Monday, June 27, 2016

Further Along the Way--a reprint

For 28 years summer meant Cornerstone Festival. Beginning in 1984, I and my family would make the familiar odyssey out to the festival grounds. This year would have been our 32nd festival. More than half my life was Cornerstone Festival. My engagement picture was taken at the fairgrounds in Lake County following Cornerstone ’86. I was EXTREMELY pregnant while at Cornerstone ’89, aptly named Family Reunion. By the time my daughter was a year old we had moved the festival to Bushnell, Illinois where we had purchased some property for the express purpose of holding the festival there. It seemed like we might be able to stay forever.
2012 was the end of the run.
Chalk it up to a downturn in the economy, an aging Jesus population, other concert options—but we had seen a significant decrease in attendance after our peak years of 2000 and 2001 where the festival drew close to 20,000. Cars lined up days in advance of opening day. There evolved a whole pre-Cornerstone culture of kids with their generator-fueled amps playing beside parked cars. The state police assisted us in crowd control on the one main road back to the property. The portos were on continuous round-the-clock, 24-7 cleaning and emptying schedule. That says a lot, right there. I had a friend whose clothes got wet the first day and put them out to dry. That night someone pitched a tent over them and he ended up wearing the same outfit for the rest of the festival—until the people next to him packed up to leave.
Then suddenly we didn’t need three entrance gates or an opening-day registration crew to get the cars in off the road. We didn’t need to schedule around the clock porto cleaners. There were still popular concerts that were jammed packed; mostly, though, we could find a seat. People started sitting instead of standing near the front. We were getting old, but not tired of the festival. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak.
I still remember sitting on the hillside looking down at Main Stage in that natural bowl of an amphitheater with a stream running past the semis that worked as green rooms and were somewhat air conditioned, relief from the heat. Just as you got to the point where you couldn’t stand it anymore, the heat, the intense sun beating down on you from a cloudless sky, the sun lowered, a gift. And that same sky went all orange and purple, rose-colored in the diffused light, filtered through a stratosphere of dust worked up by feet, golf carts, and vehicles always on the move. The heat softened, nudged down to a clammy comfort level, and the insects came out a thousand strong to chirp and whine in cadence with whoever was on the stage. We sat there in descending twilight, grateful, before the sun set in a firework crescendo.
Cornerstone sunset. Photo by Neil E. Das
Life was beautiful at that moment.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Hot Flash Friday: Not Really a Unique Situation

I’ve blogged here before about Unique Thrift store. It has been part of my Chicago experience ever since I moved here in 1982. But, like a lot of things as we age, there are hard losses.

Yesterday Unique Thrift closed its doors.

The shop had recently undergone a brain-dead upgrade. I mean the whole reason people shopped there was to save money. Instead the new owners decided to make it into more of a boutique. Less choice and higher prices. Please tell me—is this good sense?

In the thrift store market you need to overwhelm the customer with crap. So much of it that eventually you make money off of it. It used to be you could go into Unique on payday and come out with 3 – 4 grocery sacks of stuff and pay as little as $20. But that was a steady flow of money—until the upgrade. It was sad really, you’d go in and the aisles would be clear, the clothes arranged according to size (WTH!) not just color, and you could actually hear the musak. No more sloppy aisles with clothing getting tangled up in the wheels of your cart—ha, if you could score a cart. No more loud, crying children and mothers screaming SHUT YOUR ASS! No more finding bras mixed in with the cutlery. Books (their biggest mistake) no longer priced at 10 cents to 50 for a hardback, now a dollar or 2. And for absolute dreck. Several times my husband and I would wander in after perhaps an old professor donated his entire library. Titles you seldom see except at higher-end resale shops or used bookstores.

Chalk it all up to the Internet, that fiend replacing all of us. Except who really wants to bother leaving their house when you can push a button and have a drone deliver it. Even CCO the shelter where I volunteer has both a physical store and an on-line presence. On-line sales now accounts for a 1/3 of their business.

Anyway, the news was devastating, but it really hit the young people the hardest. So many friends’ kids grew up with Unique that it is a bit like losing their innocence, like learning the hard lessons of life (and commerce). They are grieving as if they’ve lost a loved one.

Growing up—you had many touchpoints, things you took for granted until one day they were no longer there. Sometimes this is the death of a parent or other close person, sometimes it divorce. As kids we are suddenly struck that behind that golden curtain there might not be a wizard. Things do change. Irrevocably. And, we have no control.

That’s what hurts the most. The fact that some things cannot be fixed.

Right now write—what was that moment when the glasses came off, when you suddenly knew, when you grew up.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, meta FFFFIIICCTIONNN

One of the most interesting books I’ve read since becoming interested in the puzzle within a puzzle of meta-fiction is the GRAPHIC NOVEL The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew.

Okay let’s just begin by talking about Singapore.

That was quick, right? If you’re like me (semi-engaged and somewhat geographically astute) then you know basically where Singapore is, but not much more. Such as I did not know it is a city-state. One of a very few cities that act as nation states. They are what they are.

Then I went to Wiki and read a GLOWING account of Singapore’s history. Mt first reaction was WOW, I did not know this—but then, on second thought, why does EVERYTHING sound great.

Sonny Liew born in Malaysia, lives in Singapore. (What’s the difference? Well, now I know.) But the biggest question is this: What does history and geography have to do with comics????

I can’t answer that except this book works. On so many levels. One hand you have real history and then on the other—what is “real” history. History has always been written by the victors and only recently have historians tried to correct a record. Then there are revisionists. Some revision of history does merit to minority groups, gving them a voice in what was once a narrow field of voices, but some revisionism reveals a bias that continues to marginalize and leave others out. History is riddled with subjective view points that we might not ever be able to escape.

Thus, enters Sonny Liew with an outsider’s eye. His main character could perhaps be argued as his alter ego, Charlie Chan Hock Chye, an aging comic designer/illustrator whose story takes us through Singapore’s modernist and multi-cultural history. (It is an old culture but with new beginnings.) He gets behind the curtain of the shiny Wiki entry and tells a nuanced story where opposition is easily dismissed as “communist” and young passionate leaders are destined for prison and exile. In order to attain a veneer of multi-culture amidst unity—there is a price to pay. In order to arise from back streets unto an international mega-city—there are untold sacrifices. The “real” story is much more complicated. And Charlie Chan’s personal narrative loops and is interwoven into the upheavals of Singapore. And not only Charlie’s story but the marginalized comic writers and drawers fighting for shelf space and to gain the backing of a publisher. In a small country you not only have to make it big locally but become internationally renown. For Charlie it is bitter medicine to swallow that he might not ever be able to break out as an artist. His superheroes are the ordinary ones that fight for everyday justice.

AKA the Night Soil Man who turns into a Giant Cockroach

This is a book that is mesmerizing and dizzy with front and back, looping, and turning a story this way and that. We get to see history and the underside of history. And, in the end, our heart hurts for the hopes and dreams of a lonely comic artist.

Monday, June 20, 2016

More About Meta Fiction

 This is not so much a review as an aside. If on a winter’s night a traveler . . . . is a novel by Italo Calvino.

An experimental novel that explores the intersection of meta fiction and fantasy=surrealism. It is about readers and writers and Italo Calvino.

It is an interesting thought experiment though not an engaging read. Thus, I started but did not finish it. I did find it fascinating. Books like this often feel, to me at least, like a gimmick, where technique is valued over story. AND, believe me, I often think plot is overrated—but at some point I want to be able to begin the story without having to flip back and forth to know what’s happening. At some point I need to begin to care about characters—not wonder in a realm of symbols and metaphor what they represent.

Nevertheless, If on a winter’s night seems way ahead of its time.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Hot Flash Friday=Animal Memoirs

Since this blog is organized around memoir/memories I began to wonder if animals are sentimental, long for the good ole days, wax nostalgic.

Dogs forget an event within two minutes. Chimpanzees, at around 20 seconds, are worse than rats at remembering things, while the memory spans of three other primates—baboons, pig-tailed macaques, and squirrel monkeys—exceeded only bees . . .

Exercises with captive animals revealed that while some had great long-term memory they flunked at the short-term and visa versa.

Elephants are known for having remarkable memories. From
Whenever they encounter the scent of another elephant's urine, an elephant can record in its computerish brain the location and direction of the pisser. This enables them to devote a sizable portion of their working memory to maintaining these expansive mental maps.

Now if only my husband could pay that much attention . . .

But the winner was a real bird brain. A small bird with the name Clark's nutcracker. This unassuming little bird is able to remember the exact location of up to 30,000 pine nuts.

For today’s Hot Flash Friday let’s write about the cat that came back, the dog with the incredible journey, the homing pigeon that carried vital message that helped win the war.

I know you have an animal story. Nabokov’s life story is full of butterflies. This website is devoted to animal memoirs. Go, write right now!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

All the Crazy Stuff I Used to Do

It used to be that I jumped headfirst into every crazy thing. If someone came in the middle of the night and said we need you to go to the suburbs to rescue so and so, I wouldn’t think twice but would pick up my purse. If someone needed driven to the hospital, I’d ask do I have time to use the bathroom? I can remember being asked to do a lot of crazy things.

That’s why when I checked Facebook Saturday a.m. and saw that my daughter had posted about leaving her phone in an Uber, I knew my morning might not be lazy. She often works nights and takes a ride home instead of her bike.

Mid-morning she stopped in and I immediately asked if she’d gotten it back—no, but I know where it is. The iCloud had tracked her phone to the far northern suburbs. Without batting an eyelash I stood up and said, We’re gonna go get it.

But first I’d have to borrow a car, since I don’t have one. Not an Uber, though. A friend loaned us her van and we took off, tracking the phone to outside of Libertybville, where every village is called Round Lake, Grayslake, etc. We ended up outside of an apartment building.

There it is! We found the car, but when I rang her phone we realized it wasn’t in the car. We’d have to find the driver—amongst one of the units in the building. We started with one where we could hear people moving around inside. A woman answered the door and Grace asked for Ahmed. She got her grandson to interpret for her since she only spoke Spanish. No.

We realized we’d have to knock on many more doors. I was starting to feel foolish for taking off on this hair-brained venture. We didn’t really have a solid plan. Grace knocked on another door and a man in a bathrobe answered. Did I mention that in my advance state of second-guessing I began to think: We could be killed, cut up into tiny pieces, stuffed into a Dumpster. The usual train of thinking I used to have when off on an escapde—something along the lines like this might turn out really bad.

But it was Ahmed and yes he had her phone. He’d contacted Uber to let them know, but because Grace hadn’t ordered the ride (her friend had) she didn’t know who to contact and they didn’t have her info either.

Success! But it yanked me back down memory lane. So that when I told an old friend about our adventure she said, “Do you remember that time we went to check out a serial killer or some cult guy?” I seriously did not remember. Are you making this up? No, she said, I’m pretty sure it was you—and all I could say was, well, it sounds like something I would do.

Now I’ve got to track down that story and write it up later.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Shoppers Faked Out By Prices at Sports Authority Liquidation Sale

There are relatively very few tools I have in my tool box as a consumer. With Sports Authority’s liquidation sale—I mean, who cares if I wasn’t happy with their service or lack of—they’re going out of business. They are bankrupt in every sense of the word.

But then my tweet ended up in an article on how people are feeling scammed—and I kind of felt validated.

Shoppers Faked Out By Prices At Sports Authority. More like shocked by prices at the register.

I had walked in and everywhere were signs advertising 10 – 30% off (most items). It’s the small print that I totally missed. I got to the register and asked her to scan the first two items. Hmmm, is that with the discount I asked? And she said yes, so I asked her to put those aside. (There wasn’t a discount, I would soon realize.) But the other stuff I knew how much they’d cost because there was a sign where I picked them up giving me the breakdown. I knew exactly what I’d have to pay. Except the reduced price did not scan. I moved to the side and checked my receipt.

Hey, I said, my socks didn’t scan properly. I should be saving $5 not 95 cents.

I was directed to a manager who immediately told me his hands were tied. That this isn’t like any regular sale. In essence there was nothing he could do.

Nothing? I asked, because, and I might’ve said, isn’t this like stealing. And, then he countered with some crazy-ass logic: I’m losing my job!

I know things are hard these days and people have to sell their souls to pay off student loans (see Chicago Tribune story on Sugar Daddies paying students tuition), but what makes a person bold-face lie and say there is nothing they can do when a register doesn’t ring a customer up properly?

What can be their motivation—because as he said—he is literally out of a job in a few weeks? Why not just go, yes, I see, and I will ring up the difference and refund you $1.64. What was preventing this manager from reacting in a relational way instead of like a bot?

So as I stated earlier, I have very few tools in my toolbox. I don’t have a lot of money—even less after the Sports Authority sale—but I can register my dissatisfaction by writing a post and sending a tweet.