The porch of our 1950’s suburban ranch settled outside the dining room picture window like a stiff upper lip. Dad placed two canvas sling chairs there. They looked lonesome, like castaways on a concrete island. Our family of five used the space with the discretion bred in our time. Whatever happened on our porch was behavior accessible to anyone passing by so we acted accordingly.

On Easter Sundays we tested the photogenic promise of new clothes by posing for the camera on its steps. At Christmas, a tasteful wreath on the front door illustrated our festive spirit. Our mailman was careful to roll our papers like a sausage and tucked them into our brass mailbox. The man who sold household products we didn’t need had the unique privilege of ringing the doorbell.

After a good number of  years, our Grandma Lillian came for an extended Summer visit and our porch transformed its character. She took over the space in increments. At first she sat in one of the sling chairs, which seemed startled but up to the task of holding her small, round self. Then she brought her radio out with her and Dad acquiesced by threading its cord through the dining room window so she could listen to Chicago White Sox games.

Emboldened, she requested, and received, a little table on which to plunk her pepsi cola. This happy turn of events spawned a bold request; and, what do you know?  Dad moved our portable television set out there.

At this juncture, the rest of us often dribbled out to join her. The White Sox players did lots of funny stuffy, like spitting and scratching that the radio was apparently reluctant to describe. Soon, with Grandma leading the way, we all took to waving at our wide-eyed neighbors as they happened by. Even Chicago Cubs fans.

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Where the Twain meets

Three volumes comprise Mark Twain’s autobiography because he was a chatty man and had a lot to say. I am a fan so I enjoy reading his volumes very much.

I enjoy much less their heft. I didn’t weigh them but each one would be a deadly projectile if one had enough brawn to throw one.

More than 1/3 of each book, roughly 300 pages at the end, is explanatory notes and footnotes and acknowledgments and caveats and arguments and commentary. I think someone may have added some recipes in there just for fun.

I should applaud the care taken to verify his thoughts, put them within context, and display the kind of detail fixation prevalent among those obsessed with his work. But the book is so heavy, it should have its own lectern.

Considering Mark Twain dictated most of it while in bed or in a comfy chair, I suspect he would find this funny.



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Workman’s compensation

Across the street from our condominium, an 1894 brick warehouse is being re-imagined as a trendy apartment building. The architect’s design requires slicing huge slits in the brick facade to make way for windows. Lots of windows. Lots of trendy.

This also means that bricklayers are carefully replacing bricks around the openings so they are tidy and straight. Lots of bricks.

The bricklayers work solo or with one partner. Watching them work, carefully, brick by brick, reminds me there are still tasks that are worth watching.

I am sure the end result will be good looking and sleek and of course, trendy.

But the skill to make it so is personal, ageless, and simply beautiful.


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Book Looks

Folks read to learn or at least appear smarter, to be entertained, to escape, to understand, to stimulate, to get scared safely, to pretend, to remember. These are fun but the best part of reading is choice. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. Here’s a few types of readers:

Multitaskers have piles of books, open them willy nilly, pause, move on. They challenge a book to capture their interest.

Guilt-holders leave any not-finished book nearby. They believe they owe every book they open a read.

Word-for-worders are people who also read maps just for fun. They hope to hijack something in the book no one else can.

Detectors are usually smart at something other than reading, like data mining. They are on a quest for a book’s flaws.

Page-turners are furtive about skipping the boring parts but can’t help themselves.

Plot chasers are alot like page turners, except they are on the hunt for the best parts.

Achievers read lots and lots of books. They really need a more public outlet for such ambition.

Scanners are a little egotistical in that they secretly believe they already know the book.

Fortunately, books are nice and they don’t mind at all, with the exception of critics, who of course should NEVER be allowed to read at all.



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Moving pictures

Christmas and Easter and brief vacations to one of Wisconsin’s fishy little lakes  were the occasions for filming our home movies during the 1960s in Elmhurst, IL

You’d think nothing happened in between and that would be about right. Sometimes a sacrament like Baptism or First Holy Communion made it onto the movie archive but usually not. Nobody felt like mugging for the camera outside Immaculate Conception church.

You’d think my brothers, cousins and I were spawned in the wild where making screwy faces, leaping about and screeching were forms of communication. Sometimes a startled grownup exhibited similar lunacy when the camera zoomed in. Scary.

The girls, including my cousins, aunties and Mom, froze into what we assumed were model poses when we were dressed up but it was hard to hold still for very long. We bored ourselves.

It also might be assumed that no fathers existed in this cinematic universe because the uncles and dads were behind the camera. As silent movies, their encouragements to us weren’t recorded: “Hey kids, over here! Smile! Smile for heavens sake! Look here! Do something! No, not that!! Wave! Yes! That’s good! Wave!”

This experience overall was most entertaining when we watched the movies much later. None of us were silly most of the time, but watching our movies reassured us we had the capacity.




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Tried and true

Having two brothers and no sisters whilst growing up in Elmhurst, IL during the 1960s had more pluses than minuses: I had my own bedroom. The boys shared one. I had no gripe with the gene pool, free of comparison to a sister, who would have at least a 50% statistical chance of being prettier, smarter and destined for more fame than me.

One minus was competition, in the sense I had no idea how to do it.

This was revealed to me late, in kidhood time, seventh grade, when I tried out for the cheer-leading squad at Immaculate Conception grammar school. I don’t vividly remember trying out but precisely recall minutes during the week prior. I was terrified. Being judged.

My brothers were encouraging, which I ignored. Mom and Dad suggested I enjoy the challenge, which I ignored. Girlfriends practicing with me affirmed I had a good chance of succeeding, which I ignored.

If only I had a sister to laugh at me for being such a scared sissy.

I would have shown her.

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Supporting roles

Film credits that roll down the screen at movie’s end don’t get enough credit. The number of folks required for a two-hour product is astounding, suggesting it takes a lot of people working together, even if the result is just so-so.

I particularly enjoy reading the actors’ roles that are too minor for a real name but have a part in it:

“Redcoat #2,” “Humming Woman,” “Child in Stroller.”

The music credits are fun, too, because jazz, rock ‘n roll, swing and classic musicians probably didn’t know they’d be getting together to be a new thing, the film score.

I wonder why film producers put this cool info at the end and roll the credits so fast.

Art imitates life I guess.


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Mrs. Fitz's Story Emporium

We who attended college during the whimsically labeled “turbulent” 1960s were fond of asking questions. This both freed us from finding answers and left time for more important endeavors, such as protesting.

The Next Fifty Years: Science in the First Half of the Twenty-First Century is a collection of essays by twenty-five scientists, edited b John Brockman. They like asking questions, too.

I particularly like this one:

Should we genetically engineer people with traits and abilities we deem desirable, such as contentment, optimal body shape, empathy…or do we benefit from biodiversity?

2050 is only 37 years away. Will we be expected to have an answer?

Good question.

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This is the abbreviated account of the parcel:

I placed an online order for a smallish product.

The day the parcel was scheduled to arrive, it did not.

I decided the seller was fraudulent. I decided the postal service was inept. I decided I should cool down and await further information.

10 days after the parcel was scheduled to arrive, it had not.

I decided to take the matter up with the seller, then the postal service. I decided to be very polite about the matter. I obtained further information, information which indicated nobody on the planet had any idea where the parcel had gone off to.

Thus, I determined it prudent to affirm my initial assumption. I was right. The seller was fraudulent. The postal service was inept. I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be right but right I was.

The next day the parcel arrived and this shot my confidence in myself to bits.

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Reason # 17 Why Folks Don’t Write

There are many reasons folks don’t write. Lack of talent isn’t one of them. Advice is.

All writing advice is good. For instance, I am giving some now and my intent is good.  BUT, who and where and how you are when you receive it is much more important.

The worst good advice I ever heard was in how-to books: “Write what you know.” I wasn’t old enough to know much and what I did know bored me. I became a little older, knew a little more and what I knew still bored me. Now I write to discover what I know. I am bored less often.

The best good advice I ever heard was from my editor at Chicago Tribune who said, “Don’t try to impress us. Just tell the story.” I don’t know why this was the best but who and where and how I was received it. Still do.

What good advice have you received?

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