infantry, protected by their armor but on the frontlines nonetheless. Being a veteran himself, he's prone to peppering his discourse with military jargon both old and new that often requires a Peter Jennings prompt like, "for the benefit of our viewers, Ted, can you tell us exactly what a 'Bradley' is?" It is oddly comforting to know that even key, celebrity newspeople are among the ranks; I always thought that the younger "disposable" anchors got sent in as bullet-bait. Don't get me wrong, I think he's got to be incredibly gutsy to go out there and bring us the news from what could potentially be a massive killzone.

An Associated Press journalist is quoted as saying,
""We've been told that if we get slimed, if we get some kind of chemical or biological agent in the area and we get contaminated, everything that's not in a Ziploc bag — meaning your laptop, your satphone, all of it — gets junked. So essentially you're out of the ballgame. It's over for you. You have a pad and pencil. Those of us who carry the latest in electronics may wish we had Ernie's old typewriter so we can manually peck out the story."
What's struck me so far about this conflict? For one, how slowly the massive Abrams M1 tanks (and their ubiquitous fuel-tanker escorts) seemed to be rolling - more than once, Jennings commented on their crawling pace...somehow after seeing military air shows I always assumed that a battalion arrives with lightning haste, but no. I heard they'll actually be connecting a fuel pipeline thorugh the terrain to supply the thousands of vehicles - now that is going to be one tempting target for the opposition. Severing that diesel umbilical cord could really bring things to a grinding halt.

Like my partner commented as we watched the parade of tanks as far as the eye can see, "It's like a traffic jam of turtles!"

However, I do feel pretty bad for those troops in the desert, traveling in a haze of abrasive sandpapery dust, sweltering and packed into tiny personnel carriers in bulky chemical suits: this is going to be one deucedly uncomfortable war, even when nobody's firing.

To leave on a lighter note, the Olympian reports that an anti-war protester mistakenly chained himself to the front door of the Washington State Grange office Wednesday, thinking it was a sub-office of the U.S. Department of Energy. Oopsie. Thanks for that one, James!




Thursday, March 20, 2003
 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Warday +1
Iraq Exorcist Father George Dubya Bush and Saddam Hussein
When the first targeted strikes on Iraq began last night, I was en route home from an evening class at Loyola, blissfully unaware of what was happening. I was reading my current 'subway book', Neverwhere - an oddly appropriate choice because the main character finds himself in an Alice-In-Wonderland-meets-Mad-Max alternate reality in the 'Tube' beneath the streets of London. A very good distraction for a bumpy underground train ride - how many novels are there about magical subways?

Within moments of walking in the front door, I knew something was wrong - the TV was on, which it rarely ever is in our house - and an ABC commentator was discussing the reports of explosions being heard in Baghdad.

"It's started."

Roughly 9:20pm Central time, the early morning skies of Iraq looked relatively peaceful with only a bird or two disrupting the grey expanse...another camera angle, toward the darker west, showed a popping fusillade of firework-like explosions that turned out to be Iraqi anti-aircraft fire, not US missles. Then the President addressed the nation in a terse, unadorned speech without fanfare, introduction or superimposed text; just a stark closeup of George Bush speaking at his desk which faded unceremoniously to black before the TV news pundits began to analyze the words.

I didn't so much feel fright as resigned sadness and anxiety, watching the first hours of the war. I hope it's over quickly, although that may not be the case.

This morning, the newspaper sellers waved armfuls of Sun-Times with glaring "WAR" healdines; further south a handful of anti-war protesters with placards stood on the North Avenue walkway bridge over Lake Shore Drive, with only a tiny fraction of passing vehicles acknowledging their presence with tentative tootles of horns. Here at work, at the University of Chicago, rush-produced handouts announcing a planned "civil disobedience event" this afternoon at 5:00 - protesters are planning to block Lake Shore Drive. I don't know whether to leave early to avoid the possible traffic snarlups, or go just to see the ruckus - probably best to avoid the area because the protesters will probably be handcuffed and gone by the time I make my way through the traffic jam.

Talk about ratings; having worked in the TV industry for a number of years, I can tell you that war is the ultimate reality-TV entertainment. The problem is that real men, women and children suffer and die during wartime, and the blood isn't ketchup.

So it begins. I'll be in front of the TV tonight. Besides blocking Lake Shore Drive, there's not much more else I feel I can do. Perhaps that's the worst feeling of all when war begins: the feeling of being utterly powerless to make it stop. Turning off the TV won't make it all go away.




Wednesday, March 19, 2003
 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Hey Kids, It's S-A-R-I-N Time!

From the "utterly disturbing" files, my friend James passed on this article from Newsfilter by Major Robert D. Walk, on the Mickey Mouse gas mask for children, which looks for all in the world like a piece of very bizarre fetishwear:
On January 7th, 1942, one month after Pearl Harbor, T.W. Smith, Jr., the owner of the Sun Rubber Company, and his designer, Dietrich Rempel, with Walt Disney’s approval introduced a protective mask for children. This design of the Mickey Mouse Gas Mask for children was presented to Major General William N. Porter, Chief of the Chemical Warfare Service. After approval of the CWS, Sun Rubber Products Company produced sample masks for review. Other comic book character designs were to follow, depending on the success of the Mickey Mouse mask. The mask was designed so children would carry it and wear it as part of a game. This would reduce the fear associated with wearing a gas mask and hopefully, improve their wear time and, hence, survivability.
"Hey kids, don't worry about all those fighter planes flying overhead and those bloated corpses of our dead neighbors in our back yard. Let's play a Mickey Mouse game!" Maybe I'm just being morbid, but if you can't laugh at the situation you may just go crazy.

Iraq: T-minus 24 hours and counting. Do you know where your duct tape is?




Tuesday, March 18, 2003
 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Photo Time

One Sunday afternoon, these plastic birds were all over the front lawn of a home on West Loyola Avenue. When we stopped to look, a lady stepped out of the browstone and asked, "Do you like them? Today's my birthday, and I just wanted to decorate the lawn and make people smile! You can take as many as you want after four o'clock!" It put a smile on our faces, for sure! What a spirit.


This shot was taken a few weekends ago off the Rogers Park Pier just north of our place. The alternating freezes and thaws has produced this stunning effect, making the lake look like a sea of broken glass as far as the eye could see. When the individual shards reflected the sunlight, the surface looked as if it were studded with diamonds.


An accidental double exposure produced this shot that I call "Squash and the City." The squash are on our kitchen counter, the city background at right is State Street by night. The strange thing is, the street scene was an anti-war rally march down the street by Marshall Fields, so the combined effect of smiling butternut squash and "Who Would Jesus Bomb?" placards was just to bizarre for words.


Just an image that caught my eye, morning at Starbucks in Rogers Park, sitting with a triple-shot grande mocha, watching the sun play in the glass tiles. The finished result was even better than I'd expected, with the intermingling of reds and blues, dark and light. Even though the chairs are empty, they almost seemed filled - in a virtual sense. This is just a snapshot of some chairs and tables, but I think it's the light that makes it a photograph.


This photo was taken as I was going down to my evening class at Loyola's Water Tower campus on Michigan Avenue. The twilight cast an orange glow from the West, while an artist's installation of banks of green floodlights illuminated the Wrigley Building from the adjacted Chicago River. Lovely colors - note the Hancock Tower in the distance!




Monday, March 17, 2003
 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Only A Matter Of Time, Now

It appears the "other shoe" has finally begun its descent to the floor...UN inspectors have been issued a recall, and the only way we can avert war with Iraq now is if Saddam Hussein packs a suitcase or two, leaves behind his lavish palaces and ubiquitous portrait-posters, and goes into exile.

Fattest of chances.

Looks like war is a done deal, despite the rallies and prayer vigils, teach-outs and walk-outs and "Peace on Earth" T-shirts. War is bad enough, but what really turns my stomach are the jingoist reactionary attitudes that both anti-war advocates and moderates are encountering in these peribellum days. Like this report of a traveler finding a note in his luggage, allegedly placed by a government inspector who found two "NO WAR IN IRAQ!" flyers in the bag:
From CNN: Seth Goldberg, 41, of Cranbury, New Jersey...says that after a March 2 flight from Seattle to San Diego, California, he opened his bag and found a card notifying him that [Federal Transportation Security Administration] had opened and searched it. A handwritten note on the card said: "Don't appreciate your anti-American attitude!" He said it would have been hard for anyone else to have placed the note because when he claimed the bag in San Diego the zipper pulls were sealed with nylon straps that indicated a TSA inspection."
That must have taken a lot of courage; putting an anonymous note in someone's bag. Perhaps the unnamed person should put their money where their cojones are (figuratively, of course. For all we know a woman could have written the note!) and sign up for a tour of duty in Baghdad.

Oh, for the folly of the blinder-eyed bar-brawler types who think we can blithely roll into Iraq with tanks and helicopters and missiles and fix the problem once and for all...the "problem" of terrorism is like a termite's nest, and even a "surgical strike" to take out the queen never seems to eradicate the colony, because the warrens and tunnels branch like a cancer for miles beyond the core. We'll hit Iraq, but even if Saddam gets carried out in a thousand tiny pieces, the grasping fingers of the terrorist ideological underground will tear at the heart of what we hold dear.

I predict that within days of the commencement of a military strike in Iraq we will see terrorist activity here in America, in what form is anyone's guess. This is the dark side of the concept of global unity; we are all so intertwined that even an attack thousands of miles distant will have repercussions in our back yards. "We have met the enemy, and he is us..." In a manner of speaking, those words could not be more true, for the seeds of our own fate are already living deep in our national flesh.

This isn't going to be your father's war, or your grandfather's war: unlike our isolated national reality in World War II or the Cold War, no one needs to lob ICBM's from across the poles to cause mass destruction.

9/11 did not arrive from the Middle East; at least not on the fateful day itself. The perpetrators were here, living as Americans in their bodies, but not in their hearts and minds when the attack occurred. Once the bombs start to fall halfway across the world, there are doubtless many who are only "waiting for the word" to start the retaliation, to wreak havoc here at home. There is an important point made by an unnamed Arab official, quoted on CNN/Reuters:
"It's a very grave day. This is the day that international law has been shoveled away. War will not solve this problem. Unfortunately those who are going to war will find it will be very difficult to get out of it."
Save Our Souls; indeed.




Saturday, March 15, 2003
 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
The Coming of the Green

I wish I had something wonderfully profound to write today, but I don't. I'm simply besotted with bliss because today is the first spring day we've had in Chicago - temps in the 60's, sunshine, thumping bassbeats and cooing pigeons on every street. We'll probably get another blizzard next week, but who cares. Today, it's spring, and I've been waiting six months for it.

Barely managed to escape downtown Chicago this morning, as all the main streets are blocked off for the traditional Saint Patrick's Day parade - the one you saw in The Fugitive (and the Chicago Hilton in the South Loop that was in the movie, too). Since I don't like my beer green, don't care for massive crowds in this Age of Terrorism, and generally don't enjoy having to wash someone else's puke off my sneakers, I won't be going to the parade.

Would you believe the city dyes the river green for this momentous occasion?

I put on a CD I haven't listened to for years - Zenyatta Mondatta by the Police - and close my eyes, letting the afternoon sun gently burn red through my eyelids. The windows are open, and the air smells of a tantalizing mixture of mud, grass, exhaust and meaty smoke from the diner down the street.

It's springtime in Chicago. Let it be.




Friday, March 14, 2003
 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
WebWurst!

Lithuania's president Rolandas Pasksas is on a roll:
From CNN: Paksas' claim to be a "believer" in mystic Lena Lolisvili has sparked uproar in the Catholic former Soviet country, which is sensitive about its image abroad after being invited to join the European Union and NATO in 2004. Local media have dubbed Lolisvili Lithuania's "Rasputin," after the Siberian mystic who wielded influence over Russia's Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra in the early 1900s. "Lithuania risks becoming the laughing stock of the world," its largest newspaper, Lietuvos Rytas, said Friday. Lolisvili, an ethnic Georgian who claims God tells her the future and energizes toilet paper she then wraps around her patients, told Paksas in 1996 he would become president. Paksas has said Lolisvili helped him when he was ill, but has never given details of his treatment.
Quiz show scandal in the UK: college lecturer Tecwen Whittock is accused of helping "Who Wants To Be A Millionare?" contestant Major Charles Ingram win the top prize by signalling with a series of coded coughs:
The prosecution has claimed the college lecturer, who was one of the ten "Fastest Finger First" contestants while the major was in the programme's "hot seat" used a total of 19 strategically placed coughs to help the officer choose most of the correct answers from the four options offered after each question.
"Turn your head and..." Whittock blames his tussiveness on a dust allergy. And....

Corporations are starting to catch on to the power of blogging: Dr.Pepper/Seven Up ires customers when reports surface of a fake blog used to create a "buzz" about their new milk drink:
From GlobeandMail.com: Dr Pepper/Seven Up's goal was to give Raging Cow credibility with young people, so it hit on the idea of using "bloggers" to talk up the drink on the Internet...the beverage maker, based in Plano, Tex., flew five of the Web's most popular bloggers and their parents to Dallas for an all-expenses-paid visit. It gave them samples of the drink, T-shirts, hats and Amazon.com gift certificates, then sent them home to start pumping Raging Cow to their friends on the Web — without disclosing that the company had put them up to it. The bloggers, aged 18 to 24, were also asked to put links on their Web pages to a blog-like site, ragingcow.com which chronicles the adventures of a fictitious cow.
Should have called the drink, "Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire."

Unfortunately, this is only one example of something called "roach marketing", where companies try to disguise advertising as spontaneous interaction to give products credibility. Other "roach marketing" tactics include planting actors in public places to hold "real" conversations about products, using brand names conspicuously.

Now that's just too much. I used to write ad copy for a living, and this trend stinks. Next time you hear someone say, "I really reaally love my new [brand name whatever], you know, the one made by [company]" just leave. Or better yet, toss a bottle of Raging Cow at 'em.




 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Friday Five!

First let me say that I think telephones are an instrument of the Devil. Idle hands are not Satan's workplace; telephones are. Just ask Richard Nixon. Oh, wait - you can't. He's dead. Proves my point. The best thing that phones were ever used for are dial-up connections.

1. Do you like talking on the phone? Why or why not? Frankly, I'm not a big fan of telephones...unless it's an emergency. I find their ring rather intrusive, and I always jump a bit when they do.

2. Who is the last person you talked to on the phone? A telemarketer (whose native language was clearly not English) that didn't quite understand that she had called a workplace, and that I had neither the time nor the desire to buy anything. Finally, I told her "put me on your do not call list." That she understood.

3. About how many telephones do you have at home? Too many: 3 landlines, 2 cells.

4. Have you encountered anyone who has really bad phone manners? What happened? Every day, hon. Every day.

5. Would you rather pick up the phone and call someone or write them an e-mail or a letter? Why or why not? I'll call someone if I really want to chat or need an immediate answer, but for everyday needs an e-mail works best for me. After all, I am a child of the Internet. ;)




snazzykat - who works as a counselor for teens in Boston - has a stunning first-person account of the average day of a sexual abuse survivor. Powerful reading.




Wednesday, March 12, 2003
 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Off-The-Wall of Sound

I haven't really followed too closely the recent arrest of legendary rock producer Phil Spector in connection with the shooting death of B-movie actress Lana Clarkson, mainly because it seems like this should have happened a long time ago - or was predestined to unfold as it has.

Over the years I've read numerous accounts of Spector's over-the-top bizarre behavior, like listening to a single note for six hours straight, or brandishing a gun in his recording studio, reportedly threatening artists John Lennon, Leonard Cohen and members of the Ramones:
from NBC4 in Los Angeles: Spector's last major album was a collaboration with the Ramones, 1980's "End of the Century." During the session, the late bassist Dee Dee Ramone said Spector pulled a gun on the band. "A lot of these things were overblown and a lot of these things were alcohol-induced," Marky Ramone said. "You can have a gun and wave it around but that doesn't mean you're gonna use it. ... There's no way Phil would have shot Dee Dee Ramone."
Now the case has taken a Hollywood twist; Spector allegedly sent an e-mail Monday saying that Clarkson's death was an accidental suicide. Just what kind of legal defense is an "accidental suicide"? However the facts eventually come out, I bet there's an insanity defense being cooked up as we speak: his chief attorney is Robert Shapiro, of the OJ Simpson case, so we can be certain that loads of obfuscating horsepuckeys will be strewn. Mark Ribowsky, author of Spector bio "He's a Rebel" said to Newsweek:
He was always a great dilettante. So in the ’60s, when this whole thing with the bodyguards started coming up, he had to have the best bodyguards, the best guns. In the ’70s and ’80s, when you would mention Phil Spector to anybody, the first thing they would talk about would be the guns. So you always have this possibility, but nobody actually thought he could shoot anybody, and that’s what makes this so crazy. ...[But] he is not a sweet man. He is a loathsome man with an instinct to hurt people and use people for his own good. He has regarded people as mere garbage to be discarded. He never repaid people’s kindness. He’s never been a sweet man. He’s been a horrible man.
And as for the Lennon gun story, Ribowsky says:
"when Spector was back on his turf, in Los Angeles rather than in London, he just did not let Lennon be Lennon. He was another studio musician to Spector, and when John would [complain], Spector would have none of it. When he wanted to do a vocal, Spector would put it off for hours and hours. And finally he said, “Phil, let’s get to my vocal here,” and Spector exploded and shot a hole into the ceiling of [the] A&M studio. They framed the bullet hole on the ceiling as a great moment in history. Lennon’s classic line was, “If you’re going to kill me, Phil, kill me, but don’t f—k with my ears.”
Call me a cynic, but Phil's probably just a nutter, after all...an eccentric who needs to get some attention before his fortunes fail utterly.

Ribowsky concludes in his Newsweek interview,
"He’s 62, been out of the public spotlight for so long. Maybe this is his comeback."
Some pathetic excuse for a comeback. But now I'm a bit more curious about the outcome, because it's so operatic: two has-beens may actually get their wish for returned fame and notoriety, one killed in the process. If she hadn't died of a gunshot wound in Phil Spector's foyer, most of us would probably never have heard of Lana Clarkson.

Sadly, one truism of the meatgrinder world of entertainment is that it's better to be famous and dead, than to not be famous at all.




Monday, March 10, 2003
 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Omnia Mutantur, Nihil Interit
click to visit Lenka's main pageFor as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed looking at and photographing scenes of urban and industrial decay. I'm not sure why, since most people find the sight of charred smokestacks, or rusty fire escapes and flyblown Dumpsters depressing. Perhaps it's the depressing nature that attracts me? I don't think it's that simple, really; actually I thought about this long and hard on the Metra train ride down to work this morning.

Even in the glaring late-winter sunshine, the South side of Chicago seen from the train tracks is a marvel in steel and concrete, its hardness perpetual, outlasting the seasonal bloom and death of foliage. The tracks themselves, ridden by millions since the city's earliest days are endlessly burnished by the rolling wheels of steel; the banks, the theaters, the offices, schools and parks that nourished countless souls still stand. So do the powerlines, the pipes and overpasses; the sidewalks and the sewers.

Among the bland commercialized housing, vacant lots and dilapidated tricornate projects sprout the Blockbuster, Jewel-Osco and Walgreens' signs. Next to them rise the pointed green tiled dome and twin minarets of a Southside mosque, giving the area an exotic, faraway feel. Strange how mosques often look foreign in an American landscape, while European churches and cathedral spires seem to 'fit': it's all a matter of familiarity and perception.

In the grey rusted roughness of the industrial landscape I see nature vanquished, but I also see humanity's halfhearted striving for permanence. The face of a century-old apartment building or a soot smeared factory says a multitude of things. While there is, of course, obvious beauty in things green, blossoming and fresh, there is also a kind of beauty in tarnish, rust, and patina: the former the hopeful pulchritude of a newborn baby or young child, the latter in the wrinkled delineation of an elderly face, or facade.

The beauty of new things and youth is also the beauty of potential, it says "see what I will be!"

The crags of old faces or architecture cry out, "I have survived, and prevail over time. I still am."

Just as there are no escapes from the eventual ravages of time - and all things come away touched by its hand to some degree - history and energy reside in the markings of age, like the grooves of a record album. The scratches and lands tell their story of striving towards eternity if we only stop and listen, instead of constantly discarding them for a clean slate. In capturing the image of time passed, we may somehow, in some small way, assist eternity in its work.



It's Not The Size Of Your Spam...

No doubt you're enjoying just as much useless spam in your inbox as I am (although mine makes up about 75% of incoming messages. E-mail is hardly worth it these days), but I just had to share this bit of tripe that just arrived because it made me laugh before I hit the "delete" key:
"100% Money Back Guarantee!
Permanent Larger Erections
Doctor Recommended
As Seen On Tv!"
Where exactly on TV have we seen this? Would a "permanent erection" be a good thing? I hardly think it's "doctor recommended"; it's actually a pathological condition called priapism, usually indicative of a serious problem like spinal cord injury.

Feh!




Saturday, March 08, 2003
 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Venus and Mars Episode 203: A-Merrily We Go With Hemostats and Lube

Isn't it funny how life's annoyances usually arrive in clusters, rather than in convenient, easy-to-swallow single servings?

The first annoyance arrived at around 7:30 this morning, when we tried to start the car. One of our car keys - which had grown slightly bent with years of use, like an old dray horse's back - decided this was an opportune moment to snap in two, leaving about one inch of solid metal jammed inside the car's ignition. Unfortunately, neither of us knows how to hot-wire a car, despite having seen it done countless times on movies and TV.

Time to call our neighborhood mechanic? No, I don't give up 50 dollars an hour for mechanics' labor that easily - first, let's rummage through my trusty yellow toolbox, whom you met earlier during my stint as an amateur tree surgeon.

Inside I found what I thought I needed: a black leather pouch containg a pair of surgical hemostats and tissue-dissection tweezers, which looked useful - don't ask me where they came from, but I've had them for nearly twenty years, and I'm sure the statute of limitations has run out anyway. They probably snuck into my pocket and followed me home one day after a high school biology class, knowing that someday I might find them of use.

I walked to our green Escort wagon carrying the hemostats, a screwdriver, and a can of WD-40 in my hand, wearing a black "Chicago" toque on my head (the one that makes me look like a thug). The car was encrusted with enough road salt that it could be mistaken for a large teal pretzel; I unlocked the door and sat inside to have a look at the situation. Suddenly it occurred to me that I could easily be mistaken for a car thief attempting to hot-wire; so off came the black toque. The last thing I needed is a cop knocking on the window asking to see some ID.

When I peeked inside the ignition keyhole, I saw the broken brass end of the key taunting me - so close, yet so deep inside. No matter which tool I used - the small pointy hemostat, or the tissue tweezers, which have a small set of interlocking "teeth" to grasp soft objects firmly - I couldn't seize the key stump with enough traction to extract it. Crestfallen, I walked back home through the snow-packed alley with my WD-40. It was now about 9 o'clock, and I would have to give Cheng's a ring. *Cheng (not his real name, it's been changed to protect the blogger) is our neighborhood mechanic, a compact, personable man in his early seventies who likes to play tennis, ice hockey, and skis with his wife during his spare time. Where exactly does one ski in Illinois, the flattest of all the states? Probably Galena or something.
Rrring. "Hello, Cheng's Auto..."
"Hi, this is Lenka down on Winthrop. The green Escort? I've got a little problem...our key broke off in the igntion. Can you help us out?"
"Oh, yeah...can you drive it over here?" says Mr. Cheng.
"Eh, no...the key's broken in the lock..." says I.
"Oh yeah. That would be a problem."
We agreed a tow truck was needed, and Cheng gave his usual guy a call. The tow should have been completed fairly easily. Two hours later, I hear what sounds like hail, so I look out my living room window. It's snowing - hard. I better go to the parking lot to check if the car's been towed yet. The flakes are so huge, each one feels like a being slapped with a chilled frog. I look in the lot, and the Escort is still there.
Rrring. "Hello, Cheng's Auto..."
"Hi, this is Lenka down on Winthrop. The green Escort? Wondering if that tow was coming soon?"
"Oh, yeah. They came by hour ago. Couldn't get into lot because the alley's too small. All tow companies have these days are flatbeds."
Wonderful. If all the town trucks in town are flatbeds, how they hell do they get cars out of tight city parking lots and garages?
"So, how do we get the car out?" I say.
"Have to call around to see if anyone has regular tow truck."
It was 3:30 in the afternoon before we found a tow truck narrow enough to squidge into the alley beside the "L" tracks; there's generally about a foot and a half of space between my car and the concrete wall, so it's a snug fit even for a compact. Then it dawned on me. All the tow companies have flatbeds because that's how they get lucrative Chicago city contracts to tow cars off the streets. You can't do it easily with a small tow-bar truck: you need a flatbed with a hook winch to extract parallel parked cars tightly squeezed together. It all made sense now.

On any given street in the neighborhood you see cars with three, four even five orange-and-white citations taped to their side windows, each violation ka-chinking at least 35 dollars for the city coffers. Some drivers pull off the offending tickets and throw them on the ground in spite. Scofflawing in Chicago is not smart. This town'll getcha', eventually - next time you'll find a bright yellow steel boot on your car's wheel, and your hubcap tossed in the street, crushed by passing traffic.

So, the car's at Cheng's, and they're closed tomorrow. It's Sunday, and Mr. Cheng is a churchgoing man. We should have the car Monday, says he.

Told you I should have learned how to hot-wire a car, instead of ripping off hemostats in high school.




Friday, March 07, 2003
 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Friday Errata

Those of you that have visited my main website hosted at the University of Chicago may be familiar with my Requiem for the Gobbler Motel page. Well, it's undergoing major reconstruction, for a few reasons - mainly it needs some freshening up, but it's also one of my oldest pages, made in clunky Microsoft Word. Not the browser-friendliest HTML code in the world, I might mention. I'm taking a nip here, a tuck here, and rescanning and resizing the large images stored on that server to free up space for new projects, plus adding some more up-to-date content. As time permits, I will also redesign the other pages.

Pages no longer among the living: A Few of Our Favorite Things, The X-Files Reopened (that's now a BlogSpot page, The X-Log, chronicling my X-Files viewing adventures), XAE! (this was an abortive attempt at an anime page, but there are so many out there that can do a better and more interesting job that I ever could!), Graphically Incorrect, and the old Reeling It All In - the latter is now hosted on BlogSpot, with links to my individual review pages on the old U of C server. If you have any questions, or would like to see some of the older content, feel free to drop me a note via the feedback feature. I'll do my best to help.

By the way, compliments to Erika for snazzykat's current focus - National Women's Month. Truly, blogging for a great cause.




 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Friday Five!

Hey, what is this? A marketing major's Friday Five? (smile)

1. What was the last song you heard? "Expo 2000 - The Orbital Remix" by Kraftwerk, on WinAmp.

2. What were the last two movies you saw? One Hour Photo and The Limey

3. What were the last three things you purchased? A 10-ride Metra train ticket, pad thai at the Div School Cafe, coffee, Season 3 of M*A*S*H on DVD, and a copy of Blogging: Genius Strategies for Instant Web Content by Biz Stone.

4. What four things do you need to do this weekend? Get some exercise, study for my midterms, cook some dinners in advance for the week, and go to the movies.

5. Who are the last five people you talked to? It's all such a blur.....




Wednesday, March 05, 2003
 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Ho-Ho for President!

I think I'm on a "biorhythm low" today - or maybe I'm just suffering from the aftereffects of last night's overindulgence with some friends at our favorite Ethiopian restaurant. If you can't fix it with some Alka-Seltzer and a couple of cups of good strong Joe, hang it up and call it a day.

There's one thing that really cheered me up: the news that Vermont governor Howard "that's Doctor to you" Dean is making a presidential bid in 2004. I really do wish him the best of luck - although anyone that wants to take on the responsibilities that will surely await the Oval Office in one years' time must be godlike, delusional, or just plain nutty. Perhaps all of the above.

May I tell you a little story? I am part Vermonter. Being a Vermonter is a philosophy more than a residential status. Even though Gov. Dean may be just a blip on most of your screens, I think I know the fellow pretty well, and believe he would make a fine President. He was sort-of my governor for several years when we lived in Plattsburgh, New York - "sort of", because P-burgh is just a ten-minute ferry-ride hop across the puddle from the Queen City, Burly-town, good old Burlington, Vermont. We had a nickname there for Governor Dean - "Ho-Ho," probably some strange version of Howard rather than a reference to his support of civil unions, which we ourselves took advantage of two years ago - but we mean it in a loving way.

Governor Dean is a Liberal, in the best sense of the term, and he's proud of it. He is a physician by trade, with intimate knowledge of the second most-pressing issue to Americans today: health care. I'll probably share my thoughts on health care in the very near future; but not tonight, darling. I have a headache. Before I ramble on incoherently, just let me state that we shouldn't dismiss Dean's 2004 bid just because he's from a tiny New England state whose most famous exports are Ben and Jerry's ice cream and homegrown marijuana (that's two separate things - I don't recall that combination being a Ben and Jerry flavor, but you never know. In Vermont, they'll put hemp in anything).

Howard Dean. It's a solid, masculine, American name...he should stand a chance in the polls. When you start hearing about him in the news, remember I mentioned his name, and give him a second thought. He could just well be the best candidate out there next year.

Before I go for the day, a thought (they have been few and far between today) from my University of Chicago Maroon online horoscope:
Try to hide your frustration at others' stupidity Cappy. Not everyone can see the bigger picture like you can. Calmly focus your attention on other things and the little irritations in life will fail to hold you back.
I will try to remember this as I ride the train home tonight. Lawdy, Lawdy, help me to forgive the lummoxes who step on my toes and slam their roller-bags into my legs while I try to read Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere." Forgive those who cut in front of me in line just I cut in front of them. Give us this day our daily bagels. Let it snow, let it snow, Amen.




Tuesday, March 04, 2003
 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
The 'Chambers Defense' Again?

In Danbury, Connecticut, 25-year old Saul Dos Reis today entered a so-called "Alford plea" in connection with the strangling murder of Christina Long, a 13-year old girl he met and arranged meetings with through e-mail. Echoing the Robert Chambers "Preppie Killer Case" of the 1980's, Dos Reis claims he "accidentally" strangled the girl during sex. From GreenwichTime.com:
Following an encounter at the Super 8 Motel in Danbury on May 10, Dos Reis and Christina exchanged 14 e-mails and arranged to meet on the night of May 17 at the nearby Danbury Fair Mall shopping complex, Murray said. During intercourse in the parking lot of a nearby [McDonald's] restaurant, Dos Reis strangled the sixth-grader, according to his statement. DNA evidence taken from Christina's body confirmed a sexual encounter between her and Dos Reis, Murray said. Dos Reis pleaded guilty to the manslaughter charge under the Alford Doctrine, in which a defendant does not admit guilt but agrees that the state has enough evidence to obtain a conviction.

The attorneys said they plan to call witnesses on May 6 who will testify to Dos Reis' good character as a manager at his stepfather's Port Chester, N.Y., restaurant and characterize his involvement with Christina as a "mistake." "We'll establish that he's never been in trouble before in his life and lived a completely passive, nonviolent existence," [defense attorney Peter] Tilem said. "His defense in this case has always been that it was an accident and that because of this one horrible mistake he has lost everything."
Strangling another human until they gasp their last and their life ebbs away is never a "mistake" (it reminds me of "Preppie Killer" Robert Chambers' on-camera joke, "oops, I think I killed it!") - it requires a series of conscious decisions and acts. It's not as easy or simple as, say, pulling the trigger of a gun. Murder by strangulation takes a lot of effort.

While the Dos Reis case prompted the Congressional creation of a "kids only" Internet zone, such a measure is like putting a Band-Aid on a malignant tumor.

The Internet doesn't kill people - people kill people. While e-mail may have facilitated Dos Reis' and Long's meeting arrangements, as the adult, he still made the choices that led to real-life sexual encounters with the girl. There must have been numerous opportunities for Dos Reis to back away, say "No", find a more appropriate outlet for his urges. He did not choose them.

Christina Long should have been having a Big Mac at that Connecticut McDonald's instead of being strangled and raped in their parking lot. This isn't the kind of crime you deserve "first offense" slap-on-the-wrist leniency for, and charges of manslaughter seem unconscionably mild - the case being all the more reprehensible in that Dos Reis' wife Tatiana was recovering from cancer chemotherapy at the time her husband committed the crime.

From CNN.com:
The Brazilian national has said that he strangled the girl accidentally while they were having rough sex in his car after he picked her up at a mall. Police said the two met in an Internet chat room. The case led to a push in Congress for a kids-only domain on the Web. "He's not doing well. He looked like hell," defense attorney James Lenihan said of his client. "His appearance reflected the emotional turmoil and the complete and utter devastation this has wrought on him." Dos Reis faces a maximum 30 years in prison; he could have been sentenced to as many as 50 years if he had been convicted at trial.
Please excuse me while I get a handful of Kleenex. An admitted child-murderer "utterly devastated" by getting caught? I think that's the point.



This-Or-That-Tuesday

1. Soup or salad? Unequivocally, soup - It's something I love to cook. Salad is just leaves and berries. ;)
2. Hot or cold sandwiches? Depends how long they've been in my pocket.
3. White or whole wheat bread (or rye, etc)? The bread should match the sandwich...like red wine and beef, or fish with white. Rye with corned beef or pastrami, and any type of reuben; whole wheat for tuna salad, white for bologna. Not that I eat bologna.
4. Pack a lunch for work/school, or buy it? I usually pack, unless I forget - or I'm in the mood for the Divinity School Cafe's pad thai.
5. If you eat out...fast-food chain, or mom & pop type place? Mom-and-pop places have the most character, and Chicago's full of 'em.
6. Tuna or chicken salad? Tuna - add a shredded scallion, tablespoon mayo, black pepper, dash Tabasco if you like.
7. Cheese: Swiss or cheddar (or American, etc)? No cheese, please. Unless you're a pizza.
8. Mustard or mayo? Definitely mustard. Unless you're tuna salad.
9. Sandwiches: wrap/pita pocket, or regular bread/roll? Wraps are fun, and anything in a burrito tastes better. Ever had a Spamburrito? You take a large flour tortilla, add about 2-3 ounces of julienned Spam(TM), squirt of mustard to taste, fold up and nuke for about one minute. Mmmm. It's porkariffic!
10. Sweet stuff: cookie/cake or fresh fruit? Fruit in season is always nice - strawberries and peaches are my faves - but I won't turn down a good oatmeal raisin cookie.




Monday, March 03, 2003
 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
We Interrupt This Blog...

This morning I dreamt that I was inside a used-car dealership, the old-fashioned kind with a big glass storefront, talking to the salesman in a tan wide-lapel suit (who looked suspiciously like Shaft) when suddenly I heard helicopters hovering close by outside. I went to the front windows, and I saw the strangest helicopters in a sunny blue sky: an entire convoy of them, each one dressed in an inflatable parade-float suit...one looked like a frog, one like a duck, another like an inflatable Abe Lincoln - I can't recall all of them but they were very bouncy and colorful.

When I woke up, I realized that there actually were helicopters outside - traffic choppers making repeated passes overhead to report on the Sheridan Road sewer reconstruction project: the city's 81-inch poop-chutes are apparently over a century old and in dire need of reinforcement. The renovations should keep the roadway from subsiding (the tarmac was expected to buckle down through the sewers from the weight of passing vehicles) but commuting will be royally snarled up for the next few months on Chicago's North Side.

Thing is, they aren't actually replacing the sewer pipes, but instead coating the walls with a new high-tech resin that the city claims will give the sewers "another century of life expectancy." Hmm. I don't think Mayor Daley will be around to back that promise up, will he? You never know with those Daleys - the way the world is going, his clones'll be running Chicago in 2103.

I suppose it's better than having your car suddenly drop six feet down into a sewer one morning. That would be a truly crappy way to start the day. Moral: in dream analysis, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes a helicopter is just a helicopter - but s**t will always be s**t.


I am
p

Everyone loves a slice of pi a la mode

_

what number are you?

this quiz by orsa


Great. I suppose this means I'm like that bizarre Darren Aronofsky movie, or that I'm utterly irrational; although that would surprise few. Thanks for that one, Melva!




Saturday, March 01, 2003
 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Big Brother Is Watching You.

It appears that in Santa Fe, a former public defender was arrested, detained and questioned for "threatening the President" after having an anti-war conversation in the St. John's public library. 40-year old Andrew J. O'Connor admits he used the words "Bush is out of control" when having a face-to-face chat with another individual, but, as he boldly pointed out, "...there is this thing called freedom of speech."
From the American Library Association News site: Concern about threats to individual privacy under the USA Patriot Act has prompted New Mexico legislators in both houses to propose resolutions urging state police not to help federal agents infringe on civil rights. The resolutions also encourage libraries to post prominent signage warning patrons that their library records are subject to federal scrutiny without their permission or knowledge.
Thanks for posting this one, rabbitgirl. It's an eye-opener, to say the least.

I'd like to know how the "Men In Black" knew how to find Mr. O'Connor...it leads one to think of several paranoid-sounding possibilities: (a) the library is bugged and/or under video surveillance, (b) there are snitches and stoolies among the bookstacks, or (c) the individual wearing the "No War in Iraq" button that O'Connor was speaking with was an undercover plant. None of the above are what I'd call Constitutionally-acceptable scenarios.

Unlike many generations before us, we have the luxury of a well-documented recent history, and we have no excuse to forget our periodic lapses in Constitutionality - the Japanese interment camps, the McCarthy era, or Watergate. We have a duty to ourselves and to future generations to remember what America truly stands for, and has stood for since she was conceived: the free exercise of thought, speech, and assembly, the right to dissent, the right to question.

These are the concepts that make us "America"; these are the rights we were guaranteed by our forefathers. If we love our nation and the ideals under which she was created we cannot, in good conscience, silently accept travesties of her name forged under the aegis of "patriotism."

Read. Listen. Speak your mind.




 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Internet Infidels

Have you visited the Ready.gov site yet? If you have, you'll recognize the "duck-and-cover"-style iconography that the intrepid folks at Internet Infidels have spoofed here in a truly genius way.

While the new civil-defense honchos (or Homeland Security, as they like to be called now) have labored under the concept that a picture is worth a thousand words - give or take a few hundred - that doesn't mean that everyone will get the same words. Click on the link above, before the site mysteriously '404's, if you get my drift. :P

Thanks for that one, Evelyn!




Friday, February 28, 2003
 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
NEW! WebWurst

Introducing a new little irregularly-recurring farkleberries feature, WebWurst! It's a little place to find some of the worst, weirdest and wildest stories I've gleaned from my surfage. Are you ready?Have you got a "link" you'd like to add to the WebWurst? Write us at farkleberries!




 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
It's Friday Five Time, Kids!

1. What is your favorite type of literature to read (magazine, newspaper, novels, nonfiction, poetry, etc.)? Magazines in the bathroom, newspapers in the living room on Sunday with a mug of coffee, novels on the train, and nonfiction anywhere else.

2. What is your favorite novel? Legion by William Peter Blatty (he also wrote The Exorcist) This 1983 book was a sort of a sequel (not the "Exorcist II" that became the 1977 John Boorman movie) that combined horror with detective drama and profound theological mystery, with a spritz of Borscht-belt comedy. I think it's very underrated. It was semi-successfully turned into a movie, "William Peter Blatty's Exorcist III" in the 90's, but most of the novel's intricate plotlines and concepts were lost for the sake of Hollywoodity.

3. Do you have a favorite poem? (Share it!)
The Storm / Fourteen
How can we be sure of anything
the tide changes.
The wind that made the grain wave gently yesterday
blows down the trees tomorrow.
And the sea sends sailors crashing on the rocks,
as easily as it guides them safely home.
I love the sea
but it doesn't make me less afraid of it.
I love you
but I'm not always sure of what you are
and how you feel.

I'd like to crawl behind your eyes
and see me the way you do
or climb through your mouth
and sit on every word that comes up through your throat.

Maybe I could be sure then
maybe I could know.
As it is I hide beneath your frowns
or worry when you laugh too loud.
Always sure a storm is rising.

-- Rod McKuen, Listen to the Warm (© 1967 Random House)

I like this poem because in its few lines it crystallizes the existential aloneness and unpredictability of human life, even in the intimate context of love. A very telling piece.
4. What is one thing you've always wanted to read, or wish you had more time to read? The Classics.

5. What are you currently reading? Have a peek at my blog sidebar - under "Books in Hand."




Thursday, February 27, 2003
 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Loop Symphony #1

In the country, you get to observe some amazing natural phenomena; in a city you get to observe some amazing human behavior. Not always good amazing, but amazing nonetheless. Out in the woods, like the Adirondack region you get a sense of the intricate machinery of the wilderness - the flow of water, the change of seasons, and the food chain of plants and animals. In an urban setting, it works the same way, but the food chain is a little different. You can see over the space of a few blocks the range of the human food chain...yes, that is what it is.

It's visible when an affluent person tosses their McDonald's bag into a trash can from the window of their SUV and a few moments later a homeless person who was standing a few feet away pulls the sack out of the dumpster and has their one meal of the day.

When a man in sunglasses, leather jacket and shiny shoes walks briskly by the flatiron corner of Broadway and Clark, tosses a half-spent cigarette on the ground - and a man in a dusty navy hoodie and jeans standing outside the Salvation Army at the same corner bends down and puts the still-smoldering butt in his mouth without missing a beat. I've seen both of these scenarios; more than once.

One person's half empty glass is another's half full one.

In the city, you can sometimes feel that you are but one corpuscle in a massive circulatory system where the only dictate is properly-paced, continuous motion: no stopping, no slowing down, and certainly no going too fast. Any of these options gathers attention from passers-by, and the authorities. If you stand still on the sidewalk without a good reason to do so, a passer-by's first assumption is that you have a problem - that you're lost, or that you'll ask them for directions or spare change, or even grab their purse.

The Loop: at night, at the busy intersection of Randolph and Wabash Streets elevated trains roll overhead, spilling occasional sparks off their elderly rails, the metallic roar oddly soothing to the downtown dweller. Buses spew their fragrant noxious exhaust all hours of the day, taxis blare their horns and dare pedestrians to cross the street in time.

Everyone needs a raison d'etre downtown, so be a good little red blood cell and keep it moving, folks: there's nothing to see. Haven't you got somewhere you need to be?




 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
WTC II - WTF?

It's decided, then. The winning entry by Daniel Liebeskind Studios for the new World Trade Center design competition was selected from thousands submitted; beating out the other finalist, Team THINK, lead by architects Rafael Vinoly and Fred Schwartz.

At 1,776 feet, the height of the new WTC will both symbolize the year of America's independence, and make the proposed building the tallest in the world, outstripping both the dual Petronas Towers (1,483 ft.) in Kuala Lumpur and our very own Sears Tower (1,454 ft.) in Chicago. After all, if it wouldn't be the new tallest building in the world, why bother rebuilding, right? The only problem is, the only really tall structure in the Daniel Liebeskind design is a gigantic vertical greenhouse. Perfect: Philodenrons for Victory!

What I found disturbing in an "oh, please" kind of way was the description of the losing firm's reaction to not having their design selected:
From CNN: The THINK team, working in offices within walking distance from the site, was "truly disappointed," said a staffer. "Those that didn't collapse went home crying," the staffer said.
Call me Cruella, but would you want a job candidate you turned down (from a "short list") to collapse or go home crying when you told them the news? I'd be afraid they'd start stalking me, or start pouting and threaten to take their blueprints home. Boo effing hoo.

Besides, I think their design looked like a monstrous set of monkey bars, with little odd-shaped skyscraperlets suspended inside the mesh structure. Excuse me, but that's supposed to be a building? To me, it didn't say "World Trade Center rebuilt," it said, "hollow shell of its former self" and "let's get something really tall built on Ground Zero and hope nobody notices it's not really a building. We'll fill it in later."

I've had landlords tell me the same thing about those "new additions" they promised to put on.




 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Goodbye, Neighbor

Sad news to report today. Fred McFeely Rogers, known to millions as Mr. Rogers, died this morning following a brief battle with stomach cancer. He was 74.

As a young child, I remember watching him enter the door of his neat, cozy stage set, don his signature slippers and cardigan and greet his audience in his soothing, hypnotic tone. He was a nonthreatening, inclusive father/grandfather/uncle figure who used stories, drawings, mini-films and handpuppetry to instill values like friendship, tolerance, respect and generosity without preaching or patronizing.

His show was a comforting night-light in a pre-hectic pre-Internet era, where every viewer was made to feel not only like a guest, but like a lifelong friend. I'll miss the show's signature jazzy theme and zoomed-in closeups of Mr. Rogers' toy town, following the Neighborhood Trolley to a kinder, gentler version of the world we knew. Goodbye to Mr. Fred Rogers, who by all accounts was a truly Good Neighbor.




Wednesday, February 26, 2003
 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Read on the Star Tribune (Minneapolis) Backfence: "Going to war without France is like going hunting without an accordion." -- Bill Charette




 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Disposing Of The Body: A February Christmas Story

You may not think so, but disposing of a Christmas tree almost a full two months behind schedule is no mean feat; in fact, the logistics are similar to the clandestine disposal of a corpse. For a host of reasons we just could not bring ourselves to discard this symbol of holiday bliss, letting it mummify in our living room to a crispy-dried, half-bald skeleton of its former self. It was a present, shipped from a certain upscale homewares and clothing company that specializes in delivering the illusion of genteel countrification to urbanites...oh, hell, it was from L.L. Bean's. But first, let me tell you the story of the tree's arrival.

Packed tightly wrapped in a cardboard carton, the tree came bound with that super-strength yellow plastic strapping of the sort used to restrain war protesters being arrested en masse. It was about five feet high, and in its compacted state roughly one foot across - but after the restraining tape was cut off (and the new owner's fingers almost were, as well), it was still, discouragingly, only one foot across. This might be an interesting-looking tree. Fortunately, inside the box the bound-up balsam came in, there were instructions on a white sheet of paper:
"after removal of packing tape, cut off about one inch from the base of tree to allow water to be absorbed properly. When mounted upright, tree will relax into its natural shape."
Now, cutting off an inch of solid wood from a six-inch diameter tree trunk is easier said then done, especially when you live in a city apartment and the sharpest sawing tool you have is a steak knife. That simply would not do, so a quick search of my big yellow toolbox uncovered a more appropriate set of cutting implements - an old one-inch chisel, a rubber mallet, and safety glasses. One can't be an impromptu Dahmer of the Trees without proper precautions.

Laying the tree on its side in the hallway, I began to hack away at the trunk ineffectively, chipping off tiny pieces of the pitchy green stem, covering my chisel and gloved hands with sticky fragrant goop that would require half a can of WD-40 to remove. After the better part of an hour, I had managed to chop away enough old stem that the tree might possibly suck up enough fresh water to live a week or two...or so we thought.

Needless to say, the tree did "relax into its natural shape" after a day of soaking. It was now as wide as it was tall, a squat five-foot-by-five monster more resembing an Alaskan tumbleweed than anything seen on the cover of Better Homes and Gardens. It was so relaxed, it looked like it wanted a cigarette. We managed to decorate it nicely with ornaments both new (lights and a few glass globes from Target) and old (some vintage bells and balls from the local antique markets), with no coherent theme. An Adirondack wooden moose shared the branches with a Polish green glass pickle and a 3-inch mirrorball from India. Yes, it was a fine, fine international Christmas tree. So fine, we couldn't bring ourselves to take it down for almost three months.

Cut to present day: This past Saturday, after much thinking of the Rhode Island nightclub tragedy and visions of this fatwood disaster waiting to explode into flames dancing in our heads, the decision was made. After all, weren't martyrs burnt upon stakes and smeared with pitch to better feed the holy flames? That tree would have to go.

But where? The last of the trees disposed of in our courtyard apartment had been dragged to the alley dumpsters back in the first few weeks of January - surely, the telltale trail of needles coming from our back stairs through the alley would give our crime away, especially after reading the stern notice all the tenants received with their December invoices:
"ALL CHRISTMAS TREES MUST BE DISPOSED OF IN A TIMELY AND PROPER MANNER! TREES MUST BE FREE OF ALL TINSEL, LIGHTS AND ORNAMENTS, AND WRAPPED SECURELY TO ENSURE NO BRANCH AND NEEDLE LITTER ON THE PROPERTY."
Solution? We had to Jimmy Hoff-ize the body. We laid the tree on an old blue checkered blanket, and repeatedly stepped on its spine. The dried branches snapped with a sickening crunch that sounded awfully close to breaking bones...."Yo, Jimmy, where's da money? We told'ja we'd be around Tuesday for da balance! (snap) Ya gonna tell us where da money is?" A few tortured bootcrunches later most of the remaining needles fallen away, and our tree lay in a ruined pile on the floor. I actually felt bad for it, the poor thing.

We'd planned on disposing of the remains after nightfall, since the forecast called for clouds and possible snowfall, and the roar of the passing "L" train would mask the noise. Naw, the hell with it. We dragged it out back and brazenly left a trail of tree-gore five feet wide to the dumpster. By morning, it was gone, and a fresh duvet of virgin snow concealed our tracks. We got away with it - this time.

Now we'll have to watch our backs and screen our calls for the Chicago Christmas Tree Mafia.




Tuesday, February 25, 2003
 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
This-or-That-Tuesday

1. Holland or Netherlands? Netherlands is the ultimate in civil libertarianism, Holland is windmills, Dutch cocoa and clunky wooden shoes.
2. Emu or Ostrich? Emu? Isn't that the kind of band Weezer is?
3. Biff or Happy? Iz call 'Beef', no?
4. Quincy or Braintree? When I drove through Boston, I believe they were called 'Massholes'.
5. Cassius Clay or Muhammad Ali? If Muhammad Ali were starting out, he'd have a rough time in today's political climate. Ouch.
6. Instabul or Constantinople? Now that's a great They Might Be Giants song!
7. Pig or Swine? 'Swine, of course, dahling. Aren't they S'wonderful?
8. Barf or Puke? Puke is the color of my walls at work, so 'barf' it must be.
9. Potatoes or Spuds? Everyone know's they're called 'taters'.
10. Squeeze Box or Accordion? Only Pete Townshend's lawyer knows for sure.

And, a classic for those of us regular falafel-eating elevator jockeys, 100 things to do in a crowded lift.




 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
While we're on the subject of Lileks (whenever I'm having a bout of writer's block, a visit to his site is always inspirational), there's a new section in the Institute of Official Cheer called "Big Little Books" - I enjoyed quite a bit, because I actually owned a few of these hardcover pulp fiction kid's books. I remember the "Major Matt Mason: Moon Major" one, with the giant rabbits and algae cakes. Do you ever have these little fragmented recollections - of images and pieces of old books, TV shows and movies - in your head that you just can't place? Well, looking at Major Matt Mason just placed a few for me. Not to mention, that red-headed chimp still gives me the creeps. Or, how about the White Man's Forty?

Everyone's heard of Writer's block, but is there such a thing as Writer's diarrhea?




Monday, February 24, 2003
 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
There, I burst out laughing at my desk. Thankfully, no one heard me. I was reading today's Bleat on Lileks.com, where James elaborates on Target's new "designer" cleaning products, which he began on Friday:
"...they’re awful. They smell wrong. The Ylang Ylang scent, which I feared would stink like rutting pandas, smells like very old people. That’s the only way I can describe it. The “melon” kitchen cleaner smells nothing like melons - but what does a melon smell like, anyway? It has a musky-vanilla odor that wars with the overall citrus profile of the other cleaners, and I don’t like it. The bathroom cleaner smells like cucumber, as advertised, but so what? That’s like saying “leaves your bathroom celery-fresh” or “cleans your toilet with the power of watercress.” They’re not exactly words I associate with efficacious surfactants. I love that word: surfactants.
And lest we forget,
"And every so often - say, when you’re standing in the aisle of Target, woolgathering, recalling something you heard on the radio on the way over, or read on the web that morning, and you see headlines: Israel retaliates; Syrian forces push south or Smallpox appears contained, for now and you wonder whether this simple trivial moment will seem unutterably precious in six months, or three - and then you shake it off, and buy Tupperware. Another normal February day. March is named after which Roman god? Yes, yes. Of course."
The Gospel according to LILEKS (James).




 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Friday Five - the Monday Edition!

1. What is your most prized material possession? My music and movie collection.

2. What item, that you currently own, have you had the longest? A small spoon, which I like to use for dessert. My parents gave it to me when I moved for college, but I used to eat with it when I was about 2 or 3 years old.

3. Are you a packrat? Perhaps a packmouse?

4. Do you prefer a spic-and-span clean house? Or is some clutter necessary to avoid the appearance of a museum? I prefer "clean clutter" - the lived-in look. Martha Stewart I ain't.

5. Do the rooms in your house have a theme? Or is it a mixture of knick-knacks here and there? The theme is "Ancient Geek."

Coffee Haiku
magic brown bean juice
perk, smell, pour; stir, sip, delight.
heaven's true nectar

---LR 02.24.03





 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Monday writer's block never felt so blockish, but it's nothing that magic brown bean juice can't remedy. Yesterday, we went for our usual walk to the pier at Rogers Park, a few blocks north of Loyola's Lake Shore campus. Sunday was an amazingly windy day, the gusts bullying pedestrians and inanimate objects alike and making for an entertaining natural display on Lake Michigan. A dangerous time to walk in the city for sure, because on days like this three-ton scaffoldings and windowpanes have been known to crash down on unsuspecting passersby with lethal results. Remember the Hancock tower tragedy last March?

The sea of sunlit broken glass we observed by Loyola last week had thawed and recongealed into a sandy moonscape by this weekend, battered by repeated fusillades of slushy waves forming and re-forming the winter coast of the lake. Brownish water rumbled like an oncoming train with each crash, the force of each wave sweeping up bucketfuls of glittering iceballs ten - sometimes twenty - feet into the air, only to have them fall with tinkly, anticlimactic pops onto the icepack. You'd be forgiven for thinking you were on a Bering Strait cutter. Pictures soon, folks.

You are the Quaker Oats man! Stodgy and old fashioned, you probably still churn your own butter. Since you don't have electricity, what are you doing online?

Take the Which Breakfast Cereal Character Are You? quiz.
Published by JC.


Or..."Dude, you're getting a buggy!"