Alien Ant Colony

Photo by Roman.

That’s what it is. Obviously.

There they are, under a protective dome, while they work their technomagic to modify the earth to their liking. Is that to your disadvantage? Is your way of life about to change radically? Maybe to the limits of sustainability? Too bad.

But not to worry. It will begin slowly, barely perceptibly. Watch for strangely aggressive earthworms at first… followed by half-eaten Robins… followed by — well, you really don’t want to know.

But again, no worries. You may not live long enough to see it all. And if you do, perhaps you’ll be selected for the bio-preserve where you will be viewed with something akin to nostalgia by a species not well known for emotion but reluctant to simply throw away anything that might have some future use.

In the meantime, welcome to the human zoo.

Huh?

Photo by Roman.

Apparently the parents wanted friends and family to attend the birth of their child in person but, you know… COVID and social distancing and all… so let’s have it in the courtyard. This strikes me as a rather dubious idea and I can’t help but wonder which of the parents thought up the idea… Not that it’s any of my business. And no, I have no idea how it came out… begging your pardon.

Networks Past and Present

Photo by Roman.

Tuesdays are my laundry days and so (as if I needed such a reason) here is another perspective on my laundry room. It also happens to be a room that includes at least three networks, maybe more depending on how you count them. The foreground is occupied by one of the past: the abandoned ends of three gas lines. The building does still use gas so there is no clue as to why these were abandoned. I find it picturesque in a rough and ready way.

Things change, after all. A few weeks ago, someone from management was showing two people some apartments, nothing unusual. In the courtyard I heard him say something like, “I’ve never managed a building with such a high proportion of common areas. The building really has great potential.”

They entered one of the entrances at that point, so there’s nothing more to be learned. But it seems to me a rather odd thing to say, particularly if one were showing the apartments to prospective rental tenants. I mean, “Stick with me kid; you ain’t seen nothing yet!” That’s a pretty weak pitch, one that pretty much rolls rather than flies across home plate.

But if this were part of a preliminary sales pitch for the building, it makes more sense. After all, in addition to the two garden apartments and machinery room and two laundry rooms, there’s room for a weight / exercise room, a bike storage room, a party room, maybe even an additional unit or two. Why, with those features, you could surely sell all the units of a hypothetical condo in a reasonable time, or if rental then maybe collect twice the rent. After all, you’re not just selling the accoutrements of a home but, more importantly, you’re selling a place on the pecking order, a place for the Karens of our country to feel more secure in the fearsome disorder of the world.

With any luck, I’ll be gone by then. But I’ve become such a peasant.

Dinosaur Watching

For some circumstance, for some reason, birds have not been much on my radar this spring, but I did not notice this until I began opening my windows in the face of our pleasant heat wave this May. It was quiet in the morning. Too quiet. And thinking back on it, April and March had been the same. This is the season when many birds sing out on the common themes of sex, real estate, and aint-i-wonderful. It’s a great racket, as any male will tell you if candid.

Now, I’m not a birder, for all that I like birds, albeit some birds more than others, and so I’m not adept at recognizing who’s who, even if one were an owl. But something was obviously missing.

It’s the chimney swifts. For all the years I’ve been living in this apartment, there’s been a perennial colony that populated the courtyard and the parking lot across the alley. They are noisy, quarrelsome birds whose musical twitter masks dominance games, though for insects it probably sounds like the boom of doom, as if painted by a targeting sonar. They are not totally absent (in fact I hear a few as I type) but they do not occupy the space as they did. The local swifts displayed an intimate knowledge of the courtyard and lot. These chimney swifts lately do not; they ain’t from this neighborhood.

Their absence makes me wonder what else is missing. Fewer robins, perhaps? Or starlings? There did seem to be the usual crew of sparrows that hunt for spiders along the corners of brickwork and windows. But the near absence of chimney swifts may be influencing my perceptions.

The good news is that for a second year, the nighthawks are back. For more than a decade, they were largely absent from my little part of Rogers Park. These are probably the common nighthawk, judging by their electric squawks. I’ve always found the sound of them at night to be a comfort, for some reason. They do seem to be starting their hunt for insects a few hours before sunset and continuing on for several hours after sunrise. Is that new? I’m not a birder; don’t ask me.

Oh! And I did see a pair of purple martins in the parking lot a few days ago. They were a childhood favorite. I grew up with a large yearly colony in my back yard.

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August, 2018; photo by Roman

There are also a few unknown songs in the neighborhood. Not being a bird nerd, I haven’t the foggiest… One sounds truly tropical… Is it even a bird?

Summer, 2001

For all that it was a broke-down slum, a place for the well-to-do to park their money and for hoi polloi to hunker down for the moment, I still remember this apartment with fondness.

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Photo by Roman. Bedroom / office, Summer, 2001.

Neither the apartment nor the building nor the photo really deserve that affection. When I moved in, it was a slum with a simmering tenant rebellion. In the quarter century that I lived there, my particular apartment gradually went from shoddy to shambles.

War of the Roaches

Why did I stay?

During the tenant rebellions, we went through two management companies, but the building lost half its tenants. They were not about to toss out paying tenants that year. The third management company had no sympathy for tenants beyond their rent payments, but unlike the previous two, they were at least competent and not actively malignant.

My lease was up every May, but every year the first several months of the year were occupied by one of those projects that happen on deadline whether all the work is done or not, perfect to awaken you at 2 AM with questions like: Will we complete that? Who is going to do this? What if? And on and on… not exactly anxiety but not exactly excitement either. There was little time and little energy for me to be apartment hunting, packing and moving.

Eventually, and with the fifth management company that the building went through in that quarter century, it occurred to me that perhaps I could get a 14 month lease instead of a year. Management was agreeable and the next year I was gone. (Quite possibly they would have been agreeable to a broken lease as well, but I am not by nature a quarrelsome person.)

The building, though, is still there. About a year after I left it was converted into condominiums. The idea of purchasing any apartment in that building is mildly mind-boggling, seeming about as foolish as all the time I spent there. For a one bedroom, the apartment was surprisingly small (somewhere around 550 square feet if I remember correctly) and neither the twisty front stairwell nor the back porch entrance were suitable for movingĀ  furniture of any size. A recliner, for example, might or might not have made it through. Take the legs off that table!

I suspect any fondness is inspired by… not memories of youth but of middle-age.

It’s come to that, eh?

But maybe also cats.

Tree Treatise

Why, I might be a proud parent, expect of course, I am not. There’s nonetheless an urge to be paternally proud at having seen two trees grow into a healthy adolescence, of a sort.*

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Photo by Roman.

This year has been particularly fine. It hasn’t been unusual for the trees to abruptly explode into blossom, a floral tribute to youthful drama, perhaps. But aptly enough it is usually a messy affair with a shadow of pedals like dandruff downwind and blossoms sickly aged from white into browns and ashen grays. Instead, the blossoms came quickly but remained. A steady breeze removed any accumulation of fallen pedals and removed them from the trees as well so that it seemed the blossoms were changing from white to green rather than falling away.

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Photo by Roman.

Calling the two trees “stately” would be a bit premature, imho, but compared to when they were first planted! Well. One could hardly call them trees. “Bush on a stick” would better resemble them though sparrows were heard to opine that they preferred actual bushes, thank you. And they were not alone in their judgement. A variety of foraging creatures bemoaned the lack of canopy. Still, the two were sweet, never failing a spring blossom.

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Photo by Roman.

This could not be said of the three trees these two had replaced. The previous trees had been of some endemic weed species that had grown into a dangerous hatred of the pedestrian. They had the habit of dropping sometimes sizeable, earthshaking branches, for the surprise value it seemed. Trimming them didn’t help. Sooner or later they were going to score a hit. They had to go.

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Photo by Roman.

I suppose the weed trees added some excitement to life, but that isn’t why I was sorry to see them go. If I loved them, it was for their canopy. It offered some security to creatures making a living from foraging. It offered a place to rest for creatures passing through.

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Photo / graphic by Roman.

Once, with the weed trees, a bald eagle stopped for a spell. It surveyed the street below that held more than a couple of small dogs protected by their leashes. It let out a horrific screech that surely got my attention but was uniformly ignored by the dogs and their humans on the street. The squirrels were nowhere to be seen. I swear they had advance warning of the visit and disappeared some fifteen minutes prior.

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Photo / graphic by Roman.

So what was my point, anyway? I think it was to share this spring’s graceful beauty and the context that provided some particular flavoring. It seemed to last forever with an echo…


*”expect” of course is a typo but delicious enough that I’m keeping it, thank you.