Thursday, March 23, 2006

Lava Lounge fault line

Who knew that the City of Chicago couldn't generate an accurate voter registration list? This month tons of fliers praising or damning various politicians arrived at my home off Damen Avenue — not one addressed to a previous occupant.

None of that mail was prepared to tell a complete story, and unfortunately neither was Chicago Journal when it editorialized that voter lists are stacked against the Lava lounge's new owners' attempt to retain a liquor license. Unchallenged was the assertion that hundreds of ex-residents remained on voter rolls, raising the bar impossibly high in overriding a tavern moratorium.

The editorial stated that "we're pretty sure" there was no public attempt at compromise (presumably between the owners and those obstinate ghost voters). Yet an accompanying story alluded to just such an effort early on, a community meeting in which the owners' attempts to press their case were complicated by the presence of actual residents.

It continued with an equally blithe statement that "perhaps" the bar's neighbors favor high-end cookie-cutter development over variety, although that stretch of Damen has yet to acquire such tastes. Liquor moratoriums don't get enacted where there's business diversity. Bars still outnumber boutiques south of Division — not a shoe store in sight — and they present remarkably similar closing-time headaches.

This week Chicago Journal was a finalist in the Peter Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, for a story in which Max Brooks spent time getting to know the owners and patrons of Ashland Avenue taco stands. If only Chicago Journal could have brought that kind of attention to the corner of Damen and Iowa.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Naming rights


And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.
Genesis 2:19

Imposing order holds sway at the Chicago Flower & Garden Show. Brenda came to take notes on Kong Red coleus, Wind Dancer eragrostis and ornamental millet Jester in her mission to subdue the backyard. The ideal of plant husbandry was displayed in themed displays: summer colors, serene Japanese gardens, wild tree specimens. A competition was organized around categories such as pigmented leaves (headlined "morphing pixels"). To everthing there is a phylum, even photography: A competition placed shots of hummingbirds on plants in a separate category from those of butterflies on plants.

Brenda herded me toward Cass Turnbull's seminar on "ending senseless torture" in pruning, my aggressive thinning being our outdoorsy inside joke. We stopped on the way for a backyard birding seminar by bloggers Bill Thompson III and Julie Zickefoose, whose 80-acre exurban Ohio garden presents quite a contrast to our urban experience (no apparent problems there with rats and pigeons).

We merely gawked at the beautiful orchids for sale, but did break down on the way home and bought gorgeous vegetables from the Fox & Obel deli counter.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The little Trib

The 10th is the aluminum anniversary. So you'd think at least there would be a CD in the works to mark the founding of the Chicago Tribune Web site.

Instead, that milestone gets an extremely modest appreciation today far down the front page, eclipsed by reporter Kevin Pang's memorial to his dead iPod.

A boss calls my MP3 player the "Soviet iPod" — it's strapped to a pacemaker of four AA batteries, and it crashes my computer every time I try to sync. Yet I hang on. I am slow to jettison serviceable media (I completely skipped over the candy-bar generation of cell phones while nursing a Motorola TAC brick) so when's origins are recalled I believe attention must be paid.

What was then the index had very little news then and was soon to show even less, with a pre-portal front page designed for primordial laptops. But its staff (an extension of an AOL project) saw a future in which all information was within reach, and hired me for its classified search.

Cyberspace already has a long time line: ARPAnet and CompuServe launched in 1969, Usenet in '79 and of course Al Gore invented the Internet in 1991. In the 1980s I worked at the Chicago Sun-Times bureau that was broadcasting teletext on the vertical blanking interval of Channel 32; the Trib was experimenting with fax newsletters and something called America Online. But it is kind of freaky that early in my career computer storage meant the pegboard where the copy desk hung rolls of teletype tape.

Newspapers are still trying to envision a future on the Internet. Regional portal? On-demand broadcaster? Blog aggregator? Whatever its form, it will start from an experiment. So we must appreciate starting small.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

March mellowness

March usually finds me taking time off to pull together finalists for the Peter Lisagor Awards, with a break for college basketball. This year, Illinois and Wisconsin both faded early in the Big Ten tournament, and I handed off enough of the journalism contest to keep me sane. So instead:

I'm reading: Tennis and golf are executive diversions, which helps explain how tennis pro Tim Gallwey came to train telephone operators during the AT&T corporate breakup. Gallwey coached them to guess customers' stress, thus short-circuiting the entrenched second-guessing Ma Bell had imposed on the job. In "The Inner Game of Work," Gallwey argues that workers overthink their moves—that they should be observant without being critical.

I'm alternating between business books and short stories: Haruki Murakami, Alice Munro, Joan Didion, A Didion omnibus, "Vintage Didion," includes a prescient view of post-9/11 politics, "Fixed Opinions, or the Hinge of History." On a NYC trip a week after the attacks, she found "the entire event had been seized — even as the less nimble among us were still trying to assimilate it — to stake new ground in old domestic wars."

I'm cooking: The household division of labor is that Brenda writes the menus, largely from Cooking Light recipes, and I prepare the means. She thinks she's a better planner. I think she tends to veto my recipes. Whatever. By 7 p.m. I enjoy working with my hands. it would be a good time for a workout, if I could work in an evening comeback to my morning stretching and dog-walking routine. Best I can hope for is a few more minutes with the dog.

I'm listening: My Christmas gift cards helped me salt away John Coltrane CDs to survive the winter. It's a good sign that I haven't heard them all yet, or maybe it just means I'm making more Harold Washington library visits. Coltrane circa 1957 seems entirely too rococo: I find myself appreciating the rare legato moments most.