Thursday, December 28, 2006

Christmas 2006: It's a Wrap

And just like that, another Christmas whooshes past us like Lindsay Lohan on her way to the liquor store. Seems like I landed in Maine mere minutes ago, and now I have to fly back to Chicago. Sigh.

But it's been a trip replete with high pleasures, including a chance (all too brief) to meet Mel and David. I am pleased to report that they're every bit as sweet and funny as you'd imagine from reading Mel's blog. I hope to see them again on my next visit. And I'm not just saying that because they have access to alpacas. Honest.

On Christmas morning, I had the opportunity to present Susan and Phil with the first thing I've knitted expressly for the baby. Now that they've seen it, I can finally show it to you.

Opening the Sweater

Do you think she likes it?

The Littlest Democrat Sweater

Finished Democrat Sweater

Pattern: Adapted from the Sweetheart Pullover in Melanie Falick's Knitting for Baby

Yarn: Berroco Ultra Alpaca knitted on US 4 and 6 needles

My brother-in-law is a state senator in Maine, and a Democrat, and it struck me that whatever its gender, we ought to start the child off right. For readers unfamiliar with American politics (lucky you), the donkey is the symbol of the Democratic party.

This is my first foray into intarsia since my class with Edie Eckman and Edie, ya done good by me. I was able to chart the donkey myself and then work it with no real issues, although I won't pretend my work is anywhere close to perfect. However, I wish to point out that it's all intarsia with the except of two duplicate stitches.

Donkey Intarsia

The tail is three pieces of yarn woven into the wrong side of the fabric, then braided and tied off. I dabbled with adding a little mane of fringe, but after a test decided it detracted from the overall effect. As is so often the case, the simpler road was the better.

I like Melanie's book and I like this pattern. It's clear and concise; any knitter with half a brain and basic skills could make it with no difficulty. It's knit flat (including the collar) and sewn together. I'm not nuts about the seam showing in the collar, and if I did it again I might just pick up stitches and knit it in the round after sewing the body.

Sewing the seams, though? Fun. No, seriously. I enjoyed it. I must have some of my grandmother's seamstress blood in my veins.

My only other alteration was to add little gussets under the arms to loosen the fit a bit. I'm sure I don't know babies as well as Melanie, but the sleeves as dictated seemed a bit tight. So I knit up two itsy-bitsy triangles and sewed them in, borrowing the idea from traditional Gansey construction (thank you, Beth Brown-Reinsel). Now the little kid can wriggle to its heart's content. Which is what I'd be inclined to do, I think, after spending nine months cooped up in a uterus with nothing to read.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy

Mama says since I was good on Christmas Day and helped with the dishes and ate all my vegetables and didn't pull sister's hair that today we get to go to Halcyon Yarn and I am so excited it's almost like Santa put Stephen Fry in my stocking and Stephen was holding a big box of Belgian chocolate only it's even better than that because yarn doesn't make you fat except if you make a sweater out of Lamb's Pride bulky.

I'm so excited I have to pee okay bye.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Franklin and the Night Visitor

There must have been an angel (Bodhisattva?) on my shoulder as I set out from home this year, because somehow in spite of all the snow and snarled air traffic my flight from Chicago to Maine was a mere forty minutes behind schedule. And thanks to the miracle of Xanax, even impressive turbulence over Ohio didn't stop me from knitting briskly on a new, slimmer-fit green sock.

Maine immediately began to have its usual, soporific effect on me. The minute I smell the pine trees, my blood pressure drops and my eyelids clang shut. I barely made it through dinner before slinking off to my bed, which is in the barn.

It's not like it sounds. I'm not sleeping in a pile of hay with an ox and ass breathing on me for warmth. I've been made quite comfortable in the office, which was carved out of one corner of the barn. It's snug and quiet and offers every comfort. Susan even hung a picture of Buddha next to the bed so I'd feel encouraged to do zazen. What a good egg.

That first night, I woke up to find that the rain had stopped for a little while. The moon was shining through the latticed windows, and there wasn't a sound except a little rustling of tree branches. I adjusted my pillows and remembered lying awake like that before so many Christmasses, wondering if I might see reindeer sailing past the stars.

And then somebody threw a rock at the window.

I froze. In the next room, the three dogs began barking and howling. Footsteps came pounding down the stairs. I met, Phil, my brother-in-law, flashlight in hand, in the kitchen.

"There's somebody in the backyard," he hissed, opening the back door. The dogs charged forth. There was a piercing shriek, a cry of "Shit! Get off me, you motherfuckers!" and the sound of ripping fabric. Then a series of thwacks, and suddenly the whining dogs came running back inside as a shadowy figure tapped up the porch steps.

"Well," said Dolores, "that was some diplomatic goddamned welcome to Maine from an official representative of the state."

And she hit Phil in the shins with her umbrella.

"What the hell are you doing here?" I said. "You're supposed to be in Chicago until Christmas Day, and then you're supposed to be in Canada with Victorine."

"I have a swell idea. Maybe we could play 'Firing Line' after I get out of what's left of my raincoat," she huffed. "And I wouldn't mind a drink, either, unless you'd rather let those vicious beasts finish me off."

She pulled her leg away from Milton, the dachsund, who was amicably licking her right hoof.

Meanwhile, my sister had come warily down the stairs. "Everything okay?" she called.

"Sort of," said Phil.

"Is that the little mother?" squealed Dolores. "Is that her? Come here, honey! Let me see you!"


Susan clutched her bathrobe shut and ran back up the stairs.

"I repeat," I said, "What are you doing here?"

"Well, you know how Victorine is," said Dolores. "About as reliable as Mark Foley at an Altar Boy Jamboree. I was all set to go up there and then she called and said not to come because she's going to Winnipeg to hang out with some ram she met over the Internet two weeks ago."

"And Harry," I said. "Where's Harry? How is he going to get back and forth to the theater?"

"I know that," she snapped. "I took care of it. Half the sock yarn went to Aidan's, the other half went to Meg and Jonathan's, and Harry is staying with Mrs. Teitelbaum in 1507."

"Mrs. Teitelbaum? You left Harry with Mrs. Teitelbaum and her cat?"

"Yeah," said Dolores, dropping into a chair and tossing her soggy hat on the table. "It's so cute. By the time I left they had already made friends. They must have been playing hide-and-seek, because Tinkles was trying to drag Harry out from under the sofa."

"How heartwarming."

"I have a question," said Phil. "Why didn't you just come to the front door and ring the bell?"

"I didn't want to wake up the whole house," said Dolores. "I thought that would be rude. Kind of like turning one's dogs on a visitor and then not fixing her a nice cosmo by way of saying you're sorry."

"I'll get right on that," said Phil, going upstairs.

"You know," I sighed. "You might have called and told me you were coming."

"I thought about it," she said. "But then I decided I'd rather be a great, big holiday surprise."

"You've succeeded with flying colors."

"Monsieur is too kind. Merry Christmas, Cupcake."


Saturday, December 23, 2006

Baby Girl Names I Have Suggested to My Pregnant Sister, All of Which Have Been Rejected

Eula Mae
Chevrolet Caprice
Elizabeth Zimmermann

They already have a boy name: Philip Emerson. Great. He'll fit right in at Choate.

Monday, December 18, 2006

There Is No Help For You Here

I spent an idle moment looking over my blog traffic stats last night and noted a distinct trend among the referrals via Google and other search engines.

The usual searches indicating offbeat sexual tastes (i.e., "Dorothy Hamill naked") have been bumped off the top of the charts by this sort of thing:
  • free men's sweater pattern
  • man sweater quick knitting
  • man's hat quick knit
  • knit man's sweater quickly
  • fast sweater knitting
  • sweater seamless quick
  • I help need to finish a sweater
There is real pathos to the last set of keywords, no? It's enough to break a knitter's heart. Makes me feel bad that I wasn't here, waiting to answer in person like those nice people at Butterball who field desperate turkey questions on Thanksgiving Day.

You with the hat, there's hope for you, unless you're knitting seven hats for seven brothers.

As for the rest, if that sort of search has brought you to me, I'm afraid all I can do is suggest giving gift certificates, power tools, or a pony. I can't tell you how to finish a partly completed sweater by Christmas–let alone start one now and have it under the tree by December 25.

You could of course give the sweater "on the needles" if it's well begun. That's the traditional IOU of knitting and acceptable to most recipients. For a sweater not yet begun, you might at least show them the yarn and the photograph in the pattern. If you don't have a pattern or yarn, see note above about gift certificates, power tools, pony.

The status of my own Christmas knitting has improved considerably since this entry, with the finish line well in sight and the results looking as I had hoped. I'm absolutely gasping to show you one of the pieces, in particular, but it'll have to wait until after the recipients see it.

Buddha Claus

This being my first Buddhist Christmas, I'm amused at the number of my friends who have asked me, "Does this mean I shouldn't get you a Christmas present?"

That is correct. No self-respecting Buddhist accepts Christmas presents. We prefer cash. A nice little stack of twenties and fifties is customary. For Mahayana practitioners, a neat parcel of real estate is also an option, especially if it's a couple of waterfront acres in Amagansett or a small adobe on Acequia Madre in Santa Fe.

Just don't use fancy wrapping paper. It offends our sense of simplicity.

Thank you for this opportunity to share my culture with you. Viva diversity.

Friday, December 15, 2006

A Star in the Family?

When I got home from work last night, Dolores was in the kitchen making snickerdoodles and having a heated conversation on the telephone.

"And don't you try to pull anything funny, you conniving bitch, because I will come after you. And where I pee, no grass grows. I want everything in writing by tomorrow. Now hang up and get to work."

"So, how is your dear mother?" I asked.

"Ha," said Dolores. "That was Harry's agent."


"Yeah," said Dolores. "We were leaving the Goodman after the Saturday matinée and this guy stopped us at the stage door and asked if Harry has representation. A couple of meetings, a few calls to New York, and boom–as of today he's signed on with Myrna Weinstock and Associates. Not too shabby. Turns out his type is very much in demand just now."

"He's a ball of sock yarn."

"No shit," said Dolores. "Yarn is hot. Don't you read Vogue any more? Next week we have two go-sees for print work, and Myrna is sounding out HGTV about adding a co-host slot to 'Knitty Gritty.' "

"I appeal to an unusually broad television demographic," said Harry proudly, helping himself to a still-warm cookie.

"Get away from those," said Dolores. "We can't have you sitting in a fashion director's office looking bulky."

"Aw, but..."

"You can have a couple of celery sticks."

Harry rolled dejectedly into the living room.

"You gotta suffer if you're gonna be famous, kid!" Dolores screamed after him. "I'm only doing this for your own good!"

"I never seem to know what's going on around here any more," I said.

"Have a snickerdoodle," said Dolores. "And we need to talk about headshots."

"He doesn't have a head," I said. "He's a ball of sock yarn."

"Yes, we've established that," said Dolores. "I need four poses, one full length, 8x10, black and white, fifty copies of each by Monday. Also, five full-color shots, five different looks, printed as a single sheet, fifty copies. With his name on all of them. Keep the font simple. I'm thinking Univers. Why aren't you writing this down? You know you'll never remember."

"Do you have any idea how much I have to do before Christmas? I am not setting up the studio to take headshots of a ball of yarn."

"Yes, you are."

"No, I'm not."

"Yes, you are."

"No, I'm not."

"Yes, you are."

"No, I'm not."

"Fine. By the way, I found the disc of 'art shots' that were taken of you last summer and was thinking how nice they would look printed up as a calendar for your mother."

Harry's Headshot

Yes, I am.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


Look! It's my two-circulars lime green sock of liberation!

See! See how I've moved past the leg! I've turned the heel! I've finished the gusset! And I've moved right along into the foot!


And guess what! It's too big! Way too big! Look!

Sock to Scale

But I exaggerate.

It is not way too big. I wish it were. Had it been way too big, I'd have caught on early and started over. It's only a little, tiny, eensy-weensy bit too big. Close enough to the proper size that I kept trying it on, wondering for a moment, and then continuing. But still big enough that if I try to wear it, it will slide around on my foot (especially at the heel) and remind me with every step that I was a Very Bad Knitter Indeed.

I feel sentimental about the circumstances in which it was cast on, but sentimentality ever has been and ever shall be the root of too much bad art and craft. There's no point in finishing something unwearable. Into the pond it goes, to be resumed after Christmas.

As far as two-circulars technique goes, I am pleased to say it has been no trouble. I owe thanks yet again to the lucid instructions in Charlene Schurch's Sensational Knitted Socks. (No, I don't own stock in Charlene. I just have a crush on her. Yes, I know I'm gay and stuff. The heart has its reasons that reason knows not. Especially when there's knitting involved.)

It Figures

I think this item from Big Red Buddha may explain the current state of my love life. I just knew I should have picked Moses over Shakyamuni.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Incoming Stork

There's something I've been wanting to say for quite some time, and now that my sister has made the official announcement in her blog, I can speak up.


As you may infer, I'm somewhat excited.

I'm also frantically knitting a Christening shawl. The baby is due in mid-May. I am a slow knitter. It is a big shawl. Jean Miles, come here, I need you.

Santa Fe

Hi, kids. I'm back from Santa Fe, New Mexico. My first visit. Stunning.

I've added it to the wheel of possibilities. Yes, I know it's expensive–but one does grow weary of believing one will only ever be able to afford to live in places so uncomfortable and unattractive that the rents are cheap, you know what I mean? I'm tired of being practical about everything.

Before I steel myself for another day in the salt mines, here are a few snapshots. I love to photograph religious shrines, and New Mexico delivered. I don't think any of these will wind up in my portfolio, but it certainly was fun taking them. Not pictured, because none of the shots are particularly interesting, is the honest-to-goodness Tibetan Buddhist stupa I visited.

I love Santa Fe.

Loretto Chapel

Loretto Chapel

Canyon Road

Votive 2
Juan Diego, Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe, El Santuario de Chimayo

Votive 1
Crucifix with Votive Offerings, El Santuario de Chimayo

All images ©Franklin Habit. Use without permission in any format prohibited.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Hat Jam

It's very frustrating that more than half of what I'm knitting right now has to be kept secret. But I can tell you I've finished two hats for the Dulaan Project, because so far as I know I only have one Mongolian reader and neither of these is for him.

Dulaan Hats

The yarn for both is Patons worsted, which I bought in Indiana from the woman who thought I wanted to rob her. (Not to be confused with the lady from Indiana who wanted to know if I learned to knit in prison. Do I really look that rough?)

I've had a heck of a good time with these because they're completely improvised. All I knew when I started them was:
  1. I wanted to work in Fair Isle so the hats would be double-thick; and
  2. I would rip back and re-knit anything that I wouldn't put on my own head.
So I cast on, then made design decisions on the fly. No stitch dictionaries, no sketches, no measuring, no net. Yeeeeeeehaaaaaw.

This the first one, sized for a small child, was started the day after Thanksgiving and finished just after coming home.

Minor Dulaan Hat

I kept the floats as loose as possible, and yet the checkerboard section still puckered. Go figure. But the hat is still comfortable and looks good when worn.

The second, larger hat began on the trip to Los Angeles and was completed last night.

Major Dulaan Hat

Originally the top was to be all white, but that made for dull knitting. Rip, rip, rip. I decided instead to divide the space into eight parts, alternate the colors, and run the decreases along the left edge of each section. I had no idea what would happen.

Turns out I knit a propeller beanie. Look!


I absolutely have to do this again on a hat for me. Why should Mongolians have all the fun?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Uh Oh


(P.S. If you know you won't finish your knitted gifts, maybe you'd like to send the new shirt in the shop, which I dedicate to Rabbitch with love. Secondarily, I dedicate it to the reader who told my work has been too cutesy lately.)

Monday, December 04, 2006

A Pointed Discussion

I hate to spoil the mellow, friendly tone I started by telling how I realized that Today is the First Day of the Rest of My Life, but if I am to present an honest picture of my world I'm afraid controversy is inevitable.

Today's topic is socks on double-pointed needles (dpns) vs. socks on two circulars. You may wish to leave now, or at the very least hide the children and lock up the pets.


I'd only worked on dpns until this weekend, when John taught me the rudiments of beginning a sock with two circulars. What can I tell you? I was feeling wild, iconoclastic, rebellious. Had I been wearing a bra, I would have burned it.

We are now on day three and inch six of the first two-circulars sock. Here are my feelings so far.

Like a good little Buddhist I find myself inclined to follow a Middle Way between the two usual camps. In one camp, you have those who believe any knitter promoting the use of circulars is an unmitigated yahoo and very possibly a menace to the underpinnings of decent society. In the other are those who suspect anyone using dpns probably also wears bustles and sends messages by telegraph.

My own, more moderate, feelings I have recorded below.

Category One: Convenience When Traveling.

Possibly the finest aspect of socks as a knitting project is portability. I can (and do) take them with me whenever I have any distance to travel by public transit. They fit well into my accustomed shoulder bag and still leave ample room for gym clothes, books, small firearms–the impedimenta of modern urban life.

As it is the nature of Chicago transit to be, shall we say, unpredictible, my socks-in-progress are subject to being pulled out of the bag and shoved back in with great haste. This has on more than one occasion caused a dpn to go flying through the air, leaving whole rows of stitches vulnerable. If the errant needle hits the floor, I must decide whether to retrieve it and risk catching something incurable from whatever's down there; or just give the needle up for lost and fix a whole mess of dropped stitches once I get home.

Like well-mannered children, unless greatly interfered with circular needles stay put. Winner: circulars.

Category Two: Ease of Use

As of now, I don't seem to go any faster on the circulars than I did on four dpns, in spite of having fewer changes of needle. It's a mystery I could solve through careful observation, timing, record-keeping, and data analysis. However, had I that sort of time on my hands I would probably elect to spend it doing something else, like reading the Halcyon Yarns catalogue or polishing my boots. Winner: tie.

Category Three: Aesthetics

There is a certain dignity in the sight of a knitter working round and round on double-pointed needles. Even those who do not knit sense this, and tend to ask questions from a discreet distance and with a sense of awe. Double-points have history behind them. Double points have tone that circulars do not, in much the same way battered, old Louis Vuitton luggage outshines brand-new bags from American Tourister.

A sock being knitted on two circulars has far too many weird wires that shoot out the top and bottom, bobbing and flipping like a poor piece of 60s mod sculpture. The knitter appears to be cuddling an alien life form, to which he gives succour. Aesthetically, a sock on two circulars is brash, nouveau–a guest who talks too loudly and laughs too long, causing unease even when he is amusing. Winner: double-points.

My opinions may well shift as I progress into the heel flap. If so, I will revisit the topic.

And I know that there is a third camp, comprising those who advocate the Magic Loop. But of course they're just a bunch of whacked-out hippie freaks.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Now, Where Was I?

There are trips after which you think, "My, that was pleasant, but it's nice to be home." And then there trips, rare trips, after which you think, "I'm not the same person who left four days ago."

This trip was one of the latter.

Where did I go? Here's a hint.

Corner of Wilshire and 4th

No, not Anchorage. Here's another hint.


Who said Buffalo?

What do you need, a picture of a breast implant? I was in Los Angeles.

Here's how it happened.

Not long ago two knit bloggers struck up a long-distance friendship. This one lives in New York City. He was going out to Los Angeles for his second appearance on DIY Network's "Knitty Gritty."

He was talking about the TV appearance with the second blogger, who lives in Chicago. The second blogger made a joke about coming along to help out, and the first blogger said, only half-joking, that he'd already imagined that could be fun. And then they laughed, and then nobody was joking. And then suddenly there were plane tickets, and two bloggers who had never met in person sat in their respective cities thinking, "What the hell just happened?"

Which is how John Brinegar and I wound up walking at sunset on the beach in Santa Monica,


which I must say for the record is rather nicer than walking down State Street in December by myself.

John seemed to enjoy it, as well.


It turns out that he and I knit at the same gauge, which made it possible for me to help put the finishing touches on his step-outs for the show. (I won't explain step-outs, since you all read Yarn Harlot anyhow.) This photo is so that my Mom and Dad will know which bits to cheer for when the episode airs.


I just hope they spell my name properly in the credit roll.

Curiously, I have discovered that I have almost no photographs from a day-and-a-half at the studio. I was too blissed out to click the shutter, I guess. No, not blissed out. That suggests calm. I was giddy.

It can be tough sitting around on a set when you're not involved in the production, but the folks at "Knitty Gritty" were so jolly and accomodating I didn't feel de trop at any point. Instead, I got to watch Something Being Made. I've always enjoyed that. I'd rather be behind the scenes than in the audience, any time, and this was my first visit to a television studio.

And aside from the people who make the show, there were the other guests who kept popping in and out as their episodes were put together, including Amy Singer, Iris Schreier, Jennifer Hansen (aka Stitch Diva), and Stephen of HizKnits fame. Stephen taped just before John, and then much to my delight decided to stick around which meant we got to sit together and dish and bond and bitch and kvetch and giggle–you know, the things all men do when in good company.

And Amy let me try on this hemp slip-stitch sweater from her new book (the one with no sheep in it) which fit me as though it had been made to measure. (Amy honey, you have my address. Parcel post will work just fine–winter won't be over for ages.)

One moment so I can sweep up all the dropped names.

The day after the taping was free and clear, so we met up with the formidably cool Wendy of Knit and Tonic at Wildfibers, which I didn't realize until we got there is owned by Mel Clark, who collaborated with Tracey Ullman on Knit Two Together. I didn't buy much, but what I bought...well, I'm saving that until last.

Wendy led John and I out to Malibu, where we sat at a restaurant by the ocean and watched dolphins and pelicans and aggressive seagulls, and ate peanuts, and dished and bitched and kvetched and giggled and bonded–you know, the things all knitters do when in good company.

Afterwards, we went down to the beach and used Wendy's clapotis to pretend we were doing a location shoot for Rebecca magazine.

Zut Alors

"Ja! Ach du lieber! I em dee krazee skinnee German knitter! I em zo filled vit gemütlichkeit my head vill explode et enny zecond!"

And then home, and then another sunset, and then a knitting lesson, and then the goodbyes, and the airport, and home again. Typing this, looking out to the frigid lake over the snow in Lincoln Park, through the frost that is covering half the windowpanes.

I don't know why, but a different person left for LAX on Wednesday than is sitting here right now. Maybe it's because Southern California has always scared and intimidated me–it's the only city I've ever been too that has done so. This time it didn't. Instead I felt magnified, more confident, as though I were being carefully lit and retouched everywhere I went. Hell, I even got a compliment from a stranger in a restaurant.

This all feels weird for a guy who spent the first 33 or 34 years of his life (I'm 35) trying miserably to be what other people expected him to be. Never worked. That phase is finally ending, I guess, although I don't usually notice it except in brief moments of clarity. I had one in, of all places, Wildfibers.

I was looking around in the sock yarns for something masculine and shoved aside a skein of Wildfoote in lime green to pick up a little bundle of quiet rust-and-brown that was behind it. And then I picked up the lime green. And I imagined myself wearing socks made of it, and I thought how bright it is, and how silly that would look, and how respectable men never, ever wear bright lime green socks.

And then in a flash I realized three things:
  1. I love strong colors.

  2. I really want a pair of lime green socks.

  3. I just don't give a fuck any more if people think I'm respectable–particularly people who are going to judge me according to the color of my damned socks.
For 35 years I have allowed (among many others) the Pope; my nasty fourth grade teacher, Mrs Hess; various administrators, faculty, and alumni of Harvard University; the citizens of Back Bay and Beacon Hill; assorted ex-boyfriends; and my employers past and present to live in my head and decide what I like, what I wear, what I listen to, how I view the world and above all, how I view myself. Today's eviction day, folks. Get out.


Wherever you are reading this, whoever you are, I hope you feel at some point today...or any good as I do right now.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Little Bald Dude to Go

So, I'm leaving town tomorrow for a couple of days, and doing the same again next week.

It's all part of the Where Next? project, and I don't want to jinx anything, so I'm not going to write much about it in advance. I will tell you that if you're not in Chicago, but you think you see me on the street, it actually might be me, especially if the person is:
  • knitting,
  • taking a photograph with a big fat Canon camera, or
  • not paying attention to where he's going and running into parking meters or trees.
You will know it is not me if the person is:
  • wearing any item of clothing emblazoned with a professional sports logo,
  • holding hands with Kelly Clarkson, or
  • smoking a cigarette and walking an ocelot on a rhinestone leash.
With all this time on the road, posts will be thin on the ground but I'll write when I can.

We're Just Like the Barrymores, Only Fluffier

Dolores, meanwhile, is trying to figure out whether to spend Christmas with my family Maine or go up to Canada to have a Joyeux Noël with her cousine Victorine. She's staying in Chicago this week and next because Harry landed a plum role* in the Goodman's A Christmas Carol and she has to take him back and forth to the theater. She has started calling herself Mama Rose Van Hoofen.

Dolores tried to get into Congo Square's Black Nativity but stomped out when they asked her to play one of the sheep.

I took her to the Shoe for a consolation Cosmo. "Clearly, I'm a vicitim of typecasting," she huffed.

"You must admit you do look the part," I said. "What were you expecting? The Angel of the Annunciation?"

"Something with a little more meat," she said. "One or two good speeches. Maybe a harmonica solo. How the hell am I supposed to show my range when all they want me to do is stand next to a shepherd and say baaaaaaaaaa?"

"I see your point."

"And let me tell you, cupcake, I kicked ass at that audition. Blew those other bitches right off the stage. Amateurs. Flashing their dimples and singing eight bars of 'Go Tell It on the Mountain' like they were trying to sell Tupperware in Kankakee. Is that art? Is that passion? Where did that Cosmo go?"

"You finished it."

"That's okay, they got more. Hey, Ralphie–hit Mama again. Anyway, I got up there and rocked the joint. Who else do you know in this town who can follow a monologue from Ma Rainey's Black Bottom with 'Mary's Boy Child' on the harmonica? And then I sang 'Silent Night' whilst performing select excerpts from my one-woman ballet."

"That explains the red and green glitter thong in the laundry hamper."

"Well, it's a Christmas gig."

"Uh huh."

*If you're going, look for him in Mrs. Fezziwig's knitting basket. I know I'm biased, but frankly when I caught the dress rehearsal I thought he walked off with the scene.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Yes, And I Also Took Lessons in Sodomy

I thought at this point I'd heard every comment possible from strangers interested in my knitting. I was, as Shakespeare wrote in Cymbeline, wrongeddy-wrong-wrong.

To get back and forth to Indiana for Thanksgiving I took advantage of a fairly new bus service running from Chicago called Megabus. It's not fancy, but it's cheap (my round trip at the pricey holiday rate was $44) and convenient. There are no frills, but the parent company is British and somehow this gives one confidence.

The ride out was wholly uneventful. I had two seats to myself and knitted like mad.

On the way back, the bus was crowded and I knew I'd have somebody sitting next to me. Sure enough, just before we departed a group of three came aboard, two paperwhite preppyesque men and a woman who probably fancies herself the Hoosier Sarah Jessica Parker. The men were obviously, you know, together. The woman, I later determined, was a friend who had come along to keep things looking hetero because one of the men is presently in the military.

The few remaining seats near each other happened to be the one next to me, the one in front of that, and the one across the aisle. As they approached, I looked up and gave the first guy the friendly, noncommittal nod that means this seat is open, feel free to take it.

He recoiled visibly. The three were extremely put out at not being able to sit cheek to cheek for the ride. There were many sidelong glances in my direction. Looking back, I imagine I appeared very menacing as I wear earrings and was working on a two-color baby hat. Also, while I am technically caucasian, according to Indiana's racial standards the hint of olive in my skin means I am Kunta Kinte and that seems to be an issue for many locals.

After many mumbled negotiations they gingerly took their seats, with the first guy next to me and the woman across the aisle from him. The (whisper) boyfriend discreetly took the seat in front of us.

They were heading to O'Hare in order to catch a flight to Italy for a budget tour of the Amalfi Coast. I know this, and everything else about their plans, because with the enthusiasm typical of traveling crackers they talked it over endlessly and loudly. The fellow next to me rode on half his seat, the further half. Somewhere along the way we hit a bump and my ball of Patons bounced over and touched his thigh. He jumped as if stung.

After three hours of discussing Whether One Ought to Tip Italian Waitresses and Why We Absolutely Must Go the Blue Grotto, we pulled into Chicago. They planned to take the El from Union Station to O'Hare, and the woman said that this should take about twenty minutes, leaving just enough time to check in and clear security.

Their discomfiture was unbounded when the guy sitting behind them spoke up and said, "That's going to be a forty-minute ride. Maybe fifty."

In desperation they started talking to the rest of us, seeking advice on alternate routes. The guy next to me asked if it would be faster to just take a cab. I told him probably not, and wished him luck. (I hate rushing to the airport and don't wish it on anybody else, not even Log Cabin Republicans.) I made reassuring noises and told them international security at O'Hare is usually pretty quick.

The men were still looking at me as though I might try to lick them, but the woman was positively chatty now that the ice was broken. As we waited for the crowd to move forward, she asked about my knitting.

"I noticed you were making some pretty fancy stuff," she said.

"It's fun, not that difficult," I said. "You just have to know one or two things about what to do when the colors change."

"Oh, I see," she said, brightly. "Now, did you learn to do that in prison?"

Thursday, November 23, 2006

A Modest Proposal

Okay, I forgot one thing about Thanksgiving I've always liked: the Macy's parade.

Yes, I know. It's nothing but a gigantic ambulatory commercial for toy companies and for the corporate behemoth that sponsors it. However, when I was kid it was a chance to see New York City (where I dreamed of living some day) and one of my two chances to see numbers from whatever was running on Broadway. I was a mild-mannered little boy, but you did not get between me and the television set on Thanksgiving morning or Tony Awards night.

I still watch it, half from nostalgia and half out of genuine interest. Because between the crappy pop music acts and commericals you get local high school bands, and those Azalea women from down South who dress as toilet tissue covers, and the kids who for one reason or another get to ride on the floats. I like to think of families all over the country sitting and waiting for a loved one to pop onto the screen for two seconds, so they can scream "There she is! There she is!" and dine out on the taste of celebrity for an entire year.

One thing lacking, though, is knitting content. This thing is supposed to kick off the holiday season, and what group is more hypersensitive to the approach of the holidays than knitters? This morning you could hear the collective gasp reverberate across the time zones as knitters awoke and suddenly realized what's facing them in the coming weeks.

Not all of us celebrate Chrismahannukwanzawalisolstice, of course, but enough of us do that we should be represented. Our yarn and needles represent the season far more strongly than Hall and Oates, for heaven's sake, and Macy's gave them a slot in the line-up.

While assembling the relish trays I've been brainstorming. Here are a few things I think would make a fine start toward redressing the imbalance. Feel free to add your own ideas, and maybe we can build up enough mass to shake things up next year.
  1. Five hundred synchronized knitters in spangly costumes, marching and working fair isle in unison.
  2. An animated float, sponsored by Schacht, featuring fifty lucky knitters (one from each state) riding round and round on a giant Matchless while Raven Symone lip-synchs to "Carol of the Bells."
  3. The cast of Sesame Street dancing down Broadway on a float celebrating the release of the new movie Elmo in Unfinishedobjectland.
  4. A 100-foot-tall Elizabeth Zimmermann helium balloon.

Of course, if we're going to make this happen we need star power either at Macy's or NBC. Does anybody know if that nice Meredith Viera knits?

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all, wherever you happen to be.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Farm Report

I am not and have never been a fan of Thanksgiving. I know it's heresy for an American to say so, but try as I might I can't help myself. I associate the holiday with frenzied travel, day-long confinement in a hot kitchen, and liver attacks brought on by overconsumption of pie. Upon reaching adulthood I rejoiced in the idea that I could, henceforth, skip the whole thing.


I've since learned that nobody believes you when you say, "No, honestly, I'd rather spend the day quietly, by myself," any more than they believe actors who say they don't mind losing the Oscar because it's honor just to be nominated. And I'm not enough of a misanthrope (yet) to be able to turn down a kindly invitation.

That's why I'm writing from Indiana, to which my parents relocated this summer. Normally I won't travel for Thanksgiving, but when your mother and father say "pretty please," how can you say no?

Mind you, to get here it's only about three hours from Chicago by bus, but it might as well be the Other Side of the Moon. There's a cornfield in front of the house. And another behind it. And two more, to the right and left. Are you getting the picture?

They have a yarn store, though. It's right next to the place where my father gets haircuts, and he asked if I'd like to browse today while he went in for a little trim. As the local butter churning festival has been postponed (the cows are all in Washington, DC, staging a protest against Lactose Intolerance), my social calendar was suddenly wide open. Off we went.

Here's a thing to remember. In the future, when visiting yarn shops run by timid older ladies in rural Indiana, it might be best not to wear my usual Chicago ensemble of faded jeans, biker boots and black leather jacket. When I walked in the owner turned white as a sheet and, I swear, immediately went to her cash drawer - whether to lock it or surrender it, I can't say.

She needn't have worried, mind you, because if I ever decide to knock over a yarn store it won't be one that primarily stocks acrylics.

After that I did a fair amount to help with preparations for tomorrow and now I'm taking time out to work on some stuff for Yarn Market News and that sexy chick who runs

Cartooning is so marvelously portable. I have my ink, paper, pencils and eraser, and need nothing else. In this way it is a far more practical career than blacksmithing or animal husbandry.

Oh, listen - if reading my whining about the holidays is not enough, you can actually hear me whine about the holidays in the next episode of Cast On: A Podcast for Knitters, which goes live on Friday. Not that you have to listen or anything. But I worked hard on the essay, and got up at 4 a.m. to record it, so I just thought I'd mention it.

I think I just heard a wolf howl outside the house. Seriously. No, wait. Neighbor's dog.

As this post was going nowhere, and has now arrived, I think it's time sign off. As the locals say, "Moo."

Monday, November 20, 2006

Brief Encounter

It was the first day in weeks without a pressing deadline looming. Dolores had taken the sock yarn down to the Art Institute for the Charles Sheeler exhibit. The laundry was finished, the dishes clean, and no visitors were expected. I poured a tall glass of milk, neat, and curled up on the sofa under an old plaid blanket and cracked open a fresh new arrival, Cecil Beaton's unexpurgated diaries.

"Ahem," said the Spinning Wheel.

I dropped the book and covered my eyes with my hands, uttering an oath unfit for delicate ears.

"Well, excuse me for breathing," said the Spinning Wheel.

"Would it be too much to ask," I sighed, "for one lousy day free of Magic Realism?"

"I just work here," said the Spinning Wheel. "Or rather, I just sit here, which is the root of the matter."

"Maybe you could go complain to the vacuum cleaner. He doesn't get out enough either."

"So I've noticed," said the Wheel. "But I do not wish to discuss the state of your housekeeping. Instead, pray observe my bobbin." It walked over to the sofa and leaned forward. "You will notice, please, that the red leader is still visible. This is the same red leader tied upon the bobbin by Mr. Ted Myatt when he visited."

"Yeah? So?"

"Mr. Myatt's memorable stay took place in high summer. If you will look outside, you will notice the trees are bare of leaves and the wind blows cold. Summer is but a memory. Fall is more than half-spent. The Feast of Saint Lucy fast approaches."

"You want me to make cookies?"

"I want to you realize that since I had the all-too-brief pleasure of being oiled and caressed by Mr. Myatt's capable hands, I've sat here untouched and untreadled. You have well-nigh twenty pounds of lovely roving and top sitting in a storage bin, and yet I am less regarded than the magazine rack in the bathroom."

"What has the magazine rack been telling you?"

"Don't change the subject," said the Wheel, sternly. "Are you ever going to use me again, or are you not?"

"Well, you know, it's been so busy at work and there was the Knit-In and everything, and–"

"Prevarication ill becomes you."

"I'll spin a little bit tonight."

"Tonight won't do. I think I've waited long enough. Either you show me some attention right this minute, or I'm reporting you to Merike Saarnit."

"Just let me finish this chapter."

"Do you want me to put this orifice hook to uses never intended by the nice people at Ashford?"

"Fine, okay, swell, whatever, let me go get some roving." I heaved myself off the sofa and headed for the bedroom closet.

"I want the merino from Rabbitch!" screamed the Wheel. "Don't even come near me with that cheap mixed-breed shit you got free from eBay."

I remember sitting down with the merino, and giving the treadle a tentative push. And then things began to spin, faster and faster. The room blurred. Dizziness struck, hard. I felt as though I were the Wheel whined for more...more...more...

I blacked out.

And then all at once I woke up with a start, flat on my back in bed. Dolores and Harry were bending over me as my eyes fluttered open.

"He's alive!" shouted Harry.

"Oh, thank goodness," I sighed. "Dolores, I had the most ridiculous dream. The spinning to was...talking..."

"Totally whacked, man" said Harry.

"Yeah," said Dolores. "That's a good one. You musta had something spicy for lunch again, right?"

"That must be it," I agreed.

"You'll never learn. I'll go fetch the Peptol Bismol," she said. "You go put your feet up and Harry will get you a hot water bottle."

"Much obliged," I said, and toddled into the living room.

And...there it was.



Saturday, November 18, 2006


Note: This is a very long and purely personal post. Please indulge me. On some occasions, this blog still needs to be the diary I intended. I want to write this all down quickly so I won't forget it, so I'm not going to spend a lot of time explaining every term, etc. And, as always when I write about Zen, all I'm doing is reporting my personal experience in as plain a fashion as I can. I write from a position of no authority. If you really want to learn about Zen, hunt down a qualified teacher or check out The Three Pillars of Zen by Philip Kapleau Roshi.

When I first set foot in the Chicago Zen Center (CZC) back in March, I'd been reading about Buddhism on my own for a year, devouring any book I could get my hands on that didn't seem too superficial or too weird. The more I read, the more Japanese Zen seemed to call me. (I once thought Buddhism was a monolith. Not so. There are many, many sects–same as in Christianity. In Japan alone, even Zen has three major branches.)

My first sittings, for about two months, were with a GLBT Buddhist group in Chicago. They were a pleasant fellowship, and well-meaning, but ultimately I decided I wanted to work with a teacher. The group, which bills itself as non-sectarian was distinctly anti-Zen for reasons I still can't fathom. I asked the others about training centers in Chicago and was told, flatly, that aside from the Korean Zen temple in Lakeview that there weren't any and that, in any case, GLBT people do not practice Zen.

I chalked this up as yet another instance in which I and the mainstream GLBT community disagree about what is right for me. A quick hunt around on the Internet turned up the CZC, which not only seemed to offer exactly what I was looking for, but also happens to be about a ten-minute walk from my office.

After one visit, I suspected this was the place for me. After three, I was certain. The place is welcoming, but they don't give you a big hug when you come in the door. I was shown how to do prostrations, how to ask for the kyosaku during a sitting, how to do kinhin, and how to sit properly. And then into the zendo I went, to do it all best I could.

For somebody who has always been compelled to get even complicated things right the very first time, there have been moments of terror over the past nine months. Because, as I am beginning to comprehend, there's no such thing as a Zen prodigy. And at the CZC there's no hand-holding, no dumbing down, no gold star stickers for minute increments of progress. This is the real thing, not some hippy-dippy smiley-happy Easy Zen substitute, where the path to satori is ordering a platform bed and ecru curtains from Pottery Barn. As a matter of fact, nobody seems to mention (or care about) satori at all.

Sensei and the other members have been very kind to me as I've stumbled over my robe (and my own feet), bowed in the wrong direction after a sitting, got lost on the way from the Buddha Hall to the zendo, and (during one sitting I will never forget) slid right off my cushion with a deafening THUD because my entire ass fell asleep during zazen and I was trying surreptitiously to wiggle it around and wake it up.

I'm allowed to make mistakes, I'm expected to make mistakes. When they happen, I'm gently but firmly corrected or nudged in the right direction. It's like being a child, except that when I was a child in school my errors were punished far more harshly. I can remember so many times hearing a teacher yell, "I would have expected [insert problem here] from any other child, but not from you!" And now I'm not special, not special at all. What a luxury.

All of this led up to last night, and a ceremony called Jukai, during which I (and the rest of the community) took the precepts of Buddhism. I don't know how to describe this in terms that really make sense to people who haven't read a lot about Buddhism. It sort of reminded me of the once-yearly reaffirmation of baptismal vows in a Roman Catholic church. But for me, personally, it felt like a conversion ceremony. I was once a born Christian with an interest in Buddhism. Now I'm a Buddhist. A small but important (well, important to me) line has been crossed.

So that I won't forget them, I want to write down the superficial details of the night.

Jukai was preceded by what the CZC calls Temple Night. Usually, our practice isn't what you would call devotional. We meditate facing the wall, not the altar, and the altars are very small and simple. On Temple Night, sitting is done facing not only one, but many altars set up all around the center. This was my first Temple Night.

I arrived about 7:15 and was greeted by Mike, one of the practitioners who's been there...I don't know...forever?...who gave me a typical CZC orientation for a new occasion: it was whispered, about ten words long, and delivered only once. At this point, I'm used to that. I even like it. It keeps you alert.

I noticed that a scroll I haven't seen before, a standing Bodhidharma, had been hung in the Center's living room. It looked like it was a rubbing from a masterwork, but unfortunately I never got a chance to check it out up-close.

I went down to the men's changing room and discovered that Jukai is something like Christmas Eve in a Catholic church–people come out of the woodwork. I was lucky to get a hook for my pants and such, even though I was early as usual. Note to self: next time, show up at 7.

Sitting was open, which meant we could sit in either the Buddha Hall or the zendo; and we could get up and move as we wished (usually, the stages of a sitting are strictly timed and announced through the use of different bells and gongs). Mike had told me the altar for images of departed loved ones was in the zendo, so that's where I went first.

I had brought Uncle Mike's picture with me–the one from this post. In the zendo everything was rearranged. Two arcs of mats faced a low, central altar of the many-armed Kannon (Bodhisattva of Compassion) against the west wall. There were a lot of photographs already on the altar. I added mine, bowed, and sat down, resisting the urge to stand there and examine the gorgeous figure. (The instincts of the art historian die hard.) It was odd, at first, to be facing the others instead of the wall, but I got used to it pretty quickly. Made a nice change. And then I noticed that everyone who came and went was doing prostrations to the altar* instead of merely bowing. Oops.

I sat, and felt that this sitting was really my time to remember and honor my uncle. My thoughts were very personal and I won't record them here.

After a time, I decided to move to the Buddha Hall and so got up, did three prostrations (without tripping over my robe!) to Kannon and headed downstairs.

My first sight of the Buddha Hall was so startling I had to stop for a moment and catch my breath. It's a low room, with dark pillars and walls and only small windows, high up. Normally the lighting is subdued, but on this night the only light came from hundreds of small candles on three altars and maybe six or eight smaller tables piled with offerings of fruit, vegetables, flowers, and bread.

From left to right, the altars were (I hope I remember this properly) Kannon (seated, gesture of the fist of wisdom); Shakyamuni Buddha (seated, zazen mudra) and Mahaprajapati (seated, gesture of fearlessness). I'm especially fond of that figure of Mahaprajapati. She was the Buddha's aunt/foster mother, and she was instrumental in persuading him to share his teaching with women. You go, girl.

In the dim light, robed figures sitting, sometimes moving to sit in a different place or do prostrations. Kinhin (walking meditation) at the back of the room. It felt...ancient. Imperturbable. Every so often, chanting. I discovered to my delight that both "Kanzeon" and the Heart Sutra are both now firmly in my brain, and about half the chant to avert disaster.

One thought that rang out loud and clear out of a quiet brain: How happy and fortunate I am to be here.

Sitting in front of Kannon, quite close to the altar, I had a strong sense of déja vu and couldn't stop from trying to puzzle out why. After about a minute it hit me. The overwhelming warmth, the peace in my chest were exactly those I'd experienced one Christmas, years ago, sitting in our darkened living room looking at the Nativity figures by the light of the Christmas tree. I've been trying to get back to that space, without success, for so many years. And here it was, perfect, as if twenty-plus years of angst had not intervened.

A round of kinhin, with chanting (something new for me–usually we're silent). I had never heard the chant before but recognized it (I think) as Sanskrit in praise of Shakyamuni Buddha. I need to go look it up to be sure.

And then, Jukai. I ended up quite by chance directly behind the mokugyo player, in the middle of things. As far as I know, I may have been the only person taking the precepts for the first time. Sensei led from the front. His sense of conviction was palpable. Another luxury: a teacher who believes what he's teaching.

I recited the Three Treasures, the Precepts, and the Bodhisattva Vows as directed. Meant every word of it. May not ever be able to live up to it, but I mean to try. Knelt, prostrated, bowed. And when Sensei read about this ceremony being the way in which "we enter the Buddhist family" I felt a tear roll down my cheek. I have so far to go, more miles than from here to the next galaxy before I'll even feel I've moved an inch, but at least I've started.

About the prostrations: the CZC's Web site explains them better than I could, in answer to the question of why there are figures on the altar if there's no "personal God" in our practice: "The Buddha (and the other figures) are inspiring to the practitioner. They embody, in a kind of metaphorical, crystalized manner, the enlightened, open mind that is our truest nature. When we prostrate or bow to a figure it is not a form of worship, but rather an affirmation that the purity that is represented by the figure before us is really within us, and we are lowering our smaller, limited ego before this all encompassing truth."

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Next Stop?

The Wheel

The other day I was walking from the train station to work, bent double against the nasty wind pouring across Lake Michigan, and onto my iPod rotated Elizabeth Schwarzkopf singing "Vienna, City of My Dreams." It hit me like a punch in the gut.

I've spent all of four days in Vienna and count them among the four best in my life to date. I didn't walk through the city, I floated through it. I danced through it. And not just the spectacular bits within the Ring, either. My inveterate passion for seeing the commonplace wherever I travel took me out via the subway, randomly, to see neighborhoods that don't attract group tours. And those places, too, I loved. I enjoyed the everyday gemütlichkeit of the Austrians, whose attitude seems to be, "Yes, we used to rule half of Europe, and now we don't, and who cares? Have another cup of coffee."

As Schwarzkopf's voice swelled into a perfectly-pitched crescendo near the end of the plaintive waltz, the whole panorama of Vienna came surging back into my head and I almost cried.

Lately Chicago has begun to chafe. Part of it is upbringing. I was raised in a military family, pulling up stakes to head to a new base every four years or so, and the instinct to Get Up and Go refuses to leave me, no matter how much I like where I am.

And part of it, frankly, is Chicago. The climate aside, this is not a city founded on impulses I can embrace. The pioneers settled where the Native Americans would not, stubbornly enduring all manner of pestilence and plague in order to make bucketfuls of money from a strategically located swamp.

And Chicago, at least as I've come to know it, remains a city that above all cares about money. Nothing, no matter how beautiful, noble or holy, is ever permitted to stand in the way of commerce. While I appreciate the comforts that come with a nice paycheck, I also appreciate being allowed an occasional break. And I find myself in a place where even the universities won't close for national holidays because it would interfere with the bottom line.

Given these objections, you might question how the hell New York City could possibly be on my wheel of possibilities. It's not exactly a monument to Higher Motives. I suppose it comes down to differing ambitions. When I've been in New York and met New Yorkers, everybody is trying hard to be something. Whereas in Chicago, a depressingly large portion of the population is working non-stop in order to own something. My own tendency is more in line with the former. No judgment. Just an observation.

There are no plans, mind you. And I lack the temperament to put my books in storage, throw a dart at the map, and buy a plane ticket. I'm just daydreaming, but the dreams are getting more frequent and vivid as we plunge further into our signature dismal winter.

So what the heck do I want?

I want a better climate, which means any place where winter doesn't begin in late September and end in early July. I want the creative vibe that comes from at least a small, active population of artists or artisans. I want, if at all possible, a good Japanese Zen training center. I need some sort of street life, rather than the usual American model of strip malls bounding a gridlock of identical houses. Or, I need countryside–genuine countryside, not Lake Forest. It absolutely does not need to be in America. Wherever it is, I'd like it to be a place with a real sense of itself, a character of its own.

Today, on the way home from the train station, the wind coming off the lake blew over a large, steel-and-concrete trash can in front of my building and slammed me into the wall. A few more days of this, and I may buy a dart and a map.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Knitting Life

It took me a while to buy the new Interweave Knits because the first copies to arrive at the bookstore near my office were all, inexplicably, sealed in plastic. I wondered (hoped?) whether this indicated scandalous content within–perhaps a centerfold featuring John Brinegar supine on a pile of Jaeger.

The reviews began to show up online and were so positive that I hope Pam Allen et al. opened a bottle of something nice. In case you haven't noticed, knitters are not the easiest bunch to please. I don't know whence came the image of the daft little old lady smiling benignly at the world over her needles, because even since the demise of You Knit What?, make one false move and you're chum.

When I finally got to flip through an unsealed copy (and yes, I did buy it) I was disappointed that there were no naked men. On the other hand, there are several striking designs and two that are gorgeous (Eunny, honey, you're really giving She Who Litigates in Scottish Courts a run for her money). And then there's the men's sweater.

Now, this is not going to be a scathing write-up of the men's sweater. When you're putting your own stuff out there every day, honestly it becomes a little harder to flippantly write things like, "Wow! What a piece of shit!" Also, whenever I start to feel really poisonous I see my mother's disapproving countenance rising up before my eyes and saying "Play nice or you're going home!" and it kills the mood.

I want to write about this sweater because if, on the off chance that anybody who publishes patterns might be reading, I'd like to pass on some comments of my own–as well as one given at last night's Stitches in Britches meeting.

First of all, the model is completely cute should feel free to write to me at any time. However, I am going to assume that the sweater was intended for somebody rather larger. Here's why: look at a) the neckline and b) the waistline.

I am absolutely certain that the designer could not have intended the neckline to be so broad that it's mere inches from slipping off the fellow's pretty shoulders. Nor could she have jumped up from a deep sleep and shouted "Eureka! I've figured out how to make a normal-sized head look freakishly small!"

And there is no way any designer who's going to show up in IK would intentionally put an innocent male model into a knitted minidress, which is what this is. Imagine it belted, with some good silk stockings and a pair of kitten heels. See? You could wear it to a gallery opening.

But on a man, unless he has had his ass surgically removed, what you've got is a too-long sweater that will either bunch up over his butt while covering his crotch; or cover and accentuate whatever junk is in his trunk in a most unflattering dog-under-a-blanket sort of way.

Now, I know a lot of women who like this length, because it can smooth the transition from midriff to the lower regions and possibly look slimming. However, this is not how men's sweaters should look, at least not if you want men to wear them without hating you. A man's waistline should be at his waist. Not above, not below.

As the designer undoubtedly knew this, I am going to shake my stubby finger at whoever arranged and/or styled this shoot, and the person in editorial who let it run. Listen, IK, you are one of the only knitting magazines I enjoy and I know you can do better. This sweater needed a guy about a foot taller and, judging from the size of the yoke and collar, about a foot wider. A tall order, perhaps, but honestly...don't show a garment if you can't show it off at its best. It's not nice for the model and it's not nice for the designer who worked so hard to please you.

Also it encourages the men I knit with to say it ought to be called the Sphincter Sweater because that's what that yoke looks like on a too-small model. And the men I knit with, they know from sphincters.

Sock News

I finished knitting the first cabled sock and will show you a picture as soon as I can be bothered to take one.

The 2007 Ornament

The successor to last year's elf is this tiny Ode to Peace is nearly ready for the shop. Here's a sneak preview. (Note: it's up...and it looks like for a short time Café Press is offering it at a discount. They control these things, I don't–so I'm not sure how long the deal will last.)

Ornament Prototype

Of course, after the reaction to the last post I'm sorry I didn't draw them peeing on one another.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Out of the Sketchbook


I was rummaging through my sketchbooks and ran across this unpolished little gem. Somewhere in the Happy Knitting Grounds, Mary Thomas is clutching her chest and staggering backwards.

I promise I will not be publishing it as a pendant to this.

In my defense, I'm fairly certain it was created on a night when I was even more medicated than usual.

Note to self: In the future, do not mix cartooning and NyQuil.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


In memory of my Uncle Mike, July 1950–November 2006.

With Uncle Mike c. 1973
Uncle and nephew, circa 1973.

I almost never saw you, but you gave me one of my names. I hardly knew you, but the older I grow the more I think I understand you. I wonder if you ever realized how alike we are?

Tomorrow I'm taking a day off to go shooting with the Rolleiflex you gave me. I can't think of a better way to remember you.

Peace, man.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Few Things I Need

  1. I need all persons in my workplace who can only converse by constantly shouting at one another across the office to rediscover the wonders of the telephone, the Internet, and shutting the hell up.

  2. I need the Gap in my neighborhood to stock men's ribbed fitted T-shirts in XS. In fact, I need American retailers everywhere to acknowledge that short men without beer guts exist and require clothing.

  3. I need Rachael Ray to choose one (1) television show and immediately cease production of the other seventeen. It's enough already, Rachael.

  4. I need That Guy I See On the Subway Most Mornings to either come over and say hello or stop staring at me, because it's getting weird.

  5. I need the Trixies in my neighborhood to wear sensible shoes while they commute. If I miss one more train because you can't manage your Prada stiletto heels on the stairway to the platform, onto the tracks you go.

  6. I need the two people who have expressed worry that my conversion to Buddhism is a terrible tragedy, and have suggested I return to the arms of Jesus, to worry about something else.

  7. I need the conglomerate that owns Macy's to personally apologize to me for defacing the old Marshall Field's flagship on State Street with black awnings. It looks like a funeral parlor. I thought you people in New York City were supposed to have a sense of style.

  8. I need Stephen Fry to call me and explain his long-standing indifference to my public protestations of love for him.

  9. I need to take four pairs of boots to the Boot Guy for new soles.

  10. I need the grocery store in my neighborhood to relocate about three blocks closer to my apartment.

  11. I need the grocery store in my neighborhood to stop running out of things like butter. What American grocery store runs out of butter? Especially when next state north is Wisconsin. How hard can it be to keep the lines of distribution open? Are the Butter Trains being ambushed by packs of Dairy Bandits?

  12. I need to eat less butter.

  13. I need to lose about five pounds. (See item 12.)

  14. I need, as the immortal Nina Simone put it, a little sugar in my bowl. It might make the previous 13 items rather easier to bear.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Political Animals

I came upstairs after voting (the lobby of my building is, conveniently, a polling station) and found the apartment in disarray.

"Dolores," I said. "Dolores, why are all the sheets and towels on the floor in the hallway?"

"We needed office space," she said. "Say, have you seen the hammer lately?"

"It's under the bathroom sink," I said. "Office space for what?"

"Comin' through," said a soft voice near my feet. "Move it or lose it."

Harry rolled past with a bunch of the other sock yarns, carrying between them a placard that read "HEADQUARTERS."

"Where are you going with that?"

The phone rang.


"This is Jack at the front desk. You got a delivery here for D. Van Hoofen. Send it up?"

You will of course understand that I no longer accept deliveries to the apartment without checking them out first. Upon inspection, I found that Dolores had ordered two hundred yards of red, white, and blue bunting and fifty very small straw boaters with star-spangled ribbons.

"Dolores," I asked, not for the first time, "What the hell is going on?"

"In time of great need, my country is calling me," said Dolores. "And like Sir Francis Drake, I can but answer."

"Calling you? Calling you to what?"

"To organize. To lead. To inspire. Last night, I had a dream!"

"Oh, shit."

"Watch your mouth. It was beautiful! I was standing on a platform in the middle of Soldier Field, and there were thousands of people there, and I had a new hat, and everybody was cheering, and then a giant finger appeared in the sky and wrote DOLORES IN 2008 in flaming letters. I've never thought of myself as a political animal, but you don't have to tell me twice."

"You're running for President?"

"Well, I don't want to jump the gun, cupcake. We're in the exploratory stages. Listen, do you mind if I pull out the good bridge cloth? I have Libby Dole and some of the other girls coming over for lunch tomorrow. Hey, you okay? You look kinda green."

"It's one of my headaches coming on," I said.

"Again? You should get that checked. Hey, Harry–I need you to correct this welcome banner, she spells 'Hillary' with two Ls."

"You got it, chief. Ann Coulter is on the phone again. She's crying this time and wants to know pretty please can she come to the party?"

"Tell her to buy a box of Kleenex and remember that the restraining order is still in place."

"This is insane, Dolores," I said. "Stop and think for a minute. You're a heavy drinker. An elitist. With notoriously low morals. Related to any number of shady characters. You have no foreign policy experience. Your head is full of wool. Why on earth would anyone vote for you?"

"Who says lightning can't strike a third time?" she sniffed.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Like Woodstock, But With More Yarn

Through the miracle of smoke and mirrors I may seem like a nice person, but the fact is I'm a demanding and obsessive martinet. Just ask these three lovely people, who got up at an ungodly hour on Saturday morning to help get ready for the Chicagoland Dulaan Knit-In.

Ladies and gentlemen, my dream team:




Bonne Marie



Bonne Marie picked us up from my apartment in her rough-and-tough Jeep. In short order, we had the Alumni House fully prepared (following my very specific instructions) and awaiting the arrival of the Dulaaners. Check it out:

Encouraging messages from Ryan and Konchog. (Konchog was unanimously voted Sexiest Monk Alive.)

A table positively groaning with prizes...

...under the watchful eye of Guess Who.

Another table, covered with donated wool for Dulaan projects. (Look familiar, Penny?)

The bust of John Evans in the Library, looking far more cheerful than is his wont. Carol made the hat.

And on the buffet table, Buddha in Attitude of Contemplating Which Cast On to Use.


The Dream Team gathered for a moment of reflection before opening the doors. And then, after a pause of about forty seconds in which I actually said, "What if nobody shows up?", in came the knitters.


Lieutenant Buzz greeted arrivals at the reception desk with a smile and an overview of the facility.

And they started to knit.





Some of my homegirls from Lakeview Stitch 'n Bitch.

Aidan's extremely helpful wife Myfanwe (left), and the Two Sock Knitters Jonathan (center) and Meg (right).

Aidan (rear) and his knitting son Norbert (foreground), one of those rare children with manners and charm.









Knitters in the window. Knitters on the floor. Knitters, knitters everywhere...

...but always room for more.






The boys in the hall.

Kneeling in front is Lauren, holding her first FO–a Dulaan hat.



This is Grace, who started knitting in February and is already knitting extempore. She made that hat at the Knit-In, off the top of her head. Scary.

Emily, who provided us with some of her luscious Sophie's Toes Sock Yarn as a prize. She made the hat she's wearing, start to finish, at the Knit-In.

Lynette and her faboo cupcakes, which she described as "portion control desserts." So true, unless you eat five of them as some of us did.

In total, we had about seventy-six folks. If there's anybody I did not have the chance to thank in person for coming out to support Dulaan, let me say it here. This event would have been nothing at all without each and every one of you.

And now I need to go lie down for just a little while.