Odds

Let me tell you about a game called Odds, and the way it rules my family’s life. 

At base, Odds is a simple betting game that we made into a familial battle about who can think of the most ridiculous propositions. It is not about restraint or filtering your ideas by how they may be received. You must create an environment where any thought can at least be entertained. That’s probably why I love it so much – it is the blankest slate to receive and be received. No matter the situation, you must bring your whole self, and nothing but the self. 

The game does not require you to actually sit down and play it. It doesn’t begin or end; it’s a state of being everyone has agreed to. When you and any members of this club are together, you simply let loose with any situation you wish to speak into reality, influenced by your surroundings or not. It is, I suppose, a version of Truth or Dare, but more explicitly a part of the gambling world. The general outline:

  1. Think of an experiential bet – something someone else will potentially do for you to witness. For example, let your siblings buy you a complete outfit and wear it for a full work day. 
  2. Propose your bet to your target, along with the odds – introducing the element of chance. “Odds you’ll [action]?” Continuing the example: “Odds you’ll let your siblings buy you an outfit and wear it for a full work day?”
  3. The target fills in the odds: 1 in X. The more adventurous and/or generous they’re feeling, the better odds they’ll give. This is one of the more revealing parts of the game (beyond the bet itself). It’s clearly much more fun if they give you a higher chance of actually having to carry out the bet. Caution is not a virtue here.
  4. Begin the countdown: 3, 2, 1 and you both say a number in the stated range. If you both say the same number, the target must do the action you dreamed up. If not, keep on odds-ing. 

There is such an exhilaration to saying the number number as the other person. I for one can’t keep from screaming and wantonly gesticulating. It’s as if a wondrous door has opened in the universe and you get to go through it. You’ve altered fate somehow, no matter how small a way. You found that world oyster, and the pearl awaits.

Odds dictates how being with my immediate family unfolds. Especially with my siblings, any moment could explode into a series of Odds. Even the most mundane of car rides can turn lethal. Recently, three blocks from my parents’ home, we caught sight of a house under construction. My brother said to me, “Odds you’ll go in the biff [porta-potty] for five seconds?” It was on. I gave him odds I can’t remember, but we said the same number. My dad had to stop the car so I could carry out the bet. As my family watched and documented, I had to run across the street, up the driveway, past the dumpster, and open that nasty, nasty door. Plunged into a hot, cramped darkness, I held my breath and counted. After an eternity, I kicked that door back open and launched myself down the driveway and into the car. My brother and dad had been yelling out of the car at me the entire time.

Not seeing the possibilities of the format yet? Forthwith, some Odds my family has engaged in:

-In an Embassy Suites in Lincoln, Nebraska, we came upon a bevy of beverage bottles. It was the morning after a big football game, and the entire hotel had imbibed heavily in celebration. My brother, perhaps the most watchful for Odds ideas, saw a nearly full wine bottle (Barefoot Moscato, naturally), and Odds’d me that I would take a drink from it. I am normally an enthusiastic good Odds giver, but…the cornfed Midwestern germs on that thing! My brother won out in the Odds declaration, and I had to do it. I hefted that giant bottle, swallowed my pride, and swallowed the wine. Then I ran. Both in case any housekeeping staff saw me debase myself and to go gargle with Purell. 

-During a family trip to northern Minnesota, I became particularly inspired to do an Odds around the Ben Franklin, an eclectic, hyper-local general store-type establishment that once sold slivers of wood with renderings of holographic Jesus on them. In my most epic Odds idea, I asked my brother whether my sister and I could pick him out an outfit from this store, and that he would wear it for an entire day at work. This was enhanced by my dad offering to make sure the boss enforced the full day policy. (They text about cars, you see.) My brother gave his insane Odds: 1 in 3. I prayed to holographic Jesus and we said our numbers. When we uttered the same one, my soul leapt out of my body and I ceased to exist for a moment. I probably yelled, though we were in a restaurant. We headed straight to the Ben Franklin for outfit picking time. The good old BF is like a north woods Walmart – items for everyday life but also camouflage for any and all occasions. My sister and I had some tough choices to make. After combing through every option on those clothing racks (and making my brother try on some camo coveralls with no shirt), we settled on a black t-shirt with three deer on it that said “Survival of the Fittest” and a camo hat with a zippable front flap. (We were nice and let him wear his own shorts). The next week, we woke up to texts with photos of this outfit in action at the air traffic control tower. Perfection. He did have to wear the hat with the face flap unzipped due to work necessities, but it was still a masterpiece I brought into the world. Not to mention revenge fuel for my brother…

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The outfit in action around 5am

-Some Odds involve dredging up old memories the betting club shares. When my siblings and I were all home for some holiday, my sister got the idea to Odds my brother if he would go to the concessions stand at a hockey rink she used to work at (it’s Minnesota, okay), buy a hot dog (we call them rollie weenies), and eat it. My sister had described these rollie weenies made by apathetic teens in great, disgusting details many times before, so this was not an especially appetizing prospect, even for your average hot dog appreciator. Once again, my brother lost at Odds, and we got in the car to collect my sister’s reward. Sadly, I had to stay in the car while he purchased the rollie weenie, so I did not witness whatever happened inside the hockey rink, but the bet dictated he couldn’t actually eat the thing until we got back home. We bore the special weenie back to the house like a tubular king, blessed as it was. Then my brother broke out the ketchup and went to town. He survived, having eaten a piece of history for his siblings’ giggling enjoyment.

-Too many episodes to recount involving flights of disgusting shots.

As you can see, my brother and I are the hardest core Odds players in this family. Everyone else plays it safe and is much less fun. 

Odds brings with it ascendance or humiliation, and a foundation of communal weirdness – you are continually spurred on, whether you are basking in your good luck and seeming power or serving the whims of your fellow bettors. You have all entered this pact and you are all witnesses to a ridiculous reality you’ve created.

I’m sure sociologists have found humans have been doing some form of Odds since the dawn of our time on earth. Society in general is a collective gambling agreement, weighted more towards some than others. But Odds has shown me so much about my human bonds. We push and pull, and a Newtonian relationship ensues. You give and you get, and no matter how crazy things become, you really never know what will happen next. I now realize what those nice British ladies meant when they sang about spicing up your life.

In my family, in our endless Odds, we gamble on each other, pull the slots on our own bravery/stupidity. We elicit the crazy in each other, all within a world we made and continue making. We are communicating desires and testing each other – with a touch of Schadenfreude, perhaps, but it’s more about enabling creativity and giving carte blanche to each other’s weirdness. When else can we be so ourselves? 

Odds is exhilarating, embarrassing, revealing, bonding, all the -ings you’d want with the people you think you know the best. Everyone is large, and everyone contains multitudes. Odds is a rare window into that. I hope you can take these instructions and these stories and go forth and place fun bets with your friends and family. May the Odds be with you.

 

Seventy-Two

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Earl and Ruth Brindley on their wedding day – July 20, 1947

They were 23 and nearly 23. Young but already lifetimes into life. 

Two years before, he had come back from 25 B-17 combat missions over WWII Europe, and was training to go to the Pacific theater. Death was behind him, but silently crouched ahead. Thankfully, the war ended, and he came home. 

She walked in a commanding fashion. She didn’t have to say anything, but she did when she wanted to. That was the contained power she wielded all her life, in a place that stretched far and wide but was still nowhere. 

At some point, their paths crossed. She walked in her arresting way, across a street he was driving on. The vectors, though exact and easily missed, were joined. Though he was at the steering wheel, she was in complete control. Their horizons merged but expanded. 

Words and rings exchanged in a backyard, among the trees. Both in suits, hers skirted. Fully suited to each other, but each with their own constellations. Later that night, those stars appeared in the sky. They would see them on their honeymoon, driving out west among the natural stone monuments. 

In the decades to come, she would guide both of them. He could build things and fix them, and so could she. 

July 20, 1947

 

Spectating Wimbledon Spectator Fashion

Berries and cream
Berries and cream
I’m a little lad
Who loves berries and cream
       -Little lad from Starburst commercial, 2007*

I deeply identify with this song and dance by the wee page boy’d page boy extolling the virtues of berries and cream. To me, it applies to Wimbledon and the famous strawberries and cream of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. When this tiny chap claps his hands at the prospect of a sweet treat via berries and cream, I clap my hands at seeing outfits and style at this annual tennis tournament. I’m convinced the royals and celebrities carefully calibrate their appearances, allegiances, and sartorial statements – Jude Law would never go on a day someone more famous will get more camera time, and Meghan supports Serena while other randos vie for the secondary coverage. Some berries and cream is better than no berries and cream. Forthwith, some fashion! (Player clothes choices are a different conversation altogether.)

The Duchesses

Clearly these women will generate the most buzz when appearing at Wimbledon – together and separately. Into the hive!

Joint Duchessing

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One glorious (Earl of) sandwich (and everyone wins at sunglasses!)

Kate: Buttons! Bows! This dress has it all! The buttons say “I’m here for the business of tennis;” the bow says “I’ll also make small talk about your boat.” I don’t understand the forest green but I do understand Kate’s fashion choices tend toward militaristic influences. Carry on. 

Meghan: Our Ralph Lauren princess is back at it. I don’t know if this is actually Ralph Lauren and I shan’t be googling it but it has that classic silhouette. The simple, crisp white shirt shows off the glorious pleated skirt to wondrous effect. Duchess Markle shows us once again she is Queen of Subtle Sophistication. 

Pippa: I’m a sucker for toile but this looks like she got a last-minute invite to appear with the Duchesses while staying at her cottage in the English countryside so she had some mice and birds make a frock real quick out of her country chic curtains. I would like to stage a picnic on that pattern. 

Distinct Duchessing

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Meghan: Has anyone so successfully pulled off a fedora since Paul Newman in The Sting? Doubtful. What other powers does she possess if she can effortlessly slay a fedora look on a random Tuesday? Apparently the jeans are a no-no at Wimbledon, but if I were a duchess, I’d wear jeans any chance I got. I make the rules, you plebes! The light-checked blazer is a tennis homage, to my untrained eye, and I appreciate the casual cool.

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Kate: Bows and buttons continue, but I love this. It’s Kate’s tennis whites with a little black to set it off. She looks like she’s going to underground to crack some codes for WWII Britain whilst tricking the Axis into thinking she’s just visiting her soldier. Some serious spy chic. 

Kate and William: Once again we see the royals sunglassing hard. See this Everyone Looks Hotter in Sunglasses (ELHis) rule. They coordinated! Kate in a powder blue Fraulein Maria-esque frock – the sleeves, what is the folding there? Royal curtains again. But overall, a lovely summer look. I also like the flowery clutch, like she’s stashing seeds for her secret garden in there. William powdered his blue, too, taking cues from his Queen, as he should. 

Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch

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It absolutely delights me that a man who gets paid to lurk in movies and Benediction Corksnatch sat near each other at Wimbledon. What did they talk about? The intricacies of the Marvel universe? Their respective British private schooling? How much Pimms to consume before retiring to the yacht? Oh yes, sorry, their fashions – Mr. Hiddleston appears to have come straight from the investment bank he moonlights at, complete with navy suit. Really throwing caution to the wind there with the polka dot tie. I don’t understand the hair and I won’t respond to it. Mr. Cucumberbench is captivated by something on the court, and was clearly tipped off somehow to Kate’s outfit, because he brought out the powder blue. No competing with the Duchess, however – the is just boring. I’ll expect a better showing next outing, Mr. Corkybang.

Adwoa Aboah

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An expert deployment of the Editor Drape, in lemon, no less. A delicious confection.

Jude and Phillipa Law

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Of COURSE Jude Law’s wife (a psychiatrist) has the most British name ever. I would like to note Mr. Law’s choice of a double-breasted suit. I’ll give him the navy, which as Mr. Hiddleston shows us, mostly belongs to the banking crowd, but the white tie on white shirt and artfully folded pocket square elevate it to…tennis-level pleasantness. Phillipa is what I will aim for the rest of the summer but never achieve.

Bear Grylls and David Beckham

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Who sold all the famous British men the same navy polka dot tie? How is this a problem when you can have pretty much anything you could want at your beck and call? Or is that the only problem when you reach these levels of wealth and fame? Anyway, the beige and navy combo on Mr. Beckham is not my favorite. He’s catering drinks on Bordersnooze Cranberry’s yacht. Mr. Grylls is just boring. Again, what could they be talking about? How to survive in the wilderness of fading into middle-life fame?

Janelle Monáe

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Ms. Monáe is both train conductor and the fashion referee for the rest of you amateurs.

Claire Foy

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I don’t have any comment on this straightforward couch-inspired ensemble but I do love this expression. I like when celebrities go to Wimbledon and actually watch tennis.

Hugh and Anna Grant

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Was there a run on navy suits and ties in the UK this summer? Is there really no other option? Step it up, male celebrities. Hugh is laughing at my need for more interesting satorial choices from men. 

Woody Harrelson

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Corduroy in summer, so brave! If there were any fires I’ll direct the detectives to Mr. Harrelson, who surely started some just by walking around. I have no idea what the fabric up top is but it also looks non-flame retardant. How does someone who lives in Hawaii dress like this in summer?

Pixie Lott and Oliver Cheshire

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I don’t know who these people are but I appreciate their names and Oliver’s pink sherbet suit.

Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall

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Camilla, you saucy minx! Whose wedding do you think this is? Sorry, she’s Queen of Cream at the Strawberries and Cream event of the year.

Twiggy

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AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!! THANK YOU, TWIGGY! This is exactly what I needed. Leave it to an iconic supermodel to bring the fashunz. Very into the two-tone pink ensemble – it’s already on my list of the best looks of summer 2019.

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Ms. Thompson is bringing us Beatlejuice and I want all of it. She gumshoed her way into my heart. Can’t wait to see what she wears next.

Matthew Goode

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I know I’ve been railing against navy suits but Mr. Goode here gets a pass for showing us that fashion is not just about clothes but also attitude. That smirk says it all. The sunglasses don’t hurt, either.

Maisie Williams

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MAISIE! Gurl coordinated head to toe with the strawberries and cream and for that, I salute her.

James Middleton

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Well played, sir. A fashion ace. Please continue with your King George V/Tsar Nicholas drag.

Ruth Wilson

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Welcome to the circus, in a good way.

Mary Berry

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Ms. Berry is a bounty of festive flowers, and I love her for it.

Keeley Hawes

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Yes, ma’am! The Bodyguard star goes for…the triples court…combining a cream blazer, patterned dress, AND sneakers. A tricky combination to pull off, but she aces it. All the strawberries and cream for you, Keeley.

Ellie Goulding and Caspar Jopling

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Caspar. Jopling.

Kendall Jenner

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Kendall has switched out her tiny sunglasses for post-eye surgery protective lenses. Working what I like to think is a fresh-from-the-stables blue equestrian shirt, she keeps it low-key.

*Yes, I still think about this commercial constantly, along with the Quiznos singing hamsters

On Not Running

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Hurting

I was running and running, but at some point, I simply couldn’t run anymore. I didn’t think I could be injured. Not in an invincible sense, but there was no event, no precipitating jolt that signaled a malady. It was a gradual erosion. Something was off, had been off, but I was denying it with a stubborn power that only grows with time. The hurt wouldn’t wear off, no matter how hard I willed it to. I wasn’t psychic, just psycho.

Since February, I’d been training for a marathon, pounding the treadmill in the face of an unending cold snap. Something painful began to creep into my right leg, but I ignored it. The pain was temporary, I told myself, just a symptom of the treadmill belt and a bleak winter. Epsom salts cure everything, right? You can run through the pain, right? I wasn’t listening.

This was in the bone. I started feeling a bump on my tibia, sickeningly visible through my skin. I could feel it even more when it rained, like a soothsayer trying to block out all the signals. I didn’t want that particular information.

I kept building my mileage, dutifully carrying out the training plan I made for myself. I rose every morning in the arctic dark to run closer to my next goal. Here, on this piece of paper, was a plan that perhaps the gods wouldn’t laugh too hard at. But the pain in my leg built, too, no matter how hard I tried to ignore it out of existence. I wouldn’t even let myself consider the prospect of not running this marathon in June – no, never, not me! Running is what I have, what I aim for, the habit that gives my life shape.

The knot in my leg persisted. Falling further into delusion, I thought I could make it through the rest of training and the marathon, and then see about getting help. If I could only pretend to be okay for a couple hundred more miles, then I could acknowledge what my body was telling me. Then the low buzz of hurt turned into a bad garage band.

Continue reading “On Not Running”

Bubble Bob

Something happens to you when you watch Bob Ross for an ungodly amount of time. Like his perm, all lines are blurred, and you start thinking of blues as “phthalos” and baby deer as potential pets. You want all beings in nature to be happy and all clouds to have feelings. And the colors – he uses a base arsenal of 13 and goes all over from there. I’ve spent so much time with these colors that I had to map them all out.

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Continue reading “Bubble Bob”

Mike’s Mural

In the welcome sunshine of a Sunday morning, a wall went up. Not the structure, but the substance. A wall with a door in it, except this portal was painted on the outside. Twisting tubes, faceless figures, one large bear, a Superman, and many, many bricks. For a day, we marked. We painted. We made a mural, but it was one person’s vision.
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This is Mike Turner’s work – look at this. And this. And THIS.

Based on a piece called “Vertical Suburbs,” the mural is a black-and-white expanse of brick walls, windows, tubes, and vignettes that invite and compel, leading places but not resolving. You can start anywhere along its length, but never really know where to end up. You can look at it up close, or from across the street – either way, it offers up a sort of labyrinth. You can stare at individual lines and shapes and not know what it put into your brain, but sit in that uncertain wonder for a while. It does things to whatever your thing is.

Vignette / Mike and Gina / Bear!

This mural was conjured on facade of the Violet Hour, a cocktail lounge in Wicker Park. Each month, they let a different artist muralize the exterior. Mike graciously let a group of friends help him put his up, thankfully in June, post-polar vortex. We pulled up on Saturday evening, a nice blank wall ready for us to reinvent it. As it turned out, weather and technology had other plans.

Mike and his fiancee Gina had planned the operation like a guerilla standoff – plenty of weapons at the ready to execute a quick(ish) mission, with all the backup needed to head off any issues along the way. However, you can’t reason with power converters that have previously tested fine in all readiness phases, only to fail in the moment of need. What had been planned as a projection of the original drawing onto the wall coalesced into a frantic search for a generator to rent, and ended in a parking lot of futility.

After having waited out a tornado-shaded downpour, ready to wipe every inch of the wall down with paper towels and get to work, we sat in the car, shadowed by a hulking Home Depot, talking about extension cords and batteries. (Also Patton Oswalt’s impression of Tom Carvel, somehow. Fudgie the Whale saved our sanity that night.) We resolved to try again in the morning, urgency nipping at everyone’s heels.

Sunday came with sun and breezes – cool even away from the lake. With a ladder bisecting the car, we drove back to the blank wall. Fueled by donuts and iced coffee, we faced that void again. The people in the group who actually knew what they were doing attacked it with renewed zeal, quadranting that sucker with tape and free-handing pencil outlines while Mike filled in details. A vision took shape. (In this phase, my contributions entailed playing seminal saxophone solos on YouTube and petting as many dogs as possible.) If someone had told us the night before we would end up Free-Soloing this mountain, we probably would have laughed with tight faces. We would have pretended not to scream inside. But today, in the sunshine, we did it because that was all we had left.

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In the beginning

This was an experiment in a lot of ways – how do you prepare art for greater consumption? Do the weather gods want you to succeed? What happens to meticulous planning in the face of unforeseeable technological glitches? How many Home Depots are there in the greater Chicago area, and how long do they stay open? What do you do when Things Go Wrong?  How do people act around a mural in progress? (They say things. Out loud. A lot of things. Their opinions WILL be heard.) A collective mindset held the answer to all of these questions.

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The figure in repose: homage to Burt Reynolds? 😉

A bit of a mindmeld cloud collected over our group. Mike was the piece’s mastermind, and we went to him with questions, but we also trusted each other to work in between. We all tuned into the same buzzing sound, and worked off of that. A radio frequency was born. If this is what it feels like to join and be in a cult, then I am deeply susceptible to it and should probably seek help. Possible Cult Joiners Anonymous? Local Lemmings?

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Bricking

At one point, I joined forces with a friend to erase some of the remaining pencil marks – we went around with two brushes and one can of white paint between us, talking to ourselves and conjoined twinning up the place. The world melted away even more as we painted and painted. Nothing else mattered but to keep space open.

Things happen to you individually, too. You make so many bricks you become a line, just wanting to connect other lines. You think and say things that only make sense to the people working alongside you. Your only goal, your single-minded dream, is to do whatever it takes in this moment to get this work just a tiny bit closer to realization. It’s a little universe.

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Drawing bananas (the boot is for fashion purposes only)

Passersby want to peek into this tiny cosmos. People walking by on the street tended to say whatever they were thinking out loud, whether alone or in a group. I couldn’t decide whether they wanted us to hear, or thought we were like zoo animals. Some seemed to be performing for their groups, remarking that this wall contained the passageway to a bar with “amazing cocktails.” “You knock on the door, and it opens!” (No, sir, that is not how it works.) Others wanted to name artists the work reminded them of, or explain how we were making the mural. Other people would just yell “THANK YOU” – for what, exactly? One woman went up to my partner in erasing and quietly said it, a hand on her arm, like this was a conspiracy. In slightly more sinister fashion, a man said this loudly while hugging me from behind as he kept walking. NO thank you. A couple of drunk bros demanded high fives and then said Mike should paint the apartment building one of them owns. In decidedly the most charming show of curiosity, a little boy took one of the stepstools and sat on it, clutching his lil drink, sipping through a straw and observing the goings-on. Like a tiny king, he surveyed the workers, then summarily dismissed the whole thing and walked off, his dutiful parents trailing behind.

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When we finished the mural, hours had slipped by, and sunset was imminent. We went to eat pizzas so big I could have used them as sausage-y blankets. We went home so full and so tired. This was easily one of the most satisfying, fulfilling days of my life. I got to help create something with a group of excellent people – even if I’d never picked up a marker or brush, I’d have been thankful just to be in that headspace. It really was a storm on a sidewalk. I was most floored by the fact that Mike took some of his art, secured a public space for it, and then let other people help him put it up on a wall. Even though the mural is only up for a month, it adds a layer to the city, and I hope many people will walk by and take a piece of it in. It doesn’t have to envelop them like a blanket pizza, but it’s something new to process.

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Mike Turner’s mural “Horizontal Suburbs” will be up through June 30 at the Violet Hour (Wicker Park, Chicago, IL).
Mike’s website: GravelPlayground.com

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Mike Turner
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Mural crew

 

Out of Context Werner Herzog

“When I met him, I wanted to tickle him.”

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“If you do that, I will buy your station and fire you.”

“It’s difficult and painful, but should happen somehow.”

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“A shock went through me of delight. A moment of great elation inside me.”

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“I do believe you have a great alternative and that’s the internet. But you have to be prudent in navigating the internet.”

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“Inconceivable.”

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“I don’t know, I’ll probably have a sailor’s grave somewhere in the ocean. By the way, I shouldn’t die anyway.”

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“I was paid to be terrifying. I do it well.”

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“But there’s a great joy, awe – all my feelings I feel with awe.”

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All quotes from an interview with the director after a screening of “Meeting Gorbachev” (May 10, 2019)