The mid-century modern intelligence quotient

We’re still in a quarantine in Chicago but restrictions have loosened up a bit—Quarantine Lite™ I guess you’d call it. I’ve ventured on a few train and bus rides and yesterday I was able to visit my family (from a safe distance) for the first time in four months. On top of that, I got a haircut on my fire escape.

I should be able to return to work soon, thank the deities, because working from home in isolation is doing a number on me. I know I’m not alone: 2020 is basically a world-wide mental health stress test. One of my coping mechanisms to to observe my own mental state and report back on it to myself, like a journalist or novelist. I wish I could have a more interesting main character in my drama, but other than HOB and our cat Shinto, I’m all I have right now (if you don’t count the inch-high heads I meet up with in endless Zoom calls).

In brief, I am having a hard time processing information. There’s just so much coming at me that is stuck in a brain lag. Even reading, my lifelong pastime, is difficult. I feel intellectually slow, like one of those people who used to get labeled “low IQ” back when we were uncivilized and shamefully did not treat folks with intellectual disabilities with the respect they deserve.

I’m so puzzled when people continue to talk about IQ’s these days. For example, a relative had recently posted on social media about a certain politician and then two of his friends joined in an argument of the probable IQ of said politician (like getting specific about the number) and the one friend accused the other of having low IQ. How do people know these things? Are people just constantly getting IQ tests and then discussing the results with each other? Is it like getting a cholesterol test where if you forget to fast and eat bacon for breakfast you’ll get a low score? Can you take a six week class and study a workbook to raise your score? Do people stand on street corners like those Christian Scientists luring people into wood paneled rooms to take IQ tests?

So what if you find out you have a high IQ? I once had a neighbor, A, who was a member of Mensa, all of us neighbors knew about it because she received lots of mail from Mensa and even though we have mailboxes her Mensa letters would sit out for long time under the mailbox cubbies. All I could think was A’s Mensa membership got her a one bedroom apartment in the same building as me and didn’t do much for her self-dramatizing and generally unpleasant personality. Anyway I always preferred my upstairs neighbor V, who is not a member of Mensa but (before Covid) we’ve had lots of conversations about cats and sometimes she leaves me gifts of banana bread and fudge. I think she finds my personality more agreeable too, though it could just be our mutually low IQ’s discovering and leaping towards each other like in those Visitation Renaissance paintings of Mary and Elizabeth where the fetuses of Jesus and St. John meet each other and leap in recognition.

Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth, c. 1460. Kremsmünster Abbey, Kremsmünster, Austria

So here I am in Quarantine Lite™ stuck with a slow brain and I’m frustrated as hell. However, social isolation does apparently come with some mental perks. While my ability to process intellectual information has slowed down, my visual processing is at an all time high. I go outside for a walk and everything is so damn vivid, it’s like I can see 10 times and much and appreciate what I’m seeing like never before.

These last few months I’ve started to look at mid-century modern architecture with intense interest. Not those precise international style buildings that we specialize in downtown Chicago, but the kooky vernacular style that populates the north side (and the northern suburb of Skokie). Much of the architecture is referred to with the derogatory term “Four Plus One” which is a kind of depressing, cheap apartment building, heavy on the concrete.

Somehow my quarantine brain has woken up to these mid-century wonders and they’ve become my favorite kind of building—I enjoy them more than any lovely historical architecture. In particular, the entrances have an extreme appeal.

Here’s a sampling:

5750 N Sheridan Rd, Chicago
1421 W Devon Ave, Chicago

6901 N Ridge Ave, Chicago

1051 W Howard St, Chicago

2550 N Peterson Ave, Chicago

4836 Main St, Skokie

8424 Skokie Blvd, Skokie

5817 N Kenmore St, Chicago

6720 N Sheridan Rd, Chicago

6972 N Sheridan Rd, Chicago

5620 N. Kenmore, Chicago

2440 W. Peterson Ave, Chicago

So what do you think, friends? Are levitating concrete zig zags a perfect match for your quarantine IQ? Let’s start a mid-century Mensa and impress all our neighbors!


  1. Your blog is one of my favorites. I am not from Chicago, but it is kind of like a second home to me. It is fun to see places I know. I really enjoy your writing style as well.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for your kind words—I really enjoy your too!

      I feels quite lucky, since I can’t travel for a while, that I live in Chicago and there is so much to see here, even when most places are closed.

      What is your favorite part of Chicago?


      1. I enjoy the bike path along the lakefront. I also really enjoy the Lincoln Park area. Of course, Wrigley Field is my favorite place of all.


  2. Now you are waking up my dormant brain cells…I think I have seen these styles around San Jose but cannot think where! Once we can go out and about freely again I am going to start looking for them.
    I am finding problems concentrating on anything serious, so have adopted Damon Runyon for light reading….last read some fifty years ago but still fresh. I enjoy his use, or non use, of tense.
    My father did one of those MENSA tests – back in the dark ages – and had a high score. He said he had taken the test out of curiosity but nothing would persuade him to join a group who were so insecure that they needed to proclaim their IQ scores.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting…I never heard of Damon Runyon, and he’s American too. Perhaps that could be good light reading for me too.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It’ll take me awhile to get to appreciating mid-century zig-zags. I associate them with the brand-new high school I attended mid-century, which always seemed a cold and unwelcoming place. Just me, probably. But my personal 2020 IQ test is simple and foolproof: who is wearing a mask when other people are around? In my town it’s a perfectly fine look. We’re all thinking of our precious 42 hospital beds. Glad you are staying well! Hope we all get to travel again before too long.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well by your standards HOB and I are genius level because we can’t be found in public without our trusty, sweaty face masks. I hope you are able to stay well clear of those 42 hospital beds and that you also get to travel soon.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Love the leaping fetuses!

    This midcentury stuff looks very familiar but definitely has more personality than the later run of the mill slap-em-up concrete architecture. I really like the staircase you feature. The others remind me a bit of Art Deco, but like maybe its poorer cousin.

    One of my favorite buidings in Jacksonville, FL might fit in this category, not sure. Once called the Haydon Burns library it is now I think the Jesse Ball DuPont Building. It used to be the main library and now is multi-use, I think, which usually means it’s in danger of being torn down, like so much of our neglected architecture. Here’s a lushly illustrated magazine article on it by our local architectural historian, Wayne Wood. It’s beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oooh that Haydon Burns library is sensational. It has that mid-century decorative flair going on!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I see myself in your ‘dormant brain’ syndrome, at least today. Or, rather, my brain has become even less focussed than usual. So it’s 19.55 on Sunday evening over here in London. I wanted to pen down a post, tried a few times, gave up, went on Neflix, opened up “Parts Unknown” and, slumped on my sofa, out came the Chicago episode. Natural thought at your blog, “Let’s see what Picnic at the Cathedral and HOB are up to”, see a new post, look at the nice patterns. Aren’t they like some sort of wave function? What sort of equation would describe them? But then I thought about Mensa.

    I had a maths professor in high school who was part of Mensa. Seriously. Genius. Great guy. One problem: he was too smart. Explain some sort of theorem – say you’re doing an integral to calculate something. A calculation that would require us, nugget-brained chimps, ten steps. He’d explain it in two, calculate integrals in his own mind, do logarithms by touching his fingers and… ta-dah, done. They had to assign another professor to help him out, acting like a Genius-Dimwit live translator as if we were at the UN.

    Sorry, I digress. 1051 W Howard St, Chicago is not far from a restaurant called the Peckish Pig, or so Google Maps tells me. Please tell me it’s great. It cannot be anything but great with that name. That’s what I wanted to say all along..


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Curses to the dormant brain syndrome, though even when my brain was wide awake I would not have understood a bit of that math you mention. No one, not even a genius dimwit live translator can get me to understand math.

      I’ve heard that the food at Peckish Pig is tasty, or so the neighborhood chat groups say (whenever they pause from posting things like “Anyone hear that loud boom? What was it?” ) HOB and I are too cheap to go out to eat, though occasionally we go in for the burrito made in the back of a grocery store type of place. (I hope these secret eateries survive the pandemic).

      Are you still in lockdown?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, sorta. There are some limita, some shops are still closed. But it’s easing

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Hmm. As one dormant brain to another, don’t recall any paintings of the visitation. If I’ve ever seen one, it can’t be as striking as the one your db found. I spent many of my formative years in mid-century modern buildings: totally recognize the architecture. After being all functional (but not brutal) inside the buildings, the architects would go mad and play with concrete at and over the entrance.


  7. Kapi Ketu bhagat · · Reply


    Liked by 1 person

  8. N Ridge is the only one with any architectural merit, in my view, the rest in some International Brutalist Style where a concrete awning is the only real nod towards human scale and antique vaulting, and even the latter serves little function if it’s blowing a gale with horizontal rain. Lazy, lazy, lazy architecture practices, to come up with something so uninspired, lacklustre and pointless.

    But I did laugh at the Visitation! But it’s beaten by those paintings of the Virgin lactating into St Bernard’s mouth. (Can’t get this appalling image out of my mind since watching Hannah Gadsby’s stand-up show Douglas on Netflix… 😁)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh I have a whole collection of The Lactation of St. Bernard. Big secret about me: before I blogged about travel I blogged about weird pictures of baby Jesus.

      Once the pandemic is over I’ll probably come to my senses and stop loving the International Brutalist Style. At least I spared you my countless photos of 60’s patterned grills that often grace the facades of these 4 plus ones.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hah, I’d like to have a link to the baby Jesus blog posts! Btw, I can recommend the Hannah Gadsby show I mentioned, funny and provocative and to the point, if you haven’t seen it.


  9. I once had a room mate who was endlessly telling me about her high IQ. The actual number varied, so maybe she was taking the Buzzfeed quizzes that keep cropping up on Facebook. Same roommate was also endlessly telling me how she turned down a place in Yale; I used to wind her up by pretending not to have heard of it.
    Brain fog is descending on everyone under lockdown I think. I read a book and then a few days later I can’t remember what it was about.or maybe that’s normal for me now. I can’t even remember what I used to do before lockdown.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yale is a brand of locks, right?

      I seem to recall that before lockdown we traveled….


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