Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Dream: Escape from love

I was a young woman in an empty warehouse or counting house with another woman. A man, one of our employers, came in and asked me in a whisper to make sure of some numbers he believed to be off. He seemed sad. I thought, "He doesn't trust the other man." He looked at me oddly and I sensed that he did trust me and was counting on me to do this right for him.

After he left, I looked at the other woman as I had no idea what I was supposed to do and didn't want to be caught letting the young man down. She helped me to escape.

My way lay in front of houses fronted by water—lots of water. I couldn't run but had to pick my way carefully between the patches of water because I didn't know how deep they were. A river ran beyond the front yards, and water was everywhere.

A boy spotted me and invited me into his house. I needed to keep moving and didn't like that he'd seen me, but I needed the break.

I came to a train that had open-air cars. As it sped though sunny fields and even forests, I felt horrible and guilty because I had not been able to help the young man. I began to cry because I knew he loved me, and maybe I loved him, too.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Dream: The accordion, the heroic bird, and the lover

I was a young man, and my college roommate had promised an elderly Jewish woman that I would perform the music at one of her family rituals. I was horrified because I knew I was no musician. I dug around in our dorm room, looking for the instrument I would play. I found it in one of the many backpacks in the closet—an accordion.

I met the woman at midnight in the rain. I knew I was not a good musician like those who play by ear and from memory, so I asked for sheet music. My roommate produced a single sheet that somehow contained the music for nine tunes; I was to play eight of them.

He held the music up for me to see, but I was too nearsighted. I felt that this didn't bode well for this rainy midnight audition or my future performance.

I was a girl at a church service. It had been raining. During the service, someone moved a pillar, and a torrent of water poured from under it. I assumed that the books kept in it had stayed dry and wondered how. More water ran out from within another pillar.

I noticed a man and recognized him as my future lover. Did he know me, too? I watched him discreetly, looking him over and thinking that someday all of that would be mine. It was a delicious thought.

The minister was talking about a heroic bird that had performed a brave deed. I found the bird, which was a wooden statue of a one-legged robin, near a verdant ditch. At first I thought it was dead, but when I realized it was only a representation, I began to stroke it.

I was aware that my mother was glancing at me with disapproval because she believed it to be a dead bird, but my thoughts were only of my future lover and his attention. I dreamed that I had it. I began to sense his growing interest and need.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Ignatius, the friendless fibroid

Like me, Ignatius is a loner.
As I reported earlier, I decided to explore the possibility of a UFE, or uterine fibroid embolization, procedure. On Tuesday, July 22, I took the first step with an MRI scan and a consultation with Dr. V., an interventional radiologist.
Despite my best efforts to be late, I arrived a little early. After I'd been chided for standing in the wrong line (I was supposed to intuit the process) and after being asked for the insurance card I'd handed over three minutes earlier, I found myself with a pager. I wondered if I was in a hospital or the Cheesecake Factory.
I'd settled into a chair and cracked a book for the wait when it dawned on me I didn't know where to go when called (in hindsight, it was very obvious, but I wasn't thinking straight that morning), so I backtracked down the hall to the information desk. Just as I was asking, the pager buzzed and lit up impatiently. That was quick! Mr. Information told me to retreat the way I had come and to go to the double doors. "If you don't respond to the pager, they call you, and then . . ."
I was slightly panicky because, according to the paperwork, I should have verified with the [new] insurer that the MRI scan had been pre-certified. Now they tell me. Or remind me. I think that I will never master the art of adulthood and responsibility, and wonder how many hundreds this particularly dimwitted oversight will cost me.
A young man, the first of many people whose names I didn't catch or remember, told me how and where to undress and stash my stuff. When he called me, now fashionably dressed in matching back-and-front gowns and green booties. I called back for help. He found me wrestling with the locker key, which it turns out requires a token that had fallen to the floor. My blood was definitely bypassing my brain.
Next stop: Blood tests and IV needle. This MRI scan requires the use of contrast dye, which in turn requires healthy kidneys. I acknowledged that I'm not on dialysis ("that I know of"). After running my contribution through a desktop gizmo, the cheery nurse reported that my kidneys are "working well." "Too well," I muttered, as I was hit by another urge. (This proved to be a day of frequent urges.)
Next, I was taken to a waiting room where I had just about enough time to notice the House Beautiful pile before another woman came for me. I don't think it was even 9:30 yet, and already I was in the MRI room.
She plugged in the IV tube, gave me a cool rush of saline, and told me what to expect:
  • The MRI scan would take 30–45 minutes.
  • I should lie as still as possible.
  • I would have a squeeze ball to alert her if I needed anything (I took this to mean, "If you become claustrophobic and panicky").
  • She would be able to see and hear me (camera).
  • The table would move, but I shouldn't.
  • During the scan, she would tell me through headphones to hold my breath until instructed to breathe again. Oh, the power!
I lay down on the table like a sacrifice as she and another woman put a heavy band across my mid-section, stuck a cap on my head, and propped my calves over a large pillow (even a sacrifice needs blood flow).
All set?
Let the games began.
I'd read that the technology has improved since my last MRI scan (of my head) and that the equipment is larger (obesity epidemic) and more open. Previously, I just fit, with my arms pinned to my side, my nose nearly touching the top, and no leverage to back out. It was like being in one of those coffins with the split top, only with the head covered and the legs exposed. I'm not particularly claustrophobic, but that time I did start feeling trapped and unable to escape at about the 25-minute mark.
By comparison, this was great. My forehead was sticking out one end so I could see a bit of the ceiling, I had room to move my arms (even if I couldn't), and I didn't feel like there was no way to get out without help in an emergency. (With a lot of effort, I think I could have backed out because more of my legs were free.) The squeeze ball nurse call is a bit of comfort, I suppose.
The hard part was holding my breath as many times as she asked me to, for up to 20–25 seconds. It wouldn't be bad sitting up, but it's a little problematic at my size in the prone position (one of the forms had a question about breathing issues lying down, but I didn't think it would be one—but then I didn't know about holding my breath). When I did hold my breath, loud, rhythmic sounds would kick in—not the same sound or rhythm, but different ones at different times. I distracted myself from the feeling I was suffocating myself by counting to the rhythm and trying to visualize it. The mind has many coping mechanisms, even for coping with something as unnatural as an MRI scan.
Finally, she told me that this was the last time I would have to hold my breath and that they were almost done. The timing was perfect, because I imagined I was feeling the effects of diminished oxygen.
After completing a survey, dressing, and asking Mr. Information the way, I made it to the next stop: the heart/vein area, because, I suppose, that's where most embolizations are performed. I checked in with my insurance card and received another pager, which buzzed and lit as soon as I had settled on a seat. Such efficiency!
I'm not sure who picked me up; she may have been one of those mentioned on Dr. V.'s Web site. She confirmed my information and left, to be succeeded by Dr. V.
Dr. V. asked about how and when I discovered Ignatius and the grief he gives me, and how much I know about UFE. He gave me a folder with more information. I asked if fibroids were causing my urinary problems. "I think so. Look at this," he said, as we got down to the business of checking the bastard out.
It turns out ultrasounds aren't very reliable for pinpointing fibroids. There, on the computer screen, was Ignatius, a single 13-centimeter fibroid perched on top of my uterus, not far from my spine. There were no others. Just Ignatius. His weight is pressing down, flattening ("pancaking," as Dr. V. put it) the oval of my bladder so that it's a little bubbled on one end. Dr. V. said, "Here's a more dramatic view," adding, "There's not a lot of capacity there." He can't be sure, but agreed that Ignatius could be affecting my lower back.
The images were fascinating. How often do you get to see your own innards? There mine were—dominated by a chunk of slowly growing muscle tissue.
Dr. V. told me what to expect from the procedure, described the pain management options, and talked about the logistics. He was open about the risks, mentioning "death" first, and covering infection requiring hysterectomy, premature menopause, and so forth. He answered the questions I remembered to ask about UFE (I forgot several) and reminded me to read the material and the Web site. I asked him about particle migration, and he told me a joke about why doctors cost so much. I must have been distracted and not laughed, because he told me it was just a little joke, and the point is that, having performed more than 3,000 UFEs, they are experienced, and that a complication like that is usually the result of inexperience.
He thinks I'm a good candidate and that infection is unlikely because of Ignatius's location. (Apparently, the combination of his size and location is a bit unusual. Typical.) I asked about the likelihood of recurrence given my age and proximity to perimenopause (I don't think I'm quite there yet, but am probably close), and he said that Ignatius didn't happen overnight—he's been growing, in his estimation, at least 10 years. Ten years! 1998 was a bad year in many, many ways.
He told me to contact his patient access representative to schedule the UFE. I checked out then, hoping that the last person I talked to really did change my status on the printout from "self-insured." Yikes.
I'm still mulling and still looking at discouraging photos, still thinking that my symptoms aren't that bad, still thinking that it's possible I could feel a lot better with a tamed and reduced Ignatius.
To celebrate surviving the MRI scan and the consultation, I splashed boiling water on my bare stomach above the navel and then did everything wrong, from not applying a cool cloth and then opening the blister to using antibiotic and an improper bandage. Now I have a lovely second-degree burn that, fortunately, is healing in spite of my ignorance.
And a little decision.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Book review: Priestess of Avalon

Priestess of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley and Diana L. Paxson. New York: Penguin Putnam Inc., 2002. 416 pages.

Set mainly outside Britannia, Priestess of Avalon marks a departure from Bradley's Avalon series and the buildup to the Matter of Britain. Bradley and Paxson trace the acceptance and spread of Christianity to the goddess through the travels and actions of one of her Avalon priestesses—Flavia Helena Augusta.

For the first time that I remember, astrology plays a significant role in the series. When Helena is born, the Merlin consults the stars, but his words are strangely misinterpreted. ". . . the maid shall hide the moon she bears upon her brow" inexplicably leads the priestesses to murmur, "He prophesies greatness—she will be Lady of the Lake like her mother before her!" The Merlin's reading of the stars proves accurate in every detail, but Helena discovers that prophecies are problematic. Convinced that she is destined to bear the "Child of Prophecy," she remembers only years later what she as a priestess should have always known—that prophecy and its interpretation do not always take the expected path to the anticipated end.

After defying her hated aunt, the High Priestess Ganeda, so that she may bear the "Child of Prophecy," Helena drifts through life just as she and her lover Constantius drift through the Empire. She carefully describes her son's innate leadership talent and his developing personality, but she does little to shape  or understand either. Even before he is taken from her, she is oddly passive toward the boy she is sure will change the world—he is born at the end of one chapter of her narrative and is 10 years old at the beginning of the next. When requested, she foretells the future for Constantius and his friends, and later she takes the place of the sybil at a shrine. She makes no effort, however, to see what lies ahead for her "Child of Prophecy." She says, "'All the gods are one God, and all the goddesses are one Goddess, and there is one Initiator' . . . Somehow I must get its meaning across to Constantine," but she refuses to reveal the mysteries to him. It should be no surprise that Constantine fails to follow an example never set for him, yet Helena finds him and his choices strange and disturbing.

In the acknowledgments, Paxson sets Helena up as a mythological figure associated with Christianity and relics such as the True Cross. In the novel, the Helena's life and opportunities are remarkable, but Helena herself is surprisingly ordinary. Helena tries to reconcile paganism and Christianity, but each new epiphany contradicts those that came before. While the spiritual ideas underlying Priestess of Avalon are intriguing, they are wasted in a rambling, undisciplined story that needs a firmer hand to keep it tight, free of unnecessary detail, and consistent.

Set in the expanse of the declining Roman Empire, Priestess of Avalon is interesting and compelling at times, but ultimately it's unsatisfying. More Paxson's work than Bradley's, the novel never connects the parts of its premise, including Helena's belief in Constantine and her emotional distance from him. It also fails to bridge the gap between the fall of paganism and the rise of Christianity.

Avalon is missing here, and so are the mysteries, the magic, and Marion Zimmer Bradley.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008.
Copyright © 2008 by Diane L. Schirf.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

At Morton Arboretum

Late yesterday afternoon J. and I finally made it to the Morton Arboretum—finally, because he has wanted to go for a couple of months. After a morning of solid rain, the weather brightened but remained humid.

On the way, I noticed several electronic signs that read, “State police enforcing motorcycle reckless driving,” which of course implies that reckless motorcycle driving is required by a law that state police enforce. I imagined the scene for J.: A state trooper pulls over a motorcyclist and says, “I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to ticket you. You could have weaved in and out of traffic in that jam a mile back, but you stayed in your lane and, even worse, you rode at a safe speed for conditions. Next time, drive recklessly, okay?”

A car in the parking lot was sporting a "Cthulhu for President" bumper sticker, complete with a red, white, and blue, stylized, round-headed octopus. Later, we spoke to a priest or minister whose bumper sticker advertised, "Rev for hire."

He was there because, like the Chicago Botanic Garden, Morton Arboretum hosts weddings, receptions, and other events, This day's events imposed some restrictions (no conifer way), but we managed to get into the visitor center just before it closed to the public. A man at the counter helpfully lent J. a pair of scissors so he could open an over-packaged camera card. We also raided the gift shop before it closed (in J.'s case, also after it closed because he's hard to budge from any store or spending opportunity no matter the hours).

The “Big Bug” exhibit by David Rogers closes today, so we saw the welcoming praying mantis as well as the ants, grasshopper, daddy longlegs, and dragonfly, all crafted from various woods. While we were admiring the dragonfly and the scenery around Meadow Lake, I heard a boy, probably 11 or 12 years old, complain repeatedly about the exhibit. "What kind of gratification are we supposed to get out of wooden bugs?" Clearly, he is one of those sadly cynical children who have much and appreciate little. One of the two girls with him, probably a sister, replied disgustedly, "Why are you being such a p . . . p . . . pe . . . pessimist?" After all my observations of poorly behaved or out-of-control children who seem alien to my own experience, it was a relief to see that sibling relationships haven't changed. Charlie Brown's Lucy lives.

Even better than giant insects are the real thing. I spotted a monarch flitting among the trees on its remarkably rich orange-and-black wings. Then we found a patch of prairie flowers buzzing with bumblebees of all sizes—some almost as small as the few honeybees among them, and a few robust giants whose wings even I could hear with my better ear. They scrambled quickly and deftly over the purple flowers, their pollen baskets loaded and their legs busily rubbing. Tomorrow when the destructive vortex of human ego threatens to suck me into its evil core, I must fight to remember the lovely, poetic toil of dozens of beautiful bumblebees.

Closer to Crowley Marsh, we encountered real dragonflies darting about like insect helicopters. Like butterflies and hummingbirds, dragonflies move so quickly and erratically that the beauty of their colors can be seen only in painfully brief flashes that leave you longing for move. I attribute this to Nature's sadistic sense of humor—the same sense of humor that makes the stationery and easy-to-observe fly unappealing in appearance.

The other insect in abundance made itself felt when J. tried to take a photo of me with the "tree of the day" along one of the hiking trails. He had no idea why I was hopping from foot to foot, twisting, and squirming; he couldn't see (or feel) the mosquitoes that were attacking my face, hands,legs, and rear. It will be interesting to see how those photos turn out—and I meant to be cooperative for a change.

Although we didn't observe any birds of note—we saw mainly healthy-looking robins, including a young one posing on a sign—we did witness a turf battle between two male red-winged blackbirds. I imagine the secretive, demure females were watching the skirmish from hidden branches and saying apologetically to one another, "Boys will be boys . . ."

At about 7:45 p.m., an employee discovered us resting on a bench and let us know that closing time was nigh. I told J. that he'd found us so directly that I wondered, somewhat seriously, if there are strategically placed cameras. Even in a peaceful arboretum, I feel surrounded by the prying eyes of civilization.

Confusing construction threw us off our route, so we were at O'Hare before we knew it. The plan was to go to the Silver Palm, which J. had gotten into his head was near North Avenue and which I thought was closer to Chicago Avenue (judging by the address). During our rambles, we noticed Exit Chicago, a windowless punk and rock club painted black and sporting studs around its forbidding door. I envisioned a tough, intimidating, scary crowd. Look up their Web site and judge for yourself.

After a lot of driving around and a little tension fed by growing hunger, frustration, and, in my case, pain (Ignatius and fibroid friends were making their constricting presence felt), we finally found it—only to learn that the server he knows there had changed shifts and had the night off.

The dining part of the Silver Palm is an old rail car, which seems to me to be the place's main attraction (the food being average). Nearly everyone, however, had opted to dine al fresco, which in Chicago is usually not as charming as it may sound. The Silver Palm's outdoor clientele were seated on a cracked, uneven sidewalk just feet from busy, noisy Milwaukee Avenue. At least I could imagine the glorious days of train travel and service—or try to.

After J. left me with a pile of gifts (T shirts, note cards, postcards, a wooden spoon, etc.), I stripped and lay down, feeling tired but very relaxed despite pain and discomfort. Just as a feeling of well being and peace was threatening to take over, I heard an explosive sound and wondered if the end were nigh and whether I should get up to be sure. More followed, and then the lightning arrived—a 1:30 a.m. thunderstorm. At last it put me to sleep.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Christmas in July

Monday, July 7, 2008, was like Christmas in July at the house of Slywy. I came home to four packages. I'd ordered all of them, but it's always fun to get mail—even if it weighs more than 30 pounds.
The biggest and heaviest box was not for me, but for Hodge—24 cans each of chicken and turkey cat food. He can take comfort in knowing that he'll be fed for another 48 days, at least.
A second heavy box contained a case of Bob's Red Mill Kamut hot cereal and an electronic pedometer. I had given up the hope that Treasure Island might carry Kamut, which is more flavorful than your ordinary whole grain cereals. The pedometer, which counts steps, distance, and kilo calories whether you clip it to your waistband or carry it, is part of my effort to walk more and to track how much walking I do.
A smaller box from Amazon held another health-related item, Insulow, which purports to help shuttle carbohydrates into your muscle cells instead of your fat cells by increasing insulin sensitivity and the uptake of glucose. I haven't tried it, yet, however. I'm almost afraid to.
Finally, the first book I'd ordered last month during a buying spree on ABE was the last to arrive, on the last day of its expected delivery range—A Celtic Childhood by Bill Watkins.

Eat, walk, read. Life.

19 July 2008: Miscellany

  • The landscaping at the Hyde Park Shopping Center was changed earlier this week, and I haven't see Peter Cottontail in the three times I've looked since. I'm hoping that he left on his own or, at worst, the landscapers humanely trapped and relocated him to a better habitat. I was moved to see that someone had thrown baby carrots into the planter on the off chance he was still around.

  • It was an interesting week, but not in a positive sense. Fondly do I recall the days when I was blissfully unaware of the "control freak" type (there must be a psychiatric term and diagnosis code). Once I met one and began to understand the affliction, I realized how rampant among those least qualified or able to manage or control this is. It's disturbing.

  • I have lost the equilibrium and sense of well being I had after my four days away.

  • That it should rain on the day J. wanted to visit Morton Arboretum fits in with the general tenor of life these days.

  • On the other hand, I did get an outdoor table at the bakery, and it's soothing to see and hear the rain from the shelter of the overhang.

  • I am afraid of losing my intellectual, creative, and managerial talents and skills through disuse and misuse. I feel have regressed 20 years and lack the energy, confidence, and hope to try to recoup what I have lost.

  • I have to measure the exact length of my stride, but even if it isn't yet calibrated precisely, the new pedometer shows that I walk more than I thought—often more than two miles a day. Four would be better.

  • Two weeks ago when I was walking around Promontory Point a little after sunset, I looked up and beheld the crescent moon overhead and to the west and remembered that in some ways that that beautiful soft glow and what it represents make life worthwhile. I wish others could understand that.

  • The people who bring their children to The Flamingo pool leave a lot of stuff behind—noodles, toys, floats, goggles, towels. I think of a photo of a baby, under a year old, surrounded, almost crowded, by his roomful of toys. I recall my toy box (actually a tan plastic washtub) in which most of my toys fit with room to spare. I loved everything I had, perhaps because I had so little. All of it meant something—a gift from my aunt, a surprise from my parents. Once I experienced the purest joy when a tiny glow-in-the-dark skeleton came with a necessary bottle of school glue. As small as it was, I treasured it for years. Now children are so used to having so much that they leave things behind or lose them as though they were no more than used paper towels. We and our children falsely believe that things can be replaced infinitely. Do we believe that about our world, our environment, and our wildlife? Is the culture of consumerism and waste etched on our psyches? And are there left any middle-class children who still feel a thrill over the smallest of things?

  • I must stop procrastinating about getting my nearly 35-year-old bike fixed. Returning to the road, even if only around here, might give me a boost and help me put some of the issues into perspective. As for the bike, it is heavy, rusty in spots, and not entirely straight, but I don't think I could ever discard my old friend.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Dream: Identity crisis

A young woman opened a door set in a wall on a narrow European-style street to a tall man in cavalier dress. He held and kissed her forcefully—too forcefully—and they disappeared inside. I wondered if all was well, or if I should have intervened.

Although I didn't know her or the man—I thought they might be college students—I went in later to check on her. She was in a large, claw-footed bathtub, but the man in the tub with her was younger and smaller than the cavalier and was intellectual in appearance. In every way he was the opposite of the other man. I stared, unable to understand and afraid of something indefinable.

I saw a young man in an outdoor warehouse area, then heard a loud sound as a can of olive oil was punctured. Against my will, I began to imagine that the young woman and intellectual in the bathtub had knocked out or even killed the cavalier, using the brief sound of the olive oil can puncture to mask the deed.

I could sense that the young man I now saw was wondering the same thing and whether he had been duped. He was horrified by the possibility because the woman seemed to be a victim, but he was being overcome by a sense of sexual longing that made him hope he was wrong. His mind was trying to form alternative scenarios that did not lead to murder. His feelings were so strong that it occurred to me he may not have been a third man, an accomplice, but that he may be the young man who had been, or would be, in the bathtub. I wondered if I were seeing backward in time.

I felt such a strong sense of his guilt, confusion, and longing that I realized I may be him as he would be in the future, trying to parse the past. Perhaps he and I were the same person.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Dream: Shaken, not stirred

James Bond was being pursued through a large building, most likely a hotel. He stopped to remove his socks, probably just before he was captured. When I found them, I had the presence of mind to pick them up, realizing later that they were the reason that he was being hunted.

He escaped and found me, and I thought I was about to learn the secret of the socks when we heard a woman outside screaming, "Help me! I can't breathe! I can't breathe!" A man in the room threw something to her—an inhaler?—but when she reached for it she lost her grip on the building and plummeted. A suspicion about the man flashed through my mind.

I couldn't bear to look, but at the last moment I saw her hit a very crowded pool. The idea that she had been 14 stories up came to me, and I hoped that she would survive, unlikely as that seemed.

The swimmers had scattered with the impact, and when the body surfaced it was headless. Instead of a neck, however, there was a peg like the Fisher-Price Little People have.

To my horror, the body climbed out of the pool and—sadly and desperately, it seemed to me—began to look for its head, although it would do it no good. It found it, but instead of the head of a young woman, it was the distorted, plain head of a toy. Fretfully and absentmindedly, the body cleanly pulled off one of the puffy, exaggerated ears and seemed anxious to do more to it, but was stumped. It was awful to see and worse to think about, but I wondered what it could mean.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The secret life of Peter Cottontail

Last year I began to wonder how much space an urban cottontail needs when I spotted a mother rabbit and two friendly offspring in The Flamingo's garden. I grew up seeing rabbits emerge from several acres of woods at dusk to browse the field next to us and probably unthinkingly assumed they need lots of space because they had it. The Flamingo rabbits—at least one of which remains, presumably the mother—made me think that rabbits may be able to get by on very little indeed, if that very little offers them what they need.

The courtyard at the Hyde Park Shopping Center is dominated by a tree of respectable girth and crown, centered in a raised planter and surrounded by wood chips and flowering and nonflowering plants.

And a tiny, quarter-grown rabbit.

I first noticed the little bunny a couple of weeks ago when I made my habitual visit to Bonjour. Generally, small children spot it before their more distracted parents do. When you get too close, which is easy given its space, it either freezes or hops away. But it can retreat only so far, because the tree planter is only so big—perhaps 25' by 25' with the corners cut out to form a cross. It's not as shy as my old woodland rabbits; this morning it hopped to within a couple of feet of me, but a noise or movement spooked it, and it flew off—to the center of the planter, where it is furthest from the people sitting around the edges.

I wonder if it has gotten out, or even if it can. The planter is about two feet off the ground with a ledge that invites you to sit on it, as I am now. If it could escape, where would it go? The courtyard is bounded by 55th Street on one side and stores on three, with a walkway out to a large parking lot. If it crossed 55th, it would find town homes with shady yards. If it crossed the parking lot and Lake Park (or took the sidewalk along 55th east), it would get to the railroad embankment. If it traveled west on the sidewalk, it would find a lawn and then more town homes.

Perhaps it hangs around the planter by day and hops off at night. I don't know.

I wonder about this because, come winter, its cozy little planter won't support it. Yesterday, a man, his little boy, and I watched it as it neatly nipped off and devoured a half dozen flowers (decorations to you, food to rabbits). It seems to have eaten many but not nearly all of this particular flower. Is that really all it gets to eat? There will be no flowers soon enough.

Of course it had to have come from somewhere. I doubt it was born in that planter and hope that a human didn't put it there. For all I know, it could wander afield in the evening and at night. It would be interesting to know just what it does and where it goes.

Rabbits are adaptable creatures that are able to live in unusual places. While they may be pests to gardeners, they also serve as ambassadors of nature for the urban child, who finds them just as fascinating as I do wherever they are found—in a garden, among the rocks at Promontory Point, or even in a shopping center planter.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Dream: Full metal jaw

I had a robot whose most prominent feature was its metal teeth. It chased me out of the house into the midnight air, and I became afraid of it. It also got away from me on the street and looked as though it were biting a man's rear end. It attacked so voraciously that I thought it must have chewed up his buttocks and left a bloody mess. Then it turned sideways and deliberately spit out, not blood and gore, but plain saliva. Was I ever to trust it?

I felt the building move, which frightened me because the cause was greater than just strong winds. Outside the window I saw trees and knew that it had been uprooted and that I was about to crash with it and be killed. I waited for the impact of the landing and to be dead—but it didn't come. Everything flew crazily through the air.

I was at the community in Reno, where the roof seemed to be all skylight. The surrounding buildings crowding in on ours were urban and futuristic. A jet passed low overhead, so low that it was enormous. Just as I had waited for the building to plummet to the ground earlier, I waited in terror for the impact that never came.

I was with some couples traveling, and we came upon a notice that Michael Jackson concert tickets were available to the first people who claimed them for $3. I called a friend to tell him. The price seemed unbelievable, of course, but so was his willingness to perform, given his legal troubles and all the talk about his appearance. In the photo, however, he looked normal; everything was back to the way it had been, but he seemed older. We did not think we wanted to go to Indiana for the performance.

[I am not sure where that came from; I've never been interested in Michael Jackson.]

One of the couples seemed to be having some marital difficulties. The woman kept dropping things and expecting her husband to pick them up to an extent that seemed deliberate and unnatural. While we were sitting in the balcony, perhaps at a theater., she dropped a piece of paper—a program?—to the floor below and told her husband to retrieve it. This request seemed unbelievable to him and to us. It wasn't clear how he could descend to the floor.

We drove around at night in a preternatural darkness.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Sunday, July 6, 2008

A Prairie Home Companion at Ravinia

It could not have been a more perfect day.

The last few times I've gone to Ravinia with J., we've brought a few things, but we didn't plan ahead. This time I decided to overcome my work-related aversion to planning and to try to have a real picnic, taking into account our mutual desire—and need—to watch what we eat more closely. After a stop at Caffe RoM (Hyatt Center) and three trips to Walgreens and Treasure Island (four blocks away), I packed the following:


  • 2 blankets (1 has never been enough, I finally realized)

  • citronella candle bucket and matches

  • insect repellent

  • UVA/UVB 85 SPF sunscreen

  • plates

  • utensils

  • cups

  • napkins

  • wet wipes

  • cheese slicer

  • cutting board


  • sunflower oil crackers

  • goat cheese (garlic and chive, plain)

  • port wine sharp cheddar

  • Irish red Leicester

  • lemon humus

  • spinach dip


Caffe RoM JoJo sandwich (mozzarella, prosciutto, artichoke, plum tomato, basil, olive oil)


  • shortbread (Lorna Doone, Walker's)

  • strawberry yogurt


  • sugar-free sparkling pink lemonade

  • blueberry coffee

  • coffee from Caribou

J. brought film, digital, and disposable cameras; the Caribou coffee in an enormous vacuum bottle, an extra shirt, green tea from Italy, gifts, etc.

I had told him that, to make the 2:35 p.m. train, we had to be on a bus by 1:00 p.m. When I talked to him at 12:00 noon, I thought he was on his way from Homewood. When he hadn't shown up by 1;00 p.m., I decided a cab to the train station was the only way left, so I called to tell him—to find out he was at home. He'd run errands and gone shopping after his dentist's appointment and was just now ready to leave. Even if he drove off immediately (which he did), and even if we flagged a taxi right away, it would be close, and I tried to manage my anxiety and to resign myself to taking the later train, which wouldn't give us much time to set up, relax a bit, and hear the show's off-air preliminaries.

J. appeared at about 1:45 p.m. and had me bring up a gift that needed refrigeration, so we lost a few more minutes. I met him at the back gate, assigned him the heavy cold goods bag, then raced ahead of him toward 55th Street and Hyde Park Boulevard. A cab passed us as I was halfway down the second block—unfortunate timing. As I was looking anxiously down Hyde Park Boulevard, J. labored up and asked from 20 feet away, "What time is the train?" "I told you—2:35," "Oh!" he said in the tone of a man who has had an epiphany. "We need to catch a cab in the next five seconds to make it! I thought it was at 3:00!" Researchers: Take note of a classic case of male homo sapiens selective hearing syndrome. He really has no memory of what I'd said, and I have no idea where the 3:00 came from.

Before I could get myself too upset, I spotted a taxi, which was piloted by the only cab driver in Chicago who doesn't drive at breakneck speeds like an FBI fugitive with the agency behind him. He took us down Lake Shore Drive, Roosevelt Road, and Canal Street like a Sunday driver, which feels very strange when you've become used to breakneck speeds.

I bypassed the women's room (long line, no time) and bought tickets. As J. longingly eyed a pretzel counter and mentioned how hungry he was, I reminded him that, if he hadn't noticed, we were carrying 20 pounds of food. He had to settle for one of the bottles of green tea with dextrose and sugar, which he drank on the train.

We settled on the train with eight or nine minutes to spare. This sound like an ample margin, but the train was already nearly full; it would become standing room only after the north side stops.

This brings me to Metra, which doesn't offer a Ravinia Park stop for the 2:35 Saturday train. Normally, this would make sense because most Ravinia performances are in the evening. A Prairie Home Companion is an exception, broadcast live from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. CT. As a bureaucracy, Metra is unable to conceive of or adapt to exceptions. The conductor informed those going to Ravinia Park that they would need to get off at Braeside, walk through a parking lot, and take the bike path for "about a block" to the park. So, instead of making the unscheduled stop the occasion would seem to call for, Metra representatives helpfully tell the hundreds (or more) people crammed into the train with their lawn chairs and picnic gear to take a hike. It's worked this way for years, as far as I can tell, and it makes no more sense now than it did when I first noticed it. Surely somebody besides me thinks this is mindless and inflexible bureaucracy at its best.

At one point I lost J., and vice versa (I stopped mid-trail to look for him in the sea of humanity, but didn't spot him because he'd stopped at the beginning because he hadn't noticed me right in front of him). His feet hurt, so he walks slowly; I walk fast to keep my lower back from seizing up, so separation was bound to happen. After I picked up the tickets at Will Call, I found him by the gate, so that too worked out. I had to laugh when one of the employees handed him a plastic trash bag, and J. said, "Thanks, sweet—er, thanks." (He's so used to calling me "sweetie" that it's become a habit.) He's lucky the man didn't say, "No problem, darlin'."

Although a swathe of the lawn was "extremely wet" and off limits, we found a spot in the shade close to the path (my preferences). After an obligatory rest stop, I unpacked, and the feasting began.

Of course, we didn't eat most of what I'd brought. My intention had been to offer some choices. We didn't touch the goat cheese, red Leicester, second sandwich (we split the first), yogurt, or Walker's. Speaking for myself, I was well sated.

Before the show started, I noticed an elderly couple nearby, each with his/her nose buried in a book. It looked as though they hadn't brought anything else with them, and their reading was intense. I should have checked on them later to see if they'd put the books down after the performance began.

As usual, the off-air warm up began with the singing of "The Star-Spangled Banner," which was complemented on air by renditions of "America, the Beautiful" and "My Country, 'tis of Thee." As the countdown segued into the intro, I was amazed by how seamless this always seems to be, given the nature of a live broadcast. Even for radio veterans like the A Prairie Home Companion crew and some of the guests, this must be an anxious moment—fraught not only with the jitters before any performance but worries about the technical and other issues that could derail a live broadcast. I imagine that it's hard to forget the possibilities.

After noting that the country seems to be headed in a better direction, Keillor stayed away from political humor and references, talking and singing about the "working class" in the pavilion and the "elite" on the lawn. He's not far off—I spent a lot on food, but it's not only that—on the lawn you can eat, drink, and be merry. The reward for the holders of the cheap seats is freedom.

You can also wander around. As soon as the show began, J. took off with his camera collection, reappearing just before the intermission. Later, I went up to look at the stage. On the lawn, you do miss some of the humor in the body language, but mostly I'd trade that for the liberty of the lawn experience.

I hope Da Mare does not hear about the "Guy Noir" episode, in which an ad agency tries to change Chicago's image from the city of the broad shoulders to something a little more Parisian. Da Mare has enough ideas already, some of which we could do without. It was funny, as was the skit about the bewildered groom and the dialogue between the controlling mother and her hapless adult son. Keillor and Jearlyn Steele also paid tribute to Mahalia Jackson.

All through this, the weather was perfect, like the best summer days in western New York that I remember—comfortable and sunny, idyllic in every way.

When we got back, we walked over to Promontory Point. I was irked to see a boy breaking branches (at least two) off a tree while his family ignored him and tried to regale J. with my views about empathy, but the few stars visible in Chicago were out, and so were the fireflies against a backdrop of dark Lake Michigan water, so we sat on the rocks and watched the fireworks at Navy Pier.

And so back to the necessary insanity tomorrow . . .

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Dream: Alma mater again

I had returned to college and was trying to find a reception on the second floor of a building, but there were no stairs that I could discover. I came across a long line of students who might have been waiting to get into the reception, but I needed to bypass them.

I found some concrete stairs flanked by dirt banks, but students appeared and began painting them black. I attempted to climb the dirt banks, but was not strong enough. When the students noticed my efforts, they silently began painting them, too. Who paints dirt banks? I thought, wondering why everything was tacitly against me.

I remembered that I had returned to college for three quarters and had missed most of the first quarter's offerings. I vowed to do better, but that meant the money, thousands of dollars, had been wasted already. I tried to explain this to friend I met, along with my horrible feelings of guilt. As I came closer to waking up, I asked myself why the degree I earned 25 years ago was not good enough for me, and a voice—my own?—asked, "Did you really earn it?"

Friday, July 4, 2008

Dream: The whipping boy (bonus: Viacom vs. Google)

Before I get to my latest nightmare, I should mention that I read that a judge has ordered Google to turn over to Viacom the names and IP addresses, along with everything they've ever watched, of every YouTube user. I'm not a lawyer and don't know the law, and presumably the judge is and does, but my common sense and practical sense immediately asked, "Why? Why should the representatives of a corporation get their mitts on that volume and kind of data, the vast majority of which is irrelevant to their case?"

I've not been a registered user of YouTube for very long and signed up mainly so I could track a handful of favorites. My personal viewing habits are not the stuff of litigation--I click on links in e-mails and blogs that lead mainly to videos of cats and other animals, engineers talking about cats, lions attacking Cape buffalo, Jason Trusty's Puppet Bike in Chicago, awful vintage TV commercials, and the like. While Viacom should have the right to find out who steals and uploads their copyrighted material, what does this have to do with me and what I watch?

The popular argument in these situations is that it shouldn't matter to me if I have nothing to hide. It does matter, however; it matters on principle. If my viewing habits, or those of people like me, were essential to the case and if the records were to be turned over to a law enforcement agency, I would feel differently. Viacom is using its power as a corporation to obtain information that no one should have access to without clear cause--even if that information is no more significant than that I watch animal videos.

Google's position strikes me as reasonable--if you complain that your copyrighted material has been uploaded to YouTube without your permission, they will remove it. Viacom's response is that they have had to employ an entire department to watch YouTube. Yet, whether YouTube existed or not, or whether they operated differently, it seems to me Viacom would still be stuck monitoring the Internet. People will always find a way to steal and a place to which to upload. YouTube makes it easier, but that is its purpose for most of us who upload our animal, vacation, music, and other personal videos. Monitoring is the cost of doing business; I imagine that big corporations with touchy reputations like Microsoft and Wal-Mart have public relations people whose eyes are peeled for negative coverage online.

I don't know what the answer is, but I don't think it's giving out irrelevant personal information on the off chance that, among the chaff, there's a kernel of relevance.

All this leads, I think, to a dream I had the afternoon of July 4, Independence Day in the United States. The first part has nothing to do with anything, but it's interesting that my subconscious think that the world operates in weird, unwitnessed ways. The second part touches on rights.

I was watching one of our high-rise buildings under construction when I saw it rotate 180 degrees, then rotate back. It happened quickly enough that I couldn't believe my eyes. I saw it happen again later and couldn't deny it. Someone from development explained it to me, although I am sure I didn't understand.

I was by the pool at home, wondering about what I had seen, when The Flamingo rotated 180 degrees and back before my eyes. I looked at the person next to me, who had also seen it. When it happened again, I speculated about how I didn't notice this when I was inside, although surely one would be able to feel and see it. That I could be oblivious to my building turning back and forth on its axis periodically was both marvelous and horrifying.

I had just passed through security at work when I noticed that the person ahead of me had knelt to clean an escalator rail and was trying to hide his face. An enraged security guard threw me to the ground in his haste to get to this person, who he picked up and slammed violently down. "I know who you are!" he kept shouting.

The person was no more than an adolescent boy carrying toy masks or flat shapes in not-quite-pastel colors. I saw a line of them hanging, including a pink owl. Every time the boy tried to say something, the guard would kick or punch him or throw him to the ground, often hitting me because I was stunned and still in the way. I could not imagine who this boy was or what he had allegedly done that would warrant such violent treatment, and the toys/masks I had seen seemed symbolic of his innocence. I found myself unable to speak up to stop the violence. My silence made me guilty. As I tried to recover myself, I debated with myself whether I should report my ill treatment to the office manager upstairs, but I thought she would dismiss my complaint as trivial and me as a whiner.

When I woke up, I was thinking that we are not quite yet the society the founders had envisioned as they risked their lives.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Dream: Double jeopardy

I came upon a stand full of people listening to an orator, who was declaiming against an elderly woman accused of a murder that had happened long ago. I interrupted her, but she continued speaking. I interrupted her tirelessly until I could finally say what I had to say and engage her in discussion. I pointed out that the woman, who was suffering from dementia, had already been tried and could not be tried again (although I was not sure in my mind of the outcome, that is, whether she had been found not guilty). My passions were high and people were listening to me, but I could not think of the term for a second trial (double jeopardy). My antagonist remained unconvinced, and the people looked torn, while the woman herself seemed confused. I was determined not to lose this argument.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Dream: The vampire betrothal and back to school

I needed to go to the bathroom, but the room labeled for women was behind a barrier so the door couldn't be opened outward. I used an ornament to jury rig it open somehow. When I came out, a handsome but frightening vampire who I understood to be my prospective husband accused me of stealing the ornament, which seemed to be in pieces. I returned the ornament, although I had thought it was a gift, but he still claimed part of it was missing. He seemed to want something from me, but I proved that nothing was missing and left with my friends. Jeanne drove much too fast; there was no traffic, and we were almost flying.

I came upon my brother, who was using a rag and a couple of fingers to scrub the kitchen floor. You could see how yellow it had been compared to the snow-white patches he had already cleaned. His motions looked effortless, but I could imagine how hard the work would be on my arthritic knuckles.

I walked into my old elementary school to look around, but thought I should check in at the front desk out of courtesy. At first they welcomed me, but when I told them I was a former student, they demurred politely. I could, however, use the bathroom. As I turned to leave, they asked me my interest and my age. I answered, "English," but I couldn't think of my age. Then I said, "32," which didn’t seem right. Only later did I remember that I should have said 47. I also mentioned my degree and university. They seemed most impressed by my age and acted as though they might change their minds because of it.

The bell rang, and hundreds of girls ran for the bathrooms, which were small, domed, tent-like enclosures into which they crawled. No matter where I stood, they would get into them before I could. I wondered if they would let me in if I mentioned that I was 32.


Everything you love about cats in one short video:

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Giant pencil from Western Michigan University

I can’t believe I didn’t noticed this pencil during my previous stay at the Ann Arbor Bed and Breakfast. Perhaps it wasn’t there before, or the golf pencil along the ledge next to it. The pencil is imprinted with Western Michigan University and seals.