Sunday, October 26, 2014

Wee Garlic ...

Wee garlic from the farmers' market! It's too small to sell so the vendor was just giving it away. Cuteness!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

This Is Different Than Different ...

Once upon a time, many, many years ago, I worked at the Chicago Tribune. Looking back, my job wasn't particularly stressful, and yet, when I worked there, I arrived at a point at which I was chugging Mylanta straight from the bottle and subsisting on a diet of Lender's garlic bagels and Diet Pepsi. It was about all my stomach would keep down.

Consequently, I lost a lot of weight.

So much so that one day, not long after I had left the Tribune, I spied myself in a full-length mirror and I didn't recognize myself.


I stopped and stared and tried to make my eyes and my brain arrive at a consensus. Yes, that woman in the mirror was me but hell if I could make myself understand that.

It was truly disconcerting.

Maybe my brain is wired differently than other people's brains. But yesterday, when I saw this ...

... I had the same disconcerting feeling again.

I still do.

If you showed me that image yesterday before I knew the story behind it and asked me, "Who is the woman on the left?", I would have said, "Renee Zellweger." And then if you asked me, "Who is the woman on the right?", I would have said, "I have no idea. Who is it?"

I wouldn't have said, "Hmm, she kind of looks like Renee Zellweger. Are they related?"

I wouldn't have made any association to Renee at all.

To me, those images look like entirely different women.

A friend on Facebook got a little testy with me, demanding to know what seemed so different to me about her two looks.

Looking more closely, yes, her lips are the same. And yes, her nose is the same. Her eyes are what are completely different, but look at how much difference they make.

I read this piece a few minutes ago, which begins with this lede:

"All Renee Zellweger did was what we told her to do: look different."

It goes on to discuss what demands are made of women to look different every day.

Oh, I agree.

Women – and yes, men, too, but this post is about women – are told every day that we should be thinner and we should have thicker, shinier hair and for the love of God, that thicker, shinier hair shouldn't contain any grey. We should have whiter teeth and we surely should never, ever, under any circumstances let on that our skin contains pores. Our lashes should be fuller – we might need a prescription to brush on every night to grow lashes if we lack them – and our lips should be fuller and our skin should be supple and would it kill us to slather on a lotion that contained a bit of bronzer or tanner and some sparkle, too? Because it's not enough to have soft, tan skin, we should shimmer, for God's sake. Honest to God shimmer. Like the air around a unicorn. We should do everything possible to hide all evidence of cellulite and stretch marks – even though it's not really possible – and we should definitely have bodies that look like Victoria's Secret models.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Yes, we're told that every day. And it's exhausting. And it takes its toll on our psyches because not even models look like models. They're airbrushed and Photoshopped into fictions of themselves.

But Renee doesn't look different to me. She looks unreconizable.

And some women are saying, "So what? Good for her! It's her face!"

And I don't begrudge her her face. She says she's happy. I'm glad she's happy. Good for her for being happy.

I'm just saying that – to me, anyway – she doesn't look like the same person.

And maybe that was her intent. But if you've shown up for all of your career with one face, and then you show up one day with a different face, yes, people are going to say something, not to be unkind – at least, that's not my intention – but because it's a disruption in what we've come to expect, whether or not those expectations are valid.

Plastic surgery is common. I get that. And while I think Meg Ryan, for instance, didn't enhance her face with her plumped-up lips, I still recognize her as Meg Ryan. I think Jennifer Grey looked fine before her nose job, but I see pictures of her now and I still see her, I just see her with a different nose.

But our eyes are a different matter. And that's what different about Renee's transformation. She's transformed the one feature that, for most of us, stays the most constant. Paul Newman's eyes were Paul Newman's eyes even as he aged. We can often identify a person just by their eyes, even if we can't see the rest of their face.

I suspect this story will go away after today or once the images of Before Renee and After Renee are seen by a wide enough swath of people that the change no longer comes as a surprise.

But I'm thinking there won't be a third installment of "Bridget Jones."

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Nelson Algren Renaissance ...

Many years ago, I wrote a post about an interview I'd conducted many, many years before.

I mentioned that I had read in my research that we're experiencing a Nelson Algren renaissance. He shook his head.

"We're not experiencing a James Farrell renaissance, either. A renaissance can only begin at the university and the university can only teach books they can get their hands on. And with certain writers, the computer at the publisher says it's not worth keeping them in print." I asked if he thought there was any way to keep these writers' names alive.

"We live in a disposable culture where 40 million people can't read. That is one Spain, that is one South Korea. Talk about keeping something alive? Talk about a huge corpse. You don't need a fire to burn down a library. Apathy'll do it."

He thinks that Algren will vanish entirely, and he thinks he'll vanish entirely, too.

That Kurt Vonnegut said that he thought he'd vanish entirely too struck me as preposterous at the time. It still does.

But indeed, Nelson is not widely known.

I was reminded of Vonnegut's words today, though, because what feels like a Nelson Algren renaissance has arrived at last.

He's had a following – however small – for years now. His books, once banned, have been reissued and appreciated once more.

But now two documentaries are finally in the world and both at the same time.

Willa Cather's "The end is nothing; the road is all" is Nelson's epitaph. I use it on my web site and in my email signature, not because I am much of a fan of Willa's but because I am very much a fan of Nelson's.

And so today, as I wandered around the Internet and watched clips of the documentaries, I thought about the photo I'd taken of Nelson's grave.

Some people visit the graves of well-known musicians or actors. And some of us don't.

I flipped through a box of photo envelopes and my brain said, "They're in your Nelson box."

I hadn't opened my Nelson box for a very long time.

It is stashed in the corner on the floor of the closet off my office most of the time. Today, I hauled it out and put it on my desk.

Another time capsule.

The box contains a jumble of note cards and newspapers and Xeroxes and cassette tapes and books. Nelson's books. Some of which I'd forgotten I owned.

Could these be any cooler?

I can't remember where I bought them.

I don't think I bought them at Canio's in Sag Harbor, but I must have, I guess.

Nelson used to hold forth at Canio's, the Nelson Algren Saturday Salon, if memory serves.

When I was there, of course I took a picture of "his" chair:

I also interviewed Joe Pintauro, a playwright who owned several properties – at the time; he may still – in Sag Harbor. We talked inside Joe's house and then took a short stroll down to the house where Nelson lived. This was his porch:

I hope that Nelson found some peace in his final days. Peace seems feasible in a place like that.

There was a manila envelope in my Nelson box. I pulled out the contents and burst into tears. Jeff's handwriting. I'd forgotten he'd sent this to me:

And then I laughed at the newspaper itself, for the way it's folded. It's such a perfect representation of Jeff. Jeff's offices were, in a word, a mess. I love that he didn't bother to take the time to fold the paper precisely. He made it small enough to fit into the envelope. Mission accomplished:

I found other notes, too, from Nelson's friend Stephen Deutch and from Linda Landis Andrews, one of my teachers at UIC. The cassette tapes contain interviews from the radio, I presume? I talked to Studs Terkel for the paper but I didn't record our conversation. I should find a cassette player and given them a listen.

And maybe I should hook up my VCR again and watch "The Man with the Golden Arm." Though, really, I should reread the book instead. Nelson really got screwed on the movie deal.

I'm glad that Nelson is finally getting more love, at least in documentary form. I hope more people discover or rediscover his books. His wrote about the people behind the billboards, as Studs had said: drug addicts and prostitutes and gamblers, the down-and-out and everyday folks he saw where he lived, the city he loved for as long as he could. In Chicago: City on the Make, Nelson wrote, "Once you've become a part of this particular patch, you'll never love another. Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies, but never a lovely so real."

But he headed east at the end of his life. He's not buried in Chicago. He's buried on Long Island.

"The end is nothing; the road is all."

But that's not entirely true. Nelson lived a fascinating if not altogether public life, fascinating enough to compel a 19-year-old student to interview Kurt Vonnegut as a means to an end, the end being the opportunity to stand at the grave of a man she never knew so she could use a description of his grave site as the opening to a college paper and provide her with memories to last a lifetime.

The end is something, too.

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Leaf Walk ...

Yesterday would have been a really good day to take photographs of leaves, as it was gloomy and the light was pleasantly moody.

Today the sun I've been craving has arrived, and I'm very pleased for that. But now I'd like another grey day for shooting purposes.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Spin Through The Past ...

For any whippersnappers who may have stumbled upon this post: The artifact pictured above is a primitive version of a contacts list.

It's called a Rolodex. It was invented shortly after fire and the wheel.

I am old enough to have had one. I still do. It lives on a shelf in the closet off of my office. It's probably time to shred all the cards and recycle the rest of it. But it serves a fine function as a time capsule, too.

There are phone numbers listed on some of those cards for ... radio stations that no longer exist.

I think I developed a tad of arthritis just typing that sentence.

In all seriousness, though, there are also phone numbers and addresses on some of those cards of people who are no longer with us and the world is a much poorer place for their absences.

It felt like such a rite of passage to buy a Rolodex, proof that I was a legitimate member of the working world. Once I had a permanent desk at the Tribune, I guess I was a legitimate member of the working world, though my Tribune business cards would not come until a couple of years later and, unbeknownst to me at the time, not long before I would decide to resign.

I thought about flipping through the cards and writing stories prompted by the various entries. I may still. Or I may not. I've spent a fair amount of time mulling apsects of my past.

As one person from my Trib past would say: Onward.