Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Fuzzy Thinking

Hi. It's Dolores.

So, I was sitting around the other day having afternoon tea at the 'Shoe with my friend Gracie. (I know, it seems like an odd place for it, but the staff there is always quick with the teabags.)

I don't think I've mentioned Gracie before. Nice kid. We met in the fitting room at Victoria's Secret, when she diplomatically stepped between me and the saleswoman who wouldn't sell me a Miracle Bra because "the name of the garment is not to be taken literally, madam."


Anyhow, the least I could do for Gracie to make up for the hoof abrasions and the small bite on her left ear was buy her a drink. Over a couple of cosmos, she told me her story. And wouldn't you know, it's so similar to mine.

After they crowned her Miss Chickasaw County, she moved from Iowa to Chicago to parlay her good looks into a modeling career. So reminiscent of my own rise from a simple Vermont farm girl to the face and body of Woolrich back in the...whenever it was.

Gracie's getting a decent amount of work around town doing catalog shoots and the occasional television ad for this podiatrist who has the hots for her left foot. She really could be going places fast, except for one thing. She's dumb. As a brick. As a box of hair. As a parcel of Dubyas tied up with a Condoleeza bow.

Seems like every time we get together I have drag her perky tush out of yet another morass into which she has sailed with all flags flying. Man problems, weight problems, fine points of etiquette and wardrobe–some days, let me tell you, she's enough to give Sigmund Freud a migraine.

But I don't mind helping, because she's got a big heart to go with her big rack and she's always grateful. Like the other day, I'd helped her over a difficulty she was having with sentence structure in Cicero's speeches, and she looked over at me with those deep, brown eyes and said, Dolores, you're such a role model and inspiration. And I said, I know honey, I can't help it.

And then she said it was a shame that more people couldn't benefit from my several advanced degrees including the big-ass PhD I earned from the School of Life. And I said, honey you're so right for once.


So, in the spirit of noblesse oblige (which is French for "If you got it, flaunt it") I would like to open the floor to all those out there wandering in darkness. I got my own e-mail address and everything, it's My faithful assistant Harry and I will consult to decide which letters I'll answer in here.

Just don't send me any naked pictures this time, got it? Not that I have an issue, but the Boss got all twitchy and shouty last time when I set them up as his screen saver.

Some people have no sense of humor.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Let's Catch Up On...


Your many, many reading suggestions for Violet and other teen-aged girls were wonderful and overwhelming. Both the birthday girl and her mother (who thanks you all, as do I) have read them.

I took care to indicate when inscribing Violet's books that some of the content might be a little "mature" for her mother's comfort; this seems to have had the desired result on her level of interest in them.

I needed something fun for bedtime reading, so I picked up the new Penguin edition of The Tibetan Book of the Dead. They did it up right, translating the whole megillah into English for the first time and snagging the Dalai Lama to write the introduction. Pretty cover, too.

It makes a nice counterpoint to the other thing on my nightstand–the latest volume of the Complete Peanuts series.

The older I get, the more I understand why potential husbands have often fled my presence when the conversation turned to books.

Knitting (Mine)

The new Baby Surprise Jacket is complete except for weaving in ends and choosing buttons. Pictures forthcoming. I tried something new this time, and instead of making yo,k2tog buttonholes as Elizabeth specifies, I turned to her one-row method from Knitter's Almanac. It works like a charm. By the third buttonhole, I had the method memorized. Highly recommended.

Knitting (Other People's)

I've been hearing from many the ten colleagues to whom I taught the basics back in February, and the word is encouraging. A summary:
  • One has pressed onward with her scarf, refusing to rip back, amazed by the improvement in her technique since the cast-on row. She's doing very well, with even tension and neat edges. Her first ten rows or so are fascinating, as in places the results are unlike anything I've ever seen anybody create with needles and yarn. Perhaps I should encourage her to send the finished object to Debbie New for analysis.

  • One threw her little bag of supplies into a suitcase at the last minute before leaving on a business trip. She was delayed at the airport for hours. She says the knitting saved her sanity. I tried not to look overly smug.

  • One decided she didn't want to continue on in the yarn from the class, so she went to the yarn store and bought her own. She emerged unscathed with a bag of wool she likes very much. She's well into the second ball and can see the Promised Land.|

  • The student who didn't want to put down her needles after she picked them up found somebody to teach her to purl and is now, by her own admission, addicted. She is asking questions about lace.
Okay, Headquarters: where's my toaster oven?


Brenda Dayne has asked for a new essay for the end of the present Cast On series, which delights me without end. I finished the first draft last night, once I pried Dolores (who was cruising Craiglist for temporary companionship) away from the computer.

A couple people have asked if I'm going to do a Podcast of my own. No plans to at present, no. It's a lot of work to do it well, and I can barely keep up with what's already on my plate. However, I've toyed with the idea of an occasional audio "supplement" to this blog, because I've been building a Podcast for my employer and have fallen in love with the process.


Following my review of 300, we learned via comments that Véronik Avery (who knew you were reading?) is not only so talented that she designs stuff like the "Salt Peanuts" sweater from Interweave Knits Spring 2004, she's also married to one of the Spartans from the film.

I could so smack her.


I think there are about 340 people waiting for e-mail from me. Now that I'm starting to emerge from the black fog that has enveloped me for two or so months, I'm working through the pile. Your patience is appreciated with an almost weepy level of gratitude.

The Shop

I haven't had the energy to do much with the shop, either; but my ink bottle is once again full, so to speak. Watch (if you've nothing better to do) for the arrival of P2tog and some other stuff in the next week or so.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Tonight We Dine in Hell, Tomorrow We Brunch in Lincoln Park

Last night I did something completely uncharacteristic and went to the Navy Pier IMAX to see 300. Unless you count Henry V, I'd never before willingly sat through a war flick.

I'm not afraid to fight if I must, but I don't like violence and I hate war. I particularly detest the glorification of war, even at a remove of several thousand years.

So what the hell drew me to see 300?

There were many reasons.

The first: I was graciously invited by a fellow from the gym who had recommended it highly.

The second and third:

Still Life with Tangerines

I'm not going to lie to you. If this had been a World War II picture and the soldiers were all running around France covered up in fatigues, I don't think I'd have been interested.

The official title is 300; but me, I'll always think of it as 600+. Yeah, there was occasional female nipplage, too, but I quickly figured out that if I squinted those parts just looked like a Tressamé commerical.

Before the lights dimmed, I found myself conflicted about which side to back. The intended heroes are the Spartans, of course. But my Middle Eastern ancestry gave me a certain sympathy for the Persians. I decided to withhold my allegiance until I got a look at both kings.

Leading the Spartans, you have 300's central character, Leonidas. He bears a startling resemblance to the soi-disant Mask of Agamemmnon excavated by Schliemann at Mycenae:


Leonidas is tough but tender, with great nobility of character. He also has an ass upon which one could serve breakfast, lunch, dinner, afternoon tea, and a midnight snack. (I regret that I have not a picture of the ass to show you.)

All admirable qualities, and I was prepared to root for Leonidas and His Merry Men. Then, after a bunch of fuss and botheration and decapitation, Xerxes showed up, carried in by slaves on his own traveling Ziegfeld staircase:


dressed in a get-up that was clearly an homage to supergay disco legend Sylvester:

La La

The word "fabulous" simply shrivels and dies when confronted with such as this.

How on earth is a man to choose?

There was a too-brief moment in which it looked as though the two forces might merge

and render the question moot. But just when the wokka-chikka music should have started, somebody threw a spear or something and then Leonidas bellowed again and we were back to serial decapitations in slow-mo.

Even though I knew *SPOILER ALERT!* the Spartans were going to wind up as shish kabob, ultimately I finally found myself howling for Big Daddy Leonidas. Xerxes was a little too much the posing Pretty Boy for my taste, though I'd consider doing him in exchange for his earrings.

To my great surprise, I enjoyed 300 from start to finish. Granted, it lacks certain things. Character development, for one. And it would have been nice to see the Spartans actually making out with one another between battles. However, as my companion for the evening suggested, we have but to wait patiently for the pornographic director's cut on DVD.

As they say in Sparta, "Arrrrooooooooooooooooooo."

Monday, March 19, 2007

Le Coochie Dancer Malgré Lui

If you've been coming here for a while you know that when it comes to making good on her Big Plans, Dolores ranks somewhere between President Bush and Mr. Toad.

I've been stuck at work so much lately that home, when I was there, seemed relatively quiet and I'd grown hopeful that this, too would pass. I inquired of Harry, who answered evasively and quickly returned to the Ida B. Wells page of his Sistahs with Attitude Coloring Book.

Then, last night, I found something stuck between the sofa cushions:


I confronted the resident chanteuse with it this morning when I got home from the gym.

"I wondered what the hell happened to that," she said. "Much obliged, cupcake."

"I take it the show is still on?"

"When an artist is announced, an artist must perform."

"And you've recruited your chorus line?"

"Yeah. Didn't you read the back of the page?"

"The front was more than sufficient."

She flipped it over and held in under my nose.

"Why is my name on this list?"

"I guess I forgot to mention it. I need a novelty act. You're a little long in the tooth, but Lucky Horseshoe people told me I have to cater to all tastes. Do you still have that cop shirt Lars gave you?"

"Yes, but–"

"Fabulous, we're all set. Don't worry, I'm scheduling evening rehearsals since a buncha the other guys got day jobs, too. You know, Genghis is only do you feel about a duo number? No tongues."

"I'm not–"

"Listen, I'd love to chat," she said, "But I have an early appointment with the costume designer. We can catch up later tonight. No, I have a date. Tomorrow night, then. Meet and greet with the other guys before the choreographer gets here. Wear something stretchy."

Anybody in the Chicago area have a spare room to rent?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Why I Am Going to Be a Lousy Uncle

I'd like to take a moment to say thank you for all the encouraging words that followed my last post. I am, you will notice, still here. I am even feeling rather better. The Baby Surprise Jacket continues charmingly. Dum spiro, spero.

The daughter of M, a dear colleague, is about to celebrate her thirteenth birthday. In celebration I went out to buy her a couple of books as a present. I've done so every year since M and I began working together. I don't often socialize with co-workers, but M is a delightful exception, and her daughter, whom I'll call Violet, is a good egg.

Until this year, choosing which books to give has been no problem. More often than not I wrapped up new copies of old favorites–Laura Ingalls Wilder, Roald Dahl–and sometimes later discoveries like Karen Cushman (author of Catherine, Called Birdy and The Midwife's Apprentice).

Thirteen is a big birthday. I decided to move out of the kid lit section and into the hitherto unexplored stacks labeled "Teen Readers." M told me that Violet is fond of Meg Cabot's "Princess" novels and so I thought perhaps I'd pick up something in that line.

An hour later, I staggered away from the "Teen" books bent double under deep misgivings about what's being fed to young readers by modern publishing. The available stock at Barnes and Noble leads me to conclude that:
  1. Teenaged boys do not read books any more. If there were, let's say, 500 works in the section, perhaps ten were not explicitly aimed at girls.

  2. Girls who read are encouraged to pursue one of three paths: princess, witch,* or slut. Should she find any one role limiting, she can blend them to become (for example) a slutty princess, or a royal witch.

  3. Whatever she wishes to be, she is taught that life's chief goal is to get a boyfriend, whether she has to buy him (princess), put a spell on him (witch), or wiggle her skinny ass until he capitulates (slut).

  4. All girls have three tools with which to nab the boyfriend: connivery, sex and submission. This last is true even if, according to Debrett's Peerage or similar, she outranks him.

  5. A girl can either have the boyfriend or her own life/interests, but never the two at once.

  6. Meg Cabot's idea of being a royal princess appears to be modeled on the life of Tori Spelling, except that instead of living in a big house in Beverly Hills one lives in a big house in a fictional country in Europe.

  7. Most girls in "Teen Readers" books probably could not point to Europe on a map if it were lit up and flashing. But it doesn't matter, because being smart turns boys off and if you are smart, you better hide it.

  8. I saw three books with non-white teen girls as their chief characters. One girl was a slave, one was marching to Selma, and one was having a baby and getting over a heroin addiction.
Here's what I got Violet for her birthday:
None is from the "Teen Readers" section, and I'm pretty sure none is on Violet's wish list. But I figure I'm giving her two glimpses of real royal history, and the ur-Harlequin romance. I have no idea if she'll read them.

Maybe if they sit on her shelf for a while, she'll get curious and step away from the Meg Cabot.** Maybe she'll discover there's more out there than the latest crap designed to groom her as a docile consumer of The Rules, Bridget Jones, and He's Just Not That Into You.

*I don't mean a practitioner of Wicca. I mean Lindsay Lohan, but with the secret power to give her nemesis a giant zit, and make Jeremy ask her to the prom.

**I realize this is a snobbish thing to say, especially as Meg's Princess has a boyfriend and I don't. Perhaps I should read the books myself, and learn.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Since my last post, the weather in Chicago has turned freakishly warm. It's only a temporary spell, says the weatherman, but for the moment we've moved from bleak midwinter to early June.

I expected my mood my elevate with the thermometer, but it hasn't. I'm stuck in the doldrums and my head isn't properly screwed on. It has been thus for an annoyingly long time–my energy keeps ebbing, and all I want to do is crawl under the bed and ignore the world.

I don't often write about feeling blue. That's a difficult state of mind to pin down with words; it almost always comes out as whining.

I hate whining, and have extremely limited patience with those who indulge.

It'd make me feel better to write about where I'm seeking comfort. Anybody care to guess?

BSJ #2


It's a Baby Surprise Jacket. The yarn is Rowan Felted Tweed, bought in Amsterdam a couple of years ago. Unlike the first jacket, this one's not going to Mongolia. I know the baby who will (I hope) wear it, although we have not yet been formally introduced.

Since I began it, this project and I have been inseparable. It's giving me exactly what my brain craves right now: a clear path with a definite ending. Cast on, knit, cast off, fold, sew. No room for uncertainty.

My life right now is a great tottering pile of uncertainty. I was coasting along in a dull little rut when suddenly things started to splinter. Possibilities have arisen involving my life, my work, and my romantic entanglements. All are distantly promising, but the promise could evaporate at any moment. And there's only so much I can do about it.

I hate, hate, hate that.

These are two things Buddhism has taught me, and that I believe:
  1. All things are impermanent and change is constant.
  2. Suffering arises from the desire to hang on to things that are impermanent or control that which cannot be controlled.
Smart cookie, that Buddha. You look at those two points, and you see a clear way out of my difficulty. Stop fretting over what I can't change anyhow. Let things run their course. Relax.

All the people reading this who know me well just had a laughing fit.

If I can't control the big things, dammit, I'll try to control the little ones. Give me two needles and yarn, and I can make one stitch after another until the thing I want is in my grasp. I'm going to knit this jacket, and keep on knitting, until the other stuff I want either shows up or doesn't. It gives me the illusion of control. And I know it's just an illusion, but sometimes illusion is enough.

Monday, March 05, 2007

It Must Be March

How do I know this? Because of the hint of spring warmth in the breeze? The almost indiscernible aroma of fecundity among the flowerbeds? The palest green promise of buds on the bare branches?

Fuck no. Are you kidding? I live in Chicago. Everything here is dead, gray, and frozen with no end in sight. It's like Narnia without the exotic animal life. If I'm not still wearing my frigging overcoat in June, I'll feel lucky.

Ah, that's it. That's how I know it's March. It's because I have offically Had It with winter and have withdrawn into my own season, the Season of Crabbiness. If Mother Nature were to peek her smiling, ruddy face through my window right now, I'd rip it off.

Knitting: Big Whoop

At such times it would probably be best to keep me away from all undertakings involving sharp, pointed implements. Nonetheless, I knit. Nothing spectacular, but at least with both hands full I can't smack random passers-by.

Here is what I have to show you right now. It's (are you sitting down?) a square-in-progress.

I wouldn't even show this to you except that even in my present state of mind I think the combination of yarn and stitch pattern is quite successful.


I got the pattern out of one of the Vogue Stitchionary books. I can't remember which one, and the book is all the way over there. It's called diagonal lace or prettyprettywow lace or happyshinyfuckitlace or something like that. The sample shot uses green yarn. I think. I'm not sure. Like I said, the book is all the way over there.

I had to re-do this dazzlingly complex work of art three times before I finally realized that there's a mistake in the three-row pattern and that if you follow it verbatim, your left edge gradually decreases and you will wind up with a right triangle instead of a square. Now, if you want to knit a @#%!* right triangle, why, it's just the very thing.

The yarn, which is soothing even to hands that might otherwise be hurling chunks of ice at widows and orphans, is from Black Bunny Fibers. Carol, one of my favorite Yarn Pushers, sent it to me along with instructions to knit it up to certain dimensions and not to ask any questions.

Square Also

I may be a bitchy mood, kids, but I still know better than to argue with a lady who sends me free yarn.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Casting Call

You know it's not going to be a nice, quiet evening when you come home from work and find that somebody has posted this notice on your front door:

3:30-9 p.m.
Please have your headshot and resume ready.
Dancers please remove your shirts.

I took deep breath (which sounded more like an exasperated gurgle) and stepped into the foyer. Mrs Teitelbaum was there on a folding chair next to a card table, reading a copy of People magazine.

Her head jerked up as I closed the door. "Did you make an appointment?"

"No, Mrs Teitelbaum," I said. "What are–"

"Well, okay," she said. "You're kind of short but she did say she needs all kinds, so give me your photograph and take off your shirt and wait in the kitchen and maybe we can fit you in somehow."

"Mrs Teitelbaum," I said, "It's Franklin. Franklin."

She lifted her pince nez onto her nose and stared at me.

"Ohhhhh," she said. "It's you. She didn't think you'd be home so soon. I'm afraid she's not going to be very happy about this. We're right in the middle of things."


Suddenly from the living room I heard what sounded like an asthmatic Corgi singing "I Want Your Sex" with piano accompaniment.

"DOLORES!" I screamed.

The piano and the Corgi broke off in mid-phrase. Dolores huffed in, followed by Harry, who was carrying a notebook and a stack of 8x10 glossies.

"What are you doing home?" she said. "I thought you had a date."

"Not this month."

"Can you go get one? And not come back before, say, nine or ten?"

"What the hell is going on in here?"

"I am trying to conduct auditions, cupcake, in preparation for what will undoubtedly be the musical and terpsichorean sensation of the Boystown summer season."

"I don't even want to know."

"I have been engaged," said Dolores, "to present my song stylings at a venerable and beloved Chicago boite, and for this I require a top-notch supporting ensemble."


"She got hired by the Lucky Horseshoe to sing three nights a week and introduce the coochie dancers," said Harry.

"What's a coochie?" said Mrs Teitelbaum. "Is that French for cookie?"

"Will you all please shut up?" said Dolores. "I am paying the pianist by the hour and we have talent stacked up in the kitchen waiting to be seen."

"And they already used up all the ice in the freezer trying to keep their nipples perky," said Harry. "So one of the guys was asking if he could crack open that box of frozen soy nuggets."

"I like chocolate chip coochies best," said Mrs Teitelbaum.

"Are we done? Should I put my pants back on now?" shouted the Corgi voice from the living room.

"Yes!" I yelled.

"No!" screamed Dolores. "I haven't seen you do the dance combination yet. Harry, let's roll."

The piano launched into the opening bars of Kylie Minogue's "Your Disco Needs You." Mrs Teitelbaum bobbed her head in time and snapped her fingers.

"Aren't you going to take your shirt off like the others?" she said vaguely.


"Oh, that's too bad. Say, when my shift is done would you like to come over to my apartment for a coochie?"

I think I'm going to start sleeping at the office.