One Creative, One Blossom, One Night

This Rose Represents All Of This Summer's Beauty
The Creative’s Choice To Represent All Of This Summer’s Beauty

Jenni and I joyfully stepped out of the house at twenty past seven for her afternoon walk (kudos to Jenni’s plumbing!).

By that hour it was already dark but for the jostling tree canopy’s flash bulb burst of the city’s ghoulish orange tints.

Our neighborhood Edgewater, enjoys its gentrification’s hushed family sounds which escape their kitchens through screened front doors. Unfortunately we’re squeezed between two struggling, sputtering overlooked or underfunded,  dicey, SRO’s by eager developers looking for quick $400,000 condominium flips and the deceptive veil of unsubstantiated assurance that upscale retail would quickly stake their claims in ground-level build-outs the size of a bird cage. Aldermen often deny developments promising to turn-out now displaced single mothers barely able to keep her family safe in a rent-controlled, 1960’s, poorly planned, troublesome 10-story mid-rise, shoddily built, local drug lords staking claims or disagreements quickly and publicly resolved through an indiscriminate hail of gunfire. This hell hole is still better than the streets.

I guess what better place to plant the most beautiful blossom of our passing summer than in a place wholly absent of beauty. The Creative, the One that irresponsibly plants the most beautiful blossom in the world in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the world expresses an unconditonal affection for blossoms and beauty.

He can offer it. What we do with it is, well . . .

NOTE: I snapped this picture in total darkness
and absent of any flash device. I revisited
the sight this afternoon and the blossom
as well as the plant were gone.

Conventional Wisdom is an Oxymoron!

The Truth of your Action often turns to shame which eventually turns to secret(s) which requires evasion and misrepresentations which causes perjury and self incrimination and arrest.

aaa-Conventional ArrestThe penance in 1928 for this path of omission would be swift, impudent, and ruinous to his sixteen year old daughter’s moral character according to Mr. Williams, the father to Miss Williams (confirmed to be with child). The father, H. Didrickson, eighteen, from Green Bay whose moral turpitude shamelessly corrupted his daughter’s moral character, and who would experience the wrath and fury of a politic and au fait Superintendent of a timber railway in Northern Wisconsin after Mr. Williams follows the advice of Conventional Wisdom to relocate his daughter to one of the neighboring counties and corruptly gains assurance of his family’s anonymity due to the handwritten misspelling of the birth father’s surname by the County Clerk. Conventional Wisdom was the modus operandi first employed in 1838 by the ruling class, and which were widely accepted as true explanations or actions by the proletariat even though they were unexamined and unproven. Simply put, Conventional Wisdom was high society’s “rule of thumb” when dealing with the ignorant, common rabble.

aaa-wisdom1It would appear that Conventional Wisdom adamantly insisted that: 1) any scandalous; 2) censurable; or 3) malevolent activity and its vicarious, foreseeable, or misbegotten side-effect i.e. bastard, crime, or hardship be: 1) blueprints; 2) engineered; and 3) dispatched clandestinely as to: 1) disquiet suspicion; 2) stave off defamation; and 3) avoid malice.  Conventional Wisdom’s golden era must’ve been a time when the world loomed large. An age when Europe would never be a destination. A time when the thoughtlessness of Conventional Wisdom empowered mandates set forth by the secretive, dodging, and manipulating rich, powerful, and self-appointed Grand Standers for irrational, ill-mannered, and bizarre vitriol; when men and women became lifetime politicians whose focus is their career not their conscience; and obscenely privately funded think tanks that thumb their noses at Liberty and bring our country to a dead stop simply by pouting and voting “No!”

A time of waywardness, of lost directions, of greed. An environment when citizens witness abject corruption which no longer scurries like insects or vermin, but are embolden and brazen, self-absorbed, and defying, criminals that remain free but those on whom they fed, those suffering their gluttony now face thirty penniless years of old age. A time when the dream to be President of the United States was ripped from the minds of the majority and entertained by those few able to conjure at least $1 billion. These are the times of Conventional Wisdom. Times of turning inward. Times of isolation. Times of blindness, and deafness, and silence. Times of cowardice, of intelligent ignorance: That is, being smart enough to turn a blind eye, a deaf ear, and a silenced voice. Times of surrender. Times of apathy. Times of villainous denigration caused by rubbernecks, scandalmongers, and nosey parker’s. The time when Conventional Wisdom rose from arcane and obscure backwoods’ breeding to become the basis and keystone of our culture’s moral compass.

aaa-wisdom

 

On Being the Black Sheep

It’s been five weeks since the death of my older (by two tiny years) brother, Richard.

aa-driptowelsOne mid-afternoon as I was visiting him in the ICU he easily slid into a nap. So I closed my eyes amidst a midafternoon’s bath of sunshine, until the first reel of a daydream began: It focused on a man-in-mourning transfixed! He watched as the Life Miracle slowly dripped from him like he was hung yet unwrung towels that became lighter and lighter as water continued to drain. A voiceover added that water is movement, and movement is fundamentally incapable of staying anywhere for long, especially where it: 1) Isn’t valued; and, 2) Isn’t wanted. I awoke startled, seeing a nurse tending to Richard. In hindsight the man in my daydream was me and I was there to observe dying, to witness the broken pipe my brother had become, and in his case, disinterested in repair, hopeless in patches, and instead, quit. Autocratically, decidedly, and determinedly.

Is autonomously dying rightful? If so, it’s hidden down deep in the fine print that no one reads except those searching for any way out like a trapped diver short of oxygen?

Clearly Richard found his karmic precedent and pursued his resignation with silent bravery and resolve. I’ve been told by childhood acquaintances who have remained in Milwaukee that they’ve overheard self-promoted clucking of crassly ignorant and insensitive hens quoting St. Peter himself, “Richard did not simply give up: The mere thought is preposterous and queerly unorthodox for a son as dedicated to his mother’s care. Give up? Just, quit? Not Richard . . . but that baby brother, the one that went to college . . . For eight years . . . then wouldn’t come home to his dying mother; oh no, had to live . . . in . . . Chicago with his pal . . . No, it’s something I’d expect from him, from the Black Sheep of that family. “aa-blksheep

The Final At Bat – Chucking His Things

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It took my brother 3 years after my mother passed away before he had the courage to go through her things, laugh a little, cry a lot and much like a funeral service, put articles of meaning to her in boxes and stowed them in a place surely to be forgotten in some hard-to-reach corner of the attic or dark corner of the basement.

After that one day when we finally removed the evidence of my mother, we have not, not even once, discussed those boxes or rummaged around to discover them.  It was as if, like herself, her belongings were put to rest.  But I know for certain that that Sunday afternoon was the most painful day of my brother’s life.

And now it’s my turn, with the exception that there’s nothing I want to keep.  I don’t want to remember him by furniture or china oraa-nothing artwork or clothes. Nothing, not trophies or photographs or clothes or christmas ornaments could possibly compare to the degree of intimacy and occupation I put into motion as part of a strategic plan to keep my brother solvent, without jeopardizing my life in Chicago.

I invaded the privacy of every nook and cranny of his life; I strong-armed him to go to an attorney to draw up the correct documents. I took over his finances. I questioned every single charge on physician statements. I carried a valise with copies of every important event that produced documentation at the ready, attorney drawn HIPPA forms which provided, without question, unfettered access to every health insurance plan and their schedule of benefits, physician bills, EOB, ridiculously high deductibles in lieu of capping monthly premiums, and finally negotiating Medicare physician costs (if they take Medicare), (non)compliance with orders to manage his chronic maladies gain access to all of his medical records back to 1985. There aa-occupationwasn’t a single part of his life that I legally did not have access to or was managing or that I would be denied access. In essence I represented my brother, except those requiring an actual body. And frankly, I think he harbored significant anger and to a large extent resentment. But if I and my partner were to first pull him out of his morass, I needed to take extreme measures and I needed the legal system as my wing man. And what evidence do I have to draw this conclusion?

The Best Friend relationship which I had so cherished before I commandeered his life was, at once, extinguished. The day that Social Security deposited his first monthly benefit he furtively initiated a quitclaim of my occupation and immediately liberated his Self from my subjugation like a dog freed from its leash and running, really running, the odors and aromas of independence challenging his speed, agility, and actions of being, in the simplest of terms, a dog.

And I think that’s precisely what occurred when his income was deposited into his account and he didn’t wait for permission or evaluation or reconciliations. It takes a desperate man to abdicate the course of his life and a man aching with humiliation to admit he doesn’t possess the forbearance and seasoning required to navigate the craggy cliffs of reinventing oneself at fifty-eight.

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The moment we cleared danger however, he was resurrected in action not in speech and said, “Let go of the wheel boy, I’ll take her from here.”

Just One of the Things I’ll Miss

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When you live in Chicago and drive, you live in your car. With so many people living in an urban and cosmopolitan city you’d think that public transportation would be a practical choice. And for many it is: Except they leave their parked cars at home like their two German Shepherds. A car is a car is a car. The streets are so congested that many neighborhoods allow cars with the proper permit displayed on their windshield may park there. Oh, and out-of-town guests? 1) Bone up on your parallel parking skills and a good sense of the length of your car; 2) Expect your host to hand you a temporary parking permit that you must affix to the right hand side of the windshield; if you’re a little light in the ingenuity department be sure to ask a friend your right from your left. Chicago Police are unsparing when it comes to the City‘s parking violation revenue.

aaacitySo, there are people who own cars but only drive them on the weekend. Which is precisely the same days the suburbanite wish to drive into the city for a game, a museum, or a pizza. Now we’ve got a city constipated by cars, like constipation, all want to go someplace but every street is clogged worse than my drain last week. We call it gridlock. That’s when people headed north, south, east, and west think they should go first and so we have intersections obstructed (which is worse in both metaphors) with the righteous, the immovable, obstructed, and constipated SUV brimming with 8-10 year olds from some sprawltown.

Urbanites never, ever drive on the weekend. Why? Because you’re not driving, you’re sitting, and that I could accomplish without Jenna’s car sickness, Stevie’s allergies including eggs, and guess what Jenna had for breakfast. . . .

Just think, thousands and thousands of cars and SUV’s dealing with the same degree of calamity and torture that the entrepeneur or the cubicalist for a ventriloquist’s thought as they’d left their respective offices on Friday evening. “Two whole days without urgency!”

That’s one of the thing’s I’ve already begun to miss about my older brother, Rick, who died recently. Day or night, long or short trip, I could aaacellphonelaughingcall Rick and we’d gab like a couple school girls. We were the best of friends, which is rare, especially with our current pace of life. But thank God he was a homebody because the odds were in my favor that he’d answer.

But now I simply sit silently as though I’m sitting in a nondescript doctor’s office. I don’t play music as I find it irritating ever since my breakdown in 2008. The only thing I cared to listen to was his voice and old, old jokes which we both laughed at, certainly not for their humor content, but because we’d laughed at the same stale loaf of humor year after year after

Produced and released by Warner Bros.
Produced and released by Warner Bros.

year. There’s something cherished in that degree of comfort: You’re allowed to belly laugh free of reprisal. Chevy Chase‘s “Christmas Vacation” produced in 1989 is a goofball, slapstick comedy of chaos, catastrophe, dickies, and eggnog moose mugs which is cued-up upon our arrival. Maybe it’s Clark’s (Chevy Chase) millstone to produce the Griswold’s primo holiday celebration ever!  AND which ties all of us together, because we’ve all felt a similar degree of disappointment that Clark Griswold felt.

Or when I’ll never again, upon answering the phone, hear his voice say , “Hey, buddy . . .”

Unbearable Cruelty

2menWe were walking a block-and-a-half home tonight after watching a recently released movie.  About thirty minutes from the end of the movie I closed my eyes and withdrew the custom-fit Etymotic ear plugs I wear around my neck every day, and tried, really tried to isolate myself from the movie.  I knew that it was already too late to stave off the consequence of watching a film which included the graphic horror that the characters (humans) performed on one another.  I’d swum well past the breakwater and already found myself caught in a riptide of emotion that I prayed I could withhold until after we said goodnight.

And then it happened: starting from deep in my core, an ache, dull, almost quiet; but it sank, then caught fire and spread throughout my torso, finally exiting by way of heaving sobs and weeping.  I wretched as though vomiting; it had to come out like bad liquor; all at once I wailed, it was impossible to breathe; my partner grabbed ahold and hugged me; and I asked the same question I always ask when this happens: Why are people so cruel to each other?meanpeoplesuck

Whatever degree of resistance we’re born with or develop as a means of survival, when it comes to cruelty I find it absolutely unbearable and I must, in order to keep my wits, distance myself as quickly as possible, or shut my eyes which is partially effectual by eliminating the video portion.  An apparent afteraffect of my mental breakdown in 2008, one of my widely known characteristics disappeared.  This capacity was a basic tenet of survival in my career: an unusual and boundless tolerance of unwarranted and often gratuitous domination, insensitivity, and publicly verbal assaults by senior executives.  Post-breakdown I was no longer immune from feeling, really, really feeling the appalling and sorrowful inhumanity most humanity ignores, approves, pities, politely acknowledges while respecting civil decorum, or determined is very profitable as entertainment and implants it in scene after scene of recent motion pictures, or spends millions of dollars to create brutal, vulgar, savage, and murderous atrocities then market to our children as toys, or a sympathetic and comfortable populace helplessly citing the excuse approved by concerned yet tolerant bourgeoisie and the proletarians alike, “I mean really, what can I do?  I’m just one guy?”

TRY EMPATHY AND INTOLERANCE AND ACTION against any expression of cruelty by a human being!

And if that doesn’t inspire you to get involved, how about when you witness any expression of cruelty by a human being?dalaikindquote

But if neither works for you, place yourself in an environment where one human being (them) has dominion over another human being (you), and experience how it feels to take both barrels of cruelty.  And not just once.  Any time. Any where.  And fighting back gets you fired, sued, incarcerated, or killed.

We’ve got groups throwing blood on fur donning women; hordes marching on behalf of the inhumane treatment of animals for experiments; prohibition of foie gras in Chicago due to the mistreatment of the goose.

Really?  I mean, really?

Our cruelty to each other must take precedent: It’s intolerable, inhumane, unjust, and in no uncertain terms has it ever been, or will it ever be fodder for entertainment or a toy for a child.

Smack Dab In The Middle Of Nowhere: Ah, Perfect!

Last weekend we packed practically half of our possessions (well, it sure felt that way) and went out-of-town for a two-day furlough from life’s daily grind.  We travelled south from Chicago and around the tail end of Lake Michigan to the eastern shore and small, polka-dot-like towns of Southwest Michigan known as Harbor Country.  These bucolic villages sprung to life during the mid-eighteen hundreds as either orchard or timber towns.  After Chicago (due west across Lake Michigan) was destroyed by fire, it was petitioning timber companies from Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan to deliver as much timber as fast as they could to rebuild Chicago.  A number of towns from this region answered the call.

(On a side note: Much of what is today Chicago’s Grant Park (to the south of our world-class Millennium Park (completed 4 years late (2004) and (hoo-boy) $325 million over-budget)) is built on debris from the fire.  Local officials opted to dump the relatively small amount of rubble into convenient Lake Michigan).

Southwestern Michigan saw Stevensville and Benton Harbor being settled as orchard towns and still retain prominence for their peaches, blueberries, and wine-grapes; Union Pier and Three Oaks hit their stride as major logging centers for Chicago’s restoration.  However, once the forests were dismembered Union Pier relied on a small but consistent tourist industry for Chicago residents while Three Oaks turned to agriculture (mainly fruit orchards).  Other small whistle-stops took hold along miles of unobstructed beaches and sand dunes as summer retreats.  Union Pier was affectionately known as the Catskills of the Midwest and, like many of its nearby towns enjoyed an annual easterly migration of Chicagoans desperately seeking the serenity of rural retreats less than ninety minutes from the city.

That is until the 1950’s when tourism began to wane as Chicagoans discovered their northerly neighbor, Wisconsin was flecked by inland lakes upon which one could raise simple three-season cottages, retirement retreats, even mansions.  And a mere seven-hour drive from Chicago is Wisconsin’s famous peninsula known as Door County.  Comprised of small towns and hamlets dotting both the eastern shore abutting Lake Michigan and the western shore adjoining Green Bay, it compares easily to Delaware’s Rehoboth Beach, Boston’s Martha’s Vineyard, and New York’s Fire Island.

For thirty years visual artists slowly discovered Southwestern Michigan’s slow pace, abundant properties, and speedy access to Chicago.  Over the years the area has become an established center of professional artists and independently owned road-side galleries offering a variegated degree of original art.  But then, in the mid-eighties, gentrification began its blight on these drowsy little towns as over-stressed and over-worked professionals sought a destination closer to home than Wisconsin’s offerings; a location with an aging and troubled economy; a place where you could buy a house, some land, and a night sky chock-full of stars for a fraction of what you’d pay in Illinois or Wisconsin.  And what made these Harbor Country towns so appealing?  Poor economic conditions: They looked and felt pretty much the way they did in the fifties when they’d been abandoned by Chicagoans the first time.

And so they came, prosperous couples with new families gobbled up properties like Romans marching across Europe.  The lakefront corridor was by far most desirable, especially the west (lake) side where modest stone bungalows with beach rights might fetch as much as seven figures.  The march continued both north toward Benton Harbor and west, leap-frogging the Red Arrow Highway, and slowing its pace at the eastern most fringe of Three Oaks.  By 2000 the narrow lanes, over-built lots, and idyllic, provincial, and simple character of these sleepy hometowns were scuttled by the import of urbanized behaviors and expectations.  Rather than fleeing the unyielding stress of city life for a long-weekend of birdsong, hammock-naps, and tall tales around a blazing fire, these transplants smuggled stress, brash voices, and booming stereos across state lines, and piled their city lives one-on-top-the-other, until their retreat disappeared, and their urban maladies doubled because now, not only were they experiencing the exact situations from which they fled, they were stuck in a tiny, Hicksville town, that oh m’god! couldn’t draw a shot of espresso, much less support a Starbuck’s!

Except for Frank’s.  Our longtime friend found a small, modest home built of cinder block overlooking a field of corn and backed-up against a steep ravine hidden by a dense thicket and impassable brambles.  It had been home to a family of four until the kids left and, luckily for Frank, so did the parents.  The small and unassuming house and garage was overcast by Hemlock and Juniper pines which splayed out in all directions like the bloom of a peacock’s tail.  Frank has an uncanny creative quirk: he can look at a common object and by deconstructing it in his mind, he imagines its parts which he then assembles into a completely new object.  In this bashful home which dutifully sheltered a self-effacing and respectable generation Frank saw a discreet refuge, and a distanced and disconnected property a few inland miles due west of the shore communities whose infrastructure narrowly supports the torrent of weekenders and the subsequent bottlenecks (roads, shops, restaurants).  Frank prudently purchased the property and created a master plan which included landscaping: pruning the pines, planting native fruit trees, installing a 2,500 gallon koi pond and waterfall, indigenous gardens, fire pit, and outdoor sculpture; upgrading the utilities in the house; and the most innovative change: repurposing the two-car garage into a modern three-bedroom guest house complete with a full kitchen, fireplace, vaulted ceilings and scores of windows which flood the rooms with sunlight and the achievement of privacy, serenity, and timelessness; the very qualities desperately sought by other Chicagoans who impulsively bought homes in the favored townships on the popular lanes only to discover that their little resort town had overdeveloped into the Lilliputian version of Chicago.

Sans, oh m’god! A half-caf double-foam skinny extra hot latte with three pumps of caramel!  Which, by-the-way, Frank concocts (simply espresso, sugar cube, and twist of lemon) using an original, aluminum-bodied, Bialetti stove-top espresso maker.

That Frank, he’s simply an innovator and an inspiration to everyone who’s ever really gotten out of the city and into the real Harbor Country, his retreat in the middle of nowhere, which is precisely where we urbanites yearn to be. 

Thanks, Frank.