Scams on Craigslist

September 14th, 2009

I posted some items on Craigslist for my dad. The site informed me, in no uncertain terms, not to accept Cashier’s Checks or money orders as they can be faked. I didn’t realize this. Sure enough, the same day I posted, I received two emails from people saying a) they were too busy to pick the item up themselves, b) they would have their “shipper” do the pickup, and c) would send a cashier’s check. In one case, the fellow said he would send more than the purchase price; we could then refund him the leftover. Was he from Nigeria?

One item, a trailer, did sell, and my dad was very happy to give it to a buyer who seemed like a perfect match.

So It Goes, part 9

September 14th, 2009

I reckon I got to light out for the territory. Huckleberry Finn came to me in a dream one night and told me so. I awoke, in the gray light of pre-dawn, and packed a few clothes, and my toothbrush, and of course, a pen and notebook. “I reckon I got to light out for the territory,” kept playing over and over in my head like the chorus of a song that came unbidden and would not leave. I tied these possessions up in a big red towel and put them in my shoulder bag, and tiptoed outside so as not to wake my parents and brother and sister.

I was used, now, to the rustle in the leaves when I emerged. This time I was ready. I ran along the hedges, following the rustling of the black shapes, all the way to the industrial park. I felt like Huck Finn, leaving home in the dark and walking down to the Mighty Mississippi. I never belonged here, I thought. I was never meant to live in this world. Well, good riddance. Then I walked to the small patch of weeds, sunflowers, a cottonwood sapling, and other remnants of prairie. I waited for the orange gumball sun to emerge from behind a mountain range of clouds. When the hand emerged with the crystal and then disappeared, I went down into the Rootweavers’ lair.

“Ah, Tall One,” said Farkus directly into my mind, using the name they had given me. “What have you brought us?” I reached into my bag and produced a pack of Bazooka Joe bubble gum, an apple, and some date bar squares my mother made.

“What need do we have of this?” said Farkus, taking the apple and tossing it aside. “We have nothing but root apples and root pears and root walnuts down here.”

“But it is the largest apple I have ever seen,” said his friend Dingus, emerging from the darkness. “It is a sun apple. Did you steal it from the sun?”

“I got it from the A & P,” I said in my thoughts.

“These are excellent,” said Farkus, munching the date bar. He took only a few bites and handed the rest to Dingus, who handed the rest to a crowd of Rootweavers. “Once, when I traveled to the land under the Tigris and Euphrates, I had such a delicacy. Where did you steal them?”

“I didn’t steal them, my mother made them.”

There was a murmur of appreciation among the tiny figures. “Mother,” they said reverently. “You are fortunate to have such a mother,” said Dingus.

“You only say that because you don’t have to live with her. She never cleans. She is always hovering around, talking to me. She won’t leave me alone.”

“But does she not care for you?” said Dingus.

“I can’t stand her,” I said. “She wants me to work in an insurance company. She doesn’t understand me. I’m through with her. I’m through with the whole world up there. I’ve come to stay with you.”

“But you cannot stay here,” said Dingus.

“Oh yes I can,” I said. “You have no idea how bad that world is. You have to go to school for almost twenty years. Then the moment you get out you have to work. Then you work until you’re too old to enjoy yourself, and then you die. What’s the point? I’m through with it. Can’t I stay here?”

Farkus just chuckled, a deep rich growling that filled my head like the purring of a cat.

“Let me show you around. Then you decide.”

He took me on a tour of the Rootweavers’ world. Under the earth were not only all the roots of the trees and the grass, woven together in an elaborate network, but all the roads that the people of my world had discarded and paved over with tar and concrete so cars, buses and trucks could dominate the landscape. There was the plank road that once led out from the city of Chicago into the country. There was the bottom of the brick roads with which the streets used to be paved. And all the streetcar tracks, turned upside down so the rails pointed toward us, were there. The Rootweavers had built little carts and attached them to the tracks and found a way to use them again, stealing electrical power from “upstairs” as they called the place where I lived—or used to live.

[click on image to view entire column. Thanks to Marshelle for showing me how to fix these up in Photoshop.]

So It Goes, Part 8

September 13th, 2009

The happiest years of my life were the ones before I was born. Before I was tossed into this world full of cares, I was in touch with the places and customs of a different age. Don’t ask me how I know this; I am only convinced that it must be true.

In those days I saw my father sitting by his grandfather’s Philco radio, chubby-faced, red-cheeked and tanned, wearing a little cap, in his shorts and stockings, having completed the feeding of the chickens and his chores on the farm in Wisconsin. He grinned as he heard the song about Ralston Puffed Rice, “the cereal shot by guns,” and then the announcer saying “It’s time for Jack Armstrong, the A-l-l-l American Boy,” and after that the adventure show Terry and the Pirates. That scene faded, and I seemed to be floating through the air and then peering through the window of an apartment on Wrightwood Avenue in Chicago. My mother, slim, her jet black hair piled atop her head, was putting on her socks and then her saddle shoes, and calling to her sister in another room. She half-listened to My friend Irma, and then The Adventures of Maisie, a show about a city girl who was always getting into trouble simply because she was irresistible to men. She was preparing to go to the Chicago theater for a show and then to Kranz’s ice cream shop and candy store. Those were such happy times for all of us. Things are much easier when you do not get to know someone, and then grow fond of them, or foolishly begin to love them. When that happens you are doomed to a world of pain. In those days I knew no one, and knew nothing but happiness.

When I was growing up, yoked to this body, I developed a hunger to be in touch with the old days. Not just to know what happened on a certain date, as a historian might, in an academic sense, but to be physically connected to buildings and places that were of a different age. In a neighborhood that has been in existence not much longer than you yourself, the term “old days” doesn’t mean much. In the city of Des Plaines there were just a few homes that looked like they might date from the days when my parents were growing up. Des Plaines was never much for history. The grist mill that dated from the 1850s and that was of the reasons the town was originally incorporated was demolished long before I was born. The shack occupied by Socrates Rand, one of the first settlers, was bulldozed with nary an effort to preserve it.

Once, during my days at the Suburban Times, there was a fire that destroyed a great frame house owned by a doctor. It was right in front of Rand’s shack, next to the river. It had a turret with a roof made of copper. The roof was usually green. But as the fire reached it the green melted away and the shiny copper blazed forth, then crumpled and melted. Today an ugly apartment building sits on the site, within steps of the train tracks, so commuters are required to exercise as little as possible before boarding their trains for work.

It was not actual history that fascinated me but the feeling of history. In the city, you could find buildings that were built in a year that began with 18, not 19. This seemed amazing to me. In the “old days”, people were not isolated from one another. Extended families lived together. Neighbors played bridge. Women got together for kaffeeklatches while their husbands were at work. Women spoke over fences while hanging out laundry at clotheslines that seemed to crisscross every backyard.

You sensed a trace of another time when we went to visit our grandmother in the town of Evanston. She had known things that I could only read about. I did not know what muslin was, or chrinoline, or chiffon, or brocade. She did. She had a cool pantry that smelled of heaven. She told us to sit on the davenport. She had grown up on a farm in Northern Wisconsin, and waded through snow that came nearly to her waist. She had sold vegetables she grew herself, moving from town to town with a little cart, only to have her father take all the money she made.

Old people were the key to the days when people were connected to one another. There was an old woman who lived a few doors from our house. She had three ne’er-do-well sons. One was named Sonny. She lived all by herself. Once I came to her home and she showed me a jewel with a piece of the true cross encased in amber. Such things opened my imagination. You sensed an expanse of time. You sensed the slow passage of events that went far beyond the present events and the news of the day. Here, everyone seemed obsessed with the news of the day, reading papers on the train and on benches waiting for the bus, sitting and watching the evening news with Walter Cronkite every night. Young people spoke to the television. Old people spoke to you after they slapped down their 35 cents for a newspaper. They wanted to know what you thought of President Carter, and Iran. They spoke to one another knowingly, their conversations coming out of a different time, an old tradition. Then they shuffled home, alone, to read the paper, to sit by the window, to watch the children play.

I wanted to tell them about the creatures I had seen beneath the earth: beings who were never alone, but who seemed to work and move as one, who could read each other’s minds, who always kept one another company and did not even need to speak. I wanted to tell them that all parts of the earth were connected by the roots of the trees, that a tree cut down in Iran affected the network of trees here in the shadow of Chicago’s airport. But I had no words for this. Not then at least.

Many of the columns I wrote were fantasies. This is one. However, there is a grain of truth. I really did get stranded once, while making a drugstore delivery. I drove the owner’s car to the little neighborhood behind the Jewel on Lee Street, north of Oakton. The car got completely stuck. I made the delivery and borrowed the lady’s phone to call the owner. If I remember correctly, the car was stuck there for a couple of days.

Winters in the late ’70s seem to have been way more severe than they are these today. Last year’s winter was no bargain. But the winters of ’78 and ’79 were unbelievable. At least that’s my recollection. Maybe I am turning into one of those old farts who remember the “old days” as being really different or tougher in some ways. But where the climate is concerned I think it’s true. And just a little scary.

CafePress: E-Commerce Controversy

September 12th, 2009

Just wrote a column for AuctionBytes about sites that let photographers, artists, and other creative types sell their work online. Who knew this would turn up controversy? CafePress lets you print your art on mugs, tote bags, and other consumer goods that people can buy, either through the CafePress marketplace or through individual seller storefronts. The problem is that recently CafePress changed its pricing and commission structure so that sellers now only make a flat 10 percent commission on their work. And prices in the marketplace are lower than in the stores. So, naturally, buyers turn to the marketplace to make purchases. Sales in the seller stores have plummeted. Many artists are packing up shop and moving to Zazzle, a similar site that does not charge fees for seller stores and that lets sellers determine their own pricing and commission structure. Hopefully, after they get really popular, Zazzle won’t change their policies as well. But you never know…

New connections = new knowledge

September 12th, 2009

I am very proud of myself: I fixed a very technical problem with this blog last night. How I fixed it was interesting too. I have had this blog for about 8 years. For many of those years, I only posted sporadically. Lately, because I am writing a book I am passionate about, I have posted regularly. In the hope of making more links to this blog, I reached out to an event called Festival of the Trees, which gathers blogs that write about the importance of trees. Only because I did this did I discover a big problem with the blog: my permalinks didn’t work. These are links that let others (like Google, like Festival of the Trees) link to individual blog posts, so they are very important in terms of getting your blog indexed and seen by the outside world. And mine were broken for perhaps 8 years. (Click on the time stamp at this bottom of the post: that’s a permalink. The blog opens in its own Web page.)

The problem? I publish on my own Web site. My files go on the server space provided by my ISP. They go there as blank documents with no file extension such as .html to tell a Web browser they are Web pages. So most browsers (not Internet Explorer, oddly) thought they were text files and displayed the CSS page for the blog post.

Are you still with me? To fix this, I had to put an .htaccess file on the site. This is a powerful file that manipulates the server (a server I don’t own). So it’s a little risky to do this. I put the following relatively benign instructions in there:

DefaultLanguage en-US
DefaultType text/html
AddDefaultCharset UTF-8

This tells a browser that, unless the file contains instructions to the contrary, assume that it is an HTML document, in U.S. English, and UTF-8 encoding.

My ISP wouldn’t help me with this. Blogger’s tech support is nonexistent. Only one person on the support boards at Blogger tried to help, and he couldn’t figure it out. I am sure WordPress provides better support, but I don’t want to switch at this point if I don’t have to.

So I fixed a problem I didn’t know I had by tending to my blog and reaching out. And the solution was something I wrote about in a book called Apache Server Little Black Book, published nearly ten years ago. I just didn’t have a practical application for it until now. It pays to make connections.

Here is one of my first columns from early ’78. It also explores the differences between the city and suburbs that I saw as a commuter student.

City Life, a column from 1978

September 11th, 2009

It’s nice to get instant response from readers. It’s also nice to hear my sister say she can’t tell if what I posted was from 1978 or 2009. Is that good?

At any rate, click on the image to view a column from the old days, related to what I just posted.

Tangerine Moon.html

September 11th, 2009

Amazing moon last night the color of a slice of tangerine, not quite orange. Ended up straight overhead as the sun rose.