UE&Me

Just over a month ago, a couple friends and I went into the Bethlehem Lutheran Church in North St. Louis. The trip inside was a first for each of us, despite this place being on the local urban exploration “map” for a long time. Only a few weeks before that, while sitting on a portfolio review committee at Webster, a former of student of mine presented photos taken in the same space, artful shots of fashion in this long-abandoned space. All the proverbial signs were in place to finally make the trip to Hyde Park.

The exterior of this North Side church was impressive enough, a big, strong, brick building visible for blocks around. Walking around the building’s interior, though, was really quite amazing. The church had taken a considerable beating from the elements over the years, though the once-evident beauty still (at times successfully) fought to shine through. A recent snowfall had left ice liberally scattered throughout the building, including some stairwells that lead up to the steeple. Gaping holes were visible in the roof. Post-congregant human beings had made appearances and left marks, too, in the form of graffiti writings of varying degrees of sympathy towards the building’s plight. The big stained glass windows existed, still pretty much intact. And what a gorgeous collection they were!

Unfortunately, this is being written in the past tense. Over the past weekend, the building suffered a wall collapse and demolition is now a certainty, instead of a foregone conclusion. The best hope, at this point, is that some of the details could be saved, though that’s even doubtful, considering the wreckage that’s visible in photos this Monday morning.

On our trip, we all chatted about the fact that none of us had ever really been hurt on one of these day trips. We’d never had a shoe punctured by a nail. We’d never suffered cuts on a rusted window panes. While friends and fellow travelers had fallen through floorboards, even that likelihood had been something we’d never experienced first-hand. For some reason, we were really talkative about this subject on that afternoon; it’s something that we’d talked about before, but it seemed to dominate our conversation this time out. Maybe the old building was speaking to us on that Sunday afternoon, telling us that we had this trip only and that we’d better enjoy it. And that we better enjoy our health on these journeys.

The North Side’s lost a real landmark, a victim of changing demographics, of weather, of civic neglect and of the simple fact that a building this big, this open, this centered in a still-disinvested community will always be a challenging fixer-upper. It was a good to see it one first/last time. With respect: RIP, Bethlehem Lutheran Church.

Pics from our visit here.

April 1, 2014 x 2

I.

Considerable news to share today, so forgive the extra words; brevity in written expression’s not my strong point, as is. I’m hopeful that comments here, if not supportive, are at least understanding of my situation.

After a full dozen years of the freelance/adjunct lifestyle, I’ve decided to accept a late-arriving, but quickly-moving job offer as social media director/online media buyer for SSM St. Joseph West in Lake St. Louis. This is a three-part decision, which will kick-in around five weeks from now, with considerable planning in-between.

One. Though I’ve publicly not been a fan of deep-suburban living, I’ll have to become at least tacitly okay with it; that much is understood. My truck’s a beater and I’m not hip to 50-minute commutes, so I’ll be looking for a place to lay my head in the greater Lake St. Louis area. If someone knows of an affordable condo/apartment for rent in the Westplex, please let me know.

Two. I woke up today open to the idea of selling my spot on Connecticut. So there’s another real estate concern. It’s a nice pad: big, open floor plan unlike other houses on my street; an extremely short walk to South Grand and a very reasonable walk/ride/drive to Cherokee; big garden space and a chicken yard; exterior murals. “Very nice hippie family house”; I can almost imagine the one-sheet flyer saying that.

Three. With tuition remission accrued from my time at Webster, I plan to take advantage of what free classes I can use, with my plan being the start of an MBA, doing the night/weekends thing at the WU WingHaven campus. This will allow me greater flexibility in future job hunts, with my media skills augmented by some business coursework. For sure, the classes will be even more challenging than the socially-tinged, but very real, life turnover of the above items.

If you’re this far into the post, thanks for taking an interest. Please understand that I tried to make the city/bohemian thing work, but that might have been a job best left to the younger me. The peaks/valleys of self-employment have been a bit severe lately and this seems like the choice to make, clear and probably a bit overdue. Cheers to you (and a big, deep breath for me), TC.

(Culled at 165 Facebook Likes, 67 Comments  and 1 Share.)

II.

Was just reminded of this: exactly two years ago, I was in my backyard, tending to my own business, when a large bird of prey flew into the chicken yard and startled the flock. When I turned to see about the commotion, the attacker came right at me, flying to within a foot of my ample skull. It bent away at the last second, sat on a neighbor’s roofline and mean-mugged me for a cool minute, until some rocks were sent in that direction.

In posting about the incident, I got a few different clusters of response. The first one was that I was pulling off a prank post, that the event never actually happened, that I’d made it up. Then, I learned that every 15th FB friend is a bird expert; within minutes, I was getting Googled photos of undersized animals the size of starlings and chippies, whereas this bird had a yard-wide wingspan, for sure. So it goes.

Post thoughts, stories, anecdotes or dreams publicly and you never know what you’ll get back. Especially on a day like today. I want to thank everyone who Liked or commented on a post I offered up earlier today. Those responses were quite intriguing, really. And all over the map, wow! At times, I even thought, “Thomas, you don’t deserve all this good-natured love.” (Chris King’s comment notwithstanding.) But I do. I really do.

I deserve everything I got comin’ to me.

(Culled at 27 Likes and 11 Comments.)

 

“Old Dog” Goes Digital

“Old Dog, New Trick,” co-produced by Mike Steinberg, Jon Scorfina and I has been added to the popular video-sharing service, YouTube. You can watch it here:

The companion piece, “The Pride of Saint Louis,” will go live soon.

The Great Unload VI: Washington Park Goat Farm

The transition towards becoming a card-carrying member of Generation NPR was a gradual, sneaky one. Pick your cliche, but I didn’t see it coming: the game’s over, the end chapter is written, the revolution came from within. These days, I only watch documentaries, I only read non-fiction. If not for this persistent, gnawing sports talk radio problem, I’d only have the car “stereo” tuned from 88.1-90.7 fm. My music tastes line up with a really good mix-CD, offered as a premium with my next KWMU membership pledge. I’m one standard-issue, liberal, late-summer-of-lifer.

With my media desires still alive, I tend to run most thoughts about my future through an NPR-style prism. Could this project be a This American Life feature? Could that project spin-off a two-part feature for Slate? Can I do anything without thinking of it as a “project”?

The project of all projects, 2014-ready, is this one: founding a goat (and chicken and okra and pepper) farm in Washington Park. I’d start by buying multiple, nearby properties; a couple with structures and couple that are land-only would be ideal. (Then, you’re into “compound” mindset, which I where I aim to be.) After working through what I’d assume is a weird-and-byzantine set of regulations at the township’s city hall, the land could be tilled and the animal pens built. All through the process, cameras would roll, both still and video.

To be a white developer in any Washington Park context would bring along the underlying-to-overt elements of race and class, key thematic players in any, wort, NPR-style story. Organic farming and animal husbandry remain hot stories. Undertaking these efforts in a distressed neighborhood gives The Story even more gravitas, more currency.

Washington Park’s a town with needs, so many that a goat farm could probably exist in the context of this place; anyone going on the tax rolls would be welcome addition, seemingly. And yet…

There’d be challenges, more than a few. The per capita violence rate is real. You’d likely need to make some golden handshakes along the way. Distrust of the project’s basic intent would be part of the mix. But it’d also be fuel for The Story. It’s not located so far from the City center, but Washington Park’s its own entity, its own micro-world.

It’d be an interesting way to attack life.

Interesting-plus.

Don’t think I’ll wind up living this life, as I lack the start-up cash, the business and farming skills, maybe even the social smarts. But if you wanna do it, I’m totally pitching in. Totally!

The Great Unload V: Corn vs. Korn (CvK)

In 2010, I offered up some ideas to the world, free of charge, free of expectations. Mixed results came from these earliest brainstorms. By my count, one had a positive conclusion: I listened to a Painkillers tape and thought it should get re-released and that’s exactly what happened. Turns out the band dug the idea, too, as did Euclid Records; the band even reformed, for a time. Ryan Coyne on the other hand, well, he still don’t wanna fight me. Out of the all the people in the world who wanna hit me, he’s not one. That’s bad luck. And my t-shirt idea floated away like an errant kite; bye-bye unloved idea! But in 2012, I offered my best, stillborn concept ever: the notion of a bar for Chicagoland expats, right here in good, old St. Louis. I’d say that once every three months, someone asks me about that one, suggesting that they’d considered it, or knew people who might. My price for anyone who takes this brilliant idea and runs with it remains a free Old Style. I’m still waiting.

Because I’m bursting with another round of ideas that have little-to-no chance of existing, it’s time to unload again…

We live in a world obsessed with the instantaneous feedback and satisfaction. Today’s idea wasn’t mine; it came to me from a friend, one who may not want to claim credit for this absolute gem of a thought. Which, by the way, was first discussed exactly three days ago. The background that you need is simple: I love corn. Right out of a can, on the cob, even in hydrated packets. Love it, love it, love it. And I love Korn. Early stuff, later stuff. (Okay, the dubstep years were a little rough on me.) But I love Korn, really I do. So why not combine the interests, with a site that would combine themes? Ladies and gentlemen: Corn vs. Korn, aka www.CvK.is. (Thanks be for Icelandic URLs.)

I’d love to visit and photograph an old-school, Missouri or Illinois corn farm. I’d love to post Q/A’s with former Monsanto chemists, who’ve gone rogue. On the other hand, I’d also like to interview Head and Munky. Win/win. This doesn’t seem like a forever idea, but as an idea built for three months? Information and entertainment gold, times two.

If I’m to believe the internet (and why wouldn’t I?), even the group’s dipped into the aggro-agriculture realm: “Korn Growing Corn in Studio While Working on New Album.” Wait? What! There’s gotta be a fit here!

Working with complete lack of patience and common-sense, I’m sending this idea to Korn’s publicist right now. If no word comes back within the next 72 hours, you know I’ll be panicking. Right here, in fact.

The Great Unload Series, circa 2014, returns tomorrow. Topic: goats!

The Great Unload IV: The Chicago Bar
The Great Unload III: Fighting Ryan Coyne
The Great Unload II: Tee-Shirts
The Great Unload I: Jeff Barbush/Painkillers

Looping

It’s the start of a new semester, a stripped-down one that sees me teaching two sections of Intro to Media Writing and… that’s it. After many years of working a full allotment of three classes a term, the switch feels good, liberating, relaxing. I plan to do some good teachin’, you know?

I also plan on reaching out to more students as the years go by. It’s not as if I didn’t know that former students are possessing good jobs, good careers; hell, my first students are pushing 35. But I hadn’t had the opportunity to reach out for work from one of them. And that’s still true, for the most part.

Last week, though, I took advantage of Gabe Bullard’s interest in the graffiti tagger Brr(r). Gabe’s based in Louisville, working for the public radio station there, WFPL. Brr(r)’s also based in Louisville, in the job of gettin’ up. I approached Gabe about a St. Louis perspective piece on Brr(r), as he hit local walls last summer. He accepted the offer. I wrote it up. And now it’s published.

My attempts to control the graffiti coverage of the Midwest takes another tentative step forward with this.