Thursday, July 31, 2008

Beginner's Greek, a novel by James Collins

A book cover blub and reviews compare James Collins' Beginner's Greek to the novels of Jane Austen, but as I was reading, the only Austen moment that came to mind was by way of Andrew Davies' Pride and Prejudice when Lizzie writes, after an unflattering but entirely accurate description of Lady Catherine's daughter, "I'm sorry to be hard on any of our sex, but there it is." I do want to be supportive of a first-time novelist, but I really hated this book. Randy got so sick of my disgusted snorts as I was reading it in the car that he threatened to throw it out the window.

Beginner's Greek works so hard creating a protagonist that is affable and loveable, that I absolutely despised him.

Julia leaned forward. "Tell me something....You haven't said a word about your career. How come?"

"Oh," Peter said. "Well--I save that for when I am going out to dinner with a woman for the first time. We'll talk about it-- that is, I will--for pretty much the entire meal. I mean, not every minute--you've got to order and so forth. Also, when a woman and I are in each other's arms after...after...you know, I like to tell her about it. It's beautiful."

"What if someone asks you what you do?"

"I've always wanted to sort of draw myself up and say with a withering look, 'I am a gentleman.'"


You might wonder, like I did, if this conversation was intended to be laughable, but it's followed by the so literal lines: "Julia liked Peter. Over the months and years, she had always been happy to see him, and, in fact, he had worked his way into her heart."

Peter Russell meets the woman of his dreams on a plane, but because of an unexplained loss of a piece of paper, he loses her to his best friend. Never mind his own lack of courage that prevents him from admitting his feelings or protecting the woman from her philandering husband. It was the paper's fault!

So he marries another woman he doesn't love.

When the philanderer is dispatched by a bolt of lighting (my favorite moment of the book), our weenie has this lovely thought about his wife: "He could flip Charlotte in a year, and nobody would care."

Yeah, right, a gentleman.

In conventional, non-experimental fiction, to earn the right to be the main character, you need some kind of pluck, or gumption or special quality - something, anything! That sets you apart from the million other Joes and Marys out there. But this Peter can't do the right thing - he can't do much of anything - it has to be done for him. His wife runs off with another man and Peter, for over-complicated and implausible reasons that are all in his head, even with all obstructions conveniently whisked away, can't tell the girl of his dreams that he loves her. He can't figure out a way to stand up to his bully boss. But he still gets the girl, watches the boss get his comeuppance and in a dinner party scene that explains the title of the book, manages to impress a table of scholars, business titans and cultural elite.

"Peter emerged as sort of a mascot of the table. Two people would be discussing something--a movie, a political issue, the economy, the human condition--and then they would turn to him and ask him his opinion. Peter found himself able to talk with perfect ease on any subject at all."

This may sound cruel, but instead of Austen's work, the book that I was reminded of, actually, was A Million Little Pieces, James Frey's crappy novel that he couldn't sell and so falsely labeled a memoir. ("At first I made an effort to fit in, but I couldn't pretend, and after a few weeks, I stopped trying. I am who I am and they could either like me or hate me. They hated me with a fucking vengeance....Got first DUI. Blew a .36, and set a County Record. Went to Jail for a week.") I couldn't take Frey's self-consciously hard-ass persona and where else but in the fantasies of an insecure male ego do scenes like this live?

Would you like my copy?

Absolutely NO Orangutans!

Chicago Craig's list ad.

Monkey Rental Needed (Chicago)

Reply to: gigs-749628386@craigslist.org
Date: 2008-07-10, 11:29AM CDT


I'm looking for a well-behaved and charming monkey for a client event.

Monkey must be clean and willing to wear a funny outfit.

Ability to ride a dog as if it was a horse is a huge plus, but not necessary.

Please let me know if we can rent your monkey for the night. Looking for a smaller variety monkey. Absolutely NO orangutans!



Location: Chicago
it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests
Compensation: Up to $100 an hour. Not sure what the industry standard is.
PostingID: 749628386

Another Virginia Moment

+++ SHOW & TELL PARTY! +++
(Just like in the 3rd grade!)

August 13th 2008 *** Wednesday night *** 5pm to Midnight!
@ THE BANK 3114 N. CALIFORNIA AVE.
(Just north of Diversey and south of Belmont / Elston intersection)

Those with the kiddies come early... and those who don't know how to hang with the little bratties can come later!
A Furnished Tent is up for outdoor fun.

Bring a Thing,
A picture of a Thing,
A skill to show off
OR
Just bring your Leo-Lion self , seeing as it is in the AstologicalRoaring time of year!


There's plenty of floor space for performitive showing off and a record player for those of you with some sound to share.

POT LUCKY! SO PLEASE BRING A LITTLE FOOD AND DRINK !

WE'LL DANCE LATER IN THE NIGHT FOR EXTRA SHOWING OFF!

We all seem to hang on to something useless or stupendously weird that we just can't get rid of ... so make the most of it and DO TELL!

AND WHILE YOU'RE AT IT, TELL A FRIEND OF COURSE...
CUZ IT'S FREE... AND IT'S EASY TO GET HERE.

ANY QUESTIONS JUST GIVE ME A CALL : 773-279-8513

As always, anyone wishing to dress in outrageous clothes is encouraged to do so.

HOPE TO SEE YOU ALL ! XOXOXOXOXOXO Virginia

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Hipster Lesson #206: Unicorn Chaser


Not someone who seeks the horsie, but the power of the horsie to erase a particularly painful interweb image from your brain. On that note, here is my latest post to Chicago Moms Blog, an account of one five-year-old's meltdown and our nearly equally childish reaction to it. It was a rough ride for us; it may be a rough read for you. Thus, the unicorn.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Happy Anniversary Dear Husband

Eight's been great. Thanks for the laughs, the love, the patience, the listening, the dances. Thanks for our beautiful girls. I love the amazing places we've been together - and not just the ones we reached by car and plane and inflatable raft. Let's do another eight. And another and another. I am one lucky so and so, mo fo.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Mom's Night Out


The plan for this month's Mom's Night Out: Mamma Mia. Now I'm up for anything to get an evening out with girlfriends - even if the reviews were solidly average and the two-page ad in Entertainment Weekly seemed sadly desperate. Here's a line from the energetically glowing review quoted in the EW ad: "The scene is set for songs, dancing and romance, all staged brilliantly, with many energetic and colorful performers, and beautifully shot." Now that's just embarrassing. It sounds like a bad translation from the Japanese.

Not that any ABBA songs, the sole reason for Mamma Mia the play and now this movie adaptation, are any more fluent. I always got the impression that the Swedish singers learned the English lyrics phonetically; and I never could understand the chorus of "Dancing Queen" - "You can dance, you can die, having the time of your life?"

So there I am, sitting in the theater (sober!) and I'm overcome. I'm laughing, so is the mid-sized Thursday night crowd, and even applauding after especially fun numbers. And on cue, I even tear up. Because it is a musical after all, the most poignant of art forms. Because "Dancing Queen," a song in a minor key that begs to be slowed down and sung as a plaintive ballad, is not a song for teenagers. Because as Meryl leaps in the air and dances in slow motion and a crowd of Greek housewives and grandmothers throw off their brooms and burdens to join the parade, it becomes a song about remembering being seventeen, about letting that infectious beat fool your tired body into feeling like a pretty girl again.

Make no mistake, this is the silliest of stories, an airy confection of nonsense built around some great music. After Meryl and co. perform "Super Trouper," I leaned over and asked Brenda "What is that even about?" She shrugged. ''Tonight the Super Trouper lights are gonna find me, shining like the sun! Smiling, having fun! Feeling like a number one!" I think the title phrase serves no deeper purpose that adding the right number of syllables to the pounding beat.

The choreography is a little too much wiggle and too little actual dancing. The trio of Donna and the Dynamos could have learned much from the joyous choreography of this version of "Waterloo."

Pierce Brosnan is a super trouper. His strained voice on the unforgiving "SOS" made me burst in laughter, but he plunged into it and swam through, making all those OO7 stunts seem so many pieces of cake. Comedy is hard. Singing is harder. And you love him for trying.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Want to Celebrate 8/8/08? Come to a Happening!


At 8:08 pm, go to the Bean in Millennium Park. Look for the woman with the yellow umbrella. Something magical is going to happen.

Friday, July 25, 2008

My Green Morning

After I drop the girls off at daycamp, I ride my bike to the store to pick up some bread. Organic raspberries are on sale, two for five bucks. I've got time, so I ride on to the hardware store and pick out a wooden drying rack to use for towels and swimsuits instead of the clothes dryer. The rack folds up and fits in the used Burly two-kid carrier bouncing behind me that I bought on Ebay last year. (The Ebay description neglected to mention its sour milk smell and faded canopy.)

On the way home, I pass a man driving a powder blue convertible with an 8-foot tall package wrapped in black plastic sitting upright in the passenger seat.

"Does this street go through to Green Bay Road?" he calls out.

I circle the bike around in an easy curve and stop. Silk flowers and vines are peeking out of the bottom of the wrapped package.

"Yes, but the neighborhood doesn't like people using this as a through street."

"I need to find Kenilworth Avenue by side streets. I can't drive over 10 miles an hour."

"What's that? A dead body?"

"I wish. It's for my daughter's wedding."

Ah, a chupa. I tell the man to turn here and go to 16th, then turn left when he sees Green Bay. You don't have conversations like this when you're driving.

"Congratulations on your daughter's wedding!"

"Well, not yet. We'll see. And I've got another one, too!"

And he drives off, up 16th. I watch him creep along, the chupa bobbing. He turns left at the wrong street, the one that doesn't go to Kenilworth Ave. Good luck, Dad.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Just Cuz



The Cake, "You Can Have Him." Someone's having a bad day.



Klezmer All Star Clarinet Band, "King Waldemar." Someone's got some hot leather pants.



The second movement of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto in A major. London Symphony Orchestra, Andrew Marriner, soloist. Someone's crying, Lord.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Cadillac

The Chicago Park District's Theater on the Lake has a stunning setting overlooking Lake Michigan, but the horns and engines of cars on Lake Shore Drive did take some of the subtlety from the intrigue and stratagems in Bill Jepsen's funny and moving new play, Cadillac, a Chicago Dramatists production, finishing its second run last week. Perhaps these blaring and froggy sounds made the appropriate ambiance for a story about used cars, the people who want them and the salespeople who desperately need the people who want them.

The comparisons to Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross can't be helped, but make no mistake, this is a very different kind of play. Jepsen writes with humor, heart and humanity. Who are we responsible for? What do we owe? are two of the important questions the play chews on. "This is my day!" proclaims the 60-year old printer who refuses to back down to a lesser car, to a lesser reward after a long life of denial and saving and sacrifice. The line resonates for every character.

Jepsen creates full and complicated people - like the optimistic lot veteran, Art, played with a lot of affection by Rob Riley, who describes his job as "helping people" and thrives on the relationship he forges with his customers. The villainous new shark-punk, played by Ian Forester may be less fully drawn, but he is no less interesting to watch as he plots the downfall of his nemesis. Actor Craig Spidle plays finance manager Howard, the heart of the show, whose crisis of conscience put me on the edge of my seat. As I was appreciating one of his rare and powerful smiles I realized these characters were entirely compelling, despite their flaws and perhaps even because they are nowhere as loveable as they hope their salesmen demeanors will appear.

I can't wait to see what Jepsen creates next. More here.

Summer in the City

We played Chicago tourists this weekend. Let's see if I can remember some happy moments... There were a lot, really, too many to keep. Holding Nora and reaching for Mia as our Irish rickshaw-bicyclist pedaled us through Chicago traffic. Watching Nora knock down a set of giant dominoes at the kids museum, then cheer, "I won!" to her sister who had just knocked down a couple of bowling pins herself. Helping them help me at the post office. Feeling their hands grab mine as we near a street. People watching on Navy Pier. That ridiculous little 60 foot train ride on Navy Pier that gives the girls more of a thrill than the merry-go-round or Ferris Wheel. Yum Sunday brunch at The Gage where Nora fell asleep in my lap again, just as she did at Russian Teatime the afternoon before. Just everything really. It was a pleasure to be with them, easy in all the big ways, tough in the little ones - how on earth do city moms carry their sleeping toddlers AND get the grocery bags up to the apartment?

And Saturday night - bright moments with hubby. Watching the light leave the sky as we linger over water and beer at a Fulton Street bar, imitating the SNL assholes, "Whatever you say, babe." Ooing and ahing at the fireworks over Navy Pier from our vertigo-inducing balcony.

OTOM was tons of fun; cool décor that matched my dress, thank you very much, jokey entrees and bizarre cocktail combinations. Not that the food was good, exactly, more like clever and interesting. I laughed and laughed, drank three of those pretty red strawberry concoctions that initially sounded gross (balsamic berries and Tawny port?) but tasted pretty sweet, despite my first choice being out of commission ("I'm sorry, we don't have the sangria tonight. The cherries take three days to prepare.") Grateful to see two vegetarian entrees, I asked our server, who laid down the gauntlet. "The tofu is excellent, but more conventional than the TV dinner. Do you want traditional or experimental?" Well, if you put it that way, how could I complain? And I'm not.
Look at this hilarious and beautiful rendering of the TV dinner - in a Russian military issue plate. "We have fifteen or so of these." Edamame and corn in a sweet crust with whipped crème fraiche; whipped cauliflower stood in for the mashed potato volcano and the "chicken" was a red bean puree shaped and flash-fried. The whole experience mimicked my memories of sitting in front of the Mary Tyler Moore show with food cooked in foil: the "dessert" was the best part and the salty and bitter coffee gravy with cloves rendered the rest nearly inedible. Am I complaining? No way. We had a blast. It's so great to see vegetarian food prepared with a sense of humor.

The wait staff was super nice and patient even with my drunken razzing, "Do you have anything with tomatoes on the menu? I really like tomatoes."

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Feeling Blue? Watch This, Watch This!

1. The Whole World is Dancing.

Music from "Stream of Life" from Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore:

The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day
runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.


2. A witchy rap Spanish lesson from Dan Zane's new celebration of Latino music, Nuevo York.

From Dan's liner notes: “During the past few years, there’s been a lot of talk about immigrants and immigration, much of it quite mean-spirited. Maybe for the young person in Idaho or Arkansas who [hears] of the so-called immigration problems, it might be useful to hear another scenario — a wild musical gathering where everyone was invited and welcomed.”

3. "I Never Go to Work." This is our second favorite video on the new They Might Be Giants album/DVD. Last night I cut down two of the graying alliums and the girls marched around the backyard, singing this song, each wielding a stiff four-foot allium stalk with a round flower head like an Ozian staff.


Here's our favorite video! a sweet homage is Electric Company/Sesame Street production numbers from the 70's, complete with Elton John/Dr. John puppy on the piano, star filters and a couple of sock puppets, one with male pattern baldness, doing The Courtship of Eddie's Father bonding thing.

Buy it yourself!

4. Moms who write and some pretty damn cute kids.

5. And finally, blow your mind with this. The band is MGMT, as in "Management." Found the video here; spreading the word about cool shit like this is one reason she's a rock star.

My Uncle Phil

Uncle Phil's in the hospital. Today is his great-grand-daughter Nola's third birthday; she is one of four of Ruth and Phil's great-grandchildren.

We all say Phil, a chain-smoker who loves his sweets, has been living on borrowed time - we've been saying this for the last twenty years or so. We also love to laugh at the old stories at his expense - Ruth embroidering a clown to disguise the ash holes burned in his sweatshirt, his favorite epithet "Judas Priest!", the famous tumble down the hill - but we rarely talk out loud about his great act of love. We are probably following his lead, for he never showed a trace of doubt, never voiced a single regret or question about the decision to take us four children into his home and treat us as his own. Once he made the decision with Ruth, he never looked back - as if the upheaval of their lives was inevitable and what he had planned all along. To be our loving but impatient, surly while good-hearted, often giggly and affectionate, never-perfect guardian for the whole of his long and smoky life.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A New Day

The Skate on Grand rink at Fox Lake

I have a funny feeling around my calves and ankles and feet at lunchtime today - it makes me want to stretch and rise on my toes and wiggle them around.

The last time I felt this Mia and I were trying to "roller skate" at Fox Lake with the three Tallahassee girl cousins, which to Mia meant shuffling over to the Chuckie Cheezie-style games and to me meant flashing back to junior high mortification at the Shawnee Mission rink and feeling so tense about falling that my shins were tight. But as my floppy upper body stabilized and the YMCA/Chicken Dance/KC and the Sunshine Band music worked its silly worm into my head, I started to get the roll-bounce rhythm of it all - glide with the feet, bend the knees and boogie with the butt. And it was delicious.

So I'm thinking this leg thing might be...dare I think? Toe-curling happiness. Where does this come from?

A new Project Runway season?

Plans for a date night with Randy at OTOM?

It might be the satisfaction of writing and posting a quickie for the Chicago Moms Blog that to my surprise turned into a sort of defense for mosquitoes' lives, but mostly, I think it's Camp! Oh beautiful Park District Day Camp!

I dropped the girls off Monday for the first day and I felt the deep relief immediately. Silence. Calm.

During June we had some travel plans and other whatnot so I didn't sign the girls up for the first session. I did try to fill our days, I did. But it was tough. The mornings were bright and there were 40 minute swim lessons in the morning for two weeks but oh the long afternoons. Randy has been working late nights on a documentary, I was wiped by noon, Nora was cranky and Mia was raring to go - but not out of the house.

"Let's go to the beach!" I'd try. "NO!" like I'd deeply offended them. "We'd rather roll around on the sticky couch and kick each other."

Nora refused to ever nap, unless we had to drive somewhere. Twice she fell asleep at lunch with her lovely Kansas City cousins and had to be lugged (oh beautiful but weary burden) through Water Tower Place, to the beach, into the cab, down the escalator, then I turned around to find Mia still at the top of the escalator, wailing, afraid, with strangers. The dear cousins had forgotten to take her hand. Without thinking I call out, "My daughter!" and rush up the up escalator still carrying heavy Nora to kneel next to my sobbing forgotten daughter and try to console her. So tired.

June was beautiful, but hard. Now I have some space to breathe, to plan, to write. When I pick up my limp and weary girls at noon, I'm fresh and so so happy to see them. "How was camp? Tell me everything."

Monday, July 14, 2008

My Blog Ad

video

Thank you, dear husband!

Microgig - A Cellist and A Dancer in A Very Tiny Space

From my friend Virginia:

Microgig with Asimina Chremos and Fred Lonberg Holm.
A Man, a Cello and a Dancer in a very tiny space...This time in my Van! We will be tooling around various neighborhoods on July 15th (Tuesday)
Start time is 7pm - finish around 11pm

Look for a white-grill-banged Ford Econoline Van!

Here is the schedule for Microgig July 15th starting at 7pm...

First stop: Portage Park
Meet in front of the Portage Theater, 4050 N Milwaukee Ave @7pm

Second stop: Edgewater
Meet at the Gethsemene Garden Center, 5739 N Clark @ 8pm

Third stop: Wicker Park
Gather at the ex-Burger King parking lot, Milwaukee Ave at Honore St @ 9:45pm

Fourth stop: Humboldt Park
Join us in Burger King parking lot on North Ave between Francisco and Mozart Sts @ 10:20pm

Grand finale: Logan Square
Find us outside of Hotti Biscotti, 3545 W Fullerton Ave @ 11pm
A noise band will be playing in Hotti after us, stay around and have a drink.

(My apologies to the Pilsen clan... we could not fit in going south... Try to make it to Humbolt or Wicked Park!...
And stay tuned for more Microgig shows!)

Any questions please feel free to call : 773-279-8513 We hope to see you all somewhere along our route! xoxo Virginia

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Into the Woods Takes Me Out of the Woods

I'm slightly insane of late, but I take a little comfort in the sure knowledge it's not bi-polar. My highs aren't even close to manic, more like contented quiet. I watch Eleanor in the zero depth pool and her happy splashes and cries of "Cowabunga!" are all I need. She's funnier than my new David Sedaris book, more satisfying than the funny Nora Ephron collection. In some kind of meteorological aptness, I look up to watch a cloud-show of stormy drama to the north, but the pool and my chair remain bathed in sunshine that's not going anywhere. Not 'til we leave for lunch, anyway.

This post falls in my lap with lovely timing.

I was contemplating psychotropic drugs to protect the kids from the emotional and aural shrapnel of my rages and panicky hand wringing but just the idea that the drugs are out there, just the new doctor's phone number stored on my cell phone, just the option within reach, is enough comfort to keep me going.

I think, "well, what would Zoloft feel like - in the best of all possible possibilities?" and I answer, "I wouldn't care," which can sound very calm and grounded, actually, rather than apathetic.

Because it is caring too much about the little things that blew me out of the water in June - the misplaced wallet, the furious "NO!" from Mia, the realization that the cleaning lady has put a load of dirty dishes back on the shelves instead of running the machine.

But with drugs within reach, so is their imagined aid and I can see myself not freaking the small stuff and sometimes just seeing myself not freaking makes it possible. So I've decided to act like I am on drugs, rather than go there.

Web-MD says with a thrilling confidence and sureness, "Before trying a medication for your symptoms, it's best to stabilize your body's endocrine system by reducing your caffeine, refined sugar, and sodium intake; getting regular aerobic exercise, such as walking or jogging; eating a balanced diet; and getting enough calcium, vitamin B6, and magnesium. After two to three menstrual cycles, you're likely to notice some improvement."

And a holiday weekend night of "camping" with a reprobate and his two angelic children is enough to throw my occasional cussing into an entirely different and harmless light.

Babes in the Woods

Toward midnight, instead of the whine of an invisible mosquito in my ear, we had the persistent echoes of a not too far-off electric guitar solo.

Well, we went camping. A little different than I was expecting. Instead of the desert island solitude of the national park wilderness camps I've stayed at, every slot of grass here was full, the trailers lined up head to toe like a crowded but friendly neighborhood. Someone played Taps on a trumpet as the sun set.

We see no wildlife but tons of dogs, that the girls squealed and jumped to pet. "A Chihuahua! Can we ask the owner?" Our host has brought along his father's black lab who jumps on the girls despite our host's shouts of "Junior! Quit it!"

We pass untended campfires. A post-wedding cookout, the bride and groom still in costume, a green-gowned bridesmaid sitting in the back of a pickup.

Randy wants me to drive the kids the eighth of a mile to the pool, but I insist that we walk the gravel road. This is what childhood means to me, walking the long road home in the hot sun in a damp bathing suit, feeling each dusty step.

My people! Here is the way I spent my summers before adolescence -only our Ozark campground was pitched on steep hills rather than this Illinois plain. Aunt Ruth's house-keeping kept our trailer immaculate. One of my favorite trailer chores was standing on the step stool to wash little plastic cups in the pint-sized sink. Here, I see one trailer that has a red cedar screened porch attached to its side, trimmed with tiki-head lights and the memory almost knocks me over.

But this time, here in a close quarters temporary neighborhood, we were the awful neighbors on the block. Not because of the four kids, who were good as gold, but the Butthole Surfers blaring and the drunken yelling and angry cursing by our host that continued into the late night hours. His wasted friend falls over on top of the smoker and spills the ribs he has tended for six hours. Smoker-Joe said his girlfriend didn't come because she knew she would just end up taking care of the kids. This is a world where children, like the leavings of dinner, are just there, untended. A jar of mayo on the picnic table all night next to the chips, the rolling papers and the hot dog buns.

Sewer gas wafts by every few minutes from some unknown source.

A gasoline tank sits next to the fire pit.

Our host's angry defensiveness and irresponsibility were tolerable, even blackly funny at times when we were all partying and single in Wicker Park. Now that he has children, his drinking and neglect of the children is terrifying. "I forgot to get them lunch." It's four o'clock. "Hey, kids, can you wait a half hour while I do a beer run?"

But he's got some talent and some good goddamn taste in music. He stands under the awning and strums "Fire Lake" and Neil Diamond tunes on his guitar.

Finally, at eight or so, the kids are fed, I'm sitting by the campfire eating salmon, potatoes and tomatoes and drinking a cider as the girls roast marshmallows. (Note - try the cinnamon graham crackers and the dark chocolate and the vanilla marshmallows together. But don't believe your children when they say they want the dark instead of the milk chocolate - so buy both. And have the kids all repeat together: "Don't feed the dog chocolate. It will make him very, very sick.")

Bryan Ferry's wails of "More Than This" billows out from our host's excellent stereo system. Mia says, "those aren't bugs! Those are coming out of the fire!" I look up to see what she is talking about - weightless ashes are flying up into the dark blue twilight sky. Nora says, "I love camp." And, "I love this family. I wish I was with them every day." And I weep with happiness. Because I may be sad and frightened for the children, but at this moment they are completely happy. "More than this, there is nothing. More than this, tell me one thing. More than this, there is nothing."

Our host's children are exceptional. Their mother died when the girl was an infant and the boy, now seven, was in pre-school. The boy does cannonballs in the pool and talks pirate talk - "swab the poop deck, mateys! Avast ye landlubbers! What's the pirate password? Port, port, starboard! Oh no, the giant squid! Where is the sperm whale when we need him?" Here in the splashing of the pool, he is quick and fluid in his speech. "Kids, don't do this at home!" he calls before jumping into the water.

At the playground, I interrupt what looked like some kind of bullying by the campground owner's grandson, (his shirt reads "Get in Line, Ladies"), nearly disguised by a malevolently friendly arm around the little boy's shoulder. When I dismiss the big kid and ask the little one what happened, he stutters so badly he can hardly explain that the big kid actually did knock him off the jungle gym on purpose. "I get bored at the playground," he says, shrugging off the episode. My heart breaks once again.

This is what I can do. Take care of them for a day, ask their father if they come can visit for a week.

We return to our home, I go with the girls to a neighborhood playground where one nanny chases after a girl who is chasing me in our game of freeze tag, imploring her to "Be careful!" Another nanny asks each of the kids on the lot if they will play with her lonely two-year old charge. My friend is telling me of a spaced out woman who comes here occasionally and barely acknowledges her son knocking down the other kids. I want to say, "at least she's bringing him out to play." There's a kind of neglect I saw this weekend that is in another realm from the typical mommy anxieties over scraped knees and pushing. The kind of neglect that is so bad, it is superior to the scary aggressive attention the father occasionally turns on his children.

"Aren't you happy I'm not beating you?" I hear the father call out to his boy. It's past sunset, I've put the three girls to bed and now I look out the tent to see the boy standing by himself by the trailer in the dark. I wave him over. "Come to bed. Here, there is room here, next to me. Here's an extra sleeping bag."

Sometime in the night, the boy sits up suddenly. I say softly, "Sleepytime," rub his back. He turns to me with confused and shaded eyes. He is still asleep. I whisper, "lay down, lay down" but he sits, swaying, bumping his head against the side of the tent.

You know what else? When the girl and I were looking for her mermaid jammies, we found them in a duffle bag full of clean and folded clothes. The boy and girl had new snorkles and masks to play with at the pool. I can leap to judgment, but I saw one tiny slice of this family's life. And as someone who long ago had my home determined by a court decision, I believe children need their parents. Their imperfect, often ridiculous, stumbling, bumbling parents.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Bill Jepsen's Cadillac

Bill Jepsen used to work in the records office of the Chicago Catholic boys high school where I taught years ago. I loved hanging out in the office and talking film with him. He had a million dollar screenplay idea for a movie about Richard Nickel, a photographer dedicated to preserving classic Chicago architecture, especially that of the great Louis Sullivan. Nickel saved the memory of these doomed buildings in his beautiful images and often tried to salvage actual pieces of the architecture as well. He died tragically in 1972, accidentally falling to his death in the ruins of Chicago's Stock Exchange Building. Thanks in part to Nickel's efforts, you can see the preserved trading room of the Stock Exchange Building, designed by Adler and Sullivan, in the Art Institute.

Richard Cahan's 1994 book about Nickel is called, yes, They All Fall Down.

Now Bill has a new play that got rave reviews during its first run at the Chicago Dramatists theater. Cadillac is a story of used car salesman, a story that from the sound of the write-ups is something like Mamet with a conscience. I couldn't get a ticket for the show's first run at Chicago Dramatists, but now there's a second run at the Chicago Park District's Theater on the Lake.

I've got the babysitter booked. More later.

Later. Read my review here.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Beautiful July

Alien allium puffballs yay big.

Sour cherries we pick from our front porch. Yum!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Thanks, Stranger

"Blessings and strength!" says the woman in the grocery store. She grabs my arm as I pass. "I have four of my own! And a boy! Blessings and strength for you!"

The girls had already nearly upset the empty shopping cart when they both tried to climb on the back at the same time. "Whoops!" I sort of shout. "That's why we don’t ride like that! Now, who needs to go pee-pee?"

I'm loud in public. I narrate the shopping list, ask the girls questions, rally with "okay, here we go!" The chatter is my own cheering section, a foghorn warning of our approach and a veiled call for help, if you have the desire and fearlessness to answer. Today this woman's blessing was exactly what I needed.