The Landlord

The management company decreed that there should be an inspection of all the units in the building, just the safety appliances you understand, just a moment of your time, you need not even be home and truly we’d rather you were not. And so it was that I was home to receive that knock at the door for that brief inspection, truly brief, no longer than a rectal exam but alas even less pleasant…

I exaggerate.*

Yet it did leave me feeling rather venomous toward the company and that brought to mind a long gone poetry ‘zine that I had subscribed to back in the day when I had hallucinatory aspirations to be a poet. I saved it for this poem by the late John Dickson. I saved it for just an occasion like this. I should have saved it with the aspiration to write as well as this:

From “Poetry &”, December 1976, scanned by Roman.

Poetry & was edited by JoAnn Castagna. It was printed on newsprint and folded to letter size, an inexpensive way of printing a larger press run. I can imagine distribution being something more than a chore. In any case, I don’t recall the ‘zine lasting much beyond Volume 1.

Voilà. With this post, I’ve had a revenge of sorts, the best kind: mostly imaginary.

* Also, it was as much me as them. Regardless, Dickson’s poem addresses, in a general way, the relations involved.

Yip Abides in 2020

the ghost of 2020 reaches out…

Here lies buried in 2020 the content of this here blog for that year. By category in reverse chronological order:


Photo Wall

Video Wall





Meet the New Year…
Same as the Old Year.


i beg your pardon whilst i become slightly more improbable…

Bob Roman and Suzanne Zumstein, December, 2003. Photo by William Zumstein.

I lost my sister this month. She was nine years older than I and had been diagnosed with ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis… essentially a death sentence diagnosis so it was not unexpected. It’s one of those mid-range horrible ways to go.

We were not close, not for the past several decades. This was entirely my fault though it was neglect not hostility. On the other hand, Suzanne was often understandably more than irritated about my failure to be a brother. Though we did have our moments. Still, she deserved a better little brother than I. And still,  for all that we did no more than talk on the phone occasionally, I miss her.

Funny thing about that photo. I somehow always remember her as taller than me.

An Old Soul…

Begins to Resemble a Ficus.

Do us the favor of moving us into a sunny corner from the neglected shade, and we return the favor by losing more leaves. No… get away from me with that watering can. I’m near enough to drowning as it is.

But that was almost my reaction to an email received last week announcing laundry utopia!! Put away those quarters: Now you can (you must) use a chipped debit or credit card. You can also use your phone by downloading this handy app that will even inform you when the machine is done. And, oh yes… lest we forget… the price of a washer or dryer, once a dollar, is now $1.75.

Well heck. It’s been a dollar for at least a dozen years.*

Even so, anxiety is an interesting reaction to this. It was accompanied by a deep feeling of alienation, almost disembodiment; I’ve never before felt (even temporarily) so elderly and disconnected.

Some of this is simply the new payment modes. And that may be more symbolic than anything else. After all, a currency-less economy has been creeping up on us all my life. Public transit excepted, I’ve never become accustomed to charging small amounts on plastic. It’s a pain in the butt to keep track of, there are security issues, and somehow it doesn’t seem like money. Still, it’s not something new. For the past several years, it’s not been unusual for me to spend less than $20 in cash over a month, apart from laundry. But just for that moment while reading the email, the situation seemed deeply alien.**

The other part is to wonder, if this doesn’t work, am I still physically able to schlep a week’s washing the half-mile or so to the laundromat? (Yeah, probably, if I get a cart. Bloody inconvenient. And preferably put-off until after the plague.)

This week’s washing went okay. Both the old and the new machines are “Speed Queen” brand. The new equipment is slightly smaller than the old but not enough to make much of a difference. The new washers worked not quite as well as the old (design compromises re: energy and water efficiencies, I think, and not unexpected) while the new dryers were a definite improvement, including a feature to purchase an extra ten minutes for twenty-five cents (pricing bound by now useless quarters). It’ll be interesting to see how this all gets listed on my credit card bill, especially as no receipts are provided. I also see some possibilities for overflowing the laundry tubs, if I can get all three washers working in phase.

* Did you catch this? It’s really the most interesting part of the whole story. The seventy-five cent increase is outrageous, of course. If the price followed the urban consumer price index from September of 2008, it should have been an increase closer to twenty-five cents. But in this digital age, why should we be bound by quarters? A simple inflation adjustment would only be an increase of nineteen cents. But not only was the laundry management greedy with an increase of four times that, they were also bound by quarters.

** Just to rub it in, there is this story posted on October 28 by Almaz Kumenov at eurasianet:

A technical failure suffered by a popular payment service in Kazakhstan momentarily caused headaches for retailers and consumers alike, while showing at the same time how much the population has come to embrace non-cash transactions.

Users of the Kaspi mobile application noticed the trouble on the morning of October 28, when they were unable to withdraw money, make payments or top up their accounts.

It would have gone mostly unnoticed if this had been a glitch at a regular bank – those happen all the time in Kazakhstan. But this is a service that around one-third of the population uses regularly.

As has become customary, flustered Kaspi users took to social media to vent. Some posted pictures showing ATM screens showing unimaginably large tenge figures, running into the trillions. (One million Kazakh tenge currently buy around $2,300). Others complained they were unable to pay for taxi rides or for their groceries. On a lighter note, one meme showing a group of hapless cavepeople without Kaspi did the rounds to illustrate just how much Kazakhs have come to rely on their beloved cash apps and cards.



[1970 anti-war meeting at the University of Illinois at Chicago, photographer unknown, scanned from a print in my possession.]

For geezers much like myself, the covid lockdown is still pretty much in place. I spend a lot of time, days on end, at home. Far too much of that time has been spent as a couch potato in front of this computer screen, though in fact I’ve not owned a couch for at least a few decades. Whatever. Somewhat less time has been occupied by re-reading books from my own library. (The Chicago Public Library has reopened but in an understandably not-so-user-friendly format.) I find the non-fiction to be more engaging.

Right now, I’m re-reading Garry Wills’ Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man. The dust jacket bills it as a “study of Richard Nixon and a deeply troubled America.” This was originally published in 1969, and neither Wills nor anyone else really knew how the next several years would work out, but it was pretty commonly felt to be a time of crisis (for the United States but also for much of the world) not unlike this time of Trump.

I don’t mean this to be a review of the book but maybe something of a reminder about our history.

Wills is at his strongest as an observer and describer. As a political analyst, he mostly reflects the commentariat of the time: the “politics of resentment” for example. It’s an individualistic, psychological approach, so it should be no surprise that Wills began his career as a public intellectual as a conservative. Covering the civil rights movement of the time moved him to the political center, at least, though a 21st Century conservative might consider him a flaming lefty. That said, for all those who feel that 2020 U.S.A. has become a strange, foreign land, it’s a worthwhile to pause to read chapter 2 of part I: “The Center Cannot Hold.” It begins:

“There was a sense everywhere, in 1968, that things were giving. That man had not merely lost control of his history, but might never regain it. That palliatives would not serve, and nothing but palliatives could be found… The cities were in danger, and the college campuses, and the public schools.

“And the President. Lyndon Johnson traveled nowhere, toward the end, for fear. He was allowed to run out his term because he had, in effect, abdicated. It was the year of the Secret Service men, their faces variously angled out across the crowd as it faced in, each trained pair of eyes raking an assigned arc. A time of mutual surveillance, when those of different races, when young and old, when policemen and ordinary citizens passed, if possible, on opposite sides of the street, warily; or — too late to cross over — went by each other with eyes down. A time of locking up and closing in, of “How to Defend Yourself.” Michigan housewives pushing baby buggies down to the pistol range for practice.”

Wills goes on to describe George Wallace’s independent campaign for President as “a weird ‘third party’ — no party at all. It lacked platform, personnel, history, future, or program. It was a one-man phenomenon… Wallace offered neither palliative nor real cure; just a chance to scream into the darkness.” Wills asserts that a “nihilist vote is something new in America, the home of the boosters.” I’m not convinced that was true even then. Any political system that customarily presents the electorate with just two viable choices will have “kick the bums out” as a major motivation for voters. That’s not a form of nihilism?

Well, okay, creeping nihilism perhaps. Wills goes on to write:

“…In 1964, many thought it shocking that, at the Republican Convention, delegates turned to the press booths  and shook their fists in anger after Eisenhower’s criticism of reporters. But by the 1968 convention, cops beat newsmen and broke their cameras… Meanwhile, newsmen who followed Wallace said they felt like patsies, straight men for the candidate’s act, so much did he use them to elicit boos and jeers from his crowds. Spiro Agnew got a similar response when he held up a copy of the New York Times and mocked it.”

It was all so very familiar and far more violent than today, including state-sponsored terrorism in places. And there were periods of U.S. history that were so much worse.

Having said that (and yes, I also said that back in the 1970s), one uses the past as a template for the present and the future only at a pretty fair risk. 2020 is not 1968 nor is it the 1933 Weimar Republic. Crisis? We may be standing in the middle of one, but it’s our crisis not the demons of the past come to do battle. History rarely really repeats itself. It may have rhythm. It may rhyme. Just what that means is irrelevant except to invoke a vision of parading historical actors, ranks hands in hands, marching down the avenue (This is Chicago. It’s an avenue.) on trochees and iambs.

Google Books has 60 pages of Nixon Agonistes available as a “preview” so you may be able to read the chapter if you wish.

On the other hand, if music is more your thing then here is “John Flip Lockup” by the Daughters of Albion, a bit of cultural commentary from that same time that is every bit as apt as anything Wills ever wrote about it:

Tornado and Derecho!

You may have heard that, as part of the derecho that passed through Illinois on Monday 08/10/2020, a tornado also passed through the Rogers Park neighborhood. A very few of you may have also wondered if I made it through unscathed.

I did. In fact, despite the civil defense sirens blowing, I didn’t realize there had actually been a tornado until the next morning. The Weather Bureau in Chicago had tornado warned part of the derecho traversing Chicago’s north side, but the box seemed to end a few blocks south of my apartment. The tornado ended up passing just a few blocks north of my apartment. The wind was pretty lively for a time outside my window, but it seemed like the straight line wind typical of a derecho. And I’ve seen more intense and damaging (window breakage) winds in the courtyard than Monday’s. While the rain was pretty heavy, it was accompanied by only a brief scattering of light hail.

To be fair, on Monday NOAA also wasn’t entirely sure there had been a tornado. There are, however, videos showing rotating debris, and Tuesday morning saw a helicopter documenting wind damage. This brief video by local resident Nathan Pierre shows the tornado entering Lake Michigan and becoming a water spout is way cool, however:

The only storm chaser in Illinois that I follow is Andrew Pritchard. I like him because he generally explains what he’s doing and why; in other words, his work is not just spectacle but educational. He’s based down in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, but he chased the storm as far north as Yorkville (not far from my old home town). Here is his account:

As spectacular as these scenes from Illinois may be, the storm was actually worse in Iowa, with winds upwards of 100 mph. It had faded considerably by the time it reached Chicago!

The Wreckage of Agathon

Photo by Roman.

“The Wreckage of Agathon” was the title of a book by the late John Gardner, published back in 1970. I haven’t re-read the book this century though it and “Grendel” were the two of his novels that I really liked. I thought it was an apt title for this picturesque melted candle, though the photo’s connection with the book is tangential. The book’s back cover blurb begins: “2500 years ago the philosopher Agathon, a cross between the Marx Brothers and Socrates, was thrown into prison for loudly, rudely and wisely protesting Lykourgos’ fanatical policy of law and order in Sparta.” So, the association of marble ruins, ruined Agathon, ruined (or at least exhausted) candle sort of by-passes the meat of the novel which is more about complicity and its consequences. (Cold-war liberalism then, but it could apply to libertarians & conservatives in the Trump administration today.)

The candle was a too cute present (Christmas, I think) from two erstwhile friends, persons I loved very much. It was a flattering wax caricature of a hippie wizard, complete with a little hole with which to mount a doobie between his lips. Just as time has its way with people, the Chicago summers had its way with the candle. So when I needed a candle this past month, it was with sadness and anticipation that I lit the wizard’s head — Salute! my old friends.

The candle had been the creation of an artisan who also signed it. I’m sure she anticipated it becoming a beautiful ruin. Too many sketchy people have anticipated beautiful ruins for me to endorse the idea, but I am pleased that it more or less came to pass.

The Guardian

the power of magical thinking…

Photos by Roman.

It was, perhaps, nothing more than a cheaply mass-produced tchotchke, a bauble for the tourist trade. It was also the sole item remaining from the possessions left by the previous tenant in a previous apartment. For some reason, the building factotum had not thrown it away or squirrelled it in some musty basement hoard. Weird enough to catch my attention, it had a certain ominous charisma to it, something more than tourist bait ought to have.

What to do with it? Disposing of it into the trash seemed somehow unwise, fraught with unlucky consequences. Then I was inspired: set it facing outwards.

And so I did. When I moved, I set it up at the new place, too.

Mayan? Pre-Inca Andean? I don’t know what this bit of tourist bait is intended to represent, but it has a certain ominous charm to it. Photo by Roman.


Toward the end of May, I posted a longish note pissing and moaning about my housing prospects for the coming year. There’s good news and bad news. The good news is that management proposed a reasonable deal and the bad news is that a reasonable deal is not, for me, sustainable. Nonetheless, it’s less than the opportunity costs associated with moving, so here I stay.

Based on their advertising, I had anticipated the new rent to be about 122% of my present rent, right about the amount where I might be able to find a new place of similar size* where the lower rate would pay for the move over maybe two years. There’s lots of ifs there. But management proposed a new rent of only 104.5% of my current rent, bringing the charges up to the lower mid-range for the neighborhood. The property manager was no better at negotiating than I am; he sounded so relieved when I indicated I was interested.

I should check their web site to see if they’ve come down in price there as well or if they’re rationalizing this as an “unimproved” unit.

Still, “the large print giveth and the small print taketh away;” I wanted to read the rental contract first. It was pretty much the usual: The tenant has no rights beyond what the law demands we recognize and we don’t admit to recognizing all of those rights either unless we’re dragged into court where we’ll also try to collect all our legal expenses from you whether we win or we lose. I don’t believe I’ve ever signed a lease that offered anything different. I trusted the previous management company more than these folks but the previous company was, in fact, somewhat more obnoxious with their leases.

So this is not a sustainable deal. It won’t do in the long term and even the medium term demands action. The new rent means that nearly all of my income goes to rent, even factoring in this year’s virus money. But I’m a geezer. “Long term” may easily have a somewhat different meaning to me than to you.

* A smaller studio apartment might pay off the moving expenses sooner, but I’m still encumbered by too much stuff to actually fit into one. Maybe next year.