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Jan. 31, 2005

A month into this I suppose I should codify the rules.

Unlike some other blogs you may be familiar with, this site will have few, if any, of the following:

  • Links.
  • Comments.
  • Titles.
  • Time stamps.
  • User-friendly archives.
  • Examples of correct CSS.
  • Words all-capped for hyperbole OR IRONY.
  • Observations on current events.
  • References to work. (As far as the job goes, there is no blog. As far as the blog goes, there is no job. Please don't ask; please don't tell. Getting fired for a blog is just so 2003, and the cliche would destroy me.)
  • Named references to anyone to whom I haven't made a lifelong commitment.
  • Oblique and/or sinister references to anyone I'm avoiding naming.
  • Posts I may regret when St. Peter -- or other potential dates -- is Googling me.
  • Ruminations on anything outside my expertise.
  • Intimations that I am an expert in anything but me. (They say write what you know, and I happen to be the world's foremost authority on me.)
  • Stories about my children or pets.
  • Children conceived because I'm running out of material.

Quite frankly, it's going to be mostly photos.


Jan. 30, 2005

Trying hard now

It's so hard now

Trying hard now

Getting strong now

Won't be long now

Getting strong now

Gonna fly now

Flying high now

Gonna fly, fly, fly

Today ended the first week of my latest 18-week marathon training regimen.

In training for marathons I am a slave to Hal Higdon. If Hal tells me to run off a cliff, I ask only whether I should do so at race pace or training pace. He has not yet asked me to run off a cliff. Not literally. Instead, he tells me to run fast on Saturdays and run long on Sundays. Having not been in training mode since October, I'd forgotten how challenging these weekend runs can be.

Most of my running has become pedestrian, ho ho. During the week my biggest obstacles are boredom and whatever techno music is playing at the gym. (I take it that gyms intend for techno music to inspire clients, but it merely inspires me to want to hurl dumbbells at the speakers.) Thus the iPod is invaluable. If I have it on shuffle, I'll sometimes run an extra mile just to find out what the next song is going to be, and if I turn it up all the way I can almost drown out the throbbing beat of the house music.

On the tough weekend runs, I must lean on a few playlists that help me forget how little I'm enjoying myself. The first is a series of songs with at least one of two qualities: Their beat comes close to my goal cadence, or they make me feel like I'm running in a commercial for the Special Olympics.

  1. Squirrel Nut Zippers, "Ghost of Stephen Foster"
  2. Squirrel Nut Zippers, "Hell"
  3. John Williams, "End Titles to Star Wars"
  4. John Williams, "Duel of the Fates"
  5. Neil Young, "Rockin' in the Free World"
  6. Richard Wagner, "Ride of the Valkyries"
  7. Twang Bang, "Driving Like a Maniac"
  8. Fiona Apple, "Fast as You Can"
  9. Rolling Stones, "Paint it Black"
  10. Gloria Gaynor, "I Will Survive"
  11. Hypnotic, "Caravan"
  12. U2, "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of"
  13. Andrew Bird, "Way Out West"
  14. Bill Conti, "Going the Distance"
  15. Gioacchino Rossini, "William Tell Overture"
  16. Bruce Springsteen, "Born to Run (Live)"
  17. Clyde Federal, "Silver Bootstraps"
  18. Sugarcubes, "Fucking in Rhythm & Sorrow"
  19. Violent Femmes, "My Way"
  20. Maynard Ferguson, "La Fiesta"
  21. Carl Orff, "O Fortuna"
  22. N.W.A., "100 Miles and Runnin'"

It's on the last mile that I really need to turn on the cheese, so I'll play one of three cheese-tacular songs:

  1. Maynard Ferguson, "Gonna Fly Now"
  2. Bill Conti, "Gonna Fly Now"
  3. Vangelis, "Titles from Chariots of Fire"

I like to simulate the marathon's homestretch with a 385-yard sprint. For this, only one track will do:

  1. Malcolm Seemann, "Giggle (Live)"

It's a 43-second recording my nephew made just after he turned 6 months old. It's perfect for the end of a run and any other time that rolling over and/or dying has appeal. According to iTunes I've listened to it 41 times, and not once has it failed to make me smile. This is ideal for maximizing oxygen intake, though it attracts some strange looks at the gym: "That guy was wan and lifeless a few minutes ago. What's with the sudden grin? And why is there smoke coming out of the treadmill?"


Jan. 29, 2005

Basketball court at Foster Avenue Beach.

Photo taken: Jan. 27, 2005


Jan. 28, 2005

Foster Beach.

Photo taken: Jan. 27, 2005


Jan. 27, 2005

More on why it's important to bike to work during winter, which I try to do at least three times a week: On the off chance that people see me and do not say, "Look at that bad-ass who rode in during a blizzard," I can at least hope they say: "Look at that pansy Luke. If he can ride to work in the middle of winter, what excuse will I have not to ride come June when it's pleasant out?"

Photo taken: Jan. 9, 2005


Jan. 26, 2005

The Optimus water tower, at Grand and St. Clair. I'm not aware of any other rooftop towers left in River North, and there are few left anywhere downtown.

Photo taken: Jan. 23, 2005


Jan. 25, 2005

Outside the Esquire.

Photo taken: Jan. 3, 2005


Jan. 24, 2005

Three recent moments:



My key snaps off in the back gate. I arrange for a locksmith to come. I stick around to let him in, but it seems unnecessary. What is a locksmith's raison d'etre if not to let himself in?



I watch "The Big Sleep" with Sandy and Sarah. The movie's title proves to be justified: Sandy and I both nod off about an hour in.



I have a bicycle trainer and a borrowed TV set up on the back porch. My pace is about 30 miles per movie. This morning I watch "The Triplets of Belleville." It feels akin to watching "Passenger 57" during a hijacking.


Jan. 23, 2005

Humboldt Bay.

Photo taken: May 8, 2004


Jan. 22, 2005

On Berwyn.

Photo taken: Jan. 22, 2005


Jan. 21, 2005

I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,

Livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town,

I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,

But is there because he's a victim of the times.

And I wear it for the thousands who have died,

Believin' that the Lord was on their side,

I wear it for another hundred-thousand who have died,

Believin' that we all were on their side.

Johnny Cash

To show my enthusiasm for the inauguration, I wore black to work. The get-up got scores of double-takes, though probably more for the tie than for the black. Since my interview I've worn a tie inside the building fewer than a dozen times, usually on Election Day.

By the end of the night I conceded that I looked less like "subtle political statement" than "gangster intern."

Photo taken: Jan. 20, 2005


Jan. 20, 2005

It's Mom's birthday today, and this is perhaps my favorite picture of her. She's holding her grandson Malcolm, and there's something about it that captures her essence, equal parts focus, empathy and skill.

I've cycled 160 miles in one day and run 26 miles on several others, but when it comes to feats of endurance and strength I have nothing on her.

Photo taken: Aug. 27, 2004


Jan. 19, 2005

It's my third bike winter and people are still astonished to see I've cycled in to work. "Don't you get cold?" they ask.

"Never," I say. "When used properly, after all, the body is a remarkable furnace."

It's the "when used properly" that gives it the right touch of smugness. I use my body more properly than you do, neener neener.

But it's true. As I believe Bob has pointed out, biking may be the warmest way to get around Chicago. By the time I get to Montrose, less than 10 minutes into my ride, I am usually shedding layers. (I've gotten good at riding with no hands and taking off my glasses and helmet in order to yank off my balaclava.) Walking into work I will have unzipped my sweater, leaving just a T-shirt between me and the elements, but I'll share an elevator with women wearing fur coats the size of phone booths.

A person waiting for the El is lucky to wait in the cold less than 10 minutes, and after 10 minutes, has a car warmed up?

People at bus stops often shoot me looks that say: "It's 15 degrees out. Look at that dummy on the bike." I'm more than happy to shoot back a look that says: "It's 15 degrees out. Look at those dummies who've waited 20 minutes for a bus."


Jan. 18, 2005

Near Foster and Glenwood.

Photo taken: Jan. 12, 2005


Jan. 17, 2005

Three recent moments:



A young office assistant reads the Bible during his down time. Propped open on the desk is a paperback novelization of the "Doom" video game. I speculate he is writing a book report. "The Bible. 'Doom.' Compare and contrast. Attach Venn diagram(s)."



Sandy tells us the handles his mother uses to keep track of his friends. One is "the handsome one," another is "the reader," a third is "the one who smiles."

I am "the quiet farmer."

Which is fine -- I've been called worse -- but couldn't I be known as "all of the above"? Don't I smile enough?



The coffeeshop is playing Creedence Clearwater Revival. It's not popular behind the counter. "At least it's not Kansas," one employee says.

"Right," says a colleague. "You want to avoid those bands named after states. Y'know, Boston, Chicago ..."


Jan. 16, 2005

I started taking annual pictures when I moved into my place two years ago. In retrospect I should have chosen a spot that gets better light.

Photos taken: Jan. 16, 2003; Jan. 16, 2004; Jan. 16, 2005


Jan. 15, 2005

I've been reading about the rubber bandwagon. Bands for cancer, bands for tsunami relief, bands for faith. Even the White Sox are selling black rubber bracelets for $2. (Proceeds go to charity, not to finance middle relief, unless acquiring Luis Vizcaino somehow qualifies as charity, which it might.)

I like to think I don't need a yellow rubber band to remind myself to "live strong." I don't need a pink band to remember we're still fighting breast cancer. I could, however, use colored bands to remind me about other things. Sort of a wearable to-do list. 1. Live strong. 2. Call Mom. 3. Do laundry.

I'm imagining waking up on April 15 and finding green and yellow bands around my wrist. "Green band ... green band ... Fuck! Taxes! And fuck! Live strong!"


Jan. 14, 2005

One of downtown's last great dumpy hot dog stands, near State and Chicago.

And that's pretty much what I told the proprietor, a beefy man of indistinct ethnic origin whom I hadn't seen smoking outside, when he came over and asked why the hell I was taking a picture of his dumpy hot dog stand.

Photo taken: Dec. 30, 2004


Jan. 13, 2005

I have high tolerance for Chicago's winters. I don't mind the cold, the darkness, or the long, drawn-out suffering. It suits me as a sort of Lenten balance to summer, and it's all worth it if it keeps the Californians and Floridians where they belong (in California and Florida, respectively).

I don't complain. People know it's cold. They don't need me to point it out. God knows I don't need them to point it out.

But I can't deny one complaint: The itchy skin. The red, throbbing, itchy and scratchy skin. It's the only aspect of winter I can't abide. And I don't know whether this is unique to me, but all my itchiness is confined to my sides and behind. Feels like I'm wearing sandpaper underwear. If I had a wooden ass -- like, if it were the 18th century and I'd had my butt blown off in the Revolutionary War and had to carve a prosthetic posterior from a cherry tree -- I'd be a walking fire hazard.

And the answer to your question is, no, I don't know why the whole world needs to know this.


Jan. 12, 2005

On Bryn Mawr, near Glenwood. Always breaks my heart to see a bicycle left out in weather like this.

Photo taken: Jan. 6, 2005


Jan. 11, 2005

Three recent moments:



A conductor makes an announcement at the Belmont stop: "To the young lady who just boarded the train. I think you dropped your glove. It's tan." Passengers burst into applause. This conductor has saved the day as surely as if he'd leaned over to scoop a child from the tracks.



A man discreetly palms a paper towel when he leaves the men's room. I exit behind him, and he uses this towel to open and hold each door for me. (Maybe he just saw "The Aviator.")



In her haste to get to a red light, a woman honks behind me and nearly runs me into a snowbank. I catch up to her at the intersection. She has rolled down her window. We have a spirited discussion about cyclist rights and publicly owned streets.

There is yelling. There is swearing.

There is a toddler sleeping in the back seat.

"What an example you are for your child!"

"It's not my child!"

"And thank God for that!"


Jan. 10, 2005

In interviews with riders that I've read and in conversations I've had with them, the same thing always comes up: The best part was the suffering ...

After the finish all the suffering turns to memories of pleasure, and the greater the suffering, the greater the pleasure. That is Nature's payback to riders for the homage they pay her by suffering. Velvet pillows, safari parks, sunglasses: People have become woolly mice ... Nature is an old lady with few suitors these days, and those who wish to make use of her charms she rewards passionately.

That's why there are riders.

Suffering you need; literature is baloney.

Tim Krabbe, "The Rider"

Upon reading "The Rider" this fall I decided that 2005 would be the year I started racing. In the book, the narrator starts his career at 29 and finds it isn't too late to have success. Having just turned 29, I took this as a sign.

My racing career started sooner than I expected when Bob invited me to the prologue to the 7th Annual Tour da Chicago, a multistage alley cat race.

The first heat was an 11-mile out-and-back from Boulevard Bikes in Logan Square to Kopi Cafe in Andersonville. Of 51 riders, 26 would advance. I was riding Faith, my mountain bike -- I don't allow Charity, my road bike, out in winter -- and didn't expect to advance past the first heat. Indeed, I got dropped immediately. A half-mile from the checkpoint I passed a 12-strong paceline going the opposite way on Foster, meaning that after only five miles, I was a mile behind the leaders.

Just about everyone had a better bike and more experience, but knowledge of far-north geography -- stoplight patterns, which streets were likely to be plowed, which streets were one-way and in which direction -- was an advantage unique to me. It probably earned me two or three spots in the results.

There was a moderate headwind on the return trip. Four of us drafted together down Damen and Diversey, though it wasn't nearly as organized as a proper paceline. By the time we got to Logan we were down to three. A sprint -- not my strength -- appeared imminent. On the final turn to Kedzie, however, we found ourselves looking into the business end of an Econoline van. We halted at the curb. I got to a slower restart than the other two, but after they both wiped out in the slush I was able to be first to the finish line.

In the picture the race coordinator is reading off the names of the 26 riders who would advance to the second heat. My name would not be called, sending me flashbacks of various game-show and middle-school basketball team tryouts.

I recognized a reporter and photographer from a local newspaper. Bob lamented their presence. "They did nothing to build this, yet they seek to benefit." His position is at once correct and untenable. The media did nothing to build the Tour de France or the Super Bowl, either.

Still, he's right: There is the danger that once the newspaper validates the coolness of an alley cat race, the next stage will attract the city's squares, trendoids or, worse, cops. I myself would not have been there had I not read about it in the Reader last year, and I was well aware that surrounded by messengers and mechanics I was The Square in the Room. (If I were ever not TSitR I might have been uncomfortable.) But at the next stage I will be there not because I'd read about it, but because I was at the last stage and it kicked ass.

Photo taken: Jan. 9, 2005


Jan. 9, 2005

Anybody who wants to work out the mathematics can be a limit player and chisel out an existence. You just have to condition yourself to sit there and wait ...

Limit poker is a science, but no-limit is an art. In limit, you are shooting at a target. In no-limit, the target comes alive and shoots back at you.

Jack Strauss, as quoted in A. Alvarez' "The Biggest Game in Town"

We usually play dealer's choice, which means all sorts of froufrou variations like Anaconda, Follow the Queen and anything more dignified than placing cards to our foreheads, but tonight we played no-limit Texas hold 'em. Serious poker, serious stakes. The buy-in was $20. Blinds started at .25/.50 and escalated every 45 minutes.

I did OK for myself. I've been playing some limit online with play money but I figured the edge it gave me would be modest at best. Limit may teach you how to play, but it doesn't teach you how to bet.

Fortunately for me, my opponent in the showdown assumed I knew what I was doing. Ben figured a weak pre-flop raise meant I had less than the pocket kings that I did. I won the hand, momentum shifted, and when he went all-in on the flop with a pair of pocket jacks, my set of 7's stood up.

I don't know how Stephen Elliott does it. He must take notes. His Poker Reports for McSweeney's are full of the personality, mood and nuance that make poker worthwhile. He somehow recounts all the minute details that I usually have forgotten by the next morning, forming them into a whole that transcend the parts' sum. That's what writers do, I guess. I don't even remember that many hands. Sandy remembers that I knocked him out with two pair -- 10's and 6's -- but my mind was too distracted by my heart's palpitations to remember anything of consequence.

Photo taken: Jan. 8, 2005


Jan. 8, 2005

This don't be that place ... I tol' you, this don't be that place.

A server at the Wiener Circle

Three guys from nearby public housing were flirting with her and had asked whether this was that place where the wait staff yells and cusses at the customers. By the time their dogs and fries were ready she had conceded that this indeed was that place, but that the yelling and cussing didn't start until 8 p.m.


Jan. 7, 2005

Light was bouncing off a skyscraper and casting an interesting pattern on Bloomingdale's.

Photo taken: Jan. 6, 2005


Jan. 6, 2005

Hancock Center.

Photo taken: Jan. 3, 2005


Jan. 5, 2005

I always make a point of commuting by bike during the season's first heavy snow. I like to think that the tracks in the morning will set an example for my neighbors -- and be a reminder of who the biggest bad-ass in the building is.

Photos taken: Jan. 4-5, 2005


Jan. 4, 2005

I suppose I should explain what's going on here.

Recently I came across a transcription I'd made of the following voice-mail message:

Hi, Luke. This is Greg Knauss. And on behalf of the entire Web community, we want you to start writing again. We were goofing around today -- the entire Web community -- and we kind of ran out of things to read. And so we went back and poked around Minnesota Stories and, dammit, start. That's an order. Further instructions will follow. This has been the entire Web community, saying "Bye."

Greg Knauss, Sept. 8, 1999

Remember those days? When it was possible to run out of things to read online?

Those days were great!

There is no longer such a shortage. In fact, there's such a surplus of good writing that any self-respecting person must consider the following questions before starting, say, a blog:

  1. Are you really all that interesting?
  2. Can you think of anything more narcissistic by nature than a blog? If no, are you OK with that?
  3. What, do you think this is still 1995 and you're still 19?
  4. If as a non-blogger you already suspect everyone thinks you're a moron, why blog and remove all doubt?
  5. Is it possible to do anything that's not being done already?
  6. What if it's found by people you know and respect? Worse, what if it's found by people you know and disrespect?
  7. Wouldn't time be better spent reading good blogs than writing, at best, a mediocre one?

It's all been considered and re-considered, and yet but so what the hell: Let's do this, even if it's five years late.

These are decisive moments. This is Decisive Moments. It's sort of a blog, but mostly not. It will be what it will be, and nothing more.


Jan. 3, 2005

I started making resolutions and sealing them in envelopes in 1999. There are 13 for 2005.

My record so far:

1999: 3 for 22

2000: 11 for 24

2001: 13 for 31

2002: 3 for 17

2003: 9 for 20

2004: 3 for 20

Total: 42 for 134

.313. Sammy Sosa should be so productive. Then again, I've always been more about average than hitting home runs.

Photo taken: Jan. 2, 2005


Jan. 2, 2005

The human body loses heat in three areas: the groin, the armpits and the head. Submerging all three (in Chicago, the head must be dunked for the plunge to be official) can cause hypothermia, leaving the victim drowsy, confused and uncoordinated. It also leads to a massive spike in blood pressure.

Julie Deardorff, Chicago Tribune, Jan. 2, 2005

This was my second time doing the North Avenue Beach polar bear swim. I don't remember there being ice in 2004. To get to the water this year we had to walk gingerly across four feet of jagged, icy shoreline. It was, ho ho, the polar opposite of walking barefoot across hot coals.

Sandy agreed to be my caddy, and it's a good thing he did. Coming out of the water I was disoriented and couldn't find where I'd left my things. I was frantic. But just when I thought my feet had become solid blocks of ice and I'd never tap-dance again, I saw Sandy waving my towel, like a battle flag rising out of the fog of war.

Drowsy? Check. Confused? Check. Uncoordinated? Check. But that's how I spend the first few hours of most days, so I don't know if the water is entirely to blame.

Photo taken: Jan. 1, 2005


Jan. 1, 2005

On Bob's 30th birthday he and I co-hosted a New Year's party. Sandy and Sarah made the cake.

It turned out to be one of the better parties I've been to, and I say this with all the modesty you've come to expect from this blog.

The only unpleasantness came from a gentleman -- a friend of a friend of Bob's -- who left a little bit of himself on the back patio. I was up at 10:30 this morning cleaning it up. He apparently liked our radishes, which is remarkable. Have you ever seen someone actually eat the radishes off a vegetable platter? I have not, but I have now seen what happens when one uneats them. A cracking start to the year.

Photo taken: Dec. 31, 2004