Home and away

Recently I have been extraordinarily busy with finishing up my thesis and lecturing, teaching, marking, doing research, etc., and it’s been hard to find time to update this blog.

Normally I find this a good creative outlet for when I have something on my mind I want to discuss.  I guess I have just been too preoccupied with other things to have time to promulgate my opinions on life and the world these days.

However my thoughts were recently stirred when I listened to the 2 latest episodes of “This American Life“; namely those related to Harper High School, parts 1 & 2.

I was shocked and truly saddened to hear what was happening in my hometown, not far from where I lived for years.  From 2000 to 2005 I lived in various locations in the Pilsen neighbourhood.  The Harper High School chronicled in the show is just 6 miles from the last apartment I lived in at 2222 W. Cermak (the house I lived in is sadly now a bank parking lot.)

My first thought was of how far removed I feel, and felt, even then.

I lived so close, but was so totally unaware of the kind of violence that was a paret of people’s daily lives. I remember the story of the birthday party drive-by they described in episode 2, which was big news in the city back in 2006.  I never realised how common drive-by shootings actually were.

And while gangs and violence are a problem here in New Zealand to certain extent, it doesn’t coem anywhere near the level of American cities.  If you lose your wallet or an iPhone here, people actually turn it into the police.  It’s safe.  My boyfriend reckons he lives in the most ghetto part of Wellington, near the Newtown flats, and yet doesn’t even have a lock on his door.

Apparently “Only eight days into 2013, Chicago is already on a grim pace to not only continue the bloody trend of an elevated homicide rate — but to surpass it.” according to the Huffingtonpost.

My uncle was carjacked outside a service station in December near Berwyn. He has since decided living in Manila is safer, and moved back to the Philippines.

This kind of news just makes me feel sad.  I hear these kinds of stories and wish there was something I could do.  How can we help?  How can we solve problems like this?

I wish I had an idea.

I used to live with Mykki Blanco?

So, earlier today I was working in my office and listening to the Venus podcast as I often do.  I wanted to take a short break from information behaviour in geophages (Chatman, 2000) and had a look at the Venus blog where usually some interesting photos and videos have been posted.  I saw a link to a video for somebody called “Mykki Blanco” and clicked on it after having looked at some of the other videos.

The video in question is for a song called “Wavvy”.


I think it was playing in the background while I was on the phone and then I saw a second of it and thought “Hrm…that guy looks familiar”.  So I stopped it and played it back from the beginning.

Is that Michael Quattlebaum? I thought to myself.
So I Googled “Mykki Blanco”, and found this article. 

YES.  Mykki Blanco is Michael Quattlbaum, AKA, the asshole I used to live with.

It’s still kind of blowing my mind that the dude I used to live with is now some kind of minor celebrity.

In December 2005, when I came back from Peace Corps Benin, I got a job at a call centre in Rosemont and moved with with a friend of a friend in a place on Cermak in Pilsen.   The friend was Jail, who was a bandmate of Vanessa, one of my oldest and dearest friends.  For $150 a month each, Jail, me, and 4 other people shared a 3 bedroom apartment that we called “The Beauty Shop”.  It was upstairs from a real beauty shop, run by a Mexican trans woman, and we would have band play in our tiny living room.  One time Juiceboxxx played there.  Unlike Michael, Juiceboxxx was really nice and awesome.

I think Michael was like 18 or 19 at the time and a student at the Art Institute of Chicago, which is a pretty prestigious art school for young pretentious rich kids.  He had already been living in the apartment with Jail when I moved into my room which was no bigger than a twin size fold-up bed and the space to partially open the door.  One of Michael’s friends from California, Kendra, lived in the closet.  Jail lived in the pantry.  Chase lived on the couch in the living room and Rita had a real bedroom, as did Michael.

After a few months Rita moved out and Amanda moved in.  There was never really a quiet moment, and the house was always filthy but it was really fun living in Pilsen at that time.  Just a few blocks away was Vanessa and the people at “Tha Blog Cabin”, down in McKinley park was the Junke Shoppe, and Liam and his roommates lived around the corner as well.  Sometime that year some kids also moved into an old flower shop a few streets away and started having shows as well.  It would have been amazing except I had a terrible 9 to 5 job that I hated and a 2 hour commute everyday.  But, after having been away from America for 2 and a half years I was really enjoying being in Chicago and close to my family again and part of a community of creative people doing interesting things.  I bought a sewing machine and took accordion classes at the Old Town School of Folk Music that year.

Michael always comes up when I swapping “worst roommate ever” stories with people I know.  Luckily I’ve never had a roommate steal my stuff or shit in my bed or anything. But Michael did something almost as bad after living with us for a few months.  Before moving out he demanded his full security deposit back and insisted on using it as his last month’s rent.  Failing to understand the simple maths involved we tried to explain to him that a.) he broke a bunch of shit and didn’t deserve his full security deposit back and b.) he actually had only paid $100 in security deposit which didn’t cover the entire portion of his rent for the month.  Nevertheless he would not listen to reason and refused to move out or pay rent, and then to make matters worse, he had his MOM call Jail to argue on his behalf.   His mom accused the remaining roommates of trying to take advantage of her son.  Rather than dealing with the rent himself he had his mom try to intimidate and threaten the rest of us.  The 4 remaining roommates then had to pay extra money to cover his rent and were forced to live with him for a full month at our own expense, basically subsidizing his existence despite the fact he had rich parents who could have easily paid his rent.  That was what left us all feeling quite bitter.

Later I heard a story from a friend who’s landlord rang him up one day a few months later and said “Some rich kids want to pay double the rent you’re paying for your loft, so you have to move out next month”. When the rich kids turned up to look at the loft apartment, it turned out to be Michael and his art school friends, and my friend had to move out. There might be some exaggeration in that story but that is how it was told to me and I wouldn’t be surprised if it were true.

One of the less annoying but more funny stories was the one where I came home late one night and after locking my bike up I realised there was some kind of campfire going on in the backyard.  Getting closer I realise Michael and the other roommates were sitting around it naked, and then the invited me to join them.  I respectfully declined, and then later again that night a roommate came inside and tried to persuade me to join them in sitting naked around the campfire.  I think this was on a Tuesday night, and I was tired and grumpy and had to work the next day.  I said no, at the time.  If that happened to me again tomorrow, I might say yes this time.  It’s important to keep in mind this was in Pilsen, on a busy street with houses on either side, and our backyard was about 4 meters square.  I did find it funny at the time, and this incident is not what qualifies him, in my mind, as my all time worst roommate ever.

One of the more annoying things about Michael was that he and his friends threw a party, left a used condom in my tent that was in the back yard and burned cigarette holes in it.  I suppose it wasn’t really his fault; I probably shouldn’t have just left the tent out there for 2 weeks or however long I left it there, but I still like to cite that as evidence of him being a bad roommate.  There are other stories not really worth repeating, usual annoying roommate stuff like not washing the dishes or buying toilet paper.

But whatever, he was young back then.  I do also remember him introducing me to good new music and lending me a White Sox cap to wear to a game once.  He could actually be a pretty cool guy, except when he invited around his art school friends.  I have to admit that it almost annoys me that he is now semi-famous; because he was such a pretentious little shit back then.  However, that’s just my opinion and I don’t really want to trash talk anybody. Especially some one advocating for gay and trans people who seems to be semi-articulate and intelligent.  He moved out early in the summer of 2006 (under the not-so-wonderful circumstances I described above), and in August I left Chicago to start my MLIS at McGill.

This is a picture of Michael in the kitchen of our apartment.

Mykki Blanco aka Michael David Quattlebaum Jr., 2006.

Thinking back, I’d like to give Michael the benefit of the doubt.  He may have just been young and stupid and it may even have been his first time living away from home and sharing a space with other people.  I was once probably an asshole roommate as well.  Who knows, maybe I still am!?!

Me in 2006

North American Holiday

I can’t be bothered finding an alternative photo hosting site for the moment… so I put everything up on Picasa.

Here are some of my favourite photos from the holiday.

san francisco, 2012
chicago, 2012
montreal, 2012

It was such a wonderful trip! Despite the +40 C temperatures and never ending allergies I had so much fun seeing my family and friends. Highlights include buying authentic cowboy boots in Vacaville, having dinner with my old Peace Corps pals, hanging out with April, eating “It’s it” with Vanessa, seeing my 92 year old great aunt, going camping with my mom and Jenny and Ricky and a blind, deaf poodle with no teeth, swimming in Lake Michigan, dancing to Steely Dan with my aunt at Ravinia, eating chilaquiles, drinking PBR (ok, the taste is not really a highlight…), finding a bunch of awesome stuff at the Sparrow’s Nest, eating amazing gluten-free pizza with Jenny, Ricky and Kim, inventing a gin, watermelon pucker and grapefruit juice cocktail, going to a sweet picnic in Jeanne Mance park featuring an amazing jam session and Isabelle’s bacon brownies, stuffing myself on poutine and smoked meat in Montreal, re-discovering my old hood in Mile-End, brainstorming plans for wold-domination with the ladies of BAW,  hanging out with el Tickor.  I had such an amazing time… I wish I didn’t have to go back to work on my thesis :(

you can take the girl outta Chicago…

but you can’t take the Chicago out of the girl?

The other day somebody asked me what I planned to do when I finished school, if I intended to “go home”.  I said “I don’t even know where home is anymore!”.  After thinking about it I realized that I have spent less than 2 years in the USA in the last 10 years, and that was not 2 consecutive years.  It was 12 months here, 8 months there, a summer and a few weeks squeezed in from time to time.  While I did live in and around Chicago for the first 2/3rds of my life, the most recent 3rd has been spent in a number of different cities and countries.  The longer I spend away the more distant it seems, but the grid-like streets of Chicago are still carved into my memory…and maybe always will be?

I have been watching this cheesy TV police drama called “The Chicago Code” lately, which is nearly driving me mad with homesickness.  In nearly every street scene a CTA train or bus goes by.  A lot of scenes take place inside the Skylark… my former Pilsen hangout.  They have lunch at Manny’s deli, eat hot dogs at Maxwell Street, drink Old Style.  It’s almost torture to watch.  I hate Wellington!  I want to move back to Chicago!

Actually, Wellington is not that bad.  On Monday Ticker and I went for a walk up to the Mt. Vic lookout.

Wellington: has cool rope swing

As I have mentioned previously, there are lots of green spaces and wild places minutes walking from downtown.  I like that.  But whenever I ask some one from somewhere else if they like Wellington, inevitably the answer is “It’s ok…”.  Then, I ask them if they intend to stay when they are finished studying, and again, inevitability I hear “No.”.  This is especially true when I get together with other Americans.  I once spent an entire afternoon listening to a bunch of people ranting about Wellington and describing how much they want to leave.  I will not deny joining in from time to time (especially to criticize the public transit and cost of living in New Zealand), but I don’t really hate it here.  It’s just probably my least favorite place I have ever lived.  I’m sure there are way worse places to live… like Dubai from what I hear!

However, I try to be an optimist and make the best of any situation.  Even so, I can’t help but feel homesick from time to time.  I think that’s normal.  I also lived in Chicago from the age of 18 to 23, so, part of what I’m feeling is of course, nostalgia for my lost youth.  Unfortunately, nothing I can do will ever bring that back.  But, maybe someday, I’ll be able to move back to that glorious city by the lake.

But I did take this cool picture of a flock of little yellow-winged birds in flight.

Wellington wildlife

Ye Olde Times

I was just listening to “The Blow” and reading about Khaela Maricich, which suddenly got me reminiscing about… “Ye Olde Times”.

I am trying to pin-point the first time I ever become cognizant of Khaela Maricich.  I will attempt to do so based on a particular memory I have of seeing the Microphones play at a space on Milwaukee Avenue.  I believe the name of the space was “Buddy”, though it went though a number of name changes, at the time, it may have been called that.  It was a small-ish room, painted white, normally used for pretentious Chicago hipsters’ vernissages. That was probably among the first half-dozen times I went to that space, which was affiliated with the Lumpen people,  and would go on to play an extremely important role in my early-twenties socialization and lifestyle.

My specific memories of this evening are still so vivid, despite being 10 years old.  I remember that we (Betty Eo, Dave Weldzius, and perhaps some one else?) were late, and there were no seats left, and I sat on the floor.  This is central to my memory because I very clearly remember I was wearing a short denim skirt – the same skirt I was photographed wearing at my going-away party before I moved to France, in August, 2001.  This skirt was far shorter than anything else in my wardrobe and I actually felt extremely uncomfortable wearing it – but for some reason I did anyway.  It was hot.  I very awkwardly tried to sit on the ground, without exposing myself more than a lady should.

This room, with no more than 100 people in, was full of the sounds of bass drum, as this girl sang out, loud and clear, and pointed at some one in the audience – “You’ve got green eyes, I like your party thighs”.

That line, for some reason, has stuck with me, and remains in my memory, to this day.  I remember, on the way out, seeing copies of the tape for sale – “Get the Hell Out of the Way of the Volcano”.  For fuck’s sake!!!  Why didn’t I buy that tape??!!!!  Then I would have audible evidence of that line which has burned in my memory for over 10 years.

I secretly dream of finding an mp3 of that song, somewhere, one day, on Demonoid, or the Pirate Bay, which I know is hopeless.

On an interesting side-note, some time the following year, 2002, I read one k-records or some website somewhere that Phil Elvrum was looking to tour Europe, so I contacted him and suggested he come to Avignon and stay with me.  Unfortunately things didn’t work out – I think he went to Norway instead – but he did give me his address and I did send him a postcard from Scotland when I went there on holiday.

That year, 2001, I was 22 years old, in love with my friend Charlie Vinz, moving to France, and I had no idea what the future held.

I wonder if I ever could have pictured myself where I am today?  I wonder if Khaela Maricich ever thought she’d go from playing loft parties in Wicker Park to world-wide celebrity-dom?  Wow.

I guess if I look back, I don’t really have very many regrets.  There are only two that really come to mind; one being that i wish I spent more time with my mother, when I lived in the same country as her.  I really miss her, and my brother, and being so far away from them, only seeing them once or twice a year, is one thing I hate about my life.  The other thing I regret is being so laissez-faire about my health and wellness for such a long time, eating so much shitty food, being overweight for so long, probably drinking too much.  I guess I still probably drink too much, though less than those days, doubtlessly.

40 seems really old to me, but I wonder what I’ll be doing in 10 years?  What’s past is prologue, right?  If my recent past is any indicator… God my life will be so fucking boring in 10 years I will have to acquire some horrible vice just to make things bearable.

Driving in NZ

the road warrior

Yesterday I had my first experience driving a car in New Zealand.  There is one adjective to describe this experience for both myself and my passenger: terrifying.

People in Wellington drive extremely fast.  The roads are extremely narrow, twisting, and hilly.  Louis’s car (pictured above), is huge, wide, does not have power steering, and is manual transmission (and billows out toxic fumes upon start-up).  This combined with the fact that for the past 15 years of my driving experience I have done things completely opposite to what I should be doing now made the experience quite challenging.

50 km/hr + narrow twisty roads + hills + driving on the left + enormous car = LORD SAVE ME

In my opinion, most of the logistical factors in driving a car are of the muscle-memory, instinctive variety.  Especially for some one like myself, who learned to drive 15 years ago, in suburban Chicago, and have driven infrequently in the past 10 years, mostly in North America, I am used to a particular style of driving.  Other than awareness and alertness, the physical act of driving is like riding a bicycle, my body just instinctively knows what to do.  Well, imagine if some one just turned your entire world up-side down.  Shifting gears with your left hand, signaling with your right, turning right into the left-hand lane of traffic… it’s all so counter-intuitive!

Beyond even the quite obvious principle that most people are right-handed, therefore it makes sense that the driver should be on the left side of the car, with the clutch on the right side of the driver, everything just felt wrong about driving on the other side of the road. I was constantly afraid that I would turn into the wrong lane of traffic, where I would be crushed by a huge oncoming truck.  Having a bicycle for the past 2 months has certainly helped acclimatise me to the rules of the road and general flow of traffic, but I still do find myself cycling along the right-hand side of the road occasionally on an empty street, and at an intersection, looking left then right before crossing.

Another thing – there are NO STOP SIGNS in this city!  It’s all yield and “right of way” signs, which means people never stop!  You get to an intersection, and just roll right through.  Now I know why people drive so fast here – they never have to stop!

To be honest, I don’t really care to learn to drive in this country.  I hope to never be in a situation where I have to drive on a regular basis, or own a car.  However, due to increased pressure from my flatmates, I have been made to feel quite guilty for attempting to get out of any driving-related tasks, without any valid reason for doing so, simply because I don’t like cars or driving. Especially when I have a valid driver’s license.

But really, is it wrong of me?  I am vehemently opposed to non-communal or public-transportation motor-vehicles.  I would be totally happy to never have to drive a car again.   There are circumstances when driving is essential, for example, when I wanted to visit Lascaux in France, in which case, you have to take a taxi, which can be prohibitively expensive, or rent a car.  There were no buses that went there, 40 kms from the nearest town, so I had to rent a car and drive alone through the French countryside, when I could barley drive a stick-shift.  That was stressful!  But worth it to see that amazing cave.

My flatmates like to do a weekly trip to the super-market, where we spend approximately $100 on food, and then on Sundays, we spend $50 at the vegetable market.  It has been the habit for Louis to drive his car and I to accompany him.  Lotte cannot drive, and generally stays home with the baby.  This is a lot of food, and would be difficult to transport without a car.  I understand that there may be a situation where Louis cannot go to the store or the market, in which case it would probably fall on me to do the shopping on my own.  Luckily, this hasn’t happened yet.  If I were able to drive the car, it would be a lot easier.  However, in my current state of hating-driving, I would have to either ride my bicycle to Kilbirnie and back, lugging 20 kgs of groceries with me uphill, or, walk 15 minutes to catch a bus, and then catch it back to town before walking home, uphill, with 20 kgs of groceries.  Neither of these options sound attractive.  Due to the irritating and completely fucked up nature of Wellington, the nearest grocery store to my house is at least a 30 minute walk, and overpriced.  The more reasonably priced grocery store is about 7 kms away.   Today I went to Moore Wilsons (about 2.5 kms distance), on my bike and bought 20kgs of things, and it was exhausting lugging it all back.  Did I mention it’s uphill? BOTH WAYS?  And usually raining?

WHY? Why did I come to this godforsaken place?  How long for the days when I lived on St. Dominique, 100 meters from “Epicerie Segal”, alternatively “The Push N’ Shove”, or “The Third World Market”, the cheapest grocery store in Montreal! Or on du Parc and St. Joseph, upstairs  from the PA!!!  Or even when I lived by the IGA in St-Henri.  How I long for the Aldi on Cermak ave in Chicago, dream about the Fairplay (just don’t go at the end of the month, when the food stamp benefits come in!), and fantasize about Pete’s Fresh Market.  Even Si-Muang City-Mart in Vientiane was more convenient than the offerings of this town!  Wellington, people have to eat for Christs’s sake!!  Why make it so difficult?

Oh, North America, I know I have expressed disdain for you in the past, but how I miss your courteous, moderately-paced motorists, grid-like traffic patterns, stop signs, bicycle lanes, and conveniently located amenities.  You don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone.

Because of all of these circumstances, I must admit, driving is a useful skill.  I’m sure that there will be an occasion when all this will seem well worth it, despite my current reluctance.

It’s certainly true that driving offers convenience.  However, I would argue that this is due to the layout and geography of our cities and towns, which is in part due to oil and car manufacturers lobbying for zoning regulations that encourage dependency on non-renewable resources, and fosters isolation.  If people actually challenged the perception that cars are a necessary evil, and refused to live in neighborhoods where a car was needed, we could build stronger communities with more efficient and effective public transportation.   We should demand this from our public officials.  So, yeah, what can we do?  Well, we can start by not driving, which is what I’m doing.  OK, now I have a valid excuse for not learning – I’m ideologically opposed to it!

Watching Oprah with my mom

Yes, that is what I do here in Chicago.  I’m also teaching her how to download podcasts, and use the DVD player on her computer.

I just saw this totally awesome video on Oprah, kids singing “Gotta Keep Reading” like the Black Eyed Peas :

Hooray for books!  Notice “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” ?

Getting things sorted for my departure Wednesday for New Zealand!!!  Excited, nervous, kind of sad.  Ok, really sad.  Missing my sweetie like you wouldn’t believe…

A picture of us on his roof: