Thursday Natterings, But Not From Nabobs of Negativism

I woke the heater up yesterday from its summertime hibernation, mainly to see whether it would wake up and blow hot air, which is all I ask of it. Fortunately, the machine snapped to its single job without any complaint, such as some weird noise I don’t want to hear. The previous night had been quite cool, as they are starting to be, lowering the house temp to 69 F. My test took it up to 70 F. Normally I keep the house at 68 F. when it’s cold outside.

I saw the first Halloween decorations in the neighborhood the other day when walking the dog. It was a small faux cemetery in a front yard, featuring hand-painted sturdy cardboard (or cheap wood) tombstones. I don’t remember what any of them said.

Probably not Here Lies Les Moore. No Les, No Moore. I think I saw that in a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not collection years ago. That one I believe. Sounds like frontier humor to me.

Another remarkable collection of recent space photos from the Atlantic. As the intro notes, “We [as in, mankind] currently have spacecraft in orbit around the Sun, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, a comet, Jupiter, and Saturn; two operational rovers on Mars; and a recent close flyby of Pluto.”

Closer to home, here are two signs I saw recently in Chicago.

That’s a little alarming. I can think of a lot better places to pass the future. The only future I want from McDougall’s are occasional breakfast sandwiches.

Dirt cheap, eh? And what do your beneficiaries get? Enough to pay for the dirt that covers you, maybe.

The last Weaver is gone. Fred Hellerman died recently, I just learned. Time then to listen to the re-union Weavers sing “Get Up and Go.”

One more thing: I don’t think I’ve ever seen olives packed this way before. A Trader Jose offering, as the package tells us.


I opened them today at lunchtime. Not bad at all.

Items from the (Very Large) Dustbin of TV History

I happened across a YouTube video the other day called “11 Intros to Tacky 80s Sci-Fi/Fantasy TV,” and decided to watch it. Not sure that “tacky” is the right word. Maybe “short-lived” or “justifiably obscure” or some such. But the thing that surprised me — though it shouldn’t have — is that not only had I never seen any of them, I’d never heard of any of them.

That might sound like bragging. Actually, I will brag a little. I didn’t own a TV in the 1980s, and with certain exceptions, such as the last episode of M*A*S*H or the airing of The Day After, I didn’t watch much. I’m certain I’m better for it.

(Then again, the ’80s had no monopoly on TV SF failure: these are intros from 1975-80, all of whom failed. I watched much more TV then, but only vaguely remember Time Express and Buck Rogers, and watched Battlestar Galactica for a short while, until its stupidity got to be too much to take. Whoever complied the video left out Quark.)

The 11 shows in the video from the 1980s are Automan, Manimal, The Wizard, Wizards and Warriors, Misfits of Science, Shadow Chasers, The Phoenix, Powers of Matthew Star, Starman, Outlaws, The Highwayman. I wonder what kind of coke-bender decision-making allowed some of them to go on the air, just judging from some of their ridiculous — that’s the word, “ridiculous 80s Sci-Fi/Fantasy TV” — intros.

I recognized a handful of the actors. The Wizard’s David Rappaport was easily the best-known dwarf actor of his generation, and I remember he did a good job in the underrated Time Bandits (need to see that again; maybe I overrated it 30 years ago). Glad to know Rappaport had his own TV show, even one that didn’t last long. Sorry to learn that he didn’t last long, since he shot himself to death in 1990.

Robert Hays is instantly recognizable in Starman, though there’s no way he’s getting away from Ted Striker and his drinking problem.

Among the 11, the prize for most ridiculous concept (according to me, and it’s a tough competition) goes to Outlaws, whose intro explains that a gang of Texas outlaws from 1899 is magically transported to the late 20th century, along with the sheriff who was chasing them. More than time travel magic, too, since they somehow or other ended up on the right side of the law in the 1980s. You’d think they’d take to knocking over convenience stores and passing bad checks in our time. Also, one of them is black, perhaps the most improbable plot element of all. Played by Richard Roundtree, who will never get away from John Shaft.

The prize for bad intro writing goes to The Highwayman. They are supposed to be supernatural guardians of the world, or something — and if so, why did the producers pick a word that means bandits on the road? Anyway, the intro, which sounds like it’s read by William Conrad (a job’s a job), goes like this:

“There is a world, just beyond now, where reality rides a razor-thin seam between fact and possibility. Where the laws of the present collide with the crimes of tomorrow. Patrolling these vast outlands is a new breed of lawman, guarding the fringes of society’s frontiers. They are known simply as Highwaymen, and this is their story.”

The “razor-thin seam between fact and possibility”? Whoever wrote that was trying for Rod Serling, and failing.

The Pigeons of ’48

Missed the big-hairy-deal debate last night. Nothing either of them could say at this point is going to change my mind. This election has gone on long enough already.

Instead I worked, as I usually do on Monday nights, and late in the evening read for pleasure, as I often do. Currently I’m working my way through 1948 by David Pietrusza (2011), which is about (as the subtitle says), “Harry Truman’s Improbable Victory,” or the story of an election that didn’t go on quite so long, and had its share of surprises. I read Pietrusza’s book about presidential politics in 1920 some time ago, and it was fairly good. So is 1948.

I haven’t been in a hurry to get through 1948, diverting into other books as well, such as a second reading of The Right Stuff (first time was in the early ’90s, and well worth the re-read), and first readings of The Basketball Diaries and Death Comes for the Archbishop. It’s a rare time when I just read one thing all the way through to the exclusion of others. I might even take up News from Tartary soon, since it’s been much too long since I read any Peter Fleming.

1948’s got some interesting detail. Here’s an anecdote about the Democratic National Convention that year that I like: “With the convention running three hours and forty-three minutes behind schedule, [Sam] Rayburn nevertheless undertook one last chore before introducing the exceedingly patient Truman: ‘I want to introduce Mrs. Emma Guffey Miller, Pennsylvania delegate-at-large. She has a surprise for us which I hope the convention will enjoy.’

“The plump, white-frocked, seventy-three-year-old Mrs. Miller, younger sister of former Pennsylvania senator Joseph Guffey, had prepared an elaborate, six-foot-high floral display composed of red and while carnations, in the shape of the Liberty Bell. Imprisoned inside it for several hours were forty-eight caged white pigeons, officially and symbolically designated ‘doves of peace.’ In the horrible heat, a couple had already expired. The band stoked up ‘Hail to the Chief,’ and the surviving birds — crazed by the noise, lights, and the heat — exploded out of the opened ‘Liberty Bell.’

“Pigeons flew into the rafters. They dive-bombed delegates. Men and women shouted, ‘Watch your clothes!’

” ‘Though the press delicately did not mention it,’ noted Clark Clifford (who did), the ‘doves of peace began, not surprisingly, to drop the inevitable product of their hours of imprisonment on any delegate who had the bad luck to be underneath them.’

“Some birds landed on the platform. Rayburn frantically shushed them away. One nearly landed on his glistening, bald head… ‘Get those damned pigeons out of here!’ he screamed over live radio and TV.

” ‘As [Truman] spoke,’ Time reported, ‘pigeons teetered on the balconies, on folds of the draperies, on overhead lights, occasionally launched on a quick flight to a more pigeonly position.’

“Thus, Harry Truman’s choice of a crisp, double-breasted white suit that evening may not have been the wisest choice of the campaign…”

Nevertheless, Truman’s ’48 Democratic Convention acceptance speech famously turned out to be a barnburner: “Senator Barkley and I will win this election and make these Republicans like it — don’t you forget that!”

Split Scooter

I’d never seen a scooter exactly like this before.

Split scooterNot long ago we stopped at a garage sale in a neighborhood north of ours. Yuriko went to look around, I stayed in the car. At one point, this fellow rode up on his — split scooter? I looked it up using those words and it seems to be a common thing. Learn something new all the time, if you’re paying attention.

The Last Days of Kiddieland

Once upon a time, Kiddieland Amusement Park in west suburban Melrose Park featured rides and amusements for small fry, and somewhat older children, for a not-too-outrageous price. The park was around long enough for parents who had been taken as children to take their own children, and come to think of it, grandparents who had been to take their grandchildren.

Not being from around Chicago originally, I didn’t have that experience, but I did take my children three or maybe four times in the late 2000s. I don’t remember for sure, but I think one of Lilly’s friends originally suggested that she go. It was a little far to go very regularly, but not too far for an occasional visit.

Kiddieland was an unpretentious place, with rides such as a small but fast wooden roller coaster, a modest-sized Ferris wheel, a merry-go-round, a Tilt-A-Whirl, small car rides, small boat rides, other things that went up, down and around, and a 14-in. gauge miniature railway (always enjoyable to find a miniature railway; the Brackenridge Eagle rides on a 2-ft. gauge, just to compare). I won’t say Kiddleland was a one-of-a-kind place, because it used to be one of a class of locally owned, pre-Disneyland amusement parks. Yet it was a survivor, in the 21st century, from an earlier time.

I can only speculate why. The park wasn’t that expensive or unmanageably large. The staff seemed well trained and polite. Soda — all you wanted — was part of the price of admission (imagine, say, Six Flags doing that). The rides were entertaining even for small children, a real place in an age of electronic faux places.

Kiddieland might still be around but for a dispute among cousins who owned the place, the grandchildren of the founder. Seems like a strange division: One group owned the amusement park; the other owned the land. When push came to shove, the amusement park owners were shoved off the land, and the park closed for good in late September 2009.

When it was clear that Kiddieland was going to close, seven years ago this month, we went one more time. I think Lilly and her friends ambled around themselves, while I took Ann around. Here’s Ann and a couple of the small-fry rides.
Kiddieland 2009Kiddieland 2009There’s a Costco there now. The land owners were clearly looking for bigger bucks. Generally I’m for the highest and best use of real estate, and I like Costco well enough, but still. Something that could be anywhere replaced something distinctive about a particular place, so the world is slightly poorer for it.

Libertarian on the Thoroughfare

Political signage isn’t all that thick here in the northwest suburbs this year, only a scattering of statewide races, and I hadn’t seen a single presidential sign until the other day. Could be that, since Illinois isn’t remotely in play in that election, no one is bothering.

Then again, there’s a certain house on a small road I’ve been driving by regularly for more than a decade, and every election — every one — Republican signage is prominent in the yard, especially the presidential nominee during those contests. This year, nothing. Maybe they’ve moved. Or maybe their presidential nominee just embarrasses them.

But recently I did see a bit of presidential advertising, near the intersection of Schaumburg Road, a major thoroughfare, and Salem Road.

Gary Johnson Sign made of yellow cups

That’s the more visible part, made of yellow cups stuck in the fence. Less visible, and off to the side in blue cups, is # LET GARY DEBATE.

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago

A docent at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Chicago, asked me how long it has been since I last visited the museum. I couldn’t remember. I’m pretty sure it was sometime after the current building opened 20 years ago, though I couldn’t say when, or what I saw. Reason enough to visit again on a pleasant September Saturday in 2016.

Encyclopedia Chicago says that “the new building clad in aluminum and Indiana limestone opened in June 1996 in a 24-hour summer solstice celebration. Referencing the modernism of Mies van der Rohe as well as the tradition of Chicago architecture, the $46 million structure is among the largest in the United States devoted to contemporary art. Its 45,000 square feet of galleries, with a permanent collection boasting more than 5,600 works and a 300-seat auditorium and outdoor sculpture garden, is suitable for large-scale artworks, new media, and ever larger audiences.”

Maybe so, but the structure, designed by German architect Josef Paul Kleihues, presents an unfriendly face to the public.

Museum of Contemporary Art. ChicagoI don’t dislike it, exactly, but it doesn’t say art museum to me. Change the signage just a little and you’ve got a police headquarters, a telecom company, or a top-drawer server farm. Then again, art museums don’t have to look like the Art Institute either. MCA is what it is on the outside, and an interesting museum on the inside.

The inside is more welcoming. One example: MCA has some of the more comfy chairs — small sofas enclosed by spacious cubical-like structures — of any museum I’ve been to. Toward the end of our visit, if we’d stayed too long in one of these after so much time on foot, we might have fallen asleep.

Museum of Contemporary Art ChicagoCurrently the big MCA exhibit is of Kerry James Marshall, an artist I was wholly unfamiliar with, in a show called “Mastry.” That just shows how little I pay attention to contemporary art. He’s a living artist, only a few years older than I am, and a resident of Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. A remarkable body of his work is on display.

Of Marshall, Sam Worley wrote in the April edition of Chicago magazine this year, just before the MCA show opened, “At 25, he decided to return to the basics and paint a self-portrait—a classic portrait, almost. Its title alluded to a great literary work: ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of His Former Self.’ [1980]

“Marshall used egg tempera, a 13th-century favorite. He adopted compositional techniques associated with artists such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael. But, of course, his subject was black. So black that the shade of his skin is deeper than the portrait’s black background, which he fades into, as if invisible. Compared with conventional European portraiture, it’s like a photo negative….

“And so Marshall settled on creating a body of work inspired by and in dialogue with the classics—his early barbershop portrait ‘De Style,’ for example, its name a sly play on the Dutch abstract art movement de Stijl—while remaining resolutely its own thing. He found success with a simple insistence on placing black people, and black history, at the center of his raucous, colorful paintings, and that has opened a space for younger artists.”

A detail from “De Style” (1993).
Here’s one I particularly liked, a more recent painting, “Still Life with Wedding Portrait” (2015).

“In this painting, Marshall imagined a wedding portrait of a young Harriet Tubman… and her first husband, John… presenting her as someone’s beloved wife and not simply the stalwart resistance hero portrayed in standard histories,” the MCA notes.

As interesting as the Marshall show was, we also made time for other galleries. I always enjoy a spot of neon.
“Run From Fear, Fun From Rear” (1972) by Bruce Nauman.

Here are all the portraits of Patty Hearst you could want in one place. Twenty-six, to be exact.
“Patricia Hearst, A thru Z” (1979) by Dennis Adams.

I liked this especially: seven tons of sand on the floor in a dark room, along with radios, LED light box, and some ambient sound.
“A beach (for Carl Sagan)” (2016) by Andrew Yang.

MCA says of this: ” ‘The total of stars in the universe is larger than all the grains of sand on all the beaches of planet earth.’ So claimed Carl Sagan. In fact, astronomers estimated in 2003 that for every grain of sand on Earth’s beaches and deserts there exist ten times as many stars above. Yang takes Sagan’s pronouncement to heart in a scale model of the Milky Way in which one grain of sand represents one star; the estimated 100 billion stars are approximated by more than seven tons of sand.”

A scale model in numbers, but not size. How far would you have to scatter the sand to get that? That probably wouldn’t be too hard to figure out, but I don’t feel like it just now. I imagine it would be from here to one of the outer planets in the Solar System.

Behind the building, the museum has a sculpture garden. With only four — or was it five? — works. Quantity isn’t everything, but I think there should be more. Here’s “Graz Grosse Geister,” by German artist Thomas Schütte.
Museum of Contemporary Art, ChicagoAt some point during the visit I noticed that the museum guards weren’t just wearing black shirts with GUARD written on the back.
Museum of Contemporary Art, ChicagoAVANT was on the front.

Just a little art joke, no extra charge.

The Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago

Saturday was the annual Churches by Bus tour organized by the Chicago Architectural Foundation, which we were on last year and the year before. Not this year. We’ve been to two of the five churches listed on the tour. The tour isn’t precisely cheap, so I wanted a little more novelty. Four out of five, maybe.

So we planned to look at four churches around Michigan Ave. while in the neighborhood. Nothing new — almost nothing new — but no charge either. As it turned out, only two of the four were open, and a third had a service in progress; not the time to wander around looking at it. The open one that wasn’t busy was Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago on Michigan Ave., a fine Gothic structure in the heart of the shopping district.
Fourth Presbyterian Church Chicago

Nice courtyard to the south of the main building, too.

Fourth Presbyterian Church Chicago

When the church was finished in 1914, however, that part of Michigan Ave., still called Pine St., was no great shakes. Cheap land, in other words. All of the action on Michigan Ave. was still south of the Chicago River. That changed with the completion of the Michigan Avenue Bridge over the river in 1920, and Fourth Pres has watched temples of mammon grow up around it since then.

A fine interior. Been inside a number of times over the years. The ceiling’s a little dark, but lights up there would be expensive not only in electricity usage, but maintenance, I figure.

Ralph Adams Cram (1863-1942), an architect who did a lot of ecclesiastical work, designed the church. He’s also known for the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in Manhattan.

Adjacent to the church is a much newer structure, the Gratz Center, which was completed only in 2013 to house a preschool program, the Buchanan Chapel, a new dining room and kitchen, offices, and rooms. We took a look at the second-story Buchanan Chapel, which is mostly spare, but well lit with natural light, and with a labyrinth on its floor. The chapel’s architect was Brian Vitale, in Gensler’s Chicago office.

Up in the corner of the chapel hangs “Quaternion,” a 2014 piece by Alyson Shotz, a Brooklyn artist.

"Quaternion," a 2014 piece by Alyson Shotz, Interesting. Often, that’s all I ask from bits of the world.

Michigan Avenue on a September Saturday Afternoon

We went downtown again on Saturday, more specifically to Michigan Avenue and within a few blocks to the east and west of that famed street. A famed street, and crowded on a Saturday during the time of year when it’s still warm.
Michigan Avenue Sept 2016The sidewalk wasn’t always that crowded. But sometimes it was, suddenly.

At the spot officially called Pioneer Court — I don’t know anyone who actually calls it that — in front of the Equitable Building and just south of the Tribune Tower, the new Michigan Avenue Apple Store is under construction, to take the place of the store further to the north on the avenue. They say it’ll be a humdinger when it’s done.
Pioneer Court, Chicago, Apple under construction 2016Wonder whether the bronze Jack Brickhouse will be in Pioneer Court near the Tribune Tower for much longer.
Jack Brickhouse statue, Pioneer Court, Chicago, 2016After all, the Tribune hasn’t owned the Cubs in a while, and the Tribune isn’t even going to own the Tribune Tower much longer (the company got $240 million for it). Then there’s the matter of Brickhouse being dead for nearly two decades. That’s a long time not to be on the radio. Time flies, people forget, your statue ends up in a less prominent location. Just speculation.

The plaza across the street from Pioneer Court, in the shadow of the Wrigley Building, was just the place on Saturday for some wedding photography. At least this party thought so, and they could do a lot worse.
The bust in the corner is of Jean-Baptiste Pointe DeSable, the fellow from Haiti — I suppose that would be from Saint-Domingue — who founded a trading post on the Chicago River near this site in the 1770s, making him the first non-Indian Chicagoan. I think that bust used to be where the Apple store is being built.

Not far away, just at that moment, was Jeremy the Magician from Britain. That’s what his hat said, anyway, and he had the accent for it, and a Union Jack vest, in case you didn’t get the point.
Michigan Avenue Magician Sept 2016Further north, in fact not far from the Chicago Watertower (can I call it iconic? Too bad that word’s been beaten to death), this fellow had a different sort of message.

Street preacher, Michigan Avenue, 2016

Namely, you’re going to Hell.

(Capitalize “Hell.” English Language & Usage Stack Exchange says: “No less an authority than Fulton Sheen had the galleys for his latest book come back from the typesetters with ‘Heaven’ and ‘Hell’ knocked down to lowercase. He carefully re-capitalized each occurrence. When his editor called to request an explanation, he gave what I think we can regard as the definitive answer to [the] question: Because they’re places. You know, like Scarsdale.)

Royal Oak Orchard, 2004 (and ’05)

About 12 years ago, I wrote, “I will, however, write about a place that needed less detailed notes: the Royal Oak Orchard, near Harvard, Illinois, where I took the whole family a week ago Saturday. It’s a U-Pick-Em orchard, the sort of place that one never thinks to go without small children…. Besides the rows of apple trees open to all pickers, there was a fruit shop, restaurant, souvenir shop, shack shop, playground, petting zoo, rings for campfires, a hayride, and a teepee inscribed with Bible verses.”

I took a favorite As-We-Were picture at the orchard that day, September 18, 2004.
orchard1Don’t know who the fellow in the green shirt was. Just standing around, probably. It makes me wonder how many images, scattered around in all sorts of places, I’ve accidentally gotten myself into.

To continue: “It was a fine day for picking, sunny and warm, and we had a pleasant drive into the exurbs. The orchard is about five miles east of Harvard, a town hard against the Illinois-Wisconsin line. I’d estimated that it would take an hour to get there; Yuriko thought it would be two hours; it worked out to be an hour and a half, true to the spirit of compromise in a marriage.”

Lilly was into the spirit of apple-picking.
orchard2“We got down to the business of picking apples, yellow ones and red ones and colors in between, with variety names that I don’t recall (guess I could use some notes). Regardless of their names, they were all tasty apples. Many of them were low enough for Lilly to reach, and even Ann sampled a number of different ones, though actual picking was a little beyond her.”

I had a fine time myself.

orchard3We’d picked apples the year before at a place I don’t remember so well, and the next year we went back to Royal Oak Orchard, but got rained on, and bought a bag instead of picking them.

No such problem in 2004: “Afterwards we repaired to the picnic area to eat lunch. A sign prohibited outside food, that is, picnic lunches such as the one we brought, but we ignored this. Pop Christian music played unobtrusively, but distinctly, from a speaker near the snack shop. Curious, but purveying apples and spreading the Gospel doesn’t seem mutually exclusive.”

We haven’t picked any U-Pick-Em apples since. Just one of those things you never quite get around to again, and then everyone’s lost interest.