Sunday, November 30, 2008

Today's time-wasting meme

Picked up from Spynotes. Tag yourself if interested.

1. WERE YOU NAMED AFTER ANYONE? All I know about my name is that, after my dad came up with Virgil Ralph for my brother (Virgil = dad’s cousin, Ralph = dad’s first name), my mother (who wanted Dwight David) said she would get to name me and did.

2. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU CRIED? When was the last time I didn’t? My tears are internal.

3. DO YOU LIKE YOUR HANDWRITING? I wish it were more regular so that it looked neat and more like a font, but I don’t have strong feelings about it.

4. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE LUNCH MEAT? I don’t often eat lunch meat, but have been eating a lot of tuna salad, heirloom tomato, and goat cheese with lemon zest on wheat bread for lunch.

5. DO YOU HAVE KIDS? Nay.

6. IF YOU WERE ANOTHER PERSON WOULD YOU BE FRIENDS WITH YOU? Probably, until I drove myself crazy with moodiness. But I would make myself laugh, so maybe that balances it out.

7. DO YOU USE SARCASM A LOT? Sarcasm hides a lot of sins.

8. DO YOU STILL HAVE YOUR TONSILS? Yes, and they are still enormous. And full of tonsil stones.

9. WOULD YOU BUNGEE JUMP? There are things I’d rather do.

10. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CEREAL? Kamut.

11. DO YOU UNTIE YOUR SHOES WHEN YOU TAKE THEM OFF? No.

12. DO YOU THINK YOU ARE STRONG? Physically, it would depend on who you’re comparing me to. Emotionally, probably. Lots of exercise.

13. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE ICE CREAM? Ben and Jerry’s cookie dough.

14. WHAT IS THE FIRST THING YOU NOTICE ABOUT PEOPLE? Who they remind me of.

15. RED OR PINK? Neither.

16. WHAT IS THE LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOURSELF? I try not to dwell on that.

17. WHO DO YOU MISS THE MOST? My family and family life.

18. DO YOU WANT EVERYONE TO SEND THIS BACK TO YOU? Oh, why not?

19. WHAT COLOR SHOES ARE YOU WEARING? I’m barefoot, but was wearing black walking shoes in the sleet.

20. WHAT WAS THE LAST THING YOU ATE? Bread and butter pickles.

21. WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW? Silence and occasional running water from upstairs.

22. IF YOU WHERE A CRAYON, WHAT COLOR WOULD YOU BE? Midnight blue.

23. FAVORITE SMELLS? Fresh bread, coffee.

24. WHO WAS THE LAST PERSON YOU TALKED TO ON THE PHONE? J.

25. DO YOU LIKE THE PERSON WHO SENT THIS TO YOU? Sure.

26. FAVORITE SPORTS TO WATCH? Equestrian events, as long as no one gets hurt.

27. HAIR COLOR? Light brown-red with a smattering of gray and white.

28. EYE COLOR? Grey-green-hazel. Or something like that. My hair and eye colors have never been well defined.

29. DO YOU WEAR CONTACTS? Not anymore.

30. FAVORITE FOOD? Babaganooj, if made right.

31. SCARY MOVIES OR HAPPY ENDINGS? A scary movie with a happy ending, e.g., Gaslight.

32. LAST MOVIE YOU WATCHED? I started to watch Holiday Inn and have 20 minutes left to go.

33. WHAT COLOR SHIRT ARE YOU WEARING? A mauve shirt that J. gave me yesterday.

34. SUMMER OR WINTER? Summer, although not in Chicago. My favorite seasons are spring and fall.

35. HUGS OR KISSES? Doesn’t that depend?

36. FAVORITE DESSERT? Devil’s food cake.

37. MOST LIKELY TO RESPOND? Don’t know.

38. LEAST LIKELY TO RESPOND? Errol Flynn.

39. WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING NOW?

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson.

The New Penguin History of the World (Fifth Edition) by J. M. Roberts.

Who Murdered Chaucer?: A Medieval Mystery by Terry Jones, Robert Yeager, Alan Fletcher, Juliette Dor, and Terry Dolan.

40. WHAT IS ON YOUR MOUSE PAD? I don’t use one, but I have a lot of them somewhere around here.

41. WHAT DID YOU WATCH ON TV LAST NIGHT? Antiques Roadshow.

42. FAVORITE SOUND? Certain voices.

43. ROLLING STONES OR BEATLES? Both.

44. WHAT IS THE FARTHEST YOU HAVE BEEN FROM HOME? San Francisco, California.

45. DO YOU HAVE A SPECIAL TALENT? I wish.

46. WHERE WERE YOU BORN? Lackawanna, New York.

47. WHOSE ANSWERS ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO GETTING BACK? Any.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Dream: Headlines

At around 1:30 a.m. I woke up from a vivid dream that may have come from the headlines. I was with an older man, perhaps my father in the dream but not my real father, in an aerie hideout when armed men broke in. They told us they were going to kill him bloodily, but that I could leave with one of them across the treetops. I don't remember wrestling with the decision, saying good-bye, or leaving; I recall only fleeing through the treetops, hearing gunfire, and being told not to look back. I didn't need to turn to see the horror in my imagination and to wonder at the ease with which I had left and my cowardice. I did not feel what I should have. When I awoke, I was shaking.

Next I dreamed that I was choosing my room at the White House, but it was nothing like the building on Pennsylvania Avenue. I liked every room I looked into better than the last, although all of them were bare bones, and some were underground. I wondered how I had come to be there and to have this opportunity. The strangeness of it frightened me.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Review: Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen, edited by James Kinsley and with an introduction and notes by Jane Stabler. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc. 2003. 480 pages.

In Mansfield Park, "All the world's a stage/And all the men and women merely players." The cast of characters of both the novel and the play within it is drawn from three families and their social circles: the Bertrams of Mansfield Park, the Grants/Crawfords of the parsonage, and the Prices of Portsmouth. Even as she refuses to participate in her cousins' staging of Lovers' Vows, Fanny Price is at center stage as the observer we observe in Austen's social and familial drama.

As the poor relation of the Bertrams, Fanny is a natural outsider. Lacking social or financial aspirations, she is free to see the folly of those around her and bound by what seems to have become a quaint form of honor from warning Edmund about his. For all her acquiescence to fate, however, Fanny is not weak. Just as she takes a firm stand about not appearing in the ill-fated Lovers' Vows with its ill-fated cast, she stays on her moral high road even when it requires her to assert herself to Sir Thomas, to whom she is beholden and whose own daughters dare not defy him so directly.

Marriage is central to Mansfield Park. Maria Ward "had the good luck . . . to be thereby raised to the rank of a baronet's lady, with all the comforts and consequences of an handsome house and large income." Despite the narrator's cynicism, the Bertrams have what seems to be an effective marriage; Sir Thomas is the domineering household head, while his decorative lady provides the services of her busybody widowed sister and her niece Fanny. Lady Bertram's passivity complements Sir Thomas's active nature; she is "guided in everything important by Sir Thomas, and in smaller concerns by her sister." She can do without companionship, but only if Sir Thomas reassures her.

Motivated by his money and status and her good looks, the Bertrams have established a solid marriage, but its sons and daughters are not its pride. Restrained by and resentful of Sir Thomas's patriarchal hand, his elder son and daughter rebel against and eventually flout his authority and threaten the family's good name. His younger daughter seeks escape through the closest means possible, and even his younger son is spared from his poor judgment only by fate.

Unlike Lady Bertram, her youngest sister marries for love, or at least on impulse, and suffers the consequences of ignoring what matters most—money and social standing. Self-condemned to a life of poverty and negligence, Mrs. Price cannot depend on either husband or servants to manage day-to-day life so she can indulge in her natural laziness, as Lady Bertram does. Even as her family lives in filthy squalor, Mrs. Price, could, if she were capable of noticing, take pride in Fanny's personal growth and moral fortitude, William's accomplishments and career, and Susan's promise. Like the Bertrams on their extensive estate, she is trapped in the narrow drama she has written for herself. Those who exit—Fanny, William, Susan—are able, it seems, to craft a more positive narrative for themselves.

Like a proscenium arch, the trip to Sotherton and the use of Lovers' Vows frame Fanny's view of the relationships around her. Much of the action takes place out of her sight (to her dismay), but Fanny sees enough to disturb her sense of propriety and to bring to light her own desires. Fanny, and the reader, can only guess what is happening offstage and how it may affect her.

Relationships founded solely on money (Rushworths), rebellion or love (Prices, presumably), and lust (Henry/Maria) fare poorly, as does the Crawfords' sister's second marriage (to the admiral). Austen's narrator does not give up on the institution, however. "With so much true merit and true love, and no want of fortune or friends . . . happiness . . . must appear as secure as earthly happiness can be," the omnipotent stage director steps in to say after having dispensed justice and wisdom to those characters who require one or the other, just before before the curtain falls on Mansfield Park and environs. In the end and with a heavy hand, the narrator redeems marriage, at least for the deserving (Fanny) and the enduring (the Bertrams).

Readers who prefer strong, attractive women may not appreciate Fanny, her apparently rigid morality, and her seeming weakness of will. As a perceptive outsider who understands what she observes, Fanny is a complex character. She knows and respects how Sir Thomas would feel about Lovers' Vows and participates to the extent she can so she can keep an eye on Edmund. She knows where his future unhappiness lies, yet does not deter him although it is in her power. She may be judgmental, as people are, but she asserts herself strongly only when she is herself affected, for example, when she is wanted for the play and when Henry pays his attentions. She is true to herself and allows others the same freedom, succeed or fail, with her real feelings hidden within her inner emotional life.

Set in a time of war and slave-supported prosperity that seems remote, Mansfield Park can still reach across the years. In spite of the antiquated social and moral codes that rule their lives, the out-of-touch adults, the rebellious children, and the lonely and unconventional heroine still hold interest today.

Friday, 28 November 2008.
Copyright © 2008 by Diane L. Schirf.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The fall of an elder

[I meant to post this in May. Spring has come and gone and will come again.]

The tree on the southwest corner of 56th Street and Hyde Park Boulevard took a long time to die.

First, the leaves of one limb would turn yellow, dry up, and fall off, and another would follow, and another. By last autumn, one limb of leaves remained, and it was dying. Of course, when winter came it didn't matter—it looked like all the living but leafless tress around it.

It made me sad to think of spring arriving, knowing that at least one prominent old tree would still be a stark hulk against the blue skies after all its brethren had burst into bud.

That's why I was relieved a few weeks ago to find a crew cutting it down. By the time I arrived at the bus stop across the street, they had cut its limbs off, and one man had sawed through about half the trunk. I had shown up in time for the crucial moment. One of the crew cleared the other southbound lane and halted traffic. I wondered how they were going to control its fall, then I noticed that the ropes tied to the tree were anchored to a bar on the front of one of the trucks. As the truck slowly reversed, the tree tumbled. It seemed almost like a gentle fall rather than a hard crash. I could imagine that the spirit of the dead tree was relieved of its burden at last.

By the next morning, all that remained was the stump and some wood chips missed during the cleanup. Within a few days, the stump had been cut down and removed, and all that is left today is a large, roughly circular patch of wood chips, the kind the Chicago Park District and landscapers sometimes put on the bare patches under healthy trees.

I miss that tree, and the one on the southeast corner behind the bus stop that was struck by lightning or torn apart during one of the spate of micro-bursts that have devastated so many trees here in recent years. I miss their shade and their guardianship of the ad hoc footpath through the park and of the bus stop, each a little like the sole remaining pillar of an ancient gate. When I look at the wood chips that mark the location of the one and the three spindly bushes that encircle the patch left by the other, I feel like I am visiting the grave sites of respected, beloved elders. Both look like scars that will take a long time to heal.

I wonder if their spirits ever leave, or if they too still mourn.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Cooling lakes and hot spots


After the customary detour to Caribou Coffee in Homewood, where I picked up Bodum Pavina glasses, a boardroom mug, and a sweet little caribou, J. and I headed out to Goose Lake Prairie State Park.

Or so we thought.

I don't think I can call the drive "scenic." The area is mostly flat and bereft of interesting features, at least to my uninformed eye. We passed through the Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor but didn't have a chance to look around and appreciate the history, which I suppose is based on industry and transportation.

We did see lots of industry. The area around Joliet and to the southwest reminded me of Buffalo and Lackawanna, New York, during the heyday of the steel mills and brought back my faint memories of northern New Jersey, which in turn evoked visions of a post-apocalyptic world.

I felt almost like I had come home to 1960s Buffalo when we crossed a huge steel bridge over the Des Plaines River, which at that point is flanked by steel and concrete. Further along the highway the Kankakee River, edged by trees, retains some of the its original natural beauty—that is, it looks like a river, not an industrial cesspool.

Interspersed along the way were small farms, houses, red barns, and rotting barns and outbuildings.

Off the expressway in Morris, we drove along fenced-off water set against a backdrop of power and industrial towers. We found an entrance to the lake shore on Jugtown Road, although the fields were closed to everyone except hunters shotgunning for deer. As we got out of the car, we heard guns popping off in the distance.

"I see," I said. "You brought me here knowing that it was closed for deer hunting, hoping a stray shot would get me."

J. laughed but didn't deny it.

Our first sight was of a live bait machine. The idea of keeping live animals, yes, even fish bait, in a machine disturbed me, so I distracted myself by looking at the names of the selections. "Fathead" was the clear winner.

We walked out onto one of the floating piers. I stayed well behind J., amused by the pier's side-to-side sway as he stepped heavily down it. Flat chunks of ice dotted the water's surface, which made the prospect of losing footing on the unsteady pier even less appealing. J. thought it best that we continue to leave space between us on the jaunt back to solid ground. After getting directions from the concessionaire (human food and fish bait), we returned to the car, where we took photos of the tall grasses bent away from the wind and of a camouflaged blind draped in hunter orange.

Later, I would learn that Heidecke Lake is the cooling lake for the Collins (fossil fuel) power plant. Dresden and Braidwood (nuclear) are also nearby, and J. remarked on the number of plants so close together and the availability of land.

I'm not sure that the Goose Lake Prairie Visitor Center was open because we didn't find an open road to get to it, although we eventually came to a spot that may have been the bank fishing point the concessionaire tried to steer us toward. It was confusing, and I'm not sure where we ended up, only that it was closed for the season and that a sign instructed visitors what to do if a warning siren went off for three to five minutes. Warning of what? Tornadoes? Or meltdown?

Before we got to that point, however, we'd driven past a small herd of cows and down a road with fenced fields and signs proclaiming that there's no trespassing allowed on this government property. At the end, we reached an open gate with clear indications that something to do with the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers lay beyond (we’d seen signs but hadn’t thought much about them). I suggested that we not proceed, and J. said that now would be a good time to backtrack. I told J. that, between Dresden and this Army Corps of Engineers area, we'd probably been tracked by satellite and his license plate information captured as he'd driven slowly and stopped periodically to take photos of part of Dresden. We're probably in an FBI database now. And all we wanted to walk some nature trails. Honest.

On the return, we found a rocky trail down to the water's edge, a little too steep and unstable for me, constrained as I was by winter clothes. I couldn't quite trust myself to make it to the bottom gracefully without falling. J. found what he thought were black mushrooms, which he said were disgusting to touch. In the photos he took, they look almost like rusted metal caps. A friend tells me they're dried water lotus seed pods. They look alien. Or mutant . . .

We passed the cows again. I told J., "They started out as pigs . . ."

After some final tallgrass photos, we took off. On the highway in the distance I spotted a black silhouette broken up by bright squares of golden light. It looked like a 1940s stage set depicting a city skyline at night. J., who'd noticed it on the way, said it's an oil refinery and speculated that the proliferation of lights is meant to prevent any confusion on the part of pilots.

We stopped at a Mobil station because J., whose gas tank was nearly full, couldn't resist topping it off with premium, given that the price of regular was $1.829. While he took care of business, I took care of my own in the store's ladies' room, then explored a bit. The store was surprisingly large and was stocked with everything from convenience food and lures to winter jackets. I couldn't resist buying the only wolf t-shirt, which happened to be my size.

In Frankfort, Cactus Carol’s was closed, so we went to Chef Klaus’s Bier Stube for heavy German food. If you don’t have enough meat, organ meat, or fat in your diet, this is the place to dine. After I’d said earlier how much I wanted to become a vegetarian for humane reasons, I ordered chicken breast stuffed with ham and cheese. I’m a woman of principle, if not of practice.

And so to the Flamingo for holiday chai, pumpkin cheesecake from Bonjour, and BBC America. In my mailbox was a pleasant surprise—a refund check from Northwestern Memorial Hospital for $195.43. I have no idea what it's for, but I'm not one to look gift cash in the mouth at such troubled times as these.

I also received Medieval Lives by Terry Jones, obtained with Borders Bucks.

Life is good.

For now.

Dream: The vampire and the gargoyle

The economy was very bad, and my father was washing his white pickup truck for sale. I asked how much he wanted—$20,000. I looked into its white bed flecked with rust and wondered at his lack of pragmatism.

We went for a drive in the country and stopped at the foot of a hill, where a man offered to make my sister and me something of our choice. She asked for a vampire. He disappeared. When he returned with it, his behavior had become very strange. Discreetly and without haste he pursued my sister, never quite catching her but always staying right behind her. He commented on her virtue and beauty and seemed delighted by her mounting nervousness.

I asked for a gargoyle, although I'm not sure that that is what I wanted. It was the first thing that occurred to me. When he returned, he did not follow or pursue me, and his comments were of a different nature. I sensed that he was attracted to me for more than looks alone. I and my attributes were desirable to him on some deeper level, and it frightened me that I could read his mind. His variable character repulsed, horrified, and fascinated me, and I was troubled that I understood him so well.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Torture!

During my second physical therapy session, an older woman lay on the bed next to mine moaning something about "torture." I said that I had felt that way about the work on my shoulder several years ago, and she seemed pleased that someone understood her pain. "It's torture. They torture you," she continued.

I was speaking only from memory, from when my shoulders hurt so much and were so weak that I had to lift my arm with the other hand. Therapy had to be undertaken gradually because anything that caused pain (movement) would make the condition worse.

At first we eased into it, but now I recall that at some point when I felt better the therapist picked up the pace, adding repetitions, new exercises, and resistance—a slow introduction to what my neighbor might call "torture."

During the first session for my knee, I did 10 repetitions; during the second, two sets of 10. Wednesday she told me to do three sets of 10. Not sure that I had heard her correctly with my hearing problems, I said, "You mean 30?"

"Yes, 30. But three sets of 10 sounds better."

Even if it doesn't feel better.

Perhaps hoping to demonstrate that, deep down, physical therapists are sadists, I said, half-jokingly, "So next time we're going to do 40?"

"No," she said.

"No?"

"No," she said. "Next time we're going to add weights."

I could almost hear the cackle I was sure she had had to suppress.

Dream: Stop, thief!

I walked into a restaurant bar and found people I'd known in high school, although I couldn't put all the names with the faces. I was right about a few, and EP introduced me to some of the rest. Many of them were boys who had bullied me, including SF. They, and EP, would not look at me directly.

Two fish escaped from an enormous aquarium and began to chase each other and fight outside it. They were much larger than typical aquarium fish and seemed to be getting bigger. I finally wrestled the more aggressive fish to the ground and tried to heave it back into the aquarium. At first it was half in/half out and struggled against me, but with a mighty effort I tipped it in. The other fish was caught, too.

Both escaped again and began to terrify the people. One took on the appearance of a cartoon whale, with an exaggerated head, no body, and tiny tail, but that made it no less dangerous, and those unable to flee from before it were bitten, mauled, or worse. As I came closer to waking, I wondered how these fish survived, moved about, grew, and morphed out of the water. 

I used a wheelchair to get to a store at South Shore Plaza and debated how secure it would be if I parked it outside unlocked. I seemed to have little choice, so I did.

Inside I expected to find a glittering, high-end jewelry store, but the shop was stark, mostly empty, and stocked with such valueless but useful items as old newspapers. I reflected upon how much had changed, although there had never been a high-end jewelry store at the plaza. My surprise was a mystery. I still puzzled over the fish, which I had escaped.

Only moments later I came out to find my wheelchair missing. I saw the thief running toward the edge of the trees and bushes and called for someone to stop him. A man, perhaps a classmate from the bar, took off in pursuit, but as the foliage swallowed them, I knew he would always be a step or two behind and would never catch the wheelchair thief.

I was afraid of encountering the fishes again.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Lights, camera, 911

Late yesterday afternoon I was able to get a seat at Bonjour, where in the colder weather I like to watch darkness fall outdoors. It's a cozy, reassuring feeling to be warm indoors with people under bright lights when the darkness descends and the cold gets colder. I was writing, drinking coffee, and waiting for J.

Behind me was something I'd never seen there before—a wood screen with a painted floral design. Despite sleeping much of the day (a bad habit I thought I'd broken), I was still tired and too incurious to look into this phenomenon.

An older, ashen-faced man looked at me several times without focusing and then told a young man at the counter that he'd better call 911—he couldn't feel his legs, and he thought one had an area of discoloration.

The poised young man called and relayed questions and answers such as: "How old are you?" "He's 59." He told the man, who had the same emaciated, weather-beaten look as the late Jacques Cousteau, that he'd been advised not to give him anything to eat or drink. They decided to elevate the man's legs, and he arranged a chair for that purpose. The young man was willing to help but hesitated to touch the patron's bare, toothpick-thin legs or his socks, so he finally grabbed his shoes to heave up his legs.

The paramedics arrived within minutes and asked the man questions about his health breathing, medications, and so forth. They also wanted to know how he'd gotten there (walked) and how he'd felt when he'd left home. They took his blood pressure—100/70. He said something about going home, but the paramedics told him that he was going to the hospital. More showed up with a stretcher-chair, and away they went. All this took no more than 10 or 15 minutes.

J. showed up moments later and, after some discussion, was the first to realize that it was a fireplace screen. We watched as cake after cake was lifted carefully off its plate and doily and placed behind the screen, then J. spotted what I'd overlooked—a camera. A photo shoot! It turns out that they were taking photos for the Web site that is apparently in the works. Someday the rest of the world can drool over gâteau au chocolat from Bonjour.

While J. went in pursuit of yet more treats, a girl began hanging around behind me, trying to talk to Madame. "Comment ça-va?" Madame asked. "How are you?" I translated (loosely). The girl looked at me helplessly. "Tell her, 'Très bien,'" I suggested. She struggled. "Très bien," I repeated. She said in that fast, breathless way children have, "I'm learning Spanish at school," perhaps to explain her apparent deficiencies in French. Then she added, "I don't know any French." I told her that that is all right, as I don't speak Spanish. She failed to recognize my attempt, which I won't re-create here. Sigh.

Madame gave her two ornate, pastel-colored lollipops, but after running off for a few seconds with them, she returned and said, "I don't think my mom would want me to have these." I saw her with them later, so even her cautious mother knows better than to turn down a gift from Madame. Meanwhile, my mind had blanked on “merci.”

We stopped at Treasure Island and Borders and came out to tiny snowflakes sparking in the streetlights. With no wind blowing, the air was warm enough that it was hard to mind this precursor to winter.

Next we headed to Valois, where you can "see your food." I found myself puzzled by the juxtaposition of the Chicago skyline on one side with alpine mountains on the other—not exactly representative of downstate Illinois.

At the Flamingo, we watched as an experienced male bald eagle and his young bride successfully raised two offspring, despite the latter's rather stupid mistakes, such as turning tail to a 40 mph wind and stepping on the kids. As I told J., it was the old man eagle's fault for going after a young trophy wife. Almost on that note, he decided it was time to leave for work.

Au revoir.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

"Purveyors of this sad story"

If GE "brings good things to life," the Internet brings good things to light, or back to life—for example, the CBS Radio Mystery Theater (CBSRMT).

Radio Hall of Famer and Those Were the Days host Chuck Schaden aired a few episodes of CBSRMT many years ago, but was thwarted in his quest to broadcast the series by some kind of rights issues. Today many CBSRMT episodes can be found online as MP3s—which means I may need to break down and procure an MP3 player.

I was 12 years old when the CBSRMT series began to air, usually at midnight. I listened to the program in the silence of the night, trying to be quiet as I huddled under the covers and squirmed to the ominous tones of bass woodwinds and E. G. Marshall's "Pleasant . . . dreams?" I felt vulnerable in my little room in my little trailer, with little between me and the evils of mankind and the unknown supernatural.

I listened to an episode this Saturday, "The Lodger" starring Kim Hunter, which was originally broadcast 13 May 1974. I would see Hunter a few years later at Buffalo's Studio Arena Theatre in Elizabeth the Queen with George Chakiris.

"The Lodger" is a familiar story told many times on radio. For 1974, this version had a vaguely retro feel as a city newspaper reporter somehow gets the scoop on every killing. With blogs and news blogs and constant news updates, is there such a thing as a breaking news scoop anymore?

The commercials also took me back. One, for a discount grocery chain, touted, among other comfort foods, Pepperidge Farm Layer Cake on sale for 69 cents. It may sound strange now, but 69 cents was nothing to sneeze at for a frugal working man like my father (the licensed driver and therefore the grocery shopper and bargain hunter of the family). Of course, this commercial was targeted at "her"—Mom. Even in 1974, the title of "Mom" was attached to the majority of domestic chores. (As far as I've seen on the television at work, in 2008 household cleaning products are still within the woman's domain.)

The other commercial I paid attention to was for Budweiser, then still "The King of Beers" and known for the company's signature Clydesdale horse teams and the light musical theme heard in the background. The male voice talent suggested that you "reach for a glass" although "it's great beer any way you drink it." With a glass, you get the full benefit of "the wonderful head of foam"—"those bubbles, tiny though they are, still amount to something pretty special at the top of your glass—taste appeal and eye appeal." This is due to "exclusive beechwood aging and natural carbonation." The result is "a difference you can taste." So, "when you say Budweiser, you've really said it all."

No sports, no celebrity, no sports celebrity, no sex or rock music, and no irrelevant cuteness like frogs. Just "something pretty special at the top of your glass."

At least until microbrews, imports, and ADHD came along. Who today would pay for air time, even after midnight, for such a boring commercial about the product?

After the episode ended, a few moments of news commentary came on, delivered by Fulton Lewis III, defending President Richard Nixon. In a ponderous, old-style news voice, Lewis talked about how allegations of a "specific nature" had been answered "promptly and firmly" by the White House, whose response referred to "concerted efforts by some sources to circulate fallacious reports," the "vindictiveness of some people," and "the purveyors of this sad story." Lewis, who said that Nixon's language could be "rough," also asserted that those who knew the president, including him, agreed that racial, ethnic, and religious slurs were not in his vocabulary.

Nonsense. Any Caucasian of Nixon's age had slurs in his vocabulary, even if he didn't use or believe in them. For many Americans, they were part of the culture of the early and mid-twentieth century, along with Jim Crow laws and segregation. TV producer Norman Lear built a long-running comedy series on a character of Nixon's generation—All in the Family's Archie Bunker—whose bigotry was his hallmark. Later, the evidence would show that not only were slurs in Nixon's vocabulary, but that his racist vocabulary was more extensive than Archie Bunker could have dreamed.

How fascinating it is to look at even relatively recent history with the knowledge and superiority of hindsight. As I listened to Lewis righteously and indignantly question the charges and the motives of the "purveyors," I knew what he couldn't—that he was a dupe of the failed coverup and that the man he was defending would prove to be the "crook" he claimed not to be. Yesterday's heated debate long ago resolved itself into today's cold fact.

I can't wait to dive into the rich treasure trove of CBSRMT episodes that await—not only for the emotions revived by nostalgic memories bur for the history I witness, didn't appreciate, and have already forgotten.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Dream: The wicked visit

I was making a quick stop at DW's house on the way to another city (I would figure out later that it was NYC). I didn't see most of their house, including the living room, dining room, and kitchen, all of which seemed to be off limits. Instead, I was restricted to a bedroom and/or sitting room.

When I tried to use the bathroom, I found that the doorway was so narrow that I couldn't fit through it. I used the one in the master bedroom once, but had the impression that that was frowned upon. I found another bathroom that was set up almost like a salon, with a woman or two sitting on chairs in a waiting area. I turned to close the door for privacy, but there was none, not even a curtain. This door was also unusually narrow.

In the bed-/sitting room, a green toilet seat flapped up and down erratically and mysteriously.

Every now and then I would open a door and, instead of a bathroom, I would find an ocean scene with a witch from Wicked astride the waves. I didn't know what to think.

Then there was a game that involved racing herb leaves down the length of the pan. I did well, but discovered only later that the leaves would follow the finger like a magnet. Finally, I accidentally flipped the pan over and panicked about losing leaves. All of them were accounted for.

I wondered how my friends could live in such a strange, chaotic place, but noticed that they still retained their old values from childhood.

I told DW I was going to meet a friend in NYC. When she looked at me inquiringly, I looked at her significantly, which surprised her. I began to imagine this liaison, although even in my imagination it did not happen as I wished.

I remembered that I didn't yet have a ticket to NYC and wondered at myself for doing so much flying in such a short time. I felt disappointed because I knew I could not pull it off—there must have been a miscommunication somewhere.

And I kept encountering the Wicked witch, atop the waves.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

You put your left knee in

It's been several years since I underwent physical therapy for impingement syndrome, so I was a little nervous about the new round of treatment, this time at a different place on a different part of my anatomy—my left knee. It all began with Dr. Knee's concern about the pain I've been experiencing for several years when I walk down stairs.

I was joined in the waiting area by a woman with a crutch, who asked, "Is this your first time here?" Nod. "You will love it!" I took this as an assertion, not a command.

While I waited, she hobbled back and forth to the desk a few times, and an older woman issued forth, walking very slowly and very gingerly toward the elevator and reaching out to the wall for support—a prime candidate for an assistive device. I wondered just how far she was going to have to walk to get to her transportation and her destination, every step painful and precarious. I remembered that, at the other therapy office, I had always appeared to be in much better shape than my fellow sufferers, with no obvious injury or limp. But when the shoulder pain kicked in, invisibly, it was excruciating and debilitating.

The sound of my name startled me out of a half slumber, and reluctantly I hauled myself out of the chair and followed H. to the very back. She directed me to a far less comfortable chair and pulled the hospital-style curtain closed for privacy. Unlike my previous PT experience, there were to be no witnesses to my efforts. She did say, however, that in the future we would venture out into the "gym."

After asking me why I was there, how long my knee had hurt, and other questions, she had me perform various tricks, such as balancing for as long as I could on each leg (I was able to last almost three times longer on the right than on the left) and bending my knee as far back as possible while lying down (left knee is more flexible than right). She dug into the front and side of my thigh with her palm and into my knee with her fingers. The side hurt more than I would have expected, and she found a tender spot in my knee above the patella ("I'm going to use the proper terms"), right where it hurts when I descend stairs. She explained the anatomy and the underlying weakness. The tendon (I think) is tight, and although x rays revealed no patella problems, she confirmed something I had noticed—the left kneecap is loose. Physical therapy is going to strengthen the function—at least that's the idea.

I find it fascinating that my two legs have separate lives, but she said that it's not uncommon.

After all these contortions and measurements of my flexibility, we were ready to get to work. Lie on your side. Lie on your back. Lie on your stomach. Raise your hips. Raise your feet. Repeat 10 times and rinse.

Unlike with my shoulder exercises, nothing hurt.

We finished off with an ultrasound treatment ("this shouldn't hurt, but it may feel warm," she said as she spread icy cold sonic gel on my knee) and then a cold wrap to reduce the small amount of inflammation remaining from my August fall.

With exercise handout in hand, I walked out self-consciously—the more normally I tried to walk, the more gimpy and awkward I felt I looked.

While I didn't exactly exert myself, I felt sore this morning—partly due to the little workout, partly due to being chained to a chair eight hours a day during an especially (and poorly planned) intense time.

Now my shoulders hurt.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Scattershot musings

Last Sunday, the trees were glorious, and Wednesday the air was balmy at 70 degrees Fahrenheit. By Saturday, the trees that had glowed against the blue of the lake were bare against the gray of the lake, and the temperatures had plummeted to the 40s.

Only two brave souls sat outdoors together at Bonjour, each reading a newspaper section.

I frittered the days away with sporadic reading, browsing, and napping—I hadn't indulged in the latter for months, especially not since my UFE recovery period.

It must be the weather. Because I can't blame fluctuating hormones, at least for the moment, I'm laying my increased carbohydrate cravings and consumption at the feet of the shorter days and colder nights.

So far this year, however, I haven't been as chilled outdoors as I am indoors, every day by midday. My fingers are aching even as I write this. We can do so many interesting things, solve so many problems, and conjure up so many improbable theories, but maintaining a reasonably comfortable temperature in a state-of-the-art office beyond remains beyond our ability. It gives women something to chat about as we warm our hands under warm tap water in the bathroom where, at my old job, the main activities (aside from the obvious) were networking and problem solving. Now we use the bathroom as a combination waste disposal facility and warming shelter, except the air in there is chilly, too.

When I started working, managers and above sat in window offices (with their backs to the windows) and worker bees aspired to move into a window office. Then design became more egalitarian, and offices began to feature cubicles, er, workstations with windows. I have two and one-half windows, and do so my cohorts. The other day I noticed that nearly all of blinds down the hallway are closed, which struck me as amusing—an admittance that the view is not as important as the perceived prestige once associated with windows. But there are two reasonable explanations: In this gloomy weather, it's easier for the people across the alley to see us. And there isn't much for us to see, either, except the people across the alley. Which is easy to do because they don't lower their blinds.

With the change in weather, J. and I have not been as active. On Saturday we ate at the Dixie Kitchen and Bait Shop, where we did not see Obama, just as we had not seen him at Medici on 57. Perhaps someday we'll catch him at Valois Cafeteria or Mellow Yellow.

I started to watch the 1996 version of The Canterville Ghost with Patrick Stewart, but left the final half hour for the next morning—by which time it had disappeared from the on-demand list. Now I'll never know how it ends . . . it was not bad for a modern version, although the father's character was disturbingly inconsistent. It was strange enough that he greets his daughter only in passing as he rushes to gush over his boys. As the movie proceeds, he veers illogically between the rational and the emotional. As a scientist firmly grounded in the real, he refuses to believe in ghosts or any evidence they may leave behind. At the same time, based on only the flimsiest circumstantial evidence, he roundly condemns his daughter as a cruel, even dangerous prankster. Then he has the gall to whine to his wife that he and the daughter aren't close like they used to be, to which the wife responds with grating predictability, "She's growing up." Too bad Dad doesn't do the same.

As I was waiting for a bus that seemed determined not to arrive on Monday, I heard sirens, saw a number of unmarked black cars whizzing about officiously, and noticed that traffic was backing up down 57th toward Stony Island. Access to Lake Shore Drive had been cut off, with Everett being the only immediate escape east of Hyde Park Boulevard. Obliviously I assumed there had been an accident and wondered how late I would be.

Then I heard the helicopter and saw the spotlight hovering above.

“It’s the president-elect,” a woman told me.

“Really?” I said. I didn’t think he’d spend much time in Hyde Park anymore.

After a while a motorcade came along. I didn’t pay close attention, but did spot a black woman peering out of the open back window of one of the limousines.

The motorcade had passed before I realized that I should have been more interested.

“Did you see the hearse? It wasn’t the president-elect; it was a funeral,” the woman said.

I hadn’t seen a hearse, but I couldn’t swear positively that I hadn’t seen it, either, so I let that go.

“The only person I can think of who’s died is Studs Terkel, and I can’t imagine all that for him,” I said.

“He died a couple of weeks ago,” she noted erroneously.

“I won’t get that kind of sendoff,” I said, perhaps a bit wistfully.

“Do I look like I will?” she laughed.

Silence for a bit.

“History is being made,” she added, but not conceding the funeral point.

“A better kind of history,” I offered.

“You know it,” she said as I was saved by the appearance of an X28 bus.

On the Chicago Tribune site, I saw that Barack Obama had dropped his girls off at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, then he and Michelle had taken off for Washington, D.C., to meet with George and Laura Bush. Hearse sighting aside, I’m fairly certain that all the excitement, complete with choppers, was over that daily ritual of every family with children—the trip to school.

The online photo spread showed Obama, sporting a Sox cap, hugging his daughters, who in their neat school clothes and backpacks look like any other Hyde Park student on a school day. They were the only ones who arrived with a Secret Service, police, and news escort, I imagine. How fascinating it will be to watch them grow up over the next four to eight years, now that they are in an inescapable fish bowl.

I spent many mornings waiting in the dark, cold, and snow, alone, for a school bus that never had a seat for me and my bass clarinet.

Yet I don’t envy them.

Not really.

Well. Perhaps a little as they get to see the world.

Still, there’s the fishbowl.

At least they’re used to it.

I think it would kill this lonely guppy.

On the other hand, a life of ease and comfort would suit me well just about now.

Stress free.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Dream: Sleeping on the trailer train

I was sleeping in bed at home and woke up to find that a train was passing a huge window in front of me. It was so close and traveling so fast that it frightened me. I noticed, too, that the trailer was moving, also on tracks. Sometimes the train was faster, sometimes the train. Later, when sensed my dad walking around nearby, I wondered who was driving the trailer. So we went on and on, seemingly endlessly. I didn't know what kept us on the rails.

I was at a mall or other public place talking with acquaintances when I noticed a grill in the wall and realized that the state or the police were listening to us. I felt guilty as though we had been plotting something and fled up some stairs. It occurred to me that this wasn't far enough to escape the clutches of the people behind the grill and that I was probably surrounded by electronic surveillance, but I didn't know where else to go and I had a sense that I could evade them.

I found myself in an apartment at first, greeted by a cat, then another cat, then another, and another, and another. Had I found refuge with a cat hoarder? She was talking to a rabbit in a cage, which bothered me at the back of my mind. I didn't know why, but it slowly occurred to me that the rabbit was not a pet like the cats, but was slated for slaughter. Horrified, I fled again.

This time, I came out into a courtyard that led to open country. I felt a little more free, but I felt that I still could be seen and heard. I despaired at the lack of freedom, even out here. There was nowhere to left to go and to hide—why I needed to hide, I didn't understand.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Monifa, "I am lucky" pygmy hippopatomous

Dream: The money pit

At one point, I was clenching my teeth so tightly that my night guard, already broken in back, disintegrated under the force. I could feel tiny plastic shards between my teeth and wondered if I would need a new guard and how I would pay for it. While all this was vivid and sensory, I understood that it was a dream.

I was in a classroom, and the instructor asked who some group feared the most. The obvious answer would have been a particular racial or ethnic group, but I knew the real answer, which came out involuntarily: "The working man." I turned around and saw Studs Terkel few seats behind me. Although he showed no reaction, I hoped I had gotten his attention with my insight.

I was in this classroom because I had re-enrolled in college, but I could not recall attending any other classes, and I couldn't remember what they were. I reluctantly confessed to someone that I had returned to college for another degree that wasn't even at a graduate level, that I had not been attending classes, and that I had lost track of my progress and status.

I began to worry about the money I had wasted, thinking a few hundred dollars up to as much as a thousand. I didn't understand anything I had done. I wondered whether trying to continue toward such a useless goal with so many questions unanswered and with no motivation would be a waste of more money and if quitting would mean wasting the money already spent.

I worried that Studs would find out.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Dream: The devil in the dark

I was eating lunch with my co-workers in a place I'd never been to. When the server came with the check, I realized that I was nude. Embarrassed, I looked to see if anyone else was—no. On the positive side, no one seemed to have noticed my state.

As I was walking around an underground stone chamber that looked like something out of the original Star Trek, a young woman stopped me and rubbed a balloon over my head. For a while, I was mesmerized by the strangeness of this action and wondered what it signified.

Suddenly, it occurred to me that I was being distracted from my purse and wallet. I felt for them; I still had them, I thought, but they seemed to have gotten farther away. "You've sold your soul to the devil!" I screamed at the girl, who looked innocent enough.

The next thing I knew, someone was cackling and leading me out of the Star Trek-style stone chamber and into another. At first, I felt claustrophobic under its low ceiling and in its confines. As it dawned on me that these horrible chambers took up infinity and there was nowhere else to go, I realized that I had landed in Hell.

And I panicked.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election day and Indian summer

Two unrelated topics that happen to coincide this year: election day and Indian summer.

After looking at the forecast, I took today off. With the temperature projected to start dropping tomorrow, this really does look like my last day outdoors at Bonjour. It's tempting to return this afternoon for a final hurrah.

I voted at Montgomery Place, where there were two lines—a longer one for Precinct 38 and a shorter one for 37. The handwritten signs were so light that I didn't notice them until someone mentioned that there were separate lines based on precinct.

I stayed in the longer, right-hand (38) line out of habit, which turned out to be the right choice. It was perhaps 10-12 people long, and the elderly man ahead of me carefully felt for one of the chairs lined up against the wall. I'm not sure how much effort this saved him because, although I gave him plenty of room, he got up and changed chairs a couple of times as the line moved.

As he provided his information—like my father would have done, he gave his address as "Montgomery Place, whatever that is," although he knew the address because he spouted it effortlessly later—he added, "I'm blind." That explained why he sat so gingerly on the chairs. After he signed a form attesting to his disability, he was directed to a chair to wait for assistance. He looked ahead blankly, so I offered him my arm to lead him to it. He said, "Well, I can see your arm!" I did not quite know how to take that, but fortunately a judge came along to lead him. So much for my attempt at chivalry!

The judge started to read the choices and to mark the ballot—whether as indicated, who can say? I was sitting next to them and could hear all that was said, so it was not so secret. It's no wonder we treasure our individual independence once it is lost.

My turn. This was the strangest ballot I'd ever seen; instead of punching out holes to make my selections, I used a marker to connect two arrowheads by the choice or the candidate. The "booth" served only as a partial privacy shield/desk. The topmost question on the page was in the middle column and was about local district commissioners, I think. It took me a few moments to find the presidential candidates buried at the bottom of the left-hand column.

When I was done, I tried to put the ballot in the privacy sleeve, but one or two judicial retention votes peeked out obstinately. It would have taken only one more inch—but no matter. I plugged the ballot into the collection machine, which dutifully sucked it up—and dutifully spit it out. "Missing initials," it complained. I had to get a judge to initial it (which strikes me as odd and not very secure). The first two I went to to demurred and sent me to a man who scribbled, "KP" in the box. The machine accepted it; my vote was official. Time spent in line and voting? Perhaps 20 minutes.

Part of me would like to say that I was at the Grant Park rally, but my dominant reclusive introvert self, which hasn't been sleeping well lately, had no choice but to go home and avoid anxiety by reading. I did well for a while, but then I found out that Google News had posted an automatically updating map. It was fascinating and disturbing to watch the nation divide itself yet again along the usual lines.

The election appears to have been called between 10:00 and 10:05 p.m. CT. My first clue that it was time to check the map again was when I heard whooping and hollering from in front of the restaurant/bar downstairs.

I'm relieved that it's over. Months of hyperbole, ridiculous representations, and rampant paranoia. Racism was evident, but so was ageism—there were plenty of people who disqualified John McCain based on his age (not his health) and who pulled out every derisive age-ist term in the cliché book. In the past year I've learned that there are two characteristics left that are fair game for mockery and derision: age and weight. Someday I may be both old and fat. So may you. We should all find hatred about either unacceptable.

WWI veterans are virtually no more, and WWII and Korean War veterans are on their heels. As the oldest first-term presidential candidate, John McCain woke me up to the obvious: the young men I remember returning from Vietnam are not only no longer young; they are old. Somehow, I have lived half of a lifetime since then, although it seems like yesterday.

I don't envy Barack Obama. He's about to take over leadership of a nation that may be as troubled as at any point in its history. The difficulties are deep and wide, and the solutions will not be instant or immediate. With so much to do and such high expectations, he is bound to disappoint. As one woman I heard today said, "He's not only going to save black people; he's going to save the world."

That's quite a burden for any one person.

Yes, we can, we hope—but Obama needs to remind us, and we need to remind ourselves, that healing and reconstruction will take time and sacrifices.

Let's give them to him.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Halloween with PuppetBike and eating with Obama


We're into November already, and it's warm enough to sit outdoors comfortably at Bonjour in just a t-shirt. This may be the last opportunity of the year, so I marked the occasion by getting a chocolate espresso tart decorated with music notes as a treat for later.

I was going to celebrate Halloween by going straight home from work and vacuuming, then reading in bed—such are Friday nights for the reclusive introvert—but PuppetBike (and artist/inventor Jason Trusty) saved me from myself with an invitation to a party at the Peter Jones Gallery.

After dinner at the convenient Lloyd's Chicago, J. and I headed to the Brown Line at Washington and Wells. There, we ran into "Jesus"—a dreadlocked man dressed in fleecy robes with fashionably tattered jeans showing. He was with a normally dressed young woman, following her and talking seemingly nonstop at her. It was going to be an interesting evening.

As we were walking from Montrose to the gallery, J. stopped as he saw a middle-aged man emerging from a car and asked if he'd taught high school in the south suburbs—he resembled one of J.'s teachers. The answer was no. As we moved on, I pointed out that a teacher who looked like that man 30–35 years ago would be in his 70s or 80s now. The thought took J. aback momentarily—in his impulsive way, he hadn't thought of that. Who but me would? In my mind, my teachers, most of whom I liked, are frozen in time in the prime of life, in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. Some of the older ones have passed away, and it's difficult for me to picture even the younger ones as retired. How much the world and education have changed since then!

We ran into this couple a short time after we'd arrived. The man who was not J.'s teacher was dressed in a one-piece, sparkly red turkey costume, but he said the head was too hot to wear. The neck protruded from below his abdomen, with the head hanging limply. He must have picked up a subtle cue from my glance, because he said, "Hmmm, I guess it does look a little questionable." Later we saw that he'd fastened the head to his chest with a small binder clip. In the meantime, his wife was dressed as a flapper, although he told her plan was to change into a chef's uniform. I pictured her running him down while wielding a meat cleaver . . .

Homemade costumes can be the most creative, but the one I liked best was off the rack: a pantsuit that made the young woman look like a boa constrictor. To complete the effect, she carried a realistic toy snake over her shoulder and arm.

Alan Emerson Hicks' "Time Machine" was under wraps for a show in the spring, and the front part of the gallery had been taken over by women's art. Some of it was very good, and interestingly I can't say that I would have guessed the theme was women's art. The subjects were more varied than I would have expected, although not broad in scope. I found a pinhole tintype especially intriguing.

Several people introduced themselves. but rarely can I remember names. In general, the crowd was older than I expected and very friendly.

PuppetBike, which had been entertaining at a park earlier in the day, appeared at about 9:15 p.m.—for a moment I thought it was going to run me down. J. had to be up by 6:00 a.m. on Saturday for work and wanted to catch the 11:05 p.m. train, so at around 9:50 I had to drag him and his camera away, successfully only after the third or fourth attempt.

While waiting for the bus, I noticed a lot of adults in costumes. Seeing them combined with the early exit and the ongoing issues I face daily made me wish I had enjoyed life more when I was younger—too many restrictions and too little energy now.

Yesterday J. came over for a pre-sunset walk at Osaka Garden and dinner at Medici on 57th, where their t-shirts proclaim, "Obama eats here." The important questions are: What does he eat? When? And does he leave good tips? Am I the only person in Kenwood-Hyde Park who has never encountered Obama?

Medici is in a different building than it was when I was in college, and it has changed in other ways, too. Sunday brunch was introduced, and the menu has been expanded beyond burgers, pizza, and drinks like himbeersaft. Last night, something struck me as subtly different, and it took a few minutes before I pinpointed it—the silverware was wrapped in maroon (more or less) cloth napkins, with no paper napkins in sight. I drew J.'s attention to this detail and said, "That's because Obama eats here."

Throughout dinner, we admired the door into the kitchen, which is suspended from a vertical beam. On one side of the door is open space (not quite enough to comfortably fit through), and on the other are condiment shelves attached to the beam. If the open space doesn't provide enough visibility of comings and goings to avoid accidents, there's a cutout in the door. As busboys and servers dumped off glass after glass, cup after cup, plate after plate for a young man at the sink to rinse and stack for dish washing, I pictured him someday going insane and screaming, "NO! NO MORE OF YOUR GLASSES! I'M DONE! I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT OR THEM ANYMORE!"

After dinner, I visited the facilities and was surprised to pass through a door that hadn't been there before. I was more surprised when it opened onto a room with a sink and three doors leading off it, like in one of those "Choose the door with the tiger behind it and you die" scenarios from a 1960s spy series. Two were labeled "GIRLS," one "BOYS." The old narrow, graffiti-covered stalls are history.

I entered the nearest "GIRLS," which was surprisingly clean. It also had a sink with an automatic faucet. When I came out, I noticed that the room I had been in was also labeled for disabled access. I told J. that the restrooms had been upgraded because "Obama eats here," although I did admit that ADA compliance was probably more of a factor.

Before Medici we had stopped at a TV screen in the window at Urban Search and lusted after huge area homes with hardwood floors, fireplaces, and, in some cases, medieval-style exteriors, mostly in the high six figures and on into seven figures. Next lifetime . . . afterward, we nipped into two more Medici ventures—University Market and the bakery. Does Obama shop there, too? I wonder. If so, I recommend the chocolate croissants—which, alas, were sold out.

And so on to the Flamingo for tea and a jackpot version of Antiques Roadshow. Imagine buying a chair that "looks old" at a garage sale and finding out it's a Chippendale worth $1,500–$2,000 at auction. J. doesn't understand how the sellers of such items don't know their value. I told him my theory—that when people are in a hurry to move or clean up, they look at such things as "that old rickety chair that you can't even sit on comfortably" and say, "Let's get rid of the old thing." The appraiser was beside himself with the excitement of such an extraordinary—and recent—find.

An older woman brought a lovely painting of Lake Louise that, if I remember right, she'd bought for $5 while on vacation. I can't recall the exact appraised value, but I think it was more than $50,000 or $60,000. And to think she'd bought it mainly as a pretty souvenir.

Isn't this the stuff of every junk collector's dreams? Remember that the next time you are thinking of getting rid of an old chair or painting . . . it could be a down payment on one of those Urban Search mansions.

Dream: The slippery slope of education

I was about to take college entrance exams and was trying to set pens, pencils, etc., into the slots of a holder when I noticed that I must have been suspended in mid-air over a hillside at an angle, because everything I set into a slot slid and fell to the grassy ground below. Nervously, I took a Bic Clic apart, and watched in horror as the refill, spring, and bottom half fell. I consoled myself with the idea that I could look for them later (in that vast amount of grass). I was panicking about having nothing left with which to take the test, but that fear was surpassed by a weird emotional attachment to a cheap, replaceable pen.

I felt something strange and overheard that it was only a minor earthquake—nothing to worry about. I became aware that I was in northern California, which seemed wrong. I didn't want to worry about earthquakes, too. For reassurance, I turned around and looked for KW. I didn't see anyone.

For the next part of the test, I found myself with no other choice but to lie on a cold, wet, sloping steel surface to have one finger examined carefully. Why? What was the purpose? Why this awkward, nonsensical position?

I told someone that there seemed to be fewer people enrolled in the following year's class. "It's the bad economy," I noted. "It's keeping kids out of college." This seemed terribly wrong to me, but I felt no concern for myself.

The sloping steel finger exam still haunted me.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Dream: Surreal snippets

I was watching a couple swim in a dimly lit indoor pool. I noticed that the pool merged into a verdant forest. I wondered why all pools can't be like that.

I was sitting on the porch at home, which overlooked a beautiful rural area from an elevation. I was watching the spectacular sunset, and all seemed to be perfect in the world.

Until I noticed the cigarette butts.

They had been smoked down to only a half inch and tossed where I was sitting, so there was little room for me. I appealed to my mother to provide an ashtray for the smoker, but she was unwilling to cooperate. I noticed a ceramic clamshell dish and pointed out that the smoker could use it, but again she brushed me aside without explanation.

I saw a wooden piece drilled with holes from which blue flames were flickering. If the smoker could light up using this, why couldn't he or she use the ceramic clamshell?

I wondered if the sunset and the scenery that had given me such joy were going to elude me. I felt frustrated and very sad.