Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Verbal patterns feel so good in our mouths that we are compelled to repeat them, over and over. Our tongues relish pulling back and pursing our cheeks as we bring the sound forward to our lips and say “good to go.” Vocal fingerprints, unlike those on our hands, are utterly transferable and sharable and spread like bacteria from one mouth to another, until we are all so infected with a catch phrase that we don’t know we have it anymore.

A few years ago, I became “Queer Eye” inundated and started saying “Fabulous!” as a joke, rolling my eyes and flopping my hand to show how funny I was. But too many repetitions turned “Fabulous!” into an actual verbal pattern—I couldn’t stop saying it!

I’d say “Fabulous!” then say, “Oh god, I said it again, just fabulous. Oh no! In trying not to say ‘Fabulous!’ I said ‘fabulous!’ This is horrible. Fabulous. See?”

It was a terrible, confusing time for me. Matthew reassured me, saying, “You’re thinking about it too much. If you quit thinking about the word so much it will go away.”

But it wouldn’t. It sat there perched on the back of my tongue waiting to unroll at a moment’s notice. Like an angry, taunting jester, it was there, hanging in my mouth, jumping out when I didn’t want it, out of my control. After I said it, I’d scream at whomever I was with, “I didn’t mean to say ‘Fabulous!’ I’m trying not to say it anymore! You have to understand!” Pretty much everyone thought I was nuts, but it was “Fabulous!” that made me feel nuts. Always there in my mouth, waiting, watching, laughing at me.

And now, “good to go” is staring me in the face. It is a threat. It watches, taunting me, waiting to get into my mouth. “Everyone else is saying me Christine. Try it. ‘Good to go.’ It feels delicious.” It is my siren song. My viper in the Garden of Language Eden. It calls to me, and I flinch every time I read it or hear it. But I resist. “Fabulous!” taught me that I can be weak and succumb to the power of diction, but I also learned I can quit when I try. “Good to go” won’t break my enamel barrier, now that I’m on guard against verbal assault.

Why I *heart* bad media

When TV critics say “Terrible,” I say, “Which channel?” I really enjoy a great big bowl of whipped cream after a day at work: fattening, easy to swallow, no healthful benefits. I know it’s bad, but it’s a way to tune out my brain after thinking all day and laugh at the ridiculousness of popular media. I know that I’m not learning or growing or changing, I just want to unwind for a bit.

Matthew always says, “I don’t see how you watch this stuff.”

I say, “Look how ridiculous they are. We’re worried about getting our car repaired and if the dog needs surgery; they’re worried about which earrings go best with their shoes. Which is funnier?”

Critics said it was like a competition of middle-aged women to see who could wear the tiniest t-shirt. I couldn’t wait. I tuned into “Tuesday Night Book Club” hoping for “The Surreal Life” with books. I got “The Lifetime movie” with booze. I watched one episode. I was compelled to watch the whole hour because my heart ached for them so much. It was like watching a Discovery Channel program on surviving cancer—you can’t just change the station because you’re bored, you have to know how it ends.

I wanted to watch the second and final episode. My remote control hand itched and twitched with the desire to turn it back on and watch the slow motion train wreck continue to spew detritus. But I knew it was bad for me. I knew it wasn’t the bowl of whipped cream I craved and watching would only make me sad again. I resisted watching the final episode, but I’m glad the temptation is no longer there. I’m weak in the face of terrible media. And junk food.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Sweetest let-down

“Tuesday Night Book Club,” gladly, is no more. CBS saddened me more than any tear-jerker movie with this horrible show, and I’m glad they’ve put it out of my misery.

Ostensibly, the show was a reality program about seven female friends sharing intimacies of their lives as they enjoy their book club. Really, these were auditioned and screened strangers who were chosen for the stage-like simplicity of their dramas.

“Book Club” challenged my emotional endurance. My impression is that this was supposed to be an insiders’ look at how women’s troubles are all a soap opera in real life and they can get together and dissect it over boozy social gatherings. Instead, I watched seven women with real emotional, social, relationship crises smear their personal problems all over network television. It hurt.

Their pain was so personal and so common, that I cringed as the producers tried to lighten things up with yet another alcohol-fueled party at which everyone laughed over the surface of their problems. There was the woman who was coping with her husband’s addiction problem and how it had nearly destroyed her family of young children. There was the woman who was trying to decide if she wanted to leave her husband, who was himself obviously desperate that she not go but unable to communicate it. There was the recently married woman who fought with her spouse so much that their every aired utterance was mutually belittling (I found the unnecessarily mean fight over whose fault it was that the dog ate the wedding band especially stomach-turning.) There was the young libertine whose empty life was eroding her from the inside out though she pretended she was the happiest of the lot since she was so carefree. Who am I forgetting? Oh, the pathetic over-drinking, over-rich, over-weight swingers. How creepy? I’m skipping the doctor’s wife whose husband was implied to be closeted gay.

Overarching them all was the gay-divorcee, ever ready to ply the women with liquor and enable them to share heart-wrenching stories of emotional trauma and anxiety, acting as some fake Dr. Phil lousy therapist to get them to spill their inner-most turmoil for the cameras. She betrayed them all. Her plastic helmet hair and omni-present bottle of red and bottle of white made the women’s stories seem not dramatized, but like CBS was trying to reduce real crises to palatable mush. But these were not the manufactured traumas of “Big Brother 4” or “The Real World Season 7.” These were actual women whose lives were really falling apart in front of us. It wasn’t fun, it wasn’t entertaining.

I had high hopes when I tuned in because I love to laugh mindlessly at other people's ridiculous made for TV problems. There was no humor in “Tuesday Night Book Club,” unless the joke was on me.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Dream entry #3

A few nights ago, I was struck with terrible insomnia, and none of my usual tricks were working. I did the weighted eye pillow, the white noise on the bedroom radio, meditation music on my headphones, turned up the air conditioner to cool the room, and nothing was working. Around 1 a.m. I gave up and took a pill my doctor gave me for these emergencies. What resulted was one of the most surreal dreams I’ve ever had.

I was in my parents’ house in my brother’s old room, typing on my laptop. I was writing the most tender, amazing, original romance novel ever, and I couldn’t have been happier with myself. Then the computer died. It gave a quick error message and the screen went black. I looked around the room feeling dazed, and I noticed a reflection in my brother’s mirror.

Outside, in the yard across the street from my parents’ house, the father was spanking his young son for not building the Lego space station he wanted for Christmas. I was sad for the kid because I know how it feels to want something for Christmas and then not be certain what you want to do with it. And the space station was so huge and elaborate, I couldn’t imagine how the kid would ever finish.

Then I heard a noise coming from the street, and I turned back around to look out the window instead of at the reflection. Elephants were marching down the street because the circus was coming to town. Acrobats were leaning off the elephants’ heads in contortionist poses as they came stomping down the hill, clowns walking along beside them in their silly shoes and tiny hats.

I rushed down the stairs to look out the front door to see the elephants, but when I got there, there were no elephants. My dad came behind me on the stairs and asked if I was OK. I sat down on the steps with him and said, “I think I just had a dream that there were elephants on our street.” He said, yes, it was a dream, there were no elephants, and he chuckled at the silly idea.

And then I woke up from the dream really, lying in my bed with the air conditioner blasting and the white noise humming, and I was back to insomnia, sans elephant.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

It's a wrap

I bought a sarong as a fashion fresh undergrad in the 1990’s. I saw a friend of mine who served in Africa in the Peace Corps wearing one, and she looked so exotic and unique and relaxed all at the same time. I wanted that too. I went to the fabric store and bought two yards of a rayon material that had an earth-mother sand and water kind of vide to it. I washed it a few times to get the frayed edges going, and voila, it was ready.

Usually I’d wrap it full length around my middle and roll down the top to secure the waist. It turned out to be the most comfortable garment I’d ever owned, and it was perfect for hung-over Friday mornings when I really didn’t want to go to class. On hotter days, I’d fold it in off-kilter half length-wise before wrapping it around my waist. Still the most perfect fashion accoutrement for a young college co-ed ever, quirky and comfortable.

Whenever I ran into older women--meaning anyone over 25--while I was wearing my sarong, they’d always say, “That’s really cute but I couldn’t do that on my body.” I cajoled and said they should try something new and they were being too hard on themselves. They demurred.

I forgot about the sarong after college for a long time. I guess after graduation I never really had an appropriate place to wear something that casual. But when I started packing for a move, there in my closet, I rediscovered the sarong. All of the memories of the fun I had wearing it came back in a rush, and I thought, “It’s time to resurrect the sarong.” I stopped packing and put on the sarong and looked in the mirror. I had turned into the older lady. “That’s really cute but I couldn’t do that on my body.” It wasn’t a self-esteem thing, I really didn’t have the narrow hips and slender waist of an undergrad anymore. My first fashion lesson in growing up.

Now that very same sarong plays a different role in my life: I never go camping without it. My husband and I go on weekend camping trips all over the country with our friends in other states, and I have found the sarong to be an invaluable tool when I’m “roughing it.” If it gets a little cold at night, I have the sarong to wrap around my head and shoulders like a scarf. If it gets surprisingly hot, I’m ready with the most comfortable skirt ever. In the sleeping bag, I use it as a sheet so I have temperature options other than unzipping the bag. If I have to, I have it as a towel for unexpected water events. And, I confess, I’ve actually had to use the sarong as a handkerchief on one or two occasions.

The sarong lives on in my life, just not in the way I had originally imagined. I swear it’s been the best eight dollar investment I’ve ever made in my wardrobe—it’s been in circulation in one form or another for more than ten years now. And I’ve learned, anyone really can wear a sarong, it’s just how you wear it that changes.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Toxoplasmosis strikes again!

I’ve got a friend who—I swear—is feeding my hypochondria for laughs. I’m not complaining, but I kid you not that she sends me every disgusting germ article the New York Times ever runs. I actually once wrote a lengthy blog post about the fear she instilled in me of infection by giant worms in your legs, but I decided it was a pretty lame topic considering my harping on about Toxoplasma gondii.

This time, my friend has followed up on the cat poop problem with a lively NYT story on my old buddy, Toxoplasmosis. Our favorite parasite is making news. Researchers have discovered more information about its habits, revealing that it is a genius of stealth. It masks itself inside healthy cells by popping in for a bit without scrambling up the cell enough to destroy it. Just uses it as a host, like when I go to visit my parents and I make them drive me all over town and buy me stuff. Same thing. The Toxoplasma gondii bugs use their favorite cells to go all over your body without being detected as a germ. That would be cool if it weren’t so gross.

Scientists also think that rats lose their innate fear of cats when infected with Toxoplasma gondii. Fascinating, but how will this help me? Will my dog quit chasing my cat? Can you imagine domestic harmony on the day a parasitic infection renders my dog feline oblivious? Oh what a glorious day that would be, however unlikely.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Media crisis averted

Guess what? I went on a vacation to TV Land, and all I got was this
lousy IQ! Seriously though, Matthew would say my "Media IQ" is at a
high point right now; I say I've gained eight pounds and I feel a lot
dumber. But that's OK! Because I'm here to tell you, you're not
missing anything on television.

You're thinking, "But duh Christine; it's summer repeats." Not for me
it's not. I didn't watch it the first time around, so this is all new
material to me. Still gotta tell ya, not that interesting.

The shining light in all this is that when I was sick recently I took
advantage of that time to do a lot more movie watching. Here's my list:

Moulin Rouge
Picture Bride
Pirates of the Caribbean
The Wedding Singer
The Mummy
Old School

In that order. I may have missed a few though. I can't be sure. It
was a lot of time on the couch, and after a while the butt grooves just
all blend together and you can't remember anymore.

Here's my mini review for each: Moulin Rouge, lots of stuff to look
at, great for no attention span. Picture Bride, not a lot to look at
but very simple, emotional story. There's a lot to connect with if
you've ever felt lost or rootless or if you've ever moved far from
home. Crash. Wow. Way better than I expected actually (yes this was
my first viewing, yes I am really late, yes I love Paul Haggis so I
have no excuse). Raw, abrasive, painful, but restorative. Pirates of
the Caribbean� Move over Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, you
might need to make room in the coveted favorite movie slot. Man I love
costumes and pirates. The Wedding Singer� Why didn't Drew Barrymore
marry Adam Sandler? She loves a funny co-star. The Mummy, I'm sorry,
but there's gotta be at least three slots in the favorite movies shelf.
A librarian-Egyptologist? Be still my beating heart! Old School is
actually better than you remember now that you've forgotten the
impossibly high expectations you developed for it while anticipating
the results of this awesome comic force.

Phew. See, movie critics have it easy! Just kidding. And sure, you
really didn't care about my review of those movies per se, but don't
you feel like you know me even better now? Scary, huh?

Seriously, any time you wanna throw down some Romy and Michele, you let
me know. The DVD doesn�t have a lot of special features, but I'll
totally give you my expert commentary the second time we watch it.
I'll point out all the awesome stuff you missed.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The pigeon problem

There are many mysteries hiding in a big metropolitan city like Chicago. One of my favorite vagaries to ponder: where do dead pigeons go?

Look around you in Chicago; there are pigeons everywhere. Our neighbors in lovely Logan Square have a pigeon roost problem. When I walk the dog, we hear, “Coo-coo. Coo-coo,” like turtledoves nestled in a tree, but really it’s pigeons in the eaves. When I sit to eat lunch outside my downtown office building, gangs of pigeons stalk me, waiting to see if I’ll drop a pretzel. Standing on an open-air train platform, I see pigeons standing on top of mounds of guano. They have dirt-streaked feathers, they’re missing parts of their feet, some are scrawny and starved, others are cocky and fat. Gross.

But what happens to dead pigeons?

When we first moved to Chicago in ’98, it perplexed me to no end to wonder where pigeon carcasses go. If there are so many swarms of live pigeons, statistically there are flocks of dead pigeons somewhere.

The first time I saw a dead pigeon, I was ecstatic. I was standing on the Belmont platform outside Milio’s hair salon, waiting for either a Brown Line or Red Line train to take me to the Fullerton stop. And, there, on the ledge that wraps around Milio’s building, there was a dead pigeon with his little stick legs popped up in the air. I felt my throat get tight I was so excited. I tensed my arms and balled my hands into fists to keep from clapping in glee. I grinned like the cat that swallowed the canary. My first dead pigeon sighting.

Since then, I haven’t wondered as intently about the dead pigeons, but I am very excited when I see a new carcass. Last night was a whammy.

First, Matthew parked his car with the front passenger wheel square on an already deceased pigeon. I laughed and pointed it out to Matthew. Second, after walking a few footsteps from our car, we saw another dead pigeon lying belly-up in the middle of the sidewalk. What are the odds? Third, Matthew asked, “Have I shown you my gruesome dead pigeon pictures?”

“Now you haven’t,” I said. I was a little nervous at the inclusion of the word “gruesome” in his characterization.

“Here, check it out.” He handed me his cell phone.

Sure enough, there were several pictures of different pigeon carcasses. But these were no ordinary dead birds. These were birds that were devoured by predatory falcons of some hawk variety. These were remains of birds that were probably professionally hunted and killed by a pigeon nuisance control falconer, or by highly adaptable urban hawks with a taste for an easy meal. All that was left of the carcasses Matthew showed me were the wings and connective tissue, looking like some surreal artistic statement on the inability of humans to fly.
Now, I love looking at a good carcass as much as the next person, but I think I’ve had enough dead pigeons now. I’m not so concerned about where all the dead pigeons go any more. They’re up in that dove cote in the sky, cooing their little hearts out.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Familiar glow of comfort

As much as I love to walk down the street and smile at the flowering trees and smell the beautiful blue sky, I simultaneously take my environment for granted and assume that it will always be the same for me here in Chicago. I had a shocking reminder this weekend that the world outside lovely Logan Square isn't the same as my little glass bubble of happiness.

I went to the suburbs Saturday night.

I know that you're remembering all the suburban people you've overheard saying, "I just hate driving in Chicago, I don�t feel safe." It's true that there are misguided souls out there that feel this way. I find the opposite to be true.

After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, civic planning straightened the city's haphazard streets and planned for future growth to be regular and ordered. Later generations decided to light up the Chicago night with thousands (millions?) of glowing orange streetlights. I bless those urban planners for creating a city that's easy to navigate at any time during the day or night.

There are those who think the sickly urban glare of Chicago is light pollution, but I think they haven't experienced the glory that is driving into the city at night from the scary, dark suburbs. Coming south down Asbury Avenue in Evanston, you can actually see the demarcation of orange glow that marks the beginning of Chicago city limits at Howard Street. I think that is a magical sight, as beautiful as the flowering catalpa trees in my neighborhood. I always point out that line in the night to my passengers, "That's where Chicago begins."

This past weekend, I went to an outdoor concert in the suburbs. It terrified me. I was surrounded by seas of white people dining al fresco by candelabra light, eating from gigantic wicker baskets stuffed with avocado heart salad and marinated chicken breast sandwiches. It made my heart yearn for simple Humboldt Park, where the Puerto Ricans set up grills and string up hammocks in between trees while blasting oompah ballads from their car stereos. I had no idea that that was my scene and sound of home, not the field of white people with black forest ham sandwiches and salads of fresh baby greens.

More terrifying than the racial singularity of the suburbs was the lack of lighting. On my way home from the concert, I had a difficult time finding my car in the parking lot because there simply weren�t enough lights. And then driving? Oh my goodness. Black streets punctuated by an occasional weak, white bulb. Bring me the glowing sulphurous daytime of Chicago's night streets, and I'll tell you how to use the major cross-streets to navigate home, no matter how lost you think you are. I never feel disoriented in Chicago's grid-like precision, but the suburbs� Charmingly winding streets make absolutely no sense to me, and I pray for some landmark to direct me back to I-94.

Dropping my friends off at their homes after the concert, I rolled down all my windows and smiled at the artificial orange glow. Home at last, I took wrong turns just for the fun of finding Chicago Avenue and making my way back to Logan Square from there.