Diary of A Mad H1N1 (October 25, 2009)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009:

After a day spent walking in that annoying, light, drizzly rain, the kind that chills you to the bone without really getting you wet, I have come down with a nasty case of the sniffles. I have two reviews to write for the Edge, but I can’t. I am going to bed.

Thursday, October 15, 2009:

Holy crap. My body hurts. I just finished taking my morning pee pee, a release that usually feels so refreshing, yet I am doubled over with cramps. What the hell? I am not going to work. I can’t walk around South Deering in the rain again. I hope I don’t lose my job. It’s only my second week.

Friday, October 16, 2009:

Eddie is home. That would be awesome if I hadn’t been up all night alternately stripping down and bundling up, each movement cloaked in a dense and slimy covering of chilly sweat. I took Tylenol, Nyquil, anything I could swallow and my fever unswervingly clocks in at 102. Shit – I cannot miss work again. Can I? Wait a minute. My alarm clock is broken. No, on second thought the power is out in the whole house. It’s 6:30 AM already? Fuck – why is the power out? I had better wake Eddie.

(2:00 PM that day) The goddamned power is still out. I can’t breathe. My body is breaking out in red splotches. I am irrational and bored. That’s it. I am going for a run.

(2:15 PM) What just happened? My chest exploded at block 2. I tried to go farther but ultimately turned around to come home when my left side felt like it needed to create an opening to let my ever swollen and painful organs out. I feel worse than before. Eddie is going to be so mad at me. The freaking power is still out. I have already made two hysterical calls to my property manager.

Saturday, October 17, 2009:

It’s 5 AM. The power didn’t come back on until 8:30 PM. I am going to kill my landlord – once I can stand. Fever still just under 102 and it appears there is nothing in the world I can do to bring it down. I am afraid to go to the bathroom for any reason. Any attempt by my body to eliminate waste feels like I am Mel Gibson bravely enduring death torture, a la the final scene in Brave Heart. I am starting to get an inkling I might have the swine flu, especially after some clandestine middle of the night research. I had better wake Eddie up so we can go to the doctor. Shit. I hate doctors. I hope they don’t draw blood. Oh crap – I hope Eddie doesn’t get it. Maybe I have pneumonia. My lungs hurt like hell.

(10:00 AM that morning) Oh mother f”er. It is the swine flu. I called Jen from the doctor’s office. I am starting a steady diet of Claritin and Advil. I had to laugh though when the doctor broke up one of mine and Eddie’s usual mini-power struggles. He told him this was my flu, not his. LOL. Ow – it hurts to laugh. I need to lie down.

Sunday, October 18, 2009:

The fever is down to a manageable 100. A steady diet of medicine and Eddie’s TLC (an unexpected blessing) has done some good. I wish I could exercise. It’s been days now. Maybe tomorrow. It still hurts to pee. Man, what is that?

Monday, October 19, 2009:

I am going back to work no matter what. I feel mostly alright. No more fever. The cold has moved from my head to my chest. I sort of feel like any other person with the flu now. Cool. The worst is over.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009:

Riding the el home from the office, I grab a backward facing seat. This unexpectedly triggers a raging case of motion sickness right around Sedgwick that takes until late Friday evening to completely subside. I feel nauseous and sick the rest of the week and wonder if the swine flu qualifies for a medical marijuana prescription. It should.

Saturday October 24, 2009:

Ok, I am back in the saddle. I finally conducted the interview with Chad Bliss of the Cob Connection that I had to cancel last Saturday. I spent 90 minutes standing in community gardens in Humboldt Park. It’s raining again. I try to run when I come home but my left side almost explodes anew. I make it to my 3:00 hair appointment, badly needed as it has now been 7 weeks since I touched up my roots. Right before I leave, around 5:00, I develop a twinge of a headache. I assume I need to eat.

(6:00 PM that evening) All the lights are off in the house, as is the TV. It is a sensory free zone and I am huddled on my bed with a full blown migraine. I haven’t had one of these in four years, since before I started dating Eddie. WTF? I have to make a lame phone call to my best friend Gary, due to arrive in 45 minutes, to tell him I can’t make it to Brandon’s party tonight. I hope I don’t puke up the dried cranberries I just ate. Both Gary and Brandon are probably mad at me. Shit. Nothing I can do about it. I am taking four Excedrin migraine tablets. Why the hell aren’t they working? I wish Eddie would shut off that Hindi movie and come to bed.


Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum, I Smell a Good Pout (October 22, 2009)

This morning, around 10 AM, I and my partner Sam were aboard the #30 CTA bus headed for the far South Side neighborhood of Hegewisch. Sam is my partner for the duration of my stint as a Field Researcher with the Chicago Office of Tourism. Initially, upon learning I was being paired with a 22 year-old male, I rolled my eyes as far back in my head as they would go. I had visions of a Viagra Triangle fraternity moron dancing in my head. Instead, to my surprise, young Sammy is the most idiosyncratic, salt and pepper graying, yoga class going, would be writer that I have ever encountered. His is a nerd supremo, rather than a randy idiot crushing beer cans against his skull. In other words, Sam and I are peas and carrots – a perfect match.

So anyway, we’re on the bus, the same one at roughly the same time that we have ridden the three days prior, while exploring East Side and Hegewisch. Our driver, a lively, witty and informed man by the name of Richard W. Linn, noticed our continued appearance on his route and struck up a conversation with Sam and I. It’s an hour’s ride from the 69th St. Red Line station where we boarded, to 135th and Brainard, where we alighted. Richard was kind enough to let us into the soon to be lost world of the salt of the earth, blue collar lifer with the CTA.

Why will this be lost? Well as Richard explains it, our terrific Mayor (and those of you who are regular readers know I mean this in NO way) has completely padded the Chicago Transit Authority with oodles of his cronies (the shock!!). Years ago, where Richard and his fellow shiftmates answered to one guy, they now owe allegiance to seven. These paper pushers mill around all day, and in order to give them something important to do, King Daley has deputized some of them with the authority to write parking tickets to violators on CTA property. That’s right. The next time you don’t pay your dollar at the Kiss N’ Ride, your fine may be issued, not be a uniformed police officer, or even a meter maid, but instead the guy who is in charge of writing the repetitive “Doomsday” press releases declaring imminent CTA death. Of course. And now we’ll pay $3 a ride to keep all these managers on the payroll. Best of all, the CTA has almost entirely stopped hiring full-time bus drivers and train conductors. This is because they can pay part-time workers half the hourly rate, without the expense of those pesky other perks like health insurance which would put a crimp in all the kickback payments. This cost saving measure might explain the higher incidence of train accidents in recent years, as high turnover and poor training, coupled with a lack of personal investment, lead to lazier job performance.

So anyway, this line of conversation was enough to get my blood boiling. The CTA clearly has its head irretrievably up its ass, compromising service to passengers while wallowing in enough graft and corruption to make Al Capone blush in his grave. I was both thrilled and appalled to be getting this insider information. Richard, a 47 year-old, 25 year veteran of the CTA with three young children, bears the King nearly as much ill will as I do. We bonded.

From these issues, the dialogue turned to some of the King’s other glaring transgressions, that to my everlasting frustration, citizens of Chicago seem to have a bottomless stomach for. How else to explain why there has never been a serious challenge mounted to set term limits or toss this a-hole?

But now we get this:


I am not playing semantic games with the King. To invoke fiscal responsibility as his motivation for anything is beyond the pale. He has robbed City coffers illegally, and cancelled Venetian Night for good measure out of nothing more than power hungry, vindictive spite. I am now convinced that this man can do anything he wants. I think he could bonk midgets on the head, and trip old ladies right in the middle of the Thompson Center and no one would utter a word.

So King Daley can’t bring the Olympics to Chicago? We’ll he’ll show us and the world dammit! He’s gonna, gonna, gonna…cancel Venetian Night, a beautiful festival that everyone enjoys. Yeah, that’s the ticket – just because he can. That 1.1 billion that was supposed to sit in a reserve for the next 99 years while this shitty parking meter lease plays out, just in case we ever really need it? We’ll let’s just pull a third of that out before a year is even up. Why? Because Chicago is struggling man. Mayor Daley, if you indeed feel so emasculated by your undeniable show of international powerlessness that you must needs destroy something, please do not make it the Windy City’s financial future.

Meanwhile, crime rates are shooting through the roof in disgruntled, impoverished communities, children are killing children and the rest of us, the ones without Daley as our last name, watch OUR City slip away from our control a little more each year.

Please Chicago readers. Comments? Questions? Concerns? Anyone willing to run for Mayor this next round? Little C? Richard W. Linn?

South Side! (October 13, 2009)

As a near lifelong resident of the City of Chicago, I have an embarassing confession to make. Though I have driven around over the years, the only neighborhood on the South Side that I could ever lay any real claim to knowing was Hyde Park. This is due to my involvement with the Chicago Children’s Choir in the mid-90s, when home base was still at a progressive Jewish synagogue in that neighborhood (so progressive in fact that the Temple held its worship services on Sundays). Some may be tempted to level accusations at me of not caring much what goes on outside the upper middle class North Side lakefront that I have called home for quite some time. I will not try to defend the indefensible because my lack of South Side awareness is just pathetic. However, rather than a lack of interest or concern, I have been guilty of laziness.

However, I am pleased to report that my ignorance has been somewhat reduced in the course of the last week, through my work with the Chicago Office of Tourism. I have fully explored no fewer than four neighborhoods in the last five working days, and three of them were almost entirely new to me: Chinatown, South Chicago and Pullman – all to the South.

I had eaten dim sum with my family in Chinatown a time or two as a youth, but I hardly think this qualifies as real experience in the neighborhood. Let me tell you, I used to think I knew a good deal about this City, but a wonderful new world has opened up to me. How could I never have been to Pullman? Such a rich history as the first planned industrial town. A place of gorgeous architecture and culture. Did I mention you can actually call yourself the owner of a gut rehabbed Pullman row house, a national historical landmark, for the price of about $150,000? You can’t buy a rundown shack on the North Side for anything close to that. Talk of a possible Red Line extension out to 135th street only sweetens the eventual return on your investment.

In South Chicago, and I can hardly believe I never knew this, there are 576 acres of lakefront shoreline, sitting, undeveloped, since 1992. The former site of the massive (and now defunct) U.S. Steel plant, the empty space is enough to fit the whole of Chicago’s downtown inside with a little room to spare. Can you imagine!? And it’s just been sitting there for the last 17 years. When I think of how vital the lakefront is downtown, on the North Side and in the parts of the South where beaches are prevalent, this is literally mind boggling. Certainly efforts to do something with the space would trickle out and benefit the economically depressed South Chicago neighborhood.

But not content to wait for the City or Big Business to make something happen, South Chicago is perfecting its own cottage industry. I was surprised to learn that the area is one of the “greenest” neighborhoods to be found in our town. Low income, modern, ecologically sound housing sprouts left and right, community gardens pepper the area – I know my good friend Kevin is laughing right about now, marveling at my naivete.

If you read Kevin’s blog, he just finished waxing poetic on his own love for the South and consequent ignorance of the North. We are like the geographic gift of the magi, me making him come to Lincoln Park for hot dogs, him whetting my whistle for the South Side with promises of a Indian fried chicken place. No, that is not an oxymoron. Such a magical place apparently exists and Kev says it does booming business.

It’s 2009. Why is there still such a divisive imaginary line between the North and South Sides?

Tomorrow, I make my way to South Deering. I love my job, in no small part because it is turning me into a more whole Windy City citizen, as I always should have been.

And the Nobel Prize for Most Cynical Nation Goes to…The United States! (October 11, 2009)

There’s a really insidious group of people I have come to detest in 2009. Shamefully, this group includes members of my own household more often than I can stomach. These folks are the ones who rallied behind Obama in the early Summer of 2008, when his cultural zeitgeist was at its absolute trendiest peak. They wanted “change” and followed Candidate Obama’s every move, infected despite themselves with a heady rush of “Yes we can!” euphoria.

However, the inevitable crash from the drug that was the Fall 2008 campaign came hard and fast for a section of the populace in January of this year. That’s when the camera ready events came to an end – the awe inspiring Grant Park Rally, the flashy and momentous Inauguration. When the dust settled and the pilgrims left down, it was time to get to work. And oh what work there was to be done! Two wars, a soul scraping economic and housing crash, the corporate mayday of so many huge America brands, layoffs – just to name a few of the challenges our new President had waiting for him on Day One.

And this is where so many of Obama’s former supporters began to show their true colors. Because all along they mistook our President’s intelligence and passion for some sort of promise of quick returns. They wanted results and they wanted them now. So what if Iraq and Afghanistan had been underway long before the President was a Senator from Illinois? He had better have our troops out (and security in the region, naturally) within six months. So what if the economic crisis had been in part triggered by years of bad policy and deregulation, of generations of people living beyond their means? Let’s right this thing and put people back to work before the holiday season – or else. Who cares if health care reform is taking longer than expected because of an unparalelled political quagmire on Capitol Hill, as well as at the American breakfast table? It matters not that our ambitious President has tackled all of these problems, often without the will or support of members of Congress, including members of his own party.

No, these fair weather friends awoke Friday morning to learn that President Barack Obama had won the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize with only one question on their minds: What has he done? And I know from personal experience this weekend that the question does not only relate to foreign policy.

Obama won the prize for 3 reasons:

1. No one, and I mean no one, had inspired more people, in more places, in the last 12 months. I know many folks choose to interpret the award as more of a lifetime achievement kind of thing, and I suppose that’s their right. Be that as it may, and no matter what side of the political fence you sit, it cannot be ignored that the man’s charisma and genuine likability is a powerful tool. Just ask John McCain. Or the screaming throngs in Europe that have turned out at every one of his public appearances.

2. He is not Bush. Do not underestimate the power those words carry internationally. It is the benefit of short term memory that we can barely recall the time, just a few months ago, when America was isolated and virtually friendless around the globe. Eight years of “Bring ’em on!” and “Axis of Evil” imperialism had made America and the world less safe (do you hear me Republicans?!), not more. I do accept that in part, the Nobel Committee has bestowed the prize on a clean break with the unhelpful, shall we say, attitudes of the past.

3. It’s only been 9 months, but wow. I am paraphrasing here, and I wish I could remember whom to credit, but I heard it said best last Sunday on “Meet the Press.” Obama’s approach to the international community is rather revolutionary. In the past, America has prided itself on its strength, it’s ability not to need anybody, its stoic resolve. Obama is subtly and slowly trying to change that mindset for American citizens. What’s cool in the 21st century is cooperation, information sharing. America is still the only superpower, no doubt about that, but we don’t need to ground that into everyone’s coffee. We are now a partner rather than a dominator, no longer the distant and stern grandfather. It may very well be political (and what decision, if we’re being honest, isnt?) but yes, I think the Nobel panel wanted to recognize this tectonic shift in Western diplomacy. And by the way, why the hell not? Doesn’t this create peace, which is the point of the Nobel Prize?

Can you imagine Bush, or any other President for that matter, ever going on Al Jazeera and speaking to the Muslim world in a believable way, that conveys a recognition of people of all religions and beliefs systems as equally human? Neither can I. That hardly means that WASPs and Muslim militants will be exchanging friendly emails anytime soon, but Obama definitely opened some lines of communication that were down before.

But to return to the earlier point of my post. What has really injured my spirit the last few days are the jeers and derision by a healthy dose of our citizenry towards the President’s winning the Nobel Peace Prize at all. Some have even gone so far as to suggest he decline to accept it. Please tell me when we became so jaded that we could look at the bestowing of such an honor on our sitting President with anything but pride? 2009 has been such a suck ass year (you can quote me on that), why aren’t we unified in finding this pretty cool?

It makes me sad. Is there anything this country can collectively celebrate anymore? You don’t have to agree with everything Obama has done in order to find joy in the Nobel Peace Prize. That’s for all of us man, for the better, stronger and more tolerant America that we are supposedly on the path toward becoming. Let’s act like we deserve it.

Granny Boop (October 5, 2009)

Today was my first day as a Field Researcher for the Chicago Office of Tourism’s Neighborhood Mapping Project. I rose with vigor this morning, eager to get started after five months of semi-retirement (I will still continue the freelance projects that kept me sane). I felt like Mary Tyler Moore as I strode down Damen Street in my smart black leather jacket and purple scarf, walking purposefully on my way to the el. This time, I was not going for personal training, a bikini wax or to meet Eddie for lunch. I am working dammit!

The project’s offices are downtown at Randolph and Michigan, in the Hot Tix building on the third floor. Orientation began at 9:00 and we set about the usual first day on the job business: icebreaker exercises, paperwork and going over rules and regulations. The fun starts tomorrow when I and my teammate (a dude named Sam) will head out into the field to start investigating Chinatown.

Anyway, as the morning wore on, I started to feel distinctly elderly. It was more than just the youthful faces of the other five Field Researchers I was training with. As we took turns going around the table and talking about ourselves and where we lived, no fewer than three of my colleagues reported living with their parents. My stomach continued to drop when most of them alluded to being recent graduates – Bachelor’s degrees, not Master’s. It turns out that except for this Golden Girl (I fancy myself Rose, but am more honestly a Dorothy/Sophia hybrid), the average number of years away from undergrad was a measly one. Gulp.

At lunch I asked one guy, Kyle, who lives on the South Side, what he did before he came onboard. He said he had been a flower delivery boy. Two years ago he earned his art history degree from UIC. Another girl had been living with her parents in Peoria, basically doing odd jobs until this came up and she moved in with her brother in Lombard. Yet another girl lives in Lincoln Square with her folks and worked for her dad part-time until she landed this four month gig.

Once I got over my early-30s vanity, this information moved me to think in another direction. I realize I sound like a grandmother telling tall tales here, but those of you over the age of 28 know what I am talking about. Time was, as little as nine years ago, earning a college degree, even an Art History, or in my case, English Lit. specialization guaranteed you some form of life sustaining employment. It may not be glamorous, or the in field you dreamed you’d land, but you’d find work, earning enough to consider getting a roommate and leaving the nest for good. In my case, that first job was a corporate call center travel agent for Carlson Wagonlit, working on the Accenture account. This was no what I wanted to do for life, but it was enough to get me started.

What is out there for graduates now? Kyle, the flower delivery man, said he had felt lucky even to get that job. So then I took my musings a step further. If college graduates are working part-time, unskilled jobs, what’s left for everybody else? This is a sobering question.

With the unemployment rate currently at 9.8% nationally, and 17% if you factor in the total number of people who are working part time but would rather be working full time, and those who have simply given up looking for work because they are too discouraged by their bleak prospects – it’s a rotten time to be a recent grad. So instead of feeling like an out of touch senior who cannot figure out the Blackberry device handed out with her field materials, I choose to look at myself as wise old Aunt Becky. As a woman who has weathered a layoff, career change and a naked man in a tree (another story for another time) in the course of her working life, I can teach the newbies a thing or two – and maybe we can all figure out what’s next.