Monday, March 26, 2007

Winamp, Why Did I Ever Doubt You?

Turned out that my problem with Winamp not recognizing my iPod was corrected simply by using a different plugin. ml_iPod still has some kinks to work out; I lost all my playlists after installation. That's easily corrected - the only one I wanted to keep was the Steve Earle "Train 'a Comin' 'Winter Harvest' sequencing" playlist (anyone who owns the original Winter Harvest Records release of "Train 'a Comin'" knows what I'm talking about). It's a small price to pay as long as I don't lose my songs automatically.

Additionally, I managed to transfer all of my iTunes podcast subscriptions to Winamp's Shoutcast subscription service. Even "This American Life." What this means is that I might never have to fire up iTunes again. Unless I find some radio streams to transfer.

Thank you, Winamp.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Breakfast of Champions

I have a few guilty pleasures. One of the biggest ones is Reese Sticks, those peanut butter and chocolate covered cookie sticks that make a wonderful alternative to Twix. My breakfast yesterday consisted of three four-packs of them and a caramel macchiato. One can guess what happened next.

I'm at the computer getting some work done and kept nodding off. At one point I banged my head off the monitor hard. It got to the point to where Emmy was nuzzling me with her snout to keep me awake. I managed to finish what I needed to do, then staggered over to the couch and passed out until around 4:30. Then I went to the note board in the kitchen and put grocery shopping on the top of my priority list.


I'm very vocal about my love of Winamp. Its open-source coding allowed me to access songs I purchased from the iTunes store and transfer files from my iPod to my hard drive (and vice versa) without opening iTunes. It's also more stable than iTunes and doesn't take up as much hard drive space or memory to run.

I say "allowed" because the most recent iTunes update apparently closed off the latter function. When I open Winamp now and my iPod is connected to my computer, Winamp doesn't recognize it as connected. I'm hoping some ambitious Winamp fan recognizes this and creates a plugin to correct this very soon. I'd like the flexibility to add and remove songs from my iPod at my leisure, without having to fire up Winamp.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Clear Channel Blues

When I embedded this player on the blog, I had no idea that every third song would be "Love is a Battlefield." It's either that, some John Coltrane, or an anonymous song by Kaki King or Sharon Jones. All of them great songs, mind you. Just not over and over. This player is like the adult version of playing the Wiggles for your kid.

I'm starting to understand the appeal of satellite radio. In the meantime I'm running Winamp and scrobbling in the hopes of spicing up the player (hey, there's some Los de Abajo following the New Pornographers).

Otherwise, I've been having my own Wiggles moments this weekend, playing random tracks from the Duhks' "Migrations" album over and over. What? You're not hip to the Duhks? You should be. Think of what Nickel Creek might sound like if they developed a taste for hard liquor, soft drugs, and unfortunate tattoos, and you have the Duhks. They're coming to Schubas in May. I might have to pencil in the date.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

What Was Here Before I Got Here

I spent more time than usual in North Center last week. This is one of the things I found: even though Jazz Record Mart has been downtown for over ten years, the sign on their old Lincoln Avenue location is still up, and looks as well as it did when I lived in the neighborhood.

When you have a dog like Emmy, you can't help but wake up early, regardless of when you fell asleep. She's gotten a lot better at not waking me until it's absolutely necessary to (IE. when her bladder's ready to burst) but I haven't slept past 9 a.m. since I adopted her. My neighbor Sue is in Arizona taking in spring training and defying her Irish ancestry under the hot desert sun, so I'm also dog sitting her Pomeranian, Camille. Now, Camille is a bit more high maintenance than Emmy, largely because she's thirteen years old. I treat Camille a lot better than when I did when Sue and I were roommates; I used to feed Camille giardinera relish occasionally because I liked making her sneeze. These days, she has a congenital cough that requires steroids and an inhaler to keep in check if it becomes irritable. So I've been taking her to the park with Emmy and letting her run around the softball fields with the other morning dog walkers. And there are a few of us.

The one I can set my watch to is this older man named Mike. He has two dogs of his own named Hank and Two-Pack. When I first heard him call out Two-Pack's name, I made some joke about naming the dog after Tupac Shakur that only served to highlight the generation gap between us. But the dogs are all sociable, and they make great ice-breakers, so we wound up talking a lot and getting to know each other.

Mike's a lifelong resident of Bridgeport. He's pretty much lived his entire life within blocks of McGuane Park, and often tells stories of how the park used to operate back in his youth. In the winter, the park district used to ice down the softball field and turn it into an ice rink. I can remember them doing that at Hermosa and LaFollette parks on the west side when I was a kid, so the concept isn't so foreign.

Digressing, we've been watching the development of the park extension across the street (I snapped some photos of it that can be found on my Flickr page. When Mike was a kid, it used to be a rock quarry, and I can remember seeing these deep walls of stone when I moved down to Bridgeport over seven years ago. By then, the city was contracting out trucks to haul dirt to the quarry to fill it. I thought it was just a landfill to dump construction site dirt. The other day, while the dogs were running around, Mike was telling stories of the quarry. He was saying that when he was a kid, he and his pals used to sneak into the quarry's tunnels that ran under the neighborhood, that the quarry workers would use dynamite to excavate stone from the walls, and the houses would shake when the dynamite exploded. He also intimated that the quarry was a frequent solution to the Chicago Outfit's, um, stickier problems. "If you needed a someone to disappear, it came in pretty handy," Mike said.

I've long looked at the quarry/landfill as it's slowly progressed to the park it's supposed to become. We've heard it would be open this summer if the weather - and maybe the contracts - hold up. I've become fascinated at what it might look like if I wind up becoming a lifelong resident of this neighborhood. It still looks like a giant mound of dirt, but walking around the edge I can make out the cascading fish ponds along 27th Street, witness the slow grading of what's supposed to become a sled hill, and see the final touches placed on the western edge of the park at 29th and Poplar. But it still largely looks like a giant mound of dirt. It's been a long time in coming, and I'll believe it when I see the sod being laid and trees planted. I'm certain the residents of the Senior Suites of Bridgeport will appreciate having something so spacious across the street from them. The Senior Suites is also another neighborhood addition. It sits on the site of the old Glass Dome Hickory Pit restaurant. I used to daydream that it would make one hell of a music venue. It serves a better purpose with the Senior Suites; in a city that's increasingly expensive to live in, it's nice to see some urban planning that considers older citizens and residents with fixed incomes.

Mike and I were looking at the giant mound of earth, wondering how long it would really take to settle and how much of the earth used to fill the quarry is contaminated. It might need testing every year for the next quarter-century. As I leashed Emmy and Camille for the walk back home, I wondered if the stories I'll tell in my middle age, should I stay in the neighborhood, will be as colorful as the ones Mike tells me.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Live Free or Die!

Until I have a washer and dryer of my own, I will never do laundry on a Saturday again. A laundromat is the last place I want to spend three hours of my life on a weekend. In addition, I was accosted by one of those missionaries from the First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana with his Chick cartoon pamphlets and button-down demeanor. Actually, they aren't missionaries, per se. They're students at Hyles-Anderson College, which is part of the First Baptist Hammond organization. Students there are required to go out on what they call "soul winning" trips. They must have some script to follow, basic training, and tips on how to profile people, because they always lead with the invasive query, "If you died today, sir, would you be certain that you would go to Heaven?" The success rate among the Chinese and Spanish-speaking population in Bridgeport must be astounding.

Thanks to iPod ownership and my overall serious countenance, I have better success avoiding these people these days. A few years ago, I had a missionary on a rascal block my entry to Egg Store, then run over my foot trying to catch up to me. I've also had one Hyles-Anderson student offer me a water cannon if I would accept his testimony, which seems to work at cross purposes: if you have to play on peoples greed (a cardinal sin) into listening to how you became born again, are you going about this ministry the right way? I told him I wasn't interested in hearing him proselytize, then had to define the word "proselytize" to him. Which told me all I needed to know about the value of a Hyles-Anderson education.

Before then, when I lived in a studio apartment on Ashland and Berteau, I engaged in a philosophical debate on religion with one of these folks, smoking pot and drinking Harp the entire time. We agreed to disagree, then he headed over to my neighbor down the hall: a psychotic black man who looked like a demented version of Miles Davis, painted all the reflective surfaces in his apartment a flat black because he believed the Indian government was using "Hunter" star Fred Dryer to send him subliminal messages, and spent moonless nights dry-humping fire hydrants. He was also armed, which I didn't know about until he threatened the missionary with a warning shot that missed by a country mile, but got crazy Miles' message across in a definitive and authoritarian manner. I have a very thin skin toward those folks, a lot of it from experience. And my relationship with God is a personal matter between God and me. Not God, me, and some eager but glazed-eyed missionary who just graduated from a university where Darwin's Theory of Evolution most likely isn't on the science curriculum.

Before Mom remarried, she would use religion as a form of surrogate father for my brother Chris and me. We tried being Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Lutherans, Church of Christ, Pentecostal, and even Catholicism for a spell. But the Baptist faith was one that Mom seemed to return to occasionally. I'm not sure why; part of me theorizes that Baptists tend to be more, um, lenient, towards non-cardinal sins. Mainly, I think it's because the Baptists have found a way to meld the baser behaviors of the campus Greek system with the zealotry of fundamentalist Christianity to create a religious sub sect that's palatable to recidivist backsliders like my family, who p
refer to watch The Little Rascals and eat biscuits and gravy on Sundays.

Mom was a single woman in the '70s, a time when the entire nation seemed to embrace the state motto of New Hampshire for purposes of sexual pleasure (I can't believe I just wrote that with my mother in mind). So when Brother Jim came 'a callin' one day, she probably saw it as an opportunity to get Chris and me out of the house for a few hours as much as giving us a good dose of fire and brimstone. Even at the age of eight the irony of being told not to talk to strangers, only to be handed over to some church-goer she only knew for a couple hours, loaded on a bus, and transported over state lines so Mom could have some R&R was not lost on me. We found out quickly that getting on that bus was when the fun really started.

They went to great lengths to keep us entertained while trying to convince us that everything we liked was a sin. Comic books, television, popular music, even the malt-based non alcoholic beverages of the Latin American children were all trapdoors to a lake of fire that burned a million times hotter than the pilot light of a stove. Those of us on the cusp of puberty had our brows beaten that pre-marital sex would kill us, or physical contact of any kind, was akin to signing a death sentence. Abstinence education was the norm. Brother Jim and his cohorts drilled it into our heads that KISS was an acronym for "Kings in Satan's Service", AC/DC meant "After Christ, Devil Comes", and all rock musicians sold their souls to Lucifer to achieve their fame. And then, to convince us that they weren't complete brainwashed tools, they'd do some serious frat house bullshit, like have goldfish swallowing contests, see who could eat the most jars of baby food before we got to church, and throw shaving cream pies at each other. It steeled my resolve to hide my KISS records, in case they got to Mom and wanted me to bring them to a record burning, which they also occasionally hosted.

Thirty years ago, the First Baptist Church of Hammond was just beginning a massive expansion. Their formula then, as now, was to target depressed neighborhoods in Chicago for new members. Specifically, they seemed to make beelines to single-parent families and communities that were easily swayed by the power of the preacher. Preying on the inherent fatalism that's present in all of us, it was a cinch to fill the church's ranks with bastards and indigenous people with a suspect command of English. It was all reinforced by the late Reverend Jack Hyles, a man who pioneered bus ministry and had some seriously constrictive views on Christianity, bordering on cult-like behavior. Reverend Hyles taught that folks could only be born again if they used the King James Bible in their testimony; Hyles' philosophy was that the Scripture was dictated to the apostles in Kings James English. Any other Bible - essentially, any Bible written in plain English - was looked as an element of false worship. Like many men of God, Reverend Hyles also had his share of criticism and scandal (detailed at his Wikipedia entry).

As his congregation grew, Reverend Hyles needed a larger space, so church was in a converted department store in downtown Hammond. The interior was a classic example of the ego of man trumping the humility of Christ. Reverend Hyles held court from a giant stage, high above the floor, projecting in a theatrical manner intended to scare hundreds to the baptismal pool. I eventually made it there, and, under the weight of my dress clothes and the robe the church provided me for the occasion, nearly drowned the first time I accepted Christ as my Saviour.

Returning home that afternoon, shivering in damp clothes Mom bought on layaway, was the first sign for her that maybe this church wasn't such a good idea after all. This came on the heels of my Aunt Marie's conversion to the Unification Church, which to this day is a sore spot to some in the family. But mainly, it was the sound of squishy shoes and the bluish complexion of her oldest child that soured Mom on our experience with Jack Hyles and his minions. She was a pro about it when Brother Jim praised how I entered a covenant with God of my own volition, standing at the door, nodding her head. Then she closed the door, quietly helped me remove my clothes, fixed Chris and me some tuna casserole and chicken soup, and retreated to her bedroom for a while, exiting red-faced and puffy. Soon after, phone calls from Brother Jim would go unreturned, our Saturdays were filled with out-of-the-house field trips to the zoo, park visits, Cubs games, or Uncle Stu's place, and we would be conveniently occupied on Sundays with family matters. Actually, those family matters consisted of watching The Lone Ranger, The Cisco Kid, and Flash Gordon on WGN, sponsored by Bert Weinman Ford, and later The Three Stooges on Channel 32 sponsored by Schmerler Ford and Harry Schmerler, your singing Ford dealer ("rock-a-bye-a-babyyyy"). It kept our attention and Mom was certain we weren't going to drown or catch a cold mimicking Leo Carillo's and Duncan Renaldo's "Oh, Cisco/Oh, Pancho" tag line.

Mom eventually relented and let us find our own way to religion. Tammy, my sister, seems to have developed a synthesis of Wicca and Christian tenets that works for her. Chris falls back on fundamentalism whenever he's in trouble, which is often. And I understand the contradictions of organized religion, but otherwise take the hedging, agnostic stance. Religion, for me, is at odds with my more libertarian leanings. We don't truly know the existence of God, and those who do are dead, so they can't tell us.

My main argument is, since we as humans have the gift of rational thought and doubt, why should we blindly accept something that we're not certain exists? It's faith, I know. But faith is often blind. It's likely that, because of my experiences with organized religion as a child, I take the position that living such a blindly Christian lifestyle, as espoused by Reverend Hyles and his flock, is an even greater sin than not being saved. If you're living your life in fear that even the slightest misstep will prevent your entry to Heaven, then you're not living life to the fullest.

The saying goes that religion is the opiate of the masses. Even drugs have their cycle where the effects subside. I'm content right now to live life and, if there is something beyond this, to accept the terms.

But I most certainly won't live in fear of living.

Sleeping on the Couch

Been doing a lot of that lately, too. It isn't depression or S.A.D. I just lie down while watching tv, then the next thing I realize, it's 3 a.m. and I'm confronted with a commercial featuring two dwarfs telling me how I can buy property with no money down. Emmy will be in her chair, paitently waiting for me to put on some shoes and let her out. This morning I did just that and, as she was finishing her business in the park, I heard this blood-curdling scream from the middle of the softball field that turned out to be this guy who uses McGuane for primal scream therapy. At least that's what I told myself the first couple times I saw him. Now, after seeing him stand rock still in a muddy field letting out a scream every five minutes, I may have to revisit that.

Meeting of the minds: The mutual admiration society finally has their tea shop up and running. Two things: It's my new place to get yerba matte (full review up on Chicagoist Monday). Second, it was finally nice to put faces to names on both sides. Give these folks some business and propers.

Former Neighborhood News: God Wafer plays the Red Line Tap this evening. Yo, Gusto! I'll be there.

UGH!!: Found the video below via Gawker, and it's as annoying as one might expect. It actually makes Neal Pollack's Alternadad tolerable. All I can say is that this video might make all my sperm swim a little bit slower.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

No Rest for the Weary

I'm wasting time here when I should be on a train headed for Pullman. Frankly, I'd love to just stop doing this, close the blinders, and crawl back in bed, but this Pullman trip is a paid freelance gig and while I'm down there I might as well find a cheap eat, since this week was all Alinea, all the time in the usual haunts.

Happy Brithday, Our Man in Chicago. I'd be at Tuman's this evening with you, but I have to work, Tuman's hasn't been the same since that Chicago magazine write-up back in '98, and all the bartenders that gave Tuman's its character back then work with me now. See, some thngs do have a silver lining.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Shameless!! Just Shameless!!

The "Face It, Tiger. You just hit the jackpot!!" interview with Alinea's Grant Achatz is now up at Chicagoist, which is where I'd rather see you wasting your time today. The same running orders for the Michael Ruhlman interview apply. Digg, Del.ici.ous, technocrati, et al. Comment, comment, comment. Tell people you know to go there.