Phthursday Musings: Marmora and Giddings
or, I have nothing against smelly ferns
There was an odd interlude of time, eight years ago. I had to taken to walking my old hound at night around the neigborhood. Over the course of a few days, I took some random pictures of street signs. This is still my favorite:
Earlier today the whole thing came back to me. I’m not sure if it was that I saw someone walking their dog, or that I just had a sudden image in my mind of the old school Chicago street sign.
So much of that time seems foreign now. My old hound Murray was still around, but we’d lost Sara earlier in the year. One day I left the house with her, and came home without her, and best as we could tell, he just kept looking for her, and tore the house apart in the process. Those summer night walks in Chicago were the days that Murray was on 20mg of Prozac.
We had a baby on the way, due to arrive right around the first of the year. The above picture was taken toward the beginning of the second trimester. Our first child, one who been a long time in coming, and the anticipation and excitement and nervousness was all… well, I don’t know what the hell it was all like, because he showed up in September instead, and about the only solid recollection I have of the time is captured in a few random photos of Chicago street corners at night.
What I remember is a certain peacefulness. For 13 years, the concept of taking a beagle for a walk meant a lot of things, but certainly not anything resembling peacefulness. But those nights, it was just me and Murray. And he just walked. He didn’t bark hysterically at things. Unlike the old days, when I had extendable walkers, and Murray would be six feet ahead pulling forward, and Sara would be six feet behind sniffing a rock or a weed, we just… walked in peace.
Tonight as I walked the short distance home from a meeting, and I mulled over those old walks, I thought about how back in Chicago, if we’d wanted, we could have just kept on walking. One small neighborhood would roll into another. I could have taken dozens of pictures of different street sign combinations. Out here in the suburbs, you go three blocks, and it’s like everything ends. I go one way, I’m in a different town. I go a different way, there’s weird industrial buildings and a quarry. I go yet a different way, and there’s a federal highway. The compactness is visceral.
Honestly, I don’t miss most things about being inside the city. I don’t especially miss the El, I don’t miss the uglier politics. But I do miss the streets. I miss the street signs. I miss the sense that, wherever you are in the city, you know you’re in Chicago, just by looking up at the corner.
Marmora and Giddings? Where is that? Well, it’s in Chicago. Enough said.
I imagine that sense of peacefulness feels distant for most of us. We’re not back to normal, we’ve got little appreciable sense of when that will happen, we maybe don’t even know what we mean by that anymore. Oh, we reach out for facsimiles of normal, sure. But is normal even the point? Or instead is normal just a crib for something else we’re really trying to get to, which is peacefulness?
Of course normal and peacefulness aren’t the same thing. Sometimes what we mean by normal is a certain state of busyness. Maybe even freneticness, if that can at least feel comfortable. Call it rhythm, say. But I submit that part of any good rhythm is reaching that peaceful space.
I have maintained for a long time that, even when it seems things are going especially poorly, things are also going remarkably well. Maybe that’s an optimistic outlook. Maybe that’s just the framework needed to stay sane.
What I feel though is that even if there’s a certain quantifiable good that might more than offset a certain quantifiable bad, we may nevertheless be scuttling our advantage simply by drowning in worry. Or maybe it’s not worry exactly. And my point isn’t to talk about worry, or particular worries, or whatever exactly it is.
I haven’t been in a while, what with the pandemic and all, but for work, I used to go to Vermont three or so times a year. While there I would get a copy of Seven Days, the alt-weekly in Burlington. Every week there’s a crossword and a sudoku, and I’d do these in my hotel room, maybe with a game on the TV. I think about that now and it’s a fond feeling. I don’t really like leaving home, but once I get somewhere, and am there for a couple of nights, it’s like, well, I can kind of not think about other things like the tile that fell off the bathroom wall and what I’m going to have to do about it.
I like crosswords. I like sudokus. I like puzzles! Maybe you do too! But imagine crossing over from doing a daily sudoku because you like it, to doing a daily sudoku because it’s become part of your day. Something you fret about if you haven’t gotten to yet. Wouldn’t that be a real pisser? Worrying about getting to a freaking sudoku?
I think we should all find something like that which we do to ourselves, and just stop doing it.
For example there’s a weekly challenge thing on Words With Friends where you have to beat the computer a certain number of times. I was actually getting to the point where I was trying to knock it off as soon as I could each week so I wouldn’t have to think about it when the weekend rolled around. Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I said, screw this, and just stopped doing it. You know you’ve got something like this. It might even be the same damn thing!
I’m not sure how I got here from Marmora and Giddings.
Marmora is one of the M streets. They start when you cross Central. Not immediately, mind you. The first north-south street west of Central is actually Parkside. But then you get to Major. Depending on where you are in the city and how the grid square is laid out, it goes Major, Mango, Menard, Monitor, Marmora, Mason. Then it’s Austin, one of the big thoroughfares, and then it starts up again with… McVicker. McVicker is everyone’s favorite.
McVicker, that’s a real street name there.
There’s a subdivision I remember from Columbus where every street ends in wood. Sandalwood. Hempwood. Loganwood. Satinwood. Oh, maybe all of these things are actually woods, that’s not the point. The whole thing is bullshit, I know it, you know it, we all know it. It’s like the Christopher Guest character from Best In Show was naming woods instead of nuts, except he was also a developer.
Incidentally, I’d be quite fine living on Red Pistachio Nut Lane.
This has sent me off thinking, what is the worst named street I’ve ever lived on? There were two clunkers back in Columbus - Stinchcomb and Shanley. The only presidential street was also a clunker, that being Taft. (I also lived on Wilson, but that was named after a Frank Wilson, not the super racist one time governor of New Jersey.)
The very first street I lived on was Penfield Place. One side of my brain says that’s fine. But the other side says that it was the likely name of a very bad Gilmore Girls spinoff that never saw the light of day.
Well, I guess I’d have to pick Stinchcomb. Apparently it’s Old English, stinch meaning bird and combe meaning valley. But in American English, Stinchcomb just sounds like the name of a particularly smelly fern. Not that there is anything wrong with smelly ferns. Please do not think I have anything against smelly ferns. Please do not send H.S. Pepoon after me.
Apropos of nothing, here is a video featuring my favorite Guided By Voices song, though the video has whatsoever nothing to do with the song.
Auf Wiedersehen, amigos.
Phil, I love your writing. Every week getting your newsletter is just a pleasure. This issue has so many interesting points.
1. Suburbs as compact
I love this observation of the suburbs as compact. It completely flips the view of the suburbs I've held has being expanse. But the sprawl is the overall view.
The user experience of suburbs is indeed compactness. You have these tiny little pockets. Little islands of activity. These islands are separated by large swaths of land.
2. Do we strive for rhythm
What are we reaching for? Do we strive for normal? Or do we strive for peace? Is normal a state of busyness? Is normal a rhythm of reaching a peaceful space? That notion of rhythm... At IWU, I explored rhythm in my art as a way of crossing the bridge from visual art to music to dance. Rhythms are so powerful, and I wanted my art to capture that power.
Rhythm being the very heartbeat of life. The rhythm of breathing keeps us alive. Rhythms in music encourage us to dance, to go with the flow. In visual compositions, repeated elements create a rhythm tha capture the eye and move us through the layout. Rhythms are so powerful.
And now you touch on another element of rhythm. That of our daily lives. The routines that keep us going. And the value of breaking that routine to enjoy the intrinsic qualities. Doing the sudoku for the love of the doing it. Not because we have to do it. The rhthym for what it is intrinsically.
That's an interesting idea that the rhythm can become wearisome when we do it solely for that repeated aspect, forgetting what the actually rhythm is comprised of.
I've done the same thing with the digital baseball trading card app, "Topps Bunt." Collect a certain card every day so I could get the "bonus" card at the end of the 10-day series. Log into that app and break open as many digital packs until I hit the daily needed card. It got stressful instead of enjoyable.
Yes, indeed. Worry takes anything good, and transforms into bad.
4. M streets
I lived on the other side of Milwaukee on Lawrence, I always enjoyed riding the bus westbound to the Jefferson Park blue line stop. Passing by all the K-streets between Pulaski and I-94. In the short area of eight blocks or so, all those K-Streets must be really confusing. But now I realize that after the K-streets are the L-Streets. Then come the M-Streets. How I never realized this, I don't know. But arranging the streets by letter is another way to help someone know how far east-west you are. "Oh, you are over in the M-street range". It's a bit like how on the south side, all the east-west streets are numbered, so you know how far north/south you are.
Of all the odd coincidences, my sister lived on Giddings St. until just a few months ago. She was the pastor at the Jefferson Park UCC church and lived in the parsonage.