I'm a Stranger Here

The public journal of a Philadelphian in Chicago

That place where the bones of life are piled
I know somethin' has changed
I'm a stranger here and no one sees me
'Cept you, yeah you.

-- "Nobody 'Cept You", Bob Dylan

Sunday, October 31, 2004

It's been a long long long time...

Happy Halloween!

Sorry, dear readers, for the dearth of postings lately; this past week has been wickedly insane, what with the girlfriend visiting and two exams looming, on top of the normal things that need to be done. Hopefully I haven't completely lost my (admittedly rather limited) audience!

So, I'm back!

Set your browsers to stun and get ready for more gossip, photos and random thoughts straight from the heart of the Midwest.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

The past few days..

I drink sweet wine for breakfast
I sleep but an hour or so
I smiled a little in the silence
Deciding on where to go
Meet me under the whale
In the Natural History Museum
I think that's where she said
A little bit sad about having to leave them
Yawning in the sun
It's like a child I run
- "Museum," Herman's Hermits

After a brief hiatus, I'm back! So, to update you all on the latest news:

1.) Justin returned from his exciting trip to Ann Arbor on Wednesday. He'd spent the week with Christie for her Fall Break. He returned smiling and beer-laden. Good boy, Justin, good boy. He'd brought a fewbottles from New Holland Brewery as well as an excellent Hazelnut signature ale by Chef Morimoto from the Rogue Brewery. The label features the image of the world-famous chef looking mighty impressed with his large stein of beer. It's quite a look.
If the beer were a young man, I'm sure Morimoto would embrace him and give him a big slap on the shoulder. "Damn, son!'" he would say, "you done proved me wrong! After all those times I groused about you being a lazy worthless leech, you've finally made something of yourself! Your mother, if she were alive today, God rest her soul, always thought you had it in you. Just remember to call your old man once in a while!" Yes, the beer was that good.

2.) Colleen arrived the next evening. After immunology class (4-5.30), a few of us made a pilgrimage to the pub for a few rounds. This has become a sort of bizarro-Thursday Club, where the faces are different, the atmosphere is dank, and everything is finished by 7 o'clock. And every week, we seem to attract more members of the BSD (Biological Sciences Division); this time we had probably around 12 people (including Justin)! Don't worry, Thursday-Club; she doesn't mean anything to me - I pine for you baby, I really do!

I left around 7, taking the 55 bus, which, as luck would have it travels straight down 55th street to Midway airport; or so I thought. My particular busdriver decided to end at 55th & Ashland which is like being dropped off at 53rd and Market (i.e. not...so...nice). As I waited for the next bus, I saw a woman nearly get run-over; ten minutes later, she came over to the stop yelling in my face about how she was nearly killed. She wore a jacket made of several squares of brightly colored vinyl (think Cosby sweater style), one earring (the other lobe was torn) and a pink faded cap on her head. Yikes.

Colleen's flight was delayed - of course I didn't realize this, so I waited, standing, in the concourse like an idiot for over an hour. I kept thinking: "Any minute. She'll be here any minute." I would quickly scan the crowds as they pulsed out, looking for some hint of a Philadelphian presence to signal her arrival. An "Iggles" hat perched on some fat guy's head, perhaps? The use of "youse" or "wooder" in someone's conversation? But nada. I should've known, since she flew in on ATA, a very affordable (cheap) airline which has a poor track record of being on time.

I'm so glad she's here - really, I'm on cloud 9. But behind it all is a lingering sadness, because I subconciously start counting down the days until she's gone. And then it's five more weeks of separation until a rendezvous at Thanksgiving. And then another period of separation. And so on and so on, with no real end to this pattern in the forseeable future. Sigh.

3.) After journal club on Friday, I treated Colleen and Justin to the Museum of Science & Industry, located on the eastern edge of Hyde Park near Lake Michigan. Its analogue in Philly is the Franklin Institute, though, frankly, it's nowhere near as good: you can't even walk through the "vessels" of their "giant" heart fer Chrissakes. They actually had a display where you pressed buttons representing different chromosomes to help develop a digitally projected fetus. The display announces, upon finishing this task, (I kid you not): "Congratulations. You have succesfully brought a fetus to completion!" I was reminded of when Homer plays the "Let's Make a Baby" exhibit at the Springfield Knowledgeum:
Homer: Aah! Eh! Ovulate, damn you! Ovulate!
Voice: You are out of sperm.
But, we had fun - I especially enjoyed "The Hall of Basic Science" which apparently hadn't been updated since around 1980 (the last year mentioned in their history of science mural). It had it all: bright rainbow colored walls, images of cool teenagers with massive 'fros, and, to my delight, advanced computing technology: the displays used the
TI 99-4a, a classic we had as kids (the first 16 bit personal computer, in fact!) After touring the museum (they had a massive train set around a model of the city that Andrew would've gone gaga over), we explored their special exhibit, Action!, which featured movie memorabilia along with information about the industry. It was quite funny to have Colleen taking a tour of this Hollywood, when she lives so close to the real one. The exhibit finale was the filming of a movie trailer, featuring members of our tour group. Justin was most enthusiastic, and is actually in the first scene sitting at a table in the background (left). To watch our particular group's film, click here. I must warn you, this piece has plot holes that you could drive a truck through. Colleen & I refused to take part in the filming because it clashed with our creative vision (and...we were lazy).

Ok, we have to leave to take my brother to the airport. I'll be posting soon on last night's birthday celebration for Spiros and Justin. I promise thrills, chills and of course, spills. Photos of the trip to the museum are below!

We're taking on the city of Chicago...together.

Justin and a prop from Beetlejuice.

Reach for the stars!

A costume from Pirates of the Caribbean for Susie!

Colleen in the Hall of Basic Science (© 1980)!!!

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

A crimson-leafed tree.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Autumn Links

The autumn air is clear,
The autumn moon is bright.
Fallen leaves gather and scatter,
The jackdaw perches and starts anew.
We think of each other- when will we meet?
This hour, this night, my feelings are hard.
-"Autumn Air," Li Bai [701-761]

Blogging will be light today - homework beckons.

But here are three articles on Autumn and its splendor:

1.) The NY Times discusses novel theories concerning why leaves turn gold and red. Registration Required

2.) An interesting article on the growth of the hand-crafted hard cider industry in Oregon.

3.) Pathogens that infect pumpkins!

Monday, October 18, 2004

Random thoughts

Now, I've had enough, my box is clean
You know what I'm sayin' and you know what I mean
From now on you'd best get on someone else
While you're doin' it, keep that juice to yourself
Odds and ends, odds and ends
Lost time is not found again.
- "Odds and Ends," Bob Dylan
I've been getting some very positive feedback lately about this here blog (thanks Susie & Catherine for the encouragment!), so I promise to really try and post regularly. Sadly, I don't have the time this evening to go into a long, humorous narrative, since I actually have to do homework (I need to read approximately three journal articles.) I'm slightly busier than usual, since Colleen and Justin are coming in a few days, and I want to be as free from tedious problem sets and readings as possible. But anyway, here are a few quick and utterly random thoughts:

1.) The inhabitants of this fair city move incredibly slowly - you never want to be in a rush and behind these sloths. Campus isn't quite as bad as downtown though (perhaps because there are fewer natives here). Justin flew into Chicago last Monday and then, two days later, took the train to visit his girlfriend, Christie, in Michigan. I, being the thoughtful brother that I am, accompanied him to Union Station. He, being, well...Justin, decided to bring two of the heaviest suitcases I have ever had the displeasure to transport. Probably seventy pounds apiece, filled mostly with clothing! Granted, this was a two-week trip, but he wasn't going on the runway. So, we ended up catching the wrong bus at one point, and by the time we realized our mistake,we were about fifteen blocks in the wrong direction. Did I mention the train was scheduled to leave one hour later?

So it was then I discovered the utter sluggishness of Chicagoans - Justin and I kept weaving and bobbing between blue-haired matrons, businessmen and hip twenty-somethings all who moved like they had an acute case of inflammatory joint disease (or perhaps butt rott). Perhaps "Windy City" actual refers to their winded, dazed stride. Hell, in Philadelphia, we refuse even to wait for the traffic light to turn green. We made it to the station with a half hour to spare. My arms and legs were extremely sore. Chicagoans, take note: this is what it means to move through a city.

2.) Every campus needs its affected nutjob, its howling moonbat, its Tom O' Bedlam. Penn, for many blissful years, was graced by the presence of the ever-confrontational, rarely subtle fire-and-brimstone pentecostal preacher "Brother" Stephen White, until he was, um, convicted of soliciting sex from a young boy. To borrow a phrase from Dolores, "Yeah...classy." UChicago, it seems, has at least one spectacular loon of its own: Circumcision Man.

It's great to know that when issues like Iraq, the upcoming presidential election, and the possibilty of a nuclear Iran threaten to dominate the political discourse, one man can see past these trivialities to the core issue that affects most of us: the fate of that most precious commodity, the foreskin. For the past two days, this guy, looking like a Texan Santa, has stood in front of the Abbot Medical Building (which is part of the hospital, but probably the wrong building to stand in front of, since mostly research occurs there now). I managed to covertly take a photo of him with my mobile phone:

The poster he holds, featuring a shocked, frighteningly self-aware infant, reads: "You want to cut off what?"

What can I say to top that? Bloody nothing, that's all!

Happy Birthday, Spyridon!

Today, the Greek turns 25! So drop him a line: stavrou at uchicago dot edu!


Ok, here are some pictures I've taken here in the Chicago. My deepest gratitude to the Beers Lab for the farewell gift of a digital camera!

Last Saturday, a few of us went to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Park. Here I am by Lake Michigan.

Two Saturdays ago, a few people came over for tacos at my place. Pictured (left to right): Nicole, Spiros & Gülüm.

Gülüm & Spiros at my place for dinner. A milestone in Turkish-Greek relations?

One of the many works of art found in Millenium Park, which was completed only four and a half years after the millenium....

Another sculpture from Millenium Park.

The strangest mosaic I have ever seen. Found in the hospital, where most of my classes are.

The Chicago flag. Fluttering poetically by the Navy Pier.

The downtown skyline.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

The Costco Affair

When shopping at the supermarket
I felt a great desire to walk off with someone else's groceries
So that I could study them at length
And study their effects on me.
As though if I ate their groceries I would become that person; until I finished their groceries.
And we might find ourselves going to the same places.
-- "Social Studies," The Talking Heads

It was that great Scottish poet,
Robbie Burns, who once said "Best laid plans o' mice and men aft gang agley." And it was another great Scot, Groundskeeper Willie, who said "What? Have ye gone waxy in your beester? I kinna fit in the wee vent, ye croquet-playing mint muncher!" My point? Scotsmen talk funny.

It all started with a simple premise: to get in, buy bulk quantities of everyday items (have you ever seen a restaurant size vat of peanut butter? The horror, the horror: I'll be having flashbacks for weeks) and get the hell out. But the gods would intervene.

Nhi had the Costco card, Ann owned the car, Nicole brought the directions, and I provided comic relief. Which, by the end of the day, was sorely needed. We got off to a rather late start (3 pm, as Ann was held up in a meeting). Unfortunately, Nicole wrote down only the most basic and confusing of directions, without any sort of map to back it up, which turned out to be a major problem. I knew we were in trouble when we reached the toll bridge to Indiana. Luckily, we were able to hang a U-ie before crossing, but not before paying. The least satisfying $2 ever spent - I think I got more out of tipping the horrible barber I went to a few weeks back (which is another story for another day, dear reader).

Our problems were compounded by the fact that Nicole had a very Californian attitude towards navigating ("Oh, we'll get there, don't worry"), which comically, conflicted greatly with Ann's almost Germanic approach to driving. Around the fourth time Nicole announced a turn a minute too late, Ann was positively steaming. Nearly two hours of driving around the city, we finally arrived. To put things in perspective, according to Mapquest, the journey should've taken a mere twenty-six minutes. Hah.

The temperature took a nose-dive yesterday; I had to break out the sweaters and even the wool jacket. It was pretty darn' cold. But, looking at the Californians (esp. Nhi) you would've expected to see Sir. Edmund Hillary coming up over the hill to plant Her Royal Majesty's flag in the Costco parking lot. They have no idea what's ahead. Wait, neither do I.

So, I won't bore you with an exacting itemization of my purchases at this Warehouse of Warehouses (as I'm sure you expected me to do!). Basically, a lot of meat, a lot of booze (I'm throwing a joint birthday party for Spiros and Justin this Friday), some produce, some frozen items (16 Boca Burgers in a box! Andy'd be proud of me!), and, to round it all off, a blender. Somehow, it all came to $250. But it's worth it - I hopefully won't have to come out again for sustenance until some time in late 2006.

By the way, if you guys are looking for a great and inexpensive place to take your sweetheart, Costco is the place. The largest hotdog I have ever seen on an admirably tasty bun along with a large soda (free refills) and your choice from among several condiments will set you back a whopping $1.50. My advice: splurge on the woman you love and plunk down that extra buck for a mountain of frozen custard. The glazed look in her eyes will be something to cherish forever.

So, our ride back should've been simple. But, sadly it wasn't. If you haven't looked at the map, do so: it's basically an "up-and-over" kinda trip. One that should've been a breeze to get through. But, ah, I was now navigator. We ended up taking the one street that didn't go east-west; no, it thought it would be fun to take us downtown. Yeah, a real hoot. Oh, and we were stuck at a railroad crossing; the train went by for ten whole minutes at approximately 3 miles/hour. I've never experienced something so mind-numbing. And I've taken two semesters of physical chemistry.

So, I wasn't back at my apartment, dragging in almost seven pounds of frozen chicken breasts and enough coffee to supply a diner for a week, until practically eight o'clock. A long day, but, hey, I can imagine worse: I could've been the one driving.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

A rib-smacking good time!

Gypsy woman told my momma, before I was born
You got a boy-child comin', gonna be a son-of-a-gun
Gonna make these pretty women, jump and shout
And the world will only know, a-what it's all about

--"Hoochie Coochie Man," Muddy Waters/ Willie Dixon

On Friday, a few of us went to the University of Chicago's annual "Blues 'n Ribs" evening at Ida Noyes Hall (think Houston Hall with a pub in the basement!) Our group consisted of, more or less:

  • Todd, a fellow Pennsylvanian (Allentown), 1st year, Cancer Bio
  • Nicole, 1st year, Genetics
  • Ann, 2nd year, Genetics. Both Ann & Nicole were undergrads at Berkley.
  • Gülüm, from Turkey, 1st year, Genetics
  • Sara, 1st year, Immunology (along with her assorted crew)
  • Diane, 1st year, Immunology
  • Nhi, 1st year, Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology
The music, provided by a local band, was delightful. The lead singer actually described their sound as "bitchin". I tried to get as many people up dancing as I could (a habit some of you may have noticed I exhibit at wedding receptions). One goal for the year is to educate myself on the blues, an artform I quite enjoy (not surprising, as a good number of my fav late 60's bands owe the genre a huge debt).

It takes an extraordinary amount of effort not to stumble across at least three or four events during the course of a week here that offer both victuals and potables aplenty, moreso even then my days at Penn. This habituation breeds a sense of entitlement. So, it was entirely without surprise that when I discovered the kegs had run dry, just before I was to fetch my third and final pint (as guaranteed me by my handsome blue wristband), I grew indignant! "What's this?" I thought, "Not enough beer? But the band says I get one more!" Ah well. I'll have to learn to do without...

Or perhaps not. Feeling cheated, a gaggle of us then walked to the Woodlawn Tap, one of the few independent and economical drinking establishments on campus. Let me translate: while the beer wasn't gratis, it was darn cheap. And you left smelling of Chinese ashtray and must. We were soundly and rudely kicked out at closing, and walked
Gülüm back to her apartment. Since I needed to go to the gents, we went up to her pad. A brief visit became a half-hour stay as the already blotto Todd took up the offer of another beer while the rest of us, weary-eyed, discussed the stories that lay behind the multiple photos adorning her walls. At one point, I turned around to find Nhi and Todd wrestling on the floor - the former was "scrappy" while the latter "hopelessly outmatched."

I learned a valuable lesson that night: don't ever mess with Vietnamese women - they're tough as nails and don't hesitate to fight dirty.

Friday, October 15, 2004

And so it begins...

Beginning my studies, the first step pleas’d me so much,
The mere fact, consciousness—these forms—the power of motion,
The least insect or animal—the senses—eyesight—love;
The first step, I say, aw’d me and pleas’d me so much,
I have hardly gone, and hardly wish’d to go, any farther,
But stop and loiter all the time, to sing it in extatic songs.
--"Beginning My Studies," Walt Whitman

A while back, inspired by the efforts of Susan & Dolores to offer up their musings and experiences to friends around the globe, I decided to publish a sort of public diary of my own, now that I am in Chicago, far away from the friends, family and city I hold so dear.

So, voila - hopefully I'll be able to snatch a few minutes here and there every week to post on recent events in my life using words & pictures, while offering my opinion on various trends in the worlds of culture and science (a.k.a. The Simpsons and Futurama). Maybe I'll also get around to updating my more politically oriented blog, Noesis, which I haven't managed to update since May of 2003. Hmmm...that doesn't really bode well for this journal, now does it?

A final thought for the day: Since arriving over a month ago, I've had to start all over again: getting used to a disorienting city, searching for a new lab, trying to connect with others I can trust, etc. The phoenix emblazoned on this university's crest is indicative of my journey here - of rising from the ashes with the hope of becoming something bolder and greater than I was. Then again, it may just be a symbol of my tendency to be a fire hazard wherever I go....