Life in Omaha (in Scottsdale)

daily existence away from chicago

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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Can I Help You?

Can I Help You?
Originally uploaded by shermans.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Burton Barr Library--North Face

Burton Barr Library--North Face
Originally uploaded by shermans.

I've been on an architectural tear the last few weeks. The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art has been producing a series of lectures on the city with Linda Hirshman (prof of philosophy and law), Nan Ellin (prof of Urban Design) and Will Bruder (famous modern architect guy). Plus, we travelled down to Oracle to see Biosphere 2 before it bites the dust at the hands of a developer. And Ciela and I finally wandered over to Cosanti, Paolo Solari's home in Paradise Valley. Last week I went out to Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright's studio, to hear Solari speak. I'm hip deep in the world of urban renewal in Phoenix and the visionary plans of people like Solari, Bruder and Wright. Interestingly, all this is happening as we get ready to move from our soul killing apartment into our new townhome. The angst I felt at selecting a new home has become that much more taut as I view these remarkable designs for what the city could be. Like opposing toggle bolts stretching a canvas over the landscape, the fabric of my life is hovering in a scary but graceful tension.

Burton Barr Library-detail, children's courtyard

Burton Barr Library-detail, children's courtyard
Originally uploaded by shermans.

The Will Bruder-designed Burton Barr Library in Phoenix, Arizona.

Burton Barr Library--5th Floor Reading Room

Burton Barr Library--5th Floor Reading Room
Originally uploaded by shermans.

Cosanti-South Courtyard detail

Cosanti-South Courtyard detail
Originally uploaded by shermans.

Cosanti: Paolo Solari's home and workshop in Scottsdale.

Cosanti-North Apse

Cosanti-North Apse
Originally uploaded by shermans.

Desert Biome

Desert Biome
Originally uploaded by shermans.

Biosphere 2

Biosphere 2
Originally uploaded by shermans.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Original Music

Ciela and I recorded a duet. Ciela does lead vocals. I'm on guitar and backing vocals. Near the end, Ciela decides that the guitar part should be a four-handed piece, and she experiments with my tuner as a slide. (For those of you at work, the song's two minutes should be able to squeeze it in before the boss gets back.)

(If you have trouble loading it, try pausing the song until the loading is complete and then hit play.)

Powered by Castpost

Okay, now everybody sing. La la la la la la. La la la la la la.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

iTunes as Oracle

As usual, I rely on Scrivener to keep me from working. Here's meme from his site.

Go to your music player of choice and put it on shuffle. Say the following questions aloud, and press play. Use the song title as the answer to the question. NO CHEATING.

How does the world see you?
"Wave" by Alejandro Escovedo
[as in "see you later, sucker"?]

Will I have a happy life?
"Pensacola" by Soul Coughing
[okay, this makes no sense. My iTunes is not very prophetic]

What do my friends really think of me?
"Flatness" by Uncle Tupelo
[a man who needs a little spice]

Do people secretly lust after me?:
"Eating Cake" by Dhamba 8
[I'm not sure how to interpret this, but it sounds positive]

How can I make myself happy?
"Wake Up" by XTC
[yes, I am generally a happy person--even in the morning]

What should I do with my life?
"Find My Baby" by Moby
[check. next item]

Will I ever have children?
"Six Different Ways" by The Cure
[oh dear god, no. Although, Ciela is definitely a girl of multiple personalities]

What is some good advice for me?
"Neighborhood" by Punkinhead
[should I move? Did I pick the wrong place to buy? iTunes, you are being too oblique.}

How will I be remembered?
"Born into the World" by Supersystem
[I will be remembered for having been.]

What is my signature dancing song?
"Bye Bye Blackbird" by Rahsaan Roland Kirk
[Well, exactly how do you dance to this?]

What do I think my current theme song is?
"Only a Story" by the Molly's
[I am writing stories these days. Clever iTunes, clever.]

What does everyone else think my current theme song is?
"My Iron Lung" by Radiohead
[Either I don't understand my friends, or iTunes, you don't understand my friends.]

What song will play at my funeral?
"Blind" by Talking Heads
[This would be a good, peppy way to say sayonara.]

What type of men/women do you like?
Men: "Silly Lullaby" by Natasha Richardson (from the Philadelphia Chickens original cast recording)
[iTunes, you reveal too much.]
Women: "Wired" by Big Hat
[I like my women strung out on caffeine...or toddlerhood.]

What is my day going to be like?
"Hard Times" by Boiled in Lead
[seeing the result of Scrivener ("Hard, Ain't It Hard" by Woody Guthrie), I'm wondering if iTunes has it in for us human operators.]

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Describe the Ordinary

I've been fooling around with some writing exercises in the vain hope that I might actually switch teams from the critics to the artists. One exercise was to describe the ordinary. I thought they turned out rather interesting--as exercises go.

The big chair
The arms gracefully sweep in arches, bending from the flat plane, both enclosing and projecting from the chair. At the center, the cushions wrinkle, caving into a depression, a well-worn plushness. The pillow, always studiously propped in a casual angle, suggests an excess of comfort, and indeed, that is exactly what it offers, excess. People sitting in the chair regularly toss the pillow aside, finding nowhere to comfortably place it once they have occupied the seat. Large, overstuffed and eschewing any formality, the chair aptly represents the growing size and casualness of the populace. It is the anti-antique. It will never command attention, garner awards, be praised in magazines for its elegant lines or its austere appearance. It serves to assure people that it is permissible to relax, to lounge, to do nothing because they have earned the right to be lazy in their own homes.

The cordless phone
A phone once, like many of the earlier electronic devices, attempted to hide its machinery under a skein that reflected old craftsmanship, handmade items. Indeed, the earlier phones were as much the product of cobbling together boxes and horns and cables from existing materials rather than flaunting a design of the future. The crank, the hand held earpiece, the arcane but linguistic telephone numbers were linked to humans and places, not distant factories. The princess phone exemplified this. Smooth, unassuming, designed to be an object d’art, sculpturally reclining on the surface of the glass end table, the black lacquered night table.

The cordless phone revels in its technology, making a fetish of the buttons, the chrome, the lights, the whistles, the constant evocation of black as the palette of high-tech. This particular one tattoos itself with icons of direction, indications of forward, reverse, play and stop. Each icon accompanied by tasteful labels indicating their function—redundancy necessitated by either the obscurity of the images or the imbecility of the user. The keypad continues to include both numbers and letters: the archaic phone designations of “Butterfield 8” and “Lawndale 12” however, now transformed into the trite marketing of 1-800 4 HOT SEX.

At the top of the handset, the phone insists on marketing itself by proclaiming it has “2.4 Ghz”—of memory, one presumes, I cannot recall the packaging nor the instructions. But do people seriously worry about the capacity of their answering machines? Perhaps those more in demand socially or politically than myself. Taking its cue from the hawkers of computers and their peripherals, the cordless phone participates in that common desire for more: more memory, more speed, more functions. Beneath the keypad are three more buttons offering “chan, mem and flash” (perhaps an Asian law firm of the 25th Century?). Even each of these buttons also do dual duty: “ring,” “del,” and “prog” (a jaunty name for a Spanish musician: Ring del Prog). Above the keypad, “redial” and “format” are inset gracefully in the curve of the chrome ear piece. Redial I can deduce, but format’s function has to this day escaped me. Ciela has occasionally pushed it, and eventually I have to unplug the phone in order to get it to work again. I have no idea what she formats, but the phone (and all other objects in the apartment) seem to remain in their original format, save for the phone itself no longer working. Perhaps there are two formats for the phone: format one, a sophisticated telecommunications device that can both transmit and receive messages as well as receive and record messages in the absence of a human operator; and format two, a paper weight.

(On reading these again, I'm afraid I come off as a sarcastic, poor man's version of Roland Barthes. The deleted scenes from Mythologies.)

Sunday, March 12, 2006


Originally uploaded by shermans.

Let the Heavens Open

Let the Heavens Open
Originally uploaded by shermans.

Finally, after 143 days, it rained in Scottsdale. And it didn't just drizzle. We had a steady, British-dreary, Seattle-soaked, wet that started at 1:00am Saturday and was still going strong when I went to bed about midnight. When we woke up this morning, the air was clean, the view crisp, and snow (I mean flippin' SNOW) covered the tops of the mountains in North Scottsdale. Further on toward the horizon, we could see mountains absolutely white.

Ironically, this winter rain and snow inverted our standard response to Spring weather. After 5 months of sunshine, we were giddy with the rain. It was like a 60 degree day in February back in Chicago. When I woke up, I just lay in bed and listened to the shish of cars leaving the parking lot and the steady hollow drip of the water in the downspout. Later, Ciela and I went out and splashed in puddles. Seeing the snow-capped mountains this morning was like seeing daffodils along the sidewalks. Well, not daffidols because I can't stand daffodils. They are the most simpering flower. They are the fauna equivalent of the happy face and I just want to step on them whenever they start to bloom. Seeing the snow-capped mountains was like being in Greektown in Chicago, sitting in the open windows of The 9 Muses or Artopolis Cafe.

Best of all, the rain cleared the clogged air--a buildup of carbon monoxide, smoke and most of all dust. For the last month it's been like inhaling a dirty sponge. You get a cough this winter and it stays around forever.

But now, everything's pristine. That smell of the desert--the smell that Judy and I could never quite place back in the summer--has returned. The desert has a cinnamon-y, spicy smell, especially after a rain. The brown haze had smothered it for months, but it was back today, and we inhaled deeply as we drove out to Tucson (contributing more pollution because too much of a thing like clean air can go to a person's head).

Friday, March 10, 2006

Great Opening Lines

This year's 10 winners of the Bulwer-Lytton contest, aka "Dark and Stormy
Night Contest" (run by the English Dept. of San Jose State University),
wherein one writes only the first line of a bad novel:

10) "As a scientist, Throckmorton knew that if he were ever to break wind in
the echo chamber, he would never hear the end of it."

9) "Just beyond the Narrows, the river widens."

8) "With a curvaceous figure that Venus would have envied, a tanned,
unblemished oval face framed with lustrous thick brown hair, deep azure-blue
eyes fringed with long black lashes, perfect teeth that vied for
competition, and a small straight nose, Marilee had a beauty that defied

7) "Andre, a simple peasant, had only one thing on his mind as he crept
along the East wall: 'Andre creep... Andre creep... Andre creep.'"

6) "Stanislaus Smedley, a man always on the cutting edge of narcissism, was
about to give his body and soul to a back alley sex-change surgeon to become
the woman he loved."

5) "Although Sarah had an abnormal fear of mice, it did not keep her from
eeking out a living at a local pet store."

4) "Stanley looked quite bored and somewhat detached, but then penguins
often do."

3) "Like an over-ripe beefsteak tomato rimmed with cottage cheese, the
corpulent remains of Santa Claus lay dead on the hotel floor."

2) "Mike Hardware was the kind of private eye who didn't know the meaning of
the word 'fear'; a man who could laugh in the face of danger and spit in the
eye of death -- in short, a moron with suicidal tendencies."


1) "The sun oozed over the horizon, shoved aside darkness, crept along the
green sward, and, with sickly fingers, pushed through the castle window,
revealing the pillaged princess, hand at throat, crown asunder, gaping in
frenzied horror at the sated, sodden amphibian lying beside her,
disbelieving the magnitude of the frog's deception, screaming madly, 'You


"I feel so miserable without you, it's almost like having you here." --
Stephen Bishop "

A modest little person, with much to be modest about." --- Winston
Churchill (about Clement Atlee)

"I've just learned about his illness. Let's hope it's nothing trivial."
--- Irvin S. Cobb "

I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great
pleasure." --- Clarence Darrow "

He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the
dictionary." --William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway)

"He is not only dull himself, he is the cause of dullness in others." ---
Samuel Johnson

He had delusions of adequacy." --- Walter Kerr

"I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it." --- Groucho

"They never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human
knowledge." --- Thomas Brackett Reed

"He loves nature in spite of what it did to him." --- Forrest Tucker "

I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of
it." --- Mark Twain

"His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork." --- Mae West

"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go." ---
Oscar Wilde

"He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends" --- Oscar

"He has Van Gogh's ear for music." --- Billy Wilder

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Jon Fasman-On how to be a writer

Decided you want to be a writer but don't have the bucks to go get an MFA? Move to Moscow.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

How do they do it?

I'm at a loss as to understanding how and why people who blog blog so regularly. I never seem to find the time nor have the catalog of interesting material to share. In fact, my most interesting material I save for other projects. Mostly my long procrastinated great american novel.

But here's what's been going on out here in the west for those people who just want to peek into my life--voyeurs of the bland and uneventful.

I've been attending a lecture series at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. The series looks at the city, especially Phoenix metro, via the thoughts of some local intellectuals: Linda Hirshman, whose Homeward Bound caused quite a stir when it appeared in American Prospect; Nan Ellin, professor of urban design at ASU and a former teacher of mine at UC; and Will Bruder, a local architect who designed, among other things, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and a development in Tempe The Vale that I really wanted to move to.

The lectures--two so far--have been very interesting, with lively conversation in the Q&A and the reception afterwards. I've met a few interesting people, reintroduced myself to Nan Ellin, and garnered a few business cards in perpetuating the illusion that I might be somebody worth knowing. Last night, the lecture focused heavily on some interesting developments in Phoenix and other towns that looked to invest this rather woeful excuse for a city with a sense of community, activity and urbanity that it really lacks. I left thinking that there was a tremendous amount of opportunity in the valley of the sun (there are vacant lots all over this city) but a real lack of financial and imaginative investment by those who could do such things. Phoenix may ultimately be hampared by its rapid growth in the mid-to-late 20th century. The city really lacks the building infrastructure to draw the sort of design that might make Phoenix into another Chicago, NYC, Paris or Rome. It may always be the second biggest suburb in the world.

We're also still planning to move next month, so we have been once again trying to minimize the excess that we will cart from one domicile to the next. Certain evenings have been spent surgically removing the consumerist tumors that have metastisized in our closets, under our beds, on our bookshelves and in our storage areas. Anyone want a used queen size bed? Did we actually move a push mower from Omaha to Scottsdale? What does one do with a hamper full of used (but washed) cloth diapers?

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