Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Shudder Bug

I have never fancied myself a photographer. A writer, sure, but a mediocre one at best.

And my approach to photography has long been one that would make the professionals shudder:

I believe in quantity in the hopes of a mere sliver of quality.

That is to say: I take a camera with me just about wherever I go, and take pictures (sometimes several) of things that strike me as... odd. Or beautiful. Or even better yet: anything that qualifies as both.

From neon signs

(Some with bulbs out, leaving an unintended message in its wake)

And ironic church marquees

To shots full of empty things...

(The meaning derived from what's missing.)

...and city streets in medias res.

But this is all out of habit — and perhaps a hobby — but I've never intended for it to go anywhere.

Even as I searched for my name on the scroll — that list of photographers selected for an exhibit at a local gallery — I had no expectation of finding my name among the rest.

And yet, still,

There it was.

Dangling at the bottom (an alphabetical consequence) as though the faintest breathe might forever shake it from the page.

March of the Penguins

Being about the only person on the planet to have not yet seen this 2005 documentary, there's probably not much reason for me to explain it catalogs a year in the life of Antarctica's Emperor penguin.

It's among the better "animal" documentaries I've ever seen, perhaps even preferable to Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. This touching film focuses primarily on the mating habits of these flightless birds, as well as the resultant familial behaviors.

And it is just as the filmmakers profess it to be: a love story, first and foremost. And a well-told one, at that.

Definitely something I'd like to add to my permanent collection.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008


The camel and his straw may be a cliche, but it most certainly is not a myth.

In fact, I have felt it very recently: that inscrutable push over a ledge I've previously traipsed with relative elegance (all klumsiness aside).

And, no, I'm not talking about how, this weekend, I fell down half a flight of stairs at a popular sporting event only to hear a crowd utter "Ohhhhh!" in a sort of bemused unison.

[In hindsight, I actually found that experience to be rather humorous myself.]

It doesn't matter what I'm talking about, really: the particulars so seldom do. Because, with moments like this there is little to say but the obvious:

Nothing I do now will change a thing.

And yet: my perspective has changed entirely.

Losing people is funny like that; like that favorite pair of socks and the mysterious mate that slinks away after a single washing.

It's gone. There's nothing you can do. Best to move on while your legs are still strong enough to do the walking.

And so onward you drive, 5 mph in a 40; your 20 miles taking 90 minutes. You crawl and you sigh, watching and marveling as you're passed by scowling women in every shade of Mercedes; and blue-toothed men gesturing from their Beemers and six-cylinder Inifities.

I, too, could go on forever, you think.

[And often do.]

Along the way there are homes, too: brilliant, beautiful castles and mansions interspersed with the occasional, charming cottage (more my style). And yet: all beyond anything I'll ever see from the inside.

"My life goal," I tell family and friends, "is to have my own washer and dryer."

Forget the 4 bedroom home and the picket fence. Forget the 2 1/2 children and the 3 car garage. Forget the book deal and the trip to Scotland: I want to stop doing my laundry where the cockroaches outweigh my cat and the change machine is graffitied with gang signs.

Is that too much to ask for?

Some days, yes.

Yes it is.

And there is this train, this beautiful train. Layered with dirt, puddles of urine caked half-dry and sticky in particular corners. The people are amazing, looking every direction but at each other.

"This is my stop," you say, lost in the middle of everything.

"This is my stop."

You look around you only to see what you knew all along: that every head is down

and no one is listening.

Friday, April 18, 2008

What's Shakin', Chicago?

So in the past week we've had a mountain lion wander into the city — despite being considered "extinct" in this region — and an earthquake.

I've received a few e-mails asking me if the tremors interrupted my beauty sleep, so I thought I'd post a little something here:

No, I didn't feel anything. The fault is way south of here, though apparently the tremors did shake the skyscrapers and definitely caught the attention of Chicagoans already awake at that hour.

Some of my co-workers were among that group. And my family about 150 miles due southeast woke up rather early this morning, my sister thinking a big truck was speeding along the street; my mother thinking a massive wind was shaking their little home.

But otherwise: no odd stories, no personal accounts.

As for that cougar... they determined it was, in fact, wild (and not some escaped pet) and it's beginning to look like it may have friends.

A whole new reason to take pepper spray whilst jogging. I hear they hate being jabbed in the eye and/or being shot six times by the police.*

*Though I'd have preferred a tranquilizer gun be used to spare the creature's life, I also understand the police (though I am not normally one to jump to the CPD's defense) did what they felt they had to do at the time. And, besides, after one shot you better keep firing: only thing worse than a healthy — albeit frightened — mountain lion lost in a city is an angry, wounded one.

So I've Not Much Felt Like Writing...

Bottle Rockets
Bottle Rockets is an early dark comedy from director Wes Anderson, replete with his usual quirkiness but lacking the sort of artistry of some of his later (and more recent) work. It stars some of the usual suspects, including the Wilson brothers (Luke and Owen) as two of three best friends who try to break free from small town malaise by forging connections with the local godfather (and so embark on a sadly shortsighted — and so comical — ) life of crime. FINAL GRADE: B

Breakfast Club
I watched this film years ago but thought it (along with a few other John Hughes productions) was worth rewatching now that I'm fairly familiar with where most of his films were shot (north suburban Chicago). But since 98% of this film takes place inside of a school (with a group of stock character kids all serving a very unrealistic 8-hour detention together), I didn't get to "point out" anywhere near as many sights as I did with, say, Ferris Bueller (a cinematic homage to this city, among other things). And while I certainly understand why this 1985 film is considered to be a "seminal" work, there's also no denying its unintentionally hokey qualities. But, hey, it speaks for an era — and there's something to be said for that. FINAL GRADE: C+

Clay Pigeons
A very dark comedy with elements of suspense, the moral of this story is obvious: don't lie; don't cheat with your best friend's wife; and don't be (or hang out with) a serial killer. Stars Joaquin Phoenix, Vince Vaughn and Jeananne Garofolo, all who put on an enjoyable performance in this 1998 film — a sort of underproduced predecessor to No Country for Old Men (2007). FINAL GRADE: B+

Sixteen Candles
So I thought I'd seen this other John Hughes classic previously, but was more than a little surprised to recognize only bits and pieces. In fact what I thought was Sixteen Candles was actually this. I prefer this "version" better. Not to mention, I found it to be slightly less hokey than the other aforementioned Hughes film. Also set in north suburban Chicago, this one shows a bit more of the sights and is about a girl who wakes up on her 16th birthday only to realize that everyone in her family has forgotten (those of you who know me know how easy it was to relate). Other typical teenage concerns unravel (and are reconciled) throughout the course of the day. FINAL GRADE: B

Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill
This 2005 documentary about a man who dedicates his life to caring for a flock of "wild" parrots in San Francisco is intriguing, to say the least. And even with his long hair; resistance to conventional means of work; and single boiler plate kitchen, I really wouldn't qualify him as "eccentric" (in fact he intelligently refutes that label). The manner in which he describes individual parrots — and the lens through which this film was shot — is truly touching, underscoring the personality of birds non-native (and so misunderstood) by the populous. FINAL GRADE: A-

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Predator & Prey, Part II

Yesterday morning my preferred news station did a segment concerning seniors, the topic of which I have long since forgotten. Here's why I bring it up: there was a single, elderly female (mid to late 70s) on the screen when the words "cougar sighting" were juxtaposed over her head (not as a running news crawl at the bottom, but rather as though "cougar sighting" was the topic of this segment).

And while this woman was well past her cougar prime, the humor certainly wasn't lost on me.

So whether that was a studio prankster's way of having fun with the morning news — or an unintentional error — I was amused all the same.

But then they moved on to the story for which that "title" was intended — there had been multiple cougar sightings in the area, starting two weeks ago 45 miles north of the city, and continuing through yesterday morning into Wilmette — one of Chicago's wealthier suburbs, less than 10 miles north of city limits.

As intrigued as I was by the story — and as many questions as that story raised — I continued about my day all the same, wondering how such a creature — otherwise extinct in this state for nearly a century — came to find itself foraging for food in a concrete jungle.

These are not small cats, mind you. These are mountain lions. The second largest cat in the New World (after the jaguar), and the largest in North America. These are massive, magnificent beings — animals I researched a fair amount two springs ago before camping in Rocky Mountain National Park, where they are more likely to be found (though they generally keep their distance from humans, it's wise to also know how to deal with them if confronted).

These are not the coyotes that occasionally wander into the city, and it's unlikely this cougar somehow made its way to the Midwest from a mountain state some 800 miles away. No, more likely it was someone's pet — or so they likely hoped it would become when they took it in as a cub, perhaps realizing too late that some creatures cannot be domesticated.

[Heck, I sometimes even have questions about Maude's ability in that regard.]

Whatever happened — however this lion came to find itself in Chicago — I was sympathetic all the same to whatever it must've been feeling, its paws pounding against pavement, its breath muted by the sounds of horns, sirens and grumbling bus engines.

How incredibly lost it must have been, with a few forest preserves in the county to offer the sustenance such a large creature needs to survive.

How incredibly misplaced.

And so: though normally sorry to witness a predator munching on its prey, I was nevertheless crestfallen to hear of the cougar's fate: it had firmly made its way into the city, where it was cornered by police and shot to death.

From Wilmette (home of Ferris Bueller and Chicagoland's fiscally finest), to Roscoe Village (home of the quintessentially hip and the best vegan cuisine in all of Chicago), this lion made its way south, never returning north, never straying west or further east — as though on some clearly defined path.

I am reminded of common sense survival techniques which recommend first that you stay where you are and wait for someone to find you (if you know people are looking). And failing that: pick one direction; stick to it; and eventually, maybe, you will make your way out of the woods and back into civilized life.

And I cannot help but wonder just where, exactly, this lion was heading.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Predator & Prey

Driving to work this morning, I rolled up to traffic light #23 (only 9 to go) and gazed wearily to my left... searching — as I so often do — for every possible distraction (a means of staying awake).

At my side (looking down), I saw a cat: claws out and its face raised in an intimidating, teeth-bearing grin.

Once the light turned green — and our cars burst forward with a sputter of disillusion — that cat spun around and around (faster and faster), until it ceased to be recognizable and left me in its proverbial dust.

But then, as fate (that is to say: rush hour) would have it, we met again at traffic light #24 (only 8 to go), my attention this time focused not on the rims of the Jaguar next to me, but rather the silver (solid, no doubt) protuberance at its helm: another large cat (this time full body), not bathing majestically beneath some Argentinian sun but rather mid-pounce, presumably just seconds before sinking its teeth into the base of the skull of some unsuspecting tapir.

I sighed, thinking, looking askance at this... man... next to me. The man driving onward as though atop a chariot powered by these magnificent beasts: talking on his wireless, and yet bound by the curlicue cord of his cell phone charger.

And that, I thought, was the symbol he had chosen to define himself: he, the predator, and me — if only through diffĂ©rance — his prey.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Jesus Camp (Movie Review)

Reviewers of this 2006 documentary have termed it "unbiased" and "even-handed."

And as backwards and disconcerting as its subject may be — thereby not really needing editorializing — it was nevertheless quite clear to me that the makers of Jesus Camp wished not to show something "as it is" (as I feel documentaries should) but rather to prove a point (a film editorial or "filmitorial," as I've decided to call them).

Essentially, this film follows a handful of children before, during and after their stay at a right-wing Evangelical bible school where children speak in tongues and prepare to enlist in God's army (the minister at this camp makes it quite clear that she wishes to emulate the examples set by children in the Middle East, rallying for their cause and waving guns in God's name).

The end result being a rather disturbing film that catalogs the brainwashing of children by America's extreme right (admittedly nowhere near as extreme as the FLDS news from Texas). But these are good — albeit misguided — kids, the risk being that portraying Christianity in its extreme could result in a philosophical backlash against the religion as a whole.

But that may very well be why the filmmakers inserted commentary from a non-fundamentalist, everyday Christian radio show host who blasts the fundamentalists all the while making it clear that he, too, is a Christian. But these commentaries (interspersed throughout the film) served as blatant editorializing in my book, essentially solidifying the directors' mood towards their subject. Certainly, though, still nowhere near as in-your-face, "I'm right and you're wrong" documentary (if you can call it that) that we get with Michael Moore.

In part because the editorializing is mild by comparison — and in part because the subject is so dern interesting (not to mention, disturbing) — I'd say this film is well worth a viewing.


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

All Roads Lead to Suck

In the past six months, the number of routes I take to work has grown from three to nearly a dozen.

I've learned all variety of side roads (large and small), all in an effort to hit as little traffic as is humanly possible.

And yet: now every route is under construction, some more heavily than others. And the roads that are under "light" construction are so clogged with people searching for a means to avoid the heavy construction (who am I to blame them), that of all the routes I can take to and from work, I haven't the patience for any of them.

I now dread my commute with such intensity that promptness has entirely ceased to be a concern, and if I don't leave work by 4, I'd prefer to stick around until almost 6... just to avoid the headache.

And so, in honor of the highway that is my ever-clogged life, I present to you these entirely unrelated photographs:

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Eyes are the Windows through Your Face
(or, "Insights into My Soul")

Today I am wearing a t-shirt that reads, "Sometimes clouds just look like clouds." You should know that though I find the shirt to be dreamy enough (it includes the image of clouds wrapped around telephone poles and eletrical wires), that is not necessarily a notion I subscribe to.

Imagination is, afterall, more important than knowledge.


In related news, I went to the hardware store earlier this morning in search of a means to repair my bathroom doorknob (which falls off everytime it is pulled shut).

As I walked through the do-it-yourself (e.g. no electronic sensor) doors, all I could think was to ask the nearest stockboy if he had any idea where I might find a "good screw."

But I am a good girl, even if my sense of humor is a bit... off... so I bit my tongue and proceeded, instead, to help myself.

Friday, April 04, 2008


I am so profoundly, inexcusably and mind-numbingly bored with myself, and my life.


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Some Say Love...

" is a cookie

with corny words
sloopily etched
on top..."

[Sung to the beat of Bette Midler's, "Rose")

Or perhaps I'm just jealous.