Monday, April 27, 2009


Yesterday TiaS and I visited the Field Museum to see the exhibit Sacred Waters: India’s Great Kumbha Mela Pilgrimage, by Chicago-based photographer Jean-Marc Giboux.

Of course we got sidetracked on the way to the exhibit.

First, I had to see Sue.

She is the largest, most complete, bestest, best-preserved T-Rex dinosaur in the world. She's been at the Field for years, but I had yet to see her.

And she was discovered by a high school dropout named Sue Hendrickson.

"Where is Sue?" I asked the docent.

She pointed to the not-that-impressive but very complete dinosaur skeleton behind me.

I turned around and looked at the thing, which had a large head and was 13 feet high at the hips and 42 feet long.

"THAT'S Sue???" I asked, incredulous. "But she's so small."

I'd seen bigger dinosaurs at O'Hare airport.

But those were giant, plant-eating Brontosauruses that were probably made of plastic.

"That's her," said the docent.

After taking some time to study Sue's teeth and tiny useless arms and discuss the many ways she could kill us ("One swing of her tail could take out most of the people in this room"), TiaS and I began to weave our way through the stuffed mammals - the taxidermy of which makes both of us uneasy.

As we passed lemurs and deer and leopards and monkeys with giant noses that become red and engorged when they get excited ("What crime do you have to commit to come back as one of those?"), we wondered how the animals were killed, and how the taxidermists were able maneuver them into position. Some of them were quite lifelike. My favorite was a feline scratching its chin with a hind leg. The lemurs, by the way, are not as cute as they appear on TV.

* * *

After detouring through ancient Tibetan Buddhas and a house of jade and Taoist icons and some cases of antique Asian jewelry, we made our way to the Kumba Mela exhibit - which was located in the Pacific part of the museum, in the middle of Maori land (I couldn't help but think of Harvey Keitel in "The Piano," while TiaS's thoughts turned to "Whale Rider.")

The photos were beautiful, but not plentiful. Quality over quantity. Some 70 million Hindu pilgrims attend the Kumbha Mela, a mass Hindu pilgrimage that takes place four times every twelve years and rotates among four sacred locations. There are camps for each sect, which march in formation. There is sharing of food, nudity, body markings and - most important - ritual bathing in the sacred river.

We discussed the Godless American version - Burning Man - and how going to either one would be a huge, headache-inducing challenge.

It was agreed that seeing the photos in such a lovely setting would be more than enough right now.

Friday, April 24, 2009


I dreamt last night that I took back the 12-inch record collection I gave away in January. How I miss it. Getting rid of stuff is good, yes, but it still hurts like the hell to lose all of that music.

The above song ("Saints," by the Breeders), however, is on compact disc, and I still have it. It brings back all of the sweet memories of Lollapalooza '94, when I drove to Detroit with Ira Glass and later rode into a couple of shows on Nick Cave's tour bus, and wasted time backstage with the likes of L7, the Bad Seeds, the Breeders and P-Funk (for some reason the Beastie Boys were nowhere to be found). They liked Nick Cave's green room because he had the best liquor rider on the tour, and my friend Jim was (is) a wonderful bartender. L7 was the life of the party. Ah, the days before yoga ruined my life....

* * *

Yesterday Jammu, Baby Sachi and I had an Mysore-ish day hanging out on Devon Avenue, where we dined on North Indian thali (at Udupi Palace) and chai and sweets (at Sukhadia's), had our eyebrows threaded ($6 at Dilshad's), and shopped for books (India Book House), nose-pins (many places), bananas and Chandrika soap (Patel Bros), and groused about how much we miss Guruji (all of the above). During our trek we saw that my favorite restaurant, Mysore Woodlands, was poised to re-open that very night. To my great disappointment it has been closed "for remodeling" since the cold January day I signed the lease on the new apartment.

* * *

Today it was 90 degrees in the city and the whole word was outside, smiling and soaking it in. What a wonderful day for a day off from teaching.... After a very soft practice (Dharma's Level I, plus my back-care sequence and the usual sitting) I put on a Punjabi dress, anklets, bindi, and bangles and had two coconuts on Devon Avenue. Then I went home for a moon day nap before returning to the Avenue - where the streets were filled with women in billowy saris and dresses doing their shopping, and Muslim men in kurtas making their way to the mosque. I weaved my way through them and headed straight to Mysore Woodlands, where I had the most wonderful South Indian thali outside of Karnataka - and for just $7.95. Plus they remembered me. How nice it is to be recognized....

Later I put on western dress and rode the blue Schwinn to meet SportMarty at the Davis for a screening of The Soloist, which to me was about yoga and being receptive to the grace of God. Plus I'm all for any movie that depicts the desperate lives of lonely journalists whose stories are about to fall through. Ah, the days before corporate greed + the internet ruined the newspaper business...

On the way home I saw people pointing at the sky. I looked up, and saw a massive rainbow spanning the eastern horizon. Not a bad ending to the first (real) day of spring.


*This is my 1,000th post, or the 999th since I wrote this just before leaving on my second trip to India.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


This sad little tableau, snapped today on the back porch, pretty much sums up the current attitude regarding the new digs.

This despite the fact that the yoga room is like a little corner of heaven, with Lord Shiva at the helm.....

.....Even though Kirby's room lights up like a flame in the afternoon sun.....

....Even though The Longest Hallway in the World finally has pictures on the walls....

....Even with Lord Ganesh in the phone-hole....

....It still doesn't feel like home.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


For many of us, yoga poses becomes less important as the sitting increases and the sadhana (spiritual practice) intensifies. But we should not forget to do what Dharma calls "the exercises."

That's the focus of today's daily reading from from Swami Sivananda:

"A Vedantin is afraid to do Asana [poses] and Pranayama [breathing practices] on the ground that the practice will intensify ‘body attachment’ and militate against his practice of Vairagya** [detachment]. Though the two paths, Hatha Yoga and Vedanta*, are different, yet a Vedantin should have a broad vision and practise Asana and Pranayama in order to keep the body in a sound state to achieve the goal of life. There are Vedantins in a sickly condition with very poor physique and dilapidated constitution. They can hardly do any Sadhana.

"The body is closely related to the mind. In other words, a weak, sickly body means a weak mind also. Therefore keep your body strong by the practice of Hatha Yoga and gallantly reach the other shore of Peace and Plenty."


*Vedanta is based on two simple propositions:

1. Human nature is divine.

2. The aim of human life is to realize that human nature is divine.


**How To Get Vairagya [detachment] by Swami Sivananda

(Remember these seven vital points)

1. Hari Om, Sensual pleasure is momentary, deceptive, illusory and imaginary.
2. A mustard of pleasure is mixed with a mountain of pain.
3. Enjoyment cannot bring about satisfaction of a desire. On the contrary it makes the mind more restless after enjoyment through intense craving (Trishnas and Vasanas).
4. Sensual pleasure is an enemy of Brahma-Jnana
5. Sensual pleasure is the cause for birth and death.
6. This body is nothing but a mass of flesh, bone, and all sorts of filth.
7. Place before the mind the fruits of Self-realization or life in the soul or Brahman or the Eternal, such as Immortality, Eternal bliss, Supreme peace and Infinite knowledge. If you remember the seven points always, the mind will be weaned from the cravings for sensual pleasures. Vairagya, Viveka and Mumukshutva (dispassion, discrimination from the real and the unreal, and keen longing for liberation from birth and death) will dawn. You should seriously look into the defects of sensual life (Dosha-Drishti) and into the unreal nature of worldly life (Mithya-Drishti).

Read this once daily as soon as you get up from the bed.


Photos from this website.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


Spring comes late to Chicago, if at all.

When it is in the 50s in the suburbs, it is in the 30s or 40s in the city.

Then, one day, out of the blue, it will be 90 degrees. It is like Satan flips a switch, and winter disappears.

This is partially because of Lake Michigan, which is still cold from winter and takes forever to warm up. Hence the meteorological phrase "cooler near the lake." As in, "Today it will be 72 - cooler near the lake." (In the summer and fall, while the rest of the metro area is cooling off, it's warmer near the lake,)

Everyone in Chicago figures this out sooner or later.

Well, perhaps not everyone.

On Thursday the forecast was for the 60s.

It did not reach 60 in the city - yet still some teenagers and insane people frolicked outside in t-shirts.

Each night it goes back down to the 30s or 40s.

Yet on Thursday there was no heat in the apartment.

(According to the Chicago heating ordinance, the heat should be on til June 1).

So guess who called the LL to complain.

He'd turned it off.

(Actually, he had the fellow who lives in his old unit turn it off, "because the forecast was for 60." And I had to explain to the LL, who often mentions that he lived in this building for 30 years, that the city is a good ten degrees cooler than the suburbs. The fellow in the unit was supposed to turn the heat back on that night, but apparently came home late from work. This fellow is the LL's girlfriend's son and lives in his old unit - the LL having relocated a posh suburb last year. The LL controls the heat, which is on an elaborate timing system, by calling the fellow and telling him what to do. I imagine a wall filled with analog dials and old-fashioned thermometers, a demon at the controls. Anyway there is clearly a heat problem in the building, and the LL promised to put the thermostat in my apartment (the coldest one). That was a over month ago. Despite repeated reminders, nothing has happened. Think he'll actually do it? Don't bet on it).

The heat came on 30 minutes later. But the way it works in my unit is that nothing happens the first few times it cycles through. Only after two hours do all the coils on each radiator heat up, and by then I was asleep. (Think I'll be here next winter? Don't bet on it).

* * *

Friday it hit 70 in the suburbs, and in the city.

Everyone was out in their t-shirts and saris, buzzing about like insects.

(You have not lived til you have seen a gentleman in a thick mustache and Cubs hat walking down Devon Avenue with his Punjabi dress-and-headscarf-clad wife).

The air smelled clean and new - despite last year's garbage strewn here, there and everywhere.

Even the flowers began to open up.

And I thought I may last here a few more months after all.

Of course the temperature went back down to 40 that night.

Yet to my pleasant surprise the heat came on, unbidden.

* * *

The forecast this morning was 42, so after practicing I bundled up, got on the blue Schwinn and rode to teach at the nearby church (feeling a bit like Sheshadri, who rides a similar beat-up bike to the Mandala in Mysore).

But it was already in the 60s.

A couple of neighbors were in their muddy yards, talking in shirtsleeves.

And outside the church I saw and smelled flowers - actual flowers.

* * *

Here is an excerpt from Campbell McGrath's 1996 poem

"Spring Comes to Chicago"

All through those final, fitful weeks we walked off the restlessness of our
daily expectancy on the avenues of sun-hunger and recalcitrant slush.

When would that big fat beautiful baby

blue first day of spring arrive?

So we strolled the backstreets and boulevards to consider the clouds and
drink some decaf and escape the press of solicitous voices, gingerly, leaving
feathers unruffled, like that first, fearless pair of mallards coasting the lake's
archipelagoes of melting ice. We walked to the movies, again and again -
Eddie Murphy at the Biograph, Orson Welles amid the Moorish splendor of
the Music Box - varying our route until we knew every block in the
neighborhood, every greystone and three-flat, every Sensei sushi bar and
Michaoqueno flower stall.

We walked to Ho Wah Garden and the Ostoneria and over to Becky's for
deep-dish pizza;

to Manny's for waffles on mornings of aluminum rain;

the German butcher for bratwurst, the Greek bakery for elephant ears, the
7-11 for cocktail onions to satisfy Elizabeth's idiosyncratic cravings.

We walked until our fears resurfaced and then we ate our fears.

We walked ourselves right out of winter into precincts we knew and those
we didn't and some of the city kept as private enclaves for itself, a certain
statue, a street of saris, an oasis of cobbled lanes amid the welter of industry
where suddenly the forsythia is in lightening-fierce flower, sudden as lilac, as
bells, as thunder rolling in from the pains, sky a bruised melon spawning
ocean-green hailstones to carry our rusted storm butters away in an
avalanche of kernaled ice plastered with bankrolls of last year's leaves.

Behold the daffodil, behold the crocus!

Behold the awakened, the reborn, the already onrushing furious and

violets overgrown in the lawn gone back to prairie,

some trumpet-flowered vine exuding sweet ichor upon the vacant house
across the street,

dandelions blown to seed

and the ancient Japanese widows who stoop to gather their vinegar-bitter

That final morning we clear the cobwebs and crack the storm windows to
let the breeze take shelter in our closets and to bask all day in its muddy,
immutable odor. Elizabeth naps in a chair by the window, attuned to the
ring of a distant carrillon, matins and lauds, while down the block an
unnumbered hoard of rollerblades and bicycles propel their passengers like
locusts assembled at the toll of some physiological clock, the ancient
correlation of sap and sunlight, equinoctial sugar and blood. The big elm
has begun its slow adumbration of fluted leaflets and buds on branch tips,
percussive nubs and fine-veined tympani, a many-fingered symphony
tuning up.....


*The cover for McGrath's book, above, is my favorite book cover of all time -except for P.D. Eastman's Go,Dog, Go!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


I say it's funny.

The editor says it's too risqué.

What do you say?

(Mula Bandha is an energy lock used in yoga. It's located at the perenium, between the anus and the genitals, and is engaged by drawing that area inward and upward. It can be difficult to locate).

Friday, April 10, 2009


That's what Catesy calls Krishna Das, who will lead kirtan tomorrow night (April 11) at the Irish American Heritage Center.

He may look like Eric Clapton, but sound-wise he reminds me of Nick Cave.

Kirtan is call-and-response devotional chanting. It is a form of bhakti yoga - considered by many to be one of the easier paths to enlightenment. Dharma Mittra recommends singing to the lord to curb overeating.

Kirtan also helps cure a litany of other ills - including obsessive thoughts - and unleashes a sense of inner bliss.

Unless the kirtan-wallah really sucks - and KD is the best, hands down - it's hard to leave feeling worse than when you came in.

Ticket info here.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


Mayor Daley just announced that he's going to privatize dog parks.*

First, they privatized the Chicago Skyway bridge.

Then they privatized the parking meters. We are paying something like $4 per hour to park on our own streets!

Plans are in the works to privatize Midway Airport for $2.52 billion.

And now the dog parks.*

This privatization brings in a large chunk of money for the city, which uses it to cover budget shortfalls and who knows what else.

(What they don't use it for is covering potholes!)

People are up in arms about the parking meters; once they were privatized last month, the rates spiked to an all time high. Downtown, you get 7 minutes for every quarter you put in the meter. And now, there are roving bands of privatized revenue tyrants going around and ticketing like crazy - even in the snow.

The Tribune's John Kass recently wrote an excellent column about it, saying:

Downtown parking costs a fortune because Mayor Richard Daley rammed through a parking deal without much debate. The private company that bought the rights to the meters paid almost $1.2 billion for the contract that runs through the year 2084.

Some of the upfront cash went to fill budget holes, but much will be kept in reserve, so look for that gold to be leveraged into some Olympic arrangement. Chicago's parking meters carry the hidden Daley Olympic tax.

In a few years, it'll cost you $6.50 an hour to park on a downtown street. That's 52 quarters for two hours. You'll need more than a Fendi bag. You'll need a pack mule on steroids.

And yet still people vote for this mayor.

(You can hear a lively discussion about privatization from today's Eight Forty-Eight radio show here).

* * *

Annoying shock jock Mancow Muller is one of the few who wants to do something about it.

He says he's running for mayor, saying that the city has become "anti-human, costly, dangerous and corrupt.''

(Actually, it's always been that way).

I might even vote for him - if he were the only other choice.

After all, Mayor Muller sounds almost as funny as Dick Daley.

* * *

And now Chicago is trying to get the 2016 Olympics, which means more money for hooked-up cronies and bleeding the citizenry dry.

The Reader's Ben Joravsky explains it all here, saying:

Here’s the fundamental problem: We can’t afford the games. We’re broke—and I mean damn near destitute. The public school system is about $475 million in the red and the city’s facing its own deficit of at least $200 million. Just a few months ago Mayor Daley said he’d balanced the budget by raising fees and fines and slashing the city payroll, but already expenses have risen and revenues have dropped faster than anticipated. His aides have warned that more cuts could be on the way.

The Chicago Transit Authority, which runs our public transportation system, is busted too, in more ways than one. CTA officials are in the thick of their annual budget crisis, warning of fare hikes and service cuts that could affect traffic in every part of town. They don’t have enough money to replace the old buses or repair the tracks that are falling apart.

The International Olympic Committee folks were here over the weekend, being shown the wonderful sites on the city's south side - where long-time (read; African American) residents are certain city fathers are going to use it to make a land grab.

They are so certain of it in fact that only about 20 people came out for a pro-Olympics rally there on Sunday.

The IOC folks did get to see a lot of people at the Fraternal Order of Police protest against the Olympics, though. (They've been working without a contract for the past two years).

* * *

Remember when George W Bush was running for a second term, and everyone said, "If he wins, I'm leaving the country!"

Most didn't leave.

Remember the last presidential election, when people said, "If McCain wins, I'm leaving the country!"

They didn't have to make good on it.

But I say, "If Chicago gets the 2016 Olympics, I'm leaving the city."

I may actually mean it.

Once I vote for Mancow, anyway.


*I made up the item about the dog parks. It hasn't happened. Yet.

Monday, April 06, 2009


This morning I got up and started the laundry and moved the car and did my toilette and drank hot lemon water and then went into the yoga room....

....where I found a freshly-produced cat-turd sitting on the yoga mat.

All together now: EWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!

* * *

As if that weren't enough - and it was - it's snowing outside, and the temperature in the dining room / workspace is 60 degrees.

Rather than turning up the boiler, the landlord proposes putting in a massive, wattage-sucking window unit that heats in the winter and cools in the summer.

My protests that this will shift the cost of heating the apartment from him to me fall on deaf ears.

And I contemplate moving the hell out of here - soon.

* * *

On Friday - my mother's death-day - Dreyfus and I learned that our step-brother died last month, shot by police in a cemetery standoff.

We cannot even begin to process this information.

On Saturday I searched for pictures of this blonde blue-eyed boy, and came across photos of our other relatives - all of whom are dead, dead, dead.

And I said some prayers for his sad soul.

* * *

Despite it all, I had a good practice today.... on my pooey yoga mat.

Like a steaming cup of chai, yoga is always there, no matter what, ready to uplift.

And for that I'm grateful.

That, and Lysol.

Very grateful indeed.

Friday, April 03, 2009


That's the title of my April media column - which I wrote a full four weeks before the Chicago Sun-Times joined the Chicago Tribune in filing for bankruptcy protection.

My article is about my own career and February's Journalism Town Hall, in which a who's-who of both working an out-of-work journalists (mostly the latter) discussed the fate of newspapers.

An excerpt:

I earned a master’s degree in public affairs reporting at Columbia College, where we spent an afternoon at the now-defunct City News Bureau, the cooperative news agency that provided news to member media outlets. That day, Managing Editor Paul Zimbrakos told us there were more students in journalism school than working journalists, and to get out now. I didn’t listen....

...I lost the Reader gig in 2004, amid a redesign sparked by the local launch of Time Out magazine. Now, I write part time and teach yoga full time.

I was in good company at the Town Hall, where the audience was full of current and former journalists - as was the panel, which ranged from Chi-Town Daily News founder Geoff Dougherty to former Sun-Times reporter Lee Bey.

The subject was the future of journalism, which has been shedding reporters like bad mortgages. John Callaway said newspapers as we knew them are dead, and it was suggested publications such as the Huffington Post that use and comment on content from traditional print media should pay for its use. Panelist Carol Marin called it "content without compensation."

Huffington Post Chicago's editor, Ben Goldberger, said his stories drive "tons" of readers to the papers' Web sites and pointed to the staggering number of comments the stories generate. "It's not just news," he said. "It's a dialog."

Callaway suggested a foundation be created that pays journalists to report the news, at least until a new model is found. "It is about creating an environment where journalism could flourish," said panelist Feder. This model would require editors and infrastructure as well as beat and investigative reporters - which would be expensive.

Andrew Huff pointed out Gapers Block, which uses volunteer writers, costs him just $100 per month for the server. Dougherty also runs his nonprofit Web site on a shoestring.

Audience member and former broadcast journalist Carolyn Grisko suggested readers make micro-payments to read articles, or that newspapers adopt the cable-TV subscription model.

But the best moment came when the Tribune's Eric Zorn noted that someone in the room had been unfavorably live-Tweeting the proceedings, and asked him to speak up. It was founder Kiyoshi Martinez, who said newspapers must reinvent how they advertise. Instead of burying tiny ads on a busy Web page, they should copy, whose ads are large, singular and hard to miss -- not to mention profitable.

Locals can watch the Town Hall in its entirety today (April 3) at noon on CAN TV21.

*Ironically, the associate editor of the mag where this article appeared was fired the day after it came out. And on Monday I learned that Conscious Choice magazine (where I was once a yoga columnist) will cease publishing - although a group of staffers is planning a May 1 launch of something called Modern Metropolis magazine.... The Reader's parent company, Creative Loafing, is still in Chapter 11. Like Conscious Choice, this formerly-local mom-and-pop publication was snapped up in the mid-00's by an out-of-town interest that hastened its march towards the grave.