chapter 1 | Jennifer Bisbing • Writer • Editor

Jennifer Bisbing • Writer • Editor

April 14, 2015
by bisbing

last summer

My sister pedaled ahead on her new bigger bike. I pushed my feet down on the pedals as hard as I could to catch up. My forty-something body disappeared as I neared her back tire—it suddenly turned into my seven-year-old self, yelling “Let’s go!”

Gleefully the adventure began with my sister leading the way, warning me about obstacles on the sidewalk and preparing me for hills ahead.

I pedaled three or four turns to keep up with her one long push and glide. I didn’t know where we were going. I just knew it was some way my big sister had discovered. Someplace I had never been.

We zigzagged through the streets. We crested the hill. We made it!

We looped back towards the way we came, and as we zoomed downhill, she warned, “one more hill ahead.” I panted and fell behind. Like when I was seven, my sister backpedaled in place at the top, waiting to lead me home.

July 7, 2014
by bisbing

10 Days with Bridget

Day 1. The stand off: three hours after her family left we meet in the brown leather chair for peacemaking cuddle time.

Day 2. The race: half block to the garden gate and Bridget beats me. I blame it on my flip-flops. Her handicap is she’s approaching 90 in people years.

Day 3. Giant Growl: If you close your eyes and imagine a large massive dog foaming at the mouth, that is what this little poodle sounds like when she is annoyed with you. I’ve learned not to take it too seriously.

Day 4. Shadow: my normal long narrow shadow looked more like a one foot high by two feet long black furry thing, which wasn’t more than a foot away all day.

Day 5. Bunny hop: there is the one, two skip and then hop. It could win over any non-dog lover.

Day 6. Puppy dog eyes: That look—head tilted down humbly gazing up, showing off the whites of her eyes—it’s so manipulative and works like charm every time.

Day 7. Yoga mat war: Her weapon of choice was her narrow tongue, which tickles me and usually causes some uncontrollable giggling fit. This time she licked my whole shin, so I would move it off the mat, so she’d have room to lie down.

Day 8. What language is that? I know Bridget’s pleading whimper and the “oh my god I got to go out” bark. But we miss communicate on the high-pitch demand. I resort to treats when all else fails to satisfy.

Day 9. The terrifying sneeze: One dog sound asleep. One abruptly loud sneeze. Dog leaps from chair and delivers a horrifying look to the sneezer.

Day 10. Embarrassment on a dog’s face. Though we all get old, this aging poodle does seem to forget that fact and acts like a wee pup quite often. But it is her declining body that startles her sometimes because it does not do what it used to do. Shame in a puppy’s eyes is heart wrenching. Words of comfort just don’t translate to dog speak in these moments.

June 9, 2012
by bisbing

40 Miles Square

Forgive my generalization—New Englanders do not butcher the English language nearly as much as the Midwestern stock I socialize with. “Moseying down the hill” is not a phrase I’ve ever heard muttered in Chicago. But while I drank coffee in a neighborhood coffee shop, Seven Star Bakery featured in Dan in Real Life, the Rhode Island accent distracted me from my James Joyce chapter to the point where Ireland and Providence were blurred together in mind.

Along the highways, the tree line hides the suburbs like there is a secret society that the tourist is not allowed to see. I must admit the roads in Rhode Island turn me around in circles—I have trouble getting my bearings without the lake to the east. I have made unplanned excursions to Massachusetts.

I understand the draw for writers to these parts. Small towns pop up seemingly randomly as I travel from the city to Barrington. There is a horse ranch that Hadley seems fond of to the point I think she may have named the horses she has never met. Hadley is six. We had a persistent four-leaf clover hunt together and shared time in the grass looking at the clouds. If only we could all see the sky as Hadley does—her repeated refrain was: “I love clouds!”

April 15, 2012
by bisbing


Part 5

What neighborhood is this?

Traveling from Hyde Park via Lake Shore Drive to Roosevelt Road then north on Damen Avenue, friends and I went on a self-guided tour of Chicago’s mix-and-matched streets. From the Boulevards on the Southside to the hipster dive bar in Wicker Park, you can turn a car into a moving museum witnessing culture materialize in the strangest places. We saw a bit of everything—there was the Southside Krispy Kreme salesman sporting a hat, peddling boxes of the donuts in the median strip of 63rd to the pampered miniature dog in the window of Bark’s doggy daycare on the Near West Side. And how about all those people eating food from modified trucks gathered in a parking lot, possibly the same ground of the World’s Fair, with food orders being recorded for news material or maybe for historical data added to a time capsule—labeled, “look at what these silly humans are doing now.” It seems each major intersection on our drive indicated that we were entering another neighborhood—a boundary someone calls home, almost as if they live in a small town not swallowed up by this metropolis.

April 9, 2012
by bisbing


Part 4

I have lived in Chicago for almost ten years—I left the mountains and returned to the gridded urban jungle shortly before my 30th birthday. My first year back in Chicagoland, I merrily explored almost every inch of the Loop with my camera—spending hours in dark alleys and lost time mingling with strangers on sidewalks. The façades of skyscrapers became my fictitious mountains, welcoming me home from the Dan Ryan, as the Great Divide had once greeted me. This past mild winter has allowed me to meet this anniversary with a bit less reluctance. However, in downtown Chicago spring is indicated by the sudden appearance of white buoys at the yacht club­—where in Colorado I remember the season change was marked by overflowing streambeds. While I stand at the lakefront and look back at the skyline, I long for the vistas in Summit County. In the spring, I always treasured a brisk hike to a peak where I was startled by a foot of snow, since I began the climb in green grass. Chicago’s limestone walls are a bit claustrophobic for me these days—I find myself searching for open sky.

March 28, 2012
by bisbing

My tribute to Mick

Now, this is an incomplete tale since I met Mick when he was already sporting a gray beard. If he were human people would say he’s got great hair. He’s a little short, doesn’t talk much, headstrong but friendly, choosey about his playmates, has a quirky sense of humor, charming, but he has some intimacy issues.

Mick is nearly blind and has selective hearing, but his nose can find the smallest spec of chocolate or a Starbuck’s pastry crumb on a crowded sidewalk. I have learned over the years to reroute our walks when certain inedible trash was involved, since he will remember its exact location hours later or even the next morning. Now about his walking style, this goes back to his powerful nose. He is usually content with one lap around the block, three to four times a day, at a turtle’s pace. He smells everything—I mean everything. He has his favorite landmark poles and patches of grass, but everything in between is his personal scavenger hunt. In the fall the lure of rotten foliage is irresistible. Did I forget to mention he never speaks? I had not heard him bark other than a rumble in his sleep in over three years, until under the influence of pain killers.

When he awakes, he sneezes like a little girl—a sound my ex-boyfriend would mimic exactly to cheer me up when I was in Mick-withdrawal.

Back to that good hair, he regularly fools the other dog walkers—they usually mistake him for a puppy. He is certainly proud of this and it is possibly one reason why he walks with his head down hiding his gray chin. Because of his pace I have always called him old man, though he resembles a miniature black bear much more than a man.

To be fair, regarding his moseying, years back he was good for a half-block sprint in which he always stopped and looked back as if to taunt me to race him. But once he reached his fence line, a halt. Mastering the art of stalling, his steps got even closer together. Though Mick always lead when we were outside, inside he would follow you everywhere. Up, down, up and down, round and round in the kitchen—he was a great companion at my feet as I wrote at the dining room table.

Mick is from a family of six, when I house-sit the normally full house is usually silent, just the clinking of his metal name tags, the flopping stove vent, the light rumble under the heated floors, and that scary clank of the sump pump. By the middle of my stay, he starts searching for his clan—when he sees small children on our walk he tugs at the leash until he reaches the strangers and then scowls at me as if to ask, “What have you done with my people?” His dirty looks have always put me in my place—he reminds me that I am here to serve him­—I am his dog walker, and he will determine the pace.

I can’t forget to mention him chasing me around the big kitchen island. A nightly game of catch me if you can—I have your treat. Recently, this started to look more like a slow conga line, but he was always good for one full lap if I kept up my absurd dancing.

I must say thank you Mick, you brought me nothing but sheer joy even if your morning rustling was usually hours before sunrise.

March 14, 2012
by bisbing

Photography gene took time to develop in Wicker Park’s Jennifer Bisbing
By Elaine Coorens, Our Urban Times

“Wicker Women,” photographer Jennifer Bisbing’s documentary project celebrating the faces of women who work and/or live in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood debuts Oct. 10 between 6 and 9 p.m. in Chrome Gallery, 1462 ½ N. Milwaukee Ave, 2nd Floor. Connections for Abused Women and their Children (CAWC) will be the recipient of the suggested $20 donation.
“It has turned out that this project is really a celebration of wonderful, diverse women. I wanted to connect with women in the community and I want them to connect with each other. So as I have met each of them, I often connect them with others, ” Jennifer Bisbing explained. “The images are classical with some edginess. I want them to be well grounded, to be part of the neighborhood.”

All in black and white and shot with a traditional film camera, each image was developed and printed then scanned in a sleeve with dust on it. The results are prints with an “old look.” The framing is simple but more contemporary with top and bottom film strip edges.

“Being able to make the project opening a benefit to help abused women get out of the cycle of violence makes this project even more wonderful for me,” said Bisbing, who assisted with domestic violence cases in the San Francisco District Attorney’s office before becoming a professional photographer. “Photographing local women and raising money is the best way for me to serve that community. I hope the opening raises thousands of dollars for CAWC.”

CAWC operates domestic violence programs at Wicker Park’s Greenhouse Shelter, Humboldt Park Outreach Program, and Hospital Crisis Intervention Project at Stroger Hospital. Proceeds from a silent auction the night of the opening will be added to reception donations and photo sitting fees.

Silent auction items are being donated by: Chicago Conservative Care, Coorens Communications, inc., Habit, Hot Chocolate, Little Rock Construction, Now Studio, Signal Theatre Company and Three Headed Productions.

February 14, 2012
by bisbing

This old greystone

I have hated the bright burnt sienna paint in my kitchen for five years. I have 10 foot-ceilings with almost 200-square-feet of surface, instead of repainting, from now on, I will love this brilliant color. I have decided a change in attitude is a more efficient way of redecorating. Painting 100-year-old plaster walls is challenging for a perfectionist. With a good brush and quality paint there is still no hope of coverage with one coat. The cracks and crevices are uncountable—this equates to three coats, which just compounds another problem, there is 100 years of layered paint. One large chip and it is like an archeological dig.

February 5, 2012
by bisbing

This old greystone

There is a spider in my chandelier; she (I really cannot determine the sex from my yoga mat) is trapped. She has been trapped for weeks; her endurance to circle and try to climb out of the lamp is admirable. Just when I think she is dead, she goes round and round. I have grown fond of her at this distance, and I never know if I should be rooting for her gentle passing or for her to carry on the hope of escaping. This brings me to—do I help her? Now if I found this spider on my floor, wall, or any other surface in my home, I would be smashing her with wadded-up Kleenex. But I struggle with letting her suffer. I would like to think that I could climb a ladder and gently help the lady out, but I would freak out and probably fall off the ladder. I have thought about devising a long pole with a piece of paper that might create some distance between me and her eight legs. Then what do I do with her—she dies if I take her outside—it is cold regardless of the unseasonably warm winter. I cannot imagine just letting her crawl around my house. For now, her laps decrease and my fondness grows.

January 31, 2012
by bisbing


Part 2

After work, I ventured to run errands downtown instead of heading back to Wicker Park, where home lures me in. I walked down Michigan Avenue to Roosevelt Road, where I filled a mini cart full of Trader Joe’s staples, which included my favorite bread, peanut butter and filling my quota of a recent obsession—their corn salsa.

With an overstuffed Whole Foods’ bag, I jumped on the 18th Street bus for two blocks up the hill to Target. (If my uncle is reading this he will scoff at the hill remark and remind me that I used to walk everywhere in San Francisco.) After Target’s florescent lights created some sort of shopping mania in me, I walked back down the hill to the train. As I stood at State and Roosevelt waiting for the crosswalk signal, a car abruptly turned right, and I remember thinking I cannot imagine someone is not walking across the street. I turned and watched a middle-aged man be hit squarely in his side by a SUV. As he lay in the middle of two lanes of a 12-lane intersection, the driver hopped out and said, “Man… Are you okay sir?” The driver was jumpy and not thinking clearly, he seemed more concerned about his car blocking traffic than a man lying in the road, and he nearly ran him over again when he tried to move his car. I stood in front of the man on the ground as the driver foolishly moved his car to the side, leaving the man exposed to three lanes of oncoming traffic going west. I was a yuppie looking character holding out my right hand while draped with Whole Foods’ bags and calling 911 on my iPhone. The man on the ground was holding his side and yelling, “I just had surgery on my appendix! I just had surgery!” As several people told him to stay on the ground (including the 911 operator in my ear), I could visibly see the fear in his face as he looked across State Street and saw a straight line of headlights and green traffic lights. He said, “I have to move.” A few people cautiously helped him to his feet; he checked his surgical bandage under his shirt to see if he was bleeding and seemed relieved that he was not. But he could barely move, it seemed that the weight of his possible new injuries had not sunk in yet. He sat down on the curb.

I decided that my crossing duties were done, and I was of little help to the small crowd that had gathered, so I headed to the train. Just inside the CTA station I ran into a pack of Chicago police officers; I told the first one I saw,  ”A man was just hit at State and Roosevelt.” The officer seemed concerned, picked up his pace, then when he relayed the information to the rest of the pack, one officer said, “I wonder how the car is,” and there was a chuckle from the bunch. Oh, my city’s protect and serve team certainly needs sensitivity training.