Nerdy kids at “Return to Hogwarts,” a Harry Potter party in late September. More photos

A man in a dark-colored Red Riding Hood cape just walked in to get coffee. Is this the new sign that fall is here?

I read “Civilization,” a short story by Ryan Boudinit in McSweeney’s Issue 14. What a depressing, utterly true tale riffing on the same philosophies present in Huxley’s “Brave New World.” Couple that with my recent viewing of “Brazil,” the Terry Giliam directed movie about a man tired of modern vanity and inanity, and you have thoroughly and completely depressed me. Mmm, black and inky humor!

Last week, I walked past stretches of Bradley’s Greek Row while breathing in pot and freshmen stank. A classical, ornate hall a few blocks away houses the music department. Twenty-five people find their seats, evenly spread throughout the auditorium as cliquy islands that will never near 6 feet of each other. If I were a performer, I’d stomp and yell and maybe even hurl a chair off the stage in a vain attempt to connect with them.

A grandfatherly man in forest green jacket and tan slacks walks onstage, holding his soprano saxophone. It’s a rough beginning; reminders of Kenny G’s painful sax playing make me look for nearby exits. Things take off with a dark and vivid interpretation of a Rachmoninoff vocalise, the unnerving sound of his circular breathing accompanying him. Soon he’s switching to an alto sax.

“Now THAT’S a saxophone,” shout-whispers an old man in the audience. I hear snickering.

Hi, my name is Scott

This will be a massive experiment in guest writing… my friend Scott Rader has agreed to test the waters. Any hatred caused by the following should be aimed directly at him. -ed.

So, I guess the first order of business, as is anyone’s first order of business when starting something new, is to introduce myself. But as we are not meeting in person and I have yet to perfect my teleporting skills(I’m now up to 5 feet teleportation distance and hope to be up to 20 by Christmas), I have come with this brief script. You and one of your friends should each take on one of the parts and perform it as realistically as possible. This will be basically like meeting me.

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Flicker, Flickr.

November 21, 2006: St. Louis Art Museum (SLAM)

Attempts at photo organization usually leave me with a headache and a pile of hard drives that I throw into a closet. Surprisingly, this time it resulted in four pages of Never-Before-Seen! photos on Flickr.

Monday, while driving to work a few minutes late, I stopped at a red light behind another car that had shoe polish writing all over it. I usually ignore the “Go Farmers! We love #15!” shit, but soon there were four bright yellow duck umbrellas thrust out of the windows and twirled for about 10 seconds. The light changed to green and the umbrellas disappeared. I’ve been using a cell phone without a camera the past month and I’m going to throw that thing away. I’m serious.

The leaves are well on their way to yellow and the temperature has finally settled between 50-70 degrees. To welcome autumn, arguably the best season, I give you a song by famed folk singer Serge Gainsbourg:

Serge Gainsbourg – Ballade de Melody Nelson (and video!)

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On assignment for number 500

Forget Barry Bonds, let’s talk about Jim Thome.

It’s Friday afternoon and I’m sitting in my boss’s office. Do I want to go to Chicago for the weekend? Peoria native Jim Thome, designated hitter for the Chicago White Sox, is nearing his 500th career home run. Only 22 other baseball players have reached this mark, several with an infamous asterisk due to steroid allegations. But most sports writers consider Thome clean and the “real deal,” a true gentlemen of the sport. He stays at 499 Friday night as I watch from work. Time to book a hotel.

Saturday night I’m ready. I’ve checked in at a cheap hotel next to Midway, picked up all credentials and I’m anxious at U.S. Cellular Field. I recognize several of the Chicago photographers, killing time with them until Thome comes to bat. This happens four times with no success. I send back several photos of him frustrated and call it a night.

The plan for Sunday is to cover the home opener of the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. But that’s been nixed, putting me back at the Sox at noon. We all go through the motions again, intensely concentrating as a photographic collective every time Thome steps to the plate. And again he does absolutely nothing. The game against the Angles is tied, 7-7 in the 9th inning. Someone jokes about the absurdity of him actually winning the game with a homer. We all make fun of this prediction.

Somehow, he makes it to bat one last time. He arcs the bat all the way around and lets it fly over the left-center wall. It.. happened. Already, we’ve each taken 20+ frames before he’s left the plate. Add another 30 as he lifts his hands above his head and trots around the bases. Machine gun fire as he is mobbed by teammates at home. No bullets, just pictures.

It ends up being probably 10 minutes total, from home run swing to him leaving for the clubhouse. But it’s frantic as he smiles and gets a boost onto the shoulders of his teammates. He eventually walks back toward the dugout, where his enormous family awaits. Tears are shed, hugs are abundant and we circle the scene like a pack of dogs. I transmit 23 photos back to Peoria and it’s over.

PHOTOS: Stuck at 499
PHOTOS: 500!
STORY: “500 and counting” by Kirk Wessler
STORY: “No reason not to love this heartland hero” by Mike Nadel

Tourist trap

Photographs and postcards, as Susan Sontag writes in On Photography, “give people an imaginary possession of a past that is unreal, they also help people to take possession of space in which they are insecure.” Not merely a “way of certifying experience, taking photographs is also a way of refusing it.”

So what does this say about every time I pick up a camera?

One, two, three reviews

“Boomsday” by Christopher Buckley
Rating: B+

More political satire from the author of “Thank You For Smoking,” this witty novel focuses its sting on the greedy baby boomers milking Social Security dry. Cassandra Devine, a pretty 20-something activist, enlists in the military after her selfish father blows her college savings account on a business venture. Putting her Yale aspirations on hold, she ends up in Afghanistan and is soon escorting a visiting congressman, Randy Jepperson (distant relative of Jefferson!) A roadside bomb sends them injured back to the U.S., where they soon realize opportunity in each other. Jepperson has greater political aspirations and Cassandra wants to put a fork in the elderly; romance ensues! Voluntary suicide is dressed in the term “transitioning” and they take the idea on the campaign trail, winning the hearts and minds of “under 30s” tired of shouldering the burden of an increasingly aged population.

tip! Avoid the Deus Ex Machina epilogue.

“The Bakery Girl of Monceau”
Rating: A

At just 23 minutes long, this French fare by new wave director Eric Rohmer explores love’s patience. A law student sits at a corner Parisian cafe with his buddy, obsessing over a woman who regularly walks by. His desire is obvious, but she seems oblivious to the fact. One day the woman disappears, leaving him mopey and obsessing over what could have been. He soon tries moving on, visiting a bakery where he regularly buys a cookie from a young and comely cashier. Flirting commences and he is eventually forced to choose after the original woman reappears. A natural take on crushes, shot in shaky black and white with erratic jump cuts that are a hallmark of the new wave movement.

“Dark City”
Rating: A

A darkly vivid film noir from director Alex Proyas (“The Crow”), “Dark City” at its core is a sci-fi commentary on memories and reality. With a suspicious amount in common with “The Matrix” (which came out a year later,) our hero John Murdock (played by relative unknown Rufus Sewell) wakes up memoryless in a bathtub while a dead prostitute lies bloody in the next room. He flees the scene, finding out that he has a beautiful cheating wife (Jennifer Connelly) as he eludes both the cops and a bald, floating group of aliens dubbed “The Strangers.” When John and no one else can remember how to get to Shell Beach (whose postcards and billboards are the only vivid color throughout the movie,) we begin to realize that these Strangers are puppet masters in this land of darkness. Teeming with 1920’s New York City-style sets and lighting reminiscent of a Batman or Dick Tracy flick, “Dark City” features a bittersweet ending that is far more satisfying than anything by the Wachowski brothers.

9-11 x 6

Patriotic display covers the Peoria Heights home of Henry and Mary Reiter, each a reminder of the 6th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Photo by A. Gerik, Journal Star

Let me start by saying that I have no particularly strong memory of Sept. 11, 2001. I was a freshman in college and I probably overslept a class or two. Some students were visibly upset, but I remember a feeling of amazement at the scope of the attack rather than a feeling of intense sorrow. Obviously, I have no known ties to anyone who died in the attacks. But in these past six years, people who have taken a similarly phlegmatic attitude are vilified as “unpatriotic” or even “inhuman.” Bull, I say! And then I read this in the New York Times:

The Thing About These 9/11 Stories, a personal account by NYT’s Joyce Wadler. Make special note of the comments, some proclaiming it the best tribute they’ve ever read while others lambast it as snarky.

Ahead of the Times: How We Lived the News A PDF from the New York Times published a few days after, with accounts from various staffers on how it affected them in their work.

A comment thread on the NYT’s City Room blog on 9-11 fatigue

Magnum presents a 9-11 photo gallery These are some seriously good photographs.

But are you Italian?

Once upon a time, central Illinois became home for numerous Italians seeking the American dream. This was lost on me during a recent assignment at the Farmington Italian Festival.

more photos from the Journal Star

“Boo-chi balls”
Amazingly, even the announcer used this pronunciation. We all make these mistakes, but this one was odd; “bocci” only has one “o.” Thus… | ?bä ch ? |

The One-man Bearded Band
An incredible show of talent, I must say. With his enormous rig of keyboards and drum machines, he singularly crafted a sonic assault never to be forgotten. It could have been Red, from “The Red Green Show.” Busting out such family favorites as Whitney Houston’s indomitable “I Will Always Love You” and sexual favorite Big & Rich’s “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy,” he worked the audience like Wayne Newton. Everyone was uncomfortable, but not willing to leave. A 50-car crash, of sorts.

Spaghetti and Fries
Announcement: “Every kid who enters the spaghetti eating contest gets a free hamburger and fries from McDonalds!” The Golden Arches of Sicily, I’m guessing.

I still had a fleeting taste of the authentic… Bagna Càuda. A woman had a booth at the festival, selling the garlic and anchovy dip made from a recipe her late father perfected. And he, my friends, was pure Italian.

All I want to do is rock

Thrashing and bloody, this lead singer treated his audience like total shit. What better way to say goodbye to our beloved intern Genevieve? more photos

I’m saddened to say farewell to another Peoria friend… it happens far too often and seems to mark time with the four seasons. The bright side to this is my ever expanding base of friends that are strewn across the country; but it’s sad consolation, indeed.


I’ve been participating in a new section on pjstar.com called “The Snap.” It’s a Friday night photo blog on the high school football season, with images that normally would never see the light of day in a space-limited print edition. The prep football scene itself really makes me rather nauseous, but I’m happy to see us finally trying something relatively different. It’s far from perfected and we’re looking for suggestions/comments. And quickly, before another Friday passes us by.