Friday, February 24, 2012

Neither wind nor snow nor rain nor gloom

Mrs. Hall looked out over the bleak expanse around Penguin Hall.  Puddles were growing so rapidly around the perimeter she momentarily considered the advantages of advertising their little plot as waterfront property.  This time last year they were sitting in a glorious bar on Fifth Avenue trying to decide whether to go to Rockefeller Plaza or the Plaza Hotel.  Mrs. Hall nursed that vague feeling one gets when it seems like the house is closing in around you and she sighed heavily.
 “Perhaps we shouldn’t have been so hasty about selling your old boat,” she said.  Mr. Hall wandered in.  He looked out the window. “The tide does seem to be coming in a bit early today. Maybe looking at some new boats would cheer you up,” and he pulled a pair of tickets to the boat show out of his Learjet jacket.  She brightened up immediately.
  Going to the Boat Show has always been a sort of seesaw affair for the Halls.  While Mrs. Hall was used to rigging and sailing (and generally terrifying the local populace by cleating up the sails so hard in the pursuit of speed that she frequently turtled the craft), Mr. Hall was more accustomed to allowing Mr. Evinrude’s horses to propel him effortlessly, if not a little recklessly, around the lake.  They had long since made peace with this division and if there could be any common ground between them at all, it was their mutual disdain of that Winnebago of the waterfront-  the pontoon boat, or as it is more commonly known; the Party Barge. 
  There seemed to be a number of sailing vessels in the first building and the show looked as if it was getting off on the right foot.  However, soon on, it became increasingly apparent the toll the economy had taken on the sport.  "Wow," stared Mrs. Hall in surprize.  "I guess what they say is true; it's never too soon to show yer kids how to play 'Beer Pong'".  They wandered past the all too paltry assortment of yachts and suddenly, it appeared the entire west end of the building was turned over  to nothing but pontoon boats.  One story, two story, boats with kennels and disco lights and boats with massive sound systems blasting over the din.
"Here's what I'm talkin' about!" piped up Mr. Hall.  Drawing a goodish size crowd around it was a particularly well turned out 26' boat with it's own dedicated lounge and barbeque grill.  "Now that's putting the BAR back in Party Barge!" he said.   He slid onto one of the barstools and sat back.  The idea of a floating cocktail lounge had certainly rung true with the showgoers; there seemed to be no end to their fascination with the extraordinary craft.

Dotting the seats around it were all manner of faux beverages, no doubt to drive home the idea to anyone addlepated enough not to notice-  the industry had finally figured out that second only to the monumental guzzling of petrol that these beasts required, was the massive amounts of alcohol guzzled by the boats' occupants.  
Why not stop being so squeamish about admitting this and get down to brass tacks- stick the bar right out in the open and let's get this party started
"You looked quite at home on that thing," remarked Mr. Hall as they slid on over to the next building.  "It's true, that is one amazing boat," she said. "But I'm still a traditionalist at heart.  Com'n, let's check out the powerboats."
 Apparently the coliseum used a shoe horn to fit the larger powerboats inside; several of the exhibits looked like a road show version of that wonderful scene from Caddyshack with Ted Knight and Rodney Dangerfield at the yacht club.  

"Very nice; very nice indeed," mulled Mr. Hall.  He surveyed the interior of a 37' Searay with a critical eye until he heard a strange noise overhead.   He came up out of the cabin to find Mrs. Hall making engine  sounds in the cockpit.  "Look at me!" she said.  "This thing is so automated, I can drive it with my eyes closed!"  Mr. Hall shook his head.   "Oh, for heaven's sake! Get out of there! You've got all the nautical sense of a navel orange.  Besides, it's time we should be going."
 They waved goodbye to the glittering tangle of chrome and ABS plastic, strolled out the parking lot and out to the gray winter skies above. It may have been dreary outside, but all the way home, visions of breakers splashing off the gleaming blue hull of a shiny new Chriscraft carried them away from the gloom.

Side note:  Earlier this month Mrs. Hall escaped Mr. Hall's usually stern surveillance, and had ordered herself another toy online.  It came Wednesday via the post, and for the better part of an afternoon distracted Mrs. Hall just long enough to allow that window of opportunity for cleaning the bathroom to slip out of her fingers for another day.  

Friday, February 10, 2012

Some of the chosen few

While the Purging of the Hall continues unabated (albeit slowly) there are some things that Mrs. Hall will never allow to darken the dustbin.  These are some of her Favorite Things:
Her robot collection gathering dust on the bookcase of her desk.  Won’t be moved, tampered with, or probably even dusted.  Not even an issue- don’t ask.  (Most of them talk and while Mrs. Hall is not sure if this was an deliberate act on the part of the designers, most of them also seem to follow you with their eyes around the room.  Try not to make any sudden moves.)

Mr. Sticky Man knife block.  A gift to herself after the divorce.  The children have postulated that possibly Mrs. Hall has some unresolved issues regarding this, but really, she assures them, all is fine. No, really.

Her Philippe Starck Juicy Salif guarding the Martha Stewart retro style timer.  If the Gentle Reader attempts to discern the nature of this tool, and ends up on the Amazon product page*, he will discover an indecipherable technobabble about its origins and meaning and a perfect example of what Mrs. Hall says is language actually being used as an impediment to communication.  She prefers to refer to it as a objet d'cult and leave it at that.

An Aladdin thermos rescued from the catacombs in one of many purging sweeps.  Its clean black and white aesthetic coupled with its unparalleled ability to maintain freshly brewed coffee at piping hot temps for almost 24 hours makes it indispensable at the Hall. 

Her Phillips Wide Mouth Toaster.
(No comments regarding the occupants of the Hall, please.)
Not only is its adorable twinkie-like shape appealing on a sort of visceral level, the fact that its legend mysteriously disappeared the first time it was cleaned, imbues breakfast with an exciting game-show quality, since the diner has no idea ahead of time how his toast will actually come out.

Her miniature media cabinet featuring tiny televisions, radios and sundry other forms of communication.  It contains not only household items of all description manufactured in the form of miniature books, but naturally enough, matchbook books as well.

Mrs. Hall anticipates there will be a certain apprehension on Mr. Hall’s part when the time comes to actually box up all this stuff and move.  But Mr. Hall has a generous spirit.  He graciously allows Mrs. H. not a little leeway when the discussion turns to “art” and “freedom of expression” and “feeding the soul as well as the stomach” type of things.   So long as when they finish the discussion, the end result is the well-feeding of the breadwinner in a timely fashion, chances are most of these things will stay.   

*Amazon Product Description:  Juicy Salif
One of the first projects by French designer Philippe Starck for Alessi.  The Juicy Salif was devised in the second half of the 1980s (along with the Walter Wayle II wall clock, the Hot Bertaa kettle and the large Max le Chinois colander.)  An excellent example of Alessis role as artistic mediator in the most turbulent areas of creative potential (the piece was his response to our precise briefing for a stainless steel tray), it remains unparalleled in its ability to generate discussions about its meaning and design, partly because of its unconventional use of what semiologists refer to as the decorative veil which, even though generally in a less overt manner, is inexorably destined to cover all objects created by man.  To fully understand the true meaning of its existence, it is possibly necessary to refer to the theories of Leroy-Gourham, who considers the notion of functional approximation to be fundamental.  This notion suggests that there is always a certain degree of freedom in interpreting relationships between Form and Function: it is precisely this continual play between Form and Function that leads to the decorative veil mentioned above, that Floch considers to be the manifestation of the legendary and aesthetic dimension of the object, as originally defined by Greimas.  As well as being the most controversial citrus fruit squeezer of the 20th century, it has also become one of the icons of design of the 1990s, and it continues to be one of the most provocatively intelligent articles in the Alessi catalog.

(Ed. note: What the what?!?)

Monday, February 6, 2012

Our Favorite Bar None

The Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle is supposed
to be lovely. After all, who wouldn't want to dine with illustrations of picknicking rabbits? And while pricey, the warmth exuded by the toyscape ceiling at the 21 Club trumps the clientele's notorious coolness any day. But as far as the Halls were concerned, on Superbowl Sunday, the only barstools they wanted to be holding down were the ones over at Digger's place, in Syracuse.
Welcomed by the glow of the huge inflatable mug o'cheer, they waddled in bearing cookies and goodies and jumped right into the fray.
"What, no Manhattan clam chowder this year??" cried Mrs. Hall. Digger himself usually prepares this delicacy, but opted instead this year for a chicken melange with elbow noodles swimming about. Mrs. Hall brought a bowl to the bar and, slopping some down, managed to pitch it around a goodish bit. "Didn't yer mother ever tell you to keep yer elbows off the table?" scolded Mr. Hall.
They were late in arriving; though while she had checked her purse for ready cash, Mrs. Hall was informed the squares were already filled and no further betting would be placed. Mr. Hall assured her he had spoken to Digger earlier that week and not to fret, they were well-represented on the boards. The ads this year were less than stellar, and when a so-so halftime show can be upstaged by an out-of-towner making an obscene gesture, well, you know the game has seen better days. Still, the second half was a nailbiter and a good deal of cheering and cajoling was going on on the sidelines at Digger's.
Mr. Hall looked up at the boards and fretted. "We are really in a pickle now," he explained. "If the score stands as it does til the end of the game, we stand to make a couple hundred sweet ones. But that means that the Pats would have to have won, and I couldn't take any scratch willingly with that sort of win on my conscience."
Mrs. Hall doubted her conscience would even notice, but while she pondered the philosophical implications, fate stepped in and handed down a verdict; the beloved Giants won handily and the prospect of any moral dilemmas (or net gains) evaporated along with the post game confetti.
"Another game on the books. Time to head home," yawned Mr. Hall. But Digger was playing with his most recent acquisition, a beautiful pinball bar version of bowling, and was demonstrating his technique. They waved to the stalwarts left in the bar and headed into the night.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

What a difference a year makes

Last year at this time scores of Chicagoans were still digging out from The Snowmaggedon That Swallowed Lake Shore Drive.  Unbelievable scenes like this dotted the newscasts:

So far this year, Syracuse is reporting 31.8 inches of snow; last year on this date we had 116.8.*  Winter wasn't even half over and the residents of most of the country were ready to call it a day and move to Tampa.
As a reminder of those times, the Penguin Hall Monitor would like to rerun one of its more popular posts pertaining to the day and that miserable winter:

Breaking News From Punxsutawney, PA

"You want a prediction about the weather, you're asking the wrong Phil. I'll give you a winter prediction: It's gonna be cold, it's gonna be grey, and it's gonna last you for the rest of your life."
Bill Murray as Phil the weatherman in Groundhog Day (1993)

There was a drumroll. Digging down about 3- 4 feet into an icy snow bank, the mayor, assisted by his cabinet, reached in and pulled out the lifeless frozen remains of a groundhog. Momentarily stunned, the mayor regained his composure and announced, completely nonplussed, that after a brief "conversation" with Phil, he was fairly certain he could say that it was unlikely Phil saw his shadow, so there would be an early spring. It was the happiest meteorological news the snow soaked East Coast citizens had heard in weeks and they rejoiced accordingly. Phil, in response, was uncharacteristically silent. However, the following week he was spotted by the local populace over at Abner's Taxidermy Shop, looking fresher and brighter than ever. When interviewed, Mr. Abner's remarks were contained solely on the toughness of the jerky this year.

*Statistics courtesy of

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

About face

January has long been looked at as a time of renewal.  Since the days of Romulus the month itself has been named for the god Janus;
(from Wikipedia, that glorious melting pot of  fact and/or opinion...)
"As a god of motion he looks after passages, causes the startings of actions, presides on all beginnings and since movement and change are bivalent, he has a double nature, symbolised in his two headed image.  He has under his tutelage the stepping in and out of the door of homes."

Such was the case at Penguin Hall as well.  Boxes came and went, small piles emerged bearing the device "Save for Rummage Sale at the Lodge" and at the Hall the general perception was one of transition.  Mrs. Hall stood surveying the damage in her robot pajama pants, brooding as she sipped her favorite Nicaraguan coffee.  She longed to be done with it all, but temptation dogged her every step.

Disrupting and dislodging books from their cozy digs on the shelves was always a dangerous proposition, for it meant revealing lost treasures to daylight and Mrs. Hall's easily distracted mind.  For every shelf packed up, there were two piled next to Mrs. Hall's easy chair, with the well-intentioned promise to peruse them, just once more quickly, before consigning them to a box.  She picked up a large paperback, and even before that little voice in the back of her head could say, "No!  No, don't do it- put it down quick!" she had opened the first page and was lost.  A fog of reverie filled the family room and as she slid into her chair, time was sliding back to the 70s, when she worked for that great Chicago booksellers chain, Kroch's and Brentano's.  It was a time when the old green and white "L" trains rattled along the tracks over Wabash Avenue.  Mrs. Hall would watch a parade of literary luminaries pass through the doors of the flagship store at 29 S. Wabash and then make the rounds about town, including a pitstop on "The Cromie Circle"* and then (if they had time...) maybe, make a stop and sign books at Marshall Field's bookstore, on the third floor.
Within the family of employees of Kroch's, and there was a time when Mr. Kroch actually regarded them as family, there circulated a company newsletter, and as Mrs. Hall recalled, one of them described the trials of assembling so many of the authors together for such an autograph party.  She recalled how disgusted she was that she had to work that day and had to settle for a copy merely signed by seven of the twenty six contributors of "Done in a Day."
 Those were the days, she thought.  The days before discount leviathans bloodied the Magnificent Mile with the ruins of countless small personal bookstores, such as Stuart Brent and Kroch's.  K&B's held on bravely for a while; ads featuring Studs Terkel recommending the virtues of personal service over savings popped up in the press, ("Look honey, let's shop for books where Studs does!") but it was widely regarded as a death rattle, and the inevitable soon came to pass.  

Mrs. Hall sighed and closed the book with a smile.  Looking up, she realized the sky was darkening and several hours had passed.  It's a good thing we started this early, she admitted reluctantly.  As she picked up her cup and resigned herself to making plans for dinner, another cover caught her eye.  "Ooh, maybe I'll find something good to eat in here!"

*For a brief time, when Mrs. Hall worked at the store in the old Randhurst Shopping Mall in Mt. Prospect, she was friends with Rick Cromie, who happened to be the manager there.  His father was Bob Cromie, of "The Cromie Circle", and a wonderful eulogy to Bob and his devotion to the Chicago literary scene can be found here.

Tell your friends!