Saturday, May 30, 2009


I was walking down Fremont Street today when I heard a weird chattering coming from overhead. I looked up and saw a squirrel running down the trunk of one of the big, old trees that grow along the curb.

"Oh," I thought. "Squirrel."

The squirrel chattered again, and was answered from above by an entire Wagnerian chorus of chatters.

"Oh," I thought. "More squirrels."

And then, as in a cinematic version of The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin as re-imagined by Alfred Hitchcock, this furry seething river of squirrels started to swarm down the tree trunk.

You think I'm exaggerating. I'm not. It wasn't two or three or four, it was two or three dozen, all heading madly for the grass upon which I stood, all chattering in a manner that sounded uncannily like a passel of zombies calling for another round of brains.

There are no photos with this post because I did not stop to take photographs. I beat it, looking back over my shoulder as they tumbled downward onto the parkway, chattering. Chattering, chattering. It's still ringing in my ears.

We have a lot of squirrels in this neighborhood. If they have decided to organize, we're in trouble.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Welcome, Summer

Something YellowAs I write this the view beyond the window is temporarily sunlit, through a tiny break in a bank of clouds otherwise as gray, threatening and impenetrable as a fleet of battleships. This is late May in Chicago: glimpses of summer between stretches of cold, wet and windy.

This weekend we were granted a single perfect day, and on that day I helped to restore a friend's backyard. Once an oasis, it had fallen into ruin. We worked hard from Friday evening through Saturday evening: planting, dividing, tilling, grading, hauling, laying sod. It was heaven for me, the long-frustrated gardener with never more than a window box to fuss over.

I am happy to report that all those years of compulsively watching "The Victory Garden" and reading Gertrude Jekyll finally paid off. More than once, a question arose and from somewhere deep in my cranium emerged a surprisingly authoritative answer.

PetuniasTime will tell, of course, whether things actually grow as we intended. But we are ambitious, and have put our faith in reinvigorated beds of hostas and daylilies; baskets and urns of assorted annuals; a large planting of herbs; and one experimental tomato.

In exchange for buckets of sweat and a few scrapes and bruises, I now have entrée to the garden whenever I like. Border Leicester BobbinIt's close enough to home that my spinning wheel is now in residence. On Sunday, which was cooler but still pleasant, I sat on the porch and spun more of the Border Leicester for Susan's shawl. If the present pace persists, she can expect delivery in time for Fall 2015.

It's a commonplace that a good meal outdoors tastes better than the same meal indoors, and I think the same is true of needlework and spinning. When I first read Elizabeth Zimmermann's accounts (in Knitter's Almanac) of knitting in a canoe and by a campfire, I thought she must be cuckoo. Now, I get it. Provided you're not broiling in direct sun or being eaten alive by midges, fresh air can turn even plain passages of stockinette into moments of undiluted euphoria.

Our weather turned murky after that, and it's back to working indoors for the next few days, but I've had a taste of what's coming. And winter can't last forever, not even in Chicago.

Wheel on the Porch

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Warning Signs

40 WhacksYou know that yarn is running your life when you're watching a documentary about Lizzie Borden, and you rush to pause the DVD for a closer look at the grisly police photo of her butchered father because it appears that the pillow under his (bleeding, disfigured) head is made of crochet.

And then you realize half an hour later that you've missed the subsequent details of the investigation and trial because you've been thinking about whether Lizzie did crochet, and whether that might explain anything, and feeling frustrated that the people who made the documentary didn't bother to find out.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Do Gay Martians Have the Right to Marry?

It’s unthinkable for an American male of my age to say this, but it’s true: I do not, as a rule, care for science fiction.

I learned years ago not to air this singular lapse at parties. People don’t take it well. They insist, horrified, that I cannot be serious, as though I’d confessed a fondness for kicking stray dogs or pushing old ladies into traffic.

“What about Star Wars,” they gasp. “Didn’t you love Star Wars as a child?”

I didn’t, because I never saw Star Wars as a child. I still haven’t seen it, though I was persuaded to watch the final installment on a big screen. For a few minutes, it turned me into the screaming, bouncy second-grader I never was. But the thrill faded quickly and I’ve never bothered to watch the rest.

My imagination, I’m afraid, simply doesn’t thrive on what’s to come. I prefer to wander in the past. Given the chance and a time machine, I’d be tickled to pieces to sail around the world third class on a 1920s Cunard liner. If you handed me a first-class ticket to Mars, however, I’d hand it right back. I don’t want to visit Mars, don’t want to wear a space suit, don’t want to play zero-gravity badminton with little green men from some nebulous nebula.

It’s difficult to voice any of this without being accused of snobbery. And that’s funny, because it’s perfectly acceptable in America to say, for example, “I hate opera.” I happen to love opera, and when someone tells me she hates it, I often ask which opera she went to hear. The answer is almost invariably, “Well, I’ve never actually been to the opera…” Which is what I've always thought snobbery was–assuming that something (or someone) is not worth your time without taking a closer look.

In my defense, although I escaped immersion in Star Wars I’ve still sampled enough other stuff from the genre to have formed what I think is an educated distaste. Some of it was moderately highbrow (2001: A Space Odyssey) and some of it low (the original Battlestar Galactica). None of it grabbed me.

So imagine my surprise when, after watching the trailer, I conceived an undeniable urge to see Star Trek at the theater.

Now, skipping Star Wars is a walk in the park compared to evading Star Trek. There’s been so much of it; our culture is marinated in it. And it began as television. We didn’t go to the movies much when I was a kid, but we sure as hell had a well-used television.

Yet I never watched it, in spite of fierce peer pressure. When my friends wanted to play Star Trek, they always had to tell me what to do. Otherwise I’d act wildly inappropriate and order Scotty to beam me to Paris. (Hey–they said the transporter could send you anywhere.)

I hadn’t the faintest idea why the new movie caught my attention; but when Tom said he’d like to see it, I agreed to go. By Sunday afternoon, I was munching candy and watching everybody fight the Romulans.

Needless to say a whole bunch of the film zoomed right over my head, you should pardon the expression. Still, I enjoyed it. About halfway through, I realized why.

First, I love period pieces, and this is a period piece. It’s set in the future, yes, but it’s the future as imagined in the 1960s, re-created at the top of the twenty-first century. The costumers were splendidly faithful to the ironed hair, jump suits and go-go boots¬–indeed, the attention to detail is worthy of Merchant-Ivory.

Second, it’s one of the best gay films I’ve ever seen. It’s gayer than Milk.

I’ve been hearing for years that Star Trek, unlike a lot of other space epics, used futuristic situations at metaphors for contemporary issues. And so it is with this movie, which I interpret as a roman a clef exploration of the twinks vs. bears conflict within the gay community.

No, seriously. It’s so obvious.

In case you’re not familiar with the differing camps, twinks are the sort of gay person familiar to television audiences: young, fair, slender, with a fondness for form-fitting clothing and hair products. Twinks have taken over all the best-friend roles that used to go to actresses like Eve Arden.

Here, from the box cover of a gay Art Film celebrating (ahem) the twink lifestyle, is a representative sample.


Bears, on the other hand, are seldom represented in gay media and certainly never show up in mainstream media. Bears tend to be older, rougher, hairier, and heavier, with a fondness for tattoos, stout boots, and other trappings of untamed masculinity. Bears don’t appear in straight television or film because straight male executives can’t handle the idea of gay men who could kick the crap out of them.

Here, from another box cover from a very different gay Art Film, is a group of bears.


In Star Trek, the twinks are all aboard the Enterprise, along with their signature companion: a sexy, sassy female best friend. They're all wearing the same labels. The ship is new and exclusive, with custom retro furniture and perfect lighting–the de rigueur elements of a twink nightclub.

Star Twinks

They are fighting the bears–thinly disguised as the Romulans–led by a pugnacious leather daddy named Nero, who struts around brandishing his gigantic staff. Aside from a nasty case of cauliflower ear, Nero is a prime candidate to get his own calendar from Colt Studios.

Nero’s ship, the Narada, is black and spiky on the outside. Inside, it’s all shadowy corners and well-worn industrial fittings, with no women in sight–the spitting image of your typical corner leather bar.

Star Bear

Let’s do a side-by-side comparison, shall we?

Twinks and the crew of the Enterprise.


Star Twinks

Bears and Nero the Romulan.


Star Bear

I rest my case, earthlings.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Verses Scrawled on the Back of an Old Ball Band, Found Abandoned on a Street Corner in Nantucket

There once was a knitter named Nell
Who knit lace like a bat out of Hell.
Said the lass, “My technique
Turns out three shawls a week:
Do it quickly, but not very well.”

There once was a knitter named May
Who went shopping for yarn twice a day.
'Til a sack of wool blend
Caused the shelving to bend
And she drowned in a sea of bouclée.

There once was a knitter named Andy
Who dipped all his needles in brandy.
He said, “After a snifter,
My knitting’s much swifter,
And all of my sweaters smell dandy.”

There once was a knitter named Mary,
Who liked to mix cables and sherry.
She explained, “When I’m pissed,
I can fearlessly twist.
When I work them cold sober, it’s scary.”