2019 Table of Contents

Photo by Steve Owens.

With a good content management system like WordPress, doing a post like this is entirely not necessary. But the opportunity cost of messing around with templates was (temporarily) greater than the work in assembling this (cut and paste, mostly). I hope it’s useful and interesting.

An * indicates one of the top 13 requested posts. (There are only 12 as one was from 2018.)

Photo Wall

Video Wall

  • Street Musique — psychedelic animation from 1972: no CGI, but charming street buskers.
  • Bug Love — introducing Aaron Rodriques, the Bug Whisperer.
  • Nighthawk — animation that’s a bit too real; you’ll never drive again.
  • Going Down in Flames — we can only hope. Matt Farmer sings him out.
  • The World Below — time-lapse photography from the International Space Station.
  • Seaweed Sisters: Water Fountain — the Three Stooges of dance…
  • Rabbit and Deer — Abbott’s “Flatland” revisited as a very sweet animated relationship story.
  • Save Our Trolls — love ’em to death!
  • Max Headroom — the original British pilot… sort of a punk “Dr. Who”.
  • Trickster — Are you afraid of clowns? No? You will be.
  • The Centrifuge Brain Project — Perfect for Chicago’s Navy Pier…
  • The Emperor of Time — the strange and sordid tale of the man who accidentally invented movies.
  • Hinterland — A crow steals a bear’s iPod, which becomes a MacGuffin…
  • Union — about a one-legged man and a three-legged dog.
  • Wrong Path — so you’re tired of civilization, are you?
  • If You Can — a simple question. Saying more would be a spoiler.
  • Ace and the Desert Dog — can’t quite imagine a cat doing this…
  • The Artists — a mockumentary that rings a bit too true…
  • Bone Mother — it’s not nice to mess with Baba Yaga!
  • Revolver — a must see, but it’s not clear why.
  • Progress Bar — dating in the age of “artificial intelligence”.
  • If You Never Answered X — crime in the time of connectivity…
  • Franklin’s Brain — two losers, one meat and one silicon, confront their limitations.
  • Tornados of 2018 — Pecos Hank is one of my favorite storm videographers.
  • Savel — Somnia — a ritual dance to the laundry gods?
  • Out of a Forest — tragedy with a twist, but now you know where they come from.
  • TV Shreddin’ — aliens on skateboards.
  • Umbra — a short animation that is truly the stuff of “Twilight Zone”.
  • Hum — Remember vacuum tubes?
  • Fukushima Revisited — “National Geographic” provides a brief, smiley update eight years after.
  • Bed Wettin’ — a tribute to Ub Iwerks: 1930s style vaudeville animation.
  • The Trial — the trial goes on forever as a sort of drip torture: Kafka Lives!
  • Norilsk, Russia — Russians are batshit crazy… We have a lot in common.
  • Screwface — a look at London inner city culture that is every bit a part of Chicago culture, too.
  • Fishing with Spinoza — an uncle’s toe and the hunt for the great white sunfish.
  • The Echo of Time — don’t ask. Have an apple.
  • Future Echo — very nice drug paraphernalia.
  • A Brief History of Fat — and why I need to lose some; your fat, if any, is yours to own.
  • April Fools — gone full kitty cat.
  • Mars Habitat — Imagineering, with a few comments from me.
  • Mice in Space! — Really: on board the International Space Station. They seem to dig it.
  • Albatross Soup — This is rather like listening to This American Life or Radio Lab while on acid.
  • Until They Berry Me — a bad pun and restorative justice…
  • N’Djekoh — for Mothers’ Day…
  • My Home — for all those single moms out there whose children question their taste in men…
  • Solipsist — I guess… but it’s odd and pretty.
  • One Breath Around the World — Guillaume Nery dreams of swimming.
  • Tom Jones? — Pseudo-hippie mindless polyester blatherskite music, but I was charmed.
  • Sprites — for real…
  • Barnaby Dixon’s Bug Puppet — If you’re not hip to Dixon, this is a fun introduction. Puppet, dance and dog!
  • “For Hemma” — for me, this video had something of a mean girl vibe, but I like the dance.
  • Mask Off Presidents — I’m not wild about skate boarding videos nor about music videos, but…
  • Chroma Galaxies — colors and flows… great drug paraphernalia…
  • King Killian — A children’s tale with a mortal twist.
  • Rock & Roll — “This Is Spinal Tap” in less than a minute. (Hello Mick Jagger.)
  • Moth — Full screen and headphones recommended.
  • Omerta — froggy went a’courtin’ in this mash up of “Chicago”, Damon Runyon, Gene Kelly and more.
  • Plastic — a mannequin hopelessly in love with her shopkeeper… I think the Jefferson Airplane had a song about this.
  • 8 Bits — for proper appreciation, maybe you’d best be hip to gaming culture. I’m not hip, but this was still fun.
  • Thought of You — a sad and beautiful mix of dance, animation, music and lyrics.
  • Ephemere — praxis makes perfect? Evolution as paint on the wall? If at first…
  • Cómo Te Quiero — I hate music videos, but…
  • The Cathedral — I vaguely remember the short story. This video seems a better telling of the tale.
  • Breakfast — cyriak’s surrealism is the breakfast of champions.
  • Bless You — because when you sneeze, you expel your soul… so it’s said.
  • Negative Space — father-son bonding through… luggage.
  • Vorticity 2 — truly amazing storm photography from Mike Olbinski.
  • Singin’ in the Pond — a really nice animated musical number. With frogs. And newts. And true love.
  • Perk — the simple pleasures of an unemployed mine goblin.
  • Anonyme — the semiotics of clothing by an anarchist terrorist. Pretty cool. (The semiotics, that is.) Best viewed in full screen.
  • Server Room — remember Richard Brautigan?
  • Hugh the Hunter — How to describe this without being po-mo? Nah. Just watch it instead.
  • The Absence of Eddy Table — an animated romantic horror story.
  • Lazy Susan — I can relate to this…
  • Martha the Monster — if only it were this easy. Well done, though.
  • Freedom Is a Verb — thanks to Hugh Iglarsh for sharing.*
  • The Sea — an existential love story.
  • Greg — If this ever happens to you in the subway, call the station attendant first.
  • The Stained Club — inclusion, exclusion, identity…
  • Climate Strike 2019 — a brief commercial.
  • Slowly Rising — some animation that old Walt Disney could only have dreamed of. He probably did.
  • Mocean — video of the ocean as “never seen before.”
  • Movie Memories — a video collage of noir and thrillers.
  • The Weight — I mislike music videos, but one can always find exceptions, it seems.
  • Martinese — for eccentricity, they outdo any Brit.
  • Transient — amazing lightning, slo-mo.
  • Strictly Land-line, Myself — “Damn I Love This Friday Night” enriches my appreciation of being a geezer.
  • Playgrounds — suburban childhood at the dawn of the digital age.
  • The Art of the Storm — time-lapse of a stationary supercell… cool…
  • Chichi — “My dog has dreams and tells me about them. I make movies about those dreams.”
  • Gun Shop — making statements about guns without saying anything at all.
  • Lord Tahpot’s Comedy Minute — music by Danny Elfman!
  • Strike as Performance Art — who says picket lines can’t be fun?
  • And Now for an Artistic Interlude — plus some great stop-motion animation.
  • How About Some Nice, Fresh Epistemology? — Are you living in a simulation?
  • Kaiju Bunraku — the first “Mothra” film to make it to Sundance.
  • Maestro — So… you think you know the music of the forest? Just the right dosage of cute, IMHO.
  • Timelapse Tourism — featuring many of the places a tourist in Chicago might go.
  • The Lot — does for grocery stores what the movie “Office Space” did for tech start-ups.
  • Women & Power — Mary Beard gets the 2019 Getty Medal and reflects on the Classics and patriarchy.
  • Aliens — President Trump’s mouthing-off alienates some truly alien illegals, and then…
  • And, We Disappear — Afterlife? Circle of Life? It’s so pretty to think so…
  • The Tale of Hillbelly — … you are what you eat?
  • Sideshow — A story of love, clowns, dance and the Big Top.
  • A Bad Fall — with a twist.
  • Teeter See Totter Saw — alternating animators.
  • Home — and your answer to her question is… ?
  • Fraktaal — fantasy sci-fi without a story.
  • Culture Vulture? — a clever tale of a burglar who becomes what he eats.
  • Places in Time Chicago — timelapse video of downtown Chicago.
  • High Rider — going to work can be an adventure.
  • Beer — as performed by David Wayne Callahan.
  • A Night at the Garden — a bit of history we’d like to forget.
  • Piece of Chicago — a video collage.
  • The Shutdown — growing up next to a petrochemical plant.
  • Shaun Has Some Real Problems! — until he faces them.
  • Why Does Santa Like Rudolph? — get your mind out of the gutter; it’s not that!
  • Real Soon Now… — the latest dose of surrealism from Cyriak.





  • Occupy Me — a sci-fi thriller by Tricia Sullivan with some truly lovely writing.
  • The Boogeyman’s Intern — an engaging comic fantasy and mediation on pop culture by Matt Betts.
  • Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals — I watched it. That doesn’t mean you should, but if you do, I recommend whiskey.
  • Etch A Sketch — through March 2nd at the Harold Washington Library. But if you miss it, sample it here.
  • Outpost — the first book in W. Michael Gear’s “Donovan” series. Very good for what it is.
  • The Triplets of Belleville — A post by Roy Edroso reminded me of this film. You should see it.
  • The Wormwood Trilogy — or two thirds of it, anyway. Good Nigerian science fiction by Tade Thompson.
  • The History of SOUL 2065 — a delightful collection of short stories impersonating a novel.


Sunrise Y2K

Photo by Roman.

Remember all the predictions of disaster for the dawn of the year 2000? How delicious it was in anticipation, like creeping toward the summit of a roller coaster… Except it wasn’t even that. Were you disappointed when civilization didn’t end? Or even stumble?

Not me.

I’m not sure just when in 2000 this photo was taken or, more puzzling to me, where. Had you asked me a month or two ago, I would have said it was on my way to work in the early morning from a Red Line CTA train. Maybe it was. Or maybe it was on the Loop. Or maybe… I don’t know. What does come to mind with certainty was how grateful I was for tasks that yanked me out of the apartment so early that I would experience the emerging sunrise.

It was often overwhelming.

Unlike most of the “Y2K” software bugs.

The Virginian

Bob Roman’s notes on a novel.

Given that The Virginian by Owen Wister was a runaway best-seller way back in 1902 and has since been made into a play, four movies, a TV series, a TV movie, and a video: well, a review would be somewhat redundant. But here are some thoughts on the novel regardless. First of all, if I were writing a review, I would say: I like this book, in spite of myself, and you will too. Whether you like westerns or not, this is the one western that you ought to read. You can ignore all the others, if you wish, for this is the ur-western that distills all of that genre before and after. Voilà! My review. Now for the thoughts:

I picked up the book as part of my Geezer Downsizing Project and could not wait to re-read it. My particular copy is a paperback product of TOR, a publisher better known for its science fiction and fantasy titles. But the book is also in the public domain and is available online through Project Gutenberg for free.

When I first read the book some years ago, I was captivated within the first few pages. The story opens with the narrator on a train to Medicine Bow, Wyoming, just about to arrive there but parked just outside the station for the locomotive to take on water… already six hours behind schedule. This isn’t AMTRAK, friends, but “the more things change…”

Worse yet, when the narrator alights from the train, he discovers:

“My baggage was lost; it had not come on my train; it was adrift somewhere back in the two thousand miles that lay behind me. And by way of comfort, the baggage-man remarked that passengers often got astray from their trunks, but the trunks mostly found them after a while.”

If you have ever waited and waited with growing anxiety at an airport baggage claim, you can’t hardly not identify with this. “The more things change…”

I also looked forward to re-reading some very nice writing. Alas, most of it did not live up to my memory of the specific passages, though they were not bad, for example:

“…But I came upon him one morning in Colonel Cyrus Jones’s eating palace.

“Did you know the palace? It stood in Omaha, near the trains, and it was ten years old (which is middle-aged in Omaha) when I first saw it. It was a shell of wood, painted with golden emblems – the steamboat, the eagle, the Yosemite – and a live bear ate gratuities at its entrance. Weather permitting, it opened upon the world as a stage upon the audience. You sat in Omaha’s whole sight and dined, while Omaha’s dust came and settled upon the refreshments. It is gone the way of the Indian and the buffalo, for the West is growing old. You should have seen the palace and sat there. In front of you passed rainbows of men – Chinese, Indian chiefs, Africans, General Miles, younger sons, Austrian nobility, wide females in pink. Our continent drained prismatically through Omaha once.”

Or another example:

“…We descended in the chill silence, while the mushroom rocks grew far and the somber woods approached. By a stream we got off where two banks sheltered us; for a bleak wind cut down over the crags now and then, making the pines send out a great note through the basin, like breakers in a heavy sea.”

Wister wrote well enough in general, but there was far less writing of this quality in the book than I had remembered.

Wister constructed his story as a series of interlocked anecdotes, some humorous, some dramatic, some serve as parables for a sort of libertarianism. The humor tends to be very 19th Century. There are straight-faced reversals or understatements (e.g., “but the trunks mostly found them after a while.”) There are plenty of the 19th Century version of situation comedy, where the naive are hoodwinked or manipulated to other’s advantage. This manner of humor was Mark Twain’s forte, and Wister is not bad at it either. This is particularly interesting as, unlike Twain, Wister’s victims are typically folks from back East, newcomers to the West. Humor is sometimes used as a means of establishing hierarchy, and for Wister, east of the Mississippi, or maybe even the Missouri, is clearly inferior.

Wister’s libertarianism is mostly unexceptional minarchist. I don’t mean to be all Marxian here, but that is hardly surprising. Wister came from an upper middle class family in Philadelphia with all manner of connections. Notably, Teddy Roosevelt was a buddy. That may not sound very “libertarian” except in the most general way, but Wister was also no friend of Franklin Roosevelt or the New Deal later on.

Wister’s friendship with Teddy Roosevelt also speaks to a particular aspect of Wister’s philosophy. Wister shared with Roosevelt a view that “a new “American race” (ethnic group) had emerged from the heroic wilderness hunters and Indian fighters, acting on the frontier with little government help.” (Wikipedia)

Wister links this with a favorite libertarian trope, merit. He has the Virginian himself ruminate:

“…But if you go to try a thing on in this Western country, you’ve got to do it well. You’ve got to deal cyards well; you’ve got to steal well; and if you claim to be quick with your gun, you must be quick, for you’re a public temptation and some man will not resist trying to prove he is the quicker. You must break all the Commandments well in this Western country…”

And it stands to reason, I suppose, that natural selection will therefore make us great. It’s still a common enough notion: Consider all the present day dreary troll comments about “cleaning the gene pool.” Merit continues to have a vise grip on the American culture, and I suppose that would not be such a bad thing except that it is so easy to ignore just how slippery and self-serving a concept it can be in practice.

You know, it’s probably a mistake to describe natural selection as “survival of the fittest.” Stated that way, survival sounds very much like a reward for merit, a prize for “fitness.” In truth, survival defines fitness and doesn’t give a rat’s ass about merit. The race as often goes to the faster rather than the fastest.

But Wister is really pretty militant about this. Earlier in the book, he has the narrator spout off:

“All America is divided into two classes – the quality and the equality. The latter will always recognize the former when mistaken for it. Both will be with us until our women bear nothing but kings.

“It was through the Declaration of Independence that we Americans acknowledged the eternal inequality of man. For by it we abolished cut-and-dried aristocracy. We had seen little men artificially held up in high places, and great men artificially held down in low places, and our own justice-loving hearts abhorred this violence to human nature. Therefore, we decreed that every man should thenceforth have equal liberty to find his own level. By this very decree we acknowledged and gave freedom to true aristocracy, saying “Let the best man win, whoever he is.” Let the best man win! That is America’s word. That is true democracy. And true democracy and true aristocracy are one and the same…”

Now stop and think about all the different ways in which people use the term “democracy.” If you have any sense, you’ll not ever again assume that “democracy” means what you might think it does unless the person using the term elaborates. Democracy is, to be philosophical about it, a “contested concept,” meaning very different things depending on context, including the identity of the person using it.

It’s fortunate that Wister doesn’t rant like this very often or for very long… unlike like some books… Atlas Shrugged, for example. But another unfortunate and lengthy exposition concerns lynching. Well, it couldn’t be a western without a necktie party, could it? The issue surely touches a nerve for Wister.

The individuals lynched in the novel are cattle rustlers and horse thieves. The lynching in The Virginian sets up a series of conflicts, dramas, in the last third of the book. One of the prime organizers of the necktie party was the Virginian himself and one of the individuals lynched was the Virginian’s erstwhile best friend. Oh woe! It also sets up a conflict between the Virginian and the woman he seeks to wed. She’s the town’s school teacher and a New England Yankee to boot. The necessity of this murder escapes her, of course, and the Virginian’s employer, Judge Henry, must justify it to her in the Virginian’s absence and explain how it is not at all anything like a lynching in the South. Henry explains:

“…I see no likeness in principle whatever between burning Southern negroes in public and hanging Wyoming horse-thieves in private. I consider the burning a proof that the South is barbarous, and the hanging a proof that Wyoming is determined to become civilized. We do not torture our criminals when we lynch them. We do not invite spectators to enjoy their death agony…”

Even granting Judge’s point, this isn’t quite enough for Miss Molly the school-marm: “Both defy law and order.”

Judge Henry replies that the government, including the courts, derive their authority from individual citizens. When the courts, in particular the juries, are incapable of holding horse-thieves accountable, why then:

“…he must take justice back into his own hands where it was once at the beginning of all things. Call this primitive, if you will. But so far from being a defiance of the law, it is an assertion of it – the fundamental assertion of self-governing men, upon whom our whole social fabric is based.”

One step further and you’ve become a member of the “sovereign citizen” movement. But really, just how different is this from Southern lynching? Consider this apology for the KKK published in the New York World:

“It may not be amiss to give here a short sketch of the celebrated Ku-Klux Klan, which has recently become such a bug-bear to Radical papers and politicians. The fraternity originated in East Tennessee, where the conquered rebels, finding themselves subjected to violence and oppression, and unprotected in person, life, or property by the established authorities, resolved to take the law into their own hands, and redress their own wrongs.” New York World, Wednesday, January 13, 1869, Page 10

It’s much the same argument, Judge Henry.

Oh, and that gift of privacy so nobly granted the Wyoming victims? There’s a story to that as well, involving some of Wister’s buddies, that really makes “privacy” seem more than a little self-serving.

The theft of horses and beeves was a real problem in Montana and Wyoming in the late 1870s and 1880s It was a major item on the agenda of the 1884 meeting of the Montana Stock Growers Association. The Association was led by a “soft spoken gentleman from Virginia, Granville Stuart.” When the meeting discussed the problem, Teddy Roosevelt, then a rancher himself, was in favor of a frontal assault on the miscreants wherever they gathered. Teddy had visions of charging San Juan Hill even then, apparently. The meeting very sensibly turned down Teddy’s fantasy on the grounds of really poor optics, possible casualties among the “good guys” and possible criminal liabilities. (So much for the feeble state, Judge Henry!)

But as Dee Brown describes it in The American West:

“…As soon as the spring roundup was ended, he [Stuart] called a meeting of fourteen of the most closed-mouthed cattlemen in the Northwest. They met secretly at his ranch, and called themselves the Vigilance Committee.

“In a few weeks they were known as Stuart’s Stranglers. The Stranglers worked methodically. When a stock thief became known, he was tracked down, captured, and quietly hanged. A simple placard labeled “Horse Thief” or “Cattle Thief” was always left fastened to each victim’s clothes. The Northwestern newspapers, aware of what was happening, kept almost as silent as the Stranglers. The Mineral Argus of Maiden, Montana, commented laconically: ‘Eastern Montana is rapidly reducing the number of horse thieves.’” (page 327)

One is tempted to think that Granville Stuart was a partial model for Wister’s Virginian. Not being a scholar, I haven’t explored the issue.

Judge Henry might protest that Western lynching was still different because Southern lynching was aimed at keeping negroes in their place. He might go on to mutter something about “natural law.” Well, being a fictional character, we might have Judge Henry say anything at all. But keeping a group in its place was likely one of the aims of the Stranglers as well.

Owen Wister’s introduction to my edition of The Virginian is basically a long homage to the cowboy, that seed crystal of the “new American race.” But cowboys were agricultural labor. They were disposable people, not quite to the degree that B. Traven’s Indians were in March to the Monteria because (typically) the social distance between employer and employee was far less in the West. But it is interesting that the stereotypical cowboy end of trail blowout is awfully similar to the end of contract behavior described by Traven. And in both instances, it left the worker in a position where going back to the boss with hat in hand was the easier option.

Prior to the barbed wire fencing of the Plains, entry into the cattle industry was easy enough to be at least plausible to a cowboy. Horses and beeves loose and unbranded on the range were fair game to be claimed by anyone who rounded them up. And it should be noted that “legit” ranching operations were not always above a little pilfering, brand smudging and cattle laundering. The line between “good guys” and “bad” was exceedingly broad and fuzzy.

But short of any aspirations, cowboys were simply semi-skilled farm hands. As Mark A. Lause described it in his article “The Cowboy Class Wars”:

“Cowboys only had real power during the spring cattle drive, that fleeting moment when employers desperately need labor, and quickly: ranches couldn’t find qualified replacements on such short notice. If the cowboys stuck together, they could impose their terms. But the longer the strike lasted, the more precarious their position would become.

“As migratory workers, cowboys followed the work where it took them and carried their experience and ideas with them. From 1884 to 1886, they went on strike from New Mexico to Wyoming. Employers used everything from blacklisting to armed regulators to try to control their workforce.”

The fencing of the Plains reduced the cowboy’s bargaining position, eliminating that strategic moment of employer need, while at the same time radically reducing the need for labor. Given the customarily loose lines around property and the increasingly uncertain prospects for cowboy employment, Mr. Stuart and Mr. Roosevelt wouldn’t miss a few head of cattle, would they?* Apparently they would, but apparently most juries out West in the 1880s were not impressed enough to convict.

Did Stuart’s Stranglers murder thieves or troublemakers? As no one kept a complete list, never mind body count of victims, it could easily have been both.** Regardless, as Clyde Milner II and Carol O’Connor note in As Big as the West, their biography of Stuart:

“…In terms of the horse thieves, the Stranglers targeted a lower-class, indeed a working-class population. Some of these people were mixed-race, and they might live near criminals, shelter criminals, or even be criminals. It little mattered. The Stranglers rode for the largest cattle owners and thus represented the forces of social and business domination. They served as killers for the landed gentry and their capitalist partners…”

As such, the Stranglers were not that different than the KKK or the Mississippi White Citizens Councils or the Vigilance Committees of various California cities or today’s border patrols and “militia movements.” Welcome to the grand American tradition of death squads.

History, it is said, is written by the victors, and The Virginian is Owen Wister’s contribution to our country’s mythology. It is a fantasy that enthralls much of America even today: the little man made big by a gun, the “justice” of stand your ground, the plain and forthright meaning of being a man, the self-righteous and self-serving hegemony of mob violence. By golly, who wouldn’t yearn for the collapse of civilization just so you could build your own little dukedom on the range?

Sorry. I’d just as soon leave it to fantasy. And so should you.

* Incidentally, agricultural theft is still an issue though more concentrated on high value crops. You may have seen news reports about avocados, for example, or various nut crops. One can easily imagine this becoming more of a problem as the century progresses, with maybe a return to vigilantism? That would be a very bad leading indicator.

** The Knights of Labor did organize cowboys, but the accounts I’ve run across are down Texas way. In Montana, the Knights seem to have been mostly involved with the mining industry, most especially around Butte. As Milner and O’Connor suggest, thieves (loosely defined as any suspicious and marginal character regardless of evidence) may have been the Strangler’s first objective in a longer game of hegemony, right when the insurgent Populist movement was just beginning to smolder. There were, incidentally, any number of vigilance committees aimed at horse thieves who, rather than lynching them, were perfectly happy to turn their victims over to law enforcement for trial.


Photo by Roman.

As I noted in a previous posting, Tuesdays are laundry days for me. One of my idle amusements is to see if I can get all three washers to drain at the same time. Two drain into one tub and the last drains into the foreground tub. I can report nearly perfect success. The last washer was a bit behind in starting to drain into the foreground tub. It’s just as well. Had I gotten it perfect, there may have been a mess on the floor. The two tubs are actually capable of handling all three washers at once, but on this day the drains were mildly clogged.

Blessed are the easily amused as they will never suffer boredom.


My id, as mediated by my ego, presented to you by my super-ego.

“Everybody’s playing happy Freud…”*

Yes, that is my old college ID card. At that time at that particular school, many dormitory floors were fairly well organized. 2nd South, the “Dope Pedalers” (a tricycle racing team), had a variety of university jobs available (patronage, in a sense, a great Chicago tradition), including making ID cards during Registration at the start of each semester. That’s how I got away with this one.

I never got carded twice…

We even had our own t-shirts, made by stencilling, IIRC. Much to my amazement, I still have one and it was easy to find.

* Lyrics from a song by the Nice.

The More Things Change

As part of my Geezer Downsizing Project, I’ve been trading books from my library, unlikely to be re-read or referred to, for books I’ve not yet read, would like to re-read or would like to have for reference. One recent acquisition for re-reading is a “Harvard Classics” edition of Richard Henry Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast. I recalled it being a good read. It also had some delicious writing.

For those unacquainted with the book, it is a memoir by Dana of his two years of employment as a merchant sailor in the 1830s. The ship he crewed was bound for California with merchandise to trade for hides, mostly. This was long before the Panama Canal, before the gold rush, back when “Alta California” was a province of Mexico. It was a potentially an open-ended voyage, as the trading was pretty much a retail operation involving stops and extended stays at harbors up and down the California coast as far north as what is now San Francisco.

The book, in its time, was sort of a 19th Century version of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, in that it drew attention to less than savory practices in a particular industry, giving ammunition to those advocating reforms. It was also notable as being one of the few English language accounts of California available in the States when gold was discovered in California: instant best-seller.

Dana had dropped out of Harvard to make this journey, amazingly enough for his health. Measles had trashed his eye-sight, leaving him unable to study. Possibly getting away from books for a while would improve matters? Apparently it did, as Dana eventually became a distinguished lawyer rather than a career sailor.

The issues of class and social control are unintended subtexts for the book. For example, Dana could not remain out of Harvard indefinitely if he wanted to resume his studies. But returning to Massachusetts in time involved transferring to a different ship and that required trading on his middle and upper class connections (social capital) in a way unavailable to his crew mates. (The owners even paid him the wages his captain said would be docked.) At the same time, his survival depended on a degree of solidarity with his crew mates that would have made Marx and Engels smile and nod.

There is much more to be said about crew interactions, Dana’s attitude toward it, what he tells and what he leaves out, but that is not what I wanted to write about.

I wanted to write a short note about California’s “car culture,” the way the stereotypical Californian depends upon the automobile to go anywhere. In many ways, the “car culture” is a mid-20th Century phenomenon, but here is what Dana had to say about his first visit to Monterey:

“…Horses are as abundant here as dogs and chickens… They can hardly go from one house to another without getting on a horse, there being generally several standing tied to the door-posts of the little cottages. When they wish to show their activity, they make no use of their stirrups in mounting, but striking the horse, spring into the saddle as he starts, and sticking their long spurs into him, go off on the full run…”

Maybe James Dean would have felt quite at home with that, yes? The more things change…

This illustration was NOT in the Harvard Classics edition. But Dana says the crew were somewhat bemused by the prospect of carrying hides on their heads, exactly the reaction I still get when I carry heavy, awkward loads on MY head.

Fall Prairie

Photo by Roman, taken at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Having been an urban dweller all my life, I hadn’t realized that the prairie also turns color in the Fall. This was a delight to discover, and so the Chicago Botanic Garden’s restored prairie is a must see each time I visit.

It was a visit to Matthiessen State Park in Illinois one Fall that taught me the colors of the prairie. I was acquainted with the park by its older name, Deer Park, as it had been a regular summer visit during my childhood. At that time, it was mostly a smaller version of Starved Rock State Park, which it is very near though on a different river: all grotto, ravine and forest. Sometime later, it was expanded to include a neighboring farm that was restored to prairie. I first visited the prairie one Fall in the late 1970s with a girl friend and her near-kindergarten aged son.

Her son was none too keen on hiking, and when he became tired, like most kids his age, he began to lose control. We responded by telling him that whenever he needed to rest, we’d stop. He was as fascinated by this newly discovered power as I was by the prairie in all its Fall colors. We ended up hiking a long distance. It was win-win as he got a ride on my shoulders part of the way back.

Unfortunately, the relationship between his Mom and I did not default to friendship at the end, so my knowledge of their stories ends decades ago. I like to think they’ve done well, but I’m content with the memory and enriched by the colors of a prairie Fall.

Tuesday Is Laundry Day

Well, traditionally here in the Midwest it’s been Monday. But for me, it’s become Tuesday. Despite shopping at thrift stores, I’ve a limited wardrobe so a week is about my limit.

So. Rise and shine for a chore that’s become synonymous with life: laundry!

See? It’s not so bad.

Wake up! It’s a beautiful day, even from the laundry room. Photo by Roman
Photo by Roman.
Regressing to my inner five year old civil engineer, it was always a challenge to coordinate the washers so that one of the two sinks would overflow. Photo by Roman.
But bubbles are nearly always cool to look at. Photo by Roman.
I’m a guy, so of course this reminds me of… Photo by Roman.
Photo by Roman.
Older lighting. Photo by Roman.
Modern lighting. Photo by Roman.
We’re all done! Photo by Roman.

Sufficient unto the day is the hemorrhoid therein.

by Bob Roman

Uh-oh. Suits. They’re gathered on the sidewalk outside the courtyard like a murder of crows waiting on carrion. They nervously flick the screens of their smart phones in boredom’s routine denial. Ah! There he is. One of the management company’s factotums is walking up to join them.

These suits do not look like public employees. It’s not a team of building inspectors. No, they are most certainly here on private business and for a tenant that is not likely to be good news. It’s no use asking, I know. Any question would return a tight smile with at best a generic pleasantry: Good morning… And that’s what I do: smile, wave and walk on.

A few weeks later, the next few pebbles role down the slope. In the entrance foyer, management has posted a notice: on Monday and Tuesday, a team of architects will be visiting each apartment to make measurements to update the building’s architectural plans.

Oh Lord, am I to be condo-ed again? That’s not a certainty, mind you. But the building ownership must be at least toying with ideas and plans otherwise why spend money on drawings? Some building permits require architectural plans and condominiums is the most obvious conclusion to jump to.

The day arrives and along about Noon the factotum appears with a young, sharp-faced fellow equipped with a clipboard and a laser measuring device. It’s not exactly a team of architects but the laser instead of a tape measure could count for maybe three.

As expected, the factotum toes the company line: “Nobody tells me anything. Your guess is as good as mine. When is your lease up?”

The architect is a bit more forthcoming than maybe wise. He smiles and nods at the suggestion that I plan on moving next year. But beyond the task at hand, he doesn’t actually say anything. It turns out that someone put together a set of drawings for the building a quarter century ago but neglected to include actual dimensions for the apartments. His task is to assemble the drawings and update them with dimensions.

It’s not quite as straightforward as it might seem. The apartments resemble jigsaw tiles that bend around each other in something of a maze of wings and stairwells. The basement even has signs pointing the way to different apartment numbers. They’re necessary. It wouldn’t do to have lost tenants wandering the subterranean passages.

Looking back at my experience with building conversions, I suggest to the architect that permits might take six to eight months? Well, he allows, at least three.

The factotum chimes in with: “If you have to move, let me know. We have other properties.”

That’s nice.

I had hoped to stay here another two years but maybe it’s just as well. Let’s move while I’m relatively lively and resourceful. In the meantime, moving expenses will be an item in next year’s budget and I’ll speed up my geezer downsizing project.

But right now I have dishes to do.


You know… I’m a old guy, proudly a geezer. Even though there are many who hate the term “geezer,” finding it demeaning or perhaps disquieting, yet that’s who I am, a geezer. After all, my fellow humans won’t forget it or ignore it and quite frankly, who am I to argue with consensus or age? In fact, it’s gotten to the point where much of the advertising aimed at my age group has become downright irritating; these people are too damned young and healthy! I’m even pleased to accept a seat on the train or a discount on a meal of fast “food.”

That’s only half of it. Photo by Roman.

So… some months ago, I looked around my apartment and what did I see? Stuff. Stuff. And more stuff. A lot of it books, over two dozen shelves worth. And the truth is: A large percentage of those books will never be re-read or be consulted by me even if, as of today, my life is only half over. Why are they here? The space they take is not, perhaps, so valuable, but sooner or later I will move; should I die here, it will be entirely involuntary. But movers charge for moving stuff, regardless of its utility, and given that Social Security only pays the rent, any place I move to is almost guaranteed to be smaller.

Unfortunately, books as an investment mostly depreciate. The Chicago Public Library has given up on charging overdue fees, and quite frankly, it’s not that hard to walk out of the Harold Washington library downtown without having checked out the books you’re leaving with. (I do not steal from libraries. People who do should be executed, cruelly and unusually.) There are warehouses that sell books as interior decorations. There are used book stores that buy and sell books by weight. Rogers Park once had several used book stores. It now has but one, The Armadillo’s Pillow, and they no longer buy books though they will take books in trade or sometimes on consignment.

Trading books turns out to be a perfectly good deal for me: disposing of books I’ll not use again for books I’ve not yet read or want to re-read, and fewer of them. Actually selling used books, apart from select items, is an exercise in time, patience and sub-minimum wage. At this stage of the process, I’m happy to be swapping books.

First wave of books to be traded. Photo by Roman.

So let me recommend to you The Armadillo’s Pillow. It’s a snug and friendly establishment, as comfortable as an old slipper, one of those places where you’ll most certainly find what it was you hadn’t been looking for.

Plus they need to sell my books.