poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

November 16, 2009

Extreme Makeover, European Deli Edition.

Filed under: Too Much Information — poemless @ 6:34 PM
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In which I resist change.

Before: Meyer Delicatessen.

After: Gene’s Sausage Shop.

Years ago, when I first moved to the Ravenswood/Lincoln Square area, I felt it was the only saving grace of living in America. Precisely because it was rather unlike living in America. For a few blocks, you could be transported to, well, a generic European place. Pastry shops, cafes, a European apothecary, a fine wine broker, weird German figurine peddlers. I guess it was originally settled by Germans, but it had taken a swing to the east by the time I got there. Austrians and Czechs. Then Bosnians and Serbians, or something. At some point they’d all been from Yugoslavia, right? Or from the East Bloc. Or from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. I don’t know. The newest arrivals were a bit fearsome. They ran the kinds of places that you didn’t even go into if you weren’t Bosnian or Serbian or Yugoslavian or East Bloc or Austro-Hungarian, because everything was in Serbo-Croatian or something, and moreover, there were always some sketchy types in tracksuits, smoking cigarettes outside this cafe or that PAL-Secam-NTSC video store. It’s too bad, because I was curious. But secretly I suspected some of these men to be in the import/export business, not of videos in need of conversion, but of heroin or young girls. Belonging to the latter category, I chose to remain ignorant of their business operations.

But the less intimidating European types were still there, with their bars and sausage shops and homeopathic remedies. And weird figurines. Lamenting the fact that I had to live in America, I made weekly pilgrimages to Mertz Apothecary and Meyer Deli. It was like a 45 minute European vacation. Along with Cafe Selmarie, which is the closest thing I know to a slice of Paris in Chicago, I could not imagine life without them. When Meyer closed several years ago, I was clearly facing an existential crisis. American creep. It was during the Bush years, and I’d come to expect that the world was becoming more hellish by the day. Meyer was just an unwitting pawn in some metaphysical struggle of evil over good. This is also how I explained the sudden presence of a Coldstone Creamery on that block.

But now that Obama is in office and good is sometimes maybe trying to put up a better fight and of course we should be patient because it’s out of practice and doesn’t have its mojo back, it should come as no surprise that Meyer has re-opened. Bigger and ostensibly better, it now goes by the name of “Gene’s sausage shop.” From the moment I caught word of this re-birth, I dreamt each night of the possibility of joy that would return to my life. And by joy, I specifically mean THIS. There were many other lovely things I could once obtain from Meyer, like marzipan piglets on little cutting boards with little butcher’s knives, Mozart chocolates, Orangina, Laughing Cow cheese, black liquorish kitties, and gingersnaps. Which, to be honest, comprised the better part of my diet in my 20’s. But it was the honey I lusted after in maturity.

I eat a lot of honey. Daily, in fact. I don’t buy sugar. Just honey. And I’m very picky about it. I have to have unpasteurized, local honey for allergies, which rather sucks as allergy season kicks in a good few months before honey season. I want to see bee bits in it, in the local, unpasteurized stuff. Hell, I should just get some bees and eat them… But for general consumption, I’ve never found anything that beats Biophar’s lavender honey, for the price. And price is important, considering the level of general consumption we’re talking about. I don’t even care if it is mass-produced, or Provence honey from, erm, Germany. The texture is perfect, creamy. And it is neither too sugary nor too mild. It is perfect, divine, even. And a staple. I only ever found it at Meyer and was left with a gaping hole in my palate when they closed shop.

So off I went, Saturday, full of hope and anticipation. Soon the coveted Honig aus der Provence would be mine once more!

Naturally, they weren’t carrying Biophar Honig aus der Südfrankreich. Or any decent honey at all, from what I could surmise. And I stood there surmising for quite a long while before inquiring as to what the hell had happened to Meyer’s outstanding honey selection.

I asked a salesperson about it, not in those words, and she snapped back, “No we don’t have that but we’ve got honey made by Gene’s wife,” and looked at me like God would kill a kitten if I didn’t buy that instead. What I really wanted to say was, “Oh? And is Gene’s wife making honey from bees who feed upon the lavender fields in the South of France and somehow end up in Germany?” But I just smiled and politely thanked her, and headed immediately for the rack of eclairs. What the hell? I mean, why have they hired Americans? Surly, overworked little old Germany ladies in paper hats are charming. No matter how terribly they treat you, you can’t hate them. They are from the old country. They have had difficult lives. They probably lost half their family in the war. And they were probably Nazis at one point. (Ok, maybe not, but some of these German immigrants are. I knew a barber who shaved the faces of the SS. So what? He was one of the kindest neighbors ever.) So you do whatever they say. They are built like bulldogs. If they tell you to buy Gene’s wife’s honey, you do it, and you don’t complain about it. You call it a cultural experience and move on.

Anyway, Americans who are bitter about having to work, and in the humiliating job of sales no less, were cramping the euro-style down at Gene’s bigtime. And I was feeling disoriented after the whole honey debacle. Other Meyer staples absent from its newest incarnation: Mozart chocolates, HobNobs. I was also hoping in vain to find some of that weird Norwegian fudge cheese. I’d seen the adorable Andreas Viestad going on about it, and he seems to have good taste. I did manage to find a few gems, however. Or items of curiosity anyway. Baltika. But no #6! And clearly packaged for export. Honestly, who is running this joint? And Saku. I don’t even like beer, but the nostalgia factor was impossible to resist. Marzipan fruits, that emergency eclair, which was indeed heaven, some good french mustard, a strange Russian tea of the Tsars, whatever that means. I hope they don’t mean it in the literal sense. I can’t take much more Russian cannibalism. A nice Edam. I couldn’t bring myself to wait in the Disney World-esque lines for the meat counter. Perhaps I’ll return on a weeknight. They have a little bit of produce and odds of general grocery items. Which makes you think, “Oh, I could do ALL my shopping here!” Then, you realize you can’t. Because you need more variety than the 5 or so plant vegetables they have on offer, and you don’t use Fa deodorant. I think they should nix the apples and deodorant and concentrate on the meat, cheese, sweets and booze, which is why people actually come there. And if you decide to carry Baltika, for the love of god, carry 6.

So, I give the new joint a … 6 of 10. So far. I haven’t actually managed to gain access to the sausage part of Gene’s sausage shop yet. I’m still missing the things I missed before, so it can’t be said to be a new Meyer. Neither can it be said to be a German joint. Though it does carry a wide variety of European products. I think they’re going for quantity over quality. In fact, it reminds me of those early Russian Western-style supermarkets that carried French shampoo and British potato chips and Laughing Cow cheese and ramen noodles. But that eclair was a damn fine eclair. And the delirious sensation of walking into a store and not recognizing the products, not the language, not the contents of the jar, remains. As well as that familiar sensation of being crushed & trapped against a large, precariously constructed display of German Christmas cookies while suburbanites elbow for a spot in front of the headcheese. Well, they got that part right. And it isn’t even Christmas yet.

Another thing about Meyer: even though 50 people might have tried to fill a store with a 12 body fire code capacity, you felt safe because it was so astonishingly tiny in size, that if you should be trampled to the brink of death, your body would be found immediately. There was no place to hide. The atmosphere at Gene’s suggests the same potential for overcrowding and fanatical rushes on Christmas stollen, but in this new vast, labyrinthine establishment, your trampled body might not be found until after the new year. Is it worth such a risk?

It would be if they had my honey.

For now I have to put this on my Christmas list:

Hopefully someone out there knows where I can obtain some, or can obtain some for me. Hopefully without getting trampled to death by rabid germanophiles.


November 9, 2009

Tonight we’re gonna to party like it’s 1989.

Filed under: Politics: Europe,Too Much Information — poemless @ 11:15 AM
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I’ve probably spent the better part of my life having something passionate to say about the Berlin Wall. Yet now that I have an incredible excuse to say it, meh. Everyone and their mother has something passionate to say about the Berlin Wall on this occasion. Some profound insight, some vivid memory to share, some sober reflection on the victories and failures of foreign and economic policy over the past 20 years… The fall of the Berlin Wall is one of those events that turns everybody into a poet. But no one actually reads poetry now, do they?

And yet… That’s it, isn’t it? With 20 years of hindsight, many people see clearly now that November 9, 1989 was neither the end of Soviet Union, Communism nor History itself. Many historians assert that November 9, 1989 was the result not simply of a bottom-up grassroots political movement of angry East Germans nor of the right and might of American ideological persuasiveness. And yet it is not the anniversary of the Pan-European Picnic nor the Belovezhskaya Pushcha Pact that we commemorate around the world with rock concerts and special editions of current events programs. Because these events didn’t turn everyone into a poet.

Most likely, the fall of the Berlin Wall is not so remarkable for the actual political changes which both precipitated and followed the event as it is for its allegorical power. Of course it dramatically impacted the lives of East Germans, but this doesn’t explain its enduring symbolism outside of Germany. For me, even as an American, it is comparable only to something like 9-11, or Obama’s election. You know where you where when you found out about it. You can close your eyes and see the images projected inside your lids as though you were watching a movie. Like 9-11, it came so unexpectedly and seemed to practically violate the laws of nature. For someone born in the 70’s, there had been no “before the wall,” so how could there be an “after the wall?” Like the 2008 U.S. Presidential election, the event seemed to confirm everything we want to believe about the implicit goodness and remarkable agency of average people, and reinforced the tenuous beliefs that hold our questionable worldview together: that democracy works, that people can be free when they decide to be and that, like a Hollywood movie, just when things can get no worse, the good guys will band together, defeat the villains, and save the world.

Just because that may not be how it really happened does not make the subjective experience of it any less compelling.

My interest in politics and US-Russia relations date back to elementary school. In the sixth grade I had the same faith in Mikhail Gorbachev that American sixth-graders now have in Barack Obama. I positively adored him. For my whole life the Cold War had raged, and in my childlike, idealistic dreamer’s mind, I knew it was wrong. I thought it was too dangerous and too petty and, above all, perfectly avoidable if people could just act like adults. (Hell, my adolescent peers were being held to a higher standard of behavior than world leaders.) And here was the head of the Soviet freaking Union and sharing my opinion! Not only was he engaging in some “new thinking,” that childlike glimmer in his eyes inspired in me a confidence that, yes, I should hold on tight to my idealism, because if the leader of the scariest country on earth can be a bit of a dreamer, damn it, I can too. That just might be what it takes.

It was never that I wanted the USSR to become like America. In fact, I was pretty disturbed by the reports that jeans and Pepsi were at the top of Russians’ wish lists, while I was bitter about having been born into a country where people don’t care about poetry or ballet. I was raised by a subversive hippie-type and from a long line of system-bucking progressives. As my brilliant sixth grade teacher said, “Don’t be proud to be American, just be thankful to be one.” Back in 1986 we could be thankful, too. The end of the Cold War is not the only thing to have changed in the past few decades… But even then, neither the American “way of life” nor our President inspired much admiration on my part. Precisely because the thought was implied to be taboo, I suspected we could learn as much from Russia as they could learn from us. If only we would put down our arms, sit down and listen. I simply believed the whole world had the capacity to get along if they would just try, and when there are differences, the solution should never be the erecting of walls or the threat of nuclear war.

And I still do.

So as I sat on the hardwood floor in my grandmother’s rarely used formal living room, watching cable TV as Berliners celebrated, waving their flags in the night, teenagers partying along the wall, I felt a vindication and optimism I would not feel again for another 19 years. It was probably the first time in my life I felt cognisant of the fact that I was witnessing history. If I recall correctly, the Challenger disaster may have been my only previous experience of being witness to a spontaneous, shocking event simultaneously with millions of people around the globe. No one had even heard of the Internet back then, at least in the universe of people I knew. Watching events unfold live on TV along with people all over the world was still a novel experience, in the same way encountering an old friend on facebook is today. There was a wow factor inspired not only by the message but the medium as well. I remember explicitly thinking it was a good thing we had gotten grandma cable TV.

The fall of the Berlin Wall instilled in me a curious understanding of historical and political evolution, and one that reflected acutely that I was only 15 years old. The invisible hand of progress, I will call it. Good things happen because good is more persuasive than bad. People want good things. Those who stand in the way of progress are just uninformed; there is nothing that can’t be tackled with a few PSA’s on MTV and a benefit rock concert. We’d put an end to hot wars, and now to cold wars. Sure, there were mysterious scuffles around the world, but those were last gasps of the old way. People stuck in the past. Hold outs. The more evolved cultures (ahem – I was 15) were embracing peace. Apartheid was ending. We’d taken on racism, sexism, and now even gays were being afforded protection under the law. AIDS had made it ok to talk about sex. Diversity, multiculturalism, tolerance, democracy and human rights were the catchwords of the era. The early 90’s were a good time to have an impressionable young mind.

The next 20 years passed. A lot happened. Most of it shattering my belief in the invisible hand of progress. Or the possibility of any progress. Ever. Or the implicit good and agency in people. Or almost anything which might be remotely worth believing in. Life in 1990’s Moscow and 21st century America. The death of my mother from cancer. 9-11. Katrina. Abu Graib. Oh it is all too much. Which is not to say it’s been all bad. It has just not been the world I was led to believe I had been born into. And let’s not fool ourselves, it’s been pretty bad. And even the bad things might have been more tolerable if I could maintain the conviction that we were generally moving forward, toward a better, more peaceful, more equitable society. That we’d learned lessons of the past. That these setbacks were only hurdles along the road of progress.

The fall of the Berlin Wall has been one of those moments I’ve held onto when I am looking for hope against hope. Proof. It is within our capacity to make things better. People are not doomed to live forever in oppression. We can choose peaceful revolution over conflict, cooperation over isolation. Ok, fine, Gorbachev turned out to be rather ineffective at home and his leadership (or was it lack thereof?) resulted in some serious strife, both existentially and physically. Fine, democracy can give you a leader like George W. Bush. Fine, actually a significant percentage of East Germans like the old way better. Not the wall, especially. But let’s face it, there are a lot of people out there wondering what happened to Capitalism’s willingness to make good on that promise to improve our quality of life. Not to mention all of the crap we sold Eastern Europe when we basically forced them to abandon democratic socialism, a “third way” for a liberal free-market if they wanted our aid. America, the original predatory lender! But why complain? You have your damn jeans and Pepsi now. And fine, many people fled East Germany less for the promise of political freedom than for that of material gratification. And fine, so it’s not like the fall of Wall was the culmination of years of some underground East German democratic resistance that finally outmaneuvered the Party bosses. And fine, the Cold War has in recent years managed to rear its nasty undead corpse from the graveyard of history, leaving me to make the same goddamned impassioned speeches today that I was making in 1985. When I was 10. Ten! For crying out loud! Fine! Fine, fine, fine!

Wait. What exactly are we celebrating today?

The tearing down of a wall is the tearing down of a wall, no matter how you slice it. That’s worth something. Walls are never the solution. Because the problem is never migration. Migration is a symptom. Humans are remarkably resilient and adaptable. If droves of your citizens are so miserable that they feel it preferable to leave your country – knowing fully well it may result in imprisonment or death, for themselves or their families – maybe YOU are the problem, not the people who want to leave. And yes, overall, the quality of life on what was the other side of the Iron Curtain has mostly improved since the fall of the Berlin Wall, even if these improvements have been accompanied by some undesirable trade-offs. And perhaps we should just celebrate the celebration. Regardless what came before or what came after, that was one wildly magical night. And who doesn’t love an 80’s themed party?! I know I do! Could it be precisely the parenthetical nature of the event that makes it so precious, so worth celebrating? Perhaps, like a myth, acknowledging that the story may contain some fantasy should not undermine its basic message: freedom, peace, progress. And sometimes metaphors are necessary to motivate us in the face of discouraging facts. They are what keep us from resigning en masse to cynicism and stagnation. They are the stuff that makes us all poets.

Yes! Yes, yes, yes! So get your Ostalgie on, baby. Bust out your 80’s gear (which any fashionista in good standing has handily available this season anyway.) Celebrate the end of the old Cold War. Dance on its grave. Relive your youth; remember who you were before George W. Bush damaged your soul. And this time around, let’s try to learn the right lessons and give credit where it is due and avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.

Thanks for reading!

Appendix I.

From Odds & Ends: 99 Luftballons Edition, written about the 08-08 war:

“Oh, I know that the first Cold War was more a struggle of world powers than beautiful ideas. But ideas were the currency used. And even though the ideas were armed with nukes, they still had a seat at the table. There was always the possibility that reason could prevail. Religion, blind faith, armed with nukes, however, offers no such peace of mind. Of course, it’s no guarantee that we will all perish in one magnificent mushroom cloud of glory. Leaving a loaded gun the hall closet is no guarantee that your small child will blow his brains out. Who the hell wants to gamble it? People who are sure they are going to heaven, I guess…

I don’t have the answers. I don’t understand what is going on. That’s fine. But I don’t think the people running my country really understand what is going on either. Or they don’t care because there are no consequences. For them, anyway.

I feel like a kid whose parents are on the verge of a divorce. These are the two countries who have shaped who I am today. Why can’t they just fucking get along? Jesus! I just want to run into my room, slam my door shut and blast “99 Red Balloons” on my tape player. Except. I’m not a kid anymore. I don’t even have a functioning cassette tape-player. I am a citizen. What am I supposed to do? What can I do? Any ideas? Let me know if you come up with something. In the meantime, I’ll be in my room listening to 80s Europop and dreaming about the good old days of the first Cold War, when everything was less complicated because I was 10, because everyone thought it would be over soon, because walls were coming down instead of being built up. Because back then I had faith in people and the things we could accomplish when we worked together.”

Appendix II.

October 8, 2009

С Днем Рождения, ВВП!

Filed under: Too Much Information — poemless @ 5:31 PM
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Grief. In the wake of yesterday’s cat-astrophe*, I totally missed the DL’s big day. And here I have been waiting around for a good opportunity to use the word “Vladurday” in a sentence ever since I discovered this strange interwebz phenomenon a few weeks ago.

I don’t know how to say “belatedly” in Russian. Something to do with “поздно” I’m sure – but too lazy to figure it out. I mean, they don’t even use the verb “wish” so I wouldn’t even know where to put an adverb in that sentence.

Anyway, Happy 57th, Mr. Prime Minister.

See, I do have a heart
see more Political Pictures

*Cat-astrophe: when you take your cat to the vet because she lost a tooth and you find out she needs expensive life-saving surgery. One day I will write about the remarkable Bella Picolinakin, about her extraordinary perseverance and sweetness, but not today. Today I’m spent. I’m off to go shoot my koshka full of hallucinogenic painkillers and watch her dance around the room.

Dance, kitty, dance!

September 25, 2009

too much tv.

Filed under: Odds & Ends,Too Much Information — poemless @ 5:12 PM
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I’m so sick I’ve nothing to say. Except that Qaddafi is my new favorite celebrity. That he travels with his own tent (but no KOA directory, I guess) and wants to dissolve Switzerland is astonishing enough. But that 90 min. … erm, “speech” – wow! Just wow! If that doesn’t make you want to run out and take Public Speaking 101 or join Toastmasters, whatever will? After seeing the cloaked one and Chavez at the UN, it strikes me that what our enemies in the developing world lack is: speechwriters. It’s too bad, really, because if you can actually make yourself listen to them, they have some very seriously valid things to say. It’s just the delivery that distracts and allows the Western Hegemony to discount their words as those of lunatics. Still, I admire the way they say whatever they like and don’t care what others think of them. Reminds me of me in high school. Know what else reminds me of high school? The way the popular kids get up and leave when one of the so-called lunatics gets up to speak, treating the UN like it were a middle school cafeteria and Ahmadinejad had the balls to sit at the jocks’ table. Grow up people. And what else? Oh I could have happily gone my whole entire life without seeing Tom Delay shake his ass in some nasty old brown polyester pants (in case you didn’t get the aesthetic he’s going for: exploded colostomy bag.) Possibly the creepiest thing ever shown on network TV. They should have a warning before his performances, like the BBC does with flash photography. Anyway, I am going to have to boycott reality tv dancing shows until he’s voted off. Which is a lot harder than it sounds when you have the god damned flu. (Not swine flu though! Whew.) Another thing I should have been able to live my life without fear of: Boris Yeltsin running around slobbering drunk in his underwear. And what is this pattern of nekkid Russian leaders? I hope Dima keeps his clothes on. He has good clothes. OMG, did you see his fab aubergine tie? He’s fall fashion forward! My nail polish matches his tie! Now there is a man who knows how to respect the UN! Speaking of awesome (clothed) Russians at the UN, is Anastasia Churkina Vitaly Churkin’s daughter or something? And, lastly in the progression of thoughts travelling through my bored to tears mind, does the FSB really have nothing better to do than make sex tapes? And bad sex tapes at that? There are lots of pornographers in Russia. I would assume. Given her inglorious history of fine filmmaking and fallen women. If the intelligence organs have lost interest in things like national security and old-school KGB spookiness and really want to get into the low budget not even really porn scene, they could do a lot better. What else?

I was supposed to go camping this weekend. But I have the flu. And it is raining. 😦

September 21, 2009

I am sick… I am spiteful. And I have links.

Ok, it’s official, kids. I’m sick. The doctor I spoke with when making an appointment would not rule out swine flu and told me I had to wear a face mask in the waiting room. What the hell? I thought those things were largely useless. “It’s a precaution.” In fact, when I told him my symptoms, which are pretty lame, generic seasonal virus symptoms, there was a silence followed by, “Oooh… Ok. That is … that’s not good.” Just 24 hours ago I was still convinced I wasn’t really sick & now I’m convinced I’m dying. Possibly of something called, “Swine Flu.” How humiliating. Like being physically and mentally compromised isn’t humiliating enough.

My agenda for the near future is to see the doctor (I am one of those crazy Americans who has incredibly fantastic healthcare and pays a mere pittance for it, yet thinks we need a single payer system), go to the pharmacy for drugs and snacks (I don’t really keep snacks at home. I hate the word “snack.” Sounds offensive… “Snack.” But I am thinking of some juice and donuts, those little ones that have absolutely no nutritional value) and, if still ambulatory, swing by and rent some movies. Then I will go home and resign myself to illness, boredom and Dancing with the Stars. Which will never be the same without Gilles. Beautiful Gilles… Yes, as if choking on my own snot and having an illness with a name which in any other circumstance would be considered an epithet, as if that were not humiliating enough, I will now be scheduling my life according to the TV Guide. They shoot horses don’t they? Too bad I don’t have horse flu.

I’m not up for writing anything, but here are the thinks to things I’ve been reading. Check ’em out. (more…)

September 16, 2009


Filed under: Too Much Information — poemless @ 1:41 PM
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What can I getchya, honey? Apple, or blueberry? Applebaum, or Ayn Rand?

I thought I was being a bit hyperbolic in my last post about leaves falling to the ground. Anything for a metaphor. It’s only mid-September, and summer just managed to arrive in Chicago last week. But, lo. On the way to work this morning I observed by the Museum of Science & Industry trees which had not only burst into reds and oranges, but had indeed already shed their leaves! What does this have to do with pie? I love autumn, and one of the very many things I love about it is a childhood memory of driving up the Great River Road to look at the leaves turning color along the bluffs, go apple picking and top off the day at some dank catfish shack accessible only by ferry. We would pick so many apples we’d run out of things to do with them. We’d try to give them away, but our neighbors were in a similar predicament. Everyone knew to turn off the lights and hide behind the curtains if a neighbor bearing gifts of apples was spotted walking toward your house. By November the very aroma of apples made me nauseous… Well, we ate lots of pies. (more…)

September 10, 2009

too much information, a September lament.

Filed under: Odds & Ends,Too Much Information — poemless @ 4:49 PM
Tags: , , ,

Hope you weren’t expecting any brilliant, in-depth posts from me this week. If you were looking for that type of thing, I highly recommend Sean’s Not much to gawk about, a smackdown of the weirdness, silliness and arrogance surrounding the non-publication of the GQ article “Vladimir Putin’s Dark Rise to Power,” and Matt Taibbi’s Sick and wrong, in which he lays out the 5 point plan followed by the gov’t. to kill healthcare reform. Indeed, I recommend these articles even if you are not actively looking for such things. Indeed, by not reading these articles you are doing yourself and everyone who knows you a serious disfavor because ultimately you have a responsibility as a citizen of the world to know this stuff. Ignorant people are the problem. Be the solution.

Another problem is depressed people. Who are worse than ignorant people, really. There’s the possibility that, given the knowledge they lack, the ignorant might actually do something about it. I think people prone to ignorance are also the kind of people who always want to be doing something. It’s just a matter of pointing them in the right direction and providing them with tangible rewards. Depressed people, however, possess the knowledge that should motivate them to action, but they succumb to inertia instead. In fact, they are usually quite knowledgeable precisely because they are content to sit and read, or think. And they are depressed precisely because they are quite knowledgeable. Do you think it is any coincidence most of these people live in blue states? raises one eyebrow…

I’m counting myself among the blue this week. Blue is my default category, yes. But there are shades, and this week is a decidedly more midnight blue than an Yves Klein or hyacinth. It’s the color of the sky Vincent painted after he did away with the ear. Happens every year at this time. You might call it “seasonal depression” but that would imply it has something to do with meteorology or astrology and not the fact that my mother died on September 7th. That was 9 years ago, abut now no matter what elaborate plan I invent to celebrate, distract or cope my way through this anniversary, it never ever works. Ever. I’ve taken vacations, gone into the woods, had parties, pretended it is just a normal day in a different month, ignored it, and once even entertained the idea of a nightcap of vodka and sleeping pills. (Don’t flip out. I didn’t do it. Obviously. Do you think I’m blogging from beyond the grave?)

It would be easier if it were just one day. The 7th. Limit the drama to 24 hours and move on. But I am unable to do so because the very week that begins with death ends with my birthday. I was never a fan of birthdays to start with. I didn’t even get to savor the stupid fun of the milestone 21st birthday since I was living at the time in a country with no enforced legal drinking age. Now, when I think of my birthday, I can’t get past the feelings of selfishness and humiliation which drove me to remind my family, they in the grips of a spectacular tragedy, impaled by grief, overwhelmed with all of the high stakes event planning that accompanies a death, that … well … it was my birthday.

So, as you see, a terrible week. (more…)

August 12, 2009

what not to read. what not to wear. vampires!

I previously posted a diatribe about my blog being a place dedicated to the free exchange of ideas and words and about world peace and political theory and blah, blah, blah… So, if you are here for that, great! Don’t go! However, that will not be on the menu tonight. This evening’s menu is dessert only.

What not to read.

From time to time, I am prone to be intensely shallow. Maybe I am afraid of becoming too librarian. Maybe it is an evolutionary adaptation to ensure that I can navigate mundane social situations. Maybe I am trying not to become what a friend called “a literary bore.” So I watch re-runs of old Sex and the City episodes, the ones with Baryshnikov. Or I check out a book entitled, He’s just not that into you. “Oh, girl, no you did not!” Oh, yes. I did. Don’t worry – I am the one who has to live with that on my permanent Chicago Public Library record for all the NSA to know. It stings. What was I thinking?! I was thinking, the books currently on my nightstand are The Ghost of Freedom: A History of the Caucasus, Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War and Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago and maybe it’s time for something silly. I was thinking, I need something I can pretend to read while I get a tan. I was thinking, the reviews of the movie were kind of good, and I really like Drew Barrymore. I do just adore her. I was thinking, “it is by the writers of Sex and the City and whe-he-ell, if they are brilliant enough to write for Baryshnikov…” I thought. Ok – I wasn’t thinking. Which was part of the point. Sometimes I need to not be thinking. So I read things like Vogue, or He’s just not that into you.

People say such things are bad for your self esteem. Whenever women do shallow shit is bad for their self-esteem. Or a sign of bad self-esteem. Or something. I am not certain, but I don’t think men are given lectures on their self-esteem when they read Playboy or watch the game on tv. Can any of the men in the house tell me if anyone has ever warned them that they cannot possibly live up to the expectations placed upon them by professional sports celebrities or Maxim, so they should walk away and go cultivate their inner gods by doing arts and crafts or something? I like the expectations placed on me by Vogue. In fact, I look around and am hardly worried that people are placing too much import on their appearance. Would you like to know what is truly bad for my self esteem? Not terrible relationship books with hot pink dust jackets. When I read crap like this, I exhale a sigh or relief upon the realization that I am already *far* better off than most people. Or the people reading it. And the people who wrote it. If you can call it writing. The whole point of that horrid little book, if it had a point and can be called a book, was that women should stop wasting time on people who belittle them because, even if they end up alone forever, and they will, it will be good for their self-confidence to ignore idiots. It was supposed to be empowering. And it was. I finished it and thought, “I should stop wasting time on crap writers who belittle women because, even if I end up a literary bore forever, and I will, it will be good for my self-confidence to ignore these idiots.” So I guess it worked, in some perverse way.

No, what really makes me question my worth is … Žižek. I know he has some brilliant point, but can’t for the life of me figure out what it is, exactly. There are people out there who claim to understand him, and I believe them. I also know that some of my problem with Zizek is that I’m removed from academia where theory has a language all its own. But it makes me feel like an idiot. I am not used to reading things and not easily comprehending them. That’s meant to be one of the very few things I can be relied upon to do: be literate. If I can’t do that – I am fucked. So fucked is how I feel when I read Zizek. And yet I don’t see any interventions in the offing to wrench the horrible habit of reading pop-philosophy from my routine, in order that I should stop feeling bad about myself and fly off into the sunset like a happy butterfly finally free of her cocoon. Nope.

What not to wear.

What the hell was I talking about? Oh, yes, dessert. Mmmm… (more…)

August 6, 2009

diary of a political ninja.

Contents: No, actually, this is what democracy looks like ; In which I chat with Putin’s media strategist after a game of Wii bowling ; The scale of cool ; Oops! Someone forgets their shirt again.

Act I. Managing Democracy.

I devoted my entire weekend to learning how to run a political campaign (political ninja school) and getting tipsy with the future leaders of America. I now have all the mad skillz to run a winning grassroots candidate in … uh, Oregon. Or somewhere else there is grass. Maybe. Chicago? No one has yet figured out how to run a winning grassroots candidate in an area where we don’t have things like multiple parties, meaningful general elections or finance laws. Or grass. For that I think I would need to attend a United Russia political ninja school. But I am glad I now know what I know, and I believe every American should know it too. Because there are still many otherwise intelligent folks out there who are under the impression that democracy is just a noble principle or ideology. Like honesty, generosity and responsibility. They tell you in Sunday school to be it, you are it, you go to heaven. Period. People don’t seem to realize that democracy is in fact a micro-managed process which may or may not be noble and, unfortunately, is possibly more effective the less noble it is. This is why Republicans win. This is also why people who have never seen a voter file, walked a precinct or quite conceivably have never even seen the inside of a polling place on election day will eagerly get on tv to tell you there is no democracy in Russia. I, however, hear stories of voter intimidation, ballot purges and dirty campaigns and eagerly tell you there is democracy in Russia. Because if there were not, they would not need to do this shit, people. It’s like physics: you can’t see the gravity, only the rotten apple that falls from the tree. If you are purging your challengers from the ballot, it means 1) there are citizens willing to challenge you, 2) there is a process by which they can attempt that and 3) there are people who will vote for them.

I was not taught how to axe people off ballots last weekend. Chicagoans already know how to do that. Just ask Barack. Still, I bet a United Russia or Nashi ninja school would have classes like, “Advanced ballot purging,” or “What to do when your opponent runs an organized crime syndicate,” which would be more applicable to my local situation. They also had a “love oasis” at the Nashi camp, which would have been useful last weekend. Ooof. There is nothing more depressing than a pack of politicos with no social lives at a bar on a Saturday night. “We’ve been talking politics all day. The only thing left to talk about is sex and religion.” And we’re not religious. So we behave like 14 yr. old boys. On booze.

Anyway. I bet UR trainings aren’t terribly different from ours. I bet we all use the same mind-numbing, numbers-crunching spreadsheets and math calculations, the only difference being that in the “vote goal” column, UR figures for 72% instead of 52%. Hard to argue with their “aim for the moon” mentality. US Democrats are taught to have low expectations for persuadable voters. Round down. Remember that these people voted for Bush. Knock another 401 registered voters off that column. It’s all about the numbers. I bet most campaigns are lost because of bad math. You know who is really good at math? [Insert dramatic pause…] The Russians! This is my new counter-argument for the racists who assert that Russia is “genetically predisposed” toward political dictatorship. It’s in their DNA, they say. Well you know what else appears to be in the their DNA? Serious math skills, that’s what. Between that and their “genetic predisposition” for being absolute propaganda fiends and their “inherited” willingness to subject themselves to just about anything, regardless how insane, Russia would seem to be “genetically predisposed” to be the model nation for democracy! Putin should technically never have to steal or fake an election with this repertoire. Assuming he is managing his campaigns the same way we manage ours…

And I do. Because both Russia and my little progressive grassroots organization hired the same political strategist. (more…)

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