Monthly Archives: July 2011

“Mysteries of the Irrational, In Rational Words”

Here is a link to my latest book review in Newcity. It’s a review of Lila Azam Zanganeh’s debut, “The Enchanter: Nabokov and Happiness,” which is a weird little puree of biography, theory and memoir.

Also, I contributed three quick bios to Chicago Innerview magazine’s Lollapalooza issue. Find my ditty on Bright Eyes in the Friday, 530-730 section; on Eminem (!) in Saturday, 8-10; and the indie-folksters, a new favorite of mine, Fences in Sunday, 12-1:45.


Now That’s Some High Quality H2O

Yes, my cats have a water bowl.
Yes, they prefer to drink out of the tub.

New Article, New Project

Hey there!

I just returned home from Michigan, where I’ve been the last day or so as part of a project I’ve begun on hyperlocal news. The idea is to get editors of small newspapers around the country to give me an assignment, allowing me to then immerse myself in an issue the people of Town X care about. Doing this, in theory, should accomplish two things: (1) to take a look at something that’s not necessarily important enough to warrant a place in the regional or national news, but that suggests something larger about the country as a whole; (2) to examine how newspapers, as hyperlocal sites like Patch spring up, are adapting (or not adapting) to cover such issues.

This trip to Battle Creek was the prototype, shall we say, for the project. The paper of record there, the Battle Creek Enquirer, was kind enough to show interest in the hare-brained project and toss me a story — an Above the Influence day camp for teens sponsored by the local Substance Abuse Council. The resulting feature can be found here:

It was super interesting to meet such passionate kids, especially considering it is a subject most kids aren’t passionate about (I know I certainly was not). This made an excellent starting point for this still-in-the-early-going project because it forced an outsider of the town — me — to consider not just something a few people find important, but to look at an unfamiliar place and maybe consider why such an issue would be important to them.

Afterward, I was able to stop by the Enquirer’s newsroom and meet its captain — managing editor Eric Greene. He was exceptionally nice, and was patient with me as I prodded him with — in some cases — uninteresting questions about how his newspaper functions, and some about The Detroit Free Press — a paper he has no part in. All in all, a very good experience.

I’m not sure what’s next for this traveling journalism project, but I expect I’ll have more info to come soon for the five people who would be interested in knowing. That’s all for now, though, folks.

Anecdote of the iPhone, or: Optimism

Forgetting my three-week old iPhone was in my pocket last night, I dove into my friend’s backyard pool. As I enjoyed the warm summer night half-submerged in cool water, my iPhone had a miserable time, spending the warm summer night completely submerged in cool water. I should mention that this fateful dive-in was made completely sober (this is not one of those, “I Was So Drunk Last Night and Let Me Tell You What I Did to my Cell Phone” stories).

So, an hour — or maybe two — later, I emerged from the pool and began looking for my phone poolside. It was then I discovered I’d effectively done the WORST POSSIBLE THING you could do to an iPhone.

Let me tell you why:

iPhones are incredibly easy to replace, it seems. Drop it — fine; just lie and say it stopped working. Boom, you’ve got yourself a brand new iPhone. Pretty much anything goes. Except when it comes to H2O.

The only thing not covered by the warranty, it seems, is water damage. And lying does no good: apparently there are signs, somewhere in the phone, that turn a different color when they make contact with water. So the Apple Store employees are not to be fooled, here.

Anyway, I start freaking out. I’m headed to Michigan tomorrow for a story, and so I was concerned about the prospect of making the trip without a phone. I was also concerned about money: from what I understand, I wouldn’t have been able to purchase a replacement for the low, low contract price I’d originally paid — $49. Instead, the replacement would be like, $200. In desperation, I buried my water-logged smart phone in a mound of rice and let it sit for the night.

Not surprisingly, it did nothing when I attempted to turn my phone on this morning. I wish this could turn into one of those, “Without a Cell Phone, I Discovered It’s Sometimes Good to Get Away From Our Technology Addiction” stories. And maybe I could, had my phone not been a smart phone and had been something more like my previous phone — an LG Lotus (which isn’t to sneeze at the Lotus, known colloquially as The Square, which resembles a little labtop, which is a phone I love). But it’s hard to conjure such a story when it comes to the smart phone because they coax you into a kind of dependence that non-smart phones do not. My phone was my iPod, my road map, my inbox, etc. It’s not really that I can’t  live without it; it’s more that it’s remarkably inconvenient to do so.

So I call Apple.

“Let me spin you a yarn about a brand-new iPhone 3G and a swimming pool,” I started.

When I finally got to asking how much a replacement would be, the bored young woman who’d answered my call told me just what my friends had, just what I hadn’t wanted to hear:

“That’ll run you about $200,” she said.

I took stock of my options.

Keep my phone under rice for like, a week and hope it works. Or, just suck it up and pay the $200.

So I went with the latter. And let me tell you, hypothetical reader, that sometimes you get lucky.

I got to the Apple store, angry at myself for screwing up my phone, angry at Apple for putting me in this lose-lose situation. My turn came up, and I told the guy what happened. He said it happens all the time — three times today, in fact, he’s dealt with something similar. I asked if there was any cheap way of handling it. He said the $200 option was the cheapest.

“When did you get the phone?” he asked.

“Literally like, three weeks ago.”

“OK,” he said. “Let me run back and see what I can do.”

So here I am, sweating slightly from the heat outside, watching customers checking out iPads and the like — worry-free and excited about the prospect of their new toys. I yearned for that same innocence, that same pre-water-logged jubliation I felt each time I received a phone call. And then, he returned — phone in one hand, sheet of paper in the other.

“I’m a big beleiver in second chances,” he told me. “I see you got this three weeks ago, you’ve got Apple Care — we can give you a free replacement this time.”

“Are you serious?” I asked, literally wondering if this wasn’t some sick prank played by some hip Apple person on some clumsy, non-hip, first-time Apple product user.

“Yeah, just sign here,” he said.

It’s quite a thing to expect to pay some astronomical amount and then not have to pay it. It makes you feel richer.

And so, yes: I ruined my phone by not thinking, and had the slate wiped clean because of what I expect is some wiggle room in the Apple warranty policy. I don’t deserve this new phone, but I am glad to have it, and I think it goes to show: you occasionally do get bailed out. In matters of success and smart phones, life is often a meritocracy. Sometimes, though, you just get lucky.


Of Wizards, I Sing! Of Pop Punk, I Sing!

Last night marked the end of two eras: the conclusion to Harry Potter, and the end of Chicago alternative station, Q101. As they probably did for many, these two eras dovetailed. Often times, I’d be reading the latest Harry Potter book while rocking out to the latest New Found Glory song. I think people are pretty bummed about both coming to an end, not just because they’re important cultural institutions (OK, one more so than the other), but because Ends of Eras always make us feel a little older than we actually are. Which is dumb, because it’s pretty damn hard to feel old when you’re at a midnight showing dressed as Harry Potter.

This week I head to Battle Creek, MI, to cover a story. I’m looking forward to hopefully getting some free cereal (Kellogg’s based there; I’m sure they hand out Corn Flakes on the streets) and buying Kid Rock’s “Badass” beer. I would never buy a Kid Rock album, but God help me, I kind of like the guy. And if he’s got his own brand of beer, well, I’m sure it’ll make for an interesting conversation piece.

Da Bears

Da Bears playin’ kickball? Billy Corgan eatin’ dinner?,0,1925755.story

If You Build It, They Will Come

I hit up a Lake County Fielders minor league baseball game tonight. That’s the team owned by Kevin Costner, who was not there tonight unless he was disguised as the bear mascot. I love minor league baseball, but this was particularly good: the stadium was really just bleachers hemmed in by flimsy fence; it cost just three dollars (3!) to get in; the whole mess backed up to cornfields, which is really perfect for a minor league game (especially one with a name that references Field of Dreams); the music basically consisted of clever taunts of the opposing team, the Yuma Scorpions. These are single A players in an independent league; this is about the closest they’ll come to realizing their athletic dreams. The tragic beauty of that has been beaten to the ground and rendered a cliche at this point, but it’s still absolutely true. Especially when the sun is setting right behind the left field foul pole:

I apologize for the blurriness. I also took a sneaky, thirty-second video of this drunk guy dancing in the bleachers. I won’t post that here, though — I’m not that mean.