Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Cute Animals 'n' Shit

Those who know me well know that in the days immediately before I'm due to set off on a big trip, the best thing to do is keep away from me. I cease entirely to be the sweet-tempered frolicking teddy bear beloved of millions. The combination of packing, the anticipation of air travel, and the wrapping up of a thousand work details turns me into Vlad the Impaler, only without the wry sense of humor.

About the only person who seems to be able to calm me down is C, who managed to get me out of the apartment and into the fresh air (or what passes for it around here) for much of the weekend.

On Saturday, he good-naturedly accompanied me to the Zen Center to celebrate Vesak–Buddha's birthday. A merry time was had by all, though I was disappointed that they did not attempt to put 2,500 candles into the cake. The cake was very pretty, topped by a blue frosting elephant. C said if he were Buddha he'd rather have a big Mrs. Field's cookie with a Power Ranger on it.

On Monday, we paid a visit to the Lincoln Park Zoo, a short distance from our neighborhood, and I was able to lose myself for a little while in photography. I will be using a new telephoto lens on the trip, and this was a great chance to work with it.

We saw a leopard. Leopards always make me think of Gloria Swanson.

We saw a feisty, one-legged bird of some sort.

I often look like this on Monday mornings.

We saw a monkey who was contemplating the fact that George W. Bush still has more than nine hundred days left in his final term.

We learned that in monkey families, just as in human families, naptime is often mostly for the benefit of the adults.

We found a monkey who has evidently been practising yoga.

If I could do this, I'd give up my day job and go into porn.

And I took a picture of my favorite monkey of them all.

Gotta go. Break's over. Time to slap a couple people.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Like I Have Time for This

Little Buddha Thundercloud or whatever the hell he's calling himself this week is trying to get his affairs in order before we jet off, so he asked me to fill in for today. I'm supposed to stick to non-controversial topics and not say anything embarrassing.

Pull up a chair.

Oh, my sainted aunt, you should see this guy pack. On any given day he can't find his own ass with both hands, but give him a ticket for a cruise and he's Sir Edmund Hillary casing Everest. We got lists all over the house. Lists for the camera bag, lists of outfits for every day (subdivided into morning, touring, and evening), lists of masculine beauty products, lists of knitting junk and writing crap and travel papers and lists to keep track of all the lists.

We went shopping this weekend to fill out the holes in his wardrobe and I swear to God I almost killed him dead in the fitting room at Marshall Field's. Did you know that every piece of clothing the man owns is either black or gray? And a minimum of ten years out of date?

So I tried to help, because I live a life of compassion. He had carried a big pile of...I dunno really, all I know is everything was ecru...into the cubicle and when his back was turned I grabbed it all, plus his pants, and ran out of the fitting room. He started yelling, but sometimes it's time for tough love and so I stashed his trousers with the very accommodating salesman (kisses to you, Schuyler) and threw a bunch of Sean John and Lucky Brand and Ben Sherman over the door.

He shouted at me that it looked like he'd been playing strip poker with a boy band and they'd lost, and that he wasn't wearing any of it.

So I said he could try it all on or take the bus home in his Arthur the Aardvark underpants.

Don't judge me harshly. You have no idea what I'm up against. He has three basic looks: James Dean manqué, Brokeback Schlub, and Herbert Hoover on the golf course. It gets depressing to be around. I'd just like to see a little color around his face, maybe get him into a pair of pants that don't sag in the butt, you know what I mean?

He went into one of his typical monologues about refusing to be a slave to the corporate fashion machine blah blah blah blah, so Schuyler and I went and had a snort at this little bar on Wabash and by the time we came back he had just finished talking and was standing in front of the three-way mirror in a pair of tight Luckys that gave him a snooker-ball bottom and a precious acid-green destroyed t-shirt that said "SHRED MY TUBE" in curly seventies lettering and he actually looked almost his own age instead of forty years older.

"Be still my heart," I said. "You look good enough to abduct and defile."

"Me first," said Schuyler.

"Give me my damn pants back," he said.

"No," I said. "I think you should charge what you've got on and wear it home."

"Give me my damn pants back now," he said.

"I think we should accessorize you with a pair of flip flops," said Schuyler.

And then he just came at us, waving a pants hanger and saying very unkind things and so I swung my purse quite forgetting that I'd slipped a split of Veuve in there in case I needed a pick-me-up and suddenly he was on the floor and not shouting any more.

"Holy shit," said Schuyler. "We gotta call security."

And we did, of course, but first we took a moment and rang up the outfit. Like many men I've known, Franklin is so much more cooperative when he's unconscious.

Some day, he'll understand and he'll thank me.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

What Is the Sound of One Bitch Slapping?

So. I have now been practicing Japanese-style zazen (silent meditation, both sitting and walking) for about a month. I've left the sangha I'd been sitting with on Thursday nights and begun practicing at the Chicago Zen Center, which offers the community I need under a teacher who impresses me mightily.

(Also, I get to wear a kicky brown floor-length robe.)

The upside of this is that I notice already a shift in my bearing. Less of my time is spent fuming over things that make me angry, more of it is spent being productive.

You might not think that facing a wall for 30 minutes a day at home, with an additional two hours or so at the zendo (meditation hall) twice a week would make much difference in a person. I certainly didn't expect it. And to be sure, I'm not becoming a goggle-eyed automaton. I still want to slap at least twelve idiots upside the head every day.

The change is more like the faint tinge of green you'd see at the base of a plant which appeared dead a month ago, but which with water and care is beginning to show the smallest sign of revival.

Certainly nobody else would notice such a subtle shift, right?

Wrong. Other people are making it crystal clear to me what a sour-pussed bitch I've apparently been.

I came into work a couple days ago feeling good, but not radiant. Just a normal me, on a normal day, following the usual routine.

Passing the reception desk, I said good morning, then went upstairs to my office. I'd just sat down in my chair when the phone rang. It was the receptionist.

"Um, Franklin," she whispered. "You can tell me. I'll keep it a secret. You're so...happy...today. Did you get a new job?"

Later that day, I was in conference with my boss regarding a pain-in-the-ass bullshit project that's been plaguing us for weeks. He told me a point of design about which I had been adamant was being overturned at the caprice of a big-spending volunteer. I said that on reflection, it didn't seem like such a big deal and I was fine with the change.

My boss leaned over the conference table and said, "Is there something you'd like to tell me? Did you get a new job?"

Still later, there was a small meeting of about seven of us from different teams within the organization. Nothing remarkable about it at all, that I noticed.

Afterward, I stayed to go over copy writing with one of the directors. We were in mid-edit when she sat back in her chair, crossed her arms and said, "Come clean. You're out of here, aren't you? I can totally tell. You're in much too good a mood."

When I was about five years old and living in Tucson, Arizona, my kindergarten class received monthly visits from a Native American teacher. He taught us a bit about the indigenous culture of the area and over the course of the year gave some of us "Indian" (his term) names.

Mine was Little Thundercloud.

Now I guess I understand why.

Monday, May 22, 2006


I detest doing posts solely about the shop. It's like inviting guests in for cocoa and then trying to sell them insurance. Please consider this a bit of housekeeping. I promise I'll try to be more amusing in the next entry.

Breasts Do the Darnedest Things

I'm starting to understand (though not condone) the penchant of fashion designers to hang their clothes on models who look like clothes hangers with poor appetites. Breasts are nice and all, I suppose, but the fact is they often seem to get in the way.

For the second time now I've had a comment that one of my shirt designs misbehaves when draped over a bodacious bustline. This time it's the original Dolores shirt, which for some buxom persons aligns the copyright notice and Web site address directly with said person's nipular regions. Oy. I'll fix the design as soon as possible, and do please accept my apologies. In the meantime, caveat emptor unless you're built like Olive Oyl. [Author's note: It's fixed now.]

(Dolores commented that she was amazed I'd managed to correctly locate female nipples at all, even indirectly.)

Knit in Public Day Gone Wild

My offer to add new cities, countries, or organizations to the list of those available on the Knit in Public Day shirts and bags has been eagerly taken up (thanks, y'all) and the following are now available:

B'nai Shalom
Iowa City
Munich (München)
New York
San Diego
San Francisco
St Louis
Tel Aviv
Vancouver (and I fixed the date)
Vienna (Wien)
Washington, DC
West Hollywood

And there's a "generic" version with no city, just the date.

I have my doubts about orders reaching Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia by 10 June, but I admire the optimism of the request.

And One More
A new design called "Peaceable Kingdom" is ready on a bag and a card, and will make its way onto other stuff as time permits.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Make a Spectacle of Yourself

Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the following message on behalf of Aidan, aka Mollywobbles.

The second annual Worldwide Knit in Public Day will take place on June 10, 2006. This event was the brainchild of Danielle Landes, who maintains a site with details and history here. There are listings of where local meet-ups are happening and who's in charge of them.

As is so often the case around here, Aidan has taken the burden of local organization on himself. If you're a Chicagoland knitter, here are the details for what should be quite a happening:
Millenium Park, Chicago
Boeing Gallery South (just east of the "Faces" fountain) - barrier-free access
Noon–4 p.m.

Bring a lawn or folding chair, sunscreen, and your knitting.

In case of rain, kniters will meet up at the Randolph Cafe on the first floor of the Chicago Cultural Center at 78 E. Washington St. If that happens, you can skip the folding chair and the sunscreen.
Aidan asked me to design a flyer for the event, which I've done. Then I decided to put it on a shirt. Then I decided to put it on lots of shirts, marked with the names of places in which people might be knitting in public.

If you not only wish to have been there and done that, but also wish to have bought the t-shirt, have a look in the shop. There's a bunch of cities already available on shirts and bags, chosen off the top of my head.

If your city, town, or country isn't there, let me know at franklin at franklinhabit daht cahm by Wednesday, May 24 and I can create a version for you. Please use the subject line "KIP T-SHIRT" or your request may well vanish into thin air.

If you use the above e-mail address to write and say, "Franklin, you stupid pig, how could you make a shirt for __________ and not for my beloved, sparkling municipality of _________," I will send Dolores over to your house to do something nasty on your doorstep.

If you are one of Danielle's local leaders and you'd like to use this design for your KIP Day flyers, write to me and I can send a blank version in PDF format that you can fill in with your local information. (I'm sorry I can't do local information layouts for anybody...it's a touch busy around here.)

Danielle Landes, if you're reading this, I think that for this idea you ought to get a free shirt. Drop me note, won't you please?

Bill of Fare

David is absolutely right. If a fellow intends to be truly professional, he ought to have a schedule card of services and rates available.

To that end, I have prepared the following for the ladies I'm hosting on the tour.

Franklin, Your Host for "Islands of Antiquity"
Discreet • Educated • Steadfast

Conversation (prices are per hour)
  • English fiction, history, art history, opera ($2)
  • Shopping and clothes ($2)
  • Parents these days ($5)
  • Your grandchildren ($5)*
  • Previous travels ($5)
  • Your cat(s) ($350)
  • Knitting (complimentary)
We regret that we no longer discuss the Bush administration or your Republican politics under any circumstances.

For parties of six or more, a 15% gratuity will be added.

*If pictures are displayed, there will be a surcharge of $10 per image.

Dancing (prices are per dance)
  • Waltz ($2)
  • Foxtrot ($2)
  • Quadrille ($2)
  • Polka ($2)
  • Texas Two-Step ($2)
  • Lindy Hop ($20)*
  • Mazurka or Tarantella ($50)*
For parties of five or more, lessons in country line dancing can be arranged for a negotiable fee. Before engaging in dances marked by an asterisk (*), customers must present a doctor's certificate of sound health and sign a liability waiver.

Shopping (prices are per hour)
  • For tacky souvenirs ($150)
  • For clothes or jewelry ($35)
  • For books or yarn (free)
Please note that for the 2006 season we are offering an entirely new selection of fitting room compliments, enthusiastic squeals, and reassurances that no, it doesn't make you look at all fat.

Fetching and Carrying (prices are per quarter hour)
  • Purse/handbag holding ($50)
  • Forgotten item retrieval (free up to 1/4 mile, $10 thereafter)
  • Purchase of small items from ship store ($5)
  • Assistance in crossing cobblestones, going up or down stairs, alighting from motorcoaches, etc. (free)
  • Drinks from the bar (ask a steward, it's what they're here for)
  • Diplomatic removal of drunken husband from dining room or bar ($50, plus $50 surcharge for men weighing more than 200 lbs)
Lectures/Demonstrations (prices are per lesson)
  • Basic knitting (free)
  • Basic photography (free)
  • How the heck does this e-mail thing work, anyway? ($150)
  • Harmless flirtation is always complimentary. However, as your host is queer as a three dollar bill, we recommend that you inquire of the concierge should you desire actual rumpy-pumpy.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Le Gigolo malgre lui

After a bit of pondering I've realized that what Cheryl wrote (and about four dozen of you echoed, thanks so much) is essentially true. My nominal title for the upcoming tour is "host," but what I really am is a man-whore.

Quite an epiphany to experience over one's morning oatmeal.

Mind you, though I may be dancing with the passengers, all of said dancing will be vertical. The only time I've ever been propositioned by a traveler on one of these tours, the suggestion came from one of the husbands. (And no, I didn't.)

On the whole, I think I make a most unlikely man-whore. I guess I can handle it for two weeks, but I'd never pursue it as a way of life.

Problem number one: I'm short. I think about the only sexual kink you can't find through Google (not that I've looked) is a fetish for men of low physical stature. We have our admirers, of course, but they aren't numerous enough to constitute a viable consumer base. I would have to be a niche market tottie, and I doubt a sensible business plan could rest upon that premise.

I also don't spend enough time in the gym. To be a proper studmuffin-for-hire, I'd have to do something about my abdominal muscles. Try as I might, I've never achieved real definition down there. Although at one point I was able to muster a strongly-worded recommendation with ample supporting documents.

And there's the question of flexibility. I am the Little Engine Who Can't unless I'm genuinely interested. I've known two "men of pleasure" and both were able to make the magic happen with whoever was paying the bill (male or female). One of them said he'd trained himself to snap into action at the sound of money changing hands. I wonder if that ever caused problems at the grocery store?

I am quite certain that when confronted with more esoteric requests I would be far too inclined to scream, "You want me to what?" thereby spoiling the ambience.

And logisitics. How does one deal with the logistics?

If I decided to do only out-calls, I'd need to get a car or at least enough cash to pay for taxi fares all over the city. It would not be sexy or good for trade to have to call a client and explain that I'd be over to play Where's Waldo just as soon as the number 36 bus showed up.

Working from home, on the other hand, would mean keeping the living room free of the snowdrift of sketch books, knitting supplies, reading material, and boots that never seems to melt away completely. And there would be laundry. Piles of it. One would need, I expect, rather more than the usual supply of linens, and the cost of having them monogrammed would be prohibitive.

I'm tired just thinking about it all. It sort of gives you a new appreciation for Fanny Hill, doesn't it? Such a demanding career and she still had time to write a book. I'm lucky if I can get the dishes done after a busy day at the office.

That's all for now. Back to packing. I'm trying to decide whether to take the leopard-print Speedo or the lycra trunks with the peekaboo pouch.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Sail Away

Know any good knitting shops in Istanbul? (Not Constantinople.)

I haven't said anything about this, because I've been waiting for the dear officials at the Turkish embassy to send me a document promising they'll allow me into their country, but I'm going abroad on June 2.

My job is not heavy with perks, but when they do come along they're big. I'm being sent on a tour with a bunch of the university's high rollers, which happens roughly once a year. I have to smile and make chitchat, provide an arm to lean on as we walk across cobblestones, host a cocktail party, and make sure all the ladies get to dance. All these things are, for me, quite a pleasure.

I've seen my list of 11 travelers and it's a comparatively youthful crowd, average age somewhere in the early seventies. That's nice, because it means that chances are we all listen to the same kind of music, and there are usually at least two other knitters.

It's not exactly a vacation. Although there are travel directors and guides to do the heavy lifting, as it were, on these trips I'm expected to be always "on" and usually find that by the return flight my face hurts from looking pleasantly interested in everything being said to me.

The Itinerary

We leave Chicago and fly to Istanbul by way of Munich. Munich is always fun because even when changing planes you get a full pat-down by a burly Teutonic security guard in tall boots.

After two days in Istanbul, we embark on the Minerva II for a two-week tour entitled "Islands of Antiquity." These will be our ports-of-call:
  • Rhodes
  • Crete (Ághios Nikólaos)
  • Malta
  • Sicily (Catania and Palermo)
  • Sardinia
  • Minorca (Mahón)
  • Corsica
  • Civitavecchia
  • Rome
I hope the citizens of Palermo have at this point forgotten why it was my mother's family was asked to leave back in 1903.

Travel Knitting

This paramount question is already settled. Susan's Maine stole, for the rare moments when I'm alone and can concentrate. And a Koigu vest (just begun) for the rest of the time. The Koigu was a rather stunning birthday gift from Kathy Merrick, the lady who changed my mind about crochet. (She'll change yours, too, if you check out her designs in Interweave Crochet.)

Travel Hostess

Except for my very first university tour, when my brother-in-law assisted as able co-host in the English Lakes, I've always been solo. Not this time.


I've finally faced facts. It's easier to drag her fleece-covered butt along than try to deal with the City of Chicago Police Department via ship-to-shore lines. Besides, her game of bridge is better than mine, which will take some of the pressure off me.

When I extended the invitation, instead of gratitude I got a startled gasp and a poke in the chest with a sharp hoof.

"Shit," she said. "You're giving me two lousy weeks to get ready for this?"

"What exactly do you need to do?"

"I have absolutely nothing to wear, shortcake. Zilch. One Diane von Furstenberg isn't gonna get a girl through two weeks on a lah-dee-dah cruise. Where's my purse? I need to get to Barneys."

"It's almost midnight."

"And I have to call my girlfriend Menekshe and let her know I'm coming through Istanbul–"

"Not Constantinople!"

"That wasn't funny the first time. And if we're going to be in Greece, I want to look up some old Navy buddies."


"I was in the Greek navy for a couple of weeks back in the seventies. Or should I say vice vers–"

"I can't hear you I can't hear you I can't hear you."

But she was already burrowing through the pile of clothes on the floor of her closet.

"I know I still have that Dolce and Gabbana thong in here somewhere. It was a big hit at Cannes a couple years ago. You think the Minerva has a topless sunbathing deck?"

"I rather doubt it."

She paused in her rummaging and frowned. "Cannes. Goddamn. You don't think Catherine Deneuve might be on the ship, do you?"

"I have no idea. Should I even ask why you're concerned?"

"Nah. It's ancient history. But of course she's got a memory like a elephant, that one. With hips to match."

Ms. Deneuve, I thought you were wonderul in Belle de jour. On the off chance that you might be joining us, will you please accept my apology in advance?

Monday, May 15, 2006

To Mom

A selection of five memories of me that I'm absolutely certain my mother treasures:
  1. The time I crawled into the ash-filled fireplace with the dog.
  2. The time I watched Captain Kangaroo draw on the wall, and decided to do the same thing with my crayons in my bedroom.
  3. The time I couldn't find my glasses, and I was wearing them.
  4. The time I got tomato soup on the kitchen ceiling.
  5. The time I called her in Honolulu (from Boston) to ask how to make a can of Campbell's chicken noodle without a microwave.
And yet she still admits that I'm her son. (At least when I'm around.)

Love ya, Mom.


Friday, May 12, 2006

Together Wherever We Go

I got home late last night to find Dolores in the living room. Her open suitcase was in the middle of the floor, surrounded by a litter of knitting needles, purses, hats, dresses, and a set of maribou-trimmed unmentionables from which I quickly averted my eyes.

"Are you leaving?" I said, trying not to sound too excited.

"Just planning ahead," she said, shifting a couple balls of Rowan felted tweed inside the suitcase. "I need to make sure I can fit everything in here and still have room for a couple bottles of something bubbly. How much stuff are you planning on bringing?"


"To camp. How much stuff are you planning on bringing to camp?"

"Dolores, I'm putting a stop this right now. You're not coming with me."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Me, I am going to knitting camp. You are staying here. Or taking a vacation of your own. Or sleeping under the bar at the Lucky Horseshoe, if you want to. But you are not, I repeat, not coming to camp with me. Don't take it personally. It's just that they have limited space, and I'm pretty sure I'm not allowed to bring guests."

Dolores blinked, then pulled an envelope out of her purse and handed it to me. I saw a Wisconsin postmark and felt the blood drain out of my face.

"Read it."

There was a handwritten note in the envelope.
Dolores honey,

We were all wondering where you've been all this time. Of course you should come up for camp this year. Don't worry about the expense–as far as we're concerned you're family.

And sure, we'll see about finding room for the fellow you're living with...Fred Something? His application is here somewhere. He sounds harmless enough. Nice handwriting. And I'm sure you're exaggerating, I can't imagine you living with anybody who "missed his calling as a librarian at the cloistered monastery of St. Rigid."

Anyhow, gotta run but all the gals say hi and they still remember that trick you did with the cherry tomatoes from the salad.


After Dolores helped me up off the floor and brought me a glass of water, I sat on the sofa and fanned myself with the Halcyon Yarns catalog.

"I figured you'd be excited," she said. "Oh, and I took care of our ride, too. Martha and Susan from Ohio called to say I can ride with them, and it turns out they also have a seat for you if you don't bring too big a bag. I had to promise them you're not the sort who needs to stop for a pee every thirty miles. Think you can you handle that?"

I'm beginning to question my ability to handle anything.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Notes on Camp

When I was about ten years old or so, I went to summer camp with a troop of unruly Boy Scouts. I did it mostly to please my parents, as Scouting (aside from the uniforms and boots) was not my cup of tea. Our session lasted for a week. We slept in tents pitched here and there across the face of an enclave known as Camp Hugh Taylor Birch. Camp Birch was infested with skunks and poison ivy, and sopping wet from the incessant rains of Ohio's thunderstorm season.

None of this was designed to please a finicky, bookish child who was deeply attached to his blow dryer. To make matters worse, first-year campers were sequestered in a separate program which kept us from anything that might have been remotely interesting. On the archery range, for example, we were not allowed to shoot arrows at proper round targets. Instead, we shot blunt sticks at a line of empty plastic milk jugs suspended from a length of clothesline. We were not permitted to row on the lake, to build fires or cook over them, to go on overnight hikes, or whittle with our pocket knives. Compared to Camp Birch, sitting in my backyard reading Vogue was an Outward Bound experience.

Most of the other boys, I might add, were not the squeaky-clean Boy Scouts of popular imagination. I smuggled Judy Blume novels in my backpack, whereas most of them had smuggled alcohol, cigarettes, dope, and Playboy. My priggish nature recoiled at this and it made socializing awkward.

There were certain perks, I will grant you, like getting my first boy-on-boy kiss from another Scout. (Hi, Brandon–wherever you are.) But on the whole, when I pondered the prospect of the second year of this, I responded by leaving the Boy Scouts altogether.

There were no summer camps before that, or since. Until now. I'm going to camp. Knitting camp. Meg Swansen's Knitting Camp, in Wisconsin.

Judging from the descriptions in my acceptance materials, Knitting Camp differs in several key respects from Boy Scout Camp. For example:
  • I will not be expected to sleep in a padded bag on rocky ground that smells of skunk urine.

  • My breakfast will not consist of a granola bar, an apple, and a piece of burnt Wonder bread.

  • I'll be allowed to shower daily, and by myself.

  • The toilets will flush.

  • Upon hearing the schedule for the day, I will not feel inclined to drown myself in the nearest body of water.

  • Meg Swansen will probably not call me a "stupid pussy" when I screw up my project.
I doubt there will be any boy-on-boy kissing (at least for me), but these days I get plenty of that at home anyhow.

My next step is to figure out exactly how I'm getting up there. If you're reading this and you're passing by or through Chicago on your way to Camp 2, give me a shout, won't you please? I'm small and polite and clean and I have gas money. I should probably also mention that Dolores will be staying home.


Which is something I really just don't want to think about today.

Monday, May 08, 2006

My Knitting is Full of Holes

Meet Glencora

The Glencora Baby Shawl is finished. There was a question in the comments awhile back about what exactly a "baby shawl" is. Good question. I've been calling this a baby shawl because that is the name given in Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitter's Almanac, whence comes the basic pattern. I've decided that for me, a baby shawl is a baby blanket you'd rather not see dragged around on the floor by the intended recipient.

Here's the dossier.

Pattern: basic method for center from Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitter's Almanac; patterns inserted from Barbara Walker's A Treasury of Knitting Patterns (Vol. I) and Sharon Miller's Heirloom Knitting. Knitted-on edging, "Wave," taken from Heirloom Knitting.

Yarn: Dale Baby Ull, pale yellow and pale green (2 skeins yellow, 1.25 skeins green)

Finished size:
roughly 3.5 feet by 3.5 feet

Comments: Knitting this was more fun than playing Twister with a room full of frisky Marines. (Almost.) When you begin the center on dpns, work over a table unless you wish to flirt with insanity. Now that the shawl's finished, it'll be wrapped up and laid away to await a baby, as yet unborn, who might need it.


One of my favorite things about the whole knitting/spinning game is that you can be simultaneously productive and peaceful. On Saturday I installed myself at my favorite coffee shop, listened to three hour-long Zen lessons and knit like a demon on swatches for Susan's State of Maine lace stole.

It don't get much better than that. I'm not sure I believe in auras, but if I have one I'm sure it turned blue. Or pink. Or green. Or whatever color is the opposite of "murderous rage."

The design for the stole has changed considerably since my first sketch many months ago. I've tried about two dozen stitch patterns, and it looks like six or so will show up in the final object. A few details have been firmly settled. It's going to be made from Zephyr, it's going to be pale gray (the colorway is "Steel"), and I'm knitting it on a 24" US size zero circular.

Most of the lace swatches are done now, so the charting has begun. I'm doing it the old-fashioned way, since at present I haven't found a Mac-friendly charting program that looks inviting. Anyhow, I'm supposed to be trying to live a mindful life. Nothing makes you mindful like the prospect of erasing and re-drawing the contents of 400 itsy-bitsy squares if you don't pay attention.

More Buddha for Your Buck

C and I went out for a stroll this weekend and wound up at Architectural Revolution, a dashed amusing shop in our neighborhood that sells all sorts of goodies from Asia, South America, and the Middle East. I was looking for a small statue of Buddha, and as our local Buddhas Galore franchise has been replaced by a Baby Gap this seemed the best place to go.

Dolores, as usual, came along.

"Whoa," she said. "It's smells like 1973 in here."

The saleswoman behind the jewelry counter bristled slightly. "That's patchouli incense," she said. "Sir, perhaps your pet could wait outside?"

"I'm gonna go look at whatever's in the next room," said C, and vanished.

"She's not exactly a pet," I said.

"Damn straight," said Dolores. "I prefer to think of myself as his life coach."

"Um, yeah, okay...well, let me know if you or your...coach...need anything."

"I've been thinking of getting my nose pierced," said Dolores. "You got anything in silver, with rubies? That's my birthstone."

"I'm having nothing to do with this," I said, heading for the back room. I found C standing in front of a display of cat carvings from somewhere in Mexico.

"Was there blood?" he asked.

"Not yet," I said. "Now help me pick out a symbol of enlightenment before my aneurysm kicks in."

The selection was extensive, ranging from Buddhas about a half-inch high in brass to a bronze Thai Mega-Buddha roughly as tall as my mother (and with her signature penetrating gaze). There were clay Buddhas, and metal Buddhas. Fat Buddhas, skinny Buddhas. Buddhas reclining, sitting, and standing. Buddhas that lit up. Buddhas in really cute hats with slimming, vertical lines.

"How about this one?" asked C.

It was Indonesian, about ten inches high, wooden, carved, and painted in very cheerful greens and yellows. The attitude was meditation. The open eyes were intense but the overall expression was serene.

"He's kinda cute," I said. "And he'd match the rug."

"He's fifty percent off," said C.

"Wrap it up and charge it," I said.

We went back to the front room, to find Dolores and the saleswoman lying on a pile of velvet cushions and giggling madly. There was a dense cloud of smoke over the two of them that did not smell like patchouli.

"And so there I am in Morocco," Dolores was saying, "sitting in a hamam with Marlo Thomas and this Ethiopian hermaphrodite, and Marlo suddenly drops her towel and says–"

"Ahem," I said.

"Oh, hi," said the saleswoman, sitting up. "Hey. Did you find, you know, what you were looking for?"

"Maybe he should try Hare Krishna," said Dolores. And the two of them collapsed in another fit of giggles.

"Your life coach is awesome," said the saleswoman. "I mean, wow, she has lived."

"Oh hush you," said Dolores, batting her eyelashes.

"No, I am so serious," the saleswoman continued. She looked up at me, "I mean, just being around her makes me want to totally reconsider my living situtation. You know what I mean?"

"Intimately," I said.

"Listen, you guys go ahead home," said Dolores. "Lupe here goes on lunch in a couple minutes and she's going to introduce me to this guy around the corner who does wicked tattoos. I'm thinking getting a little something cute inked on my tuchus. Maybe a rosebud. Or a butterfly."

"How about a warning label?"

Whereupon they both started giggling again.

We were about halfway back to my apartment when C turned to me and said, "Remember when you decided not to get a cat because it would just be too much trouble?"

"Shut up," I said.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Winter Into Spring

When I first moved to Chicago, I thought of winters here as being like Freddy from the Nightmare on Elm Street movies. Just when you began to feel it was really gone, up popped a sequel, even though nobody had enjoyed the last one and certainly didn't want another.

These days, I think of winter in Chicago as being more like Madonna. It returns, year after year, shrieking and wailing and trying desperately to impress. Fact is, honey, we've seen it all. Blow all you want, but you done used up all the tricks in your bag.

Now when October comes I just sigh and do my best to ignore it.* And please don't give me any hippie New Age crap about how one ought to "live in harmony" with the seasons and enjoy what each of them has to offer. People who say such things do not live in Chicago. Trying to live in harmony with a Chicago winter is like trying to do buddy yoga with a wet cat.

Winter 2006 was relatively mild, meaning that:
  1. There was a day in mid-February when I walked three blocks with my face uncovered.
  2. The wind off the lake slammed me into the side of my apartment building only twice.
  3. It's May and I'm not still wearing a wool overcoat and earmuffs.
I've just begun my annual springtime ceremony of Trying on Last Summer's Clothes. After a bad winter, this can be a supremely depressing exercise. You pull out this kicky pair of shorts that you wore all over the place, and think of afternoons on the grass in Lincoln Park, or bike rides along the lake, or a music festival where everything was just as it ought to be for an entire day. Then you put the shorts on, and discover that what hung loosely and fetchingly about your hips in the best Boystown fashion in August now clings like Tom Cruise on Katie Holmes.

It takes the zing right out of the daffodils.

This year, not so bad. Small repairs to the trim, rather than major renovations to the infrastructure. And I'm not looking at anything I wore and wincing, as I did in the Year of the Capri Pants. (All pictures have been burned, as have the pants, so don't even ask.)

Of course, other gay men tend to look at my wardrobe and wince. If I lived in New York City and walked through Chelsea in my usual summer ensemble I'd get shot. When I used to have to hang out for hours every Sunday with Mr. Ex at one of our big local bars, the only guys who ever hit on me were the ones with a straight guy fantasy. They assumed from my sub-par attire that I had ventured to the Other Side of the Tracks for an afternoon.**

I can make it halfway to gay–maybe get the shirt right, for example. But then I put on shorts with a belt instead of without, or whatever the regulation is that week, and Greg Louganis starts pounding on my door demanding the surrender of my membership card.

Spring is supposed to be a time of renewal and rebirth. Maybe I need a gay makeover. Any of you Chelsea boys make house calls?

*Also my approach to Madonna.
** Apologies to the metrosexuals. I hope I didn't hurt your feelings. Go get a pedicure, you'll feel better.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Girl Can't Help It

Say about her what you will, but Hester Prynne was certainly the most famous gal in the village. And it seems that history is repeating itself.

I was without an iPod (horrors) for about two weeks and so hadn't been in step with Brenda Dayne's Cast On. Just imagine my surprise when I listened to Episode 22 and heard her dedicate a song to my Sheep in Residence. Not to me, mind you. To Dolores.

Dolores took it all in stride.

"I suppose I should have warned you this might happen," she said. "Le spectacle, c'est moi. There's just something magnetic about me."

"I thought that was static electricity."

"Envy ill becomes you, munchkin," she sniffed. "In any case, Brenda obviously knew of my avant-garde dance career in the mid-seventies and chose to acknowledge it in song."

"Dolores, you were a stripper in a hay bar in Times Square."

"It was site-specific performance art. I was making a comment about the exploitation of livestock by modern agribusiness. I had a grant from the NEA. Did they teach you anything at Harvard or what?"

And now Little Miss Popular even has a mention in the Museum of Kitschy Stitches curated by Stitchy McYarnpants.

"At some point," said Dolores, "I think we may need to discuss the fact that I sleep on a cushion next to the Victrola."

I wonder if Bo Peep had to put up with shit like this?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Your Number One Source for Dubious Advice

"Dolores," I said. "Dolores, I've been asked to contribute to a symposium."

"Well, bugger my behind," said Dolores. "What's the topic, where's it at, and can we get a suite on the concierge floor with a view?"

"It's online," I said. "An online symposium about lace knitting."

"Oh," said Dolores.

"I'm sorry if you're disappointed," I said.

"No," she sighed. "It's just that I worry about your rock star lifestyle catching up with you."

Lace Symposium

Lace Flock

The online, lace-oriented community Knitting Beyond the Hebrides is hosting a week-long online lace symposium. No need to register, no need to pay, no need to be frisked by a big, burly security guard named Lou. Just head over to their Web site and check out each day's "schedule."

While there will be no hospitality suite, no banquet, and no illicit whoopee in the coat check room, there will be a lot of articles, patterns, contests, and so forth. Skill levels from basic to advanced will, I am told, find something of interest.

Well, Since You Asked

I know perfectly well that I am the worst blogger in the universe when it comes to answering reader questions. I will try to be better about it, pinky swear.

My half-assed attempt at improvement begins today, which as it happens is the first day of the rest of my life. It's half-assed because I will be answering two comments I know I came in recently but which I now cannot locate.*

Commenter A wanted to know of some good basic books on Buddhism. I can recommend two that have been a big help:
Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen
Awakening the Buddha Within by Lama Surya Das
The former makes good on the promise of the title: the basic ideas, without the outer trappings of the many sects.

The latter is more inspirational, with a lot of thought-provoking takes on the dharma.

These have both been useful to me, with no prior background in the subject.

Commenter B is a new (or new-ish) guy knitter who wanted to know of good basic books and sources of instruction.

First of all, I am so excited for you. You will be assimilated. That is, I mean, uh, welcome.

I wrote an article about books to learn from for the first MenKnit online magazine, so I guess I'd start there if you really want my opinion. Online, where technique is concerned, try:
That's not an exhaustive list by any means. It's limited to blogs which offer information that has been of recent, direct, practical use to me. There are many others (see my sidebar) and the thing to do is explore.

I tried joining the fabled KnitList, just to see for myself if it deserves its reputation, but all three applications were rejected for reasons unexplained. Perhaps my reputation as a roughneck troublemaker preceded me.

"But I've never been to a symposium where nobody threw the hotel furniture out the window," Dolores whined.

"Get away from the coffee table," I said.

*I expect the comments are in a secret, central holding tank along with my spare keys; my copy of To the Lighthouse; my ability to digest potato chips; 73 gym locks; 4,000 pairs of socks and 286 stitch markers.