Thursday, June 28, 2007

Shawl Survives Freak Accident

Chicago, IL–An unfinished lace shawl has survived a terrifying encounter with uncooked oatmeal and is resting comfortably says the shawl's creator, Franklin Habit. Habit, a resident of the north side, was present when the unusual combination of uncooked oats and silk-cashmere laceweight yarn caused an explosion on board a Red Line subway car during the morning commute.

Neither Habit nor the other passengers were injured, though they all looked pretty funny.

Round the edge
Doing Fine. The exploding shawl at home in Lakeview.
A full recovery is expected. (Reuters/AP)

The shawl was given immediate attention and is now confirmed to be oatmeal-free and unharmed. Reclining on a cushion in Habit's living room during a photo session, it offered words of gratitude and reassurance to all those who had expressed concern for its well being.

"Your good wishes mean so much. I'm feel great, I'm still on schedule for completion, and I'm glad it wasn't a Thermos full of coffee or a juice box," said the shawl.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Blended Fibers

My weightlifting regimen has a nutritional component that includes a schedule of six little meals a day instead of three larger. I was skeptical of the plan at first, but have found that I'm not only looking better but feeling better.

The second meal of the day is a bowl of organic oatmeal with plain yogurt at about 10 a.m. Nothing could be simpler, of course. I just whip it up in the office microwave and eat it at my desk.

This requires a supply of oatmeal on hand at the office, so yesterday I stowed a new, sealed cannister in my messenger bag along with the rest of my daily necessities: phone, iPod, sketchbook, pens, The Man of Property, and the christening shawl.

I was late in leaving the house. I knew that unless I picked up the pace, I'd miss my train. I ran three blocks, into the station, through the turnstile, and up the stairs to the platform. I caught the train with mere seconds to spare, and collapsed on an empty seat.

My jangled brain took a stop-and-a-half to refocus. Finally, I remembered that I need spend my commute time knitting in order to keep the shawl on schedule. I reached into my bag, unaware that my impromptu 400 meter dash had caused the contents to blend.

I whipped the shawl out, gave it a good snap to settle the stitches, and POOF...oatmeal flakes. In profusion. Everywhere. Up to the ceiling of the car, across the aisle, into the hair of those sitting around me. As though Quaker had set off a dirty bomb on the CTA.

What does one say in this situation? Nowhere, in any of my etiquette books, is there a suggestion about what to do when one's lace knitting covers one's fellow passengers with oatmeal. Even Emily Post, who dwelt at length on such vital matters as coping without your personal maid while camping, is mum on this topic.

I'm afraid the best I could muster was a feeble apology, which was graciously accepted by everybody-except the fellow who slept through the whole thing.

I can only imagine what he must have thought when he woke up to find himself dusted with oats.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

House Full of Pride

Did you ever have one of those days where you worked yourself into a froth at the office, came home in a stupor longing for a hot bath and early bedtime, and found two sheep and a flock of sock yarn building a Gay Pride float in the middle of your living room floor?

Me too.

As with so much that goes on under my roof, the origin of this project was a mystery to me. I didn't know about it until Harry asked whether he could put the best cloth on the dining room table for a committee meeting.

We've had a few committees in the apartment before and the result is usually messy, and often expensive. I pressed for details.

"Me and the guys are trying to get a spot in the Pride Parade," said Harry. "We want to show that the Manly Yarn Brotherhood Against Loose-Lipped Slurs is out and proud!"

"A noble goal," I said.

"Yeah!" squeaked Harry. "We even have a theme. Look!"

He held up a sheet of construction paper decorated with a fat rainbow and the slogan MYBALLS: FULL OF PRIDE.

"That'll get their attention," I said.

"Can we have the meeting here? Please?"

"Can you keep it neat and quiet?"

"I promise!"

"Then you may."

And then Dolores got involved.

The sock yarn wanted something simple, with balloons and streamers. Dolores quickly convinced them that no float worth riding on could roll without a hot theme and a resident diva. Add those, she insisted, and the group would be shoo-in for first prize.

"Oooh," said the sock yarn.

"Now," said Dolores, taking Harry's place at the white board and grabbing his erasable marker, "Let's brainstorm some fun themes."

"Yarn Through the Ages!" shouted a ball of bamboo. "Then we can all dress up in drag as famous knitters!"

"Yeah! I call dibs on Meg Swansen," said Harry.

"Hey! I want to be Meg!" said the bamboo.

"You lack the requisite poise," sniffed Harry.

"Your mother sleeps with Simply Soft," said the bamboo.

"Boys!" Dolores snapped, tapping the white board, "I said a fun theme. Something wild, something naughty, something that'll make the guys go crazy with desire when they see you coming."

"Have you ever spent a weekend with Meg?" said Harry.

Dolores wrote ISLAND OF THE FIRE GODDESS across the board in big letters.

"Ooooh," said the sock yarn.

I had to speak up. "Dolores," I said. "Fire? And yarn? Maybe not a great combination."

"We'll just pretend, silly," she said. "What do you say to a big volcano, boys? And lots of palm trees, and you can all put on flirty little grass skirts and dance around suggestively and throw flowers to the crowd."

"Ooooooh," said the sock yarn.

"And then every so often, the volcano will erupt! And Pele the Goddess will rise up from it and sing selections from her upcoming revue at the Lucky Horseshoe!"

"I know how to play 'Dancing Queen' on the ukulele," said a normally shy and taciturn ball of Lorna's Laces.

That settled the matter.

Victorine, who is between gigs, flew in from Quebec to help with the costuming. Never one to hold back from a chance to show off, she proposed that Madame Pele might share her volcano with a younger, slimmer, French-speaking cousine. Dolores took issue.

"One volcano, one goddess. How about we put an apple in your mouth and say you're the main dish at the luau?"

"Ah sink no," said Victorine, "Ah sink instead, Ah take dis 'ere apple, and Ah shove eet up you beeg fat cu-"

That was two days ago, and I'm still picking false sheep eyelashes out of the rug.

It was Harry who ultimately solved the problem with a suggestion worthy of Solomon.

Two volcanoes.

They Float

Whether you're gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, undecided; or a straight friend, parent, sibling, coworker, neighbor, employer, or admirer, Happy Pride from our house to yours.

A Whirl of Activity

It's been far too long since we had a cartoon around here, don't you think?


I don't think that's the final version of this idea, so imagine this as a tantalizing glimpse into the rehearsal room of my mind. Come on, try.

1,000 Knitters Shoot

The ladies at Arcadia Knitting have decided to open early for the 1,000 Knitters shoot. I am delighted. Here are the new details in a convenient, compact, clip-n-save format:

1,000 Knitters Photo Shoot
Arcadia Knitting
1613 W. Lawrence Avenue, Chicago
July 14, 2007 from 9 am-6 pm

Knitter 0001 casts on tonight. The scarf will begin with a skein of the first yarn I ever bought, on my first visit to a yarn store, in 1991. I've kept it all this time, trusting that a suitable project would present itself. And presto, a mere 16 years later, here it is.

By the way, there was a question about doing this at other yarn stores around Chicago. I have no objection to it, but offers to host have not been forthcoming and I've had no chance to do the legwork on my own. If you have a yarn shop (or other spacious, well-lit venue) and think this sounds like your cup of tea, drop me a note.

Christening Shawl

I'm on the move with the edging. As it is now off the circular needle, there will be a photograph. Just not now, because I have to get to the office and still have no pants on.

Speaking of Work

If good wishes count for anything, you all have guaranteed that my new gig will be equal parts boffo and socko. Thank you kindly. I wish to report with pride that I have now gone three days without wanting to hit anyone or set fire to the conference table. It has been such a long, long time since I could say that.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


Yesterday was my last day at the old job. Monday is my first day at the new.

The old job was an adventure, to be sure. On the one hand, they usually sent me to Europe for two weeks every year, gratis.

On the other hand, the other fifty weeks of the year were an endless cavalcade of annoyance, humiliation and overwork.

We once benchmarked our Web programs against those at peer institutions, and found that in all cases, even those at which there was less to do, my job was performed by a minimum of six full-time employees. I asked whether I might be allowed to have a student aide, at a rate of $7.50 an hour, for five hours a week. They said no.
I should have seen it coming. My second round of interviews took place on September 12, 2001. I called the office on September 11, just after the World Trade Center collapsed, and asked what I should do. "Oh," the HR rep chirped, "It's business as usual around here. We aren't even letting people go home unless they take vacation. Chicago didn't get hit."

But I needed a steady income to escape from Mr. Ex, so I grit my teeth and signed on.

The new job is at the same university, but in a different division. To my unbridled joy, it isn't a Web design position. I'll be writing, I'll be editing, I'll be art directing and playing with photographs. In the university hierarchy, it's a lateral move, not a promotion. I don't care. It's exactly what I wanted: a step towards my ultimate goal of being a person to whom the sentence, "The database is down" means nothing.

And you helped. When they asked about my writing abilities, I pointed them here. I do believe the fact that 2,000 of you stop in once a day to see if I've written anything helped to convince them I could produce snappy copy for the magazine. Thank you.

My final duty last night was to photograph the fiftieth reunion alumni being robed and capped for commencement. It was a sweet way to end things. They were all wonderful people, in high spirits, genuinely happy to be back and to see each other. When they lined up to join the procession into the stadium, I handed off to another photographer who was assigned to shoot the ceremony, then said goodbye to my colleagues–who were suddenly my former colleagues.

And as I walked away, alone, the university band began to play "Pomp and Circumstance."

I laughed all the way home.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Observations, Upon Reaching a Lace Milestone

Ladies and gentlemen, the final row of the christening shawl center is complete.

A round of plain stockinette should not take a full week, but this one did. Hey, I've been busy. I had company, I got a new job, "South Park" was on, the sun was in my eyes, Dolores and Victorine are sewing costumes in the living room and Harry choked on a bugle bead, there are nine hundred unread e-mails in my know, the usual.

As I prepare to begin the edging, it seems appropriate to pause and commit to electronic immortality the lessons I have learned while working the center square and borders.
  1. Knitting swatches is vital to the success of a lace project.
  2. Knitting swatches is a waste of time, because swatches fucking lie.
  3. Do not knit from the center of a center-pull ball of laceweight. It will snarl beyond rescue, and you will attempt to kill the next person you see.
  4. You can never use too many stitch markers.
  5. Keep your work-in-progress away from colored liquids, Velcro, curious toddlers, grabby old women, chocolate, spring rain, airport security, zippers, smokers, and the rear deltoid machine at the gym.
  6. Ted was right. Don't count rows, count pattern repeats. If you count rows, you will stop knitting entirely and stare out the window at all the people walking by who are not knitting lace, and try to imagine a time when you, too, will not be knitting lace, and decide this time will never come, and consider stabbing yourself with both ends of your Addi Turbo.
  7. The road to Hell is paved with nupps.
  8. At some point, you will be tempted to just bind off and call it a doily.
  9. If you set about counting a round of 840 stitches without first clearing the room of friends and family, go ahead and call the ambulance first. It will save time later on.
  10. A large lace project will teach you that you are much more of an idiot, and far more clever, than you ever suspected.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

1,000 Knitters...Away We Go

Ladies and gentlemen, it is with the greatest pleasure that I announce the first of what I hope will be many open days for the 1,000 Knitters project: Saturday, July 14, 2007.

Sharon and Kathy of our own, dear Arcadia Knitting, have agreed to host the shoot in their shop at 1613 West Lawrence in Chicago (for more details about the location, visit their Web site). We'll begin promptly at noon and continue until ten minutes before closing.

I'm not going to ask for advance sign-ups, but depending upon the level of interest there may be a numbering system for participants so that nobody has to stand in line when s/he could be playing in the yarn stacks.

Those are all the details for now. If you're interested, just make a note on your calendar and watch this space.

If you can't make it on this day, don't fret. There will be others. And I am going to see as many folks individually or in smaller groups as my schedule will allow. I have finally got my own summer plans hammered out sufficiently to respond to the inquiries with firm suggestions.

Jeepers, I can't wait to meet y'all.

Baby Moment

Please indulge me as I present the latest photograph of my supernaturally cute niece.

Bug's Ear

It's almost disturbing, isn't it?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

La Mère Coupable

I was riding home on the train last night when a woman in a nearby seat asked about the shawl. (Two more rounds to go, thanks.)

At this point, I've been carrying the thing with me for three months. Questions have been commonplace. My 30-second spiel was primed and ready,* and I delivered it.

What I wasn't expecting was her response: "Seeing you do that makes me feel so guilty."

I asked why. She said that she has two small children but doesn't knit, crochet, or sew. What's more, she doesn't want to. And so, "You're a guy, making something for somebody's baby, and I'm a mother and my kids get all their stuff at the store. I feel bad about that."

Her children weren't present, but I'm guessing they're not running around Chicago naked. More likely they're as well-fed and nicely groomed as she. And yet the fact that their clothes were bought, not handmade, troubled her.

Here was an aspect of the knitting-and-gender issue I've never pondered. Men sometimes get flak for knitting. But a woman suffering guilt for not knitting? Still? Now? In 2007?

Honestly, I figured that last vestiges of that sort of thing had drifted away when I was a kid in the mid-seventies, buoyed aloft by the heat rising from a million brightly burning brassieres.*

Is this just a mother thing? Or does it affect womenfolk in general? Needless to say, I'm interested to hear your thoughts on this.

More on "Missed Connections"

I didn't pursue the fellow on the subway because I couldn't recognize him from his description, and you'd have to experience the Freak Parade that is my commute to appreciate what a can of worms a blind hello might open for me.

I don't know why he didn't/doesn't just come over and say hello, unless he's painfully shy or was crushed to death by a bus immediately after posting his notice. In which case, I sympathize. But I have to finish this shawl, so honestly I'm not looking around much between my stop and the university.

Oh, and my guess about what happened to Patrick? My guess is that when the gangway hit the dock, Patrick suddenly remembered he had a boyfriend at home. They're called shipboard romances for a reason.

Or so says Dolores.

*Little-known fact: Large-scale lace knitting in public is the perfect training for making "elevator pitches" to film and television executives. Hollywood, here I come.

**In a moment of uncharacteristic candor, my grandmother once said apropos of this topic, "No way in hell I would walk around without a bra. But I would have burned my darn girdle if they asked me."

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Only Connect

I heard it said once that we are most emphatic about correcting those "faults" in others that we perceive in ourselves.

If the 1,000 Knitters project leads me repeatedly to harangue the participants about learning to love themselves, that's why. You're reading the words of a fellow who for ten years never once looked at himself in the mirror. I even learned to shave my face by feel. I can deal with mirrors now, but I still don't like them.

Needless to say, this (what to call it? fault? attitude? neurosis?) peculiarity is an impediment when it comes to the pursuit of anything approaching romance. Fine, I know I'm not the ugliest man in the world. I know that I even have a feature or two that might be considered choice. However, my reaction to any indication of interest from my fellow men is still unmasked suprise, followed immediately by incredulity.

It came as a complete shock, therefore, when a former colleague alerted me to a notice somebody had posted on Craigslist (with which I was only vaguely familiar) in "Missed Connections," a section in which the lovelorn (or lustful) take a shot at finding those they have noticed from afar but been unable to meet.

The writer, in this instance, was looking to speak to a short guy, with a shaved head and goatee, who knit most weekday mornings on the Red Line heading north out of the city. I had to admit that did sound rather familiar.

There has been no subsequent connection, but I found the "Missed Connections" concept so amusing that reading them has become a regular feature of my day. Most of the time they follow a predictible pattern:
  1. Man sees other man in gymnasium / restaurant / elevator / steel mill.
  2. Man senses that other man shares mutual interest.
  3. For some reason (i.e., "I was with my wife") man cannot approach other man at that moment.
  4. Man suggests that if other man recognizes himself from the description and is interested, he should get in touch.
Occasionally, though–and this is why I can't stop reading them–I am rewarded with a "Missed Connection" so delicious that I feel it should be collected in an anthology and set to music.

Here are a couple recent gems for your delectation. The titles and commentary are mine, of course.

Two Guys in a Nightclub
"Got the courage to talk to you just before I went home. You said your name was like the animal. I would like to see you again." (Giraffe, are you out there?)
Two Guys in Another Nightclub
"I wish I had given you my number. I'm the guy with similar hair." (Two guys with similar hair in a gay bar? What are the odds?)
Two Guys Eating Burritos
"You were having lunch at the Chipotle around 2 or 3pm maybe. You're pretty hot.
What's up?" (Well, that narrows it down, doesn't it?)
Two Guys, One of Them Clueless, On a Cruise Ship
"Patrick? Met you on a Carnival Cruise and haven't heard from you since -- what happened? I hope you see this..." (I bet I can guess what happened to Patrick.)
Two Guys and a Hard Disk
"You fixed my computer. Thank you." (Is this a euphemism? Or just a rather odd way to offer customer feedback?)
And I only read the "M4M" listings. I can't even imagine what must go on in the "M4W" and "W4M" sections. I bet you straight types get up to some freaky stuff. I've heard rumors.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Photo Developments

The title is a pun. Get it? Ha, ha.

I'm going through the 1,000 Knitters messages in a more organized fashion, trying to figure out how we're going to make this work. You perhaps are thinking I should have considered this before announcing the project. However, my life to this point has included far too much thinking and far too little doing. Had I imagined what my mailbox would look like stuffed with hundreds of excited messages waiting to be sorted, I would have retired, shaking, into a dim corner and sat there until the vision faded.

Until I can answer all individually, I'd like to address a few common concerns collectively.
  1. Please rest assured that it is not possible to break a camera merely by sitting in front of it.

  2. No, I will not need my wide-angle lens to fit you into the frame.

  3. You are not the ugliest person I will ever have photographed. That honor belongs to a prominent socialite, a twig-thin product of goodness knows how many expensive spa treatments, who earned the title by continuing to call me "Manuel" after she had been introduced to me by name and reminded of my correct name several times. Ugly is as ugly does.

  4. Everyone is photogenic while they're knitting.

  5. Indulgence in self-deprecation during your shoot will result in my giving you That Look, which I inherited from my mother. Believe me when I say that you do not want to be on the receiving end of That Look.
And what will you be knitting? Well, here's what I've decided.

The image of a common thread–or yarn, in our case–is too potent to resist. So I've decided that when it's your turn to sit, you'll pick up and work on a scarf, one scarf, in which all 1,000 of you will have a hand. The first knitter will cast on 22 stitches. The final knitter will bind off. If you're in the middle, you'll knit rows, join a new ball, fix dropped stitches or do whatever happens to be needed at that point before passing the scarf along.

(Don't ask what'll happen to the scarf when it's finished. I haven't thought that far ahead yet.)

Knitting Update

So close. So close. Four more rows to the end of the center of the christening shawl, and two of those are plain.

Almost There

I tried so hard, so very hard, to make this look like anything other than used cheesecloth. Perhaps, some day, the shawl will look at this pre-blocking photograph as I do my eighth-grade school portrait: a dreadful mess of acne, too-large glasses and impossible hair waiting to blossom into the sprightly, long-limbed Adonis you all know today.

Shut up.

I do have to set it aside briefly this week to finish up my final Dulaan pieces, of which there are two in progress. I will not have been the most prolific Dulaan knitter by a longshot, but I'll have met my modest goal.

Hey, Konchog–is there anything particularly Mongolian I should drink to celebrate?

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Shawl Stuff

  1. I have completed the little pine trees in the final section of the shawl border. All that remains before the edging is a couple rows of plain stockinette, two rows of k2tog, yo, and couple more rows of plain stockinette.

  2. I cannot now remember what it feels like to knit anything other than white laceweight on a size zero circular.

  3. My next project, whatever it may be, will involve color. Lots and lots of color. Enough color to make Kaffe Fassett say, "Wow. Don't you think this is a little busy?"

  4. When we visited a craft sale today, the old Maine ladies admired first the baby, then the Glencora shawl wrapped around her.


    My sister kindly informed them that I had made it. When they recovered the power of speech sufficiently to express surprise, it was fun to say, "Of course, I'm working on something much fancier for the christening." Girls, that's how it's done downtown.

  5. I'm afraid there's no pattern for Glencora, Lauren, though I'm flattered to be asked. To make it, all you need to do is knit up the baby shawl from Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitter's Almanac(it's in February, I think), and when you have enough room put a tulip from Barbara Walker's A Treasury of Knitting Patternsin each quadrant. Above that, after a bit of plain knitting, put in two rows (staggered) of rosebuds from Sharon Miller's Heirloom Knitting. Then a little more plain knitting. Surround the whole with the Wave Edging from Heirloom Knitting. Block severely. Wrap around baby. Ta-daaa.

  6. I knew I would love Abigail but I didn't realize how much. Leaving is going to be difficult. Yesterday while Susan was taking a much-deserved nap I was in charge of keeping the baby happy and had her all to myself. She started fussing, so I picked her up and we drifted around the room to my off-key rendition of the Emperor Waltz. She gurgled happily and briefly attempted to nurse on my left bicep; then we sat on the sofa and she fell back to sleep on my chest. From her point of view, at that moment I was both needed and sufficient. I've seldom felt myself to be either of those separately, let alone together. Thanks, kid.