Thursday, January 31, 2008

Promoting other people

[UPDATE: Happy birthday, Shag! I feel guilty I forgot. That's a photo of one of Shag's cats in this post, BTW. My brother in Phoenix also had his birthday this week and I felt guilty for not calling him, but it turns out the number wouldn't have worked anyway...And I added a couple more food links since first posting this]
An astute new reader pointed out that my last post really wasn't that much cheerier as I'd promised, and this one...well, it's mostly happy, as aside from dismal weather and ongoing iPhoto problems (it'll take a few more trips to the Genius Bar to fix that. BTW, weird that a few minutes after me, Katherine H.'s appointment, was "catherine h.") things are okay. I had great fun with that previous post; it made me feel I'm edging towards being a "real" blogger, with lots of links and opinions and stuff.

So my Flickr friend Citizen Pioneer curated a show called "Ward 7: America's Abandoned Asylums" by a young urban explorer/photographer from Atlanta, Shawn May. I didn't get around to promoting the show here, but I did distribute over 100 promo cards for it at many of Chicago's cooler stores and coffeeshops. And I did go nuts making cupcakes for the reception Sat. Jan. 19: 2 dozen Cookies 'n' Cream, 1 dozen peanut butter with chocolate glaze, 1 dozen coconut-accented vanilla with raspberry buttercream frosting, coconut flakes, and pink sprinkles. The cupcakes were a hit (good thing, after I dragged them all there on TWO buses in ZERO degree weather); too bad I didn't get good enough photos to post them to the Vegan Cupcakes Flickr group.

Anyway, the show had photos of different asylums May had explored, and some disturbing medical books and artifacts he'd picked up from them. This was at the Co-Prosperity Sphere in Bridgeport, and got a great turnout for such a cold night. Claire was in Chicago briefly from St. Louis; I wish I'd gotten to talk to her more. (I still haven't posted about my adventures a month ago with Claire and CP/Alma.) I met the photographer and Flickr people and talked to Noah a lot and watched the cupcakes disappear. (In an alternate universe, my friend Jason attended a literary event I would have gone to if I didn't have the asylum show; I would have gotten to meet some of my Goodreads friends for the first time.)

I haven't read about the history of the mental health system in a while, but it's something I know a fair amount about, so none of the disturbing things in the show were new to me. People certainly need to know about them. On my reading list now: The Architecture of Madness, about the design of mental hospitals. And Project 17, a new young adult novel (I found an advance proof for 50 cents yesterday at the Sulzer library!): "On the eve of [Danvers State H]ospital's demolition, six teens break in to spend the night and film a movie about their adventures. For Derik, it's an opportunity to win a filmmaking contest and save himself from a future of flipping burgers at his parents' diner. For the others, it's a chance to be on TV, or for a night with no parents. But what starts as a playful dare quickly escalates into a frenzy of nightmarish action..." Of course, UE always does.

Blog-related news: last night I commented on feminist blogs for the first time (under my real name, so my comments link to this blog), at Feministe and Pandagon. I've got to get in the habit of that. Of course, I'm always freaked out about checking back to see if anyone responded to my comments...I should get in the habit of mentioning new additions to the blog- and website-roll, so here's some recent ones:

The Charles W. Cushman Photograph Collection at Indiana University; Cushman was a photographer who left IU 14,500 Kodachrome color slides of shots around the world from 1938-1969, including many great photos of Chicago (like of old Maxwell Street); it's often hard to find midcentury color photos. A recent Flickr contact is setting out to rephotograph many of Cushman's Chicago shots this year to show how things have changed. Speaking of obsessive projects, my new heroes are the guys at Illinois Pancakes, a great site that I found last week in Time Out Chicago (they said it was a blog by people with way too much free time). More food links, since I recently made that its own category: Steve Dolinsky's "Hungry Hound" ABC-7 segments and Gapers Block Drive-Thru (I sometimes put photos in their Flickr group pool, and those'll show up on this site).

There's Bright Lights, Dim Beauty of Chicago, "Showing the past and present views of vintage Chicago and surrounding suburbs"--combining Chicago and vintage stuff, awesome! Forgotten New York, which is related to a book I bought on my last NYC trip but haven't read yet. The Next American City, a terrific magazine about city issues; I think I first discovered it when I finally visited the legendary Chicago-Main Newsstand in Evanston for the first time last year (I was hoping to go up there and grab a copy this week); there's a blog section. And The City Desk--just check it out. I found it through Noah (you're on their blogroll, congrats!)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

So, are you an adult?

Monday I headed downtown to Preservation Chicago's press conference at the Archicenter to announce “Chicago’s Seven Most Threatened Buildings” for 2008 (that will be its own post), and to make an appointment at the Apple Store's Genius Bar (it was already full for the day) because I can't upload photos right now (and I got 100s of shots on weekend explorations!). I'm not around there enough; I completely missed CompUSA's clearance sales and the store's gone now. I bought a new CTA 7-day pass but since it was mild I ended up walking from Chicago to Jackson and back again (wow, exercise).

Talk of the Nation was on as I walked back north, and after a numbing discussion about delegates at the upcoming political conventions, got to the good stuff, and by “good stuff” I mean “idiotic” and “extraordinarily offensive.” Kay S. Hymowitz, a scholar at the Manhattan Institute (a conservative think tank), had just written an op-ed on the rise of the “child-man,” you know, fun-loving American males in their 20s and 30s who mysteriously lack the urge to settle down to productive lives of work, marriage, and kids, and instead prefer video games and such. Her discussion threw together numerous cultural trends.

There's what Ariel Levy, author of Female Chauvinist Pigs (a book I mostly liked), called “raunch culture" and what the Brits called "lad culture": the "anti-PC" embrace of hot chicks! sex! strippers! beer! sports! "being a man again!" (because if your life doesn't revolve around all that, you're not a man?). There's the Rejuvenile or "kidult" phenomenon of adults who love kids' toys and games (also a TOTN segment), which seems generally harmless.

There's the Urban Tribes trend that claims that for twentysomethings, "friends are the new family," explicated in an okay but overall annoying book. Annoying because it's ultimately a paean to the joy and necessity of settling down (it ends with a Hawaiian honeymoon, where ”my new wife awaits.”) The author somehow found a woman to marry him despite his habit (recounted at length) of using evolutionary psychology as party chatter, insisting to women that men are meant to you know, get around, and can’t be expected to commit to one woman—they can’t help it, it’s biology!

But of course the biggest moral panic around "delayed adulthood" is concern over people marrying later (if at all) and having children later (if at all). A book called Unhooked Generation attempted a sympathetic look at the social factors around "why you're still single," but ended up with the same old line that you're not mature until you're settled into monogamy and marriage. (This book is not to be confused with Unhooked, one of many books to scold the youth [nope, women only] for their wild ways of "hookup culture" that get in the way of their proper goal at college: landing a man. Bake for the guys instead, ladies! [Yes, it really says that]). (I'll throw in Generation Me too, an interesting and sympathetic look--not the typical conservative "kids these days" screed--at what the emphasis on self-esteem and "entitlement" have done to young people. However, the author utterly ruins it with panic over the falling birthrate and an insistence that's there's something wrong with you if you don't have children. I wish I had the exact quote, but I'm shocked so few people picked up on that part of the book.)

Hymowitz started off tolerable but then got to the nasty heart of her argument: you're not a worthwhile adult till you're married with kids. Until then, she claims, you're unlikely to volunteer, and you don't care about schools or children. Marriage and parenthood make you a "full member of society." Oh, how hard it was not to scream or throw things when I heard this. Since I know so few people that are married, let alone with kids, never mind owning a home too (only my former professors fit this description, I think, though I do know more people that have achieved one or two of the above)...well, they must be dragging me down. Attention, nearly all my friends and acquaintances: despite being amazing artists, writers, performers, activists, publishers, educators, photographers, chefs, musicians, etc.--you're just a big ol' drain on society. I'd better stay away from you till you grow up.

I'll point out I listened to this in Moonstruck, a Michigan Ave. chocolate shop I’d passed many times without trying out, sipping my plain hot chocolate. I'd immediately decided on another project--trying all ten (!!!) kinds of hot chocolate on the menu (there’s numerous mochas too). I was using my Lego duffel bag that day (and later wished I'd visited the nearby Lego Store, learning that yesterday was the 50th anniversary of Lego. I was wearing the most expensive ($18) jewelry I got last year, a pendant made from a typewriter "shift" key. I’d just made photocopies of the floor plan of a certain vacant school I've been visiting, in part to rescue kitschy old yearbooks, music books, guides to science filmstrips, etc. Oh, right, and at my advanced age, neither my wedding ring finger nor uterus have ever had their "appropriate" accouterments. Nor am I the self-supporting adult I'd like to be.

At home I looked at the accompanying "Blog of the Nation" discussion. What about the female equivalents of the "child-man,?" lamented many. (For instance, the party girl Cosmopolitans, stilettos and nightclubs sort, or the quirky cupcakes-and-Hello-Kitty-loving variety.) Actually, Hymowitz IS an equal-opportunity offender; she went after single women here. There's not exactly a shortage of hand-wringing and fear and panic about single women out there (their alleged frivolity or sluttiness and/or their achievements and independence).

Some people pointed out the economic factors driving the trends towards later marriage, children, and home ownership; I'm not sure that anyone talked about how the low marriage age/high birthrate 50 years ago was an aberration in the 20th-century trends towards later marriage and fewer children. (Also see The Way We Never Were for more on how this weird historical blip is misused for political reasons.) Some people, happily, pointed out the cruelty of her definition of adulthood: “This is the most shallow, exclusionary piece I have ever heard on NPR. It shocks me that none of the listeners have pointed out the obligatory politics of heterosexual reproduction that motivates Hymowitz's conservative rhetoric. Rather than provide us with any meaningful analysis of how the so-called ‘man-child syndrome’ is changing, say, the socio-political or economic landscape in this country, she simply insists that we all had better sit up straight, find a partner with opposite naughty-parts, and start behaving ‘like adults’…it completely ignores the possibility that waiting to get married, mortgaged, and saddled with kids may be making many young men *and women* happier,” said John from Ithaca, NY.

But it was bizarre on that blog to see how many people think if a woman is saying anything critical about men, then she must be a feminist (and therefore a man-hater and BAD).* Reminds me of Katha Pollitt's take on Knocked Up, "...the real subject of Knocked Up is the immaturity of men: only under the most desperate circumstances will they put aside their bongs, or their porn, or their even more idiotic friends. If a woman had made this movie she'd be labelled a total man-hater: there isn't one man in it who isn't basically a teenager." (Of course that movie's an example of the men-are-fun-women-are-nags pop culture trend, this blogger sure didn't like it.) Anyway, I don’t know what’s less feminist than the deadening gender roles and conservative morality Hymowitz promotes.

I hadn't yet seen the "child-man" piece discussed on feminist blogs (what? I'm first at something?!) when I wrote this, but since there appear to be a few unmarried, video-game-loving men on the internet, I've seen them go after it as a way to bash nasty, nasty modern women and their unrealistic expectations. Oh, whatever. I agree that dating and relationship culture does seem centered on "what women want," (well, and the man-pleasing things they need to do to get what they want) but that's because 99% of it is aimed at women, and...ah, that's all a rant for another day. I've already spent an incredibly long time on this post, sitting here at my computer surrounded by a giant plush lobster, huge crayon-shaped banks from a toy store I visit every few months, listening to bouncy retro-influenced pop songs on the fuschia rhinestone-encrusted CD player I bought when my Hello Kitty one stopped working...oh, you get the idea. I haven't yet put away childish things. And even when I fit my definition of "adult," I don't intend to.

*Uh, Ellen Willis again, from a 1985 piece, "Looking for Mr. Good Dad": "Though the two are easily confused, female cynicism about men is not an expression of feminism. The cynic assumes that men will always have power over women and the will to exploit it, that if things change it can only be for the worse. But since few people can live entirely without hope, she tends to displace hers onto the past. For the feminist's utopian vision, she substitutes a romantic nostalgia for patriarchal paternalism; she imagines that by pursuing freedom, we've gained nothing, only sacrificed the 'respect' and 'protection' and 'commitment' that were once our due..." And, a few resources for anyone who by choice or chance isn't yet a "full member of society"--for childfree people; for singles: lifestyle advice, advocacy, alternatives to marriage, a terrific read about "singlism".

Monday, January 28, 2008

Something cheerier

Lisa: If we don't get to the convention soon, all the good comics will be gone!
Bart: Ah, what do you care about good comics? All you ever buy is Casper the Wimpy Ghost.
Lisa: I think it's sad that you equate friendliness with wimpiness, and I hope it'll keep you from ever achieving true popularity.
Bart: Well, you know what I think? I think Casper is the ghost of Richie Rich. [shows comics of Casper and Richie Rich]
Lisa: Hey, they do look alike!
Bart: Wonder how Richie died.
Lisa: Perhaps he realized how hollow the pursuit of money really is and took his own life.
Marge: Kids, could you lighten up a little?
[The Simpsons, "Three Men and a Comic Book'" episode]

Yeah, I promise I'll lighten up this blog soon. Working on a rambling post tonight, in this space.

Friday, January 25, 2008

What kind of person?

What "kind of person" commits suicide? That's a rather blunt way to start a post, but it's been on my mind since I heard about Heath Ledger's death Tuesday afternoon. (For the record, I'm not saying he did; I'm not interested in the morbid speculation about what illness/accidental/purposeful drug overdose killed him.) I haven't seen his movies, and honestly I'm much more personally affected by waking up today to the news that CBS Ch. 2/former WGN reporter Randy Salerno just died. (I watch a LOT of news.) I confess to looking at the celebrity website TMZ for the first time (I linked through an unrelated story), where I found this on 1/22: “TMZ has been contacted by a rep from Heath's family. The cops told the family Heath's death was accidental and there is no evidence to support the buzz that he may have committed suicide. They are particularly distraught over media reports that he may have taken his own life. The family says he was not that kind of person.”

What kind of person? What does that mean? It's fine to set the record straight about how a person died, but I never quite understand the need to deny suicide. In part it's because you can expect judgment about a person's "selfishness," or confusion over how someone who "had it all" could do that. I've seen that out there (I couldn't stand to read too many TMZ comments); I've also seen rants about "junkies" and "druggies." Since Ledger was most famous for playing a gay cowboy, some particularly hateful commentators have thrown that into the mix (making Andy Rooney's comments about Kurt Cobain's death seem tame; anyone remember that?)

What kind of person do we expect? Divorced, unemployed alcoholic drifters? Reckless heartbroken teens? (You know how you always hear about teen suicide? Far more elderly people kill themselves. How often have you heard suicide is the third leading cause of death for teenagers? It is, for both younger and older teens, but that's because teens rarely die of chronic heart disease, strokes, or lung cancer. Homicide is the second leading cause of death for older teens.) Do we still expect looks, fame, money, success, talent to immunize people against depression?

I didn't want to spend too much time online reading about his death. But I was impressed by the comments on this post at the political blog Shakesville. People may certainly think it "selfish" if someone with a family (especially a young child) kills themself, but the chilling but essential point was made there--people that consumed by self-loathing can feel they're doing a FAVOR to those around them by not being around anymore. They feel just that hopeless, useless, worthless. Maybe the world is divided between people who "get it" and those who don't; those who've crossed some sort of line into at least knowing what those feelings feel like, if not necessarily feeling an overwhelming urge to act on it.

What kinds of people think about suicide? Maybe there needs to be a speakout, much like the film/campaign/t-shirt “I Had an Abortion”. The "not that kind of person" trope protects the individual's reputation at the expense of anyone who's thought that way. It divides people into "us" and "them," it polices acceptable feelings, it shames people who've felt that way as selfish, antisocial, weird. Undeniably, families/communities/society have an interest in preventing suicide. But whenever the "not that kind" line comes out, people who worry they might be "that kind" are shut out. What incentive do they have to talk about it with anyone?

This is sort of a contribution to the idea of reducing the "stigma" around depression, anxiety, suicide, self-harm, etc. But if you Google "suicide" or "depression" and "stigma," probably 99% of the "anti-stigma" campaigns out there are about pushing the most reductive biological theories to explain mental disorders, and professional treatment (mostly pharmaceuticals) as the fix. Maybe it used to sound like conspiracy theories to talk about mental health campaigns this way, but there have now been so many good books about it that it's not a wholly outrageous idea anymore. (But then someone like Tom Cruise has to come along with judgmental ranting and Scientology-pushing, and it becomes difficult to critique the mental health system; I've seen people torn apart on feminist blogs for saying what I've just said.) I think those campaigns do a lot to stigmatize people who DON'T seek professional help (and often they have valid reasons for not wanting it).

To put it in the most delicate way possible, my instincts for self-preservation have not always been the most robust. Things are different now. It certainly amuses me that I'm so involved in urban exploration (particularly of long-abandoned and demolished buildings) where there's often literally danger around every corner. I suppose it might worry people who just know what I was like a few years ago.

That provides an awkward transition into explaining these photos, from a trip to the ruined Brach's factory a week ago, showing it to a new explorer. It was my fifth visit; my first was September 22, 2007, my first "official" exploring trip. Tuesday, the day Heath Ledger died, I thought about the four months I've been doing this. I was in a hurry to get to Brach's originally because I'd thought it was getting destroyed for the filming of the next Batman movie, the Dark Knight, but in fact only one building was imploded. Of course, you probably know that was Ledger's last film. I'm not finding any great meaning in that connection, but I felt like pointing it out. We'll probably find out that Ledger was not "that kind of person," but I wish so much that that phrase will no longer be used to invalidate anyone's despair.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Late January newsworthiness

I meant to be at a literary event (the debut of a new lit mag, Bruiser Review) Thursday night, but got scared off by the fact that the temperature sign outside my window said 0 degrees. And the temperature on the screen at CLTV said 00 degrees (!!). So I decided to stay in and combine some recent photos of the CTA (six different stations, all taken Mon. 1/21) with somewhat political content, for no good reason.

Monday morning I had my volunteer shift at the Archicenter and spent much more time on the computer than usual. I looked up a piece about the acclaimed urban/ruins photographer Camilo Jose Vergara that I'd heard on "Morning Edition" as I rushed around earlier, about Vergara's project of documenting Martin Luther King Jr. paintings and murals in American cities. I also found a story about this book by a journalist and photographer exploring the various streets named after MLK in America. Sounds intriguing, like the similar-themed MLK Blvd Flickr group and blog.

I also spent quite a bit of time on, looking up abandoned CTA stations and being amazed at the number of demolished stations and entire vanished lines. I knew about some of it, but still...I'll definitely have some full-fledged posts on that someday. I set out to photograph an image on the Vergara NPR page, and the abandoned station I'd seen on Chicago-L. A couple different explorer friends had mentioned the possibility of going to Gary on Monday, but one couldn't and one went when I had the Archicenter shift. I'd felt weird anyway about the prospect of white people romping around the ruins of Gary on the King holiday. So what did I do? I ended up photographing the ruins of Englewood. Oh well.

So, a good afternoon photographing, and a visit to my friend Shag--I hadn't seen him or his cats in ages. Then the gloom I've been in this week seized me again. Tuesday, I lay on the couch thoroughly depressed and listening to a very good "Talk of the Nation" discussion called Abortion Experiences: 35 Years After Roe v. Wade. Since it was the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, of course. The point was that abortion is extremely common but rarely discussed in terms of personal experience, and I was impressed with the diverse experiences/opinions I heard on the show.

There was obviously a lot in the more political parts of the blogosphere, but I'm not political enough here to say much about it myself, so I'll just link to a good collection of pieces at Alternet. I was especially impressed with Amanda Marcotte's piece that discussed adoption politics: “It seems women across the nation realized that if they had a right to abort a pregnancy, they also had a right to keep a baby, and didn't have to give it up just because their parents, church, and community said so. People treat "choice" like a code word for "abortion", but it really does mean "choice"--the choice to have an abortion, sure, but also the choice to be a single mother, to be childless, to delay marriage, never to marry at all, or to be a lesbian.” By the way, I've had a rant boiling in me for a long time about the hit-and-now-Academy-Award-nominated Juno, but I don't want to rant about movies I haven't actually seen. It isn't the typical feminist response ("what's with all these movies about unexpected pregnancy that don't discuss abortion?"), it's the way adoption appears to be treated in that film. But I need to see it first.

One more. Cristina Page has a blog at Birth Control Watch and the link right there is to another hugely important, not-discussed-enough part of the abortion debate: how religious right groups aren't just trying to ban abortion, but birth control as well, by actually trying to redefine forms of birth control AS abortion. First they try to confuse emergency contraception with the "abortion pill," then since EC is actually high doses of the birth control pill, they can redefine the pill as abortion. Her post about teenagers and pregnancy was decent but predictable; I'm annoyed at how often the socioeconomic factors around early motherhood get left out and everything's reduced to education/birth control access or morality. Reading about the 18-year-old mother of four in There Are No Children Here (who has a fifth by the epilogue), in a time and place when many very young women were mothers (I know I should know the statistics today, by comparison) really complicates things for anyone on any side of the abstinence vs. comprehensive sex ed debate, doesn't it? I'll point you to another essential read, Dubious Conceptions: The Politics of Teenage Pregnancy.

UPDATE: I got a comment from a good friend that strongly disagreed with some of the opinions here, and just posted a long excerpt in comments from one of the late Ellen Willis's essential essays about abortion rights, have a look. If I'm going to express opinions, I have to be willing to accept dissent/criticism (but I'm kind of thin-skinned, so it's not always easy).

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Fun with scanning

It's been an off week. I've really been down and unmotivated to write email I want to write, or to finally blog the story of the "Gary Glamour Gals" or the art show Saturday night. I have to get in a better mood to write some things inspired by yesterday (Roe v. Wade anniversary, celebrity death, 4-month "anniversary" of my urban exploring). It seems strange to say you need to cheer up to write about suicide (not saying that's what that celebrity's just something that came up and I had some musings about) but there you have it.

But hey--Mod as Hell, my second account on Flickr, is finally working out. As of yesterday, people are favoriting photos from it, as of today, they're commenting. More importantly, today I figured out the scanner part of the all-in-one machine I've had for a year. Scanning was easy, but my HP Photosmart Studio is a mess--it keeps freezing and I've had to restart the computer numerous times. I'm trying to scan some hilarious old science booklets I found in a certain school getting demolished. Anyway, here's a successful scan, one of those books I bought for its cover (but could actually be worth reading).

Thursday, January 17, 2008


Like that song says, I was alone. And life was making me lonely. So I went…uh, to Schaumburg.

(Wait, first I have to say I thought the song started "When you're alone and life is getting you down," which sounds better to me. I do try to check everything I quote here. I'm still haunted by misquoting the title of a poem in a zine I wrote nearly 4 years ago. Second, this post is extremely link-heavy, but the links are safe for work, and not depressing.)

DK offered to drive us out to Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg to see the Lego store. This link and this one will explain the necessity for such a trek. I'd visited the Michigan Ave. Lego store recently, to buy this Advent calendar, but I don't think I'd ever been to Woodfield, or anything in Schaumburg except IKEA years ago.

I like visiting suburbs. I've got a Flickr set called "Suburbs aren't that bad." I especially like the real City of Destiny and Evanston and Oak Park, which are basically like Chicago anyway except for their refusal to be annexed. But Schaumburg, at least what we saw of it, IS THAT BAD. The mall, some extremely dull tall buildings, a shopping area of fake-quaint-vaguely-Italianate-pseudo-storefronts...

The mall is okay. Strange half-levels with walkways everywhere. No bookstore, as far as I could tell. We visited a Cubs merchandise store (no books about the Cubs, but 897 or so styles of hats) and the Apple Store. Didn't visit Sanrio. We went to K-B Toys (I hadn't been in a while; most of their Chicago stores closed). Finally I got to show DK a Barbie aisle (I've been a Barbie collector for years) but the selection was uninspiring.

We looked at toys encouraging housekeeping (a microwave), war (grenades), and financial irresponsibility (a pink ATM "just for girls." Actually, it seemed to be a bank, so that's not so bad, certainly not like this infamous Barbie toy with the commercial proclaiming "And you never run out of money!"). There's now a High School Musical version of the Mystery Date game. (I'm not linking, but the Amazon page says "Is Ryan steppin’ up to take you dancing? Or will Troy be ready for your karaoke date?” Yikes.) I'd recently looked at Lynn Peril's great book Pink Think, which includes a picture of the original Mystery Date's "The Dud," the (bad-boy-esque) date you supposedly didn't want (he's actually called "The Pest" in the game). (Peril used to put out a zine called Mystery Date.)

Then I brought up the 1960s Barbie Queen of the Prom board game, which has a dud/nerd actually named "Poindexter". "Teaching little girls to hate nerds," grumbled DK, justifiably. ("Poindexter was so dreaded. We always used to scream when we got him. In real life, Poindexter would have become billionaire Bill Gates, while Ken would have peaked in high school and become a drunken car salesman." says "Claudia" in this discussion of the game.)

But of course, I go to Dating for Nerds sometimes. So you know I like nerds. I'm fond of geeks. I'm fine with shy people. Introverts too (can't find a link that isn't a cheesy self-help book). And even loners.

Anyway, back to Lego. The store at Woodfield wasn't nearly as big as the Chicago one, but DK says the brick selection is better, and I enjoyed the model of an old-time movie theater, and the grain elevator/railyard. And I bought some clearance housewares and this amazing bag, marked down. Look at the utterly superfluous 8 zippered pouches on the front! This made the whole trip worthwhile! The sets DK's interested in weren't in yet so he didn't buy anything.

Wandering around, DK said:
“You know what they should have? A big store that sells everything. In departments. And it should be downtown.”
Me (finally getting it): “I’m sure someone’s working on it.”

We ate at McDonald's, where my meal cost much more than the sandwich/fries/pop I'd had the day before at Benny's Grill (Argyle Street near Sheridan. Another on the list of grills/family restaurants I hadn't tried yet). And then the long drive back.

So people who know me know I love Arcadia history books. And DK has even written a few . I mentioned that there's a new one called Schaumburg’s Woodfield Mall and we joked about it. I mean, Arcadia books are usually full of late 1800s/early 1900s Woodfield "historical" enough? Then, after I DID go downtown in the evening for an event at the library, I stopped at Borders to look at it.

Wow. This book is, um, well done for what it is, I guess. The bibliography includes A Consumer’s Republic and Suburban Nation, which almost makes up for the fact that it includes several photos of the Rainforest Cafe. I learned that Woodfield opened in 1971, was America's largest mall in 1973, and with 2.7 million square feet of shopping space and 27 million visitors/year today, is the "#1 visitor destination in Illinois" (and despair overwhelmed me). The "village" of Schaumburg's humble beginnings, with 130 people, were in...1956. Today, there's 75,000 people there. Sadly, DK and I didn’t eat at A & W, which the book calls “a fixture within the mall,” but there is a photo of the McDonald’s we ate at. And the Apple Store. But not the Lego--why?! The last chapter is titled (unironically, I believe) "The Permanent Grandeur." These photos were the grandest things I saw there, aside from Lego displays.

I guess Woodfield has historical signficance. Sort of. But why not a book about Chicago's first mall, Evergreen Plaza, which was built in 1952, and, as I learned in researching this entry, has just been put up for sale and is faced with redevelopment or demolition? I'd also like to thank Claire’s blog for pointing me to this blog I've just started to look at, "That Mall’s Sick and that Store’s Dead!" Evergreen Plaza (actually, it's been "The Plaza" for years) is quite depressing, but I hope it doesn't disappear entirely.

All this mall stuff is getting me down, so let's go back to that idea of the big store downtown where you can buy everything. On my must-read list: Downtown: Its Rise and Fall, 1880-1950 and Downtown America: A History of the Place and the People Who Made It. Also, The New Downtown Library: Designing With Communities, a book about architecture, urbanism, AND libraries, whoa! If only the Chicago Public Library owned a copy of this book. They don't, even though it's been out a year and the Harold Washington Library Center is one of the case studies.

Apropos of nothing, did you know that the Magnetic Poetry "innuendo" edition uses "I’d like to revitalize your downtown area" as its example on the box? So many jokes I could make from that, but won't. Anyway, I enjoyed visiting Woodfield, but sorry, Schaumburg, I will be sticking to places like this, where yes, the lights are much brighter...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

New year, same old me

That's a shot from my building on New Year's Day. I have certainly not become a "NEW YOU" for the new year. But January's been decent so far. I have the good sense not to make resolutions; if I did, my main ones would involve jobs, relationships, exercise, and my apartment, things I don't care to discuss here anyway. But in my nauseous and weak state on New Year's (again, from diner food; I didn't drink at all New Year's Eve) I thought of a few goals:
Take a photo of myself every day (SUCCESS!) (um, kind of easy)
Visit at least one bookstore every day (success, except on one very busy Sunday of exploring--but I saw a lot of books at that place!)
Write in my journal (I mean actual paper) every day--I did that for the first 3 days, then forgot.
If I had a list of everything I should and shouldn't do, I've already failed a bunch:
Don't bounce checks--my cable bill, I feel really stupid about this
Check and re-check clothes before laundry--oops, my state ID went through the washer AND dryer
No coffee after 6 pm--had it in the evening a few times and lost hours of sleep
Don't let a lack of attention from the general public/specific friends on the Internet make me crazy--nope, failed that (so can I blame it on sleep deprivation?)

Now to the more open-ended ones I'm making some progress on:

New friends. Yes, I got to meet/go exploring with a new MySpace/Flickr friend. We had a great time at a certain place I haven't gotten around to blogging about yet, but here's his photos from it.

Cook new things. Yes, I got past my apathy toward cake in general, cupcakes in particular to buy Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World and immediately try out several recipes (in part for a special someone, who only had 1 1/2 of them, but I brought 10 by the Chicago Architecture Foundation the next day. My roommate wasn't around, so that meant I ate 12 of them myself). My ongoing review of this book is on

Visit new restaurants, including finally making it to EVERY pancake house/family restaurant/24-hour grill I know of in Chicago. I went to dozens of new ones last year; I'm probably down to 10 or 20 (I've still never been to any of the Original Pancake Houses). So far I've been to Don's Grill (around 18th and Western, very friendly). I'd made it 5 days into the new year without coffee/caffeine, but I finally broke down and had it there. And I got to the one of the 3 grills within 2 blocks around Pershing and Canal I hadn't tried yet.

And independent coffeeshops--so far, a new one on North just west of Western (I don't see how it'll succeed there, and the coffee is pricey), and Stella Espresso Company (1259 W. Devon, an interesting gentrifying section I don't get to often).

Read a lot (obviously). Specifically, work on my "I can't believe I haven't read this yet" list. I just finished There Are No Children Here. I promised myself I'd read The Power Broker before my next trip to New York, but I can't guarantee that.

Obsessive Chicago projects. I have four basic kinds:
1) Visit every location of a specific business or institution (the Chicago Public Library, Golden Nugget). I've visited every Village Discount Outlet thrift store in Chicago (I did that a couple years after moving here--that was a crash course in seeing very different areas of the city!) and this year I promise to visit every VDO in the Chicago area. Even Aurora and Chicago Heights--I'll figure it out somehow. Also, maybe this will finally be the year I take photos at every single L station in the CTA system. (One from the Pink Line above)
2) Document every example of a type of building or business I can find. I've wanted to do this for old post offices, old fire stations, fireproof warehouses, high schools, etc. I won't make any specific promises.
3) Visit and/or photograph certain places or objects in every neighborhood. I'm going to try to get shots of ruined bicycles in every Chicago neighborhood (I'm going by the "community areas" designation, not the real estate 200+ neighborhood maps!).

4) Revisit and rephotograph locations documented in older books about Chicago, i.e. all the walks in an old walking tour guide, all the buildings in an old architecture book, etc. I'll keep these secret until I actually do them (in part because people think they sound so crazy-obsessive when I mention them).

Visit the old favorite exploring sites to check on their progress and try them out in different weather and light conditions. The trade school, above--the east building is completely gutted (only the elevator was left inside) and will probably be gone soon. And the big candy factory, not the one in the recent post. This was the first announcement of an upcoming demolition I heard in 2008. I mostly agree with this friend's take on it--in fact, I was just at another abandonment and met a man who got injured there and knew the man who died.

Look for intriguing new spots. I don't know what's in here; I just really really like the sound of "Triplex Globe Ranger."

Eat better. Maybe I will...but these donuts are JUST FOR ME! How can I turn them down?

I suppose I've got goals about bicycling, writing, the Internet, art, photo skills and performing, too, but I've promised enough here already.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

New for 2008!

Colorful cabinets
Originally uploaded by Mod As Hell
A Flickr photo? Doesn't that mean I'm lazy, unmotivated, and depressed? Well, as for the latter--I was in an awful sleep-deprived misery last night. I'm feeling better now, but still feel bad because now TWO good guy-friends have gotten sick from food from a place on my block. (This time a restaurant, not a bakery.) Neither got sick from food I made, I hasten to point out. And at least this time, it wasn't on Christmas (yes, I inadvertenly gave someone food poisoning on Christmas, in 2005).

But if you'll notice, this photo comes from a NEW Flickr account. (It was a favorite on my main account, so yes, I've posted it twice.) This morning, I set up the second account I'd promised, one just for my collections of stuff. Mostly 1950s-1970s, hence the name. (I couldn't believe "Mod as Hell" wasn't taken, but then maybe I'm the only person who thinks that's clever anyway. "Busy Gal" [the name of an early Barbie outfit] was taken as an email name, but I'm using it for my "occupation.")

So, a little motivation. But lazy? Yes, here's text from Mod As Hell's profile, so you'll know what I'll be posting there:
"I just created this second account to serve as a delightful repository for photos and scans of my vast, vast collections of colorful and kitschy pop culture detritus. My apartment is filled with thousands of (not thousands of each, but thousands of things total) vintage things: pulp novels, home ec guides, beauty and dating advice books, recipe booklets, dishes and barware, dresses, hats, shoes, purses, ties, sewing patterns, Barbie and friends dolls, record albums, and so forth. And many other oddball things from thrift stores, dollar stores, yard sales, etc.: weird toys, Asian stationery, bizarre coffee mugs, bowling bags and trophies...I could go on and on."

Because really, how can I deny the world delights like the 1961 paperback "Monica": "Joe Came to Sell Storm Windows and Almost Perished in a Blasting Hurricane of Love"?!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Sweet sweet candy

Happy New Year! I hope YOU haven't been disgustingly sick all day like I have. I wish it were a cold or a hangover (actually, I've never had one...I've gotten sick from drinking, but that's different) but it's a bad reaction to some food eaten at a "family restaurant" at 3 a.m. We didn't drink at all on New Year's Eve. I don't think it's food poisoning or the flu, but we'll see. Never say "Greek Skillet" to me again. I can't believe I've had an awesome few days of running around with new friends to abandoned buildings--demolition sites, asbestos, mysterious stuff leaking, icy floors, freezing cold, confronting police, slippery snow everywhere--and breakfast ruined me.

Never mind that; I'm mysteriously all better now as I write this. This here was a recent trip, an unexpected treat after a day of not getting back into a certain hospital, and not getting into a certain school, and briefly getting into a different school. I thought I'd get more outside demo shots like the day before, but after checking around the be sure the south gate wasn't open and there were no workers, it was amazingly easy to slip into this place. If you didn't mind being seen by moms picking up kids from a nearby dance center, that is. Oh well.

My target was the big and mostly-intact building seen above. I had to cross through a building that was relatively far along in its demolition. It would have been nice to see more than one level, but I didn't feel like navigating stairs like these.

So I'm in the other building, enjoying the columns, and the assembled equipment. I found the stairs--several good options in this building--and set about visiting every level. I'd gotten such an early start and failed at nearly everything else, so I had a couple hours of daylight left here.

There wasn't as much signage left here as at that other big closed candy factory, but still some admonishments here and there.

This was one of the higher levels. I couldn't get enough of this room; I photographed it at two different points on this trip. I loved the seafoam green and the shadows.

More light green, and--oops, I've given away what factory this is. I knew this company was in Chicago, of course, and I'd heard about their troubles, but I'm sorry I didn't really know about where their factory was located (so close to downtown!), or visit their adjacent store.

I zipped through all the levels and of course had to see if I could get on the roof. Indeed I could, but this was so close to downtown, so surrounded by occupied structures, that I didn't feel comfortable doing more than stepping out for a couple quick shots. I hadn't seen any sign of security, or workers, or dogs, or anything, but would this luck last? (That's some clumsy foreshadowing there, huh?)

This building was bland from the outside; only by exploring did I get this delightful surprise--not only were there several pale shades and different styles of columns on the inside, but one side (and only one) of the building facing the courtyard had the column motif repeated on its exterior.

I went through all the floors, the roof, the basement (briefly, as seeing basements alone still scares me), and got shots of the demolition going on across the way. I was back up on a top floor and saw a vehicle moving outside. Um...that wasn't there before. The gate was open. I went back to the first floor and heard voices not too far away--outside, or in the demolished building. Definitely workers. Should I sneak out, and play clueless art student if anyone caught me? Instead, I snuck up to the 3rd floor office suites, crouched down, and called my friend Mike.

"The good news is, I'm not stuck in the building that's getting demolished..." I didn't have any explorers to call--a friend was out of state (actually, I found out later he wasn't, but never mind), so it had to be Mike. He was at a bookstore and couldn't really talk. I heard "My friend is trapped in a building!" and he hung up. I waited it out. They'd leave by dark, right? Actually, they left minutes later, after I'd had more time to explore the offices and note the motivational material. At the risk of being pedantic...where do the quotation marks START on this sign?

No vehicles seemed to be moving. No voices. I just wanted to leave. I went back to the first floor--oh, there's my flashlight, hope no one came by and noticed it. I battled my way out through this mess--uh, no, I just walked through a door into the clear part of the demolishment again, and hopped out into freedom. I called Mike again, and went downtown to sit at the Borders on Michigan, enjoying a Cocoa Trio and not looking that much dirtier than the average person who'd been through the Chicago snow/slush that day.

Admittedly, this factory didn't have THAT much to it, but it was beautiful to see an abandoned building that wasn't totally scrapped and trashed, and had virtually no graffiti. And have it all to myself. Mostly.