Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Twenty-eight artsists, two saints, and an awesome cover.

I went to the Seminary Co-op's annual members' sale this weekend, as I endeavor to do every year. I've come to the point where I've accepted that Hyde Park is my spiritual hometown within this big city of little neighborhoods, and the Co-op and sister store 57th Street Books are the places I love the most.

This year, I picked up three collections of essays from the Literary Criticism section and Cheever's short stories. Perhaps my retreat to short works is a reaction to my continued inability to finish 2666; maybe it's for other reasons. Maybe I'll write about those reasons later, but right now, I just want to gush a little bit about a great book cover.

Isn't it just the best? Acocella is the dance critic for the New Yorker, as well as a book critic; the flying pose evokes her specialty, even though most of the essays deal with artists of a writerly sort. Still, the cover manages to capture the spirit of high-minded wit that pervades Acocella's writing. She's a critic who likes to like things, and while she'll deride works that aren't up to snuff (and actually does so in the first essay, which covers a biography of James Joyce's daughter), she does it with a gentle tone, as though she's just explaining how the work could have been better.

Or, to be brief: this cover makes me happy.

Prolix, prolix, nothing a pair of scissors won't fix...

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Mothering Invention: Cast Cozy

So, I had reconstructive ankle surgery surgery on May 15th. Until last Thursday, I was on 23 hours of bedrest a day; since then, I've been on "as much bedrest as I need to keep the pain away", which has been working out to quite a lot. I'm doing well, though, and loads of friends have been visiting me, and I'm going back to work next week, but it's still going to be a bit of a slog until I will be able to walk again. As of Thursday, I was put in a cast, which I should have for two weeks. Despite going to the University of Chicago Hospitals, it is Northwestern purple. The nerve!

I actually scheduled my surgery, and chose mid-May for a few reasons. It was relatively quickly after learning I'd need surgery, and it coincided with one of the quieter times at work. I also picked May because I remembered how miserably cold my toes were hanging out of my cast after my last surgery, which was done in November 1999. By May, surely Chicago would be warm enough that I wouldn't have such a concern!

And... cut to overnight lows in the mid-40's, and the window one of my roommates left open all night. Should it really be 60 degrees inside my apartment in June? It shouldn't, but it was. And how did my toes feel?


They felt sad. Also, if you're wondering how much bedrest it takes before you start drawing faces on your toenails with eyeliner, for me, it was about 2.5 weeks.

I decided to knit up a toe warmer/half-sock/foot-hat/cast cozy, since I have no big men's socks to shove over my toes, and I wasn't about to stretch out any of my nice handknit socks. I had a half-ball of Louet Gems Worsted Wool in a dark grey that was knit into half a (long-discarded) hat, so I decided to use that.

My cast was almost exactly 12" around the lower foot portion, and I'd been getting 5 st/in using US7 needles, so I switched down to US5 needles and cast on 65 stitches (though I probably could've done 60). After experimenting with a few different ribs, looking for a really stretchy, sproingy one, I settled on the slip-stitch rib as described in the first Barbara Walker collection, translated to knitting in the round:

Row 1: *K3, P2
Row 2: *K1, sl1 wyib, K1, P2

I went until I felt pretty comfortable that my toes would be covered and the toe warmer would stay put (about 5", but I'm overly cautious like that). I just made up the decreases, but they worked out pretty well:

Row1: *K3, P2tog
Row2: *K1, sl1 wyib, K1, P1
Rows 3 & 4: *K3, P1
Row 5: *(Pass two knit stitches like you're doing a K2tog, K1, pass 2 slipped stitches over), P1
Rows 6 & 7: *K1, P1
Row 8: *K2tog

I then broke the yarn, leaving a short tail, threaded the yarn on a needle, and drew it through the remaining stitches to close it. Weave in ends, and ta-da, a foot warmer.

Sure, I'll only be using it for another week, since once I'm in a cam boot, I'll be wearing socks. But it's just snug enough that I could, in theory, wear it over a sock if I need a little more warmth. And even a couple of days is too long for me to go around with cold toes.



I've also been working on a lot of other knitting, but I'll save that for another post.
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Prolix, prolix, nothing a pair of scissors won't fix...

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Odds and ends and Customer Service Raves

I have finished knitting something, but it's a gift, so no pictures yet. But it's cute!

In related news, I am running off to California for the weekend. It'll be a fairly chilled weekend, but with some foodie stuff I'm excited about-running around the badass supermarket Berkeley Bowl, going to Bourbon & Branch, and a ton of brunching, I'm sure. I'll be back Tuesday, at which point I will schedule my surgery.

Anyhow, I just want to give some credit where credit is due. I've been eating Milk & Honey Granola for years. It's very yummy. I live near the cafe, so I usually pick up a bag every couple of weeks. Last month, I was eating some out of a cup at work one Friday, and I bit into something woody. Upon examination, it was a 1/2" long fibrous little twig, which I figured was a stem from the dried cherries in the Original Cafe Mix. I sent off an email to Milk & Honey, just as an FYI, and forgot about it until Monday, when I received a very apologetic call from one of the managers at Milk & Honey. We talked about it, and she assured me it hadn't happened before, but they would be taking steps with their cherry provider in Michigan to make sure it didn't happen again. She also asked if I'd like some free granola. Since I've had dozens of bags of the stuff, and found one cherry stem in one bag, I said yes.

Cut to Wednesday.

What a nice letter!


Speaking of a dozen bags of granola... that's what I got. Good lord, that's an ample stash of granola. Anyone want a bag?

So yeah, yay local businesses with awesome customer service. This stands in high contrast to a certain British clothing website whose wares have been shipped to me twice (allegedly) after I ordered them over a month ago, and who's been difficult to deal with. Yes, BODEN, I'm looking at you.

Prolix, prolix, nothing a pair of scissors won't fix...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Reorganizing and restructuring

So, it turns out I'm going to have to have another ankle surgery. For anyone keeping track, this is the third, all to deal with the triple fracture I sustained falling off a three-inch ramp back in March of 1999. It'll probably happen in mid-May, though that won't be set until I see my surgeon to review my CT scan in the middle of April.

I'm a little cranky about it; I'll be out of work for two weeks, off the leg for a month or two, and on crutches for possibly as long as three months. Still, this will apparently fix a bunch of issues I've been having for awhile--flexibility, stability, and a slowly-increasing pain level. And as crappy as it is to be on crutches during the summer, I know from experience that this is better than winter crutching. And hey! I have a month or two to get ready for this, which is better than either of my other surgeries.

I'm also dropping some activities; classes at iO are off the table for now, and I've dropped go-go because I shouldn't be doing anything so percussive with that ankle. I'm sticking with trapeze until my four week session is done, since it's mostly hanging from the apparatus by my hands or my knees. And hey--if anyone has an awesome exercise regimen for people who can't walk, I'd love to hear it. I'd rather not put back all the weight I lost recently because of this. If I could come out of this thing with better arms and abs, that'd be terrific.

Other than that, I should clean my room and sew myself a fanny pack (a really cute one! really!) at some point before the surgery. But if it seems like I'm being quieter than usual between April and... Pitchfork or Lolla (damn!), this is probably why. Though if anyone wants to meet up in the next month or so, I want to get some drinking done before I go on opiates. Those things make me even more of a lightweight.

Prolix, prolix, nothing a pair of scissors won't fix...

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Photos: Maestro Subgum reunion

I love Chicago. It's a great place to live if you like Weird America. It's big enough to have a thriving arts scene, affordable enough that people can live here and create more easily than they could on the coasts, and draws people from all over, including a bunch of small-town oddballs.

But my babbling about New Weird America... that's for another post. It's only a bit related, and is due to my lingering elation about the circus I saw last night. Let's just put up some Maestro Subgum pictures right now, why don't we?

More pictures can be found at Ye Olde Flickr Photostream.

Incidentally, the band kept having us chant "Maestro in May", so if you missed out... they might be back soon.

Prolix, prolix, nothing a pair of scissors won't fix...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Podcasts and Barthelme and books, oh my.

Often at work, when I tire of spending my time listening to The Current at a volume so low that I cannot figure out what song is being played, I take to spoken-word podcasts. My standard rotation includes a great deal of NPR, but I've recently become a fan of several New Yorker podcasts, especially The New Yorker Out Loud, which features one of the week's contributors chatting about his or her article. This week's podcast is a fun little chat with Ariel Levy about political social-utopianist lesbians of the 1970s.

However, since I'm a book nerd and all, the previous week's podcast featuring Louis Menand talking about Donald Barthelme is what has me all in a tizzy right now, in part because it introduced me to The New Yorker Fiction podcast.

Barthelme is one of my favorite short story writers; even though I only own the Sixty Stories and Forty Stories collections, I often dip into one of the volumes to find a refreshing, beautiful, absurd little piece of writing that makes me feel better, especially if I'm in the middle of a long-haul of a book (hello, 2666, how're you? Yes, I'm talking about you). "The Balloon" is certainly one of my top ten favorite short stories; through the silly "what-if" setup of a balloon being inflated over much of lower Manhattan, Barthelme touches on the public's interaction with art and its complete separation from the creator's content. It is also poignant and wickedly funny.

Speaking of wickedly funny, Barthelme's "I Bought at Little City", read by novelist David Antrim in a perfectly droll fashion, is one of the stories featured on the New Yorker Fiction podcast. This podcast is my new work-drug. Brilliant short stories read by the authors of other great short stories! Mary Gaitskill reads Nabokov! Aleksander Hemon on Bernard Malamud! Oh, the wonder of it all.

I recently had a chat about books with someone who emphatically stated that he liked "big" books (in both scope and volume), and was dismissive of anything less. I consider this argument equivalent to someone deciding to exercise, but only doing strength training with the heaviest possible weights you can lift. That's part of it, but you need cardio, you need light work, you need a variety of exercises to keep yourself in balance. Brilliant short stories like Barthelme's help keep me quick, and the craft that goes into short works often has to be better than that of "big" novels, because the impact must be made with less material.

Okay, I think I'll stop now, because otherwise this is going to segue into a discussion about Twitter, and I'd rather save that for another time.

Prolix, prolix, nothing a pair of scissors won't fix...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Maestro Subgum & the Whole (or, I Am Still a Youngster in This City)

You think you know someone, and you realize you have no clue. Take Miki, for example. I met Miki at the Old Town School of Folk Music not long after I started volunteering in there 2004. He was the café manager, so I'd swing by to get my free volunteer drink whenever I worked a show. Sometimes, I would work as the café volunteer; it can be a very busy gig, but Miki would encourage me to drink the new beers he got in, and we'd chat about our lives. Miki doesn't work many concert nights anymore, but I still stop by and chat with him when he's at the school; I know all about his kids, he knows all about my ex-boyfriends. He'd mentioned making music, but so does everyone who works for the school. In a building full of sweeties, he's at the top of that list, but I didn't know much about what he'd done before he started working there.

So it was a pleasant shock to run across a picture of Miki Greenberg in the Reader a few weeks ago. Apparently he'd been a member of the "legendary band Maestro Subgum & the Whole"! I can't say that I've known anybody else who's been in a legendary band. There was no real description of the band, or when they were active, or why they were legendary. Why, why had I never heard of them? I made a mental note to investigate further next time I talked to him.

Serendipitously, Miki saw me sitting in a coffee shop recently and came inside for a chat. After talking to him about Maestro, I'm really excited to see them play next Sunday, March 1st, at the Viaduct Theatre.

Details about this fabulous band after the cut.

There's not a ton of net-data available on Maestro Subgum & the Whole (notable exception below), because they were at the height of their popularity before the internet had really taken off, starting in the late 1980s and ending when they disbanded in 1994 or 1995. They had one big blow-out reunion concert in 2001 at the Old Town School, where Miki was by that point working; the show sold out, it was apparently a riot and their best show ever, and they've not performed since then.

Their instrumental palate consists of vocals, horns, and piano, which might make you think of Weimar-era cabaret, but there's a very rocking, yelling, ranting, zany energy that moves beyond the impeccably mannered expression of Kurt Weill. That is to say: at least from the clips I've heard, it is crazy and weird, and has a dusty 1930s feel crossed with a bit of a ranty early 1980s punk vibe, and I think I like it.

Maestro Subgum's members & alumni have done quite nicely for themselves. Beau O'Reilly and Jenny Magnus founded the Curious Theatre Branch (the group curates Chicago's annual Rhino Fest; Maestro Subgum & the Whole's show will be the closing act of that festival); other members have also been involved with Redmoon Theatre and Mucca Pazza. They also have a Tony-winning alum, since former trombonist Mark Hollman wrote the music and co-wrote the lyrics for Urinetown.

The best interview I can find with Maestro Subgum & the Whole is a 2001 interview with Ira Glass on WBEZ (scroll down to January 19th, grumble about it being a Real Media file, react strangely to numerous mentions of "President-Elect Bush" from just before his inauguration, fast-forward to about 1:00:38). A couple of song clips are included, which should give you a taste of what you might get to experience if you go to see them live. Do you really want to wait another 8 years?

Maestro Subgum plays as part of the 20th Annual Rhino Fest
Sunday, March 1st, 3pm, at the Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N Western Ave.
Tickets are $12, or pay what you can.
Box office: (773) 296-6024

Prolix, prolix, nothing a pair of scissors won't fix...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

On caffeine, coffee houses, and coffee.

So there's some drama going on right now in the Chicago blogosphere about the renovations to the three local Intelligentsias, and the subsequent revamp of their price structure. (In order: Original GB:DT post, Chicagoist responds, GB author Mike Doyle quits GB because of this, and The TOC Blog summarizes the whole mess.

Setting aside the drama, I do think there was a basic reporting error, as there will be under-$3.00 coffee. A Clover of the Day will be offered, with S-L prices ranging from $2.00 to $2.65. I'm also a regular at Mill Park, and all the baristas who told me about the change immediately mentioned the Clover of the Day; I find it hard to imagine that Mr. Doyle asked any barista "Will there be coffee under $3?" and received an incorrect answer.

All the passioante talk about the changes at Intelligentsia did get me thinking about what people expect when they go to a coffee shop. I think part of the discontent with Intelligentsia right now could be traced to a disconnect between what some current customers want them to be, and what Intelligentsia wants to become.

More on that later. Now on to my GRAND THESIS. It involves taxonomy! Don't you love a good taxonomical grouping?

Here it is: people who buy coffee from coffee shops do it for (at least) three different reasons: for the caffeine, because of the coffee house, or for the coffee. There's going to be a lot of overlap in these three categories; I'd put myself in all three, depending on my circumstances. And people could go to Intelligentsia for any of the three reasons above (though I suspect most fall into the latter two categories, given the price and availability of the stuff. But let's get to the grand generalizations!

For the caffeine: These folks drink coffee like it's medicine. It is a necessary input for adequate daily output. They want coffee now, and they'd probably prefer it cheap, as long as it's drinkable. An alternate grouping wants their caffeine, and they want a socially-acceptable milkshake.

I'm this person: whenever I can't get to Intelligentsia in the morning, either because I'm starting work at 6 am or because I really need those extra 30 minutes of sleep. This happens more frequently than I like. I'm lucky enough to have a Keurig machine at work that dispenses adequately non-nasty caffeinated hot brown water; let's not talk about taste, because there is nothing to talk about. Before the Keurig, I respected the Dunkin Donuts stuff; SBUX drip coffee has always tasted like burning tar to me, so I never drink the stuff. However, while their drip is wretched, SBUX does make some delightful caffeinated milkshakes. I may have enjoyed one or two in the past.

Likely targets: DD, the tiny SBUX/Caribous with no seating, gas stations, every kitchenette in every office everywhere.

Because of the coffee house: The coffee house environment, hearkening back to the Ottoman Empire (or if you prefer, Vienna in the 1700s)! The history of intellectual progress props you up as you putter along on your laptop or meet up with your friends!

Getting slightly more serious-planting yourself down in a coffee shop for awhile is great. You can go alone ot get away from the distractions of home for less money than if you went to a restaurant (and without any of the social stigma). Groups can hang out, chat, study, knit, or whatever. I've seen small business owners interview employees in Hyde Park Starbucks, and I've seen Russian professors emeriti gather together for mid-morning tea and "conversation" (aka lots of gesticulation and loud Russian) at Unicorn in Evanston. I love them both. The atmosphere of these places varies greatly, as does the quality of the coffee, but it's probably the atmosphere that keeps people coming back.

I'm this person: On Wednesday nights at Julius Meinl (Southport/Addison) when I meet up with the Kelly Girls, my knitting group. When I tutor a friend in math at Noble Tree Coffee (2444 N Clark... it's Lincoln Park and it's fabulous). Back in the day at Filter. At numerous spots around my neighborhood, like Mercury, Atomix, and Alliance. Very frequently at the Mill Park Intelligentsia (if you show up at 6:30 am, it's pretty easy to get a seat).

Likely targets: Anywhere listed above, plus tons of other places. SBUX and Caribous with seating can even count. Apart from those corporate places, the Loop was pretty bereft of coffee houses until Intelligentsia opened two shops. However it seems that Intelligentsia is bnow aiming more for people who will come there...

For the coffee: They're members of coffeegeek.com. They wen to Intelligentsia's Coffee Geekfest weekend before last. They can talk coherently about the proper control of coffee through the wet milling and drying process, and use the term "commodity coffee" as a pejorative. They have strongly-held opinions about Chemexes, Clovers, and what varietals may taste better using a particular brewing method.

I'm this person: Because I can say "yes" to some of the above. Because when Intelligentsia higher-ups talk about how baristas should be as regarded as sommeliers, how they do much much more than just push a button at this level, I agree. Because when I went to San Francisco, I dragged my friend along to Ritual Roasters and Bluebottle Coffee Co. (where I asked so many questions that they asked me if I worked in coffee). Because this is geeky, and I am a geek.

Go to: Intelligentsia. Metropolis and The Coffee Studio probably also count, but I don't know them nearly as well and suspect that they aren't quite so geeked-out as Intelligentsia is at this point.

So... the Intelligentsia change. I'm sure the higher prices for coffee will drive away some caffeinators and coffee house folks. I bet it will even drive some coffee fanatics to brew at home (with their own roasts, or maybe Intelly's). But the price increase isn't because of Clover machines, it's because this coffee is the 1983 colheita to a jug of Gallo that DD serves, and it's because the well-trained baristas deserve to be paid a premium for their skill. Intelligentsia (along with a few other companies across the country) has worked to create an educated, interested, coffee-loving group of consumers. Now it's time for a test of how far this group will follow them, and of whether the group is large enough. Despite the economy, I'm guessing yes; I'm guessing that in a few years, the thought of ordering pre-brewed urn coffee at Intelligentsia will seem as strange as ordering a round of Slippery Nipples at the Violet Hour would be now.

But we'll see, won't we?

Prolix, prolix, nothing a pair of scissors won't fix...

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Glossing over and moving on

People, 2008 got busy. Crazy busy. 2009 looks to be similar, but in an attempt to stay connected to my far-flung friends, I'm going to try to blog more.

I'm also trying to make this more than just the knitblog it's become in recent years. You know, write about books, movies, my life, music, coffee, go-go dancing, and all that other stuff I enjoy during the frequent times I'm not knitting.

Yeah, I'll get around to that. Just not right now. For now, look at the adorable fingerless gloves I made!

(I took this pic today. It was 8 degrees outside. The things I'll do for decent light.)

Pattern: Transition Gloves by Kerin Dimeler (Ravel it!)
Yarn: ShibuiKnits Sock yarn, colors Midnight and Ink
Needles: As called for in the pattern
Finished: Sometime in December?

I purchased the yarn to do these gloves with dark blue Ink and much lighter-blue Sky, but the contrast was so great that Ink looked black and the combination looked weird. I like the gradual fade from deep blue into dark, dark blue this combination produced. The originals are done with red and gold, which made for a fun contrast, but I like mine this way.

Prolix, prolix, nothing a pair of scissors won't fix...