Archive for the 'Autobio' Category

Fireworks – In Sky and Suitcase

Sunday, July 23rd, 2006

Festa Fireworks 2
 Originally uploaded by bfeil.


It was an oddly bland week, for being so full of excess.

The heat wave let up at the beginning of the week, but the wave of work at the office is more intense than ever.¬†¬†My boss promises that if he’s hired by one more big client (he’s been on a role lately), he’ll hire a new associate. That’s code for ‘someone else to help out around the place.’ I find myself hoping for that one more client.

My hours are generally pretty reasonable, but this was an extraordinary week. Every project has been an urgent one, and the deadlines and obligations all converged into a cacophonous mountain of madness on Thursday night, when I was in the office until nearly 11:00 p.m. Paul took care of Emma all evening, while I missed her, and cursed the calculations I had to perform for an IRS filing due the next day. But it felt good to get it finished the day before it was due. And my consolation for being at the office so late was that I had a perfect, 18th floor view of one of the best summertime fireworks displays over Lake Michigan . . . courtesy of Festa Italiana.

During the summer, the festival grounds see fireworks most night of every weekend. I sometimes hear them, from a distance, at my house. But when 10:15 rolled around on Thursday, and I wasn’t at my house, it was a great excuse to roll the chair away from the computer and to take in the view outside my window. Lovely. And I’ll take that kind of explosion any day over that kind happening, excessively, in the Middle East just now.

Paul is out tonight (and has been away much of the day), busy with his brother’s bachelor party. I’m sure there are some excesses going on there.

After putting Emma to bed, I watched our current Netflix flick – Walk the Line. Loved it.¬† There were some excesses in that subject matter, I’d say. And – hold on to your hats – I drank two beers while I watched it.

Then, most strangely of all, I seem to have fallen over the cliff of some ledge of vacation-planning sanity.

I think it’s the increased responsibility at work that is driving me to fantasize and plan in technicolor fanaticism about our upcoming weeklong-getaway.

Anyone who’s ever lived with me can vouch for the fact that I am not, generally speaking, a neatnik.¬† I am guilty of being a planner, but I’ve reached a new zenith of absurdity here.

Somewhere along the way during the internet research about how best to pack for a week in Alaska, I was corrupted by the idea of Ziploc bags.

I can’t really explain it. I won’t even try. And we’re over two weeks out from departing for this trip, you understand.

But my suitcase is now 95% fully packed in a perfectly organized garden of labeled and inventoried plastic zipper bags.  I am both horrified and pleased to look upon my creation.

I think I might actually really need a vacation.

Ueber-Prepared  Originally uploaded by Koog Family.

View from the World Trade Center, 1996

Thursday, July 13th, 2006
Paul visited the World Trade Center Observation Deck and took these pictures in June, 1996.¬† I visited, too, in January 1997, but it was foggy that day and I didn’t bring a camera.

World Trade Center

World Trade Center,
originally uploaded by Koog Family.

What’s the deal with Slinkman (the Banana Slug)?

Tuesday, July 4th, 2006

The¬†Cartoon Network airs¬†an animated show called “Camp Lazlo.”¬† One of the characters on the show, a banana slug, is named “Slinkman.”¬†

I find this disturbing, somehow, as that is my maiden name, and a name that I know others often have a hard time pronouncing.¬† I can’t figure out if the show’s creators named a slug “Slinkman” because it seems like a natural description for a slug (who slinks along), or if – as I’m guessing is more likely – Slinkman was named after someone’s buddy.

Maybe I’ll never know.

But I do find it odd.

If anyone has any insights into Slinkman the slug, I would welcome them. 

Things Paul and I Have In Common

Wednesday, June 28th, 2006

We grew up in the Midwest. 

Our parents worked in the healthcare industry.

We each attended “Big 10” Universities.

We each intentionally avoided the Sorority/Fraternity scene.

We each majored in Art History and originally planned to be curators and/or professors.

I studied German; Paul studied Latin.

I loved the Beatles with a rare enthusiam; for Paul, it was the Grateful Dead.

Eighties music transports us back to memories of high school days.

We each spent a great summer abroad in 1992.  I was in Germany; Paul was in Greece.

We attended (and met at) grad school at GWU in Washington, D.C.

We wooed one another with our art history knowledge; I was charmed to hear Paul speak of metopes and triglyphs. He he impressed me with the scar he got while excavating in Greece.  I wowed him with my comments in Theory and Methodology and a rousing class slide presentation on the teaching style and artistic taste of the father of American Art History, Charles Eliot Norton.

We both catalogued bronze Renaissance plaquettes as part of our internship duties at the National Gallery of Art.  

We have both waited tables (Paul much more successfully than I).

We like to plan for the future 

We would both much rather save for retirement than drive new cars. 

We enjoy traveling and look forward to doing a lot more of it in the future.

We have both known the pleasures of law school.

We love living in Milwaukee.

Our sweet daughter is our favorite little girl in the world.

We were both a little naughtier, growing up, than our parents were wise to; so watch out Emma, we’ll be on the lookout!

We both cry¬†and sniffle when we watch Little House on the Prairie episodes all the way through.¬† (It doesn’t matter which one. There’s always a tear-jerker scene built in.¬†¬† We even cried, recently, at a show directed by Michael Landon, Jr.¬† It had the same tear-jerker touch.)¬†


Saturday, June 10th, 2006

Batman, batboy, batgirl–1977, originally uploaded by

That’s the real Batman, a.k.a. Adam West.

And that’s me.

On the right.

In 1977.

I think Batman was in town for the circus, and stopped by the hospital to visit some sick kids. Since my stepfather worked at the hospital, I got to meet the bat, the man, himself!

The thing I remember most about this picture being taken is that Batman was squeezing the Holy Moly out of my shoulder.

My facial expression may look like a five-and-a-half-year-old girl’s modesty.

But it’s really a disguised wince of pain.

Well, OK, I was also star-struck and probably mentally rehearsing all the ways in which I would portray either Bat Girl or Cat Woman on TV.

The little guy on the left is clearly channeling Boy Robin (as his younger brother looks on).

Thanks for uploading that one, niteowl 😉 !

Remembering Dahab

Tuesday, April 25th, 2006

It’s a damn shame, all those bombs going off everywhere in the middle east.

Earlier this week, Dahab, a resort town in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, was in the news, then the latest site of the carnage.

It made me remember my visit to Dahab in 1996.

I had fun there. I was relaxed. I certainly wasn’t worried about any bombs going off, and it’s sad that noone else will have that luxury there for a long time to come.

In Dahab, I only paid $1.50 per night for lodging, so I felt alright about spending a little more than that for some food, some drink, some local sheesa, and some snorkeling.

From there I also traveled off to a wonderful adventure.

It seems that the thing to do near Dahab is to climb up Mount Sinai (a.k.a. the mountain on which some believe Moses received the 10 commandments) starting around 2:00 a.m.

I went along with the plan. I made myself stay up late, then catch a midnight van in Dahab that drove out into the dessert.

I have a vivid memory of walking in the dark, shortly after climbing out of the van that took us to the base of the mountain. We didn’t have flashlights, and it was a very dark night. I was walking along on the rocky desert sand, trying not to get separated altogether from my fellow stranger tourists. Suddenly, a sense of quiet panic flushed through me as my vision adjusted to the darkness just enough to finally realize that I was – and had been, for several minutes- walking through a pack of sitting camels. Sitting up against and among the camels were Bedouin men, smoking. Noiselessly. I had suddenly made sense of the small red dots of their cigarette tips. And I recognized that the other noises I’d heard were not only the tourist climbers’ collective footsteps on the earth, but also the camels soft snortings and sighs.

Walking, not knowing where I was going, at night, in the desert, among smoking nomads and their camels. I felt totally disoriented. I felt that I shouldn’t be there.

But it turns out that those Bedouins and camels just played it cool. Turns out they were there for hire – for people who wanted to ride a camel up the mountain, as described in this article. I didn’t know then that the Bedouins were businessmen, and not merely an ancient, anxiety-inducing presence. But I passed them soon enough, and began the ascent up the mount.

Just about as dawn was threatening to break, we reached to top of the mountain. We rested for a while. We took pictures, and had a couple of refreshments (did you know that there’s a concession stand on the top of Mt. Sinai? – there’s also a small church), and we headed down again.

I love the pictures that I took, and that were taken of me that morning. On no sleep, and on hours of hiking, many of those in the dark, I was exhausted, but exhilarated. You can see it in my face. The steep rocky grooves of the landscape there are so unique, so alien; but, at the time, so familiar to me from my grad school studies of Byzantine manuscripts. Until I saw the landscape there with my own eyes, I had assumed that the craggy cliffs depicted in the manuscripts was stylized and invented. Now I saw that they merely attempted to depict this beautiful place.

As we descended down, almost to the valley again, I began to catch sight of a place I had known was nearby – somewhere. I wasn’t sure if I would find it, but from up high, it was hard to miss.

It was St. Catherine’s Monastery – a place I had studied in grad school just around that time. As I got closer and closer, the emotional and physical anticipation of reaching it became almost overwhelming for me. St. Catherine’s is a beautiful Byzantine Monastery built under the authority of Emperor Justinian in the 6th Century. Finally, I made it there. The Byzantine Icons there are breathtaking and among the most beautiful in the world. There are a few moments, or series of moments, in my life that stand out in my memory as nearly perfectly distilled, pure occasions of contentment. Getting to and being in that monastery was one of them. I couldn’t have been any happier, and couldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else for that little section of time.

Photographs weren’t allowed in the monastery. But I do have some other nice photos from that trip.

The bombing this week was terrible. But the mention of Dahab in the news brought to mind for me some pleasant memories. I’ll have to scan some of those photos and add them to my Flickr collection when I have time.

(I never looked for any information on the Mt. Sinai hike on the Internet before, but there are some good summaries out there. I’m storing some of those that I find, like here, here, here, here, and here, so that I can make time to read them, and remember more, in the future.)

(And, yes, I cancelled the first date that Paul and I had ever planned to go on this trip. Before I left, I had told him that I couldn’t turn down riding a camel to St. Catherine’s Monastery. Turns out I never rode a camel. But we worked it all out, later.)

Green Eggs and Clarence Thomas

Friday, February 24th, 2006

According to a recent report, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s biography is in the works and will be available in 2007. The gist of the reported story is that Thomas is delayed in producing the manuscript and that the book was supposed to have come out in 2005.

Still, Thomas’s agent, quoted in the story, displays the obligatory optimism about her charge, stating “‘there’s a lot of interes’t’ in the book and the justice. ‘He’s going to talk about everything, quite openly.'”

I wonder what “everything” means, to an agent.

I suppose it could mean his opinion on his Senate Confirmation hearings or the Anita Hill testimony, a response to that bizarre accusation involving something about a pubic hair and a coke can, or, more likely, a personal account of his life experience of growing up in poverty, only to end up with a life appointment on the highest court in the land. Who knows – maybe, if he’s feeling especially comfortable with himself, he’ll tackle the pop-culture portrayal of him as something of a judicial benchwarmer; an intellectual lightweight at best, and a Scalia-loving coat-tailer, at worst.

That’s all fine and good. I wish the agent, the publisher, and the alledgedly curious public all the best with that.

But I’ve got some real dish on Thomas that I’m sure won’t even make it into the first draft.

It’s not as sensational or headline grabbing as the ‘poor boy makes good’ or ‘judge abuses power’ narratives associated with his nomination.

But to me, it is perhaps more revealing and unsettling. I used to be horrified by the information that I am about to share. But more recently, I’ve found a way to find some amusement in it.

You see. I met Clarence Thomas one day, in 1997. And we had a little chat. But before I get to what we talked about, a little background is in order.

In the summer of 1997, I was a grad student trying to make a few extra bucks while simultaneously living out some ill-conceived bohemian adventure. Being a sucker for beautiful buildings (and workplaces near my then-boyfriend’s, Paul’s, apartment), I tried my hand at food service at “America Restuarant” in Washington DC’s beautiful Union Station on Capitol Hill. Here’s a great picture taken from inside the restaurant. It shows the location of some of the very tables I used to wait on.

There were also three four other levels of tables inside the sprawling place, plus dining areas outside. Located above a main metro line, and in a building that is, itself, a tourist detination, the clientele of the restaurant consisted primarily of tourists. Exhausted or anxious, with Wisconsin lilts or southern drawls, easy going eaters, uptight food refusers, people who walked out without paying, people who wouldn’t leave, people who thought I was a lovely young lady, and people who accused me of bigotry for not serving their food more promptly, spanish-speaking dishwashers and chinese speaking, malaysian busboys, an alcoholic waiter, a possible genius waiter, a crack-using waitress, and a young flirtatious waitress who kept flirting with me – I saw a little bit of it all in my five or so months at that place.

Oh, and the ties. I can’t forget the ties. The dress code for wait staff (I’m having vivid memories of folding cloth napkins as I write this) was: Black Pants, an apron for holding the money (and pens and credit card holders), White, button-down shirts, and a Tie. A necktie, to be more precise. The tie was the America Restaurant equivalent of the 37 pieces of flair in the movie office space. And if I, like the character in the movie, could have given someone the finger about having to wear it, believe me, I would have (if I hadn’t needed the job just then). But, anyway, as long as it was a requirement, I thought I’d have a little fun. So I selected a necktie that depicted a childrens’ story with which I had fond: Green Eggs and Ham. Here is the design that I chose:

Now, 1997 was an interesting summer to be a waiter (to use the non-gender-specific term) in D.C. You see, mayor Marion Barry had been spreading a bad vibe in the food industry just then.

It had been reported in the July issue of Washingtonian magazine that he had dined at an upscale seafood restaurant and left only a $5.00 tip on a bill of $100.00. The magazine had actually published a photo of the receipt documenting this dastardly deed, and reports of the incident were being widely repeated in the local press. In my restaurant and others, conversation about Mr. Barry turned to speculation about how the coverage of bad tipping would affect his, and other notables,’ reataurant behaviour.

It was during this time that, one day, a mananger told to me report to a table in the alcove. The alcove was an isolated part of the restaurant; a narrow, second-level galley of just a few tables – popular with those who preferred to dine in more privacy. The wife of the Maryland governor was a frequent visitor. And Steven Spielberg had dined there that summer, too. Diners in the alcove sat under the lofty spandrals of the side arches of Union Station’s grand hall. It’s architecture is just visible in the middle of the right edge of the photo, above.

By the time I arrived, the busboy and bartender were whispering “Clarence Thomas,” excitedly. I entered the alcove, and there was Justice Thomas at “my” table, all right. He was accompanied by a younger man, who seemed rather deferential. Could have been his law clerk?

I ran through the specials. But I remember that he ordered from the menu – a Shrimp Jambalaya dish. And yes, her ordered a Coke. But luckily, that pubic hair thing was not in my memory banks at the time. (Afterwards, that was all people wanted to ask about).

I hadn’t yet had the idea of applying to law school – in fact I was still waiting to hear about being hired at the National Gallery of Art. I know I would have had a different approach to him had it crossed my mind that I might ever practice law. (I did very quickly debate calling him “your honor” when I took his order, but fortunately, I settled on “Sir”). As it was, though, me being a starving art historian wannabe, and all, I was really just more interested in how in the heck this man was going to tip me, after the meal was finally over.

I can’t remember whether our little chat happened when I took the order, or sometime during the meal, or as I brought or collected the bill (he tipped at about 20%). But sometime while I was at the table, he addressed me about something other than the food, and the conversation went like this:

CT: “What is that on your tie?”

[Figures. Probably my one chance in life to have one on one conversation with a Supreme Court Justice, and the conversation is about a cartoon tie that I’m forced to wear]

Me: It’s a Green Eggs and Ham tie. From Dr. Seuss. [I may have done some filler explaining about the fact that we all had to wear ties, and that I had picked this one. I’m sure I had a “tie-spiel” down]

CT: Blank look.

Me: From the story of that name by Dr. Seuss.

CT: I must have missed that one.

Me: Theodor Geisel. The children’s author.

CT: [Shakes his head with a lack of recognition.]

At this point, I think he said something about the tie being nice or funny, and I have a vague memory of his dining guest jumping in with something at that point – probably trying to make the boss look good.

But I will never forget my shock – no, alarm! – at the realization that this man, this man who holds one of, arguably, the most powerful nine seats in our system of government, could be so out of touch with what I thought was a universal touchstone of our shared culture. I mean Dr. Seuss, for God’s sake! The man hadn’t heard of Dr. Seuss!!!

As I processed this knowledge in the next hours and days, I tried to give him some benefit of the doubt. OK, I knew that he had grown up in extreme poverty in the South. I wouldn’t expect that he had access to Dr. Seuss books then – heck, they probably weren’t even written then. I don’t know. But the man has had a child! A child who attended the Virginia Military Institute. How do you have a child born in anything near my generation and miss out on Dr. Seuss?!

The very idea of it disturbed me deeply. It hadn’t been so many years, at that time, since Bill Clinton endeared himself to the MTV crowd by indulging a question about boxers versus briefs. But here was a man who had the power to make decisions that could directly affect me, and had not the first clue about the Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, or Freaky Friday? I know it seems strange that one of the things I expect from government types is that they have heard of the same childrens’ stories I have, but the realization that he certainly hadn’t struck me as a form of benightedness that could only result in oblivious, insensitive, and – yes, even harmful, -out-of-touch judicial rulings.

My horror about his ignorance lingered with me for several years. Once I got to law school, I recounted the incident to any law professor or student who would listen. And I did the same once I finally started working as a new attorney.

But I’m an older, wiser woman now. My former co-art-historian-wanna-be, turned husband, turned part-time law student was talking in the car this morning about a judicial dissent authored by Thomas. And out of this conversation came today a whole new way of looking at the Justice’s Dr. Seuss obtuseness.

I get it now.

How did Clarence “miss out” on Dr. Seuss, do you think? Here’s how: by never being around when his son’s mother read the stuff to him.

Today, it occured to me that if his wife had been at that table and heard him say that Dr. Seuss didn’t register on the brain waves, she would have slapped her head or his arm while rolling her eyes and blurting out something along the lines of “Jesus, Clarence! There you go making us look stupid again!”

Have I grown that jaded, that cynical about what I expect people to know, in general?

Whatever the reason, I no longer really care if the CT knows about Dr. Seuss or not. I now get a lot more pleasure simply imagining what his wife must think of being married to such an apparently sheltered guy.

What if, every time he writes a legal opinion that leaves the legal community scratching its head, she’s like, “LOOK, DODO, STOP EMBARRASSING ME!”

When commentators recently pointed out that Thomas has never, in a single opinion, addressed the Equal Protection Clause, did she make him sleep on the couch for a week? When his jurisprudence is called “rigid,” does he have to take her turn at doing the litter box?

I guess I’ll never know. I’m sure that won’t be in the memoirs, either, no matter if he does have until 2007 to finish them.

But I guess I do know just a little more than “everything.”

Because I know that the guy was stumped by Green Eggs and Ham.