Thursday, September 19, 2013

Eliot the Cat Gets an iPhone 5S

Now that I know that he can access the finger-print security pad, I see no reason to withhold any longer.

Eliot has always been a technophile. Here he harnesses
the sun's light to fuel future activity.

Check out the TechCrunch article about the new iPhone 5S's super loosy goosy touch pad here.

(Isn't it cute how the iPhone user gives the cat a little good job paw rub at the end?)

Monday, September 16, 2013

More on Gen-Y

This is Lucy.

In my previous post about the Y Generation, I separated out "Millennials" as group a little bit younger than myself (born in the 90s, perhaps). This humorous article extrapolates on why Gen Y is a sad generation. Broken down, it seems that our ambitions and undeserved superiority make "regular" life feel inadequate. Is it true? You decide.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Disconnection of Constant Connection

My generation moved from low-tech (or tech free) to high tech seamlessly. When I say "my generation" I recognize that there may be some debate about who falls into this group. I readily accept that Gen X ended in the 70's. The generation that came after (some say 77-94) is often called the Millenials. Although I was born in 1982, the idea of being group in with "Millenials" terrifies me.  Us early 80's babies have almost nothing in common with the early 90's babies. So, I suppose that makes me Gen Y, if that is such a thing.

Part of this differentiation comes from our experience with technology.  As an 80s baby, I remember when we first got the new and tiny internet, I got my first cell phone in college and avidly used Friendster and MySpace in my 20s before Facebook was ever born.

My generation grew up without these technologies, but were young enough to accept them as they were introduced. We took to cell phones, tablets and social networking slightly faster than our older siblings, but had a memory of walkmans, fax machines and typewriters that our younger siblings did not.

I was in middle school when I got hooked on AOL Instant Messenger, the precursor to a lot of the social media that I eventually got hooked on. As social websites evolved, I stuck with it.  I loved connecting with friends who had moved away, promoting my writing ventures, and using the hive-mind those applications collect to make decisions for me (What movie should I see tonight?), but recently I started to pull back. Perhaps it's the memory of what once was that has been causing me trouble.

When I close my eyes, I remember debates about movie characters that were not solved instantaneously with Wikipedia. I remember writing and receiving long emails and even paper letters full of details of friend's lives, rather than skimming their About Me sections, and receiving phone calls of good news rather than reading about a Relationship Status change on my cell phone while I wait for the train. I remember waiting to hear a song on the radio - and excitedly blasting it in the car - instead of just downloading everything I want whenever I want.

The happiness and energy that I used to feel being connected to so many people and their lives all the time has faded. The more I read about my friends and acquaintances online, the more distant I feel. My phone rarely rings. My emails are all deals and promotions. Friend post funny stories on my wall, instead of telling me in person. Happy hour plans are made electronically.

I think the recognition that this sort of constant communication leaves all of us out of touch is something Millenials might not be able to feel. They have always had everything at their fingertips. They have never gone 5 years without seeing the faces of their friends.  The memory of what once was makes this reality a little harder to accept. I think this is the feeling our parents (and their parents) have always tried to communicate to us with all of their "back in my day" stories.

The good thing is that getting back to the connections and communications that I remember isn't that hard. When I have a funny story to tell you, I'll call. When you see something online that reminds you of me, send it in an email. Cut out a magazine article and mail it. Let's ask each other how we are doing rather then gleaning each other's moods from our newsfeeds.

I'm a Gen Yer. That means that technology is a part of my life (a part that I love) - but that also means that I came of age during a simpler time. A time when people connected in person, and we shared our good news with our family and closest friends before we told everyone we've ever met with the click of a mouse.

Maybe by disconnecting a little we can all feel more connected.

This post from buzzfeed actually addresses this gap a little bit.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Labor Day Spring Cleaning

The dust that lined the baseboards had been building its home in the quiet darkness for almost four years. It feathered in the humid summer as air forced its way around the curves and corners powered by a box fax across the room, but it never lost its resolve. On Labor Day, it let loose. It made its way into my nostrils and lungs, stuck to the skin of my sweat-moistened stomach as I dragged out piles of unmatched socks and empty shoeboxes from the depths of my almost walk-in closet, clad only in a neon yellow tie-died sports bra and basketball shorts, on another steamy Chicago end-of-summer day.

Marathon training had been the impetus of a 12-mile run on Saturday morning and a 16-mile bike ride on Sunday afternoon, but I am a rule-follower, and Mondays are rest days. Overwhelmed by the impotence of a Monday off of work with no run to run, I decided at some point in the early afternoon that my bedroom closet would be the day's project. I could write or draw dinosaurs (two actually purposeful activities), but I craved a physical activity maybe to avoid a mental one.

I went through my closet, hanger by hanger, and removed some of my favorite shirts, shoving them deep into a donation bag, feeling reckless and irritated at my lifelong nostalgia. I decided I was out of my sneaker phase, replacing four pairs of infrequently worn, seriously worn-in shoes with a few sets of high heels on the shelf above my head.

Sneezing and sweating, I cleaned.  The computer blared indie dance tunes from the front room and the cat stayed safely hidden away from the commotion. I made a new space for the shoes that lived mostly in the hallway, and the stack of wicking shirts that had found a home on the floor. I found coins and bobby pins and, for some reason, three cylinders of Smarties. 

I imagined moving to my next place, and a shared closet with my girlfriend that wasn’t overrun by my clutter. I imagined loving my home so much that I would care too much to somehow let delicious packs of pastel colored candies get loose and live in the shadows of my GAP collared shirts.

The Great Closet Clean of 2013 was part girl-who-can’t-sit-still, part physical exercise, and part ode to commitment. In the weeks that precede yet another birthday, I want to continue to grow. I want to prove to myself that I am not done evolving. I also don’t want to end up on an episode of Hoarders.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Communication of the Dead - Westminster Abbey

Back-post from
15 June 2013

“The communication / of the dead is tongued with fire beyond / the language of the living.” 
T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding” 
The words that mark his memorial in Westminster Abbey.

It’s almost impossible to let go of my obsessive need to accomplish – to not waste a minute of time, to record every instance. This morning, I tried to shut it off. I let myself sleep until 930, mosey down to the common room for coffee and toast and relax a little.

My primary goal of the morning is a visit to Westminster Abbey, another site I disregarded on my original London excursion. Another day, another cathedral – this is London after all.

Rick Steves correctly advised me to chose the cash line (over the credit line) to get in the doors of this imposing building, but both lines moved surprisingly quick for a Saturday morning, just a couple years after the most recent Royal Wedding was held in this very space. (The first was in 1100!)

Entering the cathedral overwhelms visitors, as I myself do what each person has before me – touch my chest and let my jaw fall open.  It is stunning, and its place in British history cannot be overstated. For almost 800 years, this has been the site of nation-changing weddings, funerals and mention coronations.      

I’m not in the building for three minutes, barely getting my orientation, when I notice a wall plaque for Alfred Russel Wallace, a 19th century British explorer, geographer, anthropologist and biologist. Although a somewhat overlooked scientist, Wallace not only explored and described the flora and fauna of unknown regions of the world in the 1880’s, he also developed a theory of evolution independent of his contemporary Charles Darwin. Some suggest that Darwin was pushed to publish his On the Origin of Species primarily to beat Wallace to the punch. Although Wallace is buried in Dorset, as he wished, the plaque was placed in Westminster two years after his death, in 1915.

I’m still thinking about poor Wallace and the short-end he got in British history when I find myself standing on the stone marked for Darwin himself. I immediately wonder if Wallace’s scientist bros purposefully had his plaque added just a few feet in front of Darwin’s grave so he could be first at something. My hands shake and clench at the desire to break the rules and take a picture, but I can control myself. I’m honored and awed to be standing here and wish desperately that I could talk to the grumpy old Darwin and tell him what he means to me. I’m secretly glad that I skipped this stop when I was 19, because there’s no way it would have felt this special.

Nearby the rests stone of Charles Lyell, another scientist and contemporary of Darwin (a friend and mentor, really).  Among kings and queens, I also find a Isaac Newton, a brilliant dedication to William Shakespeare (who is buried in Stratford-Upon-Avon) and a memorial to T.S. Eliot, among other influential poets and writers. The list of rockstars who are buried or memorialized here would take up a whole post, but go ahead and check Wikipedia

Westminster Abbey is a place that can make you feel both tiny and inspired at the same time. To mingle with history in this close proximity really is to communicate with the dead. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

I Did Not Find The Steak That I Was Promised

While enjoying a proper pint at the Cat Tavern (I`ll give you three guesses why I stopped into this tavern), the smell of freshly fried fish and chips is pungent, but theres also a dog walking around, and you know how I like a bar-dog. There is no music for a while, and then there is Green Day. Perfect.

I refer to my beer as a "proper pint" because the glass which holds the beer is not the thick walled illusion pint from home. You know, that glass into which you could empty a can of Miller Lite and it would threaten to overflow? No, this is a proper pint of beer, in what I think of like as an extra-wide kitchen glass. The kind of glass that rich people drink lemonade from at big-hat backyard parties.

A Biker-looking dude with a beard that could be tucked behind his large metallic belt buckle advised my purchase when he eyed me scanning the tappers.

"`ere, I`ll `elp: You`ve got Guinness; Cider; rubbish; beer; beer; beer." 

I chose the Dophin Amber by Sunny Republic; because thats what he was drinking, and apparently was not considered to be rubbish.

My seat at the bar provides me with a direct view of the kitchen, where I can see an "INSECTOCUTER" which is exactly what it sounds like - a machine that makes bugs adorable. But, cute bugs or not, I`m happy that I brought my lunch with me from London to Salisbury.
this image is creepy looking due to user error. my apologies.

Yes, I traveled to Salisbury solely to visit a Tavern named for a cat, but Salisbury also happens to have a couple other amazing attributes like a bad-ass cathedral built in the early 13th century, and the best surviving copy (of 4) of the Magna Carta. Who knew?

Sadly, there was no steak.

The trip to Salisbury had been a success. The cathedral is absolutely stunning (for any of you Pillars of the Earth fans, this was one of the cathedrals that inspired the tale). For 800 years this building has stood, inspiring people to god and really making everything else in town look puny. That it houses one of the few remaining copies of the document which influenced all modern governments is just a feather in its buttress.

The massive grounds hug the cathedral walls, and allow for tourists and students from the Cathedral school to rest and enjoy lunch in the shadow of an eight century old building.

A historic cathedral, a priceless historical document AND a Cat Tavern? This was the start of a pretty good day!

post script: part of me wondered if Cat was short for Cathedral; but there was definitely a picture of a feline on the sign, and no sign of a connection to a church in the living room-like decor.

A Run Through London

14 June

You really see a lot more of a city when you get lost. In fact that's how Columbus discovered America, and how 20% of movie meet-cutes happen.  When my shoes were laced and my chrono set, I felt less like an American in London and more like a runner looking to knock out some miles. A painful stiffness in my neck, undoubtably from the awkward rest of a hostel bunk bed, and my chronic travelers dehydration (beer > water), told me immediately that the the run would be short. I just wanted to do two or three miles. I reminded myself that I could run as short or as long as I wanted. I was on vacation.

My beloved hostel sat on the south side of the Thames, very near the Westminster bridge which dead ended at Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. As I rambled over the bridge with my short strides and soft footfalls, I imagined that this view - the iconic tower and the seat of the government- was a part of my daily run.

Bridge after bridge criss-cross the Thames like stripes across the back of a snake. From south to north, east and then south again, I ran. Navigational signs pepper the city, mostly at the locations of the bike share stations, known to some locals as "Boris" bikes for the mayor who procured them. I slowed to check the signs often and geared myself toward the Globe Theatre and the Tate Modern museum.  As I approached the eerie smokestack that interrupts the south bank skyline from the converted warehouse that serves as the city's modern art haven, I burst out in laughter recalling my sister and I perusing its exhibits, realizing how much we didn't "get" modern art, on her visit to London while I studied here.

I ran along the cobbled streets surrounding the Globe, and peered through the metal gates in front  decorated with tiny sculptures of Shakespeare's greatest characters.

Figuring I could just weave my way back through the neighborhoods, rather than returning to the riverfront walk, turned out to be an error in judgement. Up and down and around tiny twisty streets, trying to move myself west, trying to avoid moving south, I ran.  Eventually, when I finally approached my hostel,  6 miles later, I felt like I could do anything.

There's A Reason Why It's Called That

14 June...continued...visiting my favorite thing on earth.

Exhausted and still stiff-necked, I debated heading back to the hostel to recharge as my train from Salisbury pulled into London's Waterloo. The hostel was so close, I reasoned, a little rest couldn't hurt. But, oh, it can hurt, I contradicted. What if I let the tired set in and never make it back out, wasting a half a day in London!?! Deciding without making a decision, I boarded the tube and headed out in another adventure.

There wasn't time left in the day to tour an entire museum, but I didn't need to. This was the perfect time to visit my favorite historical artifact in London, and maybe the world: the Rosetta Stone. It can be hard to comprehend the age or significance of a piece of art, or a historical monument, but the the first time I laid my eyes on the Rosetta Stone my mind was blown [insert hilarious visual of trendy "mind blown" gesture here]. This stone, which is actually a small portion broken off of a larger tablet, or Stella, contains a message from Ptolemy IV to the people of Memphis, Egypt in 196BC. It was discovered in 1799 many miles away from its original location. Scholars maintain that it was likely transported to be used in building - being a nice solid stone with some scribble on it- since it had outlived its original use, the way you write your list of bills to pay this month on the back of an unpaid parking ticket. The story of the creation, age and discovery of this ancient stone is cool enough on its own, but what historians were able to do with it takes the fricken cake.

At this time, the late 18th century, the brits were pretty enamored with the mysteries of Egypt. It was foreign and new, so different from their own world. The only problem was that no one had any idea at all what all those little signs and pictures on tombs and artwork were talking about. A lot of experts assumed that hieroglyphs weren't a language at all. Just a primitive communication tool - look, a picture of a bird! That means there were birds! But the Rosetta Stone changed everything. The message I mentioned that was carved on the stone? It was more complex than just a message. In the section of the stone that was found, the same message was written 3 times - to make sure everyone in town understood it (think "Caution Wet Floor! Cuidado Piso Mojado!" - it saves a ton of money on lawsuits). The three languages used were Greek, the language of government, Demotic, and hieroglyphs, which were pretty much out of style by then, but like I said, these folks were playing it safe.

What this means is that historians had a key, a legend for reading the hieroglyphs. The Rosetta Stone could only do so much on its own, it took supremely talented scientists 25 years to learn to read the language of the hieroglyphs, and then modern folks began to understand the mysteries of ancient Egypt, and to learn that the society had been an advanced culture, experienced in math and science.

This stone, this piece of carved rock that has been in the British museum for over two hundred years (I wonder what the gift shop was like then!) changed history, and we can see it, Up close (if you push through the "eh? A rock? I don't get it?) touch it (well, the perfect replica across the hall that's for geeks who really want to touch it!) and begin the understand that every day we are unlocking history - that's why we keep looking for keys.

Revisiting my old friend, the Rosetta Stone was a moving experience. It reminded me why I seek so many answers- because they are there if we look hard enough.

After the closest thing I can have to a religious experience, I was ready to take a break. The cafe looked lively and the sandwiches decent, so I parked myself on a bench on the museum's beautiful main floor and enjoyed dinner. It was nearing dark, and I had already accidentally purchased a Rosetta Stone laptop sleeve (oh the multiple levels of meaning!!) so it was time to head home. I happily returned to the hostel to enjoy a pint, and think about all the history I had lived that day.

*does it make more sense why the wildly popular language software is called Rosetta Stone now?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Arriving in the Homeland

13 June 13

The rickets set in immediately. 

London hasn't seen the sun since the Norman Invasion and this day is  as cloudy as the day it was born. Dressed in black and gray, I match its gloomy countenance, my foreignness only given away by my excessively American Northfaced apparel.

Relatively well rested for an overnight traveler, and anxious to get my journey in order,  the moment the airplane aisle cleared I politely passed my seatmate whose Willy Nelson braid shifted softly in the aftermath of my departure. 

Customs stood unusually empty for one of the busiest airports in the world, and the UK welcomed me with open arms. Well, the cold, soulless, Dementor-like, open arms of the TSA.  Off to the train! The Tube ticket booth challenged me. The warning I received stateside proved true when the unmanned ticket booth refused to accept my American credit card, heartily backed by failing financial institutions. Thankful I had obtained GBP from the bank at home, I obtained a fare card to central London with minimal shame.

As I remembered, London's tube is tiny but immaculate. One of many touristas, I cradled my bag tightly to my body and apologized emphatically to everyone it tripped. The Cockfosters-bound Picadilly line train travelled through central London (as we Americans call "downtown"), and with a single Transfer deposited me a mere 300 meters from my hostel. Now I only had to conjure the ancient and antiquated rules of the metric system to understand how far that was. (A little US-centric joke for you all.)

On the flight, I had decided that I'd skip "dinner" in favor of sleep, and indulge in the ready-made breakfast I'd be served before landing in London, instead. Unfortunately, my eyes we still open when dinner service came around, and it just didn't feel right ordering a vodka sprite but refusing the sustenance. 

I poked at my mystery meat, in its appropriately mystery sauce,  inhaled a creepily warm roll encased in plastic, and took my chances on a plastic wrapped brownie that turned out to be award-winning. 

The low-grade cell-phone-sized tv on the back of the seat in front of me ( god I feel 21st century and spoiled saying that) refused to show anything in my native tongue and I took that as a sign to try to sleep. I turned it off, and in my trademark in-flight move, I pulled my hood over my eyes and wedged myself into a "sleep position."  After a couple of hours of repositioning and fighting the sandman, my body gave in. By the time I roused, Willie Nelson was licking his breakfast plate clean and the bright light of the morning illuminated the interior of the aircraft.

It was 130 (1330) when I arrived in the neighborhood of the Walrus- my bar/hostel on the South bank of London- 30 minutes prior to checkin time. After the predicable near-miss with a London double decker bus, I planted at a coffee house and order an unsweetened Americano. I was grateful for the caffeine, but I can admit that I was using this coffee house for its wifi. The wifi situation seemed simple enough. I confirmed the existence of the wifi with a sign on the door, checked with the barista that there was no password, and attempted to log in and contact my family and friends. Except, I can't. I obtained the login information and a contact code, and they asked me to confirm my code by test message. The text message is not a luxury I have here in phone-free London. I give up on wifi, and go back to the Americano. Ironic. I know.

I relax and try to bask in the moment - I am in a coffee shop, in London, hearing the joyous cacophony of Brits going about their business unbeknownst that they are in the presence of an interloper. 

Although I surely stick out, I savor my ability to drink espresso like this Is my side of the pond. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Journey Begins With the Me of Ten Years Ago

Notes from the pace bus 
12 june 13

The blue and white bus lurches as it moves, almost pendulum-like, from a speedy cruise to a grinding halt and back again. I don't dare look out the city sooted back window, but I imagine the tornado predicted by our local meteorologists is right behind us, turning the sky green in our wake like tinted cellophane pulled tight over a summer bowl of potato salad.

Because my office is Scroogey with the holidays and skimps on the employee bonuses, it was shocking to receive an email earlier than afternoon notifying us of an early dismissal due to the incoming storm. The idea of being released from our cubicles due to the weather caused a slight panic. How severe must this weather system be if we are offered more than the usual single pea to split between us for Christmas dinner?

Faced with a surprise early dismissal on a regular day, and I would have huffed and puffed about the inconvenience, pushed around some papers on my desk, and then been the last one to leave -  struggling to his send on just one more email.  I'd eventually head homes to wait out the storm in my one bedroom apartment, coaxing the cat to lay by me and delightedly watching episodes of Antiques Roadshow.  On this not-regular day, I changed into track pants and a hooded sweatshirt and shut down my computer. I loped over to the train station with an absurdly large neon pack strapped to my back like an overloaded urban bicycle delivery guy, and waited for a westbound bus.

On this not-normal day, I conjured the me of ten years ago, and headed toward  the airport to board an overnight flight, ready to travel and hostel solo in Europe for the first time. 

A doomsday superstorm stalking chicago seemed like jut the way to start this adventure.

Stay tuned for more...

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

It's Marathon Time

Some decisions are made before you realize it. You tell a friend you'll try to stop by a party, but you never write it on your calendar. You look into your sweethearts eyes across the length of a car's front seat and whisper, "I think I'm starting to fall in love with you" but you already know .

For me, running a marathon was one of these decisions. I started running in 2007 out of peer pressure and the eternal desire to lose a few pounds. I'm not particularly competitive, but when my sister started running and ran a marathon in that same year I figured it would only be a matter of time before it was my turn. The next year I ran a ten miler, and I thought a half marathon was next. On my way (but in no hurry) to 26.2.

Then I had a little back pain, which lead to a lot of back pain, which lead to the emergency room. At 27 it looked like my marathon dreams were over - I had a herniated disc in my back and walking was my immediate challenge.

The pain of the herniated disc was trumped by the pain of a broken heart. I was dumped and i was stuck flat on my back. In my self pity, I cried into my beer more than once about how I'd never love or run again. It was a dramatic, selfish, and contemplative time. As my heart healed, my back healed too and I started running again. Maybe I ran farther or faster. Maybe I was trying to prove that I was not broken, or just trying to lose the 10 pounds I gained during my sad and injured summer.

I wasn't broken. Not my back and not my heart. In the 4 years since, I have had so much love and so many miles. I started slow but then a 5k, 8k, 10k, 15k, a half marathon. Another half marathon.

The decision was made in 2007 that I'd run a marathon. 2013 is the year I'm doing it.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Goodbye, Roger.

Chicago lost a legend this week, and many of us feel like we lost a friend.

After celebrating 46 years writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert passed away from a cancer that, in many forms, had been plaguing him for decades. I wanted to write "film critic Roger Ebert", but that doesn't say enough about who he was. Not nearly enough. I'm not alone in thinking of Ebert as more of a life critic than a film critic. Read any one of the posts and articles from this past week from his fans and friends and you'll find that his mark was much deeper than a thumbs up or a thumbs down.

I do consider myself to be a fan of film, but I only came to read Roger Ebert's film reviews after I connected with him on politics, religion and humor through Facebook and Twitter. It was through his huge internet presence in the time since he lost his ability to speak that I found an inspiration in his voice.  Since I began to trust his opinions on social issues, I started trusting his opinions on movies and found the secret of what separated him from other critics: he didn't review movies, he spoke to readers about what a movie could evoke in us, about what we could learn from a character, about what a scene showed us about ourselves. He didn't review movies, he interpreted movies, and, in doing so, interpreted life. I did not love Terrance Malik's Tree of Life as much as he did (and I told him so), but I understood what he loved about it. In recent years he grew kinder in his reviews - just the appreciation that comes with age, perhaps - but he was still always honest.

(An example from Ebert's Review of "A Lot Like Love" starring Ashton Kutcher and Amanda Peet: "Judging by their dialogue, Oliver and Emily have never read a book or a newspaper, seen a movie, watched TV, had an idea, carried on an interesting conversation or ever thought much about anything. The movie thinks they are cute and funny, which is embarrassing, like your uncle who won't stop with the golf jokes.")

In recent obituaries, Ebert has been said to have had the soul of a poet. I'd agree. There are plenty of progressive writers on the web with whom I agree, but most of them are either lacking the passion for words, cities, people, and ideas that Roger had, or perhaps lacking the words with which to describe that passion. I bought his memoir when it came out, and waited in line to have him sign it. It's so exciting to meet your favorite writer. I bought a copy for my mother. In the past few days I've been rereading some of the chapters. The words sadden me now, but his clarity about life and the eventuality of death is inspiring. His shameless love for his wife and his life, regardless of its challenges, is something we can all strive to obtain. His final blog post is one example of this inspiration.

Roger Ebert was my favorite writer and my favorite preacher, teacher and philosopher. He helped so many of us see ourselves and our world better through his words. We are lucky to have had him on this Earth for 70 years.

Further Reading:
Roger Ebert's 20 Best Reviews (via Jezebel)
Roger Ebert's website (Chicago Sun-Times)

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

St. Patrick’s Day Corned Beef Hero

I can hardly remember a March 17th that didn’t include an encounter with one or several fools from a cast of alcohol-soaked, green-layered characters: a slurring girl frantically accusing strangers of stealing her coat, a couple weaving home from a bar while one of them cries, a bro breaking his hand on some other bro’s face. Last year, I actually think I saw all of them in one day. It was like getting the Leprechaun Full House. St. Patrick’s can be a time of fun and friendship, but, like night of the full moon, it can also be a time for crazy.

To celebrate this year’s Irish-For-A-Day holiday, I enjoyed approximately 100 beers (give or take) with my friends in the northern suburbs on Saturday night, and returned home on the afternoon of St. Patrick’s day proper more interested in watching PBS on the couch than getting my green on. I was satisfied in doing so, with the exception of one issue.  The missing part of my March 17th experience had been the food: I didn’t obtain the corned beef sandwich that I had been fantasizing about for a full year. Although my family is less Irish than Lucky Charms, we usually enjoyed traditional corned beef around the holiday. It was almost 8pm when I convinced myself that I deserved to uphold my family tradition.

I bundled up and entered the elements with one goal in mind – the New York Deli on Clark. If this blog were a Yelp review, I’d give it 5 stars (like most people do) and comment on its amazing sandwiches, classic checkered floor, and small business awesomeness (and I'd mention that the sell AND deliver craft beer), but that night it got even better than that.

That night, while I waited for my corned beef sandwich at a tiny table at the deli, I overheard the story of another St. Pat’s brute and witnessed some St. Pat’s chivalry.

The gal with long curly dark hair had been sitting alone near the back of the tiny shop. I noticed her when I walked in, as I considered if I should order my dinner to go or to stay. She wasn’t eating when I arrived, just sitting quietly, looking intently at her phone.

After a few minutes of us all sitting in the pleasant silence, she approached the store owner as he prepared sandwiches behind the counter. I could hear voice halt and crack. She began to cry, and I looked up from my magazine.

She apologized for loitering.

I just drove 5 hours.
He’s in a rage.
He slashed my tires.

Sandwich making halted.
You are safe here, Dave, the proprietor soothed. Can I get you anything? No rush. Stay as long as you need.

The Girl With Slashed Tires thanked him embarrassedly and returned to her seat. Moments later I heard her on the phone with a friend describe the “rage” of the man she was hiding from the way we talk about making that biannual dentist appointment; no one likes it, but we all live with it. The girl and the brute had been dating for 2 years.

Our shopkeeper, his only employee at the moment, walked away from the sandwiches. He came out from behind the counter with a cup of water for The Girl.

Handing her a card he said, This is my personal information.

I’m not being weird or creepy, I’m a happily married man. 
You can stay as long as you want.
You are safe here.
You can do better than him.
That behavior is inappropriate and mean.
You call me if you need anything.
I know every cop in town.

She thanked him again and he returned to finish adding the perfect amount of mustard to my hot and fresh St. Patrick’s Day sandwich. I paid in cash and tipped him. I said thank you. Twice.

I walked north to my house while the St. Patrick’s Day Brute surely roamed the neighborhood in a rage.  I wished that the Girl With Slashed Tires had never existed, but I had a warm heart knowing that the Dave at the New York Deli was looking out for her.  St. Pat's has its fair share of crazies, but it has its heroes, too.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Gun Control and the Zombie Apocalypse

I was trapped in an elevator traveling neither up or down, caught in that small window between floors where the zombies were free to hack at me through a metal cage – a frail frame of wires which provided enough safety to keep me cocky.

I was in torn and discolored clothing, my hair pulled back in a long messy ponytail secured with a piece of bloodied fabric tied around my head. I had two large hunting knives in my hands, and, foolishly, a useless kitchen steak knife tucked into the waistline of my sagging pants. I had returned to this place of danger from another location of relative safety to procure both a belt and my knife sharpener. Those are the things you think about when the zombie apocalypse occurs in your dreams, I guess.

All around me were zombies doing the Thriller walk, but I also saw my friends and neighbors fighting with all their might, or trying to escape. As the undead pressed against the elevator cage, trying to rip off my face with their clumsy fingers, I was struggling with who to stab. Everyone was dirty and torn. Everyone was splattered with blood. How did I know who was running to safety and who was really a brain-eating zombie?

The inherent survival instinct of my human nature stepped forward in this world of dreams and I definitely stabbed a few zombies without regret. I felt like a bad ass. But my instinct to assume innocence even of those whose flesh came falling off as they lumbered toward me also held on tight.

Among the jaw-flapping living dead on the other side of the elevator cage, there was also a young woman trying to transport orphaned pit-bull puppies to safety. Was she a zombie? Were they were zombie puppies? How did I know for sure if I should stab wildly or restrain myself?

As a person interested in the occult, and all things strange, I am surprisingly not into zombies. I've never much cared for zombie apocalypse discussions, or zombie bar crawls and any other such thing. I have nothing against the undead (go vampires!) but I just can't get into zombies. How they made their way into my dream is a mystery, but I have an inkling where the moral debate may have surfaced.

Over the past 5 years, and especially over the past few months, I've tried to stay abridged in the conversation in this country about gun control. It's a lot of the same stuff – the same arguments from both sides. But yesterday I read an article that made me think.

In an article on The Daily Beast called Don’t Shoot! Why Being a Hero Is Not That Easy, Dan Baum reflects on the NRA recommendation that teachers carry guns to prevent school shootings using his own experience at a virtual reality shooting school.

What we learn from Baum’s nerve-wracking experience is that no matter how sure you are of your mission (Stop the shooter! Save the students! Rescue the pit bull puppy! Re-kill a Zombie!) pulling the trigger isn’t as natural a reaction as we think. Even in a simulated reality where no one would actually be injured if Baum misfired, he still found himself in panicked fear of getting the wrong guy.

He recounts of the scenarios in vivid detail:

“Loud screams erupted as I turned and stepped through a doorway. Someone came running from the gloom at the end of a hall—a young woman, crying and pointing behind her. I raised the gun as another person came running—someone chasing her? No, a screaming man with empty hands.

I was gasping audibly, my torso rigid with fear, as I turned left into a classroom. People were lined up against a blackboard, crying. On the floor lay at least one body, maybe two. In front of me, a big woman had her arm around another woman’s neck and a gun to the woman’s head.

I froze.”

Equipped with two massive knifes in a dream world of deteriorating Zombie attackers, even the Rambo version of me froze. Baum froze in a virtual school under siege by a virtual attacker, and assessed he’d probably freeze in the real life situation, too.

Wouldn’t you?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Office Supply Kidnapping Plot

The driver slowed unexpectedly on the expressway, pulling slightly to the left. He put the square, white, utilitarian van in reverse and reached his arm around the back of the seat to see out the back window. For a moment, I worried that there had been a breakdown, engine trouble, a stall. Why else would we be stopped on the expressway? I soon realized that our driver had missed his exit, but he wasn’t going to let that stand in his way.

The traffic in and around Bangkok would make any Chicagoan sweat, but my level of perspiration soared that day on a trip from the convention center to downtown. As was my assignment on this trip, I had completed this journey several times to drop off and pick up supplies by taxi and by train, but this time was a little more uncomfortable. This time I was traveling in the front seat of the utilitarian delivery van with my colleague, Susan. With no seat belts. And a severe language barrier between us and our driver.

Susan and I had attempted to climb into the back of the van but were redirected into the front, next to the driver and a little too close to each other. I got the distinct impression that this seating arrangement was intended to be respectful of us and our white-womaness, but I would have much preferred to sit on the floor of the back of the van. As he pulled out of the convention center, we were hoping that he understood our request.

 “Office supplies. We need office supplies. Scissors, staplers, pens? Office supplies?” We knew that repeating yourself several times was the best way to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak your language. I mimed with my index and middle fingers.


In the rearview mirror, he spoke to his 12 or 13 year-old son, a quiet boy who sat in the backseat of the van engrossed in a comic book. His job was to help us lift and carry all the supplies we purchased and to occasionally interpret for his father using the English phrases he had likely learned from Hollywood movies. The boy nodded. His father smiled and nodded and we continued on our way.  Susan and I looked at each other and shrugged.

Actual photo of me in a taxi in Bangkok. Actual fear on my face.

 Our driver’s style behind the wheel did not seem unusual in BKK. We jerked forward and made unexpected turns. We merged into impossible streams of traffic. We accelerated to dangerous speeds and then stopped suddenly for red lights or slowing traffic. Being seated so close to the windshield made the dizzying traffic feel like a video game simulation, which was both terrifying and nauseating.  I’ve experienced plenty of bad drivers, but this man drove like he was kidnapping a couple of American citizens and trying to flee from the law.

The more I thought about it, the more I wondered if that was really what he was doing.  I’d start to panic, finger my Thai cell phone preparing to call for help, and try to signal to Susan that in exactly 60 seconds I was going to knock out the driver with my sweet left hook, and she’d have to grab the wheel and slide into his seat while I tied him and the boy together and notified the authorities of the international incident we so narrowly avoided.

I got as far as smiling at Susan, trying to spell out the plan with my eyes, and without notice our driver swung the van right, slamming Susan and I into each other with whispers of fear caught in our throats, and hit the breaks. Practically clutching each other, ready to scream or vomit, we stared at our driver. He pointed up at a sign posted far above our heads.

“Office Depot!?” he shouted, nodding wildly. 

And there it was, sandwiched between two blustering lanes of traffic, swarmed by overhead power lines – an Office Depot. Ah yes, I thought, narrowing my eyes, taking us to our destination covers your plot well.

We climbed out of the van in a hurry, thankful to be free of the chaos of Bangkok’s urban bustle and safe in the familiar fluorescent lights and orderly aisles of the Office Depot. Inside, as we filled a cart with office supplies,  our driver and his son waited in the van no doubt laughing about how strange and sweaty American touristas can be.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Trip

When I walked off the plane at 4AM, I had officially been traveling for 22 hours. I was exhausted, smelly, and had to figure out how to get a cab to my hotel. Standing in a too bright airport with a language I couldn't read demanding me to go in a million directions, I suddenly realized that I had forgotten to google Bangkok.


Hunched over in my cubicle, pouring over multiple spreadsheets on my double monitors, with headphones blasting electronica in my ears, I almost missed the phone call. It was my bosses boss. Terrified that I was about to be fired over the phone, I pulled the buds from my ears and tried to answer the phone calmly.

"Jis is Thean. THIS IS JEAN." I stumbled and then awkwardly shouted.

"Hey Jean, would you mind stopping by my office when you have a chance?" 

Of course I would. Only first I'll save all my pictures of cats to a flash drive, and erase my recent google history. You can never be too careful.

Just minutes later, In her pristine office, with the rare and beautiful north side view of the Chicago skyline, Michele cut to the chase.

"How would you like to go to Bangkok?"

This question on its own sounds a little bit like a Brokedown-Palace-under-the-table-your-mom-would-tell-you-to-say-no type offer.

"Sure!" I said. Because I'm a team player.

"Can you leave in a week?" She asked, surely incredulous that I had accepted her dubious offer without even pondering the repercussions of my agreement. 


The week did not pass without road blocks. The call out for an unemployed person with no personal life to cat-sit in my poorly venalated city apartment for almost two weeks at short notice for no more payment than a bottle of cheap champagne and a pack of cigarettes only appealed to one desperate person: my best friend of 15 years, Nicole. (Full Disclosure: The promises i made could only be redeemed upon my successful return. Double Full Disclosure: Unbeknownst to Nicole, this was more of a permanent arrangement, as i saw my odds of surviving the trip without contracting a deadly disease or being locked up in Thai prison to be rather low.)

Stay tuned to see what happens...

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Waking With Words

I constantly woke up on the floor of my best friends dorm room.

Well, not exactly the floor - usually a bean bag chair that provided some comfort. Some times when I woke on the floor of their dorm room it was early morning after 4 hours of sleep. More often it was in late mornings or early afternoons when we all were recovering from late nights at house parties with TV and junk food. 

I'd wake up in my up lofted bed some time in early morning; face to face with both Bob Dylan and Ani Difranco. I'd fuss shortly and then feel lonely or bored or a combination of the two. I'd grab my writing book from its nest of covers, crawl down the bolted wooded ladder and shuffle next door to the room of my 18 year old comrades. 

It didn't matter if they were sleeping or not; we rarely locked our doors. 

I'd enter their room and we'd all offer greetings in our half awakeness. I'd lower myself onto the beanbag chair, open my tattered writing book to the most recent scribbles and review what I had documented in my inebriation.

Usually, what I wrote didn't fit the definition of "documented" although occasionally I did write down who said what, if it was funny enough. Most often what was scratched into those unlined pages was barely coherent, cryptic verse. I didn't write verse because I loved poetry, or even because I was good at it. I wrote verse because I was secretive and wanted to be sure to keep my real observations and emotions to myself. I wrote verse because I refused to journal. Journaling is for little girls who love horses.

I'd review my notes, and maybe I'd find a nugget of good writing, or an exceptionally funny quote from a drunk buddy. Then I'd work a little more. In those days I could just place my pen to the paper and there would be words. I'd write about everything and nothing; trying to harness and destroy all the fears and confusion that plagues young people. 

Usually, I was exhausted from the previous night's binge drinking or my constant nighttime insomnia and eventually I'd fall asleep, clutching my book protectively to my chest. I'd sleep until roused by my friends when they got hungry enough to pull their shoes on and make the journey to the cafeteria.

I still wake up with my book under my pillow. Sometimes its my iPad. Usually its at 6 am, and I'm getting up for the gym, not bemoaning a hangover, but the story is still the same. I just wish the words came as easily. Maybe I should invest in a beanbag chair.

Let's try this again.

I am sure that you are thrilled to see this post.

I bet for a the past year you've woken nightly with sweats - terrifying images of blank screens and a the black hole created by a lack of witty commentary shuffling through your mind - asking yourself aloud in the dim quiet of your suburban bedroom: "Will MeanJean ever  blog again?"

I know its true. Because I know you. I know where you live. Because you are my mom. 

So, here I go. I'm relaunching my blog for the 197539853825th time.