Monday, October 31, 2005

I Don't Do Halloween ...

I've never participated in Halloween as an adult. I've been invited to Halloween parties, but I'm never inclined to dress up. Last night, Dave's band played a Halloween gig. I didn't go, but if I did, I was going to tell everyone I was a Disaffected Adult Who Doesn't Dress Up For Halloween.

Today at the post office, the "tellers" were all sporting kooky headband numbers with Halloween motifs. The woman who took care of me had a tiny black witch hat on her head with orange braids. When I walked up the the window, I said, "I like your costume."

"Thanks," she said.

"You look like the pagan Heidi."

She laughed and repeated it to her coworkers, who had taken to calling her Pippi Longstocking. Everyone agreed that Pagan Heidi was the winner.

"Thanks," I said. "I'm a writer." I didn't get my stamps for free, though.

Letters posted, I headed off to Sam's Club to buy candy for the trick-or-treaters. When I was younger, I remember how exciting it was when someone gave away full-size candy bars, so I decided that this year, that someone would be me.

Of course, the point of buying Halloween candy is to buy what you like, so in the event that there are leftovers, you don't get stuck with crap you'd never consider eating. So today's haul netted Snickers, Milky Ways, 3 Musketeers and Twix.

My oldest nephew is offically too cool to go trick-or-treating, and so his brother, who is three years younger but who wants to be cool, too, is skipping the ritual tonight. Only my niece will go out with her dad this year.

But they're all coming to my house, they assured me. They know they get good loot at the family stops. And I have to pat myself on the back for this year's treat (with props to mom for planting the idea): iTunes gift certificates. And boxes of Jelly Bellys, because you have to have candy, too.

I am the coolest aunt ever.

Just as I'm about to post this, I hear rain on the skylight above my head. Why does it rain just in time for trick-or-treat? I hope the kids come out anyway. I have 60 candy bars sitting by the front door, the front door through which I will not be able to pass if I'm left with 60 candy bars.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

One-Sentence Movie Review ...

I finally saw "Sin City." (Forgive my profanity, but ...):

It's just about the coolest fuckin' thing I've ever seen.

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? ...

As I do, twice every year, I forgot to change my clocks before I went to bed last night, and so when mom called this morning at 8:20 a.m., I asked her, "Why aren't you at church?" and she said, "Because it's 7:20."

Dammit.

So I set about changing the clocks in my house. And you know what I realized?

I have too many clocks.

What is this obsession I have with knowing what time it is? I don't wear a watch. I stopped because I was constantly checking it. (Though checking one's watch is a handy thing to do when you want to avoid someone on the street.) My computer and cell phone automatically account for the time change, so they're not included in my tally, but when I change my car's clock today, I will have changed 12 clocks.

I have a clock hanging next to my computer, which has a clock display on the screen. I have a clock in my dining area, from which I can see the stove and microwave, which both have clocks on them, as well as one of the clocks in my living room. There's another living-room clock on a side table. VCR and wall clocks in the TV room. One clock each in the bathroom, guest room, and my room. Eleven clocks to change in the house, and one in my car. Twelve. And if you include my computer and phone, that's 14 places I can turn to for the time.

Perverse.

But then, this whole time-change thing has never made sense to me. I understand why we do it, from an energy-saving perspective, but I read a story yesterday about people in Maine who hate when we revert back to Standard time, because it gets dark at 3:42 in the afternoon on the shortest day of the year. Why don't we just pick a time, and set our clocks, and leave them alone

I used to do the television listings for the Tribune and I always meant to take notice of how we treated the late-night listings on the days we changed the clocks. Because in the real world, it's 2 a.m., and then suddenly, it's 1 a.m. How do you schedule programming around that? How do you list it?

Anyone have a TV book lying around who can look it up and tell me?

[Forgot about the clock in my basement, the basement I rarely spend any time in, so I have 13 clocks to change.]

[Two days later, continuing on a theme: When I got home from walking a little while ago, I played a message waiting for me and the time stamp is off by an hour. One more clock I have to change.]

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Tag, You're It ...

Tara, the author of Eclectic Spaghetti, wrote a post about Blog Tag. I haven't been tagged, but I'm starting my own game ... now.

The rules are:

1. Go into your archives.

2. Find your 23rd post.

3. Post the fifth sentence.

4. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions.

5. Tag five other people to do the same thing.

My sentence is: "I'm not sure if I find that completely egotistical or admirable."

I'm tagging L.A. Dave, Henry, Ethan, Marc, and Ellen.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Faux Cappuccino ...

In the hospital cafeteria, I am an expert with the "cappuccino" machine. I frankly don't understand how the manufacturers of this contraption are allowed to bill what spews out of the spouts as "cappuccino" - I question whether there is a drop of coffee, much less espresso, anywhere in the finished product. It's really just a steaming cup of chemicals, I'm sure.

Hazelnut chemicals. Overly sweet hazelnut-flavored chemicals. I'm reminded of the scene in "The Great Muppet Caper" in the supper club when Fozzie Bear is shoveling spoonfuls of sugar into his glass of champagne and he says to the humans at the next table, "You know, if you add enough sugar, it tastes just like ginger ale!"

But I'm very skilled at knowing exactly when to release the button to fill my cup so that it's exactly full when the machine stops its whirring. (I think it's pretending to froth something when it makes that noise.)

It's not that I really even like this stuff. But it's become a habit. The weather is turning and my sleep pattern is out the window this week, so I'm chronically cold. On my way up to see my dad, I detour into the cafeteria and rustle up a cuppa, then I head up to dad's room and sit and sip while he fills me in on his latest health update.

I'm trying not to be too bitchy when I'm with him, but when he tries to shirk responsibility for this mess he's in, I open my mouth.

Today, one of the pastors of the church he technically belongs to came to see him. (Another Dave.) Dad listens to Dave because Dave has gone through a lot of the same things Dad is going through. This, of course, pisses my mother off (he won't listen to a word she says about any of this), but she's glad, at the same time, that he's listening to *someone.*

My father is not a religious man, but in times like these, I think he finds comfort in the pastors' visits. So today, after Dave said a prayer for him, my dad said, "I wish He could come down here and give me a swift kick," and I immediately said, "What do you think we're doing?"

I'm not religious, so I hardly think of myself as a vessel through which God is working, but we've all been kicking pretty hard this week.

I think we might be wearing him down. Today, after the dietician left, my father actually said, "Maybe this would be a good time for me to start cooking."

My father? Cooking? Willingly?

It's a miracle.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Comic Relief ...

L.A. Dave gets props for telling me about "I Am Not An Animal," a BBC comedy series that calls into serious question the sanity of the tea-and-crumpets set. The title of this post links to the BBC's page for the show, from which you can link to video clips.

In one such clip - "What Is Love?" - Winona the dog, wearing way too much purple eyeshadow, is reading "UH!" magazine, which I took to be a spoof of "OK!" magazine, and though the clip is only :55, I was sufficiently amused and disturbed.

I've been very aware of laughing today. It's a welcome diversion from being pissed off at my father, who does indeed need surgery (one doctors says in two weeks, one doctor says in two months). Mom and I were just at the hospital to get the low-down, and Dad actually had the gaul to say, about why this is happening, "It's nothing I did wrong."

Correctly sensing that my mother was about to spit nails, he retreated and said, "Well, I shouldn't put it that way," at which point mom lit into him, and I tried to make myself invisible by washing my hands.

He knows that he's responsible for the mess he's in, and he knows we know he knows. And the sympathy meter is deep in the red.

Plan All You Want ...

We take too much for granted.

Day to day, hour to hour, does the sameness of our lives lull us? Lull us into thinking that we have have limitless time?

I'm supposed to be in New York right now. Asleep in an apartment in Brooklyn. I was supposed to go to a book event at 12th and Broadway tonight and then out to dinner for Moroccan food. Tomorrow, I was supposed to meet my friend John at Rockefeller Center, at exactly the same spot where we meet every year. I have ideas jotted down for where we could have gone to lunch. Day by day, a.m. and p.m., I had plans.

I was supposed to do laundry and pack last night, but I stayed planted on the couch, watching "Gilmore girls," even though I was taping it, and, during commercial breaks, squeezing in the last episode of "Sex and The City" on DVD, two minutes at a time.

And then the phone rang.

Mom was calling from the emergency room. She'd taken my father in, against his initial wishes, of course. But even my father, who has developed a severe aversion to hospitals over the past four years, which stems from spending way too much time in them, is smart enough to accept that when your body is shaking uncontrollably, something is wrong. Mom asked me to call my brother Brian and let him know, which I did. And then I grabbed my wallet and keys and headed to the ER. (The hospital is very close to all our homes.)

Of course, I looked like utter hell, which was karma's cue to make the cute resident appear in front of me as I stood outside my dad's quasi-room. Matthew, his coat said. His stethoscope was obsuring his last name. He told me what he knew so far (not much at that point) and was very kind. (No, I didn't notice if he was wearing a wedding ring.)

On his gurney, my father looked like a patient, his gown askew off his shoulders, oxygen tube across his face, his hair somewhat mussed, IV taped to his skin, leads stuck to his chest, blood pressure cuff around his pale right arm.

I try not to contemplate the mortality of my parents - of anybody, really - but moments like these (and there have been too many of these moments over the past few years) startle me. Scare me.

Brian arrived as mom and I headed back out to the waiting area as Dad was wheeled off for x-rays. Bri stayed for a couple hours. Mom went home to make some phone calls to arrange for work coverage at their business the next day. I told Dad I would walk Brian out and be right back.

Brian was my means to get to the airport today. "I'm not going to go to New York," I told him. "You don't have to pick me up." He asked me about my tickets. Non-refundable, of course, but cheap to begin with. No big deal. "You know what?" I said. "Call me at 6, just in case."

I returned to my father, as did my mother. We went upstairs while he was put through his admission paces in his third-floor room. Dad was taken down for a CT scan around 12:30. It seemed odd that tests are taking place at that hour. At 1 a.m., I insisted my mom go home. She wanted to wait for the nurse to talk to the doctor. I walked to the nurses's station and asked her when she thought she might talk to him.

"It could be a couple hours," she said.

"Good," I said. "She's been up since 3:30 yesterday morning. I'm trying to make her go home."

Turns out, the cafeteria in the hospital is open until 3 a.m. Mom hadn't eaten dinner, and the couple cookies and the bottle of water we'd cobbled together out of vending machines weren't making the grade, so we got her some soup and then walked back through the empty hospital halls to the ER entrance, to our cars.

Why is it that no matter how exhausted you are, when you finally have the chance to go to bed, you invariably pass through exhaustion back into alert? I stayed up until about 3 a.m.

I woke up at 6:15 and realized Brian hadn't called, which was fine.

The phone rang at 7:30. He was at work. "I pulled into your driveway and sat there for five minutes," he said. "There were no lights on and you're usually right at the door, so I figured you weren't going. You didn't want to go, did you?"

No, I said. I cancelled my reservation when I got home from the hospital. It cost me $100 to not fly anywhere today. But I have a partial credit to apply toward booking another flight, which, considering I had a non-refundable ticket, is more than I expected.

The jury's still out on Dad. He had more tests today (yesterday, now; it's after midnight again). The doctors have a pretty good idea what's wrong, and surgery will likely be necessary.

The bitch is, this was probably preventable.

I'm trying to reserve judgment until the doctors render their verdict, but I'm pre-pissed. But that makes me feel guilty. I'm looking for the lesson in all this. There are several, more than I can write about now with what consciousness I have left tonight. But one is: Don't waste time. Everything is finite. Pettiness is pointless. Move past it. Whatever it is, it's not that important.

It's not life or death.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Quiz-A-Riffic!

Today's post title is a hotlink to a quiz to gauge your political sensibilities.

It should come as no surprise to many readers of this blog that, according to the test, I am a social liberal and an economic liberal, best described as a socialist.

"You exhibit a very well-developed sense of right and wrong and believe in economic fairness," say my results.

Yup, sounds like me.

Famous people who share my views and my quadrant (Centrist/Democrat/Socialist) include Mikhail Gorbachev, Hillary Rodham Clinton, John Kerry, Robert Redford, Martin Luther King Jr., Bono, and Gandhi, though I am plotted between Gorbi and Hillary.

Famous people in the diagonal, opposite quadrant (Centrist/Capitalist/Republican/Fascist) include Bill O'Reilly, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush.

Writers Write ...

Ethan is becoming my daily inspiration here. His recent post comments on a writer who's thinking of pursuing an MFA, but the writer's dream is to write a book. Ethan writes: "... this story is another example of knowing when to quit stalling and start achieving."

Precisely.

You don't need an MFA to write a book. You don't even need a BA. You need talent and perseverance. Writing degrees are stall tactics, pursued by writers who are unsure of their abilities, who want to be patted on the head by a professor and told that they can write. That doesn't matter, though.

I took a singing class so that a professional could "validate" whether I can sing. She did. And that validation didn't do a damn thing toward helping me get up in front of people and perform.

When it comes to creative pursuits, you have to believe in yourself, and with apologies to Nike, just do it.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Nice ...

So Britney Spears is upset because photos from a private shoot of her and Kevin and their baby were allegedly stolen and then posted online, though they've since been removed.

And Britney Spears is also reportedly negotiating the sale of those photos to a magazine.

I guess I'd be pissed off too if my private photos of my child were stolen and shown to the world before I had a chance to cash in on them.

Call me crazy, but it's one thing to sell pictures of yourself to the highest bidder, but selling pictures of your infant? Unless the money is going to a charity, that seems awfully low. And even if the money is going to a charity, that seems awfully low. How about not exploiting your child?

Religious Right? ...

Ethan over at TheVisionThing.com wrote a post recently about a whiteboard at his office that had been filled with Bible verses. He took objection to it - actually, what he wrote was, "I have a huge problem with this" - and I found myself nodding my head in agreement.

My mother ends all of her exchanges with "God's blessings," on the phone, in person, whatever. She doesn't say "Goodbye" or "It was good to talk to you" or "Have a nice day." "God's blessings" is her sign-off.

I mentioned this to her the other day, that she has no way of knowing the beliefs of the people she's talking to, and maybe it's not appropriate to insert religion into a conversation.

"You'd be surprised how many people say 'thank you,' " she said.

"I'm sure many do," I said. "But you might be offending other people, too."

Mom is not a zealot. She doesn't walk around asking people, "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior?" I've been asked that question by complete strangers, and it always skeeves me out.

I'm all for people having their religions. What I am not all for is people feeling the need to assert their beliefs on others.

Mom and I got into a big discussion about this one night recently.

I don't follow an organized religion. I think they're hypocritical. They purport to be so loving and inclusionary, but in fact, they're completely exclusionary. The underlying message is, "Unless you believe what we believe, you're wrong."

Mom takes umbrage with this assertion.

"How about those missions, back in the 1700s?" I ask. "The indigenous people seemed to be getting along just fine until it was decided that they needed to become part of the church." And then all hell broke loose.

And speaking of hell, I'm sure those who have found Jesus would argue that that's right where I'm headed.

I don't think so. I don't believe I can be damned to a place - literal or figurative - I don't believe exists.

If you're wondering, yes, I've been baptized and confirmed. Lutheran. My mom grew up Serbian Orthodox and my father grew up Catholic, and when they got married, the didn't want to pick one or the other's religion, so they compromised on Lutheranism, which frankly, I think is a rather milquetoast religion. At least when you go to a Catholic or Orthodox service, you know you're in church. The services assail the senses. So I've been confirmed, and taken my vows or pledges or whatever they are, but it's a bit like choosing a major in college: You haven't really lived yet. You're too young to really understand what you're choosing. You're choosing it because it's expected of you, not because you really understand what you're commiting to.

When I was younger and used to spend my summers in Door County, I'd go to church on Saturday afternoons with my friend Michele (so she didn't have to go alone, and so she could "get it over with," which to this day is how I hear most people talk about church, like it's this distateful weekly obligation), and I could pronounce the Catholic mass as well as I could recite the Lutheran service. I realized early on that it was all rote. I wondered if the people were really thinking about what they were saying, or if the words fell from their lips simply because they'd been saying them, dutifully, week in and week out, their entire lives.

My mom is very involved in her church. She's on altar guild and sets up communion and tends to the linens for the altar and takes great pride in it. She says she's honored to do it, and I like that for her, that she has something in her life, a ritual, that means so much to her. She's on several boards. She greets on Sunday mornings, almost every week, partly because she likes to, and partly because the church can't get anyone else to sign up to do it.

Which is more of what I'm talking about when I bring up "duty": Many people go to church out of a sense of obligation, going through the motions, saying the same things at the same times, but when it comes to being involved, to helping out, they're nowhere to be seen. They come, they do their duty to spare their soul from eternal damnation (or so they think) and then they're gone, to brunch, to the game, to the mall, to their lives.

Of course, much of my attitude can be traced back to my childhood. I remember clearly one Sunday morning when I didn't want to go to church. My father crouched down in front of me while I sat in the powder room, pouting, and said, "Is it too much to ask to give one hour a week to God?" Hypocrisy, start your engine. My father? Asking that question? The man who would sleep in church, or hold his hymnal upside down and who never sang a hymn anyway?

He went to church for the same reason I did: because it was expected of him, not because he wanted to be there. Eventually, mom gave up. She didn't insist we go to church, and she didn't go for a long time, either. She got back into church when I was in college, when she had a close call with an 18-wheeler pushing her car down an expressway. Staring at the grill of the truck in her driver-side window and wondering if she was going to die made her find her way back to her God.

Dad joined the church with her, though he almost never goes. He's started to recently, partly because he doesn't work on Sunday anymore and he doesn't have an excuse to stay home, even though the early service would have fit his schedule. But he prefered to read the paper. And partly because he's getting older. And though he says he doesn't believe in life after death, I think a small part of him figures he better get in good with God, just in case.

As for me, I consider myself a very spiritual person, just not in religious ways.

So the Religious Right might be experiencing some sort of renaissance in this country these days, and that's fine. Just so long as it doesn't insert itself into places where religion doesn't belong.

You know what I mean.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

More eBay Stupidity ...

Defamer.com pointed me to another celeb eBay auction, this time for a hairbrush used by Angelina Jolie.

The auction is over in 1 day and 5 hours, so you have until about 6 p.m. Central on Monday, October 24 to score this bit of grooming paraphenlia. The current bid is $108.15, but if you simply must have it, the Buy It Now price is $36,000.

Yes, my friends, THIRTY SIX THOUSAND DOLLARS.

If you have 36 grand lying around, burning a hole in your pocket, I'm sure Angelina would appreciate it if you donated that money to UNICEF or some other worthy cause.

Do you think these eBay I've-got-something-that-a-celebrity-once-breathed-near freaks will ever learn?

Ah, Geez ...

So there I am, sitting at the counter in the kitchen, drinking my morning java, listening to Pat Metheny, dunking a couple oatmeal raisin cookies, and leafing through the latest Entertainment Weekly when I spy an ad.

"Yeah, they're celebrities ... But Can They Sing?" it asks me.

Reality television WILL. NOT. DIE. Haven't we been stabbing it with our steely knives for long enough?

"Nine famous faces. Only one will become a pop superstar. And you decide who that is."

OK, let's see: The nine famous faces - the "celebrities" in question (couldn't they get a spot on "The Surreal Life"?) - are, in top-to-bottom order from the ad: Carmine Gotti Agnello, Morgan Fairchild, Larry Holmes, Antonio Sabato Jr., Myrka Dellanos, Joe Pantoliano, Kim Alexis, Bai Ling, and Michael Copon, all of whom will be hosted by Man of the Hour Ahmet Zappa.

Joey The Pants? Vying to become a pop superstar? Is the world really waiting to see this? Kim Alexis? Where has she been for the past 20 years? Larry Holmes? Was he jealous of Evander Holyfield's turn on "Dancing With The Stars"? Ahmet Zappa?

Says VH1's site: "They can act, model and even box, but can they sing? That's the question VH1 will ask and answer this fall with the new series But Can They Sing when nine celebrities vie for the chance to prove to America whether they should stick to their day job or tough it out over six weeks to become a pop star."

Can they sing? Do we care?

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Truth, Justice, And The American Way ...

Let me weigh in, for a moment, on the Judith Miller/New York Times debacle:

When she went to jail for refusing to reveal the identity of her source in the Valerie Plame affair, I stood behind her decision. Yes, she was protecting a criminal, but the pledge of confidentiality doesn't mean the paper it's written on or the breath it takes to make the promise if the reporter later reneges on that agreement to save their own butt from the slammer.

But everything that's come to light since she was released from jail and testified to the grand jury is another story. I still stand behind her refusal to reveal her source - in principle. All journalists should protect their sources.

The fact that she was basically in bed with the White House, that she agreed to purposely mislead readers by indentifying Libby as a "former Hill staffer" instead of a "senior administration official" changes everything.

The New York Times is in full damage-control mode, and it should be. This is exponentially worse than the Jayson Blair scandal. It's one thing for a writer to fabricate stories and datelines, falsely representing that he saw things he didn't see. It's another thing entirely for a reporter to become a mouthpiece for propoganda from the highest levels of government.

Jayson Blair didn't write stories to sell the American people on an unnecessary war.

Judith Miller has a big, fat book deal - which should be rescinded - and a lot of blood on her hands.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Foiled Again ...

Yup, still can't post a photo to my blog without crashing my browser, which is OK, because Dave sent the shot from the United Center and while he looks great (he always looks great - he's one of those annoying perfectly photogenic people), I don't like how I look (though I rarely do) and the angle of the photo doesn't do the hair justice anyway.

So I can't post one of my own photos, but perhaps I can link to another photo that's already posted to the Web, so I started thinking about whose hair I could point to to illustrate JD's recent brilliance, and a thought came to me that is both funny and alarming:

Barbarella.

So I'm attempting to link to a photo of Jane with this blog post. We'll see it works. This isn't exactly my style, as my hair isn't so full on top and I don't have bangs like her, but it's close, and the color is pretty close, too.

[Nope, trying to link to another image on the Web crashes my browser, too. So I've just made the title of the post a hotlink to the image in question. Technology. Grr.]

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

More Importantly ...

A couple of people have mentioned the jacket.

To clarify, the one I found online - the inspiration - was raspberry velvet, but the one I ended up buying was very different.

And I didn't wear it. The arms didn't fit right as of Monday afternoon, still too snug.

Go figure. I got into an entire size smaller jeans, but the Oprah arms persist.

But in the end, I'm glad I didn't wear it, because the jacket is brown, and I went to see JD before the show, my brilliant hair guy (who brought his dog to the salon yesterday; her name is Daughter, and she sports a dye job. I LOVE that my stylist's dog's fur is dyed!) truly outdid himself this time with the color. It's *outstanding.* Four different colors but very homogenous. It's like golden caramel. The jacket wouldn't have shown off the hair, and the hair was last night's star.

He knew I was going to the show, so when I told him that the style had to be very rock and roll, he turned my head into this semi-60s fullness on top, but, well, it defied description. "It's very 'kitten with a car,' " he said. I smiled at him in the mirror. He laughed. "I mean, 'kitten with a whip.' "

"Kitten with a weapon," I offered, to cover all the bases.

I don't wear gold jewelry normally, but yesterday, I said, "I need gold earrings to go with this hair," and he said, "Big gold hoops." Oh, hell yeah. So I went to Marshall Field's in Water Tower directly from the salon and bought a very cool pair of long oval gold hoops. Had the saleswoman dip them in alcohol and put them right in.

So the hair and the earrings and a classic denim jacket. And I threw on more eye makeup than I normally wear.

It's unscientific, but several guys said hello to me yesterday after I left JD. Long hair. It's like magic.

There are pictures of me (and the hair) and Dave (L.A. Dave wants to see the hair, so Dave obliged by smuggling his camera into the United Center), but whenever I try to post a photo to my blog, my brower crashes. Maybe Blogger and Safari don't get along. I suppose I could try posting through IE. We'll see if that helps any.

As for the jacket? I'll save it until my birthday.

Sir Paul ...

For a living legend, McCartney is a really normal guy. (He wore jeans and an aqua long-sleeve T-shirt.)

Tonight's show made me realize just how much material his career spans.

Dave, who was beaming after the show (which was the whole point, after all), will likely have a very different take on the evening (and I invite him to post a comment and share his thoughts if he reads this), but I thought it was uneven. The pacing felt off. The energy for U2 last month was high and constant. For Paul, it wasn't the same.

But U2's catalog is pretty consistent. Paul's repertoire begins before The Beatles and includes Wings and everything he's done through his newest album, and none of it sounds the same, so of course the tone of the show would vary. But I didn't think of that until things were in full swing.

The set list was all over the musical map. He opened with "Magical Mystery Tour" and played tunes from before he was a Beatle, and Beatles stuff, and Wings stuff, and solo stuff. Sometimes, he rocked with his band. Other times, his band left him alone on the stage, just Paul and his acoustic guitar and the 20,000 of us, like we were hanging out in a really big living room.

He really hit his stride (or the audience finally realized where they were) toward the end of the show. He sang "Hey Jude" with all of us, and I thought, "What do you do to follow 'Hey Jude'?" The answer to that question is "Live and Let Die," a la the Superbowl, complete with pyrotechnics. Very cool.

And then, if you're Sir Paul, you walk off the stage.

And then you come back for your first encore, and you do "Yesterday," of course, just you and your guitar on the dark stage lit by a single spot. And then the band joins you for "Get Back."

And then you walk off the stage again.

And then you come back for your second encore and do "Let It Be" and a few other tunes that are escaping me at this exact moment because I need to go to bed.

But you end with "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

The crowd was at its best when he was doing Beatles tunes, of course. "Eleanor Rigby" and "Blackbird" (I laughed out loud at the thought of David Cassidy daring to do that song, and how he had nothing but trouble, because karma is a bitch) brought huge cheers.

When I saw Dave before the show and mentioned that there was no opening act but there was a DJ who was supposed to spin dance versions of some of Paul's songs, the look on his face was priceless. Such revulsion. Paul tunes are not to be defiled so.

But the DJ, who couldn't actually have been spinning anything, was over with soon enough, and the five-minute video intro chronicling Paul's career from birth to the present day as sweet. Visually, it was a stunning show.

Musically, well, the man is a genius. Once again, I tried to imagine what it must be like to be alone on that stage with 20,000 screaming fans around you, and once again, I came up with nothing. It's simply unfathomable. The biggest crowd I've every played to from a stage is 90. And it was really dark, so I couldn't see most of them, though I knew they were there. But to be on a stage and have an arena the size of the United Center filled to capacity around you? It blows my mind.

Certainly, he's earned all the accolades. But (and I'm wincing, thinking of Dave reading this, but I gotta be honest), I thought Paul was milking the applause. He deserves it, don't get me wrong. But hoisting his guitar over his head after almost every song seemed excessive. It's one thing to appreciate your audience's appreciation, but it's another thing to stand there and, well, expect it. And that's what it felt like sometimes.

Still, he couldn't be a nicer man. Charming stories. Just enough banter. My first McCartney experience and mostly likely my last. (Who knows if he'll do another tour.)

And my seat was fab. Thanks again to L.A. Dave.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

All Night ...

One of my daily blog checks takes me to Opinionistas, a lawyer in Manhattan who writes about the absurdity of life in a law firm.

This morning's post was written this morning - early - after pulling an all-nighter in her office and it got me to thinking about my former work life.

Early in my tenure at the Trib, I worked crummy hours. Sports and news. A typical work day would end about 1:30 in the morning, but if you were scheduled on the bulldog - the Sunday paper that comes out on Saturday - you could count on being in front of your terminal until at least 4 a.m., usually later.

I've always liked being in places late at night or on weekends. Like empty school hallways. There's something about them that I love, the life of a space that I don't normally get to see, stripped of the bustle of the week, lights off. When I was in high school and would work on the plays on the weekends, the school was like that: quiet, dim.

A newsroom, though, is fully lit 'round the clock. There may be few people working - a couple of us putting out the paper, a few cleaning staff - but aside from the blackness outside the windows, it's no different than day.

Unless ...

Reading O's post this morning, the one night I spent the whole night at the paper by choice came flooding back. I had an article due for Tempo the next day, which I was writing over and above my daily duties. I had time to work on it during the day - I never did understand how my predecessors managed to make that job take up an 8-hour day; I was usually done in about 3 - but as my high school classmate Kevin Frommer said one day in our junior-year English class, "You can't be creative on cue."

Just because you have to write something doesn't mean the words will come.

So I was struggling. Ledes are the worst. You can spend hours agonizing over the perfect opening sentence. Seasoned writers will tell you - and they told me - to write past the lede. Get into the body of the story. Write the lede last if you have to. Just start writing. The lede will come.

But I don't write that way. Maybe I'm a masochist, but I have to have my lede. It's as though the struggle to write the lede is my uphill climb, but once I have it, the rest of the story flows. It's all downhill from there.

So I stayed. I didn't plan on staying all night, but with a deadline looming, it made no sense to go home. I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep knowing the story wasn't finished, so I decided to stay until it was done.

One could argue - and that one would be me - that no one has their best writing in them at 3 a.m. But a deadline is a deadline, so I wrote.

Words filled the screen. Not great words, but words. I'd have something to file. The sky began to lighten. I waited until the Starbucks across the street opened then headed over to caffeinate.

My friend Rick always got to work pretty early, and that morning, he saw me in the hallway.

"What'd you do, stay here all night?" he said, joking.

And then he realized I was wearing the same clothes I was wearing the day before.

I told him why I stayed. He asked if I was finished.

"Yeah, such as it is," I said. I put the story in a common queue so he could read it before I turned it in. I walked over to his desk and sat on the edge, berating it.

Rick said, "Will you stop, so I can read it? Do you want my pass to the club? You can go take a shower or a steam."

I retreated to my desk and my coffee.

Rick came by.

"I don't know what story you're talking about, but the one I read is good," he said.

I put in a short day. Got my work done and the headed home to sleep.

Two days later, the story ran in Tempo. Above the fold. Good placement. And it ran almost exactly as I had written it, my lede intact.

I really am my own worst critic. To this day. I still submit stories, sure my editors will hate them, and they call and they can't stop raving.

Why is it that what I consider a C effort is an A in everyone else's world? Why do I insist on setting the bar so high? And if I turned in what I'd consider to be an A effort, what would they think?

When I was in grade school, my mom went to a parent-teacher conference. I remember the day. I remember where we were, in the car, what street we were crossing, when she told me what the teacher had said.

"She said you're a perfectionist," my mom told me. I didn't know "perfectionist," but I recognized the root word.

"What's wrong with being perfect?" I asked.

"Oh, honey," my mom said. "Being a perfectionist doesn't mean you're perfect. It means you want everything to be perfect. But nobody's perfect." In my memory, she added, "So you're going to be disappointed a lot." But I'm not 100 percent sure that she said it.

Maybe I just heard it.

In any event, it's true.

But that night at the Tribune was worth it in the end.

Monday, October 17, 2005

99 Cents Closer To A Cure ...

Melissa Etheridge, more gorgeous than ever, has recorded a single, "I Run For Life," as part of her recently released greatest-hits album, which is available on iTunes.

Between now and November 7th, all proceeds from the sale of the single will benefit the Susan G. Komen Foundation and the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation for breast cancer research.

It's a win-win: You do a small part for the research effort, and you get a fab Etheridge tune in return. It's her classic sound: Her slightly scratchy voice belting out a rockin' tune, lots of guitar, lots of drums.

L.A. Dave predicts this will become the anthem for the fight against breast cancer. I think he's right. It's a powerful song.

Check it out.

Where's The Love? ...

Unlike the Britster's half-drunk bottle of water that sold on eBay for $495, a bottle of fabric softener left behind in a Hollywood home by Paris Hilton failed to stir the bidders.

Click on the title of this post to go to eBay and see for yourself. Zero bidders. And Fox pulled the plug on "The Simple Life." And she called off her engagement to the other Paris. (Though I respect her for that.)

Is the Paris Hilton zeitgeist finally dying? Are people finally waking up from their stupors and asking, "Why did we ever care?"

That would be hot.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

NASCAR And Me ...

I left the Chicago Tribune in 1997 to take a job with Thomson Newspapers.

The office I went to work for didn't produce a daily newspaper. Rather, we published specialty sections that newspapers bought and ran inside their own pages. I always told people it was the same idea as Parade magazine.

When I interviewed, we discussed my taking over the entertainment publication, or the health publication, or the kids publication.

After I tendered by resignation at the Tribune, a package arrived in the mail, and I learned that I'd be editing a home technology section and a NASCAR section.

What?

NASCAR?!

At the time, I wasn't entirely sure what NASCAR stood for, but I knew it was racing.

I'd never watched a race in my life. Not even the Indianapolis 500, which isn't NASCAR.

Oh well. I'd be thrown into situations before, and as I once wrote in a cover letter, "It was a sink-or-swim situation. I discovered that I am an excellent swimmer."

So. NASCAR. Gentlemen, start your teasing.

I received many tongue-in-cheek queries about my would-be wardrobe of tube tops and cowboy boots. My big hair days were long behind me, but perhaps I'd have to stock up on Aqua-Net again. When people weren't chuckling at their own amusement, they'd make disparaging comments about it not being a real sport, how it's boring to watch.

After I'd gone to my first race, I'd get defensive when I'd hear them. "You can't say anything until you've been to a race," I'd tell them. And it was true.

On TV, yes, it seems inane. Cars driving 400 laps in an oval. Whatever, right?

But in person, the energy is amazing. NASCAR fans are fervent. They're all really excited to be at a race. The few who are lucky enough to get into the garage area (because they know someone who works for a sponsor, usually) are like kids at Christmas. The drivers, who are essentially rock stars in flame-retardant jumpsuits, are very gracious, taking the time to meet fans, sign programs, pose for pictures.

Henry, my writer, had been to plenty of events and met plenty of drivers, and several of them would say hello to him, wave him over to their trailers to chat. (Henry's the most affable person I've ever met, but I was still surprised that these drivers would invite him over like he was a long-lost friend.)

And if you're standing nearby when a crew member hits the ingnition on one of the cars, you feel it in your chest. And you best be wearing earplugs.

And yes, there are a couple drivers who don't appear to be on the verge of winning any awards for physical fitness, but most of them are in incredible shape. They have to withstand a lot of G forces in those cars at those speeds on those turns. Not to mention the conditions inside the cars. The cabin temperatures are well over 100 degrees and they're suited up from head to toe. (By the way, in case you never noticed, there are no bathroom breaks during a race. It's not much of an issue, really, as drivers are sweating buckets inside those cars. It's not like they have the A/C cranked. But drivers have told me: if you have to go, you just go.)

NASCAR fans are very, very loyal. Sponsors know this. If you love Ricky Rudd and Ricky Rudd is driving for Tide, you buy Tide. That's it. Tony Stewart drives for Home Depot. You won't see a Tony Stewart fan at Menards or Lowes. Menards courts Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans.

I met Jr. once at an event at Woodfield Mall. It was the grand opening of a virtual NASCAR racing outlet, and Jr. and his father, the late Dale Earnhardt, were there. If you know anything about Woodfield Mall, right now you should be saying, "NASCAR? At Woodfield Mall?!" I know. I never understood it either. When I think of the epicenter of NASCAR culture in Illinois, I don't think "Schaumburg!" But there we were. And there were fans there who had been waiting all day - literally since the moment the mall opened - to get a glimpse of Dale. Some of them asked me to get things signed for them, which I couldn't do. Others asked me what it was like to talk to him. And when Dale walked out into the center of the mall, the crowd went nuts. Flashes flashed like it was a runway in Paris. Dale walked around on top of the brick wall circling the space, shaking hands with fans.

I don't even remember him saying much of anything. He didn't have to.

I was there as a member of the press, a favor to a friend who was doing the PR for the event and needed to get people there to cover it. I was reluctant when he first called me, but Henry, my writer, said, "It's almost impossible to get one-on-one time with Earnhardt. You have to take it." But he warned me, "He doesn't really like the press. If you ask a question he doesn't like, he'll refuse to answer it or tell you it's stupid. Or he might just walk away from you."

Swell. But I got my 10 minutes with Dale, standing near his car's simulator. Someone wanted me to race against him. I said, "No." Dale asked why not. I said, "Because you're Dale Earnhardt, and I'm not insane." One of his people pulled him away for a photo op or some such, which was fine. I got a few quotes to use for a story. Justin, my marketing guy and a race fan in his own right, and I stood there talking for a moment when Dale reappeared at my side.

He'd come back. Just to chat.

He was terrifically charming. I told him that I'd rented a Monte Carlo to drive out from Chicago. "But it's white," I said. "I couldn't get black." He didn't mind. He nudged me with his elbow, winked at me, and said, "Good girl." He posed for a picture with me. Put his arm around me. Really nice guy.

The next day, I called Henry to tell him how it went. "You're so wrong about him," I said. "He was perfectly charming."

With a bit of disgust, Henry said, "It's because you're a woman."

Maybe. Sometimes it pays to be a woman in a man's world.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Idol Worship ...

My friend Jeff loves Bruce Springsteen. Worships, actually. I know no bigger Bruce fan. A couple years ago, shortly after I had gone to my first-ever Springsteen show, I was at Jeff's house and saw a picture - a concert still - of Bruce performing on Jeff's office door.

When I mentioned that I had just gone to see Bruce for the first time, Jeff leapt at the chance to baptize me at the Asbury Park altar. He showed me books, he played seldom-heard songs. My education was just beginning and he was a more-than-willing teacher.

Sitting in his family room, listening and leafing, I looked over at Jeff who was reading a magazine article about Bruce and said, "We have to finagle a reason for you to interview him." Jeff is a senior feature writer for the Wall Street Journal. He can write about anything he likes, really (with an editor's approval), and writing for the Journal provides plenty of clout when requesting time with a star.

Jeff, lying on the couch and leaning on his elbow, looked up at me and said, "You don't want to interview your idol."

I can see the sense in that. Most interactions with stars aren't what you want them to be. Jeff prefers to adore Bruce from a distance. He's a fan.

Contrast that anecdote with this:

Dave is a musician. And so other musicians have influenced him in very personal ways, have literally shaped who he's become over the years. The Beatles were a very early influence and remain so to this day, but Robert Plant's music showed Dave another side of himself.

Last week, Dave met Robert Plant. Plant was at the House of Blues doing a Katrina benefit concert with Pearl Jam. Dave is good friends with Eddie Vedder from way back. Backstage after the show, Eddie introuduced Robert and Dave. Dave sent the picture of the two of them over last week, but called today to tell me the tale.

I've seen everyday people meet someone famous, and the someone famous is usually kind. "Oh, hi, nice to meet you," they probably say, looking over the shoulder of the person in front of them to the next person they have to greet. It means something to you, maybe, but really, it doesn't mean anything to them. It's part of the job of being famous. Five seconds from now, you'll be telling your friends that you met Famous Person X, but they'll already have forgotten your face.

Dave, though, had the undivided attention of one of his idols, telling Robert about a show he caught when he was 16, a show Plant remembered, could cite some details from, even.

And it got me to thinking: There's no one in my life like that. There's no one whose talent has shaped my future. No musician truly affects me because I'm not a musician. And I didn't become a writer because of another writer's work. There are writers I admire, and it would be nice to meet them someday if I had the chance, but meeting them wouldn't fulfill a lifelong dream.

I'm thrilled for Dave that he had the chance to meet Robert. (I've always thought they kind of looked alike. Seeing them together in the picture, they really don't. Robert looks older than his years, and Dave looks younger.) And I wonder how many people are lucky enough to be so influenced by another person, and then one day have the chance to meet them in a meaningful way.

Charity Folks ...

Clicking on the title of this post will take you to the Charity Folks auction site, where you can bid on nifty stuff and help out Citizens Helping Heroes. Proceeds benefit the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund and the National Guard Office of Family Programs.

Some of the stuff is boring. (An autographed picture of Sting? C'mon, Sting. Give a private concert or something.) Some of it is cool, but way pricey. (Two platinum seating tickets for the Grammys are going for nearly $5,000 right now.) But some are cool and affordable, like two front-row seats to see Coldplay, for just a couple hundred bucks.

Check it out.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Observation ...

Isn't it odd that the spellchecker here on Blogger doesn't recognize the word "blog"?

$2.40 Per Hour ...

I live on prime real estate ... for a garage sale.

Cars practically screech to a halt on my street if they see crap in someone's driveway.

Some cars pull over to the curb and assess the loot from the street, and then drive off. I guess they're looking for something big, like a set of drums.

Other shoppers are passers-by. Many are older.

As many of you know, I tend to think too much, so today I was contemplating the life of an object. From its creation through production, into a retail situation, its life in our home for a finite period of time, and then its transference to some stranger's SUV, onto the next phase of its existence.

I wish I could tag an object and follow it for the rest of its existence, and understand more about the person who chose it.

It wasn't a great day, money-wise. I netted $24 after taking 10 out of the till for lunch for mom and me. Given that I started at 6 a.m., and we packed it in at 4 p.m., that’s 10 hours of effort (not including unloading my dad's pick-up three times last night, and reloading it three times tonight) for $24. A pretty crappy wage.

But it was worth it. The day was pristine. I shed some stuff. My mother and sister-in-law and I had a chance to hang. The Ron Santo bobblehead no longer lies in state in its Styrofoam sarcophagus in my closet. NASCAR Barbie drove off with a new owner. (If you're wondering how those treasures arrived in my life: the Chevy dealer who sold me my Impala gave me the bobblehead - it never left its box until today, to go on display - and my friend Laura, a frequenter of toy stores, bought NASCAR Barbie for me when I edited a NASCAR publication for Thomson Newspapers. NASCAR exploits will be blog fodder another day.)

As an aside, tonight I was poking around my bookmarked blogs, and made my way to Henry's site. Henry and I have known each other since we were somewhat little kids, having gone to the same church in our youth. Today, I was part of Henry's blog entry. He wrote: "Beth a woman from my past (like grade school) has a blog and is a professional writter [sic], so besides having actual interesting things to read, she can spell and stuff. It's a must read for me every day."

I know calling your attention to his words is shameless self-promotion, but what he wrote made me grin from ear to ear. It has taken me most of my life to get to this place. When people ask, "What do you do?", I finally say, "I'm a writer."

But the thing is, somehow that's not real enough. Anyone can call themselves anything they want. Friend and lifecoach Jeannie tells me I shouldn't say, "I want to be a singer." She says I should say, "I'm a singer." Well, yes, I sing, but it's not my job, so it'd be a bit of a fraud to tell people I'm a singer when they ask what I do.

But I cop to writing. I'm a writer, I tell them. But to see someone else refer to me that way makes it more real. Legit, maybe. He's not the first one to call me what I am, but he's the most recent, and his words appeared on a much-needed day.

Thank you, Henry. You're a pal.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Denied! ...

My blog vanished.

Doreen mentioned earlier today that she couldn't see it.

I didn't think anything of it, but then I tried to go to it tonight, and I couldn't see it, either. I could see L.A. Dave's blog and Jay's blog and other blogs but my blog was gone.

No error message, no nothing. Just white space.

So I logged into my blog account and tried posting a test, and I could see the test. And so could L.A. Dave. (We were on the phone, troubleshooting.) So I took down the test and am posting this instead.

L.A. Dave and I were joking that I was being silenced for my left-wing views.

But for now, at least, I'm back in business.

And just for kicks, I e-mailed "The Late Show with David Letterman" about the Playmobil security checkpoint toy. (See "Click Here Now!" below. I e-mailed my toy-designer brother to ask if he knew who was responsible for the hilarity, but he didn't know. Though he, of course, was sharing it with everyone at his studio, because it's just that fun!) Let's hope it makes it on the air!

Leave It To Kids ...

From the AP:

8-Year-Old Girl Sends Tooth to Red Cross

Wed Oct 12, 6:54 AM ET

BRANDON, S.D. - An 8-year-old girl with a big heart and loose tooth found a creative way to help people displaced by the hurricanes.

Briton Nordmeyer sent her tooth to the Red Cross chapter in Sioux Falls, hoping the tooth fairy would leave money there instead of under her pillow.

The tooth poked a hole through the envelope and fell out, but her letter made it.

And after word spread of her generosity, a $500 check came in from an anonymous donor.

Briton had told her mother she wanted to do something for the children who lost everything.

"It's really nice to help them get new food, homes, schools, toys, lots of stuff to help them," Briton said.


Faith in humanity, momentarily restored.

www.zod2008.com ...

Go ahead. Click it.

Pretty soon, you won't have any free will left anyway, not once Zod rules.

L.A. Dave gets the credit for this one.

Click Here Now! ...

Seriously, click on the title of this post.

Props to Ethan at The Vision Thing for linking to this. He gets all the credit. I'm just trying to help spread the hilarity.

My brother designs toys for a living. I've got to ask him who the hell thought of this.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

What's His Motivation? ...

Every once in a while, I have a good thought. I don't know where they come from, but I'm glad when they arrive.

English Teacher Dave wrote yesterday and mentioned that he went to see "The Merchant of Venice" at the Chicago Shakespeare Company on Navy Pier, and " there is no reason for me to ever see that play again. There is no way any right-thinking person could not be offended by the profound prejudice of that play."

I replied, "Do you think maybe the profound prejudice was Shakespeare's point? To hold a mirror up to the absurdity of human behavior? To purposely disgust us - or shame us - into behaving differently? Just thinking out loud."

Even as I wrote that last night, I was thinking, "Huh. Where'd that come from?"

I saw the Al Pacino film version a few months ago. Al and Jeremy Irons. Hello! Two of my all-time favorites. Maybe I was too busy watching it as a movie to really think about the meaning of the words they were speaking.

But now that I've had my thought, I've become very fond of it. And so I open the topic up for discussion, among all the Shakespeare scholars I'm sure frequent this space!

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Select This ...

Ah, newspapers, trying to stay relevant in the digital age. When a story breaks, we can get up-to-the-minute coverage online. We don't need to wait until tomorrow's edition. And a whole generation is growing up and getting their news this way.

So what's a money-grubbing news organization to do?

Many years ago, insisting newspapers weren't becoming the dinosaurs everyone was suggesting, Bill Kurtis said to me, "You can't take your laptop on the L." He was right - then. But even that might be changing. If San Fran goes wi-fi, can the rest of us be far behind?

In the meantime, news businesses - and they're businesses, to be sure; the bottom line rules the day - are on a never-ending quest for revenue streams. Readers don't pay for newspapers. Advertisers pay for newspapers. Joe Average plunking down his 50 cents at the newsstand isn't paying anyone's salary. It's the advertiser inside that pays $40,000 for some prime newsprint real estate that keeps the lights on.

But newspapers know that it's not enough to simply shovel the print edition onto the Web. Big stories are available all over the place, so if you want to court readers, you have to give them something extra. (Of course, this is true of the print editions, too.) So what does the New York Times decide to do?

Start charging people to read its columnists.

The spin for TimesSelect tries to trump up the archive acceess - 100 free articles a month (and when's the last time you looked up - much less bought - a newspaper article online?) and advance content (and when's the last time you had nothing to do on a Saturday and thought, "I sure wish I could start reading the New York Times Magazine right this minute"?) - but at the end of the day, you know and I know and the New York Times knows that you and I know that the reason people will plunk down $50 a year (if they're going to plunk down $50 a year) is to read Krugman and Rich and Dowd and Herbert and all the voices that pepper the OpEd pages that we savor.

Trouble is, when you've been giving away the goods, it's hard to suddenly start expecting people to pay for them. Like a free weekly on the street: You grab it because it's free. Maybe you read it, maybe you don't; either way, it didn't cost you anything. If, though, suddenly, that free weekly cost a buck, would you still grab it every week? Or would you reassess if it really provided that much value in your life? Maybe you'd only read a common copy at a coffeehouse.

I know several people who are disgruntled with the Times and its experiment. (I call it an "experiment" because I don't think it will last.) But there are work-arounds.

A blogger has started a site that links to free versions of the columnists, syndicated versions that appear on other newspaper sites. He has a conscience and won't accept cut-and-paste copies for publication on his blog. Or conscience-shmonscience, maybe he has an aversion to being sued by huge media companies. Either way, through his site, you can't read every columnist every day.

What you can read, however, are other people's comments, and find how they're getting access to the content for free, and here's one of their good ideas:

groups.google.com

Go to the New York Times' site, find out the title of the columnist's piece of the day, type it into Google Groups and voila!, you'll probably find several sources.

Will this last forever? Probably not. Will the Times' legal eagles track down the perps and send cease-and-desist letters? Probably. But in the meantime, you can get your fix.

In the event that any of this rubs you the wrong way, if you're sitting there wondering if this is the thinking-man's Napster, I don't think it is.

I don't steal, and I don't think of this as stealing. The writers I know (and that includes me) write because they want people to read what they've written. With TimesSelect, the paper has slashed the readership of its marquee writers. If what I've read online is true (and I know everything is suspect in cyberspace), the columnists themselves aren't happy about TimesSelect. Not only have they lost a big chunk of readers, but now they're all expected to create extra doo-dads for the TimesSelect scene, the paper's way of saying, "Look! See! We *have* added value! Yes, we're charging you for something you used to get for free, but now you can read a columnist's blog!"

Call me crazy, but isn't a column pretty much a blog to begin with? If someone was paying me to write this, I could call myself a columnist.

groups.google.com - try it.

Chalk Talk ...

I'm just home from a walk to the post office, my morning stroll.

On a sidewalk, on my way home, was a drawing in white chalk of a person. No, it wasn't a police outline of a body. It was a child's drawing. Or a rendering by an adult with very few artistic skills.

But I digress. The point is, the drawing made me remember something I wanted to post about yesterday.

I was walking to the bank, on my usual to-the-bank route, which takes me past the home of a couple kids. There are often chalk drawings on the sidewalk in front of their house, and I take care to step around them. Yesterday, I stepped around a hopscotch grid and assorted drawings running the entire length of their property. These kids had been busy. Toward the end of the exhibit, they had drawn boxes and written words inside. "Frog." "Dog." "Cat." "Fish." "Ass."

"Ass." I really want to believe that they meant "ass" as in "donkey," but, yeah, I don't think so.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Rule of Engagement? ...

This post is inspired by another post from another blog. (The blog universe has vast potential for plagiarism, but this isn't plagiarism, it's inspiration.)

Kate the Peon, author of the aforementioned blog, wondered whether it really matters how long you know someone before you decide to marry them. She admits to being a cynic, having had her heart broken by someone she knew for a long, long time, but it got me thinking.

My mom knows a woman (slightly younger than me) who recently got engaged after a few months of dating. I have friends who have met someone and gotten married inside of a year. (And gotten divorced inside of another year.) Hell, one of my brothers married his wife eight months after meeting her.

That always seemed really strange to me. He didn't know of this woman's existence on the planet until he was fixed up with her, yet a mere eight months later, he was pledging to spend the rest of his life with her. How could he know?

Everyone says, "When you meet the right one, you'll know." Well, maybe. But if the person you're with is indeed the person you're going to spend the rest of your life with, why can't marriage wait? If you're going to be with Person X for the next 50 years, let's say, why can't you date for two years and be married for 48 years? You're still together for 50 years. But does that combo offer better odds than dating for six months and being married for 49 1/2 years?

Maybe odds don't matter. Either you're meant to be together, or you're not. How you divvy up the dating-to-marriage ratio might be moot. Maybe the clocks are preset.

Some say, the older you get, the more you know yourself and what you're looking for, the less time you have to spend with someone before deciding whether to spend your life with them. I can see that. (Me and some of my friends have talked about the need for a rule about getting married too young.)

Still, my friend Chris (he's Welsh - I'm a sucker for his accent - and he calls me "love," as in "Hello, love") insists that I date someone for at least two years before I get married. Not a year. Not four seasons. Two years. He's adamant.

There's a clock on the wall in front of me. It's ticking. Two years? Really? Do others see the logic and value of the two-year rule?

Curbing My Enthusiasm ...

I don't have cable. I don't have satellite TV. Yes, I am one of the three people in the world who still watch broadcast TV exclusively. (At home, anyway. At mom's, I'm forever flipping back and forth between my favorite channels, telling myself that it's a good thing that I don't have DirecTV, because I would spend every day watching BBC America and never do an ounce of work.)

Therefore, I Netflix "Curb Your Enthusiam" as the seasons are released on DVD. This puts a crimp in my "How 'bout that time when Larry ..." exchanges with Dave, who is a rabid fan of the show, but we get around to them eventually.

So last night, I was watching disc 2 of Season 4 (this is the season in which Larry's looking to make good on Cheryl's 10-year anniversary offer and is preparing to join "The Producers" on Broadway) and after a few episodes, I turned off the TV. I'm sure I'll finish the disc, as there are little pockets of humor tucked away in each episode when you're least expecting them, but last night, I had grown weary.

Maybe it's because I watch episodes back to back to back to back to back. Maybe Dave and Jay and my other enthusiastic Curb friends love the show so much because they have a week to deLarry before the buffoonery begins again.

But last night, I was thinking, "OK, I'm kinda bored. Is it me? Every week, Larry does something stupid, Cheryl gets pissed off ..."

Of course, in true Curb style, with my luck, someday I'll run into Larry David with my movie script in my hand and he'll say, "Gosh, I'd really like to help you get that made. But you wrote that post about my show, and you said you were bored," and my life will become an episode of the show I'm writing about here.

How "Seinfeld" of me.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Fun Auf Deutsch! ...

Clicking the title of this post will take you to an online game.

No, you're not drunk. Yes, the instructions are in German.

"But Beth," I hear you saying, "I don't speak German. How will I know what to do?"

Well, you could figure it out just by playing, but since you're already reading, the point of the game is to eliminate all the bugs. You start with a 100-point credit, and for every bug you leave on the screen, points are deducted. When you're out of points, the game is over. Bugs have to appear in pairs, at least, in order to be clicked and eliminated. If you clear all the bugs on a given level, you get a 100-point bonus to your score.

If you have sound on your computer, the music for the game is quite the groove, cooler than I expected.

But be warned: You can easily get sucked into game after game. So you might want to only look at this if you're at work, cuz hey, why waste your own time when you can waste time on the clock?

Conspicuous Consumption ...

I love days like this. Overcast, cool, slightly windy. The perfect day to stay in bed and read, warmed under the covers with the chilled breeze on my face.

But I didn't stay in bed. I donned my favorite new workout pants and a waffle-weave henley and my old New Balance and pulled my hair into a ponytail and grabbed my CD Walkman (no, I don't have an iPod yet, and I'm glad, because the Nano has my name all over it) and my house key and headed out for my morning walk.

I can easily get into a walking rut, taking the same routes day after day. Today, I decided, I would walk through a nearby subdivision, home of many McMansions.

Part of the land where the houses now stand used to be cornfields, so as with many new subdivisions, the trees are still babies. But the other part of the land where the houses now stand was heavily wooded, so with the leaves beginning to turn, it's pretty.

As subdivisions go, this one is well-done. Ponds. (Or are they lakes? When does a body of water cease to be a pond and become a lake? How big does it have to be?) Stone bridges. Gazebo. Lush landscaping. Hills. Not slight inclines. Hills. Which makes for a better workout, and makes me really appreciate flat land when I reach it.

There's one house in this subdivision that's been featured in a local paper talking about this development. It's huge. I mean, there are big houses, and then there's this place. It's three sprawling stories. I suspect it's actually two stories with a walk-out basement, but from the back, and that's what everyone sees, it's three stories. And it's really wide. We're not talking canal-front row houses in Amsterdam. We're talking a house much wider than it is tall, and it's really tall.

I seriously hope a family of 20 or so lives in that place.

Now, granted, I own my home and live alone, so some would argue that I have too much space, though my house is very modest. But it's still a lot of space, as you can only be in one room at a time. I managed to get by very nicely in a studio apartment for three years. Still, it's nice to have room for guests – when I have guests.

One of my favorite housey books is "The Not So Big House" by Sarah Susanka. (Yes, Not So Big should be hyphenated - and it bugs me that it's not - but that's the way the author or the editor or the publisher wants it.) She's an architect, and her whole life has become about championing the idea of better, not bigger. She advocates that homes be built to be functional, that dollars be spent on craftsmanship and materials, not soaring two-story living rooms that are never lived in. She is not necessarily against big homes; she's against big homes that are big solely for the sake of being big, but lack a soul.

The cost of gasoline is being cited for the recent drop-off in the sales of large SUVs. I wonder if this winter's looming huge heating bills will have similar effect on the sales of large homes.

Whenever I see a Hummer, I laugh. How insecure or stupid do you have to be to drive a vehicle that costs $60,000 and gets 10 miles a gallon? Our planet is suffering. We need to take care of it before it's really too late. Because there's nowhere else to go.

Renewed Faith ...

I have a number of blogs bookmarked. Checking them is part of my morning ritual, looking for fresh posts.

WaiterRant.net is one of the sites.

He's a good writer, Waiter. He tells tales of life at his restaurant, pissy customers, staff strife, there's always plenty of drama and pathos.

Yesterday's post began "Beth and I ..." which drew me right in. I don't see my name used much. I think it's rather uncommon.

Waiter doesn't write fluff. Even his fluff is crafted in such a way that those looking for lessons can find them. But this post was especially thoughtful, Biblical for most of the body of it, and confessional, too. It's been nearly a year since Waiter and his ex split up, and he wants to find love again, the closest he believes he'll come to finding heaven on Earth.

I clicked on the Comments to see what some of his readers had to say, and one poster gave me enormous hope and took my breath away. He wrote: "You make me want to love my girlfriend even more."

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

You Can Never Leave ...

I used to work at the Chicago Tribune. I used to refer to it as "The Hotel California of Journalism," as in "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave."

Still, I met some amazing people during my Tribune tenure. That was proven to me again today.

My friend Linda wasn't always a friend. She was an instructor of mine at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She taught my Introduction to Non-fiction Writing class. She gave my first assignment for her an A+ and her only comment was "Absolutely great!" Linda has excellent taste, no?!

As is the case with many of the professional relationships in my life, Linda became a friend. (I've been very lucky that way.) I've known her now for something like 18 years. She's been helping students all that time.

She's teaching a Writing for the Media class this semester and asked me if I could help her set up some face-to-face interviews with some professional writer types. (Linda and I share Tribune Alumni status, but I've been there more recently than her.) "They must have face-to-face interviews so they experience the agony of face-to-face anxiety," she wrote in her e-mail request. Under those impeccable outfits from Mark Shale lies a devious soul. I could almost hear the evil chortle.

So today I fired off an e-mail to a healthy handful of writers and editors there. Some of whom I'm in touch with regularly. Some of whom I haven't spoken with in years.

I was very pleased that many of them were quick to reply that they'd be happy to help.

All life's experiences become part of who you are. Some, though, I believe, stay with you in stronger ways. My five years at the Tribune are vivid, eight years later. Every time I step back into the 5th-floor newsroom, the home of the various features sections, it feels as though I never left.

So The Eagles were right: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. Not really.

But that's a good thing, when the people you've left behind are still right there, willing to lend a hand.

Too Good To Be True ...

I receive a lot of spam, offering me, for example, a $402,000 home loan that I'm allowed to pay back a nickel at a time for the next zillion years or until the planet gets blown to bits, but today's mortgage spam took the cake.

The subject line announced that I could save $011 a month!

ELEVEN dollars a month?! Where do I sign?!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Dinnertime ...

It's hot here today. October 4th and the mercury topped out at 87 degrees with a heat index of 93.

No weather for cooking, that's for sure. Still, I wanted something healthy. (McCartney and the jacket, you know.)

So I took the easy way out and went to McDonald's for a California Cobb salad with grilled chicken and low-fat balsamic vinaigrette and a side salad with low-fat balsamic vinaigrette.

And the perky voice on the speaker asked, "Would you like to add a medium fry for a dollar?"

"No, thanks," I said, pulling forward, wondering if there are actually people who order healthy salads and then alternate forkfuls of lettuce with fistfuls of fries.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Walkin', Walkin', Walkin' ...

(As in "Rollin', Rollin' Rollin' " from "Rawhide.")

Two weeks from tomorrow, I'm going to see Paul McCartney.

Normally, I don't shop if I can avoid it. I don't like it. When you're tall – and I'm tall – it's just too depressing. Either nothing fits right or it costs a kazillion dollars. But for Sir Paul, I knew I needed some new duds. A new dud, specifically. And no, I'm not talking about a man! (Badump bump! Goodnight, everybody! I'm here all week! Try the veal!)

I thought to myself, "You need a velvet jacket." And I went online and searched, preshopping if you will, and found a lovely raspberry-colored number. I printed out the picture and stuck it to my closet door as inspiration.

And then one day, walking through Carson's on the way back to my car, something caught my eye. Very few things on a hanger make me change my course, but change my course I did.

Oh. It was even cooler up close. The first thing I thought was, "I love this jacket." And the second thing I thought was, "Dave would love this jacket." (Not that I bought it because of him.) (Dave, I believe I've mentioned, is the guy I gave my McCartnety tickets to. L.A. Dave, in the most awesome display of friendship ever, bought a McCartney ticket and sent it to me, which made me cry. I'm used to being the gesturer, not the gesturee.)

Of course, the color I wanted wasn't there in my size. I could have had the icky green one (I love green, but some greens are icky, and this one was), but not the coveted color.

I looked downtown. No jacket. I returned to my local Carson's. Still none in my size. I took one to the cash register and asked the lovely saleswoman (really, she was lovely; she looked like Laci Peterson, though I didn't tell her that) if we could order it in my size and she was happy to help. She found one at another store and a few days later, the FedEx man dropped it off at my door.

Thing is, I bought this jacket knowing it would be a little too snug in the arms. I may have mentioned, I have Oprah arms. (Really, I have my grandmother's arms, but you have no frame of reference for that comparison.) No matter how fit I get, the upper-arm flab stubbornly stays put. No, really. I could stir a breeze by waving.

And so, with the concert just two weeks away, I'm kicking it into high gear, eating the somewhat-boring food, and walking my butt off (which is working, because it's getting smaller; I looked today, and it no longer appears as though you can set a beer on it).

I've driven out some of the routes to measure them, so I know that my first walk this morning was 2.2 miles, and the second one (to mom's house, to do a favor) was 2 miles, and the third one (to the bank and post office) was another 2 miles.

And I was thinking to myself, on the way home from the bank and post office, that maybe I'm getting a little obsessive about this. And then I thought, "Nah, not obsessive. Just committed."

Rarely have I been this committed to anything in my life, let alone an item of clothing.

But it's just that cool.

I'll ask Dave to bring his digital camera the night of the show and have him snap a shot of it. Of us, maybe. And post it online, if the photo-posting feature will behave and not crash my browser, like it usually does.

Huh? ...

Is it just me, or is it weird for Bush to nominate someone for the Supreme Court who's never been a judge?

Hell, if I would have known you didn't have to be a judge to become one of the most powerful people in the world, I'd have applied.