Saturday, January 31, 2004

Don't Give Men In Kansas The "Queer Eye"

I came across this story while perusing Choire's website. I can't say I'm surprised. After all, Kansas does allow its public schools to teach both the theories of evolution and creationism and is one of the most strict proponents of "abstinence education" or, as Dan Savage calls it, "sex with guilt."

I seem to remember meeting some Cuban Catholics in Miami when I was in the Navy who engaged in anal sex because they wanted to be "virgins" when they married. It took a few hours- and a couple pitchers of strawberry daquiris- but I finally convinced one of them that once she's literally given up her ass, her vagina holds no challenge for the man.

'Course it's a lie. But she was much better off for it.

Uh, I Lost My Keys

So yesterday I'm doing some work around the house. That is, if one defines "work" as lounging on the couch listening to 'XRT. Suddenly my doorbell rings. I don a sweater and shoes and head downstairs to see who's at the door.

I open the door and look to my left. In the gangway there's some guy trying to pry open another door with a crowbar. And he's really into his chosen task, as well. I stare at him in disbelief then gather my wits and say, "Can I help you?"

Dude dropped the crowbar to his side and hollers, "Yeah. Can you call the building manager? I need to get inside." Now I'm thinking, the nerve of this guy. I kept looking at this man and asked back, "Why?"

With a straight face, the man shot back, "My sister is moving into the first floor apartment and she forgot to give me the key. She just signed a lease and I'm helping her move some stuff out."

I wanted to make sure that I caught what he said correctly. "Your sister's moving in to the apartment and you're helping her move stuff out?

"Yeah," he replied. All this time the man didn't make even the slightest effort to hide the crowbar.

"Why do you have the crowbar?" I asked.

"She didn't leave me the key." He replied.

"Okay," I said. "I'll go ahead and call the landlady for you."

The dude sighed with relief. "Man, thanks a lot. You don't know how grateful I am." He relaxed, placing the crowbar in full view.

I smiled back at him. "Yep. I'm gonna call the landlady. Just as soon as I shove that crowbar up your ass. Then I'm going to call the cops and have you arrested and treated for your injuries. Then I'm going to call my landlady."

I thought that would have scared the guy away. But he just looked back at me and said, "Well, can you go ahead and call your landlady then, 'cause I got a moving truck out in front." I rolled my eyes, locked the door, and ran upstairs to grab my cell phone and a hammer for self-defense. When I got back downstairs, the burglar had split. Apparently he didn't like his chances armed with a crowbar against me. At least, that's what my ego kept telling me. My id had me shaking like a leaf.

I dialed 911 anyway and filed the report. Later in the afternoon, I walked to my landlady's house to hand her the report. She's a nice lady- a retired U of C engineering professor from China, she gets around with the help of a motorized wheelchair and lives in the blighted section of Bridgeport. She can't be at the building all the time, but she does her best to ensure that it's maintained. I don't complain; the building is free of vermin, relatively draft-free, and my maintenance calls are answered in short order. My downstairs neighbor and I take turns shoveling the snow when it falls. I've lived in better looking apartments with worse maintenance.

In my head runs a looped conversation I had with a neighbor, an old Sicilian woman who's rented the same apartment for the past forty years. All she could do yesterday when the cops came was complain that my landlady only bought the building for the money. "I lived in this neighborhood for forty years and never had to lock my door."

I ran my fingers across the door jamb where the burglar wedged his crowbar and whispered, "Sometimes you should."

Thursday, January 29, 2004

End-of-week notes

I've been waking up early the past two days. Early as in six a.m. I'm doing this in an effort to fight cabin fever and the depression that accompanies it. Having decided long ago never to take meds to fight depression (a story for another time), I've found over the years that keeping busy has been the best tonic to get out of the doldrums. Luckily I have a nice backlog of work to tide me over until this weather breaks.

I've got one interview and some record reviews to turn in to Jazz Review. Then I'm gonna turn in my resignation there to focus on Make Magazine and helping Write Club Chicago obtain its NPO status. The Speak Easy series seems to be building steam and developing into what I originally envisioned quicker than the timeline I predicted last year. I'm already receiving blind queries from people interested in reading or performing at the May show. After I post this I'll go answer some e-mail about that.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Things To Do On A School Night

One of the benefits of sleeping in late on a Sunday is that you have energy for last-minute get-togethers and social functions. Having said that I'm snowshoeing up Halsted to the Skylark to check out Can-Ky-Ree this evening while the Pilsen/Bridgeport corridor is still relatively free of hipsters.


Saturday, January 24, 2004

Oklahoma City Lookin' Mighty Pretty

While Howard Dean takes his singles mixer to New Hampshire, Then South Carolina, then St. Louis and Joplin, Missouri and all other points along Route 66, we're digging ourselves out of some snow.

It's gotten to the point where some of the neighbors are being proactive and breaking out whatever they can to save their parking spaces. This is an illegal action but one that is tacitly condoned by the city. I view it as an opportunity to walk the streets of Chicago looking for home furnishings. Daddy needs a kitchenette set.

Monday, January 19, 2004

"Speak Easy" announcement

Well, it looks as though the growing snowball that is "Speak Easy" just keeps getting bigger. For those of you who haven't gotten the message, we're holding the next one at HotHouse on February 18th. We're also getting serious inquiries about the next reading, from both potential participants and audiences. So now the question becomes how to control the growth. I want to make "Speak Easy" an event. And hosting a weekly showcase, even a monthly one, could dilute that. I also want to be able to showcase Write Club members whenever possible when they have solid material. But that's something we'll need to discuss among the core Write Club members.

Here's the line-up for the February show:

-Second City alum Mike Zapata (shameless plug: I and the rest of Write Club Chicago are working with Mike on producing a literary journal called Make Magazine. Keep posted: we'll be taking submissions real soon.)

-Poet Michelle Kaffko

- Writers Gina DiPonio and Brandon Hopkins from AfterMAPH (a writers' group composed of alumni from the University of Chicago's Masters of Arts Program in the Humanities)

- Chicago Tribune reporter James Janega

- Write Club Chicago members Kelly Robertis, Fred Follansbee, and Sasha Simonitch

- Special guests Oba William King and Marvin Tate.

- Musical group The Bitter Tears will provide glorious melodies between sets.

The theme of this edition of "Speak Easy" is "The Afterglow." Inspired partly by the packed house that received us enthusiastically at Jinx Coffee House in November and the emotional high that we all felt afterward, "The Afterglow" will center on how we deal with the immediate moments following personal triumphs, tragedies, and watershed events in our lives.

I know I truly appreciated the turnout for our inaugural event at Jinx in November and hope to build upon that. Things went way better than planned for the quick way we just slapped things together. Plus, sharing a mike with guys I admire like Oba, and old Unofficial Soup Kitchen partners-in-crime like Chris McMahon, Rob Olmstead and Chris Hyatt brought back some old memories when we thought we all had the world by the balls. Just seeing the smile on Rob's face afterward over nightcaps at Bar Thirteen was worth it.

If you were the November show and had a great time, or if you will be attending your first "Speak Easy", please tell as many people as you possibly can about the next show. We would like to see a capacity crowd or, barring that, a good-sized, enthusiastic one. Hope to see you there and thanks you all for your support.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Well, The Race Is On!!

And that George Jones song makes a great title for this post this evening.

Tomorrow the Iowa Caucuses finally happen as thousands of Iowans flock to the polls to determine who play the Democrats' Polish horse calvary to the Bush/Cheney 2004 luftwaffe. A tight four-way race has developed, with Howard Dean's lead flushed down a drain like the inflated dot-com stock on which it was built.

Senators John Kerry and John Edwards hold a slight lead over Dean in the latest Des Moines Register poll, followed by Dick Gephardt, who's still running as though he deserves the nomination for years of loyal service to the party. General Wesley Clark has conceded Iowa in favor of heavy campaigning in the New Hampshire Primary. A strong showing by Clark could make the race for the Democratic nomination a contentious one that may not be settled until the party convention hits Boston in July.

I'm completely engrossed by the Dean candidacy. It reminds me of a student council race where the captain of the football team just walks the school halls in his letterman's jacket, smiles a lot, and says "I'm running for student council president." Dean has adopted the fiery, progressive rhetoric of the nebbishy Dennis Kucinich without adopting Kucinich's progressive towards hot button issues in this campaign, save for the War in Iraq, which is like saying you hate canned spinach because it has that tinny aftertaste. Then there's the Dean campaign's "internet campaign" program through Meet-Up, as if he's the first candidate to harness the potential of the Web. I've got news for you. Go visit the President's web site for a glimpse of what a finely honed internet campaign is really about.

I had the chance to attend a Dean Meet-up function a couple months back. it was nothing more than a glorified singles' mixer. The meeting went as follows:

- Dean supporters gather at a local tavern/bookstore/coffeehouse.
- Dean supporters talk in broad terms about how the Bush administration is dragging the nation to Hell in an handbasket, which isn't a stretch for anyone who's paid attention the past three years. No mention is made about how Dr. Dean will change things; only that he's better than the White house's current occupant.
- Drinks are purchased, most commonly an apple martini or an Australian syrah. The organizer of the meet-up vainly attempts to keep everyone on message.
- The cute people exchange phone numbers and set up a weekend date for drinks at the Tiny Lounge. Dean Meet-up organizer weighs the options of siding with Kucinich.

It was as though the Dean Meet-Up was commandeered by members of Nerve Personals. My guess is should Dean win the nomination, his candidacy will resemble the failed bids of Goldwater in '64, McGovern in '72, or Mondale's '84 fiasco. In short, Bush wins in a mandate. Well, as close to a mandate as one can claim when only forty percent of registered voters go to the polls.

My hunch is that Senator Kerry is the candidate best suited for a long, dirty campaign. He's matched the tough talk of Dean step-for-step and has the credibility of having actually seen military combat in Vietnam, unlike our coalition-of-the-willing building, Texas Air National Guard skipping President. If the GOP tries to brand Kerry as unpatriotic, like they did fellow Vietnam veteran and triple amputee Zell Miller of Georgia during the midterm elections, Kerry will go for blood. And he'll get it.

I don't expect John Edwards to last much past Super Tuesday. He's young, fresh, and inexperienced, and he strikes a Clintonian populist tone that will resonate with Bible Belt residents hit hard by the fallout of the Bush tax cuts. He's an almost certain lock to be the running mate of the Democratic nominee. And, being on the short side of fifty with a healthy heart, he'll be the anti-Cheney.

I fully expect Gephardt to drop out of the race after New Hampshire, where he'll return to the House with his tail between his legs, embittered that he wasn't handed the nomination like Bush four years ago or Dole in 1996.

Clark is the wild card in the race. If he has a strong showing in New Hampshire, he'll get some much-needed financial support that will carry him to South Carolina. But to me he comes across as a disinterested technocrat who lacks the fire in his belly that Kerry has. If Kucinich doesn't drop out- and I hope he doesn't, it keeps Ralph Nader and his chicken little liberalism out of the race.

Whoever the Democratic nominee is, he needs to hit Bush over the head with tough rhetoric: Bush's lack of military credentials; the way he pissed away the outreach of our allies after the 9/11 bombings; the failure of the "No Child Left Behind" act; the encroachment of the Patriot Act on our civil liberties; the swelling deficit brought about by the Bush tax cuts.

The Bush campaign strategy is already in place. They're going to hit voters over the head with patriotic jingoism. They're going to spin the war on terror, insisting that America is safer from the "turrists." Bush is pulling a page from the Jack Kennedy playbook and promoting new manned space missions to the moon and Mars. And anyone who deosn't think that the GOP won't use the World Trade Center site for an heartstring-tugging photo op come convention time is fooling themselves.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Sometimes You Can Go Back Home Again

I took a deep breath and dialed the number she gave me, my thumb rested gently on the disconnect in case the nerves came. Four rings later and I was waiting for her answering machine to beep. I cleared my throat once more and left my number for her to call back. I hung up the phone and occupied myself with busy work. I turned on my computer and typed ideas for my opening monologue for next month's reading, answered some e-mails, and ate another of the oranges that Sue brought back from Florida.

I settled under my comforter when the phone rang. I knew it was her calling back but wanted to let it ring a couple more times. I reached for the phone, picked up the receiver and answered.

A familiar bubbly voice filled my ear. "Hi, Chuck." And with those words we were having our first telephone conversation in ten years. I sat on the couch and just listened to her: the tone of her voice, the accent only found on the northwest side of Chicago, her laughing. It was like we were working at Musicland again, playing Def Leppard's "Hysteria" over and over, me putting my left arm inside my shirt to imitate Rick Allen, her begging for a picture of me so she can show her best friend at school.

The last we had we had didn't go so well. We each said some things that irritated the other. And while they weren't maliciously vindictive, they did indeed cut into the thin skin of our early adulthood. These weren't words that could be forgotten with the purchase of a giant M&M cookie, like we often did in our teens. Nor were they words that could roll off our backs like water now that we're in our thirties. But they drove a wedge between us that kept us separated while life happened in the interim.

We caught each other up on what happened to us in the past ten years. It doesn't seem that long, but it is. Then she asked me a question.

"What is 'Ship it to M P L S?'"

"That's 'Ship it to MPLS'", I said. "It's pronounced 'miplis.' It's what we used to say at Musicland whenever we had to send a defective Walkman to the Minneapolis headquarters."

We laughed in unison, then she asked, "Do you know who I saw at PetCo the other day?"

"Who?" I asked.


"Who?" I asked again.

"RanDEE," she repeated.

I remembered then that Randy was our manager at Musicland. "Holy shit! He's still in retail after all these years?"

"Yeah," she said, "and selling me kitty litter nowadays."

"Well he has to be managing the place," I interjected.

"I don't think so," she replied. "I didn't see a manager's name tag or anything."

We talked for a bit more and exchanged numbers again, agreeing to get together for coffee sometime since we both work downtown. If things go well I might bust out my Rick Allen imitation.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Miscellaneous Detritus and Belated Apologies

I've been reading about the disappearance of Spaulding Gray in the papers the past couple days. I wasn't Gray's biggest admirer. His monologues read to me as cloying and too self-absorbed; every itch in his pants misinterpreted as a need for sex; the life lessons he learned in his adventures quickly forgotten with each sudden flare-up of his myriad neuroses. I remember four years ago I ran into two women who had tickets to a Gray performance at the Goodman Theater who walked out after twenty minutes. The walked along the concrete breakwaters of the lakeshore and came into HotHouse for a drink. When I asked where they were coming from, the petite woman of the couple said that they walked out of the performance and said, "He's a sad character. He's in his middle age staring at his belly button for answers to the meaning of life." Her partner was less charitable and spat out, "Fuck Spaulding Gray!"

I find myself empathizing with him a little bit now that I'm starting to read my stories onstage again and having gone to therapy myself. It does take a brave person to lay himself bare. I don't think any of us can truly do it- we can't completely separate ourselves from our emotions to honestly analyze our lives. We can write about it and, if we're creative, turn it into a positive. Maybe get some measure of relief in the laughter and applause of a rapt audience. But we still can't fully analyze the root problems. That's why we pay therapists to do that for us. Handsomely, I might add.

Still, I wouldn't wish whatever Gray may be going through on anyone, if he's still alive. A link I found at Bazima listed a Newsday article that says officials are investigating whether Gray may have jumped off the Staten Island Ferry to his death. As I was reading it I began to think of comparisons between Bazima and Gray. Neither of them has any shame in their game. And until recently, both carried the burden of living up to their alter egos.

I was introduced to Bazima's writing by happenstance. I was looking for on-line humor and a web search pulled up her old site. Her early writing concentrated on her dating exploits in New York City, so much so that the New York Press named her site "best blog" two years ago. Bas named names, didn't apologize, and moved on. It was entertaining and voyeuristic, but not much else.

Soon enough, the site became a one-trick pony as she tried to move past "Single in the City" stories and write about different subjects, with the regular visitors chiming in unison "We want to read about more sex!!". The breaking point came with a post where she wrote about a chance sighting of author Jonathan Safran Foer (Everything Is Illuminated) in downtown Manhattan. The comments link lit up with posts about how she couldn't have seen Foer because he was in Israel, or a book tour, or not in New York, or holed up writing another novel. Soon, the comments turned into personal attacks on Bazima, accusing her of being a liar, whore, starfucker, or any combination of the three. A common reply to the post was "How can you be so fucking stupid as to make a mistake like that?" Some were worse.

I remember it vividly because I posted the first negative comment to the post. It wasn't about Bazima, though. It was about Foer; the jist of the comment was "he seems like the type of writer who would bitch about not receiving a toasted bagel with melted muenster cheese in quick order." From there it snowballed and Bazima was totally "haterized", as she later called it. Soon after, she pulled the comments link from her posts and lay low for awhile. I, and untold others, waited.

Bazima came back during the Independence Day holidays with a vengeance and a newfound focus. Admitting that she was having a hard time living up to the Bazima character she placed in words, Bazima declared herself free from having to live up to her readers' expectations. That admission was like the removal of an albatross from her neck. Free to write about more than her dating life, Bazima gained an added maturity not seen in her previous work. An astute reader could see a burgeoning confidence brewing underneath her posts, which were less frequent but more meaningful. She was writing with more of clarity and humor again, even as her personal life took turn for the worse around the holidays. But she didn't flinch. In that regard, she was very much like Spaulding Gray. She doesn't post as much as she used to- she does have bills to pay, after all- but she doesn't have the pressure of having to live up to a character and post every day as well. Maybe that weight finally got to Gray.

Bazima's now living the freelance life in Brooklyn- a bold step in the city that never sleeps. Being no stranger to freelancing myself, I'd like to offer her two things about the freelance life she may add to her post "What I learned in my first week as a freelancer":

- Thanks to a favorable Supreme Court ruling, your apartment, phone bill, and any lunch receipt is now a tax deduction.

-There are other people floating about the ether wishing you the best.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Everyone's a Detective These Days

This isn't going to be a deep, original lead sentence, but in the Information Age, one can find just about anything. Sites like Classmates, My Space, Tribe, and even God forsaken Friendster, (with it's slow load time and often broken search features) can allow you to make contact with people you lost touch with in short order.

I was goofing around on Classmates (I received a notice that someone I served with in the Navy wanted me to post a photo) the other day when I decided to search for people I hadn't talked to in years. After three or four tries, I struck paydirt typing the name of an old friend who used to work with me at a record store. We lost touch after an argument close to ten years ago; unable to remember the details I do recall that I called her a "drama queen", which started the argument.

It turned out she registered with Classmates, as well. She had returned to college since then, earning a degree in English/English Lit. I wanted to read more, but I wasn't about to fork over thirty bucks to Classmates for the privilege. So, I headed over to Google, typed my old friend's name in the search engine, and clicked my mouse. Google returned only three results, but one of those results had an e-mail address associated with the name.

Now, I wanted to make sure that I had the right person, so I cut and pasted the e-mail address in the search bar. That search yielded not much more than the first search, but I had a good feeling I was on the right track. So, I took a deep breath and opened my e-mail program.

Although I was certain I had the right person, I figured it would be wise to play it safe, just in case. So I typed that I had done a search on Classmates and Google, and was writing to see how she was doing. I also placed the disclaimer that if I was somehow mistaken, to disregard the e-mail. Then, with one more deep breath, I clicked my mouse and sent the message. All I could do was wait.

So I was surprised this morning when I fired up my PC this morning to find that she did indeed return the e-mail. She cannot remember how we left things, which I guess is good because she did take it more seriously than I did. Maybe I'll leave that part out when we do meet up again.

Saturday, January 10, 2004

Coffee Achiever Saturday

Yesterday went by in a flash and I took care of things I had been ignoring for a while. It went beyond just letting the apartment go to pot. I spent some time yesterday finalizing the lineup for next month's live reading at HotHouse. The one person I really want to work with is still playing phone tag with me, so I'm waiting on confirmation from him before we start the promotion in full- flyers, mailings, et al. I'll be picking up a video of the first show we produced from Mark today so we can submit it to Artbeat Chicago. Hey, it's worth a shot.

I'll be placing more details of the lineup up here when things are finalized. It is looking to be a great evening of storytellers and musicians. Hope to see people there. Now I've gotta finish brewing my morning espresso.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Minimalizing: Not the American Way

Reading the Chicago Sun-Times yesterday I came upon an article that showed me that maybe we are recovering from the 9/11 attacks. It seems as though not everyone is satisfied with "Reflecting Absence", the winning World Trade Center memorial by designers Michael Arad and Peter Walker. The minimalist design, highlighted by reflecting pools in the old WTC footprints, has come under fire.

Anthony Gardner, who lost his brother in the attacks and is a member of a coalition for family groups, said the design is "unacceptable."

Gardner said Tuesday, "This is minimalism, and you can't minimalize the impact and enormity of September 11th."

I believe that Gardner meant to say "you can't minimize the impact and enormity of September 11th." Never minding his confusion, there has been some voicing over how the victims should be remembered. The memorial will remember all of the victims of the attacks, including those killed in the Pentagon, in Pennsylvania, and aboard the hijacked airliners. It also will honor those killed in the 1993 WTC bombing. This grouping of all the victims of both attacks together is drawing heavy criticism from rescue workers who want separate recognition for their colleagues. This contention by the rescue workers reads to me like an extension of the tribal mentality that emerged during the cleanup of the WTC site after the attacks. In "American Ground", a three-part expose in The Atlantic Monthly William Langewiesche wrote of the feudal system that developed between volunteer construction workers, FDNY, and Port Authority officials, and of the power struggles between them.

I find it both alarming and comforting to find that the Arad/Walker design is drawing criticism. At the risk of drawing fire from those who lost loved ones on that day, it appears as though the wounds are healing. The scars run deep and obvious, and as they begin to fade voices like Mr. Gardner and the rescue workers raise in petty bickering and politics.

March 2004 will mark two-and-a-half years since the attacks. In short order the WTC site will be bustling with new construction as both the memorial and the proposed Freedom Tower will be built. In the interim I fully expect the Bush administration to use the WTC site as an emotionally charged photo op when the Republican convention hits New York on the eve of the attacks fourth anniversary. A photo op that will be used ad nauseum to sway voters into actually electing Bush into a second term this time.

The best way to honor the collective memory of those who died that day would be to shelve the egos and get to rebuilding. In an age where we're letting fear dictate how we live, a rebuilt WTC site would send a powerful message to those who wish to frighten us- abroad and at home- that we will not cower in the shadow of heightened alerts.

That would show that we're not minimalizing the impact and enormity of it all.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Slowly Making the Place My Own!

I'm sitting down here to post after a night of mindless television. Well, it's not totally mindless, really. It's "24." And while "day three" is admittedly not up to the caliber of the first two seasons, it's still better than anything on standard broadcast television today.

The "brass bra cold" has gotten worse, if you can imagine. I donned the layers like a UPS package and was still frozen solid by the time I got to work. It's warmer in my apartment. I'm keeping the thermostat at a balmy 60 degrees out of fear that People's Energy'll gouge my ass over the winter months. I'm either keeping the gas bill at under two hundred dollars a month throughout winter or I'm dying of pneumonia. There's no middle ground here.

Last night's "House of Dreams" premiere party at Piece Pizza was a blast. I made a bet with another friend over whether Mark, who's on the show, would be the first one voted off. The bet was only for a beer. A good beer.

And I'll end this exercise in trying to break my writer's block here. Good Night.

Monday, January 05, 2004

Brass Bra Cold!!!

I've got a couple days off at the day job this week while we do some clean-up and renovations, so I'm working out some writer's block right now. The deep freeze is on as the snow stopped falling last night and now the winds are in. My stepfather calls it "colder than a witches tit in a brass bra" outside. The cappucino I made is not helping matters.

Over the summer my friend Mark took part in a reality television series that debuts tonight. It's called "House of Dreams." It's a "Survivor" type unscripted series where sixteen people are assembled to build a house, but only one of them will win the house. Like most reality shows (and weblogs/personal journals, for that matter) some people participate for altruistic means, some in a desperate bid for fleeting fame. Or, as Mark would say, "processing through Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs."

Anyhoo, there's a premiere party at Piece Pizza in Wicker Park this evening at 7 p.m. Mark and four other contestants will be there. If I know Mark like I think I do, he'll probably be the first one voted off the show. But that won't bother him. That'll be followed by a screening of a film Mark produced for inclusion in the 2K4 Summer Olympics ceremonies. I'm sincerely praying for an open bar package.

Did I mention it's cold outside?

Winter Wonderland

It looks like, for the time being, the snow has finally stopped falling. That's good; I almost had a grabber shoveling snow earlier this evening. I certainly hope the East Coast knows what they're getting in the next day or so.

The snowfall stoked my urge to go ice skating, so I headed to McKinley Park on the Southwest Side of the city to see if their outdoor rink was open. Upon arriving there I noticed the only activity at the rink was the three attendants shoveling the snow from the rink. Apparently, there was so much snow falling that the rink was closed for the day due to "inclement weather." This made little sense to me initially. Shouldn't "inclement weather" for an outdoor rink be forty degree temperatures?

The McKinley Park ice rink is one of Chicago's hidden gems, like much of the South Side. It's located at the northwest corner of the park where Archer Avenue meets Western Boulevard. Orange Line, Metra, Amtrak, and freight trains continuously pass by. On a clear day you can see the Sears Tower in the distance. In the few times I went skating last winter the rink was never overflowing with people, unlike the rinks at Millennium Park or Navy Pier. So if you fall on your duff (and I do often- I'm not a good skater) you don't have many people to witness your shame.

I was reminded of my Uncle Stu while shoveling the snow earlier. He was charming, witty, and brazen. You never knew what he would say at any moment. That unpredictability was what I loved the most about him; to this day I owe my outspoken nature to him, if not his diplomacy. In my teens, I would've done anything for his approval.

One day in early 1988 a hard snowfall came from nowhere. It was literally unpredicted. I woke up to the sounds of Uncle Stu shoveling the gangway. I donned my winter gear and headed out to join him. Together we cleared the sidewalk and gangway in about twenty minutes. Auntie Ann came out the front door with a Kodak Disc camera and snapped a picture of us. Stu was grinning like a natural ham. I had the brim of my newsboy cap slung low, hiding my eyes. Sweating profusely, we rested our shovels on our shoulders and placed our free hands around each others waists, like lumberjacks. I took that picture to boot camp with me, reminding myself whenever I was depressed about the Florida weather that I could be shoveling snow in April.

I lost that picture, and many others, in a move a few years back. And I rarely thought about Stu or Auntie Ann until I picked up that shovel this evening. They moved to Florida in 1991, and divorced a few years later. I knew they didn't have the most ideal marriage when they took me in. Sometimes I think that my living with them only postponed their eventual separation. I didn't use to think that way. I used to think the opposite. My mother clued me into their troubles much later, when I was grown and could handle the truth. Still, I think Uncle Stu would've given me propers for the way I cleared the sidewalk this evening. Maybe we could've shared some beers.

By the way, I'm Chuck.