Sunday, April 27, 2014

A trip to the library

I am once of those who believes in libraries.  It saves money and I am exposed to a huge variety of books for which I don't have to pay.  Even better -- I can snap up CDs, take them home and listen to them, then decide if I want to copy them.  There are art exhibits at the main library.  As long as you have a library card and have made a reservation, you can use the library's computers for things as mundane as passing the time with a game.

On the weekend, I listen to NPR in my car as I drive around on errands.  There are shows that feature musicians and music, there are interviews with authors and book reviews.  If I hear about a book or CD that seems interesting to me, I go to the library website and reserve it.  When it comes in, they give me nine days to come and get it.

Here's my rule for reading a new book:  If I get to the page that is my age and I am still not into the book, I ditch it.  I got this from an interview I read with Nancy Pearl, the Seattle librarian who has her very own action figure.  Nancy said if you get to that page and still don't like it, put it down because there are plenty of other books to be read.  (And, might I add, this is your life, not school, and unless you're in a book club that requires you to read it, do not go on.  If you're in a book club that requires it and you often don't like its selections, then why are you in that book club?)  I have gotten to the page that's my age in books and don't still don't feel it and then I finish the book and I'm not pissed but I vow to never read anything by that author again. 

You know what I mean.  Everyone is nuts about a book, but you find the writing to be juvenile.  Or someone you know loves a book but it's 700 pages long and no freaking way are you going to read it because you read on your commute and don't want to lug 700 pages around to and from work.  Maybe you'll be a shut in one day and you can read the big thing then.  That juvenile writing?  That's a matter of taste.  There are books I've loved that everyone I know has loved but other friends can't get into them or fail to see the value.  That's their taste and that's how it is.  If it feels like a chore, then put it down.

The library gives us the opportunity to experience this in, pardon the pun, volumes.  I love pop psychology from the library.  I skim through them with great enthusiasm and never learn a damn thing but I didn't buy them so I can continue my love affair.  I like getting travel books to determine where I might go if I am ever flush -- Tokyo, Shanghai, New Zealand, Edinburgh, and, always, Paris.  If I find an exercise book I like and it's useful, I can buy it.  If I get a CD that's terrible, I don't have to copy it.  I get in line for an allegedly exciting new book and when it comes and I think it's ghastly, back it goes, no harm, no foul, and I try again.

I had a minor car repair this weekend, so minor that my mechanic didn't even charge me for it (but I gave him something for his time and trouble).  He said to have a seat and wait and he'd fix it right then.  "Please can you keep it?  I need to go downtown to the library and there's no parking down there.  I'll be back in hour."  Fortunately, he agreed and I dashed off to public transportation.

The main library was a hub of activity.  "Are you here for Poetry Fest?" I was asked.  Poetry Fest!  I'd forgotten.  There were tables that would be manned by Poetry publishers.  Kids who'd won citywide Haiku contests would get to read their works accompanied by Japanese instruments.  It sounded kind of swell. "No," I said, "I just came to pick up a book."  (I am not a poet -- although I have tried -- and what I know about poetry would probably fill a thimble and I had promised I'd come back for my car in an hour.)  But this is what the library can offer -- diversity, a chance to stretch your brain, the opportunity to experience something you think you don't like in a new way.

I have friends who don't like libraries because many other (possibly unsavory) people have had their hands on the books.  I have other friends who don't wish to be inconvenienced by going out of their way to the library.  That is their choice.  They feel flush enough to spend money on books -- and I say good for them -- or else they don't read at all.  Others like to read but don't like printed material any longer, preferring to read on their Kindles and iPads.  Good for them, too.

I often think about the quote I saw in my former neighborhood library:  "A library will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through a time of no libraries."  Sign up for a free card and go check something out.  Maybe you'll find seven other things you'd love to try.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Friday Night Tap Jam!

While I am neither beautiful nor pretty and while I am charming and clever, I am also a tap dancer  and not a particularly good one.  Last week I went to Friday Night Tap Jam at the American Rhythm Center in Chicago and it was awesome.  Bril Barrett, professional tap dancer, runs it and it is every sort of terrific.

How Friday Night Tap Jam works is like this:  Everyone gets in a big circle.  Each person has four bars and it goes around the circle, everyone improvising whatever tap moves they feel like offering at that moment to those four bars.  There are some sensationally talented, longtime students of the art who do magical ethereal things when it gets to them, people like Bril who runs M.A.D.D. Rhythms, the professional tap company, and another guy who had such flair and was so smooth and who brought out such different awesome steps each time it was his turn that I told my sister I wanted to marry him (except I am ancient and he is young) and she proclaimed him the Don Draper of the Friday Night Tap Jam.  There are fantastic young people who just want to dance and show their stuff in a supportive environment.  There are people who like to show off and have the skills for showing off but who have to look in the mirror to make sure it's right.  There are those who've never danced a step in their lives.  There are people like me who aren't that great but love being there and are glad to participate.  Around and around it goes for about an hour, Bril getting everyone very excited to add something to the mix.  Everyone leaves their attitude and being judgmental behind because Friday Night Tap Jam's about doing better for yourself not doing better than everyone else.

People come up with great combinations.  A gifted dancer may take something from a less experienced dancer and do a whole riff on it.  A total neophyte may just do digs and toes but it's done with great sincerity and he or she owns every bit of those digs and toes.  It's a great combination of people, young and old, rich and poor, highly trained, just learning, embarrassed and confident.  Some people think they are bringing nothing to the circle; I think being there and trying your utmost means you are bringing something to the circle -- your joie de vivre, your enthusiasm, your willingness to make a dang fool of yourself in front of people who make money tapping for a living.

If you're near the Fine Arts Building in downtown Chicago on the second Friday of the month, cruise by the American Rhythm Center on the third floor (call to make sure it's on).  Bring your tap shoes and your excitement, leave your judgment on the street, and join the circle for a thrilling evening of improvising on whatever music Bril has on iPod Shuffle that night.  Come stand next to me!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The potholes and me

Chicago is a city with a well-publicized hard winter.  Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, Kansas City, New York, Boston, Minneapolis-St. Paul also have well-publicized hard winters and Detroit does it without much salt and almost no snow removal to speak of.  Chicago likes to whine about it but the freeze and thaw (or freeze and freeze or freeze and salt into watery submission and then that whole mess freezes) situation creates some giant potholes.  Some neighborhoods are worse than others and mine might be one of them.

On North Milwaukee in northwest Chicago, there are at least three potholes I know of in a three-block stretch that are about six inches deep, eight inches long, and six inches wide.  The dimensions are stunning and if you hit one at the right angle, it can screw up your tires, the rims, and all that lies-below stuff that's underneath the car that you mostly don't want to think about.  Links, ball joints, your gas tank -- that stuff.

This year I've had $450 work of damage thanks to sunken manhole covers and potholes.  I have to work a long stinking time to earn that sort of money.  Both times I knew something was wrong.  The first time I didn't realize I had to go to the police and say, "give me a report, I am pretty sure this sunken manhole cover effed up my car."  When I found out how effed my car was, it was too late.  The second time was a pothole where you could see flames licking up from the bowels of hell.  I thought oh, it's probably okay.  I should have said -- out loud as there is no real harm in saying something out loud to yourself -- "Feck me!  I am going to the police station with this," and then gotten a police report for just in case.  I did not.  I was seriously effed on both occasions.

Yesterday, I went to my own mechanic for an oil change.  I have an honest mechanic and when he gives me an oil change, I ask him to look around for anything that looked wrong.  I gave him the heads up that I hit a pothole and didn't tell him which side.  When I drop the car off with him, I walk around or have a Starbuck's coffee and he calls me.  "Did you hit the pothole on the right side?"he asked.  "Yes," I said glumly.  And he gave me the bad news (plus the added terrible news that a gasket was blown and dripping oil).  He knocked off some dough for being a good customer and it's a 16-year-old car so gaskets will be blown but the pothole damage is not the cost of regular maintenance.

Now I slalom the streets of Chicago.  If I get to a street with many potholes that can't be avoided, I take my foot off the accelerator and let momentum move me along.  This works best on side streets.  I try to be alert for potholes but there are simply too many and I know another one is in my unfortunate driving future, waiting for me to be distracted by a kitty cat or thoughts of what I am going to have for dinner.

If you come to Chicago on a visit in your own car, take care!  If you drive in from the burbs to have lunch or maybe visit a museum, beware!  If  you come here and rent a car, you have been warned!  And for heaven's sake, if you hit a pothole, jot down the street address where it happened, go to the police and fill out a report.  If there's damage, make a claim against the city on the city's website.

Fore warned is fore armed.  Better safe than sorry.  Consider yourself advised.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Surprises are all around

Today was shaping up to be yet another day of nothing, nothing, and more of the same but I looked at my still-living fiddle leaf fig and decided it was a good idea to get it rebooted as the pot was solid roots.  I am not as full of my plant expertise as I once was -- I went through a serious black-thumb phase -- and called the place where I got the plant and asked if they'd repot it.

"It's the weekend," they said.  "It's super busy right at the beginning of planting season.  We might have to keep your plant overnight and you can get it tomorrow.  Or can you please come another time?"

"I can come next Saturday," I said.  "Right when you open!"

"No, next Saturday we're having a special event that will go on all day," they said.

"Sunday!"  I exclaimed.  "I will come on Sunday right when you open."

They sighed. 

"Come now," they said.  "We'll get it done."

They said it would be $5 to do the repotting and another dollar for the cheap plastic pot I wanted.

I have some things for a friend who lives not far from there and texted asking if I could swing by and give him the things. 

"Yes!  Please come by!  We're here!"

When I arrived at the garden joint, they were doing a lively business.  I went to the repotting area and asked the man there if he was the one with whom I'd spoken.

"No," said he.  "We're too busy to do that today.  You're gonna have to leave it."

"Well, okay, I can pick it up next week.  I don't live or work anywhere near here," I said.

"Yeah, we're too busy," he said.

"You're not gonna kill it, are you?" I asked.  I wasn't really kidding but I said it with fear and a little alarm.

There was great incredulity across his face.

"Really?" he asked as he moved his arms around, indicating the many lovely, thriving plants in the greenhouse area.

"Tell me how it's doing," I said, indicating the plant.

"This is not an easy plant and it's doing great.  Whatever you're doing, keep doing it."  Then he added as quickly, "This isn't a free service."

"I know," I said.  "The other person said it was five dollars and a dollar for the plastic pot I prefer."

"Forget that," said the man.  "I'll give you the pot."  He went to the spot where they kept their old plastic pots, chose one bigger than mine, and came back.  He scribbled "Repot $5" on a scrap of paper and said, "Take this to the cashiers."

I thanked him as he called over three guys and told them to please repot the plant.

When I got back from paying, one young man was repotting the plant, another was working on bagging a giant mother-in-law's tongue, and the third was hovering nearby to assist the repotter.  I offered to assist the guy bagging the plant -- it was a huge ass plant and the bag was ginormous -- but I was advised with a smile, "It's okay. I got it."  The repotter asked them to check his work, the other two added more dirt and patted it down, then they gave it to me, telling me to make sure I watered it well when I got home.  I gave them my receipt and thanked them very much.

It was done!  And I didn't have to come back!  Thanks, sirs!

I am not beautiful.  I am really not even pretty.  On my best days I am somewhat attractive but I know there are people who think I look severe and scary (and I am down with it).  I only have my personality to get me things and today it was a great day for charm. 

Pretty people everywhere take note:  Work on your personality.  One day your looks will go and if you have a personality like poo you will just be that weird old person who is so mean and unpleasant.

The second surprise was when I got to my friend's house, he invited me for coffee at his new local coffee shop.  We chose some very caffeinated selections (mine was called Red Eye which had to be 47 shots of espresso and some hot water) and sat and blabbed for hours.  His partner walked over and joined us for an hour of it.

What a surprise!  It was the nicest day.