Friday, June 19, 2009

Commencement Day + Life Thus Far + Photos

Today is Commencement Day at the university, so I can now say to all of the students, mine and others', undergraduate and graduate, CONGRATULATIONS! I won't enumerate all the wonderful students I've had the opportunity to work with over the last few years who've finished up this June, but they've been terrific, and I wish them all the very best, in full confidence that they will all make their distinctive marks upon the world.


The end of the school year means my return home, and my unshakeable belief, despite years of contrary evidence, that I'll finally have some (more) time to devote to my creative work. This week, however, has proved that life always has its own plans for us, and this is especially the case when you own a home (or condo, or any other costly piece of real estate for which you're responsible for the upkeep). As I've noted on here before, a great deal--perhaps half--of my time spent at home in New Jersey has coincided with the presence of contractors. This has included the initial renovators and subsequent repairers--the painters, one of whom moved to Hollywood to direct films, another of whom coughed so badly that I thought his lungs would fly out of his mouth as he hovered on a ladder high above the backyard; the electricians, a gaggle that included one who set off sparks as he was installing a light and wondered why I looked ready to call the fire department; the plumbers; the succession of roofers, one of whom went mad and another of whom had the brilliant idea of covering our then-unlined chimney in chicken wire and stucco (we passed on that); a porch builder who promptly vanished from the tri-state area after some of the wood cracked within a week of his installing it; the doormaker-carpenter, the only sane and economic of all the doormaker-carpenters we've dealt with, who'd gone to MIT and produced work worthy of a prize; innumerable hucksters whose mercurial behavior made us wonder how they managed to stay in business at all; and so on--and others unforeseen, like the representatives from the private water contracting company our municipal water company, now privatized, employs. These skillful people not only cracked a 100-year-old water pipe once while deinstalling our water meter, but recracked it while putting it back in! And so now this pipe, which was dripping, is now seeping water, which a series of towels are sopping up. Every day this week, the water company contractor has assured me--promised me--he will show up "after 8 am," though that has meant 11:30 or not at all, if he "forgets." So today, after both C and I called first thing in the morning, I waited, he showed up, we chatted about the state of the pipe, he denounced Jersey City's placement of trees on the sidewalk and galvanized lead, we inspected the curb and learned that 100 years ago, the developers had thought through infrastructure placement quite well, and so now rather than shutting off the entire neighborhood's water supply, they may be able to target their efforts and fix this pipe (replacing it would be the best option). I am sincerely hoping they complete this sooner rather than later (and that, though I had to broach the subject, no lawyers have to get involved), since in adulthood no season ever feels more fleeting than the summer.


When we were packing up things in Chicago, C asked if we could spend a little time having lunch at the nearby beach. For all of my time in that city I've always lived in walking distance of one and, as past photos on here will attest, I've walked and snapped shots of them. My favorite time to visit them is when a heavy fog is blanketing both them and the Lake. We went and sat on a (not so comfortable but convenient) bench on the concrete walkway and observed people lying out on the sand, walking their dogs, dipping into the water, and basically enjoying a break from the drear of weeks of cold mornings and rain, and this got me thinking about how this essential feature of Chicago life is almost never portrayed on film or TV. When movies and TV shows depict contemporary Chicago, we see the skyscrapers, the immense suburban homes and the bungalows, the El, sometimes the (remaining) projects, some of the city's unforgettable cultural and architectural highlights (the Art Institute, Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, etc.), the baseball stadia (especially Wrigley Field), various restaurants (i.e., anything having to do with food), and the Lake.

But interestingly enough, rarely do they show the city's beaches that line the Lake for miles, from Rogers Park (Howard and Jarvis Parks) all the way south to the Indiana border (Rainbow Park and Beach). As a result, I imagine that many people, like C., are probably unaware that Chicago, like Los Angeles, New York City, Boston, San Diego, and Miami, just to name some of the more obvious US examples, has pleasant, sandy beaches, real beaches, at its doorstep. (In noting this I'm not suggesting that Lake Michigan is the same as either the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans, or that the sand or beach quality is the same.) Yet I have not met a single native Chicagoan, or anyone who's lived in the city for a while, even those resident far inland to the south, north, or west, who doesn't know about the city's beaches. I also didn't know how extensive or pretty the the beaches were for a good while.

This leads me to ask J's Theater readers, when you think of the cities and towns where they you or have lived, what are some notable aspects or features that everyone who's a native or a longtime resident knows about, but that are never depicted in films or TV shows? What are some of those major hidden elements of the city that might transform how people think about it? Please post a few of these in the comments, and append your name (or a name) in case screenwriters happen upon this blog page (not likely, but you never know).


And to conclude today's entry, a few photos from the last few months.

Artist's studio, Greenwood Ave.
A late-night snapshot of artist in his studio in Rogers Park
Looking down Morse St. towards Lake Michigan
Morse Avenue El (towards Lake Michigan)
Harris with honors students cake
Harris Sockel, the literature honors student I supervised, holding the students' cake at the lit honors celebration (part of his thesis topic is highlighted in the lighter frosting to the left: J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. (He also was co-winner of the Best Senior Literature Major award: congratulations, Harris!)

Marvelous poet and scholar Evie Shockley, reading at the university

Election day a few months ago, Jersey City

The ubiquitous signs (in NYC and Chicago)

One of my favorite NYC statues, Gertrude Stein, in Bryant Park

Gray's Papaya in the West Village, recession special (and they were already a great deal)


  1. Re: aspects of a location well-known by locals but ignored by TV and film.

    Delaware (where I grew up): its very existence. :-)

    The USVI/Caribbean in general: the physical presence of its colonial history. Christiansted, St. Croix, is dominated by a Danish fort dating to 1738, and many of the locals wear gold jewelery with images of ruined sugar mills, and consider them iconic of the island, yet I don't recall seeing many depictions of this European influence on the islands. I think it's because North Americans tend to think of the Caribbean as an unspoiled paradise, which doesn't really fit with reminders of its frequently ugly past.

  2. John, does it ever stop for you and C -- Contractors again?! Of course we have another hole in our ceiling from a leak in the tub (which was 'fixed' during the winter....)