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In between dealing with my crazy family, I apparently feel the need to read about Crazy Nation. Thus, have just finished slogging through Stephen Colbert's I Am America (And So Can You!)...

...yes, yes, this means I'm just now reading the transcript of the 2006 White House Correspondent's Dinner. Hang in there, kids -- eventually I will have become current enough to tell which Jonas Brother is which!

Anyway, it's not that it isn't brilliant (the Colbert book, not the Jonas Brothers); it's so brilliant it's actually insanely depressing. Thinking about how fine a line there is between 'Colbert' and reality... imagining what a slog it must be to maintain 'Colbert'. This is the comedic equivalent of going deep cover in the Mafia, folks. Except to be 'made' you have to kill brain cells instead of, y'know, people.

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The still haven't driven old Dixie down...

...not for lack of trying.

Once upon a time -- 1966, to be exact -- in Chicago's southside suburbs, there was built one of the first enclosed malls in US history: Dixie Square. It was all a solidly middle-American mall should be; 50-odd stores anchored by JCPenney, Montgomery Ward and Woolworths, connected by spacious courts, all tricked out with hi-tech 'Wonderfalls' and the very very latest in plastic foliage.

This is Wikipedia's 'Unusual Articles' -- and subsequent blog post -- material because no sooner was the dream built than reality collapsed in on it. Thanks to all the usual hideously depressing realities of Middle-American decay (and a few that're truly unique, like the pole-sitter who fell off onto the parking lot hours shy of the record) the surrounding area declined so fast that Dixie Square was a ghost mall after only twelve short years -- barring a brief restaging in 1980 as the set of the famous 'mall chase' in The Blues Brothers.

After the film crew left... everybody left. They never came back. Developers came, saw, ran out of money, got mired in legal messes... then the vandals came... and then came the photographers.

Dixie Square Mall has now been abandoned for over twice as long as it was open. Long enough to have become an icon of the 'urban exploration' Net subculture. Very recently, the State of Illinois has announced plans to demolish it once and for all -- but most don't plan to believe it until they see it.

It's all very sad and strange and almost viscerally fascinating... very Life After People, basically. Not -- exactly -- safe for bedtime reading.

But if you've got a couple hours to kill any other time, highly recommended. Here are the key links:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dixie_Square_Mall 

http://pleasantfamilyshopping.blogspot.com/2009/01/before-they-drove-old-dixie-down.html 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikebrown3506/sets/72157601610759181/ 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/jonrev/collections/72157615206359829/

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Meanwhile, somewhere in the midst of all the craziness detailed below, the heavens have opened, trumpets have sounded, and the triumph of my life is complete.

That is, my Bob & Ray liner notes were released last month. And are apparently selling pretty well, if the Amazon rankings are anything to go by --

--*ahem* that is, of course, the CDs are selling well. Of Bob & Ray routines.

But my liner notes are in there. I know this for a fact, because the publisher sent me some free copies of the whole set, also extras of the booklet itself. Which has my liner notes in it. Printed. On glossy paper, in attractive font, tastefully illustrated. As it turns out the unabashed thrill of seeing one's words in print -- as opposed to pixels -- has diminished not one whit in the Internet age.

And then, the reaction.

Encountering my name (let alone preceded by 'a good essay by') in an Amazon.com customer review would be surreal enough... but it doesn't stop there. It doesn't even stop with producer Larry Josephson, who wrote to congratulate me on 'the best insights on Bob & Ray' since Whitney Baillett's in The New Yorker.

Gulp.

Josephson went on to add that he had sent a copy of the notes to Bob Elliott himself... and Bob had not only agreed with his assessment, but requested my address, so as to send me a thank-you note!

Then... well, I don't remember a lot of what happened next, although I'm pretty sure the screaming and jumping up and down was internal. Most of it, anyway. Bear in mind that these are people not just renowned, but renowned for their intelligence, wit and cleverness. And they were using my name and the New Yorker in the same sentence.

I must've sent my address off at some point, because the letter came yesterday. It’s written on the old stationery of their production company – covered with elaborate in-jokes itself – and is funny and nice and thoughtful, rather like having my very own private B&R routine. Oh, and he counts my piece ‘among the most memorable’ in company with those by some Really Seriously Important Authors.

Apparently (as Shoemom did not fail to point out) I have no excuse for downplaying my writing talent anymore.

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So… I was going to launch straight into a long heartfelt essay on where I’ve been this while: how, over the Labour Day weekend, the problem Shoesis announced her decision to marry in six weeks.

After a whirlwind three-week courtship. To a widower with three half-grown kids. Three years after having rejected him once, on the grounds of refusing to take ‘no’ for an answer after one date, and other general weirdness. None of which we have any reason to believe has evaporated in three years.

The essay also would’ve include an account of the generally wretched month since, in which in response to our pleas (mine), tears (Shoemom’s) and arguments (other Shoesis’), she has morphed from defiantly intending to‘live her own life’ to tearful agreement that she couldn’t possibly plan a wedding without us to… well, abruptly changing her mind, going ahead and planning a wedding without us. For next weekend.  

On the advice of our paternal relatives, who are an entire side digression in and of themselves. Not, again, with our input. Much as it hurts – and is hard to explain, to those who don’t know Shoesis, or more properly have never been drawn into the emotional black hole that is Shoesis -- we cannot look ourselves in the face and attend this wedding.  

Try telling *that* to Bridezilla. In our extended absence, the planning has expanded to take in a dream dress, sit-down catered dinner for fifty and much general foot-stomping about how ‘this is my day and I’m gonna be selfish!”  She ‘just wants to get on with her life’, she says, and Fiance has informed her that ‘he’d find it very hard to ask her [to marry him] again,’ so this is her last best shot. Could we please just suck it up and get with the program already? 

Yes, it’s all fully as bizarre as it sounds. And frankly even as I thought about the synopsis I realised how futile, as well. Honestly, you do not want any more details. Especially not about how in the middle of all this Grandshoe was misdiagnosed with elder-onset leukemia. 

Trust me on this one.

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Question:

When one is snarking on a Food Network blog -- which is where one has been for the last couple weeks, by the way -- and one is told that one has 'been hanging out with Dennis Miller too long'... how is one to take that, exactly?

Because the last pop-cult contact one had with Miller was a decade ago, on Monday Night Football, and frankly one has veered so wide of the loop since then one is no longer even certain that MNF still exists.

One does however have an idea that, given that the post in question was written at 3am during a bout with insomnia, this should be taken as something of a compliment.

Or perhaps, one just really, really needs some sleep.

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Hello from Canada... yes, we do get the FN up here, although with homegrown/UK content in place of the Middle American Budget Dining Experience, and generally a harder focus on aspirational/gourmet cooking. (That said... y'all don't send us Paula Deen, and we'll not subject you to the likes of 'Pitchin' In', OK?)

At any rate, we're a bit behind TNFNS -- I've only seen up to The One With the Trucks, although I've read recaps and suchlike beyond that. But I couldn't resist jumping in with my impressions thus far (in alphabetical order):

Aarti -- My current favourite. Because, let's face it, there are few things more endearing than a softly-accented East Indian woman offering yummy comfort food. And it's not just Indian, either -- I have no idea how that rumour got started, because her bio makes it clear she's way multi-culti. Indian, Middle Eastern, Californian... what she's about is marvelous flavours in simple packages, perfect for a half-hour FN show (or a site blog, which is where she's obviously headed on the faint chance she's the runner-up.)
However... woman, on the first damn episode already Wolfgang-frelling-Puck is raving about your food. They like you, OK? They really like you. Pretty sure the self-esteem issues aren't faked, but they're getting real old real fast.

(Oh, and just an aside re: the me-me-ME thing some posters have mentioned: Were they watching the same Ep 5 I was? The one where Aarti happily followed Tom around like an admiring puppy, to the point where the judges called her on being *too* generous?)

Aria -- Woo-hoo, it's yet another Middle American Budget queen. Seriously, what is it Aria *does* exactly, that justifies her being so soothingly condescending about it? She's made hot dogs, she's made some chutney, a couple decent desserts... y'know, I'm all for personalities I can identify with, but if they're cooking on TV and I'm not I don't think it's unreasonable to expect that they can cook stuff I can't. Or at least cook it better. Or something.
Besides which -- I haven't seen the Interruption Incident yet, and I'd be almost willing to assume she was the victim of a bad edit... except I *have* seen the incident in which she talked Brad out of fresh strawberries for their milkshake. I think Aria may just be hardwired to self-destruct, and she's out to take as many people with her as she can when she goes.

Brad -- Riddle me this, Brad's devoted posse: Where's the proof that he's a competent frontline chef, let alone Teh Pro?
Because I want to like this guy, so much. He's sane and charming and seems truly to care, plus the hat is adorable. But thus far, all the while he's yakkating away about being Teh Pro, he's making rookie mistakes, scorching the smoker & letting Aria talk him out of fresh strawberries. (Seriously. I think there's a law somewhere: you can't be a post-millennial chef if you forgo the fresh produce.) And his 'personality' thus far consists of thinking Paul is funny.
I gather Hat Boy does demonstrate he can do more than fry chicken in ep 6, and I'm glad, but I just can't see myself being inspired by a Pro Chef whom I can't even trust knows how to cook burgers on a grill.

Herb -- STOP SHOUTING AT ME, CUBAN HEALTH FREAK GUY. ESPECIALLY ABOUT BEING CUBAN AND/OR A HEALTH FREAK. YOU ARE COMING ACROSS LIKE THE LOVE CHILD OF BILLY MAYS AND THAT SHAMWOW DUDE, AND FRANKLY YOU ARE NOT HOT ENOUGH TO COMPENSATE. THUS I CANNOT HELP NOTICING THAT YOUR FOOD -- MUCH LIKE THE STANDARD INFOMERCIAL PRODUCT -- IS ABOUT 25% QUALITY AND 75% HYPE.
ALSO, I HAVE THIS CONSTANT UNEASY FEELING THAT, WERE YOU TO BE ELIMINATED EARLY, YOU WILL RETURN TO THE JUDGING AREA TOTING THE GUNS YOU HAVE CAREFULLY HIDDEN IN YOUR LUGGAGE. AND WHILE I AM ALWAYS UP FOR A GOOD BOBBY FLAY INJURY, IT WOULD STILL BE KIND OF A DOWNER.

Paul -- Oh, looky, bright boy just dissed Bobby Flay! Paul dear, the fact that I'm not cheering you on should be a great big flashing warning sign that in any incarnation it's just. Not. Working. You are, in fact, one of those people who *thinks* he's the life of the party, and is so caught up in proving it he doesn't notice that the party is in fact edging slooooowly away from him. I will however miss those hilarious deer-in-the-headlights looks every time the judges told you that people thought of you as rude.

Tom -- Oh, Tom. Who you just know was referred to as 'Tommy' right up to, and possibly including, his first year of culinary school. You don't know it yet, Tommy, but once you get kicked off the FN there is a full, rich career awaiting you in Canadian beer commercials. You'll be Genial Everyguy #2: the One Who Dropped the Steaks and Has to Chase the Dog.
What I'm trying to say is, I love your big shaggy goofball personality to little tiny bits, and notwithstanding FN already has even more of you than they do of Aria -- and I think Guy Fieri might actually be prepared to defend his territory with a switchblade -- I would watch your show, and I would love it. Except the parts where you prepared your food, of course. Maybe you could keep Aarti around to handle that bit?

Brianna, Serena -- Can't comment on their eliminations yet, but I do confess to being just a teeny-tiny bit sad the Two Chix will work together no more. You can so totally picture them on a distaff version of something like Chefs vs. City, no? No? ...OK, then, maybe just me. Arrividerci, girls!

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It's funny, the trains of thought that lead to inspiration. I was walking to work the other day, listening to Ghostbusters -- no, really, you'd be amazed how well it sets you up for a long day's UPC checking -- and started wondering if Ray Parker Jr. had done anything else of note. That led me to recall this post, which in turn led to generalised musings on blog entries, which naturally reminded me that I was still looking for a creative ongoing meme, which of course brought to mind that...

...y'know what, this isn't turning out quite as enthralling as I'd pictured it. How about we just go with this: We love classic Sesame Street with an A, because is Awesome. And with a B, because it is Bold. And with a C, because it is Clever.

How better to illustrate it than by proving it one letter at a time? Each week -- hopefully around this time -- I shall be presenting the Best of the Street, as demonstrated in alphabet clips. At the end of it, we will have a uniquely complete record of what made it so special... or if nothing else, I will have amused myself hugely.

*******************************************

Thusly we kick off with the Letter A...

Clips commence under the cut...Collapse )
Le sigh. So, the vacation's over... the last drop of sun has been soaked, the goodies has been eaten, the couch has a butt-shaped dint... my purse is stuffed with various random purchases I don't quite recall how they got in there...

Spent a day at the zoo with the fam, and contrived to make Oldest Shoephew -- who is thirteen-and-a-half, and having a Phase -- actually crack a smile. Twice.

Spent yesterday with Shoemom, who was determined to make my last day of vacation the best... that is, she actually spent money on it. In Niagara Falls. Without twitching. After I finished discreetly checking the house for replica pods, we discovered the best breakfast place in the GTA (Stacey Lee's Family Restaurant in downtown Brampton, you're welcome). Then we spent the morning utterly lost on one Golden Horseshoe back road after another. It was glorious.

Spent some quality time in the incredible From Japan, a little Niagara-on-the-Lake shop that I usually have to duck into on the fly because I'm apparently the only member of my immediate circle who loves the Japanese design aesthetic... no, not Hello Kitty. Just that amazingly gorgeous simplicity -- there's not an element, not the tiniest line or petal, that doesn't contribute to the harmony of the design, and yet the whole is effortless. Yes, I realise it's probably 99% assumed for the tourist trade these days, and no, I don't care so long as I have a willow-ware plate with dragonflies on it.

Spent three hours or so creating the James Herriot page on the wiki I swore I'd never visit again. Also, in the course of indexing, browsed the Children's Literature subsection. I think I've just discovered a new way to pass the time until the Bob & Ray liner notes are published... er, speaking of which, this pre-order on Amazon. Which meant I had to go back and reread my article, and find all the places I could've improved, and loathe the entire thing.

Spent far more than I should to sample Godiva's ice-cream truffles (lemon just right, mint-chocolate-chip a dream, orange creamsicle too creamy, you're welcome) and started to feel much better about the liner notes again. Started, actually, to feel the creative juices stirring wholesale again. Nice, that.

Spent a long while on foot through a local park, got lost in the noonday summer sun... then found a shady tree to sit under, right at the top of the rise, thistledown blowing gently through my daydreams. I sat quietly for a long while, just... there. Content. Finally having the time to realise exactly where I am and what I want to do, get reacquainted with myself and all the things I want to catch up on...

...but first, I need to get back to work. I really could use the break.

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Reflection upon ruffling nostalgically through my bookshelves this afternoon: Why has there never been an animated adaptation of Maud Hart Lovelace's Betsy-Tacy and Tib stories?

I mean, the earliest ones, when they're still being illustrated by Lois Lenski. The later ones -- past Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, I believe -- drop the friends-forever schtick (actually, they drop Tib more or less altogether) in favour of a sort of period Sweet Valley High, until finally Betsy and Tacy are both young brides chirpily discussing the merits of roast turkey for company dinner.
OK, maybe not quite that bad. We did not discover these further sequels until some while past childhood, here @ Shoe Central, and frankly have always had a little... trouble... integrating them into our nostalgia. It is difficult to envisage a Lenski-limned little girl ever as 'expecting', let us put it that way.

But up to then, their adventures are totally Treehouse-friendly: Three smart, active  little BFFs growing up in turn-of-the-century small-town America -- each with a simple yet distinctive look and personality -- get into mini screwball-comedy scrapes with the help of their boundless imaginations and curiosity about the Great World around them.

The animation is period yet quirky, to match the mood -- somehow I'm imagining the team that did Oswald, only less Deco and more Gay Nineties. There's an Aesop to learn at the end of each story, with the help of their loving families of course. If we need some token male representation, they have brothers, or maybe we can throw in a talking cat or whatever...

...I spend way too much time thinking about this stuff, don't I?

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Must... resist... temptation to... remotely check my work email... must resist... *slaps hands over eyes* lalalalalala can't see you, screen! ...

Damnit, I am supposed to be relaxing here! Not  thinking about work! Or musing about the Weird Random Occurrence! Stand down, brain!

I mean, even the cat is over there relaxing her little heart out... erm, watching TV.

*adds worrying about cat to list*

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i am

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Shoebox
The sun is cold
And the misty hills bespeak me Of long-ago dreams;
Not lost, only waiting
Kept alive by those who might listen – And watch –
Over the hills to the sea.


This is the story of those dreams...with all-too-frequent detours into reality.

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