Sunday, January 31, 2016

James Earl Jones II as Satchmo

We went to see "Satchmo at the Waldorf" yesterday at the Court Theatre. It's a one-man show which usually stars Barry Shabaka Henley. But he didn't make it. He was feeling under the weather. So instead, we saw the understudy, James Earl Jones II, who is reportedly a cousin of the legendary voice of Darth Vader.

Let me say first that I enjoyed the understudy's performance in many ways. He plays 3 distinct characters - Louis Armstrong, Joe Glaser, and Miles Davis. He gave each of them a distinct personality and voice, and brought a lot of engagement to each role. I liked watching him act.

But he wasn't completely "off book". There was a prompter sitting one seat away from me. When the actor forgot a line he would call out "Line!" and the prompter would shout out his line. I'm not sure how many times this happened. I didn't actually count. My wife thought about ten times. I thought about forty.

Anyway, let me go on to whine about the way Court Theatre handled things.

The show was supposed to start at 8 pm, but they announced nothing until 8:24 pm. They knew they had a problem well before that, because they had moved a couple of audience members out of their seats, in order to obtain a seat for the prompter. They didn't tell the audience members that this was for a prompter, they just mentioned they needed the seat because they were having "technical difficulties", which in retrospect sounds like a borderline lie.

At 8:24 the guy in charge of audience services came out and announced that the usual actor was sick, said he was sorry the audience wasn't notified earlier, and even apologized for how he was dressed.

I infer from all this the usual actor cancelled kind of late in the day. And that the understudy and the audience services guy had to be called to the theater at the last minute.

One final thing to whine about: There's free parking for the Court Theatre, in a structure that is usually limited access. During performances, the gates are up, so you can just drive in and out freely. Well, last night, the gates were down when it was time to go. They must be on a timer. The show ran at least half an hour late because the show started so late. So our exit was delayed until that got remedied.

That's the end of my whining.
The play itself was enjoyable, so that's the silver lining.

While Running

A bird of prey
I met yesterday.

Saturday, January 30, 2016


When long shadows are cast,
the light lingers last
in the sky.

And you lift up you gaze,
to bid the day's rays

Friday, January 29, 2016

Beyond Deep Pockets

"British police have arrested a suspected thief with 38 mobile phones stuffed down his trousers."

My first guess was that he had walked into a cell phone store and shoplifted... but,  no. The phones were lifted from people attending a concert.

How did he get that many phones in his trousers? He had "trousers taped closed at the bottom."

Once again, the news
has seen fit to reveal
techniques you too can use
to smuggle and steal.

Although I suppose I ought
to concede that this guy got caught,
so maybe his secret technique
in fact is weak.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Normative Grammar

A philosopher I know put forward an argument that even if it's impossible to stop language from changing, it's worthwhile to try to keep the change-of-pace slow.

Norms need not be eternal, and perhaps
Slow-changing norms can halt the sad collapse
Of storied wisdom into cryptic scraps.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

McDonald's Makes Money

McDonald's is reporting some good financial numbers, due to their decision to sell Egg McMuffins all day.

'"It's one of the oldest items they've had on their menu, and it's still one of the most popular," said Darren Tristano, who is the president of Technomic, a food industry market research firm. "Selling it all daylong was a no-brainer."'

So if it was such a no-brainer, why did it take so long?

Ever since they first started serving breakfast, people have been asking for it later in the day...

And they've been refusing.
Kind of amusing.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Terry Teachout Visits

It was kind of bizarre, in a pleasant way mind you, to have the national theater critic for the Wall St. Journal, Terry Teachout, visiting my neighborhood. He was at the Beverly Art Center, talking about his play, Satchmo, which is running at the Court Theatre here in Chicago.

His talk was charming and chock full of info that I didn't know.

I read a lot of Teachout's reviews, because I get the Wall St. Journal at home, and because he sometimes reviews Chicago plays. As the paper's "national" theater reviewer he travels around the country a great deal, which sounds like a fun gig, until I remember what a homebody I am.

After too much travel
my fiber begins to unravel.

Isis not ISIS

People with the ancient name of Isis
currently face an identity crisis.

The Chicago Tribune reports on the plight of women who are named after the Egyptian goddess who now encounter discrimination.

Then there's this poor lady:

'Vilma Lee-Heinzinger owns Facets of Isis, a bead and jewelry boutique in northwest suburban Palatine. She said strangers have come in wondering whether she's affiliated with terrorism. She's also received several threatening voice messages, she said, some telling her to "go back where you came from."'

It doesn't occur to people, evidently, that ISIS the evil organization is generally spelled ALL CAPS, since it's an acronym, but that Isis the friendly deity just capitalizes the first letter of her name.

Before issuing slaps,
check for ALL CAPS.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Jail & My Generation

I went to see a play called Jail last night, put on by Runaways Lab Theatre. They run to the experimental, and this was a sort of experiential play about Jail, the first 15 minutes of which consisted of our protagonist wordlessly pacing and fidgeting in his space of confinement, which was indicated by tape on the floor.

It's a new piece, but it took me back to the 1960s, I have to say. As did that Bernie Sanders ad the other day, the one featuring the Simon and Garfunkel song about looking for America.

I thought about my "generation" of Americans, which is not really all that homogeneous, but which is lumped together so readily as the Baby Boom. Somehow the term usually seems to be applied to the upper middle class, college-educated portion of that group.

We did better than I feared we would, when I was in college, when people around me seemed so intoxicated with Marcusian ideology. That ideology has not gone away, by any means. It has its strongholds, particularly in the colleges. But my fellow boomers themselves outgrew it for the most part.

There's a theory that people acquire their philosophical outlooks in college, and never review them, but I don't think that's so. I think people reflect continuously on what is right and just. That's where the stereotype of the wizened wise person comes from. You may come out of college thinking that profit-making is evil, but some years spent in a profit-making enterprise often serve as an education in a contrary point of view.

People don't lock down Truth
in the days of their youth.

Thursday, January 21, 2016


I was reading about the Flint water disaster. It's an interestingly complicated story. Like a disaster movie, one thing after another goes wrong.

Eventually, in the version I read, a scientist informs them that the Flint River water is too corrosive on the town's old pipes and soldered joints, and is picking up lead and putting it into the city's drinking water... and nobody does anything for a while, in a classic case of multi-level bureaucratic inaction.

Now someone is taking a fall:

'EPA said in a statement that Susan Hedman, head of the agency’s regional office in Chicago whose jurisdiction includes Michigan, was stepping down Feb. 1 so it could focus “solely on the restoration of Flint’s drinking water.”'

I've heard the first hint
in the sad town of Flint
was water that came with a yellowish tint.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


I don't care for this current crop of candidates much at all. 
So I take some solace in the fact that most will fall.

All Mixed Up Reading

I arranged a little reading of the new play I've been working on, which is tentatively titled All Mixed Up. I had help from some talented actors:

Ashley Renee Clopton as Beth. 
Tara Bouldrey as Carrie. 
Johnny Westmoreland as Daniel. 
Madelyn Tomko as Ada. 
Corey Finney read the stage directions. 
Megan Renner Rieck was there in a sort of understudy/dramaturg role. 

And we had a very helpful audience of about 7 friends. On the bright side, the overall structure seems sound. The ending worked. The sensitive stuff played well. But I need to make sure the subplot resolution is clearer and I could stand to add some more explanatory background material. Not too much more, I think. This isn't as scary as the public reading of my second play, which convinced me I needed a new and different way to end that play. 

Lest I neglect to mention 
The performance was brimming with tension. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Non Human Therapists

The BBC reports:

"While it is still uncommon to see turkeys and other animals on planes, more people are turning to animals to help them cope with problems and stressful situations."

Yes, it's the wonderful world of therapy animals, coming soon to an airline seat near you!

Follow the link for a great pic of an emotional-support turkey with its own seat.

To keep myself sane,
I'm adopting a snake.
When I get on a plane,
what great friends he will make!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Can-Do Marketing

The Atlantic reports:

"Anthropologie, on its website, is selling a trash can. ...the object is covered, subtly and also not subtly at all, in a thin coat of rust."

And - it's on sale for just under 100 bucks!

Don't be a grouch
Dig into your pouch
And pull out some dough.

Your mind may say "No".
But your heart says "Please, yes.
That can is the best!"

Friday, January 15, 2016

New York Values

I hear Ted Cruz attacked Donald Trump for representing New York values, and Trump responded by praising the values of many New Yorkers.

I suppose they're talking over each other, talking about different things, and it's not like either of them is known for conceptual clarity about "what is really American".

I know that New York can seem a bit foreign to the average American, but I've lived there, and really, underneath whatever weirdness you may encounter, it's a very American place, with some very American virtues, including a lot of "ambition to make something of yourself".

If you visit, you may meet some jerks,
but when it comes to doing the work,
the citizens of New York
know how to turn up the torque.

Thursday, January 14, 2016


This morning on my way to work, I was stopped by a man with alcohol on his breath, who was looking for... wait for it... Traffic Court.

I gave him some directions
and sent him on his way,
but I'll make this prediction:
he had a bumpy day.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016


Got in a pool for some Power Ball tickets at work. I'm not one to gamble but it's fun to join in the silliness. 

I promise to quit my job
And become a nouveau riche snob. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Dr. Google

Dr. Google often enlightens me,
but also often frightens me.

Maybe I shouldn't seek his advice,
but all that info does entice.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

The Frozen Gnome

I participated in a race called The Frozen Gnome today. I signed up for the 50k, which is 5 loops of a 10k course.

I only did 3 loops and then dropped out. Because it wasn't just the Gnome who was frozen. It was me, too.

Well, that's hyperbole.

I only almost froze,
and that was just my toes.

I clearly needed a different pair of shoes. I had modified some old trail shoes by putting some screws in the soles, and this was a great help where ice was a problem, but it wasn't really much help with today's main problem - vast quantities of slush.

Basically, my shoes got wet, my socks got wet, my feet got cold, my toes got numb, and one of my toes even got a bit off color - not the healthy pink I expect. Fortunately, after they had warmed up a while, they seem to be basically be back to normal.

I think a new woman's record was set for the course today. So it's not that conditions were bad for speed as such. But my shoes were not up to the challenge.

For hilly, slushy action
I need dry shoes with more traction.

Thursday, January 07, 2016


I favor weather forecasts that run to the dire. 
That way I mostly feel happy with what transpires.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016


I like the way winter reveals tree branches as fractal, 
and proves they're not concealing pterodactyls.

Culture Clash at New Year's Bash

In Germany. With people who may be migrants from North Africa:

"Taking advantage of the New Year’s Eve street party, hundreds of young men broke into groups and formed rings around young women, refusing to let them escape, the authorities said. Some groped victims while others stole wallets or cellphones."

We'll see how it shakes out.

Cultures are complex systems, that embody notions of what is acceptable and what is verboten.

At some point, you have to grasp that not all value systems are subjective or relativistic. That some values are just better than others at protecting humans from harm.

It is to be fervently hoped,
this is grasped before more get groped.

Monday, January 04, 2016


I'm seeing a headline asking "Why are twentysomethings retiring?" I'm guessing the answer is that they're rich but they're sick of working. Sounds like a get-rich-quick scheme that I should know about. Let's go see.

Oops, no. That's kind of a teaser headline. The real issue is why are so many people declining to work despite being in their prime working years:

"The labor-force participation rate is still below estimates of its demographic trend, involuntary part-time employment remains somewhat elevated, and wage growth has yet to show a sustained pickup."

That quote is from Janet Yellen.

Well, I don't know in particular, but in principle, if you reward work less you will get less work. It's the great lesson of socialism and welfare states everywhere.

The fear of starvation
is stark motivation.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Heir Apparent

Last night we went to see The Heir Apparent at Chicago Shakespeare. I loved the way it rhymed. I wasn't as crazy about other aspects.

It's an adaptation, by contemporary playwright David Ives, of an old French comedy by a 17th century playwright, Jean-Fran├žois Regnard.

The original was rhymed, and Ives did a great job of rhyming his version:

"He hired a lawyer no taller than a creeper,
As if because he's short, he might come cheaper."

And yes, this is a build up to a sight-gag of a very short lawyer.

It's very much an adaptation, not a translation. You can tell, even without knowing the original, because this version is full of anachronisms - not mere turns of phrase but references to things that have happened long after the 17th century. The action of the play is still set hundreds of years ago, and so the anachronisms were jarring at times to me, particularly when one rich character started talking favorably about "socialism" in the final moments of the play.

I also had a particular sense that maybe the director was trying too hard for laughs, because the actors seem to vary between sensitive performances and sudden bursts of over-the-top that felt out of character. Some of it had a kind of "post modern" feel that usually turns me off.

The underlying play seemed to be short on distinctive characters, but big on spectacular comic events. So it had that going for it!

Chicago Shakespeare performances are usually packed, but the theater seemed about half empty. I know the Chicago Tribune gave this play a lukewarm review, so maybe that put people off.

In this town, if you want to get your tickets sold,
A glowing review from the Trib is like gold.

Widely Believed

The Washington Post published an opinion piece two days ago calling for using "widely" more narrowly, particularly in such usages as "it is widely believed that..." or "it is widely suspected that..."

The author, Barton Swaim, concedes that sometimes such a statement is simple, justified, and unremarkable. But not always...

'Just as often, though, that little word “widely” seems designed to appear to do the work of citation or argument without actually doing it. '

You do see this sort of usage in the "best" of journalistic sources, such as the NY Times, which does a lot of real reporting, but also a lot of very vague sourcing.

When reporters write "widely believed"
Readers are right to feel vaguely aggrieved.

If belief is really widespread,
How hard can it be to name some sources instead?

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Slippery Conditions

Usually I don't run outside much in the winter, but I signed up for a hilly trail race next weekend, so I'm concerned about slippery conditions.

Yesterday I ran some trails near my house wearing YakTraks on my running shoes. They look like this:

Mine are a gift from my dear daughter-in-law, who hails from Maine, and who is really an expert about being outdoors in the winter!

I thought they worked really well for what I was doing. They just stretch over your shoe. But one did start to come loose once, so that I needed to stop and adjust it. So, in the spirit of adventure, I'm also exploring another option - machine screws in running shoes, which end up looking like this:

Basically, you take some short machine screws - in my case, 3/8 inch screws - and you screw them right into the soles of your running shoes. People say the hexagon-shaped metal heads do a good job of biting into ice. The pointy end goes into the shoe, so you don't want screws that are longer than your sole is thick.

I'm sure I will be feeling blue
if a screw pokes through my shoe.