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The Blatherings Of A Blitherer

In which I relate my near death experience. Again.


There’s a lot I like, even love, about living in Chicago. One thing I hate, though, is how unutterably jackassy people get behind the wheel of their cars. I’m talking about stuff like using the sidewalk as a turn lane, passing on the left cars that are trying to turn left, routinely passing people in the intersection, routinely using the bike lane as a car lane, and treating stop signs like a really good suggestion for other people.

About a year ago, the state of Illinois passed a law saying that motorists must come to a complete stop to allow pedestrians in marked crosswalks to finish crossing, as opposed to just yielding to them, edging ever closer, honking angrily because some jerk pedestrian is FORCING them to stop at a stop sign. People largely disregard this law and sail gayly through crosswalks that pedestrians are trying to dash through. I’m currently temping on UIC’s campus, and the situation is so bad that there are signs literally in the middle of the road reminding motorists that they have to stop at the crosswalk if there’s pedestrians in it.

People ignore the signs. You know. The signs that are literally in the middle of the road, mounted on neon yellow traffic cones between the lanes.

I have to cross a four-lane divided boulevard to get to the train station after work. I made it to the median with no problem. People stopped, pedestrians, crossed, etc. I looked to my right and saw two cars coming, one in each lane, but they were far enough away I figured that I could safely cross. And even if they were going faster than I thought they were, they had ample time to stop. I’ve been crossing the street for a long time, and I’m very conservative in my estimates of whether or not it’s safe to go, just to put things into perspective. I don’t fuck around with street crossing. I go when I feel safe. I felt safe. I started crossing.

The guy in the lane farthest from me SPED UP to try and cross the crosswalk before I got there, which is neither “stopping fully” nor is it “yielding.” It’s “being a complete and total jackass who is willing to endanger the lives of others just to save a few seconds.” I kept walking. He slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting me.

It had rained recently and the street was both wet and slick.

There was a long, loud screech of brakes and tires-skidding-on-pavement and that motherfucker nearly hit me. I’m not exaggerating here, he came very close to hitting me with his car. His very large, very heavy, fast moving car.

At least this time I only had one brush with death, as opposed to a few years ago when two different cars came shooting out of two different alleys and nearly hit me. The first one, I jumped back and out of the way as another pedestrian jumped forward, and this HUGE dude came running up and started screaming at the driver. The second time, less than five minutes later and a block from my house, the car shot out his bumper was literally touching my coat. I heard the plink of my coat buttons and his bumper colliding. And then he honked at me, for walking along a sidewalk in front of him while having the right of way. 1

I don’t like walking around my neighborhood, or pretty much any part of Chicago, because it’s literally dangerous. There are a LOT of motorists who don’t obey the rules of the road and who act in aggressively unsafe ways. Those examples I cited earlier, about driving on sidewalks etc? Those are things that I, personally, have witnessed. I feel unsafe walking on sidewalks. I know several experienced cyclists who have been hit and dragged by cars that then drove off, leaving them bleeding and badly injured by the side of the road, their bikes totaled. This is a normal occurrence. I read blog posts and news articles about cities that are pedestrian and bicycle friendly and I am so incredibly jealous because that? Is not my city.

And it could be my city. We have the bones of a great mass transit system in place. We have great weather for about half the year. In theory, it should be possible to make this city a haven for people who don’t drive. All of our buses are ADA compliant (although our sidewalks and curb cuts aren’t), many of our train stations are ADA compliant, which means that people using wheelchairs and scooters and assistive devices… and pushing strollers and shopping trolleys… can use them for $2.25 a pop. We are so close to having this great, walkable, bikeable city… and instead of improving the infrastructure to favor pedestrians and cyclists and mass transit users, we keep pouring money into repairing roads and adding more lanes and cutting funding for the CTA. It’s frustrating.

  1. That day, just as a note, I also had a concussion from the arm of a parking garage entrance/exit falling on my head as I passed it. It hit me hard enough to rattle my teeth together and my glasses went flying off my head. I was in down town Chicago during rush hour, and other pedestrians noticed what had happened and came over to check me out, THAT is how hard it hit me. That was pretty much a terrible day all around.
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I took a step back, and wound up in 1996.


My headphones have been slowly dying, a wire lose from being bent too often. I was listening to my mp3 player today while walking to tutoring, and the sound quality was terrible. I could get the lead guitar and drums of “Me First and the Gimme Gimmes” really well, but everything else? Almost inaudible. The singer was distant, faint, sometimes sounding underwater.

And for a brief moment, I was back in high school, listening to bootleg cassette tapes, or listening to a live band with poorly mixed sound, the vocalist drowned out. Do you remember cassette tapes? How if you listened to them enough the tape would start wearing thin, and you’d sometimes hear a bit of music from the other side? The tinny chipmunk skirl as you fast forwarded? The heavy click and pop as you ejected the tape? Did you ever tape things from the radio, finger poised over the “play” and “record” buttons, trying to get the timing just right? Mix CDs just never felt the same as mix tapes.

Walking back home, I passed a clutch of kids skateboarding on their high school’s cement steps. I remember when nobody in the midwest skated, when skate shops were far and few between, skate magazines a window to some exotic wonderful culture… to freedom.

Sometimes I feel old; other times I feel caught in time. I don’t want to go back to my youth, but it’s nice to reach out sometimes and brush my fingers gently against it.

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More of the same (weather)


It’s snowing again. I guess 20 inches wasn’t quite enough. Weather reports predict 1-3 inches, with a few outlying 4-incher areas. We’ve already gotten maybe two inches of soft, fluffy stuff.

It’s a bit disappointing, because the 6 foot mountain of snow blocking one end of our alley, the result of an apartment complex bulldozing their parking lot’s snow into the alley/side street, was only just “dealt with.” And by “dealt with” I mean someone shoved it all into the alley so that our alley is essentially paved with snow and suddenly incredibly slippery and hazardous to drive down. But people can enter/exit that end of the alley again. Or they could. I’m sure the company will just shove snow into the alley again, like antisocial jerks.

It was supposed to have stopped snowing at noon, and now it’s just after 12:00 and really enormously fat flakes are drifting from the sky. We need to run to the grocery store, and to Target. Wish us weather-related luck.

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In my defense, I was running a fever.


I spent most of yesterday running a 100.4* fever, which is enough to make me really stupid and tired and out of it. Over the course of the day– which, let me remind you, was spent ENTIRELY ON MY OWN WITH A TODDLER because Nesko wound up spending over 30 hours at work, finally getting home after we were asleep– I managed to cut myself, burn myself, tear the knee of a nearly new pair of pyjama pants, drop a whole lot of food on the floor at different times, close my hand in a door, and hit my head on the fridge. I was in rare form.

I also became obsessed with the snow caked on our window screens, and opened a window to try and knock the snow off the screen. Only the snow had gotten between the screen and the window, so when I opened the window, dirty snow fell all over the window sill and the wood floor. Did you know that squirrels sit on our window ledges and poop? They do. I got squirrel poop in our house. :C

I should be less of a hot mess today, although we are running out of food and food-like substances. None of the side streets or alleys have been cleared out yet so they are all choked with snow… 2-4 feet of snow, depending on where they are. Nesko got home to our general vicinity in good time last night, but then was driving around for about an hour looking for a place to put his car. He couldn’t get down or street OR down our alley (which had a 5 foot drift of snow along one end of it). He wound up parking 2-3 blocks away and walking home. I think he’s going to have to do the same tonight. Hopefully he can stop for groceries on the way home.

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Thunder Snow!


Well, I’ve spent half an hour dicking about with this blog entry, and apparently wordpress’s “insert image” functionality is fucked, so I can’t “easily” (y’know, one image uploaded and labeled at a time, slowly) add images to this post… like the photos I took of our snowbound neighborhood. And I don’t have time to FTP them to my web host or host them on photobucket because I have a toddler doing his best impression of a zombie, scratching and clawing at the office door while wailing for brains cookies.

So please just take my word for it, until I can properly post some pictures, that we have a lot of snow. Including some 4-5 foot drifts in the back of the building, which I didn’t take photos of anyway. We also had thunder and lightning last night. Yeah. Last night. When it was snowing so heavily that it was impossible to see outside, and there were 70 mile an hour winds. Folks down the street from us lost power, but we are OK.

Here’s hoping everyone’s riding out the weather safely.

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Anxiety and the way it toys with one.


The weather’s dropping and it’s getting cooler and even cold outside, which means that once again we have mice in the apartment. Which means once again we have mouse shit everywhere, especially on our counters and, you know, the places where we prepare food. Also, for some reason, on the part of the floor near our bed where pillows slip off the bed and land. Which is totally awesome. Lose a pillow at night and it’s gone forever, tainted by mouse poop. Yes, we sweep the mouse poop up. The mice keep shitting. We’ve put out poison, but there’s a limit to where we can put it and any traps because we have a verrrry inquisitive toddler who picks up everything, examines it, and puts it in his mouth. Can you see why we want to limit the use of poison and snap traps both? I’m pretty pissed at mice right now, and can’t even comprehend people keeping rodents as pets. Seriously. Shit. Everywhere. Every place. We’ve been working for months on accumulating vermin proof containers and putting our dry goods in them, but we still have some stuff that the mice can get into and ruin and let me just say that we really can’t afford to lose food to rodent damage.

I was helping Niko draw with crayons and paper, in his highchair, when I looked out the window. I thought I saw a very fat and mottled squirrel, but it turned out to be a calico cat who was chasing squirrels around. As I watched, it pounced on something small and dark. I squinted a bit and saw that it was a mouse, and instantly I was cheering the cat on. Because seriously. There is shit everywhere. All over the counters. All over the stove top. We clean it up and the next morning it’s back. And now it’s weird green shit because they’re eating the poison and shitting it out before going off someplace to, hopefully, die. Green poison shit all over my cook top. Disgusting.

This cat was apparently not very hungry because it played with the mouse for a really, really long time. It’d pounce on the mouse, carry it around in its mouth, drop it, sit back, watch it, turn its back on the mouse, the mouse would run, and the cat would flip around and go after it again… or would watch it run off and then, at the last minute, right before the mouse reached a chink in the fence that wouldn’t admit the cat, pounce on it and drag it back. And then drop it. And the mouse would fall on the ground and go limp and pretend to be dead and the cat would watch it and then feign disinterest and the mouse would think it was safe and go scampering off only to find the cat hot on its ass again.

Which is pretty much what living with Anxiety is like. I go about my daily routine, my life, trying to escape this massive THING, this fate or hand of god or bad luck or whatever, and if I relax it comes bashing down and Gets Me. And I’m aware of it, constantly, that there’s something hanging over my head Out To Get Me. So I try to hide, try to go limp, try to play dead, and sometimes I can fool it but I’m constantly tensed and waiting for something bad to happen, something to go wrong, something to strike me down. Every good thing is spent in tense Anxiety waiting for the bad, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I started really identifying with that mouse.

But I still wish they’d all get the hell out of my house and stop shitting everywhere.

(Yes, we’re in the process of caulking and great-stuffing and putting steel wool around places. It’s an old building and we’re finding new mouse holes that weren’t there last autumn when we did the last caulking go-round.)

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Chicagoans have memories like goldfish


It’s officially fall, Autumn if you will, and the preceding week was cool and slightly damp. We have not yet pulled out our window AC units, unpacked our cold-weather clothing, or put away our warm weather clothing.

Why, you might ask?

Because yesterday was like 90*f.

And this happens every single year. Fall approaches, the temperature finally drops, things become pleasant, those of us who like cooler temperatures relax a bit and everyone else starts complaining and digging out sweaters… and then BAM! A sudden blast of heat and humidity. In the Spring it’s the opposite, with a sudden blast of cold (sometimes a blizzard!) just when things start warming up.

And every single year it seems to take most people by surprise. I mean, yesterday, the news casters were agog– AGOG– that OMG it is SEPTEMBER and the SUN is SHINING! Did they not pay attention to the weather report? WHERE DID THIS COME FROM. OMG you GUYS it is WARM what the WHAT how great is THIS ha ha too bad I’m sweating in my cashmere sweater lol my bad. And the weather caster was all “dudes, totally, I’ve been talking about this ALL WEEK also this happens every season change wtf is wrong with you.”

So, Chicagoans? THIS HAPPENS EVERY YEAR. This happens every SEASON CHANGE. Stop forgetting about it! And stop cycling your wardrobe/swapping out AC units/space heaters too soon.

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…at 47th street.


I’m doing passenger counts this weekend, and today we were on the South Chicago train. It was pretty uneventful in all. Our final trip inbound, there was a wedding party (bridge, groom, bridesmaids, I didn’t see any groomsmen but they were probably there) on the platform at 47th street, taking photos. We pulled in, people got off, people got on, the wedding party stayed there (you can rent CTA trains to drive you around the city, possibly with a bartender, but I don’t think Metra offers a deal like that).

As we pulled away, the engineer came on over the intercom.

“Who does that,” he said.

Everyone in the train started laughing.

“They said they wanted to be original.

He paused, then spoke again.

“…at 47th street.”

It was a beautiful day for a wedding.

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It’s a cruel, cruel summer


When Nesko and I had a baby, it solved a very grave problem that we didn’t know existed. Apparently, the one thing the world needed to be a perfect place was for Nesko’s father to have a grandson. And now we have solved this issue, and Nesko’s father is free to dote upon Nikola and adjust the world to Nikola’s preferences.

Part of “making the world an ideal place for Nikola” was an offer to provide us with central air if Nesko would get some quotes for material and labor. See, we live in Chicago. It gets hot and humid in Chicago. So Nesko and I have been talking about the pros and cons of air conditioning.


      Air Conditioning! My God! You need a list of pros for this?


      We had central air once before, and have a bad habit of turning it on at the very first almost-warm day and leaving it on until it snows. OH AIR CONDITIONING I LOVE YOU SO.
      This leads to a huge energy bill which we can’t really afford.
      AC is really bad for the environment.
      AC is sometimes helpful because it aids in filtering out tree pollen, which causes allergies, but then the filters and shit clog and my dust allergies are all “FUCK YOU” and my head is all “I WANT TO DIIIIIEEEEEEEE.”
      Sooner or later it breaks down and we have no idea how to cope. It’s hot! With no AC! What do we dooooooo?
      Did I mention the enormous energy bill? Because seriously.
      We’d already been talking about getting rid of the heater and removing the weird, intrusive duct work in the apartment and using the radiators for heat. Installing AC would force our hand, and we’d have no pantry (it currently contains the heater) and intrusive ductwork FOREVER.

We’ve decided to forgo the central air. Apparently the universe heard us and cackled with glee, rubbing its hands together. The abominable heat we’ve had recently? Our fault. Sorry, Midwest.

If you are not from the midwest, let me describe the recent heat to you:

It’s so hot mercury thermometers have exploded, sending sprays of mercury out the shattered glass top of the thermometer tube thing. What’s that you say? Those kind of thermometers don’t really exist? Ok, uh, it’s so hot that electric thermometer displays have ceased working, instead showing comical illustrations of exploded old-fashioned thermometers.

It’s so hot that several people have spontaneously combusted while walking down the street.

It’s so hot that people can’t walk barefoot on pavement without getting literally burned feet.

It’s so hot that part of Lake Shore Drive buckled. Twice.

It’s so hot that we bought ice cube trays after a good five years or so of not having them (we’d been using those plastic things that have fluid in them, and you freeze them and drop them in your glass, and your beverage gets cold but doesn’t get diluted, only they don’t really work that well).

It’s so hot that we’ve been dithering about the central air question after we’d thought we’d made up our minds.

Also, we installed window units in Niko’s bedroom and our bedroom. But we only turn them on when someone’s asleep in the room, or when it’s just too hot to be alive and then I take Niko into his room and I sit on the floor and read a book while he throws blocks into his dirty clothing hamper.

We’re going to install some ceiling fans and see if that helps cool us down. (probably it will.)

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But where are you FROM? I mean, originally.


Nesko gets asked that a lot.

“But where are you FROM,” people ask, when looking at his ID or debit card (so usually when he’s trying to buy something).

“Evanston,” he answers, which is true!

“Oh, no!” they persist. “I mean, originally.”

“Ahhh!” he answers, like everything is coming clear. “Well, I was born in Chicago.”

Obviously, he’s had lots of opportunities to work out a pat, humorous answer to nosy people. Because, you know, there are certain names that are “American” and certain names that are foreign.

I used to have an “American” name. Sullivan! It’s actually a really awesome name to have when you live in Chicago, because Chicago prides itself on being all “Irish-American” and shit (Irish people! Now they are considered White and not scum!) and has lots of “Irish-American” politicians and chiefs of police etc. I used to bust out my ID or debit card or whatever and people would nod knowingly at my name. It was a correct and proper name. I fit in. Nobody ever suggested I change my name to be more “American,” as Texas state rep Betty Brown (R) suggested that every Asian in the USA do, you know, to FIT IN. And people didn’t really grill me on my name and heritage! It was awesome!

Then I got married to a dude with a silent “J” in his name, changed my name to match his because I am a baaaad feminist who buckles under the Patriarchy’s massive weight, and things changed.

FOR INSTANCE! I once had a temp job at a state agency, and had to call IT to get my email account working. Man, where they glad I could speak English! Because obviously with a name like mine I would be an old fat Russian lady with a hairy chin and a thick accent or maybe poor English skills! Well… I was 30 at the time (almost old), fat, have a hairy chin, and am obviously from the Midwest. I drop my G’s a lot lately. That’s kind of like having an accent! I guess! They were DREADING speaking to me, based SOLELY on my last name, and actually told me (in a relieved voice) all that they had assumed. Stay classy, state departments!

And then yesterday I was headed in to another temp job (more counting passengers on trains, which gave me the ideas for 2 different Secret Chicago pieces… or 1 piece and a longer short story, not sure which) when I stopped into a convenience store in Union Station to get some water as I was going to spend 8 hours locked in a moving metal box in Chicago Summer Heat (90F*+, tons of humidity; I actually started getting sick to my stomach from the heat at one point). I grabbed a magazine and a bottle of water and went to check out. There were two women behind registers. One was, I think, Vietnamese and she had a little accent but nothing unusual for the USA! Many people who live in this country, who work in this country, who study in this country, have accents! For instance: every single person who lives in Maine has an accent! Anyway, the white woman behind the counter said she’d take me (I assumed the other woman didn’t have an active cash register or was in training or something, nothing out of the ordinary). The white woman then started, every time the other woman said something, interrupting her to say “chin chin chonnnnng ching chon chon ching.”

I was… baffled.

If I’d had my wits about me, I would have abandoned water and magazine and gone someplace else. But no! I did not!

She scanned my things and I gave her my debit card. It did not go through! This always twists me into a moebius strip of uncertainty and anxiety. She asked for my card and ran it through again, and I was so upset that I didn’t hear her question at first. She repeated it.

“THAT’s an interesting last name!”

“Uh… thanks.”

“Where are you from?”

“Well, I mean, I’m American. My family’s all been over here forever, so…”

“No, I mean, Originally!”

“Jesus. My ancestors have all been here for over 200 years, ok? I really don’t feel any connection to my European antecedents.”

“I’m just askin’, hon! But what ethnicity is this name?”

“My husband and his family are from Montenegro.”


“The former Yugoslavia.”

“Wow! Your husband and his family, huh. So what was your maiden name?”

I should have just grabbed my stuff and walked off, but I was flustered and she hadn’t handed me back my card yet! I was trapped! She also, I kid you not, GOT OUT A SHEET OF PAPER AND A PEN.


“OH! So you’re IRISH.”

“Well, I mean, no. I’m American. I identify as American.” (I want to note that lots of people identify as Irish-American or Polish-American or Guatemalan-American or whatever and that’s great! That’s part of being a citizen (or resident) of the USA and it’s totally awesome! I’m not trying to present myself as being, like, the Ideal American Citizen because I am All American, I just think it’s ridiculous to lay claim to European Ancestry that has very little impact on my personal life other than, like, going to St. Patrick’s Day parades. But if you feel a strong connection to another country, that is totally entirely 100% awesome.)

She started getting offended at this, called me “hon” again, said she was JUST ASKING, and launched into some convoluted tale about how both her parents are immigrants (Polish, and German). Mine… are not. My grandparents… are not. My most recent immigrant ancestors, as far as I know, came over during the Famine. You know. During the 1850s. That… is not recent. I mean, in the grand scheme of history it’s an eyeblink away, but you know. (Also: they might have come over earlier than then, a lot of my family history has been romanticized in the telling. FOR INSTANCE: there is no actual royalty in my bloodline! ALSO: there is actually a lot of inbreeding! Surprisingly!)

She started pushing, like aggressively, to find out what I “am,” what I “identify” as. Like it’s impossible to not cling to the Immigrant experience. I snapped at her that I had an Irish last name, but genetically, I was more Belgian than anything else– which is true. I have very mixed European ancestry (to a degree) (I mean, Scottish/Irish/Welsh/English is more cultural differences than, like, genetic and then there’s some French and several sources of Belgian and a dollop of German and probably there is some Native American and African blood in me that nobody really talks about at all, and there’s some other stuff I think I’m forgetting, also a lot of my ancestors spent a hundred years or so in Canada before heading south to Wisconsin) and she started rabbiting on about how she knows someone from Belgium and it’s so beautiful and blah blah blah and she called me hon again and I realized I had my debit card and had signed the slip and I left while she was still talking.

I don’t really know anything about Belgium (they make beer? Belgians tend to be blond? They have a mild climate?) other than what I’ve seen on, say, “Rick Steve’s Europe.” In fact, my dad thought we were mostly Dutch until he talked to a cousin who said that no, although there’s a “van” in my maternal grandmother’s maiden name, it’s actually a Belgian name, and he gave some more genealogical info. I really have no interest in Belgium, or at least no more than I have in other countries that sound like vaguely cool places to visit if I can ever go on a Grand Tour Of Europe. Sorry, Belgium, it’s not personal.

I have to go pretty far back to be able to point to an ancestor and say that that ancestor is 100% anything; that that ancestor is 100% Belgian or Irish or German. (And even then, all my gallo-celtic ancestors were born from a series of viking raids and rapes that turned them from a short, dark people to a tall, fair people who fear the sun.) And I like that. As far as I can tell, my ancestors came over here against their will or out of dire necessity for the most part. They were convicts and indentured servants, they were fleeing starvation and oppression. They came to a totally new country and did well for themselves. They trapped animals for fur, farmed, dug ditches, constructed rail roads, founded towns. Some of them became very rich (then lost everything in the Great Depression). Others didn’t. But they helped build this country and make it what it is today, just like my mother- and father-in-law, immigrants, are building and shaping this country. Just like every person who lives here who doesn’t have an “American” name is building and shaping this country. Just like every brown-skinned resident of Arizona is building and shaping this country.

I spent 29 years awash in the privilege of having people assume that I was a citizen of the USA– a “real” citizen; that I belonged here. That I was an integral part of the warp and weft of “American” culture. I didn’t have to explain myself or where I was from. It was super awesome! And now, sometimes, I do have to explain myself and am pressed to answer detailed questions about where I’m from, to prove my… I don’t know what I’m expected to prove, actually. But it’s harassing and unsettling and puts me on edge.

And for a country of immigrants, a country founded on immigration, that’s total bullshit.

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