Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Carl Selby, Rest in Peace

Carl, I'm sorry you had to go. I just learned you were 86. You led a long life, and a full one, but you still left too soon. I'll miss you!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Fruits of the Grocery

I've commented in the past about how much I enjoy fresh fruit, in the widest definition of the word; here's another small pleasure: instead of simply putting price stickers on each piece, American fruit distributors put colorful stickers on them with a 4-digit code for the checker that, when combined with the weight, yields the right price. Every apple, lemon, tomato and pear has its own; I especially like the one for Mexican "sweet" peppers from this Saturday's harvest at the Jewel (chain supermarket). Sweet indeed!
One of the great mysteries of the retail produce business, however, is why red peppers always have stickers and green bell peppers never do.

Friday, February 13, 2009

In the Dark

Last night, long after I turned out my lights and fell asleep, I became dimly aware that the toilet in the bath that adjoins my bedroom was “running.” I sort of woke up, shlumped into the bathroom, jiggled the handle, and went back to bed. Since I was sort-of-woke-up, I decided to listen to the radio for a few minutes but my remote didn’t work. I assumed it was a dead battery in the clicker and went back to sleep.
In the morning, when the alarm went off and I really woke up, I found out that the electricity had been off and come on again. With all my electronics flashing panicked messages about their urgent need to have the time inserted right now (each with its distinct algorithm of buttons and bleeps), I reset everything and went about my morning business as usual, except for the spurting, sputtering, grit-tinged water out of all the taps—in a high rise, water gets propelled up the stories via an electrical pump, so after an outage we have burps and squirts, sometimes for quite a while, until the system clears itself of air and junk and re-pressurizes with clean water.
When I went out for my constitutional, around 5:30, there were ComEd trucks galore, lights a’flashing, all around the intersection. A neighbor out walking his dog explained that in the middle of the night there had been a car accident two long city blocks away that somehow knocked out our power, and that of neighbors for blocks all around.
But by then everything was functioning fine (except my satellite TV, which brainlessly forgot the myriad tediously deprogrammed religious, home-shopping, southern hemisphere soccer, and Spanish language channels) so I went off to work without another thought about the little fiasco.
When I got home late this afternoon, ComEd was still all over the place, guys in hard hats with their diesel trucks idling and spewing greenhouse gasses, but the building lights were on and the elevators were working. I packed up three loads of wash and headed to the laundry room on the second floor, and shoved three quarters into each of three washing machines to start them filling. When I went back to add the soap and clothes, I found them filling with murky water. So the pipes weren’t yet clean of all the rust and gunk dislodged that morning. Instead of loading my clothes, I wrote off the $2.25 in quarters, hefted my bulging laundry basket and got back onto the elevator where another neighbor told me that the building engineer was about to turn off the power again to oblige ComEd’s workers.
It’s always an odd experience being at home with no power after dark. One can’t read, one can’t compute, nor listen to the radio or watch TV. It gets deadly quiet within when the building’s ventilation fans and the neighbors’ and one’s own TVs and radios are off. There’s nothing to do but to lie down and be contemplative and watch the reflected lights of the street below on the blinds.
My blinds are shiny and new and reflected what seemed like an unusual amount of movement below. Yes, indeed, my street was bumper-to-bumper northbound, meaning that all traffic was diverted from Lake Shore Drive, the north-south artery parallel to the shore of Lake Michigan in Chicago. And so it was, I looked out my dining room window from my dark apartment, and there was absolutely no movement on the Drive. The Obamas were on their way from O’Hare for their first weekend at their Hyde Park home, about a mile or so from where I live, since the inauguration.
It indeed seems like a very wise thing to stop all traffic in all directions for the motorcade. Those who hate Obama hate with as much passion as those of us who love him and everything he stands for, and I worry about his and his family’s vulnerability. I imagine some commuters were pretty irritated, though those of us who feel close to Obama—people in this neighborhood do—don’t begrudge him some safety and security, even on a Friday evening rush hour.
However, to my horror, I realized that the exit from Lake Shore Drive, more or less at my feet from the vantage of my 11th floor dining room window, was completely and entirely unprotected and unbarricaded. There is no northbound onramp to Lake Shore Drive at this location, but someone could have, with impunity, driven a car north on that exit ramp right onto the southbound lanes of Lake Shore Drive, and confronted the oncoming motorcade. That seems a frightful and frightening oversight.
The motorcade exits Lake Shore Drive one or two ramps north of the one below my building, so I didn’t get to see them fly by, but all of a sudden an official vehicle of some sort, with red gum-ball blazing, tore southbound along the drive, passing a similarly speeding northbound Chicago police car with its blue gum-ball flashing . There was the sound of helicopters—more security or the press—and then the normal pent-up rush-hour traffic resumed. The Obamas were safely home.
With no more excitement to watch out my window I went back to lie down and watch reflections on the blinds when I became aware of the sssshhhhhhhh of the bathroom ventilation fans. The power is back on.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Shock and Ouch, or, A Cautionary Tale

Last weekend I slid something from under the broiler and momentarily (very momentarily) encountered the red-glowing heating element with the top of my thumb. With a FFFFSSSST! and visible puff of vaporized skin I gave myself a second degree burn of a little more than a half inch by three-eighths of an inch. I ran it under very cold water for a couple of minutes, and like many burns thus tended, it quieted down within five minutes. At first. It turns out the top of your thumb gets in the way far more than you might imagine, but nonetheless I ignored the whole thing for several days, since keeping a band-aid on is next to impossible if you wash your hands once in a while, or do dishes, or clean stuff around the house, or pull up your socks, or use hand cream, or… To make a long story short, last night it was very irritated and painful. My KLK brought me a big, attractively promising bottle of aloe, long reputed to be “good for burns.”

I took passing note of the giant silly banner on the front of the bottle announcing the “100% GEL *” contents, and of the fact that burns (other than sun-induced ones) were not listed among the ideal uses. Methinks, “that’s not pure aloe” even though it looked appealingly like it, but it certainly never occurred to me that a dollop of the stuff would make my whole hand half way to my elbow go up in flames again. I squeezed on a glob and covered it with a band-aid, pressing it into the wound. Within seconds I was in tears and had to deconstruct the dressing and wash off all the goo— no wait, that would be gel—under lots of cold water.

Once it was dry and cooled down I put a plain band-aid on it and went to sleep. This morning it was a little better, a little dryer, not quite so red and oozy, though still mighty tender to the touch. I’m going to have the kind of scar that doesn’t go away for years, if ever. I’m not much concerned by that—it’ll be joining legions of others accrued over the years—but I swear I will carefully read the list of impurities on the back of the bottle next time (* note the asterisk) before administering soothing balms again anytime soon.

Click on the photo to enlarge it so you can read, for your edification, the list of “stabilizers and preservatives to insure potency and efficacy” this “pure” product: triethanolamine, tocopheryl acetate, carbomer 940, tetrasodium EDTA, DMDM hydantoin, and last, but not least, diazolidinyl urea. I wonder which of these ingredients’ job it is to induce pain?

A little saving grace on this gloriously warm and sunny winter day: I heard and saw a peregrine falcon outside my dining room window. That sure makes up for a lot of sore thumbs.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Now There Are Three

I love it when I learn a new word. Today I came across, and looked up (even though its meaning was clear from context), the word ambit. I especially like its reference to compass (as in encompass). It joins in the toolbox two other useful favorites, purview and bailiwick. Now there are three.

And today I made up a new one of my own, parkalicious, calculated to make my Yellowstone cronies laugh. It worked.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Evil Netflix Faerie

KLK and I share a Netflix account. Whenever one of us learns of a movie we think we would enjoy watching together, we add it, along with anything we're interested in watching separately (he's not into chick flicks, do I need to explain?) That pretty much keeps the queue moving and makes our $18 subscription worthwhile.

So the other day, Michael Crichton's Looker emerges from within one of those ubiquitous little red envelopes. I say to KLK, "what's this? Something you wanted to watch, I assume?" And he says, "no, you put it in the queue." Which I categorically deny. I've never heard of this old, probably better forgotten, futuristic (such as futuristic was in 1981) movie written and directed by the master author of creepy sci-fi thrillers. Crichton was definitely a better writer than director, to wit, the movie stars James Coburn and Albert Finney. If the likes of those two do such a painfully bad job of acting, that really says something.

Not to disparage the dead (Crichton), but all we can figure is that THE EVIL NETFLIX FAERIE put it in our queue. On the other hand, we've seen a couple of really good movies lately, the most entertaining of which was In Bruge. We enjoyed it thoroughly, quite aside from the fact when we were in Brussels some years ago we didn't get to visit Bruge because of a train strike.