A Century of the Vic

The Vic Theater

The Vic Theatre — home to vaudeville, porn and now rock ’n’ roll — turns 100

Oh, man, do I love the Vic.

Some of my best musical memories have been made here. From watching thrash bands like Testament and Bad Brains during high school to spending several surreal minutes hanging with Les Claypool after a Primus show, to later years seeing Wilco multiple times during their home stands.

And more to come as we’ll be there again in March to see TMBG.

Just so many memories, and I had no idea it had such an interesting history.


Marriage, like anything worth having in life, takes work and luck and patience and forgiveness and more luck and, if you believe in that sort of thing, more than a little grace.

It’s a life’s work and it’s never perfect, except for the times when it is, hopefully more often than not. Marriage is like parenting is like life: magnificent/difficult/wonderful/horrible/sanctifying. Our very presence in each other’s lives helps us strive to be the best versions of ourselves.

I believe it should be available to everyone, but that’s probably a different post.

I am so thankful for the circumstances that put her and I on the same path.

Here’s to the next ten years, and the decades after that.

Observations from a Series of Snowbound Days

  • We go through a lot of maple syrup
  • All else being equal, my children’s default state is “fighting”
  • Every morning, the fucking city plows another foot of snow onto the apron of my driveway and crushes my will to live
  • Podcasts are more enjoyable while commuting
  • We are filthy people
  • There is, in fact, a limit to how much coffee I can drink
  • Time, it turns out, is not the issue; it’s attention
  • Everything that happens in The Shining makes much more sense to me now

The lesson.

It doesn’t matter how old you are. It doesn’t matter what other people tell you.

If you can find some courage (in yourself) and some faith (in anything) and some perspective (it’s not that big a deal) and some kindness (always be the nicest person in the room) you can make things happen that will amaze people.

This is what I’ve learned from my mother. Not just in the past month, but my whole life. There’s a reason my people pay attention to “Auntie Kay.”

Two Years

Two years ago today, this happened. And I don’t mean my son’s tooth coming in; of course, I mean that I first tweeted.

What a weird two years.

As I’ve become increasingly engaged with some kind of Twitter community, I’ve encountered: love, anger, births, deaths, proposals, breakups, people gone missing, people found. Warmth, filth, and everything in between. Competitiveness and apathy.

Most of all, I’ve found laughter.

Wait, what? Those things aren’t weird at all. They’re what life is made of, online or off. Turns out we aren’t really living all that differently because of Twitter, we’re just doing it cracked open for everyone to see.

All the better to let through a little of that interior light we keep so hidden.

Do bookstores matter?

For years—perhaps decades—my dad would walk to the flagship Kroch’s and Brentano’s store on South Wabash on Chicago, spending his lunch hour among the famously knowledgeable booksellers and the then-amazing array of inventory. I only remember being in that downtown store once or twice, but the mall Kroch’s and Brentano’s in the town where I grew up was a key setting in my childhood love of reading.

We went to the mall almost every night. If I wasn’t scanning the skies for Soviet bombers or taping Top 40 songs off the boombox, I was likely one of three places: the Sears arcade, the mall food court, or the little mall bookstores.

My parents would buy McDonald’s coffee and smoke in the food court, while I would itch for the trip to Kroch’s and Brentano’s or B. Dalton to check for a new Choose Your Own Adventure, Be An Interplanetary Spy, Star Wars, or Dragonlance books.

It was part of every trip to the mall, usually Dalton’s first; then Kroch’s. In Kroch’s, I would stand in the role-playing game aisle while my dad went on his appointed rounds through the store. That is where I fell in love with Star Trek and the Dungeon Master Guide. It’s where I first tried to pronounce the name Cthulthu, and where I discovered the existence of dice with more than six sides.

When I was old enough to start braving the mall on my own, it was always Kroch’s and Brentano’s where I would meet up with my parents after my private adventures at Kaleidoscope or Babbage’s or Musicland.

Today I still have occasion to go to that same mall every once in awhile. Those stores are gone, but a large Barnes and Noble—ten times larger and a thousand times “nicer” than either of those relics—is an anchor store at one end of the mall. I go there with my own wife and children, and we too always seem to end up meeting at the bookstore; however, I almost never buy anything other than a cup of incorrectly prepared coffee.

From a retail standpoint, the old mall bookstores were not Super Destinations for a book lover in the way that Barnes & Noble or Border’s have tried to be. But they were destinations just the same.

Turns out it is the books, not the store that create the destination. And as the chains have relied more and more on straight-up recommendations from Ingram reps or whoever waters down the New & Notable table to the lowest common denominator, they have lost sight of that which always made their stores most interesting: the discovery of new and intriguing works.

Today my book purchases almost always happen over the Internet or via my Kindle’s WhisperSync. My own experience of that joy of discovery has been left to scans of blog posts, friends’ recommendations, Twitter crowdsourcing or a monthly ritual with Locus magazine.

With this news that Borders is closing 200 Waldenbooks in malls nationwide, I remember again the little mall chains that paved the way for today’s failing superstores, preceding them both in lease and in failure.

I’m not smart enough to know what will save publishing, or the book trade, but I am wise enough to mourn the passing of bookstores that are actually about books and reading rather than a merchandising consultant’s platonic ideal of same.

Wandering a bookstore has been a Morrow-male tradition, a pastime well suited for the bookish, friendly, and affably antisocial men we seem to produce. We are comfortable with ideas, with solitude. Today, though, you’re more likely to find us wandering the intertubes than a bookstore.

Sometimes that makes me sad.

What are your bookstore memories?

Elsewhere: The death of mall bookstores and the death of publishing

Actually social media

Beloit Memories on Facebook.jpg

I attended a little liberal arts college in Wisconsin, where we well-off kids were dipped into a fantasy island of hippie liberalism in the middle of a devastated post-industrial blue-collar town. We had to stick together or intoxicate ourselves out of our minds to keep the consensual reality held together, and generally it worked pretty well.

I’ll assume there are plenty of inside jokes and camaraderie at your alma mater. But I had no idea what a funny little cult that Beloit College comprised until a few weeks ago, when someone created a wonderful variation on one of those horrible “give a rotting carcass to your friends” Facebook applications.

This thing exploded and just about every single status update I’ve seen on my wall for two weeks has consisted of my college friends sending random Beloit memories to each other. I’m sure it is driving non-Beloiters insane, but I can’t stop smiling for all the obscure memories evoked.

The best part to me is that it’s so different from all the plants and sweets and beers and other useless bullshit that people send me on FB, because it really is a memory that you give and receive.
Someone says to you, “yes it’s a cliche that we made a late-night run down the hill to Super Gas to buy smokes” [for under $2 a pack, I might add] “but I remember that time we went and that we used to call it Stop-and-Die.”

Or that “I remember going to dinner at Imperial Palace with you, because it was one of like three restaurants in town so we had no choice, but jesus we had some good times, hunh.”

This application tapped straight into the vein of what can make Facebook great. All of a sudden a bunch of reunited former friends and acquaintances get to gush and reminisce about all the stuff you never would have noticed without decades of perspective.

It reminded me of some really great times in my life, things and details that would have been buried with me, and allowed me to share them with the same people I first experienced them with.

Now that’s social media.