Saturday, October 4, 2008

insomnia

I've been fighting depression.
It comes and goes, and I have a history with it, but I'm usually pretty good at keeping it in check. It's often hard to tell with me because I'm pretty laid back and quiet most of the time anyway, but I start to feel numb and overwhelmed by things going on in my life.
It's been that way more lately.
Thankfully it's not nearly as bad as it was some years ago. I was dealing with an emotionally and financially messy divorce, and my father was dying from cancer.

I imagine I was not easy to be around back then. Thankfully I had a couple of close friends help me through those times.

Sadly, it's usually money matters that get me down these days. When work is steady and the money is coming in I'm more optimistic about what I can accomplish, in paying down my debt, keeping up with bills and maintenance, expanding my business, and working on my house. That seems to be the running theme.
I do try to remind myself how well I have it compared to most people. But it doesn't change the fact that I feel stressed about some of what's going on in my life. Leslie starts to sense it, my children start being affected by it. I slip into a funk, and I'm not at my best. I'm not completely present.

But money is very tight right now. My car needs work, I'm still trying to finish a bathroom remodeling project that started back in May of this year, and my house desperately needs a new roof. A complete tear-off that's going to cost at least $12,000. I've had leaks in my bedroom and studio ceilings for a couple of years now, and it's only getting worse.
I also need to have the 2nd story of my house re-shingled. That won't be cheap either, but it has to happen within the next year or two.
I've also put off the purchase of new computer hardware and software to help my business. I don't have a working printer, and I'm still on my old Mac G4. I really should be on a Mac Pro if I want to stay productive and expand creatively and professionally.

These are the main things. There are at least a dozen other things that warrant repair, upgrade, replacement, or monetary expense of some sort.
I try to find encouragement in the things that I have been able to accomplish this year so far. I had to replace my hot water heater early this year, and that's been done. There is the bathroom expansion and remodeling, which is looking great, and will be a sound investment in comfort and resale, ..and Leslie and I have been tackling some of the prepping and priming of the interior rooms. That doesn't require much money, just some focused spare time and sweat equity. The difference is startling, though, and that's been a bright spot. I'm feeling less like I'm living in squalor. Now I just need new drapes and furniture. I've had the same shit for 25 years and it's getting old (well, it was old when I bought it, as I used to be into antiquing).

Sometimes I do feel like bailing on my house. It's been a real ride so far, I've done quite a bit of upgrading already, and it's an amazing house in a great location, ..but it has been an almost constant struggle to live here and find the extra money to fix the place up. Again, I try to remind myself that I've been doing this all on my own, while I've been paying child-support and half the tuition at a private school for my children for the past 5 years. That's something I could feel good about.
But again, it doesn't change the fact that I feel tired and overwhelmed by everything that still needs to be done. I find myself looking on-line at the real-estate listings in places like Portland, Oregon or the West bay area of Northern California, for the next chapter of my life. It's tempting and inspiring, but it's not a practical consideration right now. My kids are still in school here, and I couldn't get much for my house with the shape it's in and the way the real estate market is right now.
My best bet is to hang in and wait things out.
In another 4 or 5 years the house will be in much better shape for sale, the kids will be about done with school entirely, and the market will have (hopefully) made an upturn.

I still consider staying here much longer, as I initially intended, just not as frequently as I used to. I'm aware that I'd have to keep doing things to the house to make it adequate for the long stay, but the longer I stay, the more equity I'll build up. Again, I'm in a great location. I live on a nice tree-lined street a block from the beach, and the area is only going to keep getting nicer in the coming years. I've seen a lot of good change in the 9 years I've been here.
I just don't know if I have the patience to wait it out in hopes of a big return. There is more to life than this particular real-estate investment, and I really don't know if I can stay here another 10 or 15 years.

Ugh, I need some sleep.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The election

I've been following this coming Presidential election closer than any other that I can remember. Partly because it's more crucial than any other in recent history, but also because, since Bush has been in office, I've educated myself more on how this country's political system has been subverted by corruption and greed. The 'economic hit men', the lobbyists who control politicians, the cronyism and patronage, the neocons, the fundamentalist evangelicals' rabid political agenda, the partisan-based vote purging and fraud, the mass-media complacency (and even complicity), ..essentially, the post WWII corporate and political trend in this country. That of a corporate empire that is selling out American citizens' interests and trust, and is not being held accountable.

If Nixon and Watergate sullied my sense of innocence at age 13, Reagan and the Bushes became my wake-up call as a mature political animal.
It has made me upset and it has frustrated me.

But what truly rattles me is how blatantly obvious politicians have become in continuing to use these proven tactics, and not enough people notice enough to do anything about it. Millions of people are screaming for change, and they are being continually duped or ignored entirely.
And like those millions of other working class people, I feel completely betrayed by my government and that our democracy is quickly slipping away to an autocratic corporatocracy.

I realize that Barak Obama is not going to change all of that if he is elected, but I do believe that he has a better chance than anyone right now. We simply need him, and people like him, in more positions to implement the change in direction that we sorely need.

I still want to believe that we live in the greatest country in the world, and it's hard to do that in these times.
But I find some solace in the words of humorist Mort Sahl, who once said;

"We know that Jeffersonian Democracy works. Otherwise politicians wouldn't have to lie so much."

I just wish more people in this country knew when they were being lied to.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

My 'moving in' story: Part 3

I came over to Mrs. Munson's house early the next morning. We agreed that I'd be coming by to check in, and start helping her in any way that I could.
My mood instantly improved when I saw she had a rented moving van and it was parked out front.
I hadn't slept well.

For the next week my family would be holed up in a small coach house studio nearby while we got everything on track. I couldn't work at all because everything I needed was packed, but the kids could go to school. And though Jane could work, we'd have to pick up the slack quickly. I'd still need another week to set up my studio and begin taking in work.

I spent most of the morning keeping Mrs. Munson company while making phone calls.
-I had to phone my moving company and convince them to hold off and NOT unload everything we owned, having to switch trailers due to the delay and their shipping schedule. Another 2 days to keep everything on the same truck would cost about $850.
-I called and arranged a small army of packers to come later that day, to finish packing Mrs. Munson's belongings into storage. Half a dozen guys minimum, and a truckload of empty boxes.
-I located a nearby storage facility and arranged a locker in Mrs. Munson's name.

Once that was done I felt more relief. Lia had brewed some strong coffee and we spent some time packing and talking before I had to go to the closing we had rescheduled.
As per our plan, Michael Pardys had come over the previous night and Lia had signed the papers granting him the power of attorney.
She did not make him stand outside.

I know, because I asked.

We actually had a bit of a giggle about it.
I asked her more about what she didn't like about her lawyer and it led into some more in-depth conversation. Now, I understood why Mrs. Munson initially liked us, and I'll expound on that momentarily, ..but it was as if we were a grand-niece and nephew to her. She wasn't baking us casseroles or anything, ..simply that there was some sense of deep trust, or recognition of some kind.
In fact, by the time I had to leave for the closing I found myself eager to come back afterward.
_______

In her younger days, mainly through the 1940s, 50s and 60s, Lia Munson was a professional fashion illustrator and photographer. She regularly created beautifully expressive ink and wash drawings of tall women, wearing stylish clothing, minks, hats, gloves, ..for newspaper ads. Carson Pirie Scott, Marshall Fields, ..downtown department stores that would run half and full-page ads in the city papers. She also had other personal art work, but she was an exceptional illustrator and photographer. She was also an avid gardener and much of her photography revolved around landscapes, flower and fauna.
Lia was a long-prominent member, and frequent lecturer and exhibitor, of the FPSA (Film Photographers Society of America).

Lia Evans met her future husband, Knute, when they were both illustrating for clothing catalogs in Chicago. They fell in love, got married and moved to St. Paul, Minnesota in 1936. They lived there while Knute, or as he was professionally known; "K.O. Munson", began earning a reputation as a renown pin-up artist during the 1940s and 50s.
He worked for Brown and Bigelow, an advertising and promotion company that printed media for distribution, ..but they were most famous for their pin-up calendars, especially during WWII.
Munson worked shoulder to shoulder with famous illustrators like Gil Elvgren, Alberto Vargas, George Petty, Earl Moran, Earl McPherson, ..illustrators who crafted a unique style and genre of iconic American art.
K.O. Munson was a classically trained artist, working with pastels and using figure models for reference, but when pin-up illustration succumbed to the era of photography Munson left St. Paul for Chicago in 1949 and focused more on a career in professional photography. At the time they bought the house on Chase Ave. in 1959 he was semi-retired, as was Lia. And, having no children, they spent much of their time living near the north shore beach in Rogers Park, entertaining friends regularly and traveling the world.

in the mid-60s K.O. Munson developed melanoma cancer, and passed away in 1967.
He was 67 years old. Lia was 54.
_______

..I was to learn all of this about Lia, and much more, over the course of the next day and a half.
I'd come over in the morning and we'd share a pot of coffee, occasionally directing the packers around, ..but mostly chatting about photography, art and illustration. Lia talked a lot about her long and full life, and her travels with her husband. She showed me much more of her and her husband's work, talking about some of it as she sorted through it. ..and there was a lifetimes' work there.
Many of the hundreds of gorgeous photos we sorted through were pictures of Lia or Knute. It was fascinating to see them both through the years, and in different exotic places. They were a very handsome couple. I recall coming across one black and white photo of Lia, from the mid 40s. In it she was wearing a crisp white blouse, tucked neatly into jodhpurs. Donning 'cat' styled sunglasses and dark lipstick, her wavy shoulder length brunette hair framed her young face from beneath a tied scarf. She was wearing leather riding boots and posing with her foot resting on the running board of a car, casually leaning with her elbow resting on it, and flashing the most beautific smile. ..Lia looked like a figure model. Statuesque, stylish, and proudly celebrating her femininity. She must have been in her early 30s.


Lia had left Knute's studio essentially untouched since his death.
She kept it clean, but all of his working tools were still there. Drawing board, pastel cabinet, paper stock, backdrops, ..there were even some sketches and thumbnails of his, still stuck to the wall. ..It was as if he was away on a weekend fishing trip.
I had seen his studio already, several months earlier when first walking through, and I was immediately pretty blown away by his work. It was all over the house.

But I recall standing there for the longest time, ..and surveying everything of his. Slowly drinking in every detail, in a room that hosted such creativity. ..And there lingered an uncanny and odd sensation. Not that the place was haunted, ..but I knew this same room would now be MY studio. I would be spending several hours every day, drawing, painting, creating, in this same room. ..possibly for the rest of my life.
____________

EPILOGUE
It was long past dinner time and I hadn't eaten since breakfast. I had been on the go since that morning, but I wasn't going to stop until we were finished.
For the past 2 days solid I had helped Lia sort through her belongings, pack, and kept her company the entire time.
And, 2 days after my family was supposed to have been moved into our new house, every last thing Lia Munson owned was boxed and taken out.

The movers I had brought in made quick work of packing everything to company code, and hauled it to the storage facility a few blocks away, ..or into the van Lia had rented the previous day. Everyone had been gone for a few minutes, and it was suddenly quiet. I was alone with Lia. She was getting a few last necessities together to bring to her new condo nearby, and I took one last stroll through the entire house.

It looked like a cyclone had hit it.
..Literally.

What Lia didn't want, she just left. Boxes of old magazines, boxes of empty jars, ..trash everywhere. Old lamps, cheap furniture, old rusty gardening supplies, stuff in the garage, stuff under the back porch, ..the freezer in the basement, and all its contents..
The next morning a salvage company would be coming in, to haul everything left behind out the back, and into a huge skid in the alley.
..They would end up filling it, and have to bring another empty one in to finish.
While all this was going on my movers would be bringing all of our possessions in the front door. I would be on traffic duty, bouncing between crews, giving directions to both so they wouldn't bump into each other.
Everything would have to go as smoothly as possible because the floor company was re-scheduled for the next day.
..In fact, after that, things went pretty smoothly in general. The oak floors beneath all the carpeting and vinyl turned out beautifully, and we were fairly well unpacked and cozy by the time Christmas came a month later.

But that would all come after tonight.

After surveying the work still ahead I suddenly felt tired and fatigued. Lia came back inside from loading the last box into her car, and we both stood there in the entry foyer for, what seemed, a full minute.
Feeling a little uncomfortable, I finally broke the silence;

"Wow, I guess this is it. ..Do you want a minute alone, Lia? I mean, ..you spent 40 years of your life in this house."

"No," she said, rather nonchalantly, "I've got everything I need. I'm ready."

I smiled, and walked her outside to her car, parked out front.
I opened the door for her and she sat behind the wheel. Lia held up her keys in the dim light and removed the one to the front door of the house. She had marked it with a piece of white graphics tape.
Laying it in my hand and closing my fingers around it with hers, she smiled back;

"I guess I won't be needing this anymore."

I placed my other hand on hers and gave a warm squeeze.
Saying my last goodbye, I closed the door of her car and she drove off.
______

I never saw Lia Munson again, after that night.
She had given us her contact information, ..but she still traveled quite a bit, so we never caught her at home. After a few years, the phone number she gave us didn't work any longer.
That was almost 9 years ago.

Lia would be in her late 90s now. I don't know whether or not she's still alive, ..but I'll always remember her as much more than the nice old woman who used to live in my house.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

My 'moving in' story: Part 2

It seemed inconceivable that things could have gone this horribly wrong.

We had been in frequent communication with our realtor, ..who, in turn, was in frequent communication with Lia Munson's realtor, ..who was in frequent communication with Mrs. Munson, ..and she said Lia had signed all the selling contracts and even reminded her of the closing date. ..Mrs. Munson had even determined the date personally, giving herself almost 4 months to pack and move.
Surely, there was someone who had been keeping tabs on things at her end.

I asked Lia the last time her realtor checked in. She said it was "weeks ago", then began talking about how much she disliked her realtor. How she "didn't give her enough time to move", how "impersonal" she was, and other minor character criticisms that had more to do with demeanor than real estate.
I asked Lia if her real estate attorney was aware of the situation.
..That really set her off.
Apparently, she hated the lawyer she had hired for the transaction. It was more of the same kind of criticism, but modified with words like "shifty" and "jerk". She didn't like speaking on the phone with him unless she absolutely had to, and at that point she had stopped letting him into the house.

As I said earlier, Lia seemed numb and shell shocked by everything that was happening that day. ..In fact, when she answered the door she was wearing an ace bandage on her wrist and hand. Apparently, she had lost her balance when stepping on something and sprained it. It was pretty puffy and bruised looking, and I recommended she have it looked at by a doctor. She kind of shrugged it off, saying she didn't want to bother because she had so much to do. My wife, Jane, offered to drive her to the nearby healing clinic, where she worked, but she refused.
On the surface, she seemed calm, if tired and unfocused, but I could tell that she was somewhat in denial of the whole event. She quietly guided us into the kitchen to finish our conversation, where she continued delicately wrapping old crystal goblets in newspaper, and tucking them into a small open box.
So, with baited breath, I asked the inevitable;

"Lia? Are you expecting to be completely packed and moved out today?"
"Mostly, yes."

"Mostly?"
"I'm going out to rent a truck later today. I'm taking one load to Minnesota tonight, and the rest I'll need to put into storage somewhere here."
(..an 86 year old woman, driving a loaded rental truck through the night to Minnesota. ..With a sprained [if not broken] wrist.)

I asked her if she had a storage facility set up. She didn't.
I asked if she had movers or packers scheduled. She didn't. "A couple of neighbors" were going to help her.
(Apparently, the elves weren't coming).
It was clear that she didn't realize, until the past day or so, that she was way over her skis. ..and even then she didn't know just how far.
After our conversation with Lia, Jane and I regrouped in the living room and left her to pack. We had to do something, pretty fast.

This was what we had originally orchestrated:
-Closing on our house in Oak Park 10:30 am
-Closing with Lia Munson for our new house in Rogers Park at 1:30
-Pick up the kids from school at 3:00, unpack a few things from our van, set up camp in the new house that night.
-Next day; The 18 wheeler, with movers bringing in all our belongings (diverting everything to specific zones). Pick up a few groceries, and dine out.
-Next day; Floor finishers! ..To rip out every inch of carpet, linoleum, and vinyl in the place. Followed by sanding 2 stories of oak floors, to be sealed and finished.

Now, we didn't know when she'd be moved out, ..but there was no way Lia's belongings were going to be packed and gone today.
..We couldn't unload our van and sleep there tonight. ..Our stuff couldn't be delivered tomorrow, because there was no place to put anything. ..and the flooring contractor couldn't start on the floors until everything had been moved into the house, someplace.

It was time to devise plan B.


Jane volunteered to get on the phone and find some accommodations for at least the next few days, and I went back to speak with Lia in the kitchen.
I asked if she was okay, and she seemed to be having some discomfort with her wrist.
I offered her a ride to the closing downtown a little later, and she politely declined. I asked what time her neighbors were going to come over to help pack, and she said around 6 pm.

At that point, it was getting toward lunch and Jane and I wanted to eat before meeting with Lia and her attorney at 1:30. We found parking downtown, had a quick lunch and were actually a few minutes early getting there. We were ushered into a small conference room where Lia Munson's lawyer, Michael Pardys, came in and introduced himself. We sat down, and I began explaining what just happened at the house. As we spoke, it became obvious that he didn't like her either. He winced, shaking his head occasionally as I talked, and when we finished he confessed that she berated him. Mr. Pardys felt that Mrs. Munson was extremely tempermental.
He told us that she was, by far, the worst person he'd ever had to deal with, personally or professionally, and that we had his complete sympathy and cooperation.

Jane and I looked at each other, bewildered. Lia Munson had been nothing but kind and pleasant to us. We began discussing our concerns, and Lia's lawyer assured us that under our contract she would be held liable for any extra expenses incurred. Accommodations, meals, storage facilities, ..everything.
I felt some relief, though it didn't solve all of our problems. We'd still be out-of-pocket for the time being, ..plus I actually felt bad for Lia at this point. As much of a shitstorm everything had become, there was no way that I could be angry at her. I was certainly frustrated by the situation, ..but to take that out on her wouldn't serve anything. Jane hung up her cel phone, after a returned call, to let me know that our friends (who would be putting us up for a couple of nights while our floors were being finished) had made space for us early. ..We'd be able to stay there for the next few days. ..More relief.

Mr. Pardys started to become concerned about the time, and phoned Mrs. Munson.
It was well after 2 pm. Lia ...was at home, packing.
He reminded her of the time and asked if she was coming at all.
She told him that she did come downtown, but couldn't find the address, so she went back home.
He began to explain to her how that would complicate things further, ..but it was obvious that she became irate with him almost immediately. It just wasn't going well for her lawyer, at this point.

..I suppose it was the sense that Jane and I were the only people in this entire affair that she liked and trusted, but I asked Mr. Pardys if I could speak with her on the phone for a minute. He couldn't hand me the receiver fast enough. Within a few minutes I had Mrs. Munson agree to grant Mr. Pardys the power of attorney.
He would bring the papers over later and the closing would be rescheduled for tomorrow, only now she wouldn't have to come downtown. Simply put; It saved her trouble, and saved us time.
The phone call ended, and so did the meeting. We were just in time to pick our kids up from school at 3. ..And, after unpacking a few necessities, we all went out to an early dinner with our friends, filling them in on the day's events.

I remember at one point, during supper, wondering about Mr. Pardys.
..Wondering if Lia Munson would actually make him stand outside on the porch, in the middle of November, while she sat inside and signed those papers.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

My 'moving in' story: Part 1

1999:

The closing on our house in Oak Park went pretty smoothly. At about 10:30 am we signed and initialed the stack of papers, handed the keys to the real estate agent and we were officially homeless.
From there we drove up to Rogers Park to do our walk-through on the place we would be moving into later that day.

When the seller of our new house, Lia Munson, opened the door to let us in, we found that she was nowhere near being packed or loaded ..let alone finished cleaning. There was no one there helping her, and no moving van parked out front.
All of us were due downtown at 1:30 for our closing, and it suddenly looked like it wasn't going to happen.
It was 11 am on a weekday. My children were in school at that moment, and they had no home to come home to in 4 hours.

Fuck.

(Pardon my French just then, ..but under certain circumstances profanity should be allowed. In such moments, when suddenly blindsided by news that invokes a sense of deep desperation, ..evoking an involuntary gasp of shock and horror, ..the utterance of such an epitaph is not only a given, ..but a privilege earned.
I had, unquestionably, earned that moment.)

Lia Munson had lived in the house since 1959. Her husband passed away in 1967 and she never remarried. She was in her mid 80s now, and it was too much house for her to take care of. That much was clear. It was obvious that she hadn't remodeled in at least 30 years, nor had she painted in at least 15. The entire place had a deep musty smell, the stained and faded wall to wall carpet being at least 40 years old.
And she was a packrat. She had knick-knacks and stuff everywhere, and everything she owned was old. It needed a good cleaning, but the place was basically kept tidy.

I remember walking into the house the very first time, several months earlier.
I was slackjawed as my eyes drank everything in.
..and all I kept murmuring was;
"Oh. My. God."

..which was my response for 2 continuous thoughts;
"What an amazing old house. What character!" ..and,.. "Christ, I don't know where to start!"
But, regardless of the long work ahead, I was thrilled when she accepted our offer.

..That was all earlier in the Summer, though.
Now, it was move-in day, and the place looked, if anything, messier than when we walked through the very first time.
So, I asked Lia, who was there alone (and frankly, looking pretty numb and overwhelmed by everything), if she had planned to be at the closing at 1:30.
She said "yes", but she .."had some more packing to do, first."

I muttered something like; "..mm'kaaayy.." ..but what was going through my mind was;
"Are you insane, Woman?! Have you taken leave of your senses?!! Are Elves going to suddenly pop out of your butt, pack your shit into a pumpkin and magically whisk you off to your brother's house in Minnesota!!?? ..GAHH!!!"

..or something similar..

I politely asked if it was okay to walk through the place, and she said it was fine.
Every room in the house was full of stuff. Some drawers had been emptied, and there were a few open boxes, ..but no closets had been emptied. The walk-up attic was stuffed to the gills with 40 years of stuff. The full basement; same deal, but in addition to boxes and boxes of old magazines, she had an old meat freezer that was about the size of a Mini Cooper. It was gargantuan, and it was stuffed with food that was as old as 25 years.

4 floors, and every nook and cranny of this 110 year old Victorian had 40 years of someone elses life in it. But, it was all supposed to be gone by now, and my family had no place to sleep that night. I didn't panic though, because I am, if anything, a rock in situations like this. I really am, ..though I must admit I did come close to a meltdown at one point;
..There was one moment, ..when I opened the bathroom closet, and looked at how much stuff was crammed onto the shelf. I noticed some boxes of tampons from the 70s.

This woman had probably been post-menopausal for 30 years.

Fuck.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

My former boss the fugitive

Years ago when I was young and reckless I took a job working at a record store in Joliet called Third Ring Records. It paid little more than minimum wage, but I was pretty keen on the idea of working in a record store because I'd get to listen to good music all day long. It was from 1980-82 and a lot of great new music was coming out then.
I also got an employee discount, but it was pretty common for us to open LPs we wanted, record them onto cassette and re-seal them with our shrink wrapper. This was before CDs. We sold albums, cassettes and even 8-tracks.
It was also a head shop that sold paraphernalia.

Yeah, it was a while ago.

I worked for a guy named Ray Scoville who owned a small chain of record stores spread from Aurora to Matteson, il. Third Ring Records (a deliberate reference to Tolkein) was his flagship store on Jefferson Ave. on Joliet's west side. I liked most of the people I ended up working with, but I always thought Ray was kind of a strange cat. He was married to a woman who was probably 15 years his senior, which in itself wasn't too weird, but he was rumored to be having an affair with at least one of his employees. I didn't pay much mind, because it didn't directly affect me. I was just happy to be working there and stayed clear of any potential drama.
Probably the strangest thing that ever happened while working there was when I was robbed at gunpoint one morning, shortly after opening. It was a Sunday morning and I was working the front counter register while Ray was doing paperwork in the back.
There were no customers in the store when an older guy, probably in his 50s, walked in and approached the counter. I asked him if I could help him, and he pulled a pistol out of his jacket pocket and pointed it at me. I took a short step back and raised my hands. He told me he didn't want to hurt me. He just wanted me to empty the register of all the paper money and hand it to him. I did as instructed (we had just opened so there was only $50 in the till) and he bolted out the door and around the corner. I immediately pressed the silent alarm and called Ray up front. The police showed up half an hour later and took my statement of the incident. Because I was an artist I was actually able to do a pencil drawing of the guy's face, and I brought it into the detective's office in Joliet when I came in to look through their mug shots.
But as far as I know, nothing ever came of the incident.

All in all it was a pretty cool gig, but after about a year and a half of working there I decided to leave and go back to school. I had been out of High School for a couple of years, taking time off to buy a car and enjoy a non-academic lifestyle. I was planning on taking a week off, using a paid vacation the employees received after being there for a year, then resigning.
Well, I was refused the paid vacation. I argued with Ray about it and he simply refused, so I quit. I reported him to the bureau of licensed employers and ended up taking him to court over just a few hundred dollars.
I remember feeling a little intimidated at the time. I was barely 20 and I had to go into a downtown office on Michigan ave. and present my case to some state official. Ray was there and he brought a lawyer with him.
Ray didn't say much, but his lawyer tried to make me out to be a liar. I stood my ground though, and Ray had to cut a check on the spot. I was pissed about having to fight for what was mine, but I was glad to be done with him.

Cut to a couple of years later. I was home from college for the weekend, and my mom showed me a news article in the local Joliet Herald News.
One of my former co-workers, a girl named Colleen, was found brutally murdered. She was shot several times, wrapped in newspaper and left in her car in a parking lot.
The person suspected of the murder was Ray Scoville.

"Didn't you work for this guy?" my mom asked.

I was friendly with Colleen, and also her dad, who would frequently visit the store. He was a nice guy and he reminded me a little of the actor Robert Loggia.
I cannot imagine how devastated he must have been.
Since I was living away at school I didn't follow the trial closely, but Ray and an accomplice friend (whom I also knew) were both charged for the crime.
Ray of 1st degree murder, his friend of complicity.

Well, Ray skipped bail and he's been on the run ever since.
He was convicted in absentia and has been on the FBIs most wanted list for the past 25 years or so.
The entire case was even featured on a segment of America's Most Wanted.
I never saw the episode.

I'm still reminded of it sometimes. Oddly enough, when I recall my experience of working there I don't think much about the incident, because it all happened after I had left.
I don't think for a minute that I was ever in any danger, but it still gives me a bit of a chill when I think of what he did and the fact that he's still out there.

Somewhere.






Monday, August 18, 2008

Stinger in Toronto

International Stinger played the Toronto Improv Festival over this past weekend.
It was the first time up there for many of us, and the first time Stinger has played there. After 4 consecutive years of playing DSIF we had decided to take a pass on attending again. We've had a good time in Chapel Hill, but we were due for setting our sights on fresher territory.
We drove up in 2 vehicles on Thursday and the drive was not bad at all. Not all of Stinger could make the trip, but alumnus Sayjal rode up with us to make it a 6 person set on both nights.
We brought our signature 'Afterparty' form to the festival, and we had a solid and delicious show on Friday night. It's safe to say it was one of our best sets and the audience loved us. Saturday night brought us to Bad Dog Theater, where we hosted our 'Open Court' show. We only had an hour time slot, so things were a little rushed, but everyone who played seemed to have a ball and appreciated the chance to jump on stage and mix it up with other improvisors who were in town.
It's only unfortunate that the entire festival suffered from a lack of organization, communication, and promotion this year. We played to an audience of maybe 30 people, but we felt so good about our show and got such a warm response that it more than compensated. We were all elated with our experience there.

And Toronto is a beautiful town. Much of it has the old-world charm of New York or Philadelphia, but it's a cleaner and more progressive city in so many ways. I did a good amount of exploring on my own on Saturday morning/afternoon and saw more of the social underbelly of Toronto. but it was all very rich and genuine and at no time did I feel that 'bad part of town' vibe. We all ended up staying at a ritzy downtown hotel called The Sutton, with whom Stinger J. Ben found a sweet weekend deal. Great move, that. From there we had easy access to all the culture on Bloor St. and Yonge. We couldn't have asked for a better location and we all would've liked to stay another day or two, just to explore more and enjoy more of what Toronto has to offer.

So, Stinger is moving onward and upward. We're looking forward to playing Toronto again next year, plus we're applying to play more U.S. festivals in the coming year.

The jury has decided; We're simply having too much fun to stop now.

EDIT: Stinger Biddle and Stinger Matt have also blogged about the Toronto experience.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

looking ahead

The work has been flowing back in over the past week, and I'm Coming out of this year's slow time, business-wise.
Work flow dropped off around the end of June, and though I took in projects throughout July I had quite a bit of down time. It's pretty typical and has been the pattern (more or less) over the last 15 years. Lots of people in the toy industry take holidays around then, but it's also around the time that most of the conceptual work starts going in
to engineering and production. Usually I just tighten the belt another notch, enjoy the break, and work on other art projects to stretch some creative muscles.

I'm hoping to buy a new Mac Pro and a Cintiq monitor/easel this year, along with 3D software like Rhino and Mudbox. The strategy is to start becoming more full service in developing concepts, but it'll open so many other doors for me creatively. Essentially, I'll have the tools to model, sculpt, and render anything I can conceive. The objects can be turned at any angle, and look photographic when rendered. The files can also be saved in an stl (Stereolithography) format, and I can commission a model shop to produce a precise 3 Dimensional version.
My mind reels at the possibilities.
I'm already overdue for a new Mac (I'm still on a G4 for crissake!), and the Cintiq easels are coming down to reasonable prices. It's time to trade up.
The afore-posted 'bathroom remodel' has dragged on, but is wrapping up and it's looking fantastic. Unfortunately these projects take more time and money than predicted and it has putting a damper on my 'computer upgrade' agenda. It's somewhat frustrating, but I'm so used to working with what I have that I'm slogging through okay, trying to be patient.

The summer has absolutely flown by. I can't believe it's August already. Maybe it's all the rain we've had, but it seems Spring has decided to engage Summer in a 'turf war'. I don't mind actually. I don't care much for the brown lawns of late summer heat and drought.
Also, school starts up for the kids in a few weeks and it will be a good thing for us all.

And have I ever mentioned how much I love Autumn?

Well, I do.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

going back

I drove out to visit my mom this past weekend with the kids.
It hasn't happened much this year because she lives way out in the middle of nowhere, Illinois. Specifically near Henry, La Salle and Peru. It's about 135 miles from door to door, and with gas prices hovering at $4.25 per gallon, frequent visits haven't been in the cards this summer.
She's retired and living in a nice house on a lakeshore. It's quiet and tranquil there and we all had a good time over the weekend.

It seems every time I visit her, the late night conversations roll around to her life with my dad, or times we were all younger. She'll usually bring me up to date on old friends she's heard from since we last spoke. Friends of my parents that I knew when I was a child. Sometimes there's bad news. An age-related illness, or even a death.
At one point during this visit my mom pulled out some DVDs she had been burning, old slides and home movies transferred onto a format that will keep them preserved. Miles and Dwynna wanted to see some of them, so we took a visual tour of my parents life from roughly 1956 to 1964. There were pictures of my older sisters as toddlers, and me when I was an infant, to age 3.
I found myself sucked into a vortex of old memories and nostalgia.
It's fine, because most of those memories are fond, but I'm also reminded of the passing of time and how quickly it does fly, ..and it's bittersweet at best. I want to be present as much as possible and enjoy it with my children, while they're young. While I'm still young.
I enjoy looking back less as I get older.

Bolingbrook.
It's where it all goes back to, for me. It's where I lived until I was 13. It's not really the same little village I drive past now, when I head south on I55. The Bolingbrook that I lived in was comprised entirely of 2 small tract-home subdivisions, directly off of I55 & rt 53. Our house in 'Colonial Village' was built new in 1962, a sprawling split-level ranch that cost a whopping $12,000. ($99 down).
My dad was only 27 years old, my mom 25. They were dirt poor, naive, scared shitless. But they were young, hopeful, and much in love.
And they were absolutely thrilled to be able to buy a brand new house for themselves and their 3 kids.

Our neighborhood was surrounded by meadows, farm land and corn fields. Briarcliff Road connected Colonial Village and Westbury (the other subdivision just West of Rt 53) and would eventually be the address of Bolingbrook's first Catholic church, first grade school, first 7-11, Fire station, and police station.

It was, for all intents and purposes, 'Main Street'.

We had one grocery store, a little candy shop, and a barber shop.
Movies? There was the Tivoli in nearby Downer's Grove, or during the nice weather the Bel-Air Drive In on Rt. 53 in Romeoville (another aspiring township). But we had no real shopping, restaurants, or entertainment.

Over the years my dad was both a fireman and policeman for the village. For his initiation into the fire department the other guys in the troop dyed him blue. It was small-town stuff, and they'd even be clowns in the annual parades, but everybody took it seriously enough. There were plenty of times when the short-wave transmitter would kick on, announcing the location of a fire, and calling my dad away from dinner. It never even occurred to me to worry about him. He was my dad. He could handle anything.
Apparently the village of Bolingbrook thought so too. He went on to serve as Police and Fire commissioner until we moved in 1974. Both of my parents were involved in community activities. They were very close friends with the town's Mayor and his wife. Bob and Pat had kids too, and we'd get together often.

Back then it was the kind of place where kids could roam far, free, and feel safe. There were no 'bad' or even 'affluent' areas. Neighbors were friendly and barbecued together and their kids played together. At age 9 we could jump on our bikes and be gone all day, or go out after dinner on a summer night and stay out 'til 10 pm.
Of course Halloween was insane. No parental supervision whatsoever. Swarms of kids festooned in their cheap Ben Cooper or Collegeville costumes, raping and pillaging the entirety of the subdivision.
Halloween was rivaled only by Christmas, and all the local 'House Decorating' competition.
It was glorious and delightfully tacky.

As I got a little older I came to know the significance of Bolingbrook's location. Specifically, that it was built where old Rt. 66 ended and became the new Interstate 55. Part of it would pick up again further North near LaGrange, but the corner where I55 and 66 merged was its historic ending, and home to a well-known truck stop. A Welco that had been there since the old days. It was here that my truck-driving grandfather would sometimes meet my mom and I for breakfast or lunch.
The Welco was literally across frontage road from our house, and my mom and I would run across the Southbound lanes of I55 to get there on foot.

By 1970 Bolingbrook had been an incorporated township for 5 years and had a population of 7000. And by the time the village approved the construction of the "Old Chicago" mall/indoor amusement park in '73, Bolingbrook had become too much for my parents. Old Chicago was part of it, but my parents were already itching for a better home and a greener location. That would end up being Channahon, near Joliet, and we did move there in June of 1974.

On my way back into the city earlier today I stopped off in Bolingbrook and took a drive through my old neighborhood. Funny how little it's changed compared to the suburban sprawl that is now Bolingbrook (with its Ikea, McMansions, and country club).
Most of the houses look about the same. The trees were bigger, and that's about it. I could almost smell the clorine from my parents above ground pool as I drove past our old house.
Of course, it's now the 'oldest' part of town, and somewhat weathered with almost 50 years passed.

It was nice to troll through the streets of my childhood and drink it in, ..but I could sense that if I had parked and taken some time to walk through it all, time would've collapsed in that uncanny way that it does.
It happens on occasion and it's different than deja vu. My memory deals them strong and vivid. Decades vanish in a blink, and I find myself standing there, much older. Everything else has changed and everyone has moved on. I feel ancient and somehow detached from everything for a moment. But certainly not emotionally. A myriad nuance lingers that's deeply sublime.
It's a sense of presence that hits me like a tidal wave. And though it's almost painful, there is something so delicious that I can't help but revel in it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

on George Carlin


It's not easy to adequately express how this man's presence in the world influenced who I am today. As much as The Beatles affected my music sensibilities, Carlin affected my sense of humor and attitude on politics, authority, American culture, and religious beliefs.
He was a boyhood hero of mine and a voice of reason growing up in 1970s suburbia.
I know it's cliche' to say this, but it's a huge factor; "things were much simpler back then."
Mass media consisted entirely of daily and monthly periodicals, ABC, CBS & NBC. No cable networks, no internet. FM radio was still somewhat underground, and you saw stand-up comics perform on Ed Sullivan, The Tonite Show, and Mike Douglas.
Nowhere else.

I remember
Class Clown was a very talked-about album when it came out. It was considered daring and even subversive, but people couldn't deny its power and swelling popularity. The FM jocks embraced Carlin wholeheartedly and played what bits they could on the air.
I was in the 5th grade then, and a classmate's older brother had bought the album. One afternoon we snuck it from his room when he wasn't around.
Track through track, we listened to Carlin wax on everything from being the class clown as a kid, to growing up Catholic (which I was at the time). From sharing a swallow of water, to America, to heavy mysteries, ..and of course; the 7 dirty words.
..and we giggled hysterically throughout. We listened to the entire album twice.

That was it for me. I was a huge fan from that day on.

I was 11 years old.

Of course I already loved Bill Cosby, but comedically? Everything beyond Cosby was virtually suit and tie, borscht-belt comics. The edgiest comedian on television was Alan King. Though Carlin wasn't technically a 'hippy', or even a babyboomer, he was clearly a part of the counterculture and the comedic voice for virtually everyone in that generation. As much as Richard Pryor would be for African-Americans. Carlin was the only comedian who really chewed into subjects like consumerism, the police, religion, patriotism and war, Nixon and Watergate.
He was fearless and unrelenting, but his humor was also incredibly disarming. There was his playfulness with language, expression and dialects, the exaggerated physicality and gurning, and his skill in nailing down the simple and delightful little absurdities that riddle everyday life. Among the astute and serious observations, there was an underlying goofiness that was irresistible.
The suggestion that ultimately none of this mattered. That life is not to be taken seriously.

When I discovered George Carlin I knew that he would become a voice I would identify with, through my teens and 20s and probably longer. Like Bob Dylan, or John Lennon were for others. And though there would be other humorists and comics that I liked (Pryor, Robert Klein, Steve Martin,..), Carlin would always be my favorite. He was the first to really show me that nothing is sacred. That authority is fiction, that everything was game and there was humor to be found everywhere.
And to me, nobody said it more succinctly, or funnier.



So another one of my heroes is gone. Carlin is in company with the likes of Jim Henson, George Harrison, Frank Zappa, Hunter S, Thompson, Tim Leary, ..Of course I've never known these people. But like many of us making our way through life, there are some voices other than our parents that we hear often, and that we identify with. Voices that awaken parts of us, inspire us, or simply reassure us in a crazy world. And though the opportunity never comes, there is a passing desire for a chance to meet them face to face, look them in the eye, and truly thank them for being out there doing what they do.

If only because they're here now, sharing the same time in this world as you.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Summer of construction

It's been a pretty busy year so far, business-wise. I spent most of the Spring with my shoulder to the grindstone and taking on as much work as I can handle. As a consequence, I've gotten behind on some things. I've all but given up on getting a website up this year, and I have yet to finish and file my taxes for last year.

But the extra money is handy and work on the house is proceeding.
Largely on the inside, but I'm continuing the momentum I started last Spring with landscaping the backyard. It's already looking nice back there, but I've got to finish a couple of concrete retaining walls for planting, and I have to paint my garage. I've cleared out the wild overgrown spot in the far back for the first time in probably 30 years. It's cool, green and shady back there beneath the immense silver maple trees, and soon there will be a pergola and stone firepit back there.

On the inside, my new contractor started remodeling my upstairs bathroom last week. I've ordered a new deeper tub, toilet & tank, granite vanity top and sink, fixtures, tile, and a new doorway with a frosted glass panel with above fixed transom.
On Friday of last week I had a 24" X 64" glass block panel installed in my tub enclosure, letting light in from the outside. It already looks fantastic.
The new layout eliminates an original hallway linen closet and extends the bath doorway into the hall, making for a much larger bathroom and eliminating wasted hall space.

Like the rest of my house, I'm going for a 'Metro Art Deco' feel. Lots of white ceramic subway tile with black for contrast. Chrome fixtures and accents. I'll post pics soon.

Ultimately, it'll make for a nice sized full bath in a house that originally had no indoor toilets, just an outhouse in the back.

New digs

I'm moving my blogging over here, since my other friends use Blogspot so much. It'll make things easier.

Here is a link to my blogging history over on
MySpace.

By the way; Welcome, reader.
Please feel free to visit often. It'll be worth it. I'm always baking banana muffins or cinnamon rolls.