Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Part of the US Where Someone might Legitimately Recognize SRK...

Today was the first pretty morning in a long while, and I have been having a touch of the loneliness and cabin fever from staying inside all week sending out applications and generally trying to find my life's purpose, so late this morning I unlocked Ormen Lange and set off for Devon.

The New York Times describes the street thusly:

The stretch of Devon Avenue in North Chicago also named for Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, seems as if it has been transplanted directly from that country. The shops are packed with traditional wedding finery, and the spice mix in the restaurants’ kebabs is just right...
Indian Hindus have a significant presence along the roughly one-and-a-half-mile strip of boutiques, whose other half is named for Gandhi. What was a heavily Jewish neighborhood some 20 years ago also includes recent immigrants from Colombia, Mexico and Ukraine, among others...
But immigrants are not mired in the Devon Avenue neighborhood; many move out once they can afford better.

For me, Devon is, from west to east, a Polish, Jewish, Ukrainian, Indian, Pakistani, African, Mexican collision covered in dirt that everyone seems to notice but nobody seems to care about.

I find this summation completely apt. I know some South Asians who have come as far as Texas but who started off as satellites of Devon. The whole place teems with life of all kinds and ethnic dresses and colors and the tantalizing smells of smoking meats and baking breads. As you walk down the street you are just as likely to hear English as you are Urdu, Spanish, Polish or Hindi, and it's all rather loud.

On the weekends, when the yuppies head in to shop, the ex-Devoners come back to pay homage to their roots, and the broke college kids go out to be "ethnic", the natives roam the streets and socialize with the shop owners, who tend to hang out their doors when business is slow. I used to get henna tattoos here before big exams, and while the herbal mud dried I'd watch the students at the religious Jewish day schools gossiping in long skirts or jackets outside the kosher pizza place.

A shabbas trip to Devon...

A Mexica paletero in front of an Indian cafe in Chicago.
This kind of speaks for itself

It's also one of the streets for produce. People can yell themselves blue in the face about the greatness of farmers markets, but immigrants don't mess around with their greens. I couldn't get much actual shopping done in the stores though, because there were walls of people and all incapable of forming a decent line. I just bathed in the kAoS of it all.

It's Ramadan!!

In celebration of Ramadan, I ducked into my favorite Islamic book store (yes, I have a favorite) for a card. Turns out I'm a bit late in the game, but the nice man told me when they were getting in their Eid card shipment and then, calling me "sister," showed me how to write out "Ramadan Kareem" which means "Happy in-as-much-as-it-should-be Ramadan!"

Then I went to a cafe, where I wasn't allowed to take pictures of the amazing piles of sweet orange things, or my thick mango lassi (I agree with a certain actor who in one movie implied that if he had had his lassi that morning, he wouldn't have been so off-putting to the female lead...not to worry though, it's bollywood, so he got the girl after some dancing around), but I did make some snaps later as I was finishing up my day on Devon:

A little slice of ethnic Chicago aesthetic

One of the stores...I don't know why, but I find the strategy of
stacking plastic pillows full of spices and stuff on BILLY style shelves
with no discernable organzing schema VERY entertaining and thrilling in many ways

It isn't all rose lassi though. We are in the middle of a recession, as seen in these photos:

Foreign-language newsprint, showing the English
word "Recession" on an empty store front

An empty lot, a hole in the array of shops, filling with water

Now, there are those amongst us who will blame this recession on overly-zealous deregulation. Others might point to Bill Clinton, our only Maoist president to date. Others might blame the giant monster of capitalism, but I think that someone on Devon has a much more compelling explanation for it:

well, dang, this might explain it all, mightn't it?
Someone from the Fed really ought to jump on that waiting list
because it'll hop up to 2029 before you know it

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

When G-d closes a Door, He...Opens a Circus?

As I will discuss in a later blog post, I am no Lance Armstrong (news flash to some of the Lakeshore Bike Path riders: y'all probably aren't either), but I do have a bike, so when I reached


job applications (you read it right), I decided to reward myself with a nice day off. Since it was a Tuesday, it was a free admissions day at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and I am really into the whole "not spending money unless I really have/want to" thing, I thought it might be an inspired idea to ride my bike down to the MCA to take advantage of the day, as part of my continuing mission to improve myself and foster an understanding of the arts and blah blah blah

I get on Ormen Lange (my name for my means "longship," but I think it sounds really cool), and I started off, and just about the time I hit the Lakeshore Bike Path I realized a few things:
1. Getting 3 hours of sleep was a POOR choice, because I was TIRED 2. It was 86 degrees for the first time in days, and I was dressed for not-that temperature and 3. I was still sore from what was probably an overly-ambitious bike project two days prior
I wasn't going to be able to make it to the MCA in the amount of time I'd allotted, so I decided to just head south and see how far I could get (that's the Kate Way, it seems) before taking a mini-break.

Something you should know further about the bike path is that places to lock a bike are rather isolated. Sometimes you'll find one, other times not, so I was actually reasonably close to the Loop when decided that I didn't want to keep riding till I found the next bike rack, I just wanted to get a little shade.

Hard to find when you want it!

I pulled over onto the grass, behind the construction zone that blocked the lake from the path, and I saw this:

If you can't read the writing on it, just click the picture, and it'll get bigger

It was a stage of sorts shaped like a half moon. Working on it were packs of people so attractive they could have EASILY been just getting dirty enough to pose for Abercrombie or something. All of them were hipsters, and all of them were't see that every day.

So I saw this happening and thought "I want to go to there," so I sat in the shade of a tree, locked my bike to it, and took out my notebook to write a bit. As I'm sitting there I notice that the more tired/not-covered-in-paint people were sitting on blankets under a tree close by. It felt very much like Tuebingen's old botanical garden in the inner city, so I decided to sketch them too very roughly:

they were laying around, chatting, getting up occasionally to take a call; they just radiated a great vibe, but what parts of their conversation I could hear was in Not-English.

As the morning wore on, odd, steampunk-esque equipment started to be rolled out and set up radiating from the "stage."

They were puzzling, and their functions were very mysterious. They appeared to be really artistic but also strange, and bearded hipsters kept running around and adjusting them, testing wheels and gears, and then they brought out something akin to a cherry-picker but more low-tech. The guy operating it extended the ladder, and one of the stage-painters ran up, which confused me, because the ladder was high enough that they couldn't actually do anything up there.
Well, he figured out something to do with it:

that's right!

So then a girl runs up the ladder, and now she's dangling from his arms, and they're going all "cirque du crazy" on it, which I find terrifying.

Then, not a meter from me, this woman comes up to the mic stand and starts vocally noodling around. She is kind of trying for a "Heavy Metal Bjork" + sitar vibe if that makes any sense, but she was having some (hah, understatement) intonation problems. So this lady is singing in a language I don't know, kind of going crazy, while pretty people are painting, operating weird machinery and tumbling around, and the sun is baking us all.

At this point, I decided that I should start asking questions, so I approached one young fellow and asked him

Errr...what's up?
Nothin...oh, this?!
Yeah, the stage and all that.
Yeah, we're a performing arts group of international artists. We're putting on a show, it like centers around this Norwegian rock star...

Ok, so Norway appears to follow me around, because now it's in my parks! I have actually no problems with this, but I just want to point out that this is one of those "aggressively small world" moments

So they're a troop of just folks, this guy was American, but there were a bunch of Finns in the group, doing the technical adjustments, and they were setting up for their performances. Since rain was in the forecast for the rest of the week, they were taking this chance to get things working. He then reached into his paint-streaked cargo shorts and pulled out a crumpled-up flier. "Sorry it's not in great shape, but...yeah..." and then he went back to work.

This frankly doesn't look like something I would pay to see
but thanks NCM...I guess

I then returned to my place under the tree, complimented the singer, and we chatted for a bit. She wasn't really as...umm...familiar with the Norwegian cultural "touch stones" as I had hoped (her exposure to Eurovision, it seems, is minimal), but she's certainly an interesting cat.

I was kind of confused and delighted at what was going on, so I sat to the side along with the regular citizens of Chicago, trying to figure everything out. I was there for quite a few hours, to the point that I started to burn a little bit, and then I thought "Do I want to bike to the MCA and show up all sweaty and gross and tired, or was this good enough to call it a day and bike home?" I decided that stumbling into a whimsical international gymnastics quasi-circus was enough for my day, and I started my bike ride home.

Sorry the drawings are so rudamentary. I wanted to get the visual information down before it went away or changed, and so I didn't have time to make it perfect.

Morals of the story:
When G-d closes a door, he opens a circus
Always have a camera

Saturday, August 22, 2009

How to Identify a Frat Boy Fight Beneath Your Window

So I'm sitting in our sun room (yeah, we totally have one of those), and through a series of signals I became aware of a frat boy fight beneath my window. Now, I will QUICKLY say that I am a sorority girl, and I won't say the name of the sorority, because they don't like that, but this is coming from a place of deep understanding and maybe even empathy.

The windows are relatively obscured by a large tree, and at night it's hard to see from there onto the sidewalk, which is located too close to the door for proper viewing.

Signs that a Frat Boy Fight is Happening under your Door:

D-BAGS in 3 D! That's three Dimensions of D-Bag

1. Uneven patting of flip-flops on the pavement
this indicates that the person is drunk...and too "casual" to wear real shoes (and thus buys $50 sandals)
2. Murmuring of various volumes
a discussion is taking place between Connor and Chad
3. Shattering of glass bottles
there goes that bottle of Ed Hardy wine! Oops!
4. Patter increases volume, becomes more sporadic
physical altercation begins
5. Yelling involving the following phrases: "MAN, YOU DON'T KNOW..." "HEY HEY HEY HEY..." and then some girl yelling horsely "CHAD! GUYS! COME ON! STOP IT!"
self explanatory
6. Sound of windows opening and people yelling "MAN! WE'RE TRYING TO SLEEP HERE"
indicates smarter/more sober minds intervening
7. Continued sounds of scuffling, maybe sound of ball cap hitting the street
boys continue to fight
8. Sound from second floor window, "I'M CALLIN' DA COPS!"
imposing threat
9. Utterance of "Man, you aren't even WORTH it."

End of altercation.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

So WHAT are you doing up there?

So here I am, settled in Chicago (still needing to tidy up my room, but whatever), but I don't have a job. In this capacity I am qualified to answer the question:

What do the jobless do with their days?

I remember on days when we got the day off from school, but everyone else had to go to work (Cinco de Mayo, I'm looking at you now). We students would be wandering around town, and we would be witnessing something like an alternate society or something. In Arlington it was mostly the quality of car on the street that would change, but the mall crowd would be older, more crazy, less attractive...even the TV and its ads were different. All of a sudden "personal injury attorneys" were of seemingly great importance.

Now I am in a big city, and the chances to people-watch at 10AM are MUCH better. Usually, though, my chances are limited to the afternoons. I have a system. I know from the stories of unemployed Japanese businessmen who walked to the subway in a suit every morning, so no one knows they're out of work, that routine is important.

In the spirit, I spend my mornings applying for jobs. I am trying to get a "just for now" job right at the moment, not one that will be a career. I need to get into the employment groove as soon as I can. To that end I send out 5-10 applications per day. 5 is my ABSOLUTE MINIMUM. Then I break for lunch. Since I have time that I should be used to filling, I make a real lunch. I read that handy little tip in "shopgirl." My afternoons, since this is my first week, are divided into a few areas: errands, trying to relax (I need to do this more), and researching for my career-career.

I also try to switch up where I am. In theory most of what I do can be accomplished from bed thanks to the internets, but that's pretty depressing and can slow a person down mentally, so I have a few ideas of where to go. There's a coffee place at the corner that offers internet for one hour at a time (per purchase), but it's designer "fancy" coffee where you can spend up to $7 if you want a large latte with all the fixins.

No thank you, Marco.

Then there are public libraries, which are an experience that can often times be as uplifting as a black and white Swedish movie.
The plus sides: free internet, lots of books, and far enough away that I can go into "Honey, I'm just off to the office" mode.
The minus sides: crazy hobos with questionable grooming habits, no AC (well, no one here has it, but that place can get FUNKY), it's crowded (which also means that there are the occasional girls like me, there for the same reasons as I with their MACs, and yuppie parents exposing their expensively-dressed babies to books), and being amongst the crowd there, the people who are using the computers for free, for spending the morning off the street, for just having somewhere to go...It can make you really feel like you're losing out on something...missing life as it flies by.

This picture both shows someone who would end up in the library
and adequately sums up my feelings when I am therein.

I've heard unemployment once described as someone's "Personal life FAIL," and frankly, I can see that.

It's not all doom and gloom though. I'm in a great city, meeting my application quota and sometimes exceeding it. I am sure that it is just a matter of time until I'm doing something. It feels good to be making progress every day, and I do think it's progress, even if the employers don't look at my resumes, because it's like the lottery. The more tickets you buy, the better the ods--just by the numbers--that you'll win...I suspect.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


Hey bloggers and/or Kate enthusiasts!

I am beginning a new chapter in my life, a new genre of adventures to write about.

What? Are you going to start committing crimes and writing about them?
No. I'm living in Chicago.


I rolled into town yesterday after a nice sleepover with some AHS alums living in the area, with an Outback packed with all my worldly possessions. As I was waiting at a traffic light, trying to figure out where I was in relation to where I needed to be and it struck me that this was such a movie scene:

the southern girl, shedding her old life and striking out into the city to make her way with nothing but hope and an effervescent 20-something personality.

Even though that's actually the situation, I sort of feel a little out of the cliché by virtue of being really well educated and aggressive about goals and all, so maybe this story will have a happier ending. I don't know.

After a few hours of schlepping boxes from the car to the third floor, sweating my behind off (Yankees don't seem to believe in air conditioning), I sort of had to confront the eternal conflict:
go out and get food or sleep.

What a choice, and it's either/or, sadly.

I chose sleep, and I passed cold out on my bed for a few hours and then unpacked the rest of the car. As I was unpacking boxes and trying to find a place for everything (I still haven't completed this mission) I chatted with my really friendly roommates. They are very much liberals, student types, and quirky in a really cute way.

Another bit of good luck: the girls in the room before me seem to have r-u-n-n-o-f-t-ed in a right hurry, so not only did they sell me the bed there; they left tons of shelves, bookcases, and a chest of drawers, so I am quite please about that. I had planned an ikea run, but this saves the trouble.

I was invited that night to a welcome dinner, so I tried to throw myself into some kind of order, and then I went off to the restaurant for pasta and wine. I was just what I needed, AND the waiter could explain to me what a caper was, so double-plus!

I know what you are now!!!!

The night ended with an invitation to a party held by a Chicago mover and shaker, but I declined for a few reasons:

1. I didn't know the guy even though he supposedly went to school with me, my freshman, his senior year.
I was too tired to be effectively charming and/or conscious.
3. I was being invited by a friend of a friend, wearing an Ed Hardy tee shirt, to which I can only say "no" and if you don't know why that is, check this out.

I just went home, watched Howl's Moving Castle and went to bed.

I am writing this Sunday morning at a coffee joint, watching the young, alternative, and young&alternative walk by on the street. I am hoping the city treats me as well as it does them.

We shall see.