Sunday, July 20, 2014

It smells like what, now? Part 2

I have a dear friend who is very well employed and sent all over the place by her company.  She is well thought of in her industry and is a terrific person for any employer to have in their corner.  She is also a great friend and we like hanging out, shopping, seeing a movie, splitting a meal (because she has a small appetite, I don't need to eat so huge, so we've been splitting things for years).  Today we made Woodfield Mall happy.

Yes, yes, there was shopping and things were purchased.  The Apple Store got to see us to do a repair on my friend's phone.  We split what we like to eat at the Cheesecake Factory.  We ducked in Brighton so my friend could send things in for repair (so reasonable that I can see why they are the Church of Accessories for some -- they back up the goods and don't gouge for watch battery replacements).  It was a very nice time.

And then we went to Victoria's Secret.

There is not a single article of clothing in VS that is for me.  My top is too ample and my bottom likes Jockey cotton.  My friend has none of these issues.  She selected some items and was waiting in line to pay and I said I would browse the fragrances.  I smelled one that was too sweet.  I smelled another that was too sweet.  A third wasn't terrible but a little too sweet.  And then I caught sight of the names.  My eyes became wide.  A huge grin planted itself on my face.  I dug in my handbag for paper and pen.  The jotting began.

These are the fragrance names (in no order at all):

Victoria
Body by Victoria
Heavenly
Love is Heavenly
Eau So Sexy
Very Sexy
Very Sexy Now
Forbidden
Sexy Little Things Noir
Sexy Little Things Noir Tease
Bombshell
Bombshells in Bloom
Incredible
Fabulous
Night
Dark Orchid No. 1 SEDUCTION
Rapture
Angel
Angels Only
Angel Gold
Angels in Love
Angels Forever
So In Love
Basic Instinct
PINK
LOVE PINK
Love Spell

Holy mother.  That's a whole lot of positive energy directed at wanting to feel glamorous, desirable, wanton,  luscious, and in demand.  Aside from the fact that I didn't like any of the actual scents, I don't think those names apply to anything I have going on in my life at present.

I thought long and hard about more suitable names for my current life situation and these are a few of the fragrances I will be launching under the Oh, I Think So umbrella:

Solid
Reliable
Took a Shower This Morning NEUTRAL
I Can't Seem to Give It Away
Maybe But Probably Not
Does My Head Feel Hot?

 [A scent that Oh, I Think So will never ever launch:  Regret.  Regret is for chumps.  Make a decision and live with it, I say.  (Regret would smell like old socks, bile, and the massage tent after a marathon.  See?  I can't do regret.)]

The next time you're cruising around Bath and Body Works or Victoria's Secret or even Nordstrom and you're bedazzled by all the clever names, think about the scents of your life.  What would they be?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

They're called Great for a reason

I grew up in Detroit, Michigan, near many of the Great Lakes.  There are five Great Lakes and some are less great than others but all are certainly impressive and large and vital to life in these United States and certainly on Planet Earth for our lifetimes and those of our children and their children, etc.

At the end of the last glacial period, 10,000 years ago, the Great Lakes Basin was formed when retreating ice sheets carved basins in the land that filled with meltwater.  

The Great Lakes are made up of Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario.  You can also think of it this way:

The Chicago River and the Calumet River (thanks to manmade alterations) connect to the Illinois River which then connects the Mississippi River to the Great Lakes Basin.

The St. Marys River (home of the Soo Locks) connect Lake Superior to Lake Huron.

The Straits of Mackinac (just five miles wide) connects Lake Michigan to Lake Huron.

The St. Clair River connects Lake Huron to Lake St. Clair (which might be considered a lesser Great Lake).

The Detroit River connects Lake St. Clair to Lake Erie.

The Niagara River, including Niagara Falls and the Niagara Escarpment, connects Lake Erie to Lake Ontario.

The Welland Canal bypasses the Niagara River and the Falls and also connects Lake Erie to Lake Ontario.

The St. Lawrence River connects Lake Ontario to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which connects to the Atlantic Ocean.

Sounds complex?  Here's a map.

Image courtesy of the Internet
Lake Superior is the largest continental lake in the world.  Together the five lakes form 21% of the world's surface freshwater and 54% of the world's liquid fresh water by volume.  In other words, while aquifers in the south and west are running dry, the Great Lakes sit with more than half of all the non-ice water in the world right there.  

I like to think of it this way:  when the Zombie Apocalypse or the Great Drought or the Weirdness from Another Planet arrives and people are thirsty and just want to be around some nice fresh water, they will slowly make their way back to Michigan or Eastern  and Northern Wisconsin or Northern Ohio or Northern Minnesota or Western New York (and a little bit of Illinois, Indiana, and Pennsylvania) because if you don't have water, you'll die.  The Great Lakes will make that post-apocalyptic scenario a little less unpleasant.  The infrastructure from days of glory are watiting to be revived.  And Niagara Falls will certainly make the Weirdness from Another Planet say "Holy shit, will you look at that?"

Sunday, July 6, 2014

It smells like what, now?

This morning there was breakfast in a restaurant!  It's been months since I've gone to breakfast in a restaurant with my nearby family members and it was very nice to do it again.

On the way over to the restaurant, my brother-in-law mentioned a college jazz radio station they'd heard when they were in St. Louis the day before.  He and my sister said it was way better than the college jazz radio stations in Chicago and as an example they said they heard a trio called The Bad Plus play Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit."  They said it was great.  After breakfast (and a side trip to Jewel, Costco, and Nordstrom), I came home and found Minneapolis-based The Bad Plus' cover of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and I was plenty intrigued.  Who else has had their way with it?  It took another five seconds of looking to find plenty of artists who've covered Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit."  I've chosen five for you to listen to/watch and enjoy (or not - maybe you're a purist and only Kurt Cobain and Nirvana will do).  It's a diverse group -- Tori Amos, Robert Glasper,  2Cellos, Paul Anka, and The Bad Plus -- and for comparison and reference, Nirvana, just in case the 90s were a total blur for you.

First up, Tori Amos:


Next, Robert Glasper from a series called 1 Mike 1 Take (courtesy of Blue Note Records):


Here's 2Cellos:


Paul Anka?  Really?  The man can swing:


The highly-recommended The Bad Plus (videotaped at the Jazz Showcase in Chicago):


Nirvana, y'all:


Who did it for you?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Black Dog House Concerts Presents ...

Van Delisle and his wife, Karin McCool, live by Loyola University in Chicago and about once a month they offer up the best possible evening of live music, that is, in their living room.  The musicians are about three feet from the front row of the audience.  There might be microphones and some percussive device and one musician that is joined by another and then another.  There might be three guys with no mikes at all, a purely acoustic set.  Van and Karin travel to Champaign, IL; Nashville, TN; various points in Iowa to hear their favorite musicians then they invite them to play an intimate concert set in their home between gigs.

Let's say someone has a show in Pittsburgh, PA, and another in Milwaukee, WI, three days later.  Van and Karin arrange for them to put on a show in their living room.  They give the musicians a free and private place to stay, a well-stocked fridge, and all the proceeds from the modestly-priced concert.  (As you can imagine, they have a very good reputation.)  Adoring fans can be among the crowd or just people like me who've known Van for many years and want to support any endeavor he has.

I've seen Nashville legends like singer-songwriter Phil Lee, charming singer-songwriters like Jon Byrd, singer-songwriter and master storyteller Rod Picott.  Even if the music is not your style -- I've written many times of my love of opera -- the evening is terrific and never a waste of time nor money nor energy.  Last night, Black Dog House Concerts presented Eric Brace and Peter Cooper with their special guest, Thomm Jutz.  It was a wonderful evening.

These are three handsome, talented, charismatic men who do a well-prepared show featuring their individual music or projects they've done with others as well as the music they've recorded together.  They and their music are both charming.  Their stories are delightful.  Every seat was taken.

A devoted fan requested a song and when they started to falter in the middle of it and Peter Cooper said they would play it privately after the show, the fan gave him the words he missed, they started again, she offered a few more lyrics, and they sang it through.  It was lovely.  You don't get that kind of refreshing imperfection in an arena show.  And at an arena show, you surely don't get one of the performers asking you if you're having a good time while you're waiting in line at the restroom.

Black Dog House Concerts are charming and Eric Brace and Peter Cooper (and Thomm Jutz, too) are charming.  Troll the internet for a Black Dog House Concert schedule.  Be delighted by one of the best evenings of music to be had.

Here's "Suffer a Fool" from Master Sessions:

Sunday, June 22, 2014

WORLD CUP of SOCCER

It's the World Cup of Football, y'all, when the best national players come home to play for their home countries.  Englishmen playing in Spain, Americans in Holland, Germans in the USA all return to do their patriotic duty.  The best of the best, kind of like almost the entire National Hockey League returning home to Canada to win the gold medal in Olympic Ice Hockey.

Four years ago, most Americans I knew were giving it all the big skip (or maybe they were appalled by the vuvuzela, that loud horn the crowd seemed to adore).  This year, Americans are congregating anywhere it's offered, and in my town they're broadcasting games on a Jumbotron in an downtown park.  Thousands of people showed up to watch the USA beat Ghana.  (Actually, they showed up to watch a soccer game and got the bonus of the win.)  People in my office are speaking about the games with great excitement and knowledge.  (Please note: These people didn't work in my office four years ago.)

Professional soccer players are tough customers.  They make players in the NFL seem like little fat kids with bad attitudes and not a lot of athletic prowess.  I love that comparison but I am sure most players in the NFL would take exception to it.  Yeah, I wanna see those muscle-bound oafs running hundreds of yards for 45 minutes straight.  They would be coughing up lung in short order.

Here is how FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association, based in Zurich, Switzerland) scoring goes in the words of my friend and blog subscriber, Suzy Forcella:

The World Cup consists of two stages: the group stage and the knockout stage. Initially the 32 teams competing in the WC are divided into 8 groups and during the group stage of the competition a team will play all the other members of their group (3 games total). Points are awarded to the team based on the result of the match: 3 points for a win, 1 for a draw, and 0 for a loss. After the 3 games are played the two teams with the most points in each group move on to the knockout stage.

Italy are in group D with England, Uruguay and Costa Rica. The current point standings are: Costa Rica with 6 points (they won against Uruguay and Italy), Italy with 3 points (they won against England and lost to Costa Rica), Uruguay with 3 points (they lost against Costa Rica and won against Italy), and bringing up the rear is England with 0 points. Italy and Uruguay are tied for 2nd place on points, so in order to break that tie they look at goal differential (goals for minus goals against). Italy has a goal differential of 0 and Uruguay has -1, so Italy is in 2nd place. In their final game against Uruguay, Italy only needs a draw to remain in 2nd place (they would retain the goal differential advantage over Uruguay).

England are done for, however. With 0 points even if they won against Costa Rica (very unlikely at this point) they would still only have 3 points and one of Italy or Uruguay will have either 4 or 6. 


Thanks, Suzy!  You're a good, clear writer.

And now y'all know what I know.

I think you know my preferred team.  USA!  U S A ! !

Sunday, June 15, 2014

OMG Hugh Jackman, All Over the Place and Hurray!



Behold this teaser for the PBS show "Kimchi Chronicles."  Jean-Georges Vongerichten and his wife, Marja, go to South Korea -- the birthplace of Marja -- and learn about Korean food and then come back and cook it with their neighbors, the Jackmans.  Sounds simple, right?

In my Thursday night tap class, the teacher, Bril Barrett, has every student name a tap dancer -- past or present -- as an homage to those who have danced before us.  Last week, suffering from Tony Awards damage, I named Hugh Jackman.  Bril said he'd not watched the Tonys but someone sent him the clip where Hugh tapped with the cast from "After Midnight," and then said, "Hugh Jackman tore it up!"  Then he added, "But to me he's Wolverine."

After class, I usually walk by myself to the CTA train, but last week walked with one of my classmates.  She said, "Oh you know there is a TV show where Hugh Jackman and his wife cook Korean food, right?  On PBS?"  My brain did what it always does when I hear something that right then and there makes no sense.  It was the same thing it did when my friend Michael told me about his friend who had a pet python during the period when Michael was Porky Pig in a production of "Bugs Bunny and Friends on Ice."  My brain went "What?  What?  What?  What?  Porky Pig?  On ICE?  What?  What?  What?  What?  What?"  It said it so many times that I had to ask Michael to please repeat his story.  My classmate told me that and many whats ran around my head.  When I got home, sure enough, I found "Kimchi Chronicles" starring Jean-Georges and Marja and their neighbors, Hugh and Deb Jackman.

It's great that Jean-Georges and Marja did all this hands-on research about Korean cooking but it's Hugh Jackman and his wife cooking Korean food with them.  HUGH JACKMAN IS EVERY KIND OF AWESOME!  (And most awesome is that he's a devoted husband and dad.)

Here's the link to the whole series:  http://www.kimchichronicles.tv

And one more time:  HUGH JACKMAN!!  (Regular readers of this blog know I will get obsessed with something/someone -- like Jacques Brel -- and feature it/him for a  few weeks running.  Yes, Hugh Jackman is the obsession du moment.)

Sunday, June 8, 2014

OMG THE TONY AWARDS STARRING HUGH JACKMAN

It's the best night for honoring the New York theatre and therefore THE WORLD of theatre!  It's the presentation of the 2014 Tony Awards starring that superhunk of excellent Australian man meat, Hugh Jackman.  Perhaps you've not heard of Mr. Jackman to which I ask, "What the f*ck rock is it you live under?" 

Mr. Jackman was Curly in "Oklahoma" on Broadway and he was Peter Allen in "The Boy From Oz," also on Broadway.  He is Wolverine in the popular X-Men series of movies.  He was Jean Valjean in "Les Miserables."

Hugh Jackman acts.  Hugh Jackman sings.  As evidence of belonging on the Radio City Music Hall stage, Hugh Jackman tap dances.  TAP DANCES, y'all!  As a student of the percussive shoe art that is tap, I can share that it's not easy.  It takes practice, discipline, and some not-cheap footwear.  We will be seeing Hugh Jackman TAP DANCE and I am very excited.

I love the Tony Awards and I would have gladly done with terrific Mr. Neil Patrick Harris as the host again (last year he jumped through a hoop -- literally -- with the cast of "Pippin") but Hugh Jackman is the complete package:  handsome, talented, and smart.  Case in point:  When I watch him being interviewed I don't want to smack him.

The show starts with a huge tap number starring Mr. Jackman and members of various casts, especially "Around Midnight," a show that features ... tap dancing!

It would be so off-the-hook, smack-my-face, steal-my-dinner crazy if one night Hugh Jackman turned up at Friday Night Tap Jam.  My less-than-stellar improv skills would go right out the window as I stared at the gorgeous specimen of human male.  I would try to not stare and giggle and blush and would try not to miss my turn.  But I assure you, if he happened to use my moves -- that's a big tap-jam thing, stealing the moves of others -- I would talk about that for the rest of my life, prompting my family members to tell me, "OH SHUT UP!!"  Hmmm, maybe Mr. Jackman at Friday Night Tap Jam is not the best idea.

TONY AWARDS!   TONIGHT!  STARRING HUGH JACKMAN!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Oh, I Think So in NYC, Part 2



Behold Malang Jobateh, a kora player who shares his music in the Union Square subway station.  Like many musicians in New York's subway system, he is a very talented man. I am sharing only 1 minute and 14 seconds of his talent which is not nearly enough.  A lilting voice, a talented kora player, charisma -- Mr. Jobateh is the complete package.  People were showing their appreciation with well-deserved money.

In my town, there are subway musicians who are phenomenally talented and others who are so bad that one thinks about fleeing from the station and just taking a bus.  There are wonderfully gifted people like the young woman who sings the blues while playing the banjo (don't mock, it works) or the old man/young man combo who played rocks songs on the Jackson Blue line platform and totally killed it.  There is the middle ground of what-the-fuckery and the lady who plays the violin, whistles, and does flamenco tapping, all at the same time. There is the young man who beautifully played acoustic guitar but sang so off key that I, at the far end of the platform, struggled to not laugh too hard; I think he must be the guy who one summer's night some years later sat under my apartment window in his car, all the windows down, and loudly sang along with Lite-FM (and he knew every word).  In other words, there is good but there is a lot of ?????? and a lot of serious crap.

If I lived in New York, I think I'd need to set up a separate subway musician budget because there are so many really gifted musicians giving their all within steps of the entrance to the 4, 5, 6, L, N, Q, and R trains, just to name one subway station.  When you visit NYC, ride the rails and you'll see what I mean.  Make sure you give some monetary love to Malang Jobateh.

Check out more on You Tube.  There are several videos that offer his music.  Here's another one:

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Oh, I Think So in New York City

I needed a vacation, I'd been saving for a vacation, I wanted to take a trip and go somewhere.  I wanted to go to Europe but everywhere I wanted to go was either a great airfare and expensive hotels or else cheap hotels and costly airfare or a flight would have been at 6 a.m. or I just didn't want to go there.  What to do?  Where to go?

After thinking and pondering, I finally found a hotel at a good price in a city I wanted to visit.  I stayed at a hotel in Brooklyn and I visited New York City.  It was excellent, y'all.

New York really is the greatest city in the world, a nonstop rush of people and things and scents and sights and sensations and feelings and tastes.  It is a crush of humanity and it is in your face.  I mean this:  In.  Your.  Face.  That's just what I like in a vacation -- something that is not like where I am.

One day I went to not one, not two, but three major art museums.  I started out with the Brooklyn Museum, just a few subway stops from my hotel.  There was a major Ai Weiwei retrospective.  He is very political which was totally different from the show by Swoon, also there and called "Submerged Motherland."
Moon Chest, Ai Weiwei, in detail

Moon Chest by Ai Weiwei (the holes are meant to remind us of the phases of the moon)



Swoon's Submerged Motherland
After a few hours at the Brooklyn Museum, I went to the Upper East Side and after lunch of a delicious lobster roll, I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the Temple of Dendur.  I'd never seen it.  Now I have and it's pretty cool.
Temple of Dendur reflecting pond

I also saw the gowns portion of the Charles James costume exhibit.  Wow!  What dresses they were!  No photography of any sort was allowed -- too bad.  There were gowns that had twenty pattern pieces in the bodice and the skirt was four very cleverly sewn pieces.  There were computer simulations of how the dresses went together.  There were cameras that swooped around and then under the gowns so we could see every part of the skirt and the many underskirts.  It was fantastic.

Of course, I'd not had enough and on Fridays, the Museum of Modern Art is free from 4pm to 8pm.  Their permanent exhibit is almost unspeakably good.  The number of people jammed in there was almost fire-hazardly.  No matter -- I saw great art and we all survived.

I am fascinated by people taking pictures and like to take pictures of them taking their pictures.

Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh and the closest I thought I'd get to it
I then thought THIS was as close as I'd get (but I did get closer)

The Frida Kahlo Corner

Willem de Kooning.  I just liked it a lot.
The next day I did answer the riddle "Who is buried in Grant's Tomb?"  Grant is and his wife, Julia Dent Grant.  Side by side.  And over the entry to the tomb is a quote from Grant:  Let us have peace.

Later that day, I went to the dance parade. Dozens of dance companies from around the New York area -- and the country, really -- come to do their dance thing for about two miles.  It's a cool thing to have tap dancers followed by Estonian folk dancers followed by Michael Jackson dancers interspersed with many San Simon groups and hula hoopers and stilt walkers, just to show what their dance company does.

I didn't get their name, but to me, they're the Von Stilt Family Strollers
 The morning I left, I was determined to walk on the Brooklyn Bridge -- right by my hotel -- and I did.  A lot of other people had the same idea and many bicyclists, too, and they are not so pleased if you happen to go from the walking to the biking lane.  But the views were so worth the earful!

About 1/3 of the way across -- Freedom Tower to the left.

Extreme closeup of what I saw from the Brooklyn Bridge
It was a wonderful trip and I was sorry to leave.  If what you like in a trip is to have a town be all up in your video then you need to plan a trip to New York and go there NOW.

Next week, I'll have the movie of the musicians in Union Square.  They were talented and surprising and you'll see why.




Sunday, May 11, 2014

On this Day of Moms

I was out in the burbs today and came across these geese and their offspring.  They looked like a happy modern family and I wish you and your modern family a very happy Mothers Day.

A happy family going somewhere to do something, May 11, 2014

Oh I Think So is taking a break!  We are having two entire weeks off and are spending five days and four nights in one of the five boroughs of New York City.  We are hoping to see a show or two, eat a couple of nice meals, buy a new pair of tap shoes, and answer this riddle:  Who is buried in Grant's Tomb?

We will miss you and sincerely hope that you miss us and come back on May 25 to see what is what.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Flag at full Flamingo

It was a Saturday, the sun wouldn't be shining again for six days, but doesn't it look like a most pleasant day?   Close up on Flamingo, Federal Plaza, Chicago, on Saturday, April 26, 2014.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

A trip to the library

I am once of those who believes in libraries.  It saves money and I am exposed to a huge variety of books for which I don't have to pay.  Even better -- I can snap up CDs, take them home and listen to them, then decide if I want to copy them.  There are art exhibits at the main library.  As long as you have a library card and have made a reservation, you can use the library's computers for things as mundane as passing the time with a game.

On the weekend, I listen to NPR in my car as I drive around on errands.  There are shows that feature musicians and music, there are interviews with authors and book reviews.  If I hear about a book or CD that seems interesting to me, I go to the library website and reserve it.  When it comes in, they give me nine days to come and get it.

Here's my rule for reading a new book:  If I get to the page that is my age and I am still not into the book, I ditch it.  I got this from an interview I read with Nancy Pearl, the Seattle librarian who has her very own action figure.  Nancy said if you get to that page and still don't like it, put it down because there are plenty of other books to be read.  (And, might I add, this is your life, not school, and unless you're in a book club that requires you to read it, do not go on.  If you're in a book club that requires it and you often don't like its selections, then why are you in that book club?)  I have gotten to the page that's my age in books and don't still don't feel it and then I finish the book and I'm not pissed but I vow to never read anything by that author again. 

You know what I mean.  Everyone is nuts about a book, but you find the writing to be juvenile.  Or someone you know loves a book but it's 700 pages long and no freaking way are you going to read it because you read on your commute and don't want to lug 700 pages around to and from work.  Maybe you'll be a shut in one day and you can read the big thing then.  That juvenile writing?  That's a matter of taste.  There are books I've loved that everyone I know has loved but other friends can't get into them or fail to see the value.  That's their taste and that's how it is.  If it feels like a chore, then put it down.

The library gives us the opportunity to experience this in, pardon the pun, volumes.  I love pop psychology from the library.  I skim through them with great enthusiasm and never learn a damn thing but I didn't buy them so I can continue my love affair.  I like getting travel books to determine where I might go if I am ever flush -- Tokyo, Shanghai, New Zealand, Edinburgh, and, always, Paris.  If I find an exercise book I like and it's useful, I can buy it.  If I get a CD that's terrible, I don't have to copy it.  I get in line for an allegedly exciting new book and when it comes and I think it's ghastly, back it goes, no harm, no foul, and I try again.

I had a minor car repair this weekend, so minor that my mechanic didn't even charge me for it (but I gave him something for his time and trouble).  He said to have a seat and wait and he'd fix it right then.  "Please can you keep it?  I need to go downtown to the library and there's no parking down there.  I'll be back in hour."  Fortunately, he agreed and I dashed off to public transportation.

The main library was a hub of activity.  "Are you here for Poetry Fest?" I was asked.  Poetry Fest!  I'd forgotten.  There were tables that would be manned by Poetry publishers.  Kids who'd won citywide Haiku contests would get to read their works accompanied by Japanese instruments.  It sounded kind of swell. "No," I said, "I just came to pick up a book."  (I am not a poet -- although I have tried -- and what I know about poetry would probably fill a thimble and I had promised I'd come back for my car in an hour.)  But this is what the library can offer -- diversity, a chance to stretch your brain, the opportunity to experience something you think you don't like in a new way.

I have friends who don't like libraries because many other (possibly unsavory) people have had their hands on the books.  I have other friends who don't wish to be inconvenienced by going out of their way to the library.  That is their choice.  They feel flush enough to spend money on books -- and I say good for them -- or else they don't read at all.  Others like to read but don't like printed material any longer, preferring to read on their Kindles and iPads.  Good for them, too.

I often think about the quote I saw in my former neighborhood library:  "A library will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through a time of no libraries."  Sign up for a free card and go check something out.  Maybe you'll find seven other things you'd love to try.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Friday Night Tap Jam!

While I am neither beautiful nor pretty and while I am charming and clever, I am also a tap dancer  and not a particularly good one.  Last week I went to Friday Night Tap Jam at the American Rhythm Center in Chicago and it was awesome.  Bril Barrett, professional tap dancer, runs it and it is every sort of terrific.

How Friday Night Tap Jam works is like this:  Everyone gets in a big circle.  Each person has four bars and it goes around the circle, everyone improvising whatever tap moves they feel like offering at that moment to those four bars.  There are some sensationally talented, longtime students of the art who do magical ethereal things when it gets to them, people like Bril who runs M.A.D.D. Rhythms, the professional tap company, and another guy who had such flair and was so smooth and who brought out such different awesome steps each time it was his turn that I told my sister I wanted to marry him (except I am ancient and he is young) and she proclaimed him the Don Draper of the Friday Night Tap Jam.  There are fantastic young people who just want to dance and show their stuff in a supportive environment.  There are people who like to show off and have the skills for showing off but who have to look in the mirror to make sure it's right.  There are those who've never danced a step in their lives.  There are people like me who aren't that great but love being there and are glad to participate.  Around and around it goes for about an hour, Bril getting everyone very excited to add something to the mix.  Everyone leaves their attitude and being judgmental behind because Friday Night Tap Jam's about doing better for yourself not doing better than everyone else.

People come up with great combinations.  A gifted dancer may take something from a less experienced dancer and do a whole riff on it.  A total neophyte may just do digs and toes but it's done with great sincerity and he or she owns every bit of those digs and toes.  It's a great combination of people, young and old, rich and poor, highly trained, just learning, embarrassed and confident.  Some people think they are bringing nothing to the circle; I think being there and trying your utmost means you are bringing something to the circle -- your joie de vivre, your enthusiasm, your willingness to make a dang fool of yourself in front of people who make money tapping for a living.

If you're near the Fine Arts Building in downtown Chicago on the second Friday of the month, cruise by the American Rhythm Center on the third floor (call to make sure it's on).  Bring your tap shoes and your excitement, leave your judgment on the street, and join the circle for a thrilling evening of improvising on whatever music Bril has on iPod Shuffle that night.  Come stand next to me!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The potholes and me

Chicago is a city with a well-publicized hard winter.  Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, Kansas City, New York, Boston, Minneapolis-St. Paul also have well-publicized hard winters and Detroit does it without much salt and almost no snow removal to speak of.  Chicago likes to whine about it but the freeze and thaw (or freeze and freeze or freeze and salt into watery submission and then that whole mess freezes) situation creates some giant potholes.  Some neighborhoods are worse than others and mine might be one of them.

On North Milwaukee in northwest Chicago, there are at least three potholes I know of in a three-block stretch that are about six inches deep, eight inches long, and six inches wide.  The dimensions are stunning and if you hit one at the right angle, it can screw up your tires, the rims, and all that lies-below stuff that's underneath the car that you mostly don't want to think about.  Links, ball joints, your gas tank -- that stuff.

This year I've had $450 work of damage thanks to sunken manhole covers and potholes.  I have to work a long stinking time to earn that sort of money.  Both times I knew something was wrong.  The first time I didn't realize I had to go to the police and say, "give me a report, I am pretty sure this sunken manhole cover effed up my car."  When I found out how effed my car was, it was too late.  The second time was a pothole where you could see flames licking up from the bowels of hell.  I thought oh, it's probably okay.  I should have said -- out loud as there is no real harm in saying something out loud to yourself -- "Feck me!  I am going to the police station with this," and then gotten a police report for just in case.  I did not.  I was seriously effed on both occasions.

Yesterday, I went to my own mechanic for an oil change.  I have an honest mechanic and when he gives me an oil change, I ask him to look around for anything that looked wrong.  I gave him the heads up that I hit a pothole and didn't tell him which side.  When I drop the car off with him, I walk around or have a Starbuck's coffee and he calls me.  "Did you hit the pothole on the right side?"he asked.  "Yes," I said glumly.  And he gave me the bad news (plus the added terrible news that a gasket was blown and dripping oil).  He knocked off some dough for being a good customer and it's a 16-year-old car so gaskets will be blown but the pothole damage is not the cost of regular maintenance.

Now I slalom the streets of Chicago.  If I get to a street with many potholes that can't be avoided, I take my foot off the accelerator and let momentum move me along.  This works best on side streets.  I try to be alert for potholes but there are simply too many and I know another one is in my unfortunate driving future, waiting for me to be distracted by a kitty cat or thoughts of what I am going to have for dinner.

If you come to Chicago on a visit in your own car, take care!  If you drive in from the burbs to have lunch or maybe visit a museum, beware!  If  you come here and rent a car, you have been warned!  And for heaven's sake, if you hit a pothole, jot down the street address where it happened, go to the police and fill out a report.  If there's damage, make a claim against the city on the city's website.

Fore warned is fore armed.  Better safe than sorry.  Consider yourself advised.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Surprises are all around

Today was shaping up to be yet another day of nothing, nothing, and more of the same but I looked at my still-living fiddle leaf fig and decided it was a good idea to get it rebooted as the pot was solid roots.  I am not as full of my plant expertise as I once was -- I went through a serious black-thumb phase -- and called the place where I got the plant and asked if they'd repot it.

"It's the weekend," they said.  "It's super busy right at the beginning of planting season.  We might have to keep your plant overnight and you can get it tomorrow.  Or can you please come another time?"

"I can come next Saturday," I said.  "Right when you open!"

"No, next Saturday we're having a special event that will go on all day," they said.

"Sunday!"  I exclaimed.  "I will come on Sunday right when you open."

They sighed. 

"Come now," they said.  "We'll get it done."

They said it would be $5 to do the repotting and another dollar for the cheap plastic pot I wanted.

I have some things for a friend who lives not far from there and texted asking if I could swing by and give him the things. 

"Yes!  Please come by!  We're here!"

When I arrived at the garden joint, they were doing a lively business.  I went to the repotting area and asked the man there if he was the one with whom I'd spoken.

"No," said he.  "We're too busy to do that today.  You're gonna have to leave it."

"Well, okay, I can pick it up next week.  I don't live or work anywhere near here," I said.

"Yeah, we're too busy," he said.

"You're not gonna kill it, are you?" I asked.  I wasn't really kidding but I said it with fear and a little alarm.

There was great incredulity across his face.

"Really?" he asked as he moved his arms around, indicating the many lovely, thriving plants in the greenhouse area.

"Tell me how it's doing," I said, indicating the plant.

"This is not an easy plant and it's doing great.  Whatever you're doing, keep doing it."  Then he added as quickly, "This isn't a free service."

"I know," I said.  "The other person said it was five dollars and a dollar for the plastic pot I prefer."

"Forget that," said the man.  "I'll give you the pot."  He went to the spot where they kept their old plastic pots, chose one bigger than mine, and came back.  He scribbled "Repot $5" on a scrap of paper and said, "Take this to the cashiers."

I thanked him as he called over three guys and told them to please repot the plant.

When I got back from paying, one young man was repotting the plant, another was working on bagging a giant mother-in-law's tongue, and the third was hovering nearby to assist the repotter.  I offered to assist the guy bagging the plant -- it was a huge ass plant and the bag was ginormous -- but I was advised with a smile, "It's okay. I got it."  The repotter asked them to check his work, the other two added more dirt and patted it down, then they gave it to me, telling me to make sure I watered it well when I got home.  I gave them my receipt and thanked them very much.

It was done!  And I didn't have to come back!  Thanks, sirs!

I am not beautiful.  I am really not even pretty.  On my best days I am somewhat attractive but I know there are people who think I look severe and scary (and I am down with it).  I only have my personality to get me things and today it was a great day for charm. 

Pretty people everywhere take note:  Work on your personality.  One day your looks will go and if you have a personality like poo you will just be that weird old person who is so mean and unpleasant.

The second surprise was when I got to my friend's house, he invited me for coffee at his new local coffee shop.  We chose some very caffeinated selections (mine was called Red Eye which had to be 47 shots of espresso and some hot water) and sat and blabbed for hours.  His partner walked over and joined us for an hour of it.

What a surprise!  It was the nicest day.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The nature of funny

I used to work with two guys who had a joke between them and if they liked you they assumed you would also think it hilarious.  What was the cause of their hilarity?  There was a woman in the office who wore voluminous dresses that they termed caftans and they liked to rewrite songs to include the word caftan.  Dozens of songs, including obscure arias from operas that were no longer performed.  They are two sweet men who really shouldn't work together ever again because they wound each other up and kept winding each other up until the spring wound down and then they would wind it up again.  They were very proud of themselves about this whole thing except that it was funny to just them.  They found it so hilarious that they didn't understand why other people stopped laughing.  It amused them and it didn't hurt anyone but, really, only they got it.  I think I said Ha Ha Ha many times because they were quite clever but, again, it was their joke.

A few years before this I worked with a man who faked an English accent (faked it very well, too) and would tell people to pack their things as they were fired.  Every single day for months and months and months and months.  And every single time we laughed because it was charming and always said at just the right time.  If someone wasn't amused we didn't know about it because he was a very nice guy and quite popular with his coworkers and, seriously, it was a very good accent.

And so we touch on the nature of funny.  Not everything is funny to everyone.  Audiences went crazy for "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles," and I was sorry I spent money to see it but not as sorry as I was to see "Throw Mama from a Train."  (My friend called it "a toilet fish."  I didn't disagree.)  A friend suggested I might try "This Is the End."  That movie was every kind of wrong and hilarious.  When it first came out, a friend convinced me I wanted to see "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" at an evening show -- not my beloved bargain matinee -- and I had no expectations at all.  I was charmed and delighted and laughed and laughed. 

There is no telling what someone might find funny but there are paid comedy writers who do seem to get it right on a nightly basis.  Great gig!  Good for you all!  I am envious of your confidence and skill.  There are many very good comedy shows and sitcoms with stellar, smart writing that sometimes carries on for years.  But one man's love of Jon Stewart is another man's bitter pill.  I don't suppose a tea-party conservative would care for Mr. Stewart and his liberal views and for him, "He's not funny."

I am the only person I know who doesn't like the movie "Office Space."  Coworkers and dear friends quote from it and laugh about it and one of them is the proud owner of a red Swingline stapler in the original packaging.  They joke about wearing enough flare.  And I just don't get it.  No, maybe it's better to say that I get it but I don't think it's funny.  (Same with the hyper-longlasting "Two and a Half Men," which, for me, has never been funny for even 30 seconds.)

I took a class in college that one day brought out the point that "If it's real to you, it's real, to you."  Same thing with comedy -- I am happy you find something funny; be happy that I find something funny.  Funny is personal and we can't take it away from each other.  And the two guys with the caftan joke?  They still think the whole thing was insanely funny.  The end.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sunday, March 16, 2014

So check it out

"Post Secret is an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard."

That's the idea behind Post Secret.  Make an art postcard with your secret and send it to Frank Warren, the founder of Post Secret.  Frank gets hundreds and hundreds of secrets and he goes through and chooses which ones to share.  Secrets cover the gamut -- a woman who is annoyed that her mother-in-law buys her Costco muffins all the time and, two weeks later, that she was sorry she sent that secret because her mother-in-law is a wonderful, generous, caring woman; how someone didn't commit suicide and a year later was better; how someone wasn't sorry for turning in a criminal who  was doing hard time (it was a Polaroid showing the man celebrating at a Mexican restaurant, drinking a Margarita, and wearing a huge sombrero with a black strip over his face to protect his identity) -- and they're published by Frank every week.

It's the way to make some art, share your secret, get it off your chest, and go on with life and no one knows it's you.  It may or may not be published but the secret is gone and, in theory, out of your life (but is it?).  Frank now travels the world and has Post Secret evenings at colleges and universities.  From what I've seen on the blog,  after Frank talks about Post Secret and the work it does -- suicide prevention is a major cause for Frank -- people get up and share secrets.  For me, that's against the spirit of anonymity provided by the blog but I guess the audience loves it and people are relieved by finally sharing the secret.  There are stories of people picking up one of the published Post Secret books and finding a secret tucked into the pages by another store patron.  There is now a Post Secret play.  Post Secret is huge.

Every Sunday, Frank puts out a new selection of secrets and, recently, added classic secrets from Post Secret's early days.  I've been reading Post Secret for over seven years.  (I'm not a fan of the books because it's like being a contestant on your favorite TV game show:  You've just had too much of it at once and you need to walk away from it for a while and get back to normal before you can watch it again.  The blog is just the right amount.)  I have even considered being on Facebook so I can read look at Post Secrets on Facebook (but then, I just don't wanna).

As of right now, the visitor count is 659,387,941.  People love them some Post Secret.

http://postsecret.com

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Return of Flamingo

I find winter to be one long damn bummer day after another, the days bleeding into weeks leaching into months of little sunlight, too much snow, and impossible cold.  It is, however, what it is and I, like most others, try to make the most of it.  One icy cold, difficult to negotiate day at time, right?

This wintry mix lets us see things we always think of one way as something else altogether.  Behold!  Calder's Flamingo wearing a snow hat in the twilight-into-night of Federal Plaza.

Flamingo, wearing the winter well

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Oscars!

I love the Oscars.  I love the anticipation, the excitement, and the thrill of a host who has it together.

Oscar fashion is often subjective but I will say this to anyone who is choosing a gown for the event:  If the dress is wearing you, then it's not the right dress.

Who do I think will win?  Me!  I win!  Because I get to watch the Oscars!