Vintage Photographs

I’m an inconsistent person. Usually. Maybe not all the time, but yeah, all the time. As a result, no matter how interesting or useful or well written a website might be, it’s a good bet that I forget to visit it as often as I should.

This isn’t true, however, for a community photo site I’ve found called Vintage Photographs. It has an astounding variety of old photos of every type–glamor, postcard, news events, family portraits, etc. The most intriguing lately have been many from pre-revolution Russia, showing workers at their trains, soldiers posing on their horses, families out on picnics. There’s usually no info to speak of accompanying the pictures, but just the same, each one somehow creates a narrative in my head. It’s a very intimate site, probably because of all the family pix, although many portraits of famous people are posted. Go check it out, and add it to your favorites.

Here’s one of a party in Paris in the 1920’s. The caption reads, “Russian ball at Bullier in 1929
From left to right: Iliazd, M. Gutheir, Florent Fels, Ganzo, Michonze with Iliazd’s wife, Pascin and Caridad de Laberdesque.” For all I know these are famous European intellectuals, but I don’t really care. I just dig the kooky fun they’re all having. I also wouldn’t mind meeting the brunette in the friendly pose in the lower right corner.


This household has been socked with a one-two punch of chest colds and winter ennui, so last night, the kids watched “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” eating carry-out Thai, and after they went to bed, my ever-lovin’ wife and I watched the Oscars. We were aided by the TIVO, of course, which let us fast-forward through all the musical numbers and the long walks to the microphone (which surprisingly add 19 minutes to the whole broadcast).

Why we’d bother to watch, I don’t know. We just don’t go out to the movies anymore unless a supervillain is endangering the earth somehow. I think the last best picture I saw in the theater might have been “Annie Hall.” And the faces and names get more obscure every year. But it pays to keep up with the pop culture, if only to be able to talk in short-hand about things.

Something I noticed last night, besides how absolutely fabulous a life in Hollywood must be (note to self: time to head west and sleep on an acquaintance’s couch for a year or two), was how many winners described their experience as “amazing.”

“This has just been an amazing experience.” At first I thought, how amazing have the past 15 seconds been since your name was announced? Were your legs asleep and you are glad to stretch them? But I quickly realized that the person was likely talking about the past few weeks since the nominations were announced. In light of that, the word “amazing” must mean:

It’s great you people have finally recognized me for the mega-talent I’ve been telling you I am.

It’s fun to get phone calls from people who want to hire me, and agents who want to steal me.

It’s enjoyable to get calls from old boyfriends who are looking for tickets to the red carpet, so I can tell them to eat shit and die.

It’s nice to get baskets and baskets of free swag from companies dumb enough to send it to me.

It certainly beats pretending to be glad that someone else won.

It’s amazing while the attention lasts, because most assuredly, it won’t.

Completely Inside Joke

For those of you who weren’t at the wine auction, and those of you who couldn’t hear over the din that filled the parish hall, here’s the toast that I finally came up with.

Here’s to the parents of Queens,
Who know that a good education means
Raising cash left and right,
Like Winter Toast night,
Before Voss Center gets slapped with a lien.

And like most limericks, it got razzed. By the host. Over the microphone. Oh well.

A Toast for Chicago

While researching online for a toast to bring to a wine auction this weekend, I happened upon one about the City on the Make:

Here’s to Chicago, where everything dates from the Fair,
Where they know the value of good hot air.
When there’s prospect of business, they’ll always stand treat,
For their hearts are as big as their women’s feet.

I don’t know what it means, but I like it.

White City Brought Back to Life

Before heading out of town for the three-day weekend, my eye caught something in the Tribune about a special showing of a computer-simulated, 3-D environment of Chicago’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. Excitement courses through me about the chance to sit in a movie chair and cruise through the canals in a gondola like Bertha Palmer’s errant nephew, until the article tells me the simulation would only be shown at the Museum of Science and Industry this past weekend on a first-come, first-served basis. After that, no more public showings, unless the computer people at UCLA get a whole lotsa money.

Drat and double drat.

But little tastes of the simulation are available online, so we can all imagine what it would be like to live in the pages of “The Devil in The White City”. Check them out at the UCLA site and also at the Trib.

Maybe they should sell T-shirts for the URBAN SIMULATION TEAM! to raise money.

Heavy Eskimo Petting for Valentine’s Day

For all you lovers, here’s a lobby card promoting the steamy silent picture “”Frozen Justice.” Check out the pair of noses here!!

I found this among a great collection of lobby cards on the Vanity Fair website. They were taken from a private collection of a screenwriter named Leonard Schrader, the brother of Paul Schrader and writer of such films as “Mishima” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman”. If you have any passing interest in graphic design, you must visit it. You’ll be amazed at some of the designs they used to promote movies, most of which you’ve probably never heard of.

Looking at these piques my curiosity in the same way that watching old melodramas does. I try and imagine what it was like to live in a small town in Ohio and go to the movies about glamorous people in Manhattan or LA. Back in a period before WWII, when people very rarely traveled outside of their close geographic area, did these images feel tantalizing or bizarre? Did the art deco apartments filled with tuxedoed men and gowned women incite envy or repudiation or wonder or despair or disgust? When radio and an occasional movie was many Americans’ only link to someplace outside of their immediate county, were the messages strong enough to make people dissatisfied with their lives?

Today we practically swim in media (in the future, some god-awful technology will probably allow us to do it literally), whose sole purpose is to distract us from our daily lives, which honestly are a helluva lot easier than those led in the Roaring 20s and the Depression. In the past, a movie was a treat you enjoyed at the end of a week; now it’s something you can watch on your phone while waiting for a bus, or on YouTube when you’re wasting time at work. Has our relationship with these “treats” changed the way we feel about our lives, our friends and family, our purpose in life? I’d say yes, but I can’t articulate how. I need a screenwriter to feed me some snappy dialog.

Life is Good

Winter’s been raw as a campout in Banff.
Your new basement walls are moldy and damp.
Your drapes caught fire from a knocked over lamp—
Pitchers and catchers are reporting to camp.

Your check-writing hand’s developed a cramp,
Your bills are all due and you ain’t got a stamp,
Creditors cling to your neck like a clamp—
Pitchers and catchers are reporting to camp.

Your yard now faces a new freeway ramp.
Your son’s engaged to a gold-digging tramp.
Your “guitar hero” neighbor’s just bought a new amp—
Life is good!
Pitchers and catchers are reporting to camp.

Mitt, Adieu

This year’s campaign has had its share of funny moments, but the funniest so far HAS to be the footage of Mitt Romney’s dropping out of the race yesterday. If you watched it with the sound off, you’d swear someone had just surprised him with a birthday cake. Instead, he used all his used -car salesman charm to admit to a bunch of charged-up campaigners that he was tired of spending his own money and getting trounced by Mike Huckabee. If he stayed in the race, of course, the Republican party would be rent asunder, and a Democrat would be elected. Ex post facto, the terrorists not only will have won, but will print T-shirts and hats and be telling Terry Bradshaw on camera in November about that wonderful feeling, after 1300 years, to finally win one for Allah. So he’s backing out for the good of the country. Oh, if we can only survive all the people who act “for the good of the country.”

Yesterday I flicked on CNN to see if they were broadcasting the space shuttle launch. Instead, I got to see Bay Buchanan, senior adviser to Romney and Imperial Dominatrix of the Ice Planet of Doom, tell the anchor that she was “very excited” about the bailing out, b/c it shows that American conservatives have found their new leader in Romney. Oh, if only her inane prattle were true. If Romney really is the leader of true American conservatives, then his sickly showing in the primaries can give us all hope, indicating that that little barrel of monkeys can keep clawing and tearing at each other while the rest of us get on with the business of living in the 21st century.

“True believers”, as conservatives often call themselves, does describe them quite well, I think. They do believe in their cause, even though the cause can only be advanced by human beings, flawed, weak, susceptible to the temptations of the world and the flesh. No amount of failure will dissuade them from the notion that the only valid government is the one that works actively for its own demise. For the past eight years, Dubya was their champion, but now, with the stench of death, torture, economic failure, corruption, and national decline finally wafting from the kitchen, they say he wasn’t a “true” conservative. There must be a new champion, because their cause is just and true. It’s just that the people they’ve been electing have been too busy steering business to their buddies and tapping shoes in men’s bathrooms to get the job done.

I’ve been trying to figure out a proper analogy for this kind of behavior, but I’m having trouble. The closest I can come is a guy who catches syphilis from sleeping around, then gets it in his head that there is a “magic vagina” somewhere that will cure the disease if only he can dip his wick in it. So every new lay brings with it hope and elation that happy days are here again, and ends with the guy bitter, the woman infected, and the idea stronger than before.

You’ve heard of that guy, right? Or is my imagination just getting a little sicker every day?

Since yesterday’s announcement, the news has been chockablock with interviews of conservative voters gnashing their teeth and beating their brows, faced with the prospect of campaigning for John McCain. His sins are well known. He had the temerity, the absolute gall, to do such things as sponsor bipartisan legislation, vote against the Bush tax cuts, ignore their calls for an amendment to ban gay marriage, and endorse an immigration policy that didn’t involve raids, shackles, and branding. Give it up, you bunch of drama queens! Vote or stay home! If you want to bring Reagan back so badly, you should stop opposing scientific research! Regeneration of the dead doesn’t just HAPPEN, you know!

Cast a Vote for Voting

Yay! It’s SuperSize Me Tuesday! A chance for almost half the people in the country to choose the delegates who may or may not go to a state convention, and may or may not relay their choice to the state party mechanism (possibly apportioned by the percentage of votes captured, unless it’s winner-take-all), which may or may not endorse those choices at the national convention, as long as there’s no deadlock in the nomination or some super-delegates don’t override it! Yay! Go Democracy!

(An aside: One idea for increasing voter turnout that has been floated for years is to hold elections on Saturday or Sunday. Wouldn’t that be great? People could throw parties just like for the Super Bowl, go out voting with their friends and relatives, then go home and watch the election results on CNN. Just like Super Sunday! Or else they could sleep in, putter around the house, and watch “American Idol” marathons like they do the rest of the year. Maybe the promise of alcohol would make it work. It might have caused trouble for Andrew Jackson, but today we have designated drivers and near-beer, right?)

I have reached a milestone that should send a shiver through any progressive person, or anyone under 75: I am actually agreeing with the slate chosen by the Chicago Tribune. All except President, that is. Still not sure about that contest, but I agree with their picks for every state and county official this year. Frankly, I’m frightened. Does this mean I now have to harrumph and spit every time someone mentions FDR?

But I’m in the mood to throw out as many officials in Cook County as possible, after their shameless bullshit of trying to pass a sales tax increase that would give us the highest rate in the ENTIRE nation. So that patronage workers can get jobs sleeping in their vans in the forest preserves and sheriffs can pursue suspects from Berwyn into Hinsdale? Sorry, Big Head Todd Stroger and the Monsters will have to figure out another way to fulfill their contracts with Satan.

On the national level, though, I’m stumped. My cynicism runs so deep that if Mahatma Gandhi were running, I’d be skeptical that he was in league with the home weaving-industrial complex. Voting for personality over ideas makes me feel like we’re all in high school again (which we probably are, politics-wise), but with coverage the way it is, it’s almost inescapable. All of Hollywood loves Obama, which is reason enough to vote against him. Leading intellectuals can’t articulate why they don’t “like” Hillary, which is enough reason to vote for her.

(Many people voted for the Imbecile in Chief because they liked him, and that didn’t get us very far. I know many people I like whom I wouldn’t trust driving my car, let alone running the country. Come to think of it, Bush qualifies on both of those counts, too, except for me liking him.)

And for entertainment’s sake, I hope no one in either party gets a mandate from today’s votes. The longer they keep mixing it up, the better I like it (and Obama’s people can learn a few good vicious moves from Clinton’s that will come in handy in the months leading to November). Once a candidate pulls out in front, it’s all over but the snarling and leg-humping.

I vote for Michael Strahan! And Tom Petty! And that ugly chick from the commercial who rubs cashews all over herself! Yow! Talk about Likeability! Go Planters!


For many years, the site has been an indispensable tool for checking up on the nasty goings-on in the Windy City. You type in your street, zip code or ward, and you get a nice map showing you where someone was held up, verbally accosted or received a dirty phone call. Oh, and murder too. I didn’t realize someone had been offed on a friend’s little street in Ravenswood Manor until I saw it on Chicagocrime.

That site is now defunct, having been replaced by the more ambitious You should check it out, it’s better than reading the neighborhood free weekly, and with no pictures of politicians and handshakes besides. It currently covers Chicago, New York, and San Fran, with more cities planned, I’m sure. At everyblock, you can find not only crime reports, but patron reviews of restaurants, bars and stores, local news, photos, lost & found, and even liquor license applications. It takes a stern constitution to peruse the listings of health department reports, but maybe that’s better entertainment than actually eating out. The Chicago site has a great collection of pictures from the Ravenswood water main break two weeks ago. One of the designers of the site is my friend Dan O’Neill, who helped us with the design of BARDBALL last spring.

Hats off to! Now I can get the full taste of city living without ever leaving my house.

My Pick of the Week

This will be my last post for a while regarding family matters around here. I don’t want too much Hallmark sentimentality to besmirch my reputation as a clear-eyed realist with nerves of steel and sharp fingernails. But this little story really touched my heart.

Today is a snow day in Chicago, at least as far as this household is concerned, so the tension of packing up and getting out of the house is gone. Liesel is still reading in bed even now, trying to make the most of “the very first snow day I’ve ever had, and maybe ever will have.” It looks like we might have seven or eight inches by the time it’s over.

Liam was busy getting dressed in his room a few minutes ago, jamming to the songs on “Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy,” as crucial a step in his development as reading Plato and Dickens. I knocked (must respect privacy with a pre-teen!) and stuck my head in to see if he needed some prodding to get out and shovel. To my relief, he was dressed and ready to take on the job. As I retreated, I noticed something written on the inside of his bedroom door.

IN THIS ROOM !!!!!!!!!!!

This was underlined seven or eight times, and took up about three square feet of area. An understandable sentiment, one reciprocated by his sister six feet down the hall. It was cute, but I couldn’t quite make out what the message was written in. It looked like mucilage, or thick craft paint the color of amber.

I asked Liam what it was made of. He smiled, very proudly, but didn’t say anything.

I asked him again. Still smiling, he told me.

“Dried loogies.”

Put that in your scrapbook and step on it.