Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Virgin No More

It only took twenty-seven years, but it has happened at last.

Last night, I watched a Star Wars movie for the first time ever. Yes, you read that correctly. I had never, until less than twenty-four hours ago, watched any of the Star Wars films in whole or part. This, even though I am of the generation that cannot remember life before the first of series came out.

My parents found my indifference to the craze puzzling, other kids found it bizarre. I didn't care. I never bought an action figure, didn't ask for the bed sheets, never fought a light sabre duel on the playground. When The Phantom Menace came out and my contemporaries went bananas all over again, I rolled my eyes and stuck Enchanted April into the VCR to drown out the noise.

Last night, the lights at the AMC River East Gigantoplex went down, that theme music came up, the opening text crawl started, and the normal seven-year-old child I never was came bubbling up to the surface.

I am still not certain what hit me. It makes no sense. I hate, hate, hate science fiction. I don't like loud noises and I don't ride rollercoasters. I don't go to action films, I never wanted to be a pilot or a soldier and war movies make me sick.

Moreover, the movie is well beyond dreadful in some aspects. When it tries to be romantic, it sinks utterly. George Lucas's idea of the perfect woman, embodied in Natalie Portman's anorexic Padmé (where did she carry those fat twins? in a handbag?), is that of a science geek who can't get a date with one. And the mumbling underwear model who turns into Darth Vader is such a crummy actor that he couldn't convincingly scream for water if his hair were on fire. (Which, come to think of it, it was.)

So explain to me please why more than once I wanted to stand up and holler? Why I was gripping the edges of my seat trying not to jump up and down? Why I wanted to grab C (whose idea this movie date was) and all the people around us and shake them and say, "Did you see that? Did you see that?"

C has promised to show me the other movies damn quick.

It is deeply disturbing to discover at age 34 that one does, after all, have an inner child. I thought I'd finished digesting him a long time ago.

Teddy Bear News

On Friday, I managed to get over to Knitter's Niche before it closed to see about ordering more teddy bear yarn, since of course I'd been told that it was out of stock.

I was waited on by none other than Mary Ann herself, the infamous Mary Ann, she of the crabby disposition. Here's surprise number one: I liked her. She's gruff, yes - but attentive, learned, and utterly dedicated to knitting. She's enormously helpful, even patient with well-meant dumb questions, but if you're expecting a twinkling grandma who will offer you a cup of tea and pat you on the back you're in for a shock.

She also admitted to me that she knows what people think of her, but that after all the years in the business she's just sick of certain types of people. Her specific example: Lincoln Park trixies (a local term for clueless, snotty yuppie women from a snotty yuppie neighborhood) who come into the shop five minutes before closing with yarn bought in New York City. They expect her to wind it for them for free, and then teach them to cast on. She said she has no problem telling that sort of person to get the hell out of her shop, and I don't blame her.

Surprise number two: the yarn I wanted was not out of stock. Not remotely. Before placing the special order, Mary Ann checked the shelf again and there was the yarn I'm using. About 18 skeins of it. It comes (says Mary Ann) in bags of 20, and I'd bought two for this bear. When I got home, I checked and sure enough - same dye lot. Not only were they not sold out, they'd never sold any except what they sold to me.

So after a momentary pause, Jack the Teddy Bear continues. Three leg pieces and half an arm piece to go.

When I laid out the various finished pieces on the table all I could think of was Darth Vader being cobbled together after his nasty encounter with the volcano.

And Also

On Saturday, C and I went to Wicker Park (an artsy Chicago neighborhood not yet destroyed by suburbanites) to visit his friends Liz and David. Like all C's friends, they're fascinating. He's a painter, she's a poet. They had twin baby girls about seven months ago, and since the babies spent many months in the hospital we hadn't had a chance to meet them yet. It was well worth the wait.

I think bunny and/or kitty hats will be in order (for the babies, not the parents).

Before we met up with them, we visited a used bookshop I've never been to, and I got (among other things) a solid old copy of Ruskin's Sesame and Lilies and a terrific six-dollar copy of Barbara Walker's A Treasury of Knitting Patterns. And you didn't. Nyah.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Aw, Shit

Due to a serious miscalculation, Laughing Boy suddenly finds himself with two arm and four leg pieces to go, and about five feet of Lang Yarns Jawoll Sport Superwash (colorway 0170) left. This will not suffice.

The shop where it was purchased is, of course, completely out of it. And while it has not been discontinued, it will have to be special ordered. I'm not worried about dye lots, as at least the pieces I've knitted are such that a shift in tone in the other pieces won't matter.

But still...

How did I let this happen? I always, always, always buy more than enough yarn to get me through a project. In this case, I distinctly remember standing in the shop with a calculator, and confirming that I'd not only bought enough, I'd bought enough to do something cute with the leftovers.

Pity the knitter who has never been much good at math.

To make matters worse, this yarn came from the shop owned by the notorious grouch. Which means that when I called to check on availability, I was treated to a little lecture on Why You Must Always Buy More Than You Need.

Why yes, thank you, how terribly enlightening. But I'd already caught on to that.

It makes me want to go elsewhere. Humiliation should not be part of this hobby.

To be fair, I have had good service there, on occasion. Sigh.

Before you suggest looking online, I did. No dice.

This teddy bear must and will be finished, so I'll go place my order this weekend. It will be worth it. What's already complete is looking mighty nice, if I do say so myself.

Notes for (Some) Yarn Shop Owners and (Some) Sales Staff

I'm getting very tired of having a lousy time in yarn shops, and of hearing that others have as well. We only seem to have one reliably pleasant place to shop for knitting supplies in Chicago (Arcadia Knitting) and to be honest, they're a little out-of-the-way for me to get to. It takes a subway ride and then either a bus trip or a long walk through a distinctly iffy neighborhood.

Therefore I'd like to offer the following suggestions to others (you know who you are) who might be in a position to scoop up the increasingly large amounts of money I am spending on this pursuit.
  1. A man who comes into your shop is probably not there to rape you, empty the cash register, or make off with your rack of notions. If he looks bored and is trailing a woman, offer him a chair in the corner and leave him be. Otherwise, why not try waiting on him?

  2. Not all customers are stupid. Just for fun, assume the next customer who approaches you has finished kindergarten. Even if he's male.

  3. Most customers do not ask questions just to annoy you. It may shock you to read this, but many of the people who enter your store know how to knit. Many even know lots and lots about knitting. However, unlike you, they are not congenitally omniscient in all matters related to knitting past, present, and future. This means that on occasion they will have to ask you a question in order to learn something new. Try not to sneer too much when you answer.

  4. Yes, some customers are stupid and rude. When after some interaction a customer reveals him- or herself to be of this ilk, by all means feel free to frog the idiot a new one. But do please revisit points 2 and 3 before jumping to conclusions.

  5. And finally, for yarn shop owners who would prefer that new or non-traditional (i.e., male, young) knitters keep out, because they do it all for serious love of the art and don't care if they make any money: Oh, yeah? Then why aren't you just giving the yarn away?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

To C


Memorial Day used to be something I looked forward to, as most folks do. It meant the beginning of my favorite season, three days away from work, every so often a road trip or other adventure.

Unfortunately, it's now the anniversary of the apex (or nadir, depending on one's point of view) of my relationship with Mr. Ex, the point at which the things he did to me landed me in the hospital for several days.

This is one anniversary I do my best not to observe, but my body still feels it acutely and for the week or so beforehand I have terrible nightmares, insomnia, and an all-pervading sense of dread and unease.

But this post isn't about that, it's about C, the fellow who seems to have an effortless, perhaps even unconscious, way of scattering the dark clouds. He doesn't even have to say or do anything. His presence is enough.

I don't think I'm a bad writer, but I've never been any good at poetry. So here instead I'm quoting Heinrich Heine. Schumann set these lines to music and in doing so created one of my favorite songs.* But even without the melody, they hit the emotional bull's eye for me today.

Sorry if this makes you blush, C. But then, that's sort of the point. Forgive my very clumsy translation.

Du bist wie eine Blume,
So hold und schön und rein;
Ich schau' dich an,
Und Wehmut schleicht mir ins Herz hinein.

Mir ist, als ob ich die Hände
Aufs Haupt dir legen sollt',
Betend, dass Gott dich erhalte
So rein und schön und hold.

You are like a flower,
So pure, and beautiful, and fair;
I look at you,
And bittersweet emotion fills my heart.

It seems to me that I must
Lay my hands upon your head,
And pray that God will keep you always
So pure, and beautiful, and fair.

*You can hear a very good recording of it, by the legendary Lotte Lehmann, here.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


When I bought the Rowan Felted Tweed for the Edo Scarf in Amsterdam, I didn't know what the colorways were. There was nothing on the labels or, that I can recall, on the shop shelves.

So I happened to find out through an online retailer that the two I selected are "watery" and "sigh."

Watery sigh. Given the unfortunate nature of the cruise that followed my solo time in Amsterdam, in retrospect it seems prophetic.

"Watery grave" would have been even more appropriate. Around the time our third passenger went to the hospital and the ship lost all three engines after colliding with a bridge, I found myself considering one.

Knitting Tips for Non-Knitters #1

Last night the world was simply becoming too much for me, so I took a ball of yarn that originally wanted to be a sock, but changed its mind, and cast on for the now-ubiquitous Knitty "Branching Out" lace scarf. I've got something like nine hours of lace classes coming up at Stitches Midwest and I am not going into them cold.

I did two repeats, after four false starts, and then it was bedtime. I think I will like lace knitting.

This morning, I showed the swatch to C.

"It's lace!" I crowed.

"Wow," he said. "It looks like macramé."

The expression on my face must have been telling.

"No, no, I meant in a good way," he said, moving out of striking range.

Non-knitters, just so that we can avoid further confusion on this matter, there is no "good way" that a person's knitting can look like macramé.

Girls, Girls, Girls

The big event of my weekend was a long-awaited reunion with Birdfarm. We hadn't seen each other for some ridiculous number of years. Our friendship had been yet another casualty of Mr. Ex's isolationist social policy.

She and her entourage (charming wife, charming friends) came into town Saturday and I met them Sunday morning at the Marshall Field's flagship on State Street. Hilarity ensued, and did not end until we said goodnight around 10 p.m.

In between, details blur, but I know there was a lot of food. And shopping. Especially yarn shopping. Then more food. We actually shut down Arcadia Knitting, where the wonderful staff waited patiently past closing time for us to finish dithering over what to buy. (Note to male knitters: this is the place in Chicago for attitude-free service.)

(And Susan, just wait until you see the yummy merino I got for your hat and scarf.)

Mrs. Birdfarm (aka Sir Edwin Pegasus) kindly demonstrated for me the method of sock kniting on two circulars and you know, I rather liked it. It has much going for it, particularly the lower likelihood of stitches going AWOL off the end of the needle. I'm just going to have to try both ways and see which I like better.

I must also mention that watching Sir Edwin's graceful fingers fly as she knits is enchanting.

Birdfarm and Sir Edwin brought me two lovely presents, a gorgeous variegated yarn whose name I will fill in here later because I forgot to write it down and I'm at the office (shhhh), and a fragrant bath bomb from Lush, one of our city's finest spoil-yourself-in-the-tub shops.

I didn't give them a darn thing, but I think a Chicago-to-Wisconsin care package will be in order. Life in a small town seems to leave them deprived of certain comforts. We can remedy that.

Birdfarm my dear, I missed you so much. It was short visit, but it was lovely. I can't wait to see you again soon.

A Man Knows What a Man Wants

And finally, a big ol' man-sized thank-you to Colorado Jon, who sent me a t-shirt I have had my eye on for ages - the one from menknit.net that says "Man Enough to Knit, Strong Enough to Purl."

I love it, and I have decided to accept it even though Emily Post says I haven't known him long enough to accept gifts of clothing or jewelry - they might suggest he is keeping me.

The shirt is definitely going to be worn at Stitches, though of course I'll have to coordinate with Jon and make sure he's not wearing his on the same day. People would have a hell of a time trying to tell us apart.

Maybe I'll wear it to bed tonight. Just the t-shirt and a pair of knee socks. Comfy!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Up to My Ears

Work on the Jack the Teddy Bear continues.

Alas, the more I knit, the more there seems to be to knit. I'm like the Red Queen in Through the Lookingglass, running and running without moving forward. I'm also like the Red Queen in that this apparent futility makes us both slightly bitchy now and again.

The biggest pieces are finished: both halves of the body, and the three pieces that together form the head. In terms of even tension and consistent stitching, I think the head gusset may well be the best thing I've ever knit.

I'm now working on the ears, two pieces for each for a total of four. Half done with those. They look like tiny stockinette potato chips.

Still not begun are the arms (two pieces per arm) and the legs (three pieces per leg). And then, some time around my fiftieth birthday, when Cher begins her absolutely final farewell tour, I sew and stuff and assemble.

Most of my thoughts while I stitch are happy. This has been a great project for learning new techniques and becoming comfortable working through a complex pattern. I think of C, and how he asked specially for this bear, and how when it's done he can hug it and feel loved and comforted. And he will look even cuter than usual* doing that. Makes me feel warm all the way to my toes.

But every so often, just for a fleeting moment, I think, "You rotten bastard. Couldn't settle for a hat, could you? I sure hope you're going to love this when it's done, because if you don't I'm going to beat you to death with it."

Don't pretend you haven't thought the same in mid-sweater.

*And that's pretty damn cute. "Basket of kittens being held by Jude Law as he stands shirtless in the front garden of a cottage in the Cotswolds" cute. Only cuter.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Many Happy Returns of the Sister

Susan as Ghost, 2003
Originally uploaded by panopticon.

On this day, in 1976, my oldest and dearest friend was born: my sister, Susan.

I was an only child for the first five years of my life. According to the psychology books a new baby should have been a source of disruption and anger for me.

Not so.

From the moment (I remember it clearly) that my parents told me the stork was on the way, I decided I wanted a sister and started praying for one.

And when I got the happy news, this morning in 1976, I did a frenetic dance around living room screaming "I have a sister! I have a sister!"

Later that day, when the chickens we were hatching in my kindergarten classroom started to emerge from their shells, I changed the name of mine from "Farrah Fawcett" to "Susan" in her honor.

You have to give this girl credit for surviving to adulthood.

Over the years she patiently put up with having a brother who:

  • Always, always got the bigger bedroom in every house we lived in;
  • Frequently dressed her up like a doll according to his capricious whims;
  • Messed with her hair, on one occasion braiding it into cornrows;
  • Livened up her pre-teen weekends with day-long trips to art museums;
  • When called upon to help her come up with a fun Halloween costume for a little kids' party, persuaded her to go as the Queen of the Night from Mozart's opera Die Zauberflöte;
  • During a game of "Magical Princess Who Can Fly," threw her, head first, into the bedroom wall.

And yet she survived. Thrived, even.

Nowadays, the tiny thing I first saw in a hospital incubator (difficult birth, ask my mother for gory details) goes forth daily to a high school classroom and coaxes a love for Romeo and Juliet out of teenagers who otherwise might never give a damn.

Me, I can still be bossy and will never get over the urge to dress her up (we made the ghost photograph above during a Christmas visit two years ago). But she's still patient with me and I can only hope she knows it always comes from love.

Love, and the fact that she got the tall, slender figure that clothes hang well on, and the lovely head of dark, shiny hair. Oh, and let's not forget, the itty bitty little nose and the flawless complexion.

Not that I'm bitter or anything. Happy Birthday, Sue Pie.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Morning Face

Chicago El, July 2003
Originally uploaded by panopticon.

I finished college in the summer of 1992, smack in the middle of a nasty recession.

What would have been a bad situation was made even worse by the fact that I'd never been encouraged to think beyond finishing college.

The first 17 years of my life were spent hearing over and over that I would go to college and it had better be a good one.

So I got into a good one, and spent four years straining to just get through without killing myself.

There was some vague notion that I was being sent to college so that I would come out the other end ready to Do Well.

Do Well at what never seemed to be the issue, I was just supposed to Do Well. I majored in art history, and was good at it - very good - and thought for a time that I would love to do museum work.

Unfortunately, I didn't have the backbone to stand up to the Lily White Woman at the Harvard University Art Museums who taught my senior seminar.

We were in the process of wrapping up our final project, which had sent me right over the moon: co-curating an exhibit at the Fogg Museum.

My object selections and captions had sailed right through review while more than a few of my classmates were given slaps and told to re-write.

I was on top of the world. I'd found it. The thing I was good at.

I was in the Prints and Drawings Room taking care of a few details and Ms. Lily White, who basically had my dream job, asked me about my post-graduation plans. I said I wanted to go into museum work.

She shook her head and tut-tutted and explained that, though my work was among the best in the class, and I would be receiving honors in my field, I came from entirely the wrong sort of family background to work in a museum.

Had I considered teaching art in, perhaps, a public school? Maybe in the inner city? Surely the milieu there would be a bit more comfortable for someone like me, she suggested.

I'd spent four years at Harvard feeling like I had no right to be there, and those kindly remarks obliterated the little bit of ego I'd managed to acquire.

So that was end of that.

Jobs were in short supply that year, even for the graduates who'd chosen money-track concentrations like Economics were having trouble landing offers.

When you have only one timid dream, and it gets killed off, you take what you can get. I drifted into a steady but drab position at an ancient but shabby college for musicians, and thus began my Lost Years.

I was living at the time with the aspiring opera singer I'd met and fallen in love with during my senior year, in a bleak suburb of Boston called Malden.

Ironically, for a town literally within sight of the epicenter of American higher learning, Malden is mostly populated by people of dim wit and narrow mind.

Every morning, I'd join 3,000 of my fellow citizens on the MBTA for the slog into the city. And I was appalled by my first encounter with Morning Faces.

Without exception, my train car would be packed with gray-faced secretaries and puffy-eyed salesmen, utterly devoid of emotion or animation.

Their eyes, when open, saw nothing. They didn't read, or talk, or even look out the windows. They just sat, or leaned, empty of life, pictures of dread and frustration.

At the end of the day, coming home, they barely seemed to register a pulse.

After a week of this, I found myself praying in earnest that I would never turn into one of those people.

On the whole, I've done a good job of avoiding it. My first defense was reading. I can read anywhere, to the point that I've been known to lose track of my surroundings.

I was once called on the carpet for being late to work because I'd reached a key chapter in Middlemarch and rode past my office and the four following stops before noticing something was wrong.

Then I got my first camera, two years ago, and since the only free time I had to play with it was on the subway, I started taking subway shots.

This made me more aware of my surroundings, not less, but it transfigured them. You want to see the world go from ugly to gorgeous in an instant? Look at it through a viewfinder.

And now, since after September 11 one is not permitted to take photographs on the subway, I knit.

This seems to combat Morning Face better than anything else, if the response I got recently is any indication.

A woman I'd never noticed before, but who has obviously been watching me, came up as I was casting off part of the teddy bear.

"I am dying to know what you're making," she asked, with a twinkly smile.

"It's part of a teddy bear," I said.

She giggled. "How cute! You know, I see you knitting on the train all the time."

"Yes, it's a nice way to start and end the day. Very relaxing."

"I can tell! You know, I sit here and watch you, and everybody else is half asleep, and you're just sitting there tapping your foot and you have this little smile on your face, and you just look so happy. And so smug! And I swear, one of these days I'm going to haul off and hit you!"

And with that, still smiling, she got up and got off the train.

Lately I've started looking around the car before I pull out my needles.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

After the Stool Boom

In the Church of Our Lady, Bruges
Originally uploaded by panopticon.

I seem, knock on wood, to be well again.

On the debit side, I missed three days of work and spent most of that time doubled over in agony, fully expecting a tap at the door from a gaunt figure bearing a scythe. (And wearing a poncho.)

On the credit side, I'm now 10 pounds thinner and can fit into even my sluttiest jeans (the 501s with the rip under the left rear pocket that helped make rodeo season 2004 so memorable).

Socks Beat Sex

And my oh my, haven't you been a chatty bunch in my absence.

My query about sock knitting brought lurkers out of the woodwork (hey, y'all) and drew several more comments than the previous record holder, which had to do with coitus interruptus in the men's sauna.

As soon as my brain returns to full throttle (or as close as it ever gets) I'm going to process all the lovely advice, for which I am sincerely grateful.

Also On the Topic of Hosiery

Colleen says the person who found The Panopticon by Googling "pantyhose party pictures" may have been in search of a festive occasion that involves "women in ripped pantyhose."

In sharing this information, she writes, "How do I know these things? I have no idea."

Um, yeah. Okay, babe. Sure thing.

Joel told an even more frightening story of a "pantyhose posy party" at which retired nylons are mated with coat hangers in order to create a bouquet.

Sort of puts the national tragedy of crap yarn proliferation into perspective, doesn't it?

Cranial Knitting

I finished the body of C's teddy bear and have begun working on his head.

You can imagine the witticisms flying around.

Spring: The Season of Cute

C and I were walking homeward after his (delightful) graduation performance at the theater where he'd completed a yearlong cycle of improv classes. (I am justifiably proud.)

We turned onto the west side of Clark Street, a major artery (four lanes) that runs north-south along the edge of Lincoln Park. And there, on the sidewalk in front of us, were two impossibly tiny ducklings being escorted north by a very determined looking Mama Duck.

We followed them for some distance, watching as she kept them in line against the walls of the buildings or the hedges of the flowerbeds.

When they came to the next cross street, we worried the ducklings might blow away on the heavy wind coming in from the west. It was one of those Chicago gales that makes everyone lean forward until they look like the hood ornament on a Rolls-Royce. But no, Mama D kept them on the ground long enough to lead them across Eugenie Street.

We crossed to the east side of Clark Street, and a bit later unexpectedly caught sight of the family again - on the opposite side, in the gutter, weaving in and out of the tires of parked cars.

Other pedestrians had spotted them by now, including a family with a little daughter who voiced the question on all our minds:

"How is she gonna get them across the road?"

Unfortunately there was no friendly policeman nearby, as in the story Make Way For Ducklings (a charming fable that pretends most native Bostonians wouldn't happily run over baby animals just for the hell of it).

So C and I, and the little girl and her parents, watched with fear and fascination as the mother duck led her babies to the crosswalk. Then, as cars and even taxicabs respectfully stopped and waited, the three of them padded placidly across the asphalt to the lush grass and abundant bushes of Lincoln Park.

We all applauded. The little girl cheered. I wanted to.

From there, without any further streets to cross (if she follows the bike or foot trails), Mama can either bring up the kids in the pond near the zoo (charming, safe, excellent access to dining and health care); or on the Lake itself (ample parking, huge closets).

Either way, I wish the whole family well. Seeing that little procession navigate city traffic and achieve the Promised Land gave me the most potent spike of happiness I've enjoyed in quite some time.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

A Look at My Bear Butt

Teddy Bear Body, 75% complete
Originally uploaded by panopticon.

I'm sick at home today. Some kind of stomach bug. You shall be spared further details.

My bones ache so much that I cramped up when I tried knitting to pass the time. So I have to content myself with photographing what I'm working on.

(That's how bored I am. You know I'm not much of one for photographs of works in progress.)

This is 75% of the body of a teddy bear, which I'm making as a present for C because he asked for it specifically (the only circumstance under which I will knit anything for anybody).

It's the pattern for "Jack" from Sandra Polley's The Knitted Teddy Bear. Making it has been a watershed for me, and I'm not even close to finished.

It's my first piece with yarn lighter than worsted weight.

It's my first piece that involves a lot of three-dimensional shaping on the needles. (The hats I've made have all been of the perfectly circular, pull-on variety.)

It's the first piece I've ever started (meaning, actually cast on) during my commute, and that's where most of the the first half was created.

You knit the body halves starting with the ass end (see illustration) and finish with the shoulder shaping.

I got to the shoulder shaping just before my train pulled into the station near my office. When we arrived, I got off the train but sat on a bench on the platform to finish casting off.

Suddenly, what had been a wonky piece of flat knitting popped into a three-dimensional shape I could recognize: a sloping shoulder, wide hips, a pudgy tummy*, even a humped back (Polley is gratifyingly attentive to the shaping details of old teddy bears).

People who don't knit probably would snort at the application of the adjective "thrilling" to the process.

They will never understand.

Socks? Socks!

I confess to needing another project to balance the endless charcoal stockinette of the bear.

I originally pulled the teddy patterns book off the shelf thinking it might be nice to knit something tawny and light after four projects in black, navy, navy, and gray. When C said he'd like a bear, I was delighted and told him to pick out any one he liked.

He picked the black one.

So, I need something with BRIGHT COLOR in it. And I am dying to try sock knitting.

I know there are sock people who read this blog. Help me out here.

Do you have a favorite basic pattern for a first pair of socks?

How about yarn choice? Brands? Colorways?

These socks are most likely going to be hidden inside boots most of the time (just about the only thing I wear on my feet), so I'm not concerned about sticking to "masculine" shades.

I thought I'd ask here, first, since the service I get in the yarn shops in Chicago often leaves much to be desired, whereas y'all are a veritable font of friendliness.

(Even when some of you are suggesting I made you look like a syphillis advertisement in your new banner, when what I was really trying to do was highlight your captivating good looks. Ahem.)

By the way, if you are one of the seven knitting people in the continental United States who didn't go to Maryland Sheep and Wool, Tricky has done his usual splendid job of writing it up (with copious illustrations).

And and usual, I find myself wanting many of the things (and a few of the people) featured in the photographs.

On that note, back to the couch with me. I have a lighthearted filmfest waiting, consisting of the first two episodes of Fanny and Alexander (the television version) and Akira Kurosawa's Ran.

*You know I'm sick when I start using words like "tummy." Gack.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Not That Kind of Blog

I think I've arrived. I checked my statistics during a lull in the afternoon and found that somebody reached this blog by typing in "pantyhose party pictures."

To the pervert in question, I can only apologize for what must have been crushing disappointment.

(Pantyhose party? Do I have any straight men reading this who could clue me in on what a pantyhose party is?)

Monday, May 09, 2005

Cahiers du cinéma

This weekend's theme was "movies."

"The answer is forty-two."

C and I did something uncharacteristic and went to a first-run, mainstream film: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

I wanted to go because I'd laughed myself sick over the first two books years and years ago. They're the only works of science fiction I've ever liked, probably because they're not pure science fiction, but more descendants of the relentlessly logical British nonsense (Alice, Lucia, E. M. Delafield, Gilbert & Sullivan) that I love so much.

Hitchhiker's Guide is running in Chicago at a mega-multi-giganti-plex, ugly as sin but conveniently located near Michigan Avenue shopping. By the time we got there, I'd acquired three plain-front baseball caps in different colors (zowie!), two printer ink refills, the two newest French & Saunders DVDs (on sale!) and a copy of Elizabeth Zimmerman's Knitter's Almanac.

(Mrs Zimmerman will be getting her own entry. I'd not read her books before, and she's now on the short list of authors I wish I could have met.)

Going to the movies with C is quite wonderful. He's cut from the same neurotic cloth as I - for example, he doesn't mind getting to a performance or a screening an hour early, if it means getting the pick of seats. He also likes to plan ahead and buy tickets online. (A guy who doesn't make me wait in line or miss the previews is a guy I could marry.)

When you're used to going to quiet little arty theaters to watch short-run independent stuff, it can be disorienting suddenly to plunge into a universe of 1000 screens, mile-long ticket lines, itinerant marketers hawking preview passes, and 50-foot murals of Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, Wesley Snipes and other red carpet fodder whose movies I never quite get around to seeing.

There were swarms of kids, which you don't get at theaters showing Capturing the Friedmans on screens one and two. (And they do swarm, don't they? Getting underfoot and wriggling into the damnedest places.)

We were the first people to show up in the theater but not by much. Three fellows who almost certainly do something for a living that involves beta-testing and database development were quick on our heels.

The film was fun. I'd read the reviews and they've been mixed. Fans of the book who apparently expected a line-by-line rendering are miffed that it's not all there. Maybe it's because I haven't read the books in ten years, but I felt that the giddy wit was largely intact in spite of the things that are inevitably lost in translation to the screen.

The performances are spot-on, too, every one of them. Even the fellow with the funny name who plays Ford Prefect. Stephen Fry, to whom I considered offering my body as a plaything after watching him in Jeeves and Wooster back in college* is the voice of the Guide and is particularly pitch-perfect.

I suppose the highest compliment I can give is that mid-way through the movie, I thought, "Gee, I hope they're already working on the next book." I was so shocked at myself I nearly dropped my king-sized bag of peanut M & Ms.

"I want to kiss you, but you're so far away."

The other movie was a complete surprise, unplanned in every way. In fact, we didn't even know what the heck it was called until C looked it up on the Web this morning.

Turns out it was Madame X with Lana Turner, and it's a doozy. We missed the first 20 minutes or so, but wound up being drawn into it in spite of ourselves. And all we were doing was turning on the television to play a DVD.

I'll give you the short list of why you really need to watch this film:
  • Lana Turner changes her clothes in every single scene. I'm not exaggerating. Even when she hits bottom, she's still got one of those magical bottomless wardrobes like the one Ginger Grant had on "Gilligan's Island." The one time you think she's going to wear the same dress twice, when she's down-and-out in Mexico, she cheats by coming out of the shower in a towel.

  • The dialogue is priceless. Lana doesn't actually scream "Yes! I'm guilty! Guilty of love in the first degree!" from the witness stand, but she comes mighty close. "I want to kiss you," says John Forsythe to Lana, "but you're so far away." Well, yeah, she is. She's all the way over on the other side of the bedroom. Whatsa matter, John? You got a broken leg?

  • Nurse Reebok. During this one part where Lana gets sick and disoriented from grief and hears her child's voice calling to her and collapses and is plucked out of a snowbank by a canal by a Swiss concert pianist who happens to be driving by in his fancy car, he takes her home and she's attended by Nurse Reebok. Yes, Reebok.

  • Montage moments. Lana's downward mobility is communicated by swelling violins playing under shots of trains whooshing back and forth, intercut with shots of her sneaking whisky into glasses of water. As she sinks lower into perdition, we shift to a montage of blinking neon nightclub signs accompanied by raucous jazz. And you all know what that means. (No!?) (Yes!!)

  • Ricardo Montalban as a naughty Latin playboy named "Phil." She should have known this guy was trouble. Or maybe she was just attracted to bad boys. Phil chases her around the swimming pool, and takes her a loud nightclub where they dance the rhumba. And you all know what that means, yes? (No!)

  • Enough improbable coincidences, traumas, humiliations, innuendos, reverses of fate, and acts of violence to keep "Days of Our Lives" stocked for 20 years. I won't say more. It would deprive you of the supremely precious surprise ending. Have tissues handy. Oh, it just slayed me.
All I will say, girlfriends, is that the Lifetime network could pile Nancy McKeon, Lindsay Wagner, Valerie Bertinelli, and special guest star Celeste Holm into one film with a screenplay by Sidney Sheldon based on a novel by Judith Krantz, and it still would not approach the universe of tragedy served up by Madame X.

*Stephen, if you're reading this, you have my e-mail. And it's okay, I have a special dispensation where you're concerned just like C does with Jake Gyllenhaal.

Friday, May 06, 2005

View from the Attic

Wooden Shoe Display, Amsterdam
Originally uploaded by panopticon.

The picture above has absolutely nothing to do with anything I'm going to write. I just wanted to jazz up the page a little.

My common (though not exclusive) practice is to write blog entries in the evening, let them mellow overnight, and post them the next day.

This has saved me on more than one occasion from making public things I've written in the throes of depression, things so maudlin that Sylvia Plath would roll her eyes and tell me to just get the fuck over it.

Today, however, I'm spinning my wheels at the office waiting for a tech to get back to me about an annoying bug in the program I need to use.

So I'm blogging. My head is elsewhere. I've had enough of this place. My boss is absentee without explanation. I've been working overtime. They can give me five minutes of mental freedom.

It's hot in here. Sticky hot.

I work in the attic of what used to be one family's Extremely Large House or Starter-Sized Mansion (depends on your point of view).

Sounds charming, I'm sure, but my office used to be a maid's bedroom. They didn't much care in the 1890s whether the maids slept comfortably. This means that a century later, I am writing to you from a sweatbox.

In the winter, it's an icebox. Bob Cratchit would feel right at home. Actually, Bob Cratchit was better off. He had a candle on his desk. I have to hold my fingers over my Mac's exhaust vent to keep them from cramping up.

The house itself is an interesting place to work. The day I interviewed, they brought me up the servants' stairs to the third floor, and sat me down in a windowless room that had a large, prominent Have-a-Heart Trap in one corner.

"Squirrels," said the drone from Human Resources.

The ceiling was also dripping steadily into a bucket right next to my chair.

"Let me start off by showing you our department org chart..."


"I see you've been working in Web design since 1995..."

Drip. Drip.

"...and our benefits package is really excellent..."

Plunk, drip. Drip.

Why am I certain this has never happened to any of my friends who work in corporate jobs?

The walls around my desk are dormers. If I were not unusually short, every time I stood up I'd bonk my head on the ceiling. I sometimes wonder if I only got the job because I met the height requirement.

On the other hand, the walls are in such rotten shape that nobody complained when I started decorating them by taping up large prints of my photos. It looks cheerful and reduces greatly the amount of crumbling plaster that lands on my face.

Did I mention that I'm wearing a necktie today? I can hardly breathe. If I have to wear a necktie, the women I work with should have to wear girdles or at least control-top pantyhouse one size too small.

We all had to dress up because Very Important People are visiting two floors below. Mind you, it's not on my schedule to meet with or otherwise interact with any of them.

It's just that in leaving or entering the buildling, they might see us. If they saw us, and we were not in business attire, they might become enraged and banish us to the attic.

Oh, wait.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Program Notes

Rock concerts are never going to be my natural habitat, but for me last night was partly about the music, partly about having an interesting anthropological experience, and partly about spending quality time with C, who was very gracious in bringing me along to something he'd been awaiting eagerly for months.

Once I got over the scary feeling that I was suddenly at a high school dance populated by Bad Kids with no teachers to keep order, I was fascinated by the whole affair.

Notes on the Concert-Going Experience
  • General admission. This, I do not understand. One pays a large amount of money and then takes ones chances about whether one will be close enough of the stage to be sprayed by the spittle of the lead singer, or whether one will be more or less in the next county? One may, if one is short, wind up not seeing the band at all? No, no, no.

  • Security. At the Lyric Opera, if a member of the house staff were to roughly lay hands on or shout "Keep moving! Keep moving!" at patrons who were not misbehaving, s/he would be fired on the spot, and that's how I prefer it.

  • Stage Lighting. Easily $3 million in lights hanging from what used to be the Aragon's beautiful, starlit vaulted ceiling, and the band was still in the dark the entire time. I assume this was an attempt to disguise the telling effects of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle. Either that or they borrowed the light plot from Act I of Das Rheingold.

  • Amplification. Ow.

  • Looking cool. Some men can pull off looking cool. Others, however, will simply never be cool in the same way that I will simply never be a leggy supermodel. The difference is that I recognize my limitations and try to work within them. Gentlemen, sunglasses worn in a dimly lit, indoor environment do not make you a chick magnet. They make you look like a coke addict.

  • Straight guys shouldn't "vogue." Let me rephrase that. In the year 2005, nobody should "vogue."

  • Belly shirts. Ladies, if you must render yourself ridiculous in public, better you should wear a poncho. Better still, you should acquire an honest gay friend who will discourage you from purchasing objectionable items in the first place.

The Aragon Ballroom

As I sat looking around the sad remains of what used to be an incredible fantasia on Moorish architecture, I realized that I'd have been more comfortable at the Aragon when it opened in 1926. I'd have had a much better grip on the etiquette, the music, the dances, the clothes, and the refreshments. There's nothing more bizarre than finding yourself entirely out of synch with your own era. (This happens to me frequently.)

Bons mots from the Crowd
  • "Woooooohoooooooooaaaaaayyyyaaaaaayyyyaaaaaayyaaaaayyyy!" (Very jolly woman two rows behind me. Madam, if you're reading this, a brilliant career in hog calling awaits you.)

  • "Yeah, cuz baby, see, I'm a promoter, I can get you in, I can get you in, baby, all the best parties, cuz I'm a promoter. Baby? Baby? Hey baby?" (Man in tweed pork-pie hat to much younger woman in satin chemise, who was pointedly not looking at him.)

  • "Mmmm mmmm. Mmmm mmmm. Yeah. Rock me. Rock me. Mmmmmmmmmyeah." (Guy behind me in the ATM line. I presume he wasn't asking this of me.)

  • "I'm wetting! I'm wetting! No, like, I'm so excited I'm wetting!" (Woman in front of me in the line for t-shirts. I gave her a wide berth.)
Now Ask Me If I Enjoyed It

Heck yes.

I know nothing about this sort of music, but I know I liked it. Infectious beat. Very diverting - all crescendo - all allegro - all the fireworks of an old production of the Ring Cycle without the slow bits to break it up. I'd go again. And I'd probably be less nervous and like it even more.

And I got to watch C being absolutely transported with enjoyment, which does my heart good.

Best part is, now I have the proper sort of t-shirt to wear to Lollapalooza.

I'm "chill." Peace out and so forth.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Get Down Tonight

You'll never guess what. Go ahead, guess.


Tonight I am going to a rock concert. I've never been to one before, unless you count Donna Summer and Cher, and I'm told neither of those count.

The band is called "New Order" and they're playing this funky old venue not far from my neighborhood called the Aragon Ballroom. C has played a bunch of their music for me, and I actually do remember hearing one of their songs on the radio. The title escapes me. Quite bouncy, good stuff, though their diction isn't what it might be.

I have no idea what to expect, really, so I did some research by watching three solid hours of MTV. I also painted a big poster that said "I Heart Bono" but I've since learned he's with some other band, so that was time wasted.

I had no idea what to wear, but C says a black t-shirt will suffice. Heaven knows I have plenty of those.

C also gave me a brief but informative orientation session which went something like this:

F: Should I bring a lighter? To wave back and forth in the air?
C: No.

F: When they finish a song, do I scream "Bravi"?
C: No.

F: Can I try stage diving?
C: No.

F: Will there be one of those "moosh pits"?
C: If you don't knock it off, there will be.

What's even better is that in July, he's taking me to something called "Lollapalooza," which I gather is sort of like Tanglewood. I can be "down with that."

Word to your mothers, everybody!

Monday, May 02, 2005

Today I Feel Like This Guy

Tourist in the Maze, Keukenhof Gardens, Holland
Originally uploaded by panopticon.

The fellow in the photo is a French tourist who got lost in the hedge maze at the Keukenhof Gardens in Holland.

I took this from the center, inside the elevated gazebo that overlooks the whole maze. From that vantage point you can, if you like, shout helpful suggestions to somebody who looks lost. ("À droit, dammit! À droit!")

Or you can just stand there and listen as he gets incrementally more pissed off and finally begins swearing loudly at his mother. (She's next to him, too short to be seen over the hedge).

I should have helped them out. Karmic payback is hell.

And He Just Loves Showtunes!

When we were in college, Birdfarm was always a dab hand at analyzing texts. She's done it again with her take on an article in the Summer 2005 Interweave Knits.

Do go read it and see if you agree.

One anticipates a follow up article, perhaps by the gentleman himself. If not in Interweave Knits, perhaps in The Advocate or Instinct.