Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Chicago Christmas Parting Shots

Family friends Ryan (left, with toy motorbikes) and Zac are bundled to immobility and massive cuteness.

Though the pic is a bit unflattering, my mom's ravioli (made w/homemade noodles) rock.

Frank Gehry's Pritzker Pavillion band shell in Millenium Park is cool...but his Dancing House may be cooler.

Smallish Chicago coffee chain--for now anyway--Intelligentsia has awesome coffee.

In homage to A Christmas Story, I licked 'the Bean'...but did not stick a la Flick.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Winter Wonderland in Chicago

Sunny as it may look, clear equals cold on days like this. Three degrees to be exact.

It was so cold, this bull froze in place after wandering out of the stockyards.

Apparently Chicago pigeons are smarter than the livestock.

Awaiting beam-up from the Chicago Cultural Center's lobby.

The north dome of the Cultural Center...not to be confused with the North Pole.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Polly Jean Harvey and the mystery of my barometric iPod

Looks like we have a strong winter PJ Harvey in the jet stream this week.

I'm convinced my iPod has hidden powers that are not disclosed in any instructions, mentioned in any online FAQ, nor even talked about in the halls of the Cupertino Mothership. I think they're so under-the-radar that nobody knows but me…and the guy who enabled these powers. I envision some clever engineer burying hidden features—Easter Eggs—deep in the hardware/software architecture, self-sworn to secrecy until a safe old age wherein the culprit will make a confession to his grandchildren…

"I remember back before they implanted your entire music collection in the cerebral cortex when people use gigantic devices—MP3 players—to store their music. I worked for Apple you know…"

"Yes Gramps, and dinosaurs roamed the earth…you've told us a million times."

"Yeah well your old gramps has a secret that nobody ever found out about. I taught the iPod to think! It sensed people's moods…it made measure of political climates…it even reacted to the weather! THEN it would play the perfect song for such circumstances! It was unheard of…and I made it happen all without anyone knowing! It was genius I tell you!"

"Yeah, yeah gramps…whatevs."

And while the kids of 2043 may not believe it, I'm thoroughly convinced. I've often noticed that my iPod goes into a subdued melancholy mood when it's raining. It kicks in to an excited frenzy en route to happy events. Other times it almost seems to serve up commentary on current events as if it were tuned to news radio.

Case-in-point, during last Monday's nasty rain storm with the war and the economy and the general fuckedupness of everything on my mind—the Pod conjured Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On." This is one of the great anti-war-what-the-hell-is-up-with-society songs of all time, the album cover of which features Mr. Gaye standing in what appears to be a downpour wearing a rain coat! The band Lucero followed with "Here at the Starlight," a song so desolately heartbroken and lonely you feel hallow by osmosis. Next was the Weakerthans ode to urban decline amidst the grey of winter called "One Great City," a tale about the slow death of Winnipeg, a Canadian metropolis struggling with long-term economic and social depression.

Conversely, on Saturday's drive up to ride mountain bikes at Demo—a genuinely cheery occasion—it was Parts and Labor's upbeat and sunny "Nowhere Nigh" followed by the Talking Heads' undeniably comfortable "Na├»ve Melody," finished up by Buffalo Tom's "Tangerine," a song that actually produces delicious, easy-to-peel citrus fruit!

A couple weeks ago I happened to turn on the local news radio station to hear a grim report about storms and landslides in Southern California. When they rolled in to an extended commercial break of mattress stores, jewelry shops and medicated powders, I pre-empted with the iPod. The first song to shuffle up—Peter Gabriel's "Here Comes the Flood."

I know what you're thinking…that I'm just selectively remembering the tracks that fit the situation. Or that it's all just coincidental. But something so specific happened on Tuesday night that I'm absolutely sure of the iPods predictive powers. As I rearranged things in the yard to start work on a garage project, a freaky little sprint of a storm pelted me with freezing rain/hail. It was the kind of precip that was ice cold yet burnt the skin at the same time. The wind kicked up and got bitter and cutting…almost Midwestern. It felt a bit painful, yes, but real too…like winter should, I thought.

The sting still on my face as I entered the shelter of the garage, I pondered what might be the musical match for such conditions. I powered up the stereo and hit 'Shuffle Songs' on the iPod for the answer.

The best "Rid of Me" I could find online doesn't match the intensity of the original recording, but you get the idea.

The slow guitar build of PJ Harvey's "Rid of Me" started drizzling from the speakers, slowly turning into a steady, cold rain as the rhythm increased to meet Polly Jean's subdued voice. The pleading backing vocals kick-in quiet-but-cold at first—"Lick my legs, I'm on fire; Lick my legs, I'm on fire"—giving way to a few more angry lines from Polly until the chorus rips in, guitars and drums and vocals blasting in an angry, cold, biting hail that burns like frozen rain on the face—"DON'T YOU, DON'T YOU WISH YOU, NEVER, NEVER MET HER," she screams. Her voice re-quiets then shifts to a wicked shrill the way a gust of cold wind runs through the formality of clothing until building it all up for another round of chorus that dies with an anguished reprise of "Lick my legs." After which, I assume, an exhausted and near-frozen PJ retreats to the relative shelter of her garage.

Monday, December 22, 2008

It's minus 33 degrees...

It's minus 33 degrees...good thing my brother is well insulated.

It's minus 33 degrees...which can instantly freeze your face.

It's minus 33 I think I'll skip the giant sundae on the right.

It's minus 33 degrees...but not at the center of a Superdawg's pure beef heart.
[Actual temperature -9 degrees Farenheit, wind chill index -33]

Monday, December 15, 2008

What you won’t find at Z Pottery Barrel

I'm a sucker for old junk. Especially so when it isn't that junky…and when they put a bunch of it all in one place as they do for the ginormous Antiques by the Bay dealeo…a monthly event out on Alameda Island that we went to last weekend.

Though I like old stuff, I've never particularly embraced the concept of 'antiquing.' The word itself grates me on a number of levels as well as conjures visions of sneezing, wheezing and expectorating wildly as I have an allergic reaction to the prerequisite fog of potpourri as we go from quaint overpriced store to quaint overpriced store. They also tend to have lots of doilies and I hate those things.

As Antiques by the Bay is so large that it's actually held on the runway of a former US Naval Air Station, indoor allergens aren't so much of a problem…though blustery weather can be. The upside of which is that if there were any doilies they'd been blown away by the time I got there.

I managed to coerce Troy—aka friend with a big pickup truck—to accompany Stacy, Shannan, Brock (Shannan's 16-month-old) and I to the sale under the ruse that it would be a Moab trip reunion and that there are really cool old hand tools there.

Running late because of errant power lines across the freeway, Shannan and Brock ended up driving separately and meeting us there. Troy, Stacy and I had been looking around for about 20 minutes—and actually already split off in different directions—when I got a call from Shannan saying they had just parked and could I watch the Brocster as soon as they got inside because she had to pee. I agreed, of course, but began to wonder if the little man would put up a fuss…I see Shannan every day at work, but I'd only 'met' Brock once when he was like a month old…wouldn't he cry or scream when he had to hang out with this stranger?

Brock eyes me with a contemptuous "Whatchu talkin 'bout Willis?" stare as he sizes me up.

As you can see above, 'lil' Brock (actually BIG Brock…at 16 months, he's the size of a two-year-old) looked a little perturbed with the situation but in a manner far beyond his years…er months…he made the most of a strange situation and found common ground—Look! A naked lady!

We we're pretty much buds from this moment on.

After Shannan regained a comfortable bladder disposition, we all regrouped briefly and managed to splinter off again. Stacy and I were looking for some furnishings and eclectica for our nearly-completed new garage space—specifically I had it in my head that I might be able to find an old industrial or agricultural cart to convert into a coffee table. Fleetingly, I had seen such a cart in an antique store window on a recent trip to Portland and did a web search for one when I got home. The only one I could find was this cotton bale cart from a store called NapaStyle that cost $650 + $150 shipping…ouch! I call NapaBullShit.

I figured MAYBE if I was lucky I might be able to find some iron wheels or hardware at the antique thing with which I could make my own cart using some rough lumber. Best case, I thought, perhaps I might be able to find something similar…something with that sorta 'rustic re-use' ethos embodied in it. I honestly didn't think I had much chance of finding an actual cart.

Cracklin' with radioactive goodness, everyone should have a Geiger counter.

Hopes-in-head, away I went and the first thing that caught my eye was an old Geiger counter. In addition to having that swanky Cold War feel to it, this particular unit had the coolest font on its gauge. At $35 though, I felt it was a bit steep for something that didn't work (was missing its probe) and might actually be radioactive, so I moved on. In retrospect it would make a cool door handle…or something.

Rusty California milk comes from rusty California cows and into rusty...well you get the idea.

Next to catch my eye was a giant orange rusty milk can. I had no particular need nor want for such a thing, but I liked its patina and shape. I liked its orangeness and bigness. After a smidge of haggling I liked its price too—$20. Done Deal.

Before the computer there was type. I heart the type.

One of the booths had all kinds of cool printing press letters as well as typewriter keys that you could fashion into jewelry and the like. Stacy ended up getting some typewriter letters and I got a "Don" work shirt patch. Two of 'em actually—a buck a piece.

With two Dons and a buck...well, at least you got a buck.

A couple years ago I bought an old clay olive jar, drilled a hole in the bottom and made a fountain for our backyard out of it. While disassembling it for the garage project a couple months ago, I dropped and destroyed the jar (though I can't bring myself to throw the pieces away). Fortunately, I found this beauty for the low low negotiated price of $30 which initially made me feel pretty thrifty. Then I added it to the cost of the one I broke and it comes out to $110.

I'll try not to drop this one. Doh!

A few aisles later I nearly wet myself. For there it was—the very object of my desire—the old as dirt industrial cart! But it was kinda buried…used more as a display table for other stuff more than an object on its own merit. There was at least 20 other THINGS either on it or leaning against, pinned behind it or otherwise supported by it.

Excitedly I looked it over…cast iron hardware…wheels and corner buckles…the top was just plywood, but I could get some planks. Where is the price tag? How much is it?! Everything else here has a price tag--$90 for a stop sign?! Are you serious?! Where is the seller…are you the seller? You are? How much for the cart?

"Well I was just going to sell it to these women for $100 but they said they'd think about it and maybe come back. I think it came from one of the canneries. Tell you what…if you give me $90 right now, you can have it."

"I got $80."

Grumble. Grumble. "Ok! It's yours!"

I'm not one to get excited about shopping, I generally loathe it but I was fucking excited! Yep…forty year old white guy here…getting his yayas by finding shit at an antique sale…that's me!
The much sought-after cart at rest in the front yard. Is that a halo?

After the adrenaline wore off, we loaded the behemoth of a cart (it must weigh 150 pounds) into Troy's truck…the truck where Troy had retreated to earlier to warm himself. We all regrouped and Shannan hit Brock in the head with a picture frame (accidentally). He cried for about a minute then forgot about it and went back to being his smiley happy little kid self.

We then retreated to the mainland—Oakland—where I treated to Zachary's Chicago Style Pizza which could have used a little more sausage, but was—all-in-all—a pretty good end to a pretty good day.

Brockman prefers PB&J and applesauce to pizza now...but he'll learn.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

This post rated 'P' for poo

Hopefully our new office will have lockers with doors. And no, I didn't write the note, but I definitely concur...and I have a pretty good idea of who they belong to.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Cold Steel on Ivy:

Finally a team worth watching at Wrigley

I saw a commercial yesterday for quite literally the coolest thing to ever happen in Wrigley Field—the Chicago Blackhawks will play the Detroit Red Wings in the NHL’s Winter Classic on New Year’s Day. That’s daytime outdoor Original Six pro hockey in the Ivory Covered Baseball Palace in the Midwest in the winter. Totally fucking cool.

NBC's cool promo for the Winter Classic on New year's Day 2009.

Not only will it be a welcome reprieve from the NYD deluge of overhyped college bowl games, but it’ll be gratifying to see some teams worth watching in one of pro sports’ Houses of the Holies (you know, aside from the White Sox who beat down the Cubs in Interleague play a couple times a year).

In the bigger picture for Blackhawk fans, the Winter Classic may be the beacon of new era in franchise history as the team continues its recovery from the tightfisted downward-spiral ownership of William “Dollar Bill” Wirtz who died last year of cancer.

Already, much-loved Blackhawk greats like Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull and Phil Espozito are back actively supporting the team after years of quiet boycott under Dollar Bill. In short order, the team’s new first-in-command, Bill’s son Rocky, has dismantled many of his dad’s policies that repelled the Blackhawk faithful—for the first time since the ‘70’s you can see Hawks games on free TV, beloved play-by-play announcer Pat Foley is back in the fold on TV and radio, and they even acknowledge the fan with an annual Blackhawks Fan Convention that was inexplicably verboten under Dollar Bill. The great Wayne Mesmer may even return to belt out the National Anthem over the pandemonium of Hawk fan um...enthusiasm.

The two best NHL games I caught on TV this year were epic battles between the Sharks and the Hawks. On the ice, the Hawks are looking way more promising than squads of the recent past with a mix young players like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp along with veterans on defense like Brian Campbell and Nikolai Khabibulin in net.

Note that the players bleed red--not teal--even in NHLPA '91 for Sega-Genesis.

And though I’ve become a bit of a fair weather Sharks fan given their impressive start this year (unbelievable, really) , I’ll always be a Hawks fan at heart. Original Six old school yada, yada aside, I'll take the red and black unis over teal every time.
Long form classic Pat Foley here:

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Hood Ornament of the Week

I gotta get me one of them Nekos for the Mazda.