YOUTH IN REVOLT

OH, IF THINGS WERE AS SIMPLE NOW AS THEY WERE BACK THEN, AND SPENDING TIME IN THE BACKYARD WITH MY MOM AND HER CAMERA WAS THE MOST PRESSING THING ON MY SCHEDULE, RIGHT? BUT DECADES LATER, I AM HAPPY WITH HOW FAR I’VE COME, HOW MUCH I’VE LEARNED, AND ALL THE THINGS I HAVE YET TO EXPERIENCE.

“Though my body is far from old, I’m bowing to useless youth. And I can’t fake a fist to throw through the crust of the earth. If you find me, don’t wake me … I can’t be shaken awake. If you don’t stare at the dark and if you never feel bleak, life starts to lose its taste.” FRIGHTENED RABBIT

Oh age. I’ve been thinking about that lately.

Maybe it’s because I finally feel older than ever, even though I am still mistaken for being anywhere from five years to a full decade younger than my real number. (Hey, give a girl a chance to be pleased with herself for a moment. I just admitted I see the days, weeks, months, years, creeping by.)

It feels like yesterday I was eating glue with my then-best-friend Jill Jordan, four years old at our church daycare. It was either that or gluing our hands together, only to eventually pull it all off, spiderwebs of dried Elmer’s peeling from our tiny hands. And yes, this favorite pastime was done during what was supposed to be naptime. Ah quiet rebels, the both of us, even then.

Now she is a mother, a wife, an aunt.

I was home for Thanksgiving this past November. On the highway to my next destination, I was hit with the sudden realization that I hadn’t gone to see my Dad during the brief moment I was in town. I quickly detoured to purchase a poinsettia for his grave at the garden center at Lowe’s in Columbus. It was there I ran into Jill’s mother, Janice, and her older sister, Kelly.

Although the visit was brief, it was good to still feel such a connection so many years later. Once I returned to Chicago, Janice and I hooked up on Facebook, where I was able to “meet” the rest of her now family, which included grandchildren Dean Hartleroad, 19, Max Hartleroad, 16, and Miles Jordan, 15.

Better known to those who love them or have heard their music as The Motions.

When she asked if she could send me their CD, I must admit I was sceptical. I am not a good bad critic of music. I still haven’t written a review of a recent show I went to because I can not stand to be negative … remember, it’s all subjective anyway. One man’s Radiohead is another’s Britney Spears. (Shudder.) But I shouldn’t have worried in the slightest.

From the packaging to the recording, it’s good. I listened to it the first time on the Red Line coming home from work one day. (Raising yet another study in how far my life has taken me from childhood.) The raw, natural talent of all three is evident on each and every track. The best thing about the 10 songs off their self-titled CD? They were all written by them, and inspiration was obviously gained from my hometown. (Not an easy feat to accomplish, I assure you. Even Tennessee Williams had to live other places for a long time to eventually create “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”)

On tracks like “Drink Away your Pain,” a slower turn for the boys, the tones of the song show more maturity than that of normal teenagers. “This addiction’s got you down. Fear you haven’t yet touched ground. You’re looking out for just yourself. Please won’t you save you from yourself.” Dean, the frontman for The Motions, wrote many of the songs before the age of 17, when the CD was recorded in 2008.

There is obvious inspiration from other acts throughout the tracks, although they come across more as subtle nuances than rip-offs. “Intertwined Mind” has tones of The White Stripes in the music, driving guitar riffs mixed with slight drum taps. But it is really with “Fallen” that The Motions show the most promise in my eyes. (Or ears.)  It was the one that immediately jumped out to me on first listen. It is a 2-minute, 21-second, hard-hitting, well-deserved scolding on capitalism of sorts. (Yep … these are kids people.)

But to be honest with you, it’s not the album I am as impressed with as it is their future. To exhibit such drive and aptitude already can only bode well for The Motions in the years to come. They have now added a fourth member, Kyle Bennett, to the mix. Although unsigned, the band will be playing a few shows at SXSW in a couple of weeks. And yes, Janice will be taking her spring break in Austin to see her grandsons on stage. (Just a tinge of jealousy here, as SXSW is on my list of 10 things to do in the next few years, a list I’m slowly whittling away at.)

But I was reminded earlier this week by a random story I saw on the Internet, it’s never too late to become whatever you want. In France, there is a woman who travels around the country as a DJ at the age of 69. Ruth Flowers picked up the hobby after attending her grandson’s 21st birthday. As long as you are open to everything around you, I think there is no set time-line to what you will accomplish, or who you are supposed to be.

Just ask Dean, Max, Miles and Kyle as they move ahead; Janice as she continues to support them (both emotionally and financially … what a wonderful grandmother to believe in their music); Granny DJ spinning her tunes in rhinestone-covered headphones; or even me, as thankfully I can still vividly remember being that glue-eating four-year-old … so I can’t be all that far removed from her.

Age really is just a number.

http://www.myspace.com/themotionsonline

THE MOTIONS, FROM COLUMBUS, MISS., WILL BE PLAYING SEVERAL SHOWS AT SXSW LATER THIS MONTH. WITH AN AVERAGE AGE OF 17, THE BOYS ARE PROVING THAT MATURITY DOESN’T HAVE TO BE DEFINED BY HOW MANY DAYS YOU’VE BEEN ON THIS EARTH. (photo by wes frazer)

* And an addendum to my earlier post on The Motions … Dean prefers to be called Toby now. (Grandma failed to mention that.) Obviously Kyle goes by Harrison as well. Ha. And Hackberry Records in Tuscaloosa, Ala., is the band’s current label. http://www.hackberryrecords.com/ My bad, the CD I got has them unsigned. Should have done more research. But still cool, talented kids. At least I got that right.

A ‘FINE’ DINING EXPERIENCE

THE ELEGANT TABLE SETTINGS AT SHULA’S STEAK HOUSE DOWNTOWN WOULDN’T NORMALLY BE SEEN THROUGH MY LENS. BUT THANKS TO A TERRIBLE DINING EXPERIENCE, I FOUND MYSELF THERE AGAIN, ONLY THIS TIME WITH DIFFERENT COMPANY AND A WAY DIFFERENT OUTCOME.

Sometimes it pays to complain. At least that’s what I learned nearly two years ago.

My best friend here in Chicago, Amy, was due to get married in the summer of 2008. Five months before the wedding, she had a smart change of heart and ended the relationship. The weekend her wedding was to take place, a few of us girls got together and took a “vacation” downtown.

After a lazy Saturday afternoon in the hotel room, we found ourselves hungry and ended up in the lobby restaurant, Shula’s Steak House. (Not our scene, obviously as we are not 50-year-old businessmen, but it was close and we still had to get dressed to go listen to music at Underground Wonder Bar.) Three hours later, filled with cold soup, wrong orders, raw chicken and a lot of waiting, we all left pretty disgusted.

And at $167, split between me and another friend Laura, who like Amy is a teacher, we all left pretty depressed. (And that was with no alcohol consumption and before a tip.) Thankfully, that was the year I decided to e-mail companies if something was wrong … sort of an experiment if you will. I got $6 in coupons from Hostess after my box of 6 100 Calorie Cupcakes only had 5; and later $5 from Green Giant after I found a quarter-sized piece of wood in my bag of roasted potatoes.

Shula’s? Well, almost a year after e-mailing them, they sent me a $200 gift certificate. And the expiration date was yesterday.

Amy and I never really got excited about going back, I’ll be honest. We would mention every once in a while that we needed to go, even if it was to drink wine and eat dessert. Though we see each other once a week as religiously as possible, heading downtown is rarely what we do … not when all we need is in our own neighborhoods.

Knowing she would be with her family at Midevil Times yesterday, (Hey, it’s her birthday this week, and it’s where she wanted to go for the first time as a joke. And yes, I was way jealous.) I was left with the task of inviting someone else for this extravagant treat. (Or torture, based on previous experience.) Most of my friends eat well, come on now … more than a few of them are gay men, and there is an actor, an event coordinator and a lawyer in the mix. And some of the others have wives at home that feed them or are professional-grade chefs in their own right. (Look, correct usage!)

I didn’t really have to think all that hard, because I knew I wanted it to be appreciated. I have recently started hanging out with two of my neighbors, 20-something guys who are both interns at different recording studios here in the city. And smart boys that they are, any extra money goes to mint-condition vinyl and a new cartridge for the turntable. (Now you know why we have all so immediately bonded. And how I am forever in debt, because I have already learned so much.) So I knew, both being from the South (yes, another bonus) they would jump at the chance for steak.

Oddly enough, even though we were truly out of place this time, it turned out to be a pretty great evening.

And I never have to go back again.

AS I HAD PLANS LATER THAT NIGHT, I CHOSE THE EARLIEST RESERVATION POSSIBLE, SO WE WERE MET WITH EMPTY TABLES AND GREAT SERVICE. TRUTH-BE-TOLD, I WAS HAVING SO MUCH FUN WITH MY DINNER GUESTS, I CANCELLED MY EARLIER ENGAGEMENT TO GO PLAY VIDEO GAMES WITH THEM, BECAUSE WELL … IT SOUNDED SO MUCH BETTER. SEE, THAT IS WHY I NEVER MAKE PLANS.

THE REAL REASON I NEEDED HELP BURNING THROUGH THAT $200 GIFT CERTIFICATE? MY CHOICES ON THE MENU WERE FEW, AND I ENJOYED A BAKED POTATO, SALAD AND GRILLED ASPARAGUS. SHULA’S WOULD NOT GET PETA’S RECOMMENDATION BY ANY MEANS. BUT THEY DO GET A THUMBS-UP FOR THE BASKET OF BREAD.

THROUGHOUT THE NIGHT, I REMARKED TO KIRK, SEEN ABOVE, AND HUNTER THAT I WISHED WE HAD BEEN RECORDED WHILE THERE … SORT OF A “THINGS YOU NEVER THOUGHT YOU’D HEAR AT SHULA’S.” AT ONE POINT, THERE WAS TALK OF “CLUB SAUCE,” WHICH ALMOST MADE ME CRY FROM LAUGHING. (“ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT,” FOR THE UNKNOWING.) IT WAS LIKE HAVING A MEAL WITH MY LITTLE BROTHERS, WHO I MISS DEARLY, SO AN ADDED TREAT, I GUESS.

DON’T LET THE REFINED WAY HE’S HOLDING HIS CUTLERY FOOL YOU … AT ONE POINT, HUNTER EVEN THREW OUT AN UNCANNY MR. BURNS IMPRESSION FROM “THE SIMPSONS.” (AND YES, I HAD HIM DO IT AGAIN, AS IT WAS QUITE SPOT-ON.)

THE REMAINS OF HUNTER’S FILET MIGNON … AND THE MAIN REASON THESE PHOTOS FOR THIS POST ARE IN BLACK AND WHITE. A TAD BIT UNDERCOOKED FOR HIS TASTE, I GOT THE WAITER TO PACK IT UP AND HUXLEY WAS ABLE TO ENJOY SOME OF IT LATER AT HOME.

FEELS GOOD TO BE FRIGHTENED

I just told a new friend last night that I don’t like to read reviews for albums.

I don’t even like to write reviews of shows, music, etc. Previews, sure, as it allows me to find out more about the artists, something I usually refrain from doing, as I see music as art and I don’t want to know a lot about what went into making it. I like to keep it subjective. Opinions are like … well you know … and everyone’s got one. But for some reason, I can’t shake the feeling that I need to share mine on this one.

Frightened Rabbit. New album. Holy crap. As I sit here, listening to it once again, thanks to NPR which has it streaming for the next week, I am beginning the process of absorption. And it is hitting every nerve in my body. And I can’t wait to hear it on vinyl … next Tuesday won’t come soon enough. “The Winter of Mixed Drinks” is the third album from the Scottish band, who rose to U.S. recognition with 2008’s “The Midnight Organ Fight.”

In a time where animal monikers seem to be gaining popularity on the indie scene (think Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, Panda Bear, Minus the Bear, White Rabbit, Band of Horses, Pedro the Lion, Deerhoof, Deerhunter … you get the picture) Frightened Rabbit now stands up there with the best.

“The Winter of Mixed Drinks” is a hauntingly beautiful, emotional 45-minute layered wall of sound. (And the best part, it’s the first album I am getting to hear through my new-to-me vintage Pioneer SE-50 headphones, so a fine popping of the cherry, if you will. And forever the best $5 spent at a yard-sale.)

With tracks like “The Loneliness and the Scream,” lead singer Scott Hutchinson wraps his voice around such inspired lyrics as “I’ve fallen in the forest, did you hear me? In the loneliness, oh the loneliness, and the scream to prove to everyone that I exist … I’m here, of course I am, yes. All I need is your hand to drag me out again …” The way the words entangle themselves through the layers, slight guitar chords leading to such an uplifting crescendo it makes the idea of loneliness seem like an amazing new adventure.

The swooping guitars and drum beats on “Foot Shooter” match the melodic yet sultry tone of Hutchinson’s voice note for note, while “Nothing Like You” sees a more driving, almost early-80s punk side of Frightened Rabbit. “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” is a surprisingly upbeat track disguised as a study of past demons and a tinge of boredom (“Let’s call me a Baptist … call this a drowning of the past”) that continues the record’s use of swooping background vocals. I could go on and on, as each track offers something different. (“Things” … “Skip the Youth” … man …)

Top to bottom, “The Winter of Mixed Drinks” gets high marks from me. The feeling is not one of over-produced indie pop. It is a free-flowing trek through full-bodied experimentation and instrumentation. But hey … what do I know? This is just my opinion, and I’m just thankful to have gotten so much out of it already.

Hopefully you will too.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124085431

RIGHT BRAIN WINS EVERY TIME

THE BEST OF THE REST, I GUESS. I PHOTOGRAPH A LOT OF THINGS THAT DON’T END UP IN MY BLOG (INCLUDING PICKLED BRUSSELS SPROUTS AT JOEL AND JEREMY’S CHRISTMAS PARTY.) VIOLENTLY ILL AT HOME TODAY, (NOT A GOOD MENTAL IMAGE WITH SPROUTS ABOVE, I AM SURE) I BEGAN ANOTHER WAY TO SHARE WHAT I SEE WITH ALL OF YOU WHO LOVE ME.

So what’s a girl to do when she’s too sick to leave her couch … but bored out of her mind? In my case, start a new blog.

I was in the mood to create today. (Truthfully, I was actually looking forward to going to work, as the need to make something was palpable. Unfortunately, my body had other ideas.)

Midday, I began to clean photos off my laptop, only to realize there were a lot from the last year that had not made my blog or the newspaper for some reason. My mother continues to ask me every time she reads something, “Did you take that picture?” I have to assure her again and again that I did, so this is mainly for her. (Again.) Now she can see the other images that were important enough for me to document with my thankfully work-provided, but all-together crappy, digital camera.

It’s also in part for my friend Joe, who has said I write too long for him sometimes. (There is more to that statement, but since I love him … I’ll refrain.) Ah critics … So now he can just flip through and look at pictures when he just needs to occupy his mind for a minute. Hats off to him.

After going a few years without taking many photographs at all, I will admit to being a little obsessive from time to time. But as those of you who know and love me surely realize, it’s all in my search to find more beautiful balance and continued growth in this world of mine. So I guess look at this as a companion piece to “SEEN IN CHICAGO.” Where my words describe what I see here, the lens will do it for me at the other. I write what I see. I shoot what I see. Sometimes I get it right/rite. Sometimes I don’t. All part of the learning process.

Ladies and gentlemen, untrained eye chicago.

I’m thankful for those of you who like seeing things my way.

http://untrainedeyedchicago.wordpress.com/

FOOD FOR THE SOUL

THEY SAY BREAKFAST IS THE BEST WAY TO START YOUR DAY, AND I COULDN’T AGREE MORE. ESPECIALLY WHEN THAT MEAL IS SHARED WITH PEOPLE YOU LOVE. A HAPPY, LAST-MINUTE BREAKFAST WAS HAD BY DAVID, JOSH AND I SATURDAY MORNING AT GOLDEN HOUSE RESTAURANT.

Oscar Wilde said “only boring people are brilliant at breakfast.”

I tend to disagree there, Mr. Wilde. I do some of my best work with a plate of eggs in front of me, surrounded by quite interesting friends. Now granted, sometimes it can be hard to get a conversation going before any of us have had our coffee, but once the hot, brown liquid is flowing through our veins, so will the topics.

This weekend was a tale of two breakfasts. One was a last-minute jaunt to our favorite spot; the other a more leisurely brunch with a girlfriend.

Different as night and day … or well maybe as different as morning and mid-morning. But Mom was always right when she said breakfast was the most important meal of the day.

Not only can it feed your belly, it can feed your soul.

THERE IS SOMETHING ABOUT GOLDEN HOUSE RESTAURANT THAT HAS BEGUN TO FEEL LIKE AN EXTENSION OF HOME IN A WAY. I GUESS KNOWING YOU CAN GET CHEAP, GOOD FOOD MERE STEPS AWAY PROVES TOO TEMPTING FOR THE THREE OF US. (WHEN JOSH CALLED, I AT FIRST TOLD HIM NO AS WE HAD JUST BEEN THERE LAST WEEKEND. LESS THAN 30 MINUTES LATER, I WAS SITTING IN A BOOTH BY THE WINDOW.) I DON’T THINK I WILL EVER TIRE OF PHOTOGRAPHING THIS RESTAURANT EITHER, AS THERE IS ALWAYS SO MUCH TO LOOK AT THERE. SO MUCH PERSONALITY.

BRUNCH ON SUNDAY WITH JESSICA AT MAGNOLIA CAFE ON WILSON WAS A MORE DIGNIFIED (AND PRICEY) AFFAIR. BUT WE BOTH AGREE IT IS WORTH IT FOR THE MANGO MIMOSAS AND THE LEMON CURD THEY SERVE WITH THEIR MUFFINS, (OH. MY. GOODNESS.) PLUS THE COFFEE IS STRONG. MEALS WITH JESSICA BRING OUT MY MORE GIRLIE SIDE, AS WE CHAT ABOUT MAKEUP AND HAIR, SHOWS AND WORK, AND THE EVER-POPULAR TOPIC OF RELATIONSHIPS. SINCE JESSICA IS YOUNGER THAN ME BY NEARLY A DECADE (GASP!) I CAN ACTUALLY IMPART SOME WORDS OF WISDOM TO HER. SOMEONE HAS TO GET SOMETHING OUT OF MY MISTAKES, RIGHT?

SINGING/LAUGHING AWAY THE BLUES

I’LL GIVE IT TO ANNIE CLARK, SHE GOT IT RIGHT THURSDAY NIGHT AT THE METRO … IF ONLY I HAD BEEN SO LUCKY EARLIER IN THE DAY. BUT BEING WRAPPED IN A MULTI-INSTRUMENTAL COCOON BROUGHT ME OUT OF MY INNER FUNK … NOT TO MENTION CHASED AWAY THE FRUSTRATED, YET PETTY, BLUES.

There are days … and then there are days.

Bad. Busted. Beaten. Broken. Bewildered.

Thankfully they are far and few in between. But man, when they hit … it can be so overwhelming you fight to focus on the things that matter. Struggling to ward off the petty, lest you get swept up in the sad nature of it all.

I am a designer. I am not a writer. My Mississippi English education doesn’t get me very far, sometimes I fear. But I write because I love it … because I need to … Misusing the word rite yesterday highlighted to me I still have a lot to learn. (I can accept that as I begin to focus on this new medium in my life.) And a much-thicker skin to grow. But I also don’t think a several-minute berating by a stranger via voicemail was warranted for my small mistake. I am neither young nor stupid. And you refer to me as Kathryn, sir … only friends can call me Kacy. Oh, and there are actual problems in the world, so maybe that energy you have should be used for some good.

And that was just the beginning … it all went downhill from there. (Believe me, too many things to list.) But why only focus on the nonsense when I was able to see so many things to pull me out of it? As always with the good comes the bad / the happy with the sad.

  • Bumping into my 2-year-old Valentine Emmanuel on the street / Getting no love from him because he would rather look at Huxley.
  • Realizing I lost one of my favorite gloves while getting dressed last night / Finding my glove bundled in the corner of my massive bag this morning on the train.
  • Thinking a guy on the train heading down to Addison had Tourette’s and found such striking beauty in it / Realizing the reason for his constant shakes and dancing around me was an awful lot of booze. (So then I just felt sad, but gained the ability to laugh at him for going the wrong way on the train.)
  • Two last-minute (but totally warranted) cancellations for my extra pass to St. Vincent / Feeling revived by the music that in a way, was only for me. (And being thanked by the guy at the Metro for not bringing anyone, as it was a totally sold-out show.)
  • Listening to a man talk incessantly about the lack of time he has to hard-boil his eggs / Getting to laugh at said freak for his soft-boiled talk while in line for a freaking show!
  • Cringing when I saw the packed Red Line at midnight leaving Addison and was wedged in between two guys in their 30s who had been playing beer pong since before 6 p.m. / Truly giggling the whole way home and wishing I could share the whole story. But Mom reads this, and it’s hard to describe why a stranger grabbed and hugged you because you gave him back a few “cool points” after scolding his friend for a crude comment.

Again, I appreciate the universe for the little joys in life. It’s one more step toward that balance I seek, I guess. Thankful for the lessons I was forced to learn yesterday. But even more grateful it became more about the music … and more about the laughter.

Because in the end, most of it doesn’t really matter. Right?

ST. VINCENT DID MAKE A FAN OUT OF ME, AS I FELT HER MUSIC TRANSLATED BETTER WITH A BACKING BAND AND NOT A COMPUTER PROGRAM. AS THEY WALKED OUT TO ICE-CUBE’S “IT WAS A GOOD DAY,” I FINALLY REALIZED THAT IT COMPLETELY WAS. (LOOK FOR MY FULL REVIEW OF THE SHOW MONDAY AT NWI.COM. I’LL TRY TO GET IT RIGHT.)

THE FACT THAT CUBS TICKETS WENT ON SALE TODAY CAN ONLY MEAN ONE THING: SPRING IS FINALLY AROUND THE CORNER. (YEAH, YEAH … SO IT’S MONTHS AWAY, BUT WE’RE CLOSER THAN WE WERE … AND A GIRL CAN PREMATURELY DREAM OF MORNINGS AT THE BEACH WITH HUXLEY AND READING A BOOK UNDER A TREE AT THE PARK.)

TUGGING AT MY HEARTSTRINGS

EMMANUEL, 2, MADE MY DAY ON THE RED LINE TODAY. QUITE A LITTLE FLIRT, WE KEPT EACH OTHER ENTERTAINED THE WHOLE TRIP HOME. YET ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF THE MANY FORMS LOVE CAN TAKE.

Ah Valentines … why must we only celebrate them on February 14? Late evening, a day later, and I find Cupid has brought me even more to love. One is sweet. One is petty. One is amazing. (Well, two actually on the last … but for continuity’s sake, since they are a couple, we’ll call them a one.)

I met him on the train coming home. The tears were fresh on his face, but once he saw me, I could tell immediately he was in the mood to flirt.

I was more than willing to oblige.

It started innocently enough, him peeking at me through his knit cap, pulling it up and down over his eyes. When I smiled back, and he did the same … well, I knew it was on. The headphones came out of one ear, in case the communication went past teasing looks and silly faces.

He was adorable. The way he mimicked my every move. Each time I touched my nose, he did the same. Each time I held out my gloved hand, his mitten-covered one reached out to me. We were all giggles as the train car began to fill with commuters. I would peek around people’s shoulders at him … the others adding another level to our cat-and-mouse game. His laughs were music to my ears …

(Well, one of them anyway, as I still had “Odd Blood” filling the other. Where, I might add it has pretty much stayed since Wednesday, as I have been completely transfixed by its beats and simple, emotional lyrics. I always let music find me when it does, and rarely do I buy something the week it’s released. Honestly, I didn’t know when I picked it up it had only been on vinyl 24 hours … I just knew I would be covering them when they played here in April, and at $10.99, it was a small work expense. Well, it obviously found me when it needed to … fortunately. See, maybe even a fourth Valentine in Yeasayer.)

… and Emmanuel, 2, knew just how to make a girl like me fall in love. And I was glad to keep him occupied for 25 minutes across the aisle, while his tired mother got a moment of peace and quiet. When they went to leave at Wilson, one stop before me, he reached out his hand to grab mine while walking by. I told him it had been a pleasure to meet him. And it had. (Now, if only the ones 13(ish) times his age could be as sweetly forward.)

Off the train, I ran into Starbucks. (See, told you the second was petty.) I’ve started stopping in a few times a week to grab a cup of coffee. Yes, I’m just a block from my house … where a French press and fresh (but cheap, thanks Trader Joe’s) beans await … but the time it takes to boil the water when all you want to do is warm up is worth paying $1.66. Plus, they know what I want before I even tell them. (Tall, steamed soy … so $2 really, as they get my change for remembering.) I like their bold coffee, hate me some Pike Place, but since that’s all you can get after noon, I’ve learned to deal.

But today was extra special. I paid my $1.66, (with my debit card, so sadly no tip) and I walked out with a grande with an added shot of espresso. (Done to make it taste like the bold, knowing I like it better. And that conversation was had months ago … yet the guy behind the counter found it important enough to commit to memory. And treat me unasked.) See good people in my neighborhood.

Which brings me to my amazing Valentine.

The first time I walked into my current apartment, I knew I was home. I had scoured craigslist for weeks, and nothing in my price range had even sparked my interest enough to tempt me to even view it. Until I saw the ad for a small, colorful place one block off the Red Line, half a block from The Green Mill. It was the only one I looked at. I paid my security deposit immediately, and wrote out checks for the next few months. It was mine.

Adding to its luster was its current tenant, Tiffani. We bonded immediately over Wilco, (I was carrying one of their bags that day) and our true, undying love for the heart-throbbing Glenn Kotche. (Smart girl, that Tiffani.) She and her husband, Deke, left for their larger place downtown almost three weeks before my lease began. I moved in immediately, no charge for rent or electricity for those 18 days. And their kindness has continued for the past 650 or so.

They have seen me through furloughs and unexpected trips home when my Father had his stroke and later passed away. If I had to pay my rent late and sent an extra fee, it was always sent back. (I finally learned not to even add it.) I am sure they know how much I love living here, and can only hope that has taken a load off their minds, as they have taken many off of mine.

When Tiffani texted me today to see if I could use her train card up in the next few weeks, I assured her I could. (And at $4.50 a day spent on the CTA, yet another load …) She and Deke will be leaving soon for Texas, as other opportunities await. But I know they leave loving this place, this building, this block, this neighborhood as much as I do. (Yes, tears here.) And I thank them for truly caring about me. (And I thank Facebook, as I can still laugh at her jokes from hundreds of miles away.)

Ah, that Cupid. He does give you things when most needed.

HEART ABOUNDS IN UPTOWN

QUEEN, STYX, SIMPLE MINDS, TODD RUNDGREND, BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, R.EM., REO SPEEDWAGON … NOW THAT’S QUITE AN ECLECTIC TWO ROWS AT SHAKE, RATTLE & READ. WHY DO I LOVE THIS TINY UPTOWN ESTABLISHMENT? WELL, IT’S NO RECKLESS RECORDS, BUT SOME OF MY GREATEST USED VINYL TREASURES HAVE BEEN FOUND HERE. (INCLUDING ORNETTE COLEMAN’S “VIRGIN BEAUTY” FOR $8 YESTERDAY.)

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways … I love thee with a passion put to use, in my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith. I love thee with a love I seemed to lose.” – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I think I’ve started a bit of a trend here, so this will be the last time I apologize for using someone else’s poetry. But know I only ever do it with the highest amount of respect and because sometimes it takes another’s words to explain what I am exactly trying to say … or trigger it, anyway.

How Browning felt about the person/animal/sidewalk/roasted lamb/quill pen … (I wasn’t in her head and I can only presume what any artist may be writing about, so I try to refrain.) is how I am feeling about Chicago today. Well, Uptown specifically. My 2010 Valentine of sorts. And a pure one.

Following a time of ultimate grief, I have been startled at how I look at things now. It IS more child-like in a way. After four years (and almost two living on the same block) I feel such a love, such an ownership of my neighborhood … yet I continue to view it each day as new.

I made a comment to a friend about feeling like a tourist now that I constantly have my camera out. But she was right in her response that it was different because I am just documenting what I see. I’ll be honest and say I started doing this blog for my life-long Valentine, Mom, who begged me forever to begin doing one, if only for her. And now that she tells me how much closer it makes her feel to me, hundreds of miles away, I wish I would have sooner.

But I think it would have only been possible now.

I regained many loves I seemed to lose.

THE NUMBER OF BOOKS AND VINYL CRAMMED INTO SHAKE, RATTLE & READ ON BROADWAY IS QUITE AN IMPRESSIVE FEAT. BUT BELIEVE ME WHEN I SAY THERE IS TRULY SOMETHING HERE FOR EVERYONE. “PLATO’S ETHICS,” “JEMIMA J,” “THE HOTTEST STATE” (SORRY, ONLY IN PAPERBACK CHIP) AND “LISTENING TO PROZAC” ALL JUMPED OUT AT ME YESTERDAY. BUT IS WAS A COPY OF “HIGH FIDELITY” (WHERE DID MINE GET TO?) THAT CAME HOME WITH ME, AS I WAS IN THE MOOD TO READ IT AGAIN.

THERE IS SOMETHING ABOUT SEEING THESE LITTLE CARTS UP AND DOWN THE STREETS THAT WARMS MY HEART. (EVEN THOUGH I KNOW I COULD NEVER STAND OUTSIDE ALL DAY IN THIS WEATHER.) MORE PREVALENT IN THE WARMER MONTHS, YOU CAN FIND CORN, SNACKS AND EVEN SNOWCONES ON VIRTUALLY EVERY CORNER.

YEAH, YEAH … SO IN ADDITION TO THE THING I HAVE FOR MEN AND THEIR BEARDS, THERE’S ALSO EXTRA BONUS POINTS FOR PLAYING AN INSTRUMENT. SO IF YOU’RE CARRYING A GUITAR CASE ON THE CTA, YOU WILL AT LEAST GET MY FLEETING ATTENTION. UNFORTUNATELY, IT WOULD TAKE A FULL DRUM KIT TO REALLY IMPRESS ME, AND WELL, THAT’S JUST SILLY. I DON’T EXPECT TO EVER SEE GLENN KOTCHE TOTING HIS WARES ON MY 81 LAWRENCE BUS … EVEN IF IT DOES GO RIGHT TO HIS NEIGHBORHOOD.

SOMETIMES I DO FEEL LIKE A BIT OF A VOYEUR AT GOLDEN HOUSE RESTAURANT BECAUSE I ALWAYS HAVE MY CAMERA OUT WHEN WE’RE THERE. (AND MY FRIEND, JOSH, KEPT TELLING ME I WAS TODAY … SO MAYBE I AM.) BUT THERE IS JUST SOMETHING ABOUT THIS DINER THAT HAS SIMPLY ADHERED ITSELF TO ME AND MOST EVERYONE I KNOW. WHEN I CAME TO LOOK AT MY APARTMENT IN MARCH 2008, MY LANDLORD, TIFFANI, SAID IT WAS THE ONE PLACE SHE WOULD MISS THE MOST. IT TOOK ME ALMOST A YEAR BEFORE I VENTURED IN, BUT SOMEONE WILL DRAG ME THERE (NOT HARD TO DO) AT LEAST ONCE OR TWICE A MONTH NOW. IT’S THE KIND OF PLACE YOU EITHER LOVE OR HATE, I GUESS … AND THE KIND OF PLACE YOU ALWAYS ORDER THE SAME THING. (ME? EGGS, HASHBROWNS, PANCAKES … JOEL? EGGS, CORN-BEEF HASH, PANCAKES … JOSH? EGGS, BACON, FRENCH TOAST … DAVID? BUCKWHEAT PANCAKES … YOU GET THE IDEA.) THE PEOPLE THAT WORK THERE ARE WHAT MAINLY BRINGS ME BACK, AS THEY ARE SOME OF THE WARMEST YOU WILL EVER MEET. AND THE FACT THE ELDERLY HISPANIC MAN KISSES ME ON MY CHEEK AND TALKS TO ME IN SPANISH EVERY TIME HE SEES ME IS JUST ICING ON THE (PAN)CAKE. SINCE JOSH CALLS HIM “MY BOYFRIEND,” TODAY I WILL CONCUR … IF ONLY TO VENTURE THE THOUGHT THAT THANKFULLY VALENTINES COME IN MANY HEART-WARMING FORMS.

CHILLED TO THE BONE, CHILLED OUT

YES, MY AFFECTION FOR THESE TOWERS DOWNTOWN LIE WITH “YANKEE HOTEL FOXTROT,” BUT THE FALLING SNOW MADE THEM MORE MAGICAL. WALKING TO THE TRAIN TUESDAY NIGHT, I WAS THRILLED TO SEE SO MUCH OF THE WHITE STUFF FALLING FROM THE SKY.

Crap, it’s cold. Really, really cold. And why it feels that way, I’m not really sure.

Twenty-five degrees on a February night is pretty rare. We’ve already survived way-worse temperatures this winter … and we surely all dread the frigid ones to come. But man, there’s something in the air today that just won’t let me, or most people I saw, shake the chill.

Now granted, for some reason, we just can’t seem to get the temperature right at work, and there were moments I wondered if I would see my breath as I sat in front of my Mac this morning. I even called one of our always-prepared photographers, Natalie, to request feet- and hand-warmers I know she buys in bulk at Costco. When she got back from assignment and gave me enough to last a few days, I thought I heard angels singing. (Or maybe it was just a track off Yeasayer’s “Odd Blood” I had wafting from my tower.) Either way … a few shakes of a packet, and boy, what a huge difference.

It was no better on the train home from work, each time those doors opened … But I had aforementioned amazing album busting through my headphones and I never stopped moving the entire way. (I’m sure some people found me a bit weird, constantly tapping my feet from White Sox field to Uptown. But I have learned when you’re freezing, just move a little. It truly helps.)

Now, I am in my apartment … waiting for the radiators to kick into high gear. (That usually happens around 10 p.m., so close now.) But I know before I truly can get warm, the creature to my left eyeing my every move will want to be taken back outside one more time. Ah, the price you pay for pure love.

I know sometimes it can seem more painful than it really is, but I actually love winter. (Except for the ice, of course.)

I take in every snowflake I see. Four years on, each is still just as novel as the last. This week’s has been the best this winter so far … deep and beautiful. And to me, not a nuisance at all. It can slow you down a little, but good boots boost your confidence as you trudge through whatever is splattered across the sidewalks. (Now, watch me bust it when I take Huxley out in a minute.)

Yesterday was a perfect example of a magical winter day. I played hooky from work, wanting to soak up every second of the wonderland outside my window. The snow finally trickled to flurries mid-morning, and the pup and I played around for a while, as our courtyard had yet to be shovelled. By the time I left my house to head downtown to meet a friend for lunch, not a patch was to be found on the concrete. (I swear, I think fairies just show up sometimes.)

Despite the wind coming off the Chicago River, Michigan Avenue proved to be a nice walk after I deposited Christopher back at the Tribune building following a quick bite. The sun was shining, all the businesses had removed the accumulation in front of their store-fronts, fear of lawsuits surely speeding up the process. It wouldn’t have mattered though, as I had one destination in mind.

I said I wouldn’t do it this week, but I did end up at Reckless Records. Being so close (well, six or so blocks, anyway) to my favorite location on Madison, I couldn’t fight the draw. Two albums later, (Shame, shame on me … come on IRS, deposit that refund.) I happily walked to the Red Line, back home to enjoy another perfect winter day. (Even if the rest of it was spent cleaning, and later vegging out on Amy’s couch catching up on missed episodes of “How I Met Your Mother” and “The Big Bang Theory.”)

Truth be told, I guess I don’t mind so much living in an icebox. Now, if the heat would just come on.

THE SNOW WAS ALREADY PRETTY DEEP ONCE I GOT BACK TO UPTOWN, BUT THAT’S OK … I HAVE MY BOOTS, (AND LOTS OF KNEE-SOCKS TO PULL UP OVER MY LEGGINGS.) THE BEST $20 I EVER SPENT AT A ST. LOUIS WALMART.

THE DARLINGTON HOTEL AT THE CORNER OF LELAND AND RACINE IS ONE OF MY FAVORITE BUILDINGS ON MY STREET. IF FOR NOTHING ELSE, ITS AMAZING SIGNS AND THE INTERESTING CHARACTERS COMING IN AND OUT.

THE SNOW CONTINUED TO FALL STEADILY TUESDAY NIGHT AROUND UPTOWN, LEAVING US WITH INCHES AND INCHES OF THE WHITE STUFF, PLUS SOME BEAUTIFUL DRIFTS.

I ALWAYS FIND HUXLEY’S EYES A LITTLE CREEPY WHEN THE FLASH HITS THEM LIKE THIS, BUT I THINK IT ADDS TO THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN ASPECT OF IT ALL. AS YOU CAN SEE, HE HAD JUST ENJOYED ANOTHER TRIP OUTSIDE … A BIG FAN OF THE SNOW, THIS MISSISSIPPI-BORN BOY IS.

I LOVE THE COLOR OF THE SKY WHEN THERE IS A SNOWSTORM IN THE ATMOSPHERE. IT CAN GO TO GRAY TO WHITE AND BACK TO GRAY AGAIN … BUT SOMETIMES IT WILL SETTLE ON THIS AMAZING AMBER COLOR, WHICH IS TRULY MY FAVORITE.

WEDNESDAY MORNING SAW THE END OF THE DRIVING SNOW, BUT JUST THE BEGINNING OF A LOT OF CHAOS ON THE ROADS. THE CITY DOES A PRETTY DECENT JOB KEEPING ALL OF THE MAIN STREETS AND EXPRESSWAYS AS CLEAR AS POSSIBLE, SO THE SIDE STREETS ARE USUALLY PUT OFF UNTIL THE END OF THE STORM.

THANKFULLY MY STAIRS LEADING TO THE BACK PORCH ARE PRETTY PROTECTED, SO I NEVER HAVE TO DEAL WITH WHAT MY NEIGHBORS HAVE TO. NOPE, DON’T ENVY THEM AT ALL.

SNOW AND ICE SEEMINGLY COVER EVERYTHING FOR MONTHS IN CHICAGO, INCLUDING OUR BACK GATE. SOMETIMES I FIND MYSELF WALKING THROUGH GOLDEN HOUSE RESTAURANT NEXT DOOR BECAUSE BOTH THE GATE IS FROZEN, AS IS THE ALLEY I HAVE TO SKATE THROUGH TO GET BACK ON MY WAY TO THE FRONT OF MY BUILDING.

AS YOU CAN CLEARLY SEE, HUXLEY IS NOT AFRAID TO BE IN THE SNOW, BUT  HE’S GOT A BIT OF WINTER GEAR TO HELP KEEP HIM WARM. I’M NOT REALLY ONE TO DRESS UP MY ANIMALS, BUT THANKFULLY MY MOM IS. SHE ALWAYS BUYS HIM A WINTER COAT FOR CHRISTMAS, AND THIS YEAR HE GOT HAND-ME-DOWN SWEATERS FROM HIS AUNT GRETA AS WELL.

IF IT WEREN’T FOR THE SNOW EVERYWHERE, IT WOULD HAVE LOOKED LIKE SPRING BY MIDDAY WEDNESDAY. THE CLOUDS PARTED, THE SUN CAME OUT, AND IT MADE FOR A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN UPTOWN.

ADDING TO MY PERFECT DAY WAS THE ABILITY TO GET A PRETTY DECENT SHOT OF A BLANKETED GRACELAND CEMETARY FROM THE TRAIN. (USUALLY THEY COME OUT TOO BLURRY TO BE OF ANY SUBSTANCE.) THE SPRAWLING GROUND IS HOME TO MANY NOTABLE BODIES, INCLUDING THE FIRST MAYOR OF CHICAGO AND CHARLES DICKENS’ BROTHER AUGUSTUS.

ALTHOUGH THE STREETS AND SIDEWALKS DOWNTOWN WERE CLEAR, EVERY OTHER SURFACE (INCLUDING THE CTA BUSES) BARED TRACES OF THE TWO DAYS OF WICKED WEATHER.

THE VIEW ALONG THE CHICAGO RIVER WAS IDEALIC, EVEN IF THE WIND WAS A BIT BRUTAL. WITH THE AMOUNT OF SNOW ON THE GROUND, THE STAIRS REALLY HIGHLIGHT HOW DILIGENT CREWS WORK TO MAKE SURFACE AREAS SAFE FOR TRAVEL.

THESE PIGEONS FLOCKED (NO PUN INTENDED) TO ONE CLEAR SPOT ON A SIDEWALK ON WACKER THAT WAS OUT OF THE WAY OF FOOT TRAFFIC. DOZENS OF PEOPLE WALKED BY AS I STOOD AND SHOT THEM, AND NOT ONE OF THEM FLINCHED.

A CHANGE OF THOUGHT

NO MATTER WHERE YOU ARE IN CHICAGO, YOU CAN CONSTANTLY BE BOMBARDED WITH PEOPLE ASKING FOR MONEY. HOPEFULLY MOST GIVE IT WHEN THEY HAVE IT TO SPARE. IT IS HARD TO WATCH THE AVOIDANCE BY SOME AS THEY CLUTCH THEIR BANANA REPUBLIC SHOPPING BAGS … A SIMPLE “I DON’T HAVE ANYTHING” SHOWS MORE RESPECT THAN IGNORING ANOTHER HUMAN BEING.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way.”

Thanks Charles Dickens, I couldn’t have said it better myself. (See, here I go again, stealing another artist’s words.)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about balance. Taking the good with the bad, the happy with the sad. Searching for a gray area in a world that sometimes seems to only want to be black or white. But what I have recently discovered is the varying shades it can hopefully all be.

I believe in karma. I think that what you put out in the universe will eventually come back to fully reward you or bite you pretty hard in the ass.

I am not a kind person because I expect one day to be given a medal because I gave my last $1.45 away on the train last night. (I knew it was payday today, and I would have a means to the end of my “poverty” … at least for a minute.) I am kind because I do believe you should treat others as you would want to be treated.

The girl that came through the train I had seen once before, several months ago as I waited to board at Roosevelt. I had just left the grocery store across from the station when she approached several people around me, only to come up empty-handed. I knew I had no cash or change, so when she got to me I asked if she would want some food instead. Her response was emphatic, and she thanked me repeatedly as I tore off a banana and opened a box of granola bars to leave her with a few. So when she came through my car last night, I didn’t hesitate to give her half of what I had. (And truth be told, I had even borrowed that change from my friend Joe, to be doubly sure I had enough fare to get home last night.) And I was thankful to be able to give the rest of it away just a few minutes later, to a man seemingly in just as bad of a situation as the girl before him.

I’m fortunate to have a more-than decent life. I have wonderful family, friends and even some great colleagues.  I have a roof over my head and there is power charging up my laptop as I type this. I’ll go to Elim Wigs in the morning and treat myself to $10 worth of fantastic cheap jewelry or maybe a new hat; I’ll see a preview of a play tomorrow night; have meals with friends this weekend; and I already purchased Huxley a few bully sticks to celebrate his birthday, and a can of sardines for Talullah so she wouldn’t feel left out. I won’t be going to Reckless Records and buying any new vinyl, but maybe I’ll find a $3 gem at Shake Rattle and Read. I can only dream of taking a last-minute flight to Amsterdam, but walking my pooch to the beach so he can enjoy the ice and snow will be thrill enough for now.

I guess what I am trying to say is that my priorities are always covered, and sometimes I can treat myself to little “happies.” I have to remember  more to take great solace in that. When it comes to matters of finances, I need to not constantly see it as and all-encompassing, soul-sucking, stressful 3C-9017 … but view it as more of a 14-4106 TCX. (Sorry non-design geeks, those are Pantone colors … a British Traffic Black and the much lighter Gray Dawn.) So I’ll shift more towards 11-0602TPX (Snow White) and rejoice in the fact that I don’t have to walk up and down the aisle of a train to ask strangers for their change when I have the support that I do.

Someone will always be there to catch me if I do lose my balance.

In the best of times … or the worst of them.

THE BALANCE I SEEK COMES IN MANY FORMS … FROM SURVIVING THE BLEAK FAMIALARITY OF THE RED LINE EACH DAY OR YET ANOTHER SNOWY NIGHT IN CHICAGO … TO FINDING SNAPSHOTS OF COLOR AND KITSCH AROUND THE DECAYING CORNERS UP MY UPTOWN NEIGHBORHOOD.