Oak Park Blues
GOOD GRIEF . . . Caribou customer orders coffee, asks self aloud what else he will have, surveying muffin selection. Caribou man says cranberry is good. Think I'll have a blueberry, says customer. Blueberry is good too, says Caribou man. But what are the odds Caribou man would say the blueberry was NOT good?
DISCOVERY CHANNEL . . . One young man to another, walking down Lake Street in mildly pleased tone: “I’ve decided . . . “ Slight pause. “ . . . I’ve been intoxicating my body a little too much.”
READER MOVES AROUND . . . Careful Reader stopped at Maple Tree on Lake Street for good non-gourmet coffee down the street from Starbucks. Two men chatted in a nearby booth. "No wonder your social life sucks," said one with badly misplaced bonhomie to a waitress who hadn't brought coffee. "You promise but don't deliver."
Reader got settled, moving the hot sauce, ketchup, jelly, salt & pepper, and sugar bags to make room for a yellow pad. The phone rang at the cashier's table. From the kitchen came chatter in Spanish and English. Radio music and reports on weather and driving were pleasantly muted.
The place was not heavily commuter-driven like Starbucks or Bread Kitchen, a block or two away, across from the Metra station. High chairs were stacked. One was provided for a young couple who arrived with babe in arms. At 8:20, only three tables are in use. The place was getting ready for lunch, it seemed.
DON'T BOO-HOO FOR ME, CARIBOU . . . On another day, Reader is at Caribou on Harlem Avenue, having left shoes for heeling (not healing) on OP Avenue. Ready in an hour, the man said. So to Caribou, to sit at small table along wall. Vaguely familiar fellow already there, at long table in middle of hunting-lodge-style, knotty-pined room.
He turns out to be George, a teacher, who turns to shake hand after another man, friendly guy Larry, moves chair and suggests in stage tone that "Mr. Bowman might move his chair." Greetings all around, then back to our work, theirs being well-modulated conferencing at the long table, Mr. Bowman's being Revenge of Conscience.
A woman George knows greets him, they exchange hugs. She is joined by another woman at a small table along the wall. A young mother sits on a sofa with her toddler, who picks at sprinkled sugar dots on a doughnut. She's very serious about it. Sugar dots, picked off doughnut, go directly into mouth. Mother reads paper.
Woman at another table, notebook computer open before her, writes on a pad. Her notes for the day's sales calls?
Another mother-toddler pair arrive. Another girl toddler, in fact, made of sugar and spice, not puppy dog's tails: it's nicer that way. They sit on a big stuffed chair on the window side of the room, where a heavy-set man had sat, in shades and rectangular skull cap and fingerless gloves, reading the paper. Then another mother-and-toddler pair arrive. It's a boy!
By now we have conference room, writing room or study, sales prep area, social chat room, nursery. High ceiling, good acoustical partial baffling, coffee mixer in background, laughter and badinage at the counter. Begorra, it works. It's a place where you see people you know and no one cares if you sit over a book on politics and the fall of man.
PARTY . . . Elsewhere in Oak Park it's party time, from which the perspicacious observer gleans some, yes, observations, like:
* We Oak Parkers tend to be narrow-minded, as in the mother speaking wonderingly of her kid at school in another state where the parents are Republicans. Or the veteran liberal wondering why GW is so popular even with . . . he had a laundry list of Democrat talking points: war, economy, air pollution, etc. Or the couple who faithfully read The New Yorker and gab about it. Somewhere in this land, a couple is faithfully reading National Review for the same conversational purpose. No? Nowhere?
It reminds one of the famous Pauline Kael comment when Nixon won big in '72, winning 49 states: she didn't know how that happened, no one she knew voted for him. As a N. Side (Chi) writer friend said, hearing I was not appalled at war preparations: None of her friends feel that way.
OAK PARK REFERENDUM ON "OPEN PLANNING" . . . REDCOOP (Responsible Economic Development -- Citizens of Oak Park) is a local group whose acronym not surprisingly has outpaced its real name in the publicity race. The final "coop" makes one think of hens and chickens. They want so-called smart growth, also known as no growth, at least nothing financially startable, not to mention sustainable.
They treat capital as if it were trees or grass, public goods for public benefit. Of course, the really big guy among countries where capital (first name "das") was so considered had to change its ways a few years back, its people were so unbending on the perennial food, drink, clothing, and housing issues. Now, as a result, a soviet is something for the history books: "All right, kids, what's a soviet? Come on. A ticket to Disney World for the one who knows."
REDCOOP (red?) wants in on Oak Park commercial development, as if they are not already in on it in the more or less estimable persons of their elected representatives, in this case village trustees who hire and fire the village manager, who hires and fires lots of other people. One of these, the head of planning, says what REDCOOP wants (in a coming referendum) by way of "open planning" already happens. But not until projects look like done deals, complains REDCOOP.
Yes. RC wants in on the process higher up on the decision chain. Its people are not elected and maybe could never get elected, not even to the proverbial dogcatcher's position -- a bum rap on the guy who picks up that poor, scared godforsaken stray found wandering on your block. Indeed, among them may be few or no people experienced in dealmaking.
This is taken as an advantage in some circles, where untried virginity is prized over hard-won virtue.
But they want to be there when the developer comes knocking, developer being owner or disposer of das capital as mentioned above. They want to be there to force the capital man to cut aback or cut out, as the case may be, lacking confidence as they do in their elected reps and their duly hired managers and bureaucrats.
They are an Oak Park type, neither elected, as said above, nor competent but with an itch to "make a difference." Not to decide is to decide, and all that.
My friend Jake (not his real name), says it's a reinvention of the wheel, adding a layer of review to the one we have elected and moving it to earlier in the process, the better to scare off das capital.
[Reader Geraldine objected to this account, saying REDCOOP people are OK. (I remain very suspicious.) What's more, their referendum passed resoundingly in November, and the two organizers became People of the Year in Wednesday Kernel (of Truth & Accuracy: More than Enough), which title, by the way has fortunately become relatively inaccurate. Fact is, allowing for inevitable boo-boos, news editing there has taken a great leap forward and no one covers OP (& RF) better.]
TOWHEAD ALERT (9-14-02) . . . . Towhead in two-seat stroller in Bread Kitchen wants blueberry muffins as usual, young mother says no as usual, Little Brother sits stoically as usual. Towhead is about 3, he's about 1 1/2. She's not too bad today, Mommy can get her tea. Little Brother grins now and then at what is apparently his own private joke.
WHAT SIMON SAID . . . . Simon couldn't sleep last night but had lots to say in the morning, sitting in drizzle on the short pillar barricade to the pedestrian mall outside the Bread Kitchen. Prostitution is rampant at night under the viaduct across the street. He misses the bench at the entrance to the mall which he thinks was removed because homeless were sleeping on it. Don't know, but do know the bench was prime sitting space for chatting locals, including a bird-watcher with binoculars.
WAITING . . . . Fenwick girl sits waiting for bus in Bread Kitchen with newly purchased, frosty cold bottle of water! Her book bag is on the floor next to her stool, and next to that another with racket handle protruding. Her skirt is muted plaid uniform, she wears white knee stockings, has blond hair in pony tail, small pearl-like earring, is taller than most and slender. She sits reading, looking out over rain-spattered pavement. Overhead the operatic tenor proclaims and declaims.
On next stool sits neatly accoutered, black-mustached 40-ish man in black baseball cap and denim shorts, cell phone side-holstered.
CROSS PURPOSES . . . My friend Jake (not his real name) has not been inside Transformations, a clothing store for cross-dressers and infants on OP Ave. across from Scoville Park. But he walks by it and takes offense at its display window (typical: he's easily offended), with its dress-up shocking-red bra & super-brief underpanties. It has him wondering, for one thing, how the man who wears it will (a) make one item disappear while (b) simulating the other two.
I have wondered the same as I walk back from holy mass at 7 or so, sidestepping the father bringing his pre-schooler to the nursery foreign-language school in a neighboring storefront. The kid's on his way to learn French, probably. He doesn't wonder about the bikini in the window -- yet. So what? I say, continuing my way back to toast, coffee, prunes, prune juice, 99% bran cereal, banana slices, and frozen red raspberries, all part of my healthy-eating regimen.
Jake does not hurry past, however, and not from any prurience, he claims. He lingers so as to make plans for The Great Cover-up. What he has in mind is terrorism for the sake of decency. Some night, very late, he intends to drape the Transformations window in black. It shouldn't take long, he figures. He wants help, mainly to look out for cops, which I have refused to provide.
But he figures most of them will be busy with prostitution under the Marion St. viaduct (what Simon says is rampant). So it should be a piece of cake. Will keep you posted, to the extent Jake lets me in on it. He's going to play this one very close to his vest, I think.
THE COFFEE HABIT . . . Made big switch to Starbucks the other day. It opens at 6 a.m., the Bread Kitchen at 6:30. So when the big guy (by his standards) saunters out at ten to six or so, heading for the congenial woods of Austin Gardens, he has a choice: keep walking round and round till 6:30 or go for the Big S on Lake Street. The Big S it was.
Was much chatter there at 6:15, and of course the well known Starbucks customers' line, longer, more inexorable than the Kitchen's. They wait (and stand) for inferior coffee nothing pastries flown in the night before from Seattle, I'd say. Service is by with-it, all same-age, hard enough-working crew.
Opera was playing vigorously overhead, and a good spot was available in the window facing Lake Street street with Community Bank across it, with modest sign in white letters and gold emblem on bright green. In background with opera is drumbeat of Starbucks-speak -- grande, latte, and all. The meditation-prone customer asks himself, What does it all mean?
No chairs and tables out front, too cold. But even as I sat, the young woman put them out, preparing for warmer temps as the day wears on. It's a truly bustling place. The air is filled with chatter. This may be the selling point, with grande, latte, and all that. Surely not the pastries flown in from Seattle.
IN A CROWDED LECTURE HALL . . . . "Like the cry of Fire, the cry of Irony is always believed, in the interests of one's own safety: one does not want to get caught," says Jacques Barzun. Remove irony from the critical vocabulary, and "one dreads to think what would become of modern criticism." This from "Biography and Criticism: a Misalliance?" in Critical Questions, U. of Chi Press, 1982, first published in Critical Inquiry, March, 1975.
"Critics of a certain kind are in need of active discouragement. Too much is written about matters that should be taken in by the beholder as he hears or scans the work. It is not desirable that his conscious mind should entertain -- or be prepared to entertain -- clear statements of what he experiences under the spell of a masterpiece. The very reason why art is finer when it shows rather than tells is that comprehension is then immediate, not discursive. Ideally, the spectator must absorb -- in order to be absorbed; and this means that the critic should shut up until he is wanted."
Yes, there is a barely explicable absorption. Art shows, comprehension is immediate not discursive. Head trips not recommended, though many there are who make living and reputation therefrom.
QUOTABLE . . . . Reader Bob notes that it was not Kim but Kin, with an "n," Hubbard who gave us "When a fellow says it ain't the money but the principle of the thing, it's the money." His Abe Martin character said it and things equally smart.
Hubbard also created Frombean Blossom, says Bob, setting her down in Gnaw Bone, Indiana, and is immortalized in Indiana's Brown County's forest preserves, where state park cabins are named after Hubbard characters.
Some other things Hubbard said, from www.maller.com -- hit "quotations":
"Boys will be boys, and so will a lot of middle-aged men."
"Now and then an innocent man is sent to the legislature."
"A good listener is usually thinking about something else."
"Beauty is only skin deep, but it's a valuable asset if you're poor or haven't any sense."
"An optimist is a fellow who believes what's going to be will be postponed."
"Don't knock the weather; nine-tenths of the people couldn't start a conversation if it didn't change once in a while."
ETHNICITY BE DAMNED . . . . The NY Regents exam bowdlerized authors' passages to meet sensitivity requirements (per "sensitivity review guidelines"), removing black, Jewish, Gentile, Polish, and other references. So Studs Lonigan's parish priest was an Episcopalian? The aim was to make no one uncomfortable while taking the test. A Brooklyn parent, Jeanne Heifetz, sleuthed it out, blew the whistle, and got people to complain. (See Chi Trib 6/2/02, from NYT.)
NOT AS SMART AS HE THINKS . . . . There was once a reporter named Mike./ He wrote about Dan Quayle the veep./ He opened with jokes -- the spelling mistakes,/ Then made his own boo-boo, the creep!
This was Conklin of the Trib, who on 7/5 got a little TOO cute, reporting that Quayle had once expressed himself "thusly"! Oh to have been a copy editor faced with semi-literacy of such dimension!
There's more. "Even" the Democrat town librarian was surprised by the favorable response to a Quayle display during Quayle's time in office. Even? Now we'd expect a Democrat to be surprised at that, wouldn't we?
The Conklin boo-boos are peppered throughout the article, in between the (stale) Quayle jokes.
THE HEADLINE THAT DIDN'T BARK . . . "Young women at high risk of AIDS," said Sun-Times 7/11, quoting the UN man in a Barcelona meeting. Oh?
"In the developing world," we are told in the second paragraph. He's an Africa specialist, we read in the third. Rape is common in Zimbabwe, we read in the fifth. "Intergenerational sex" (we call it child abuse) drives much of the AIDS epidemic in South Africa, we read in the sixth. There's HIV in India, we read in the ninth.
Dumb question: Why is Africa not in the first paragraph? Why is it not in the headline?
ERNEST WHO? . . . . What about Oak Park's other hotel -- not the Carleton, that well-known adjunct to the world-renowned fish joint Philander's and the popular sports bar Poor Phil's -- the one on OP Avenue a few blocks from the F. Lloyd Wright home & studio, which draws tourists from around the world? I speak of The Write Inn -- across from the Hemingway Museum -- whose classy, expensive new bistro calls itself Hemmingway. Yes, two m's.
Copyright considerations, the man at the Write Inn desk explained, muttering something about foundation and family. Not a misspelling, he assured me. But it's still a misspelling, of course, there for all to see, as neighboring Cicero, still living down its Al Capone days, for a time ran signs about favorite son Edward Deming the management consultant. But it's Edwards, and they changed the signs.
But Oak Park's favorite sons and daughters and families force a misspelling on the village and world to protect a trademark? There has to be a lawyer somewhere who can work that out, so that we literary (nay, literate) types, the ones presumably to be most aware of Ernest Hemingway and to be most worked up over this big-sign boo-boo, don't get our shorts too much in a bunch and are not OFFENDED!
DOMESTIC TRANQUILITY . . . . Is this an efficient family or isn't it? The lady of her house reached over to her husband's wrist watch, he in the middle of conversation with me in the middle of an Oak Park graduation party. Turning the watch slightly for a better look, she saw the time and told him, by now quiet, as was I, waiting the cause of such intervention, "We have to be back home by four."
"We have ten minutes," he said.
On with conversation.
Efficient because (a) she saved the worry of wearing or carrying her own watch (not having to pull one out of a pocket by its fob, for instance, cupping it to find out the time for the next event in their lives and informing him) and (b) she did not rely on spoken word alone ("Excuse me, sorry for interrupting"), but also took action outside sound patterns but within gesture patterns open to her. Seems obvious that this is an efficient family.
Of course, gesture patterns can take other, more efficient forms. She might have reached over and placed her hand across his mouth: He would have stopped talking.
INTERNATIONAL LIVING . . . At IHOP on N. Ave., Muzak howls and plunks about love, nice lady brings coffee in carafe.
FUMES . . . Another day, sitting in front of Starbucks, lovely fall morning breezes are punctuated by pungent periodic blasts of exhaust from passing cars and buses. Here surely is the apex of inner-suburban living, two Chicago papers on black shiny round metal table top and cup of Starbucks! Nothin' could be finah in the state of my clear minah, in the morning!
HOW TO LIVE . . . Girls need music during athletic practice. Relatively new to their games, they blithely, indeed fecklessly, turn up the volume and fill the neighborhood with rock & roll music while cavorting on tennis court or softball field. Why not? Boys knock one another silly in nearby football practice, thinking they have to be football heroes to get beautiful girls. Poor boys! They don't know how to live. Us Girls, we know, and we show, but they just don't get it. Practice without boom box? Retro.
MY CHAI . . . "Free grande latte" "Free grande latte skim." Even "Free soy skim chai" at Starbucks, hollered at the waiting customers. It's when the making goes awry, apparently, though nothing is said of that. In any case, it's coffee or tea that goes undrunk and can't be sold for some reason. "Untasted," says the coffee chef at the far end, hawking his no-cost wares.
Woman walks in: "Did you say 'soy skim chai'?"
"I sure did," the chef says.
"Well, that's what I came for."
Fine, says he. Sold. That is, given away.
As this unfolds, I sit near the door ensconced in Barzun's House of Intellect. If I didn't want to avoid calling attention to myself and if I wanted something more to drink than my small-regular for $1.40 which entitles me to my seat at small table by door, I would shout out, "I'll take it."
Geez, I could sit there all morning drinking for nothing, but they would have to carry me out in the arrhythmia truck, to be carted away to nearest ER for electric heart-slowdown treatment.
CHARMS . . . Music today is soprano with something lingering and lovely. Later, pop stuff of 40s: I've got you under my skin, Blues in the night, etc. Civilization, meet Starbucks.
HARM . . . "You make me feel like a natural woman" overhead in Starbucks. This is groaning, but later there is out-and-out howling. Yet later, repetitious yelling to music. Art, it's wonderful.
DOING A 360 . . . 10/1/02 -- Returned to flesh pots of the Bread Kitchen today, where complimentary slice of honey whole wheat did not arrive cellophane-wrapped on the night flight from Seattle, as one suspects is true of Starbucks pastries, including the sturdy bagel which SB does not toast, being too busy making immensely salable skim soy grande latte and sometime giving it away it doesn't come out just right, yeah!