Friday, April 30, 2004

The Fallen

I don't really know where to start with this, so forgive me if I tend to ramble here. I'm watching "Nightline" right now and Ted Koppel has dedicated tonight's program to reading off the names of all 721 soldiers killed in Iraq since the invasion last year. Regardless of whether you consider yourself a liberal or conservative, centrist or progressive, Koppel is putting a somber human element to the story of the war.

It's one of the major stories that has gotten lost among the partisan bickering, politick, and reporting about the war. Probably the largest story. When men and women volunteer to serve in the armed forces, they swear to protect, defend, and uphold the Constitution of the United States and the basic freedoms most of us take for granted. I honored that oath for six years for six years to the best of my ability.

In the liner notes to his "Jerusalem" album Steve Earle wrote "in spite of our own worst intentions and ignorance of our own history our Constitution has proven resilient enough to withstand anything we throw at it, including ourselves. Fierce vigilance against the erosion of its proven principles is at the heart of our peculiarly American brand of democracy."

Whether or not you think war should be waged on terrorism (I do) or if the war on Iraq is a gross miscalculation by fortunate sons that has led to needless deaths of countrymen (I do) we must remember that the men and women deployed in Iraq are abiding by their sworn oath so that we can insist on asking of our leaders in these darkest of hours the questions they would not want us to ask.

Weekend Round-up: Get your compassion on!!

Well, having spent the day doing minor chores and working on my story for the next "Speak Easy" I thought I would get a plug for a weekend benefit in the off chance anyone reads this thing, sent to me via my friend Juanita. To wit:


312 943 7815



-DJ'S (friends of Ben's)


"Benjamim" is her son, a locally based hip-hop artist and producer who was recently diagnosed with full-blown AIDS. The proceeds of the event will help offset his medical costs, as those cocktails aren't cheap. And for those of you who've never been to Weeds, go for the place alone.

I'll be sending out information next week on the line-up for the next "Speak Easy" at HotHouse. I promise to have you all tucked in by a resonable hour this time. Also, I will be reading this time around. That is, provided I can finish this story and edit it.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

The new vernacular

Damn! I'm getting old.

Today I treated a couple of loud, mouthy teenagers on the Loop-bound Orange Line. I didn't even know I had treated them. In fact, until I could no longer tolerate them I had no idea what it meant to treat someone.

Apparently, to "treat" someone is to either a) disrespect them or b) put them in line. I treated them in the latter case; they took it as the former. Either way, they shut up once I treated them. Then the murmuring started.

"Man, white boy treated you."

"Naw, you the one who talked back, he treated you."

"Uh-uh! You got treated!!"

Then I saw that the weather word on the Sun-Times' front page was "fo'shizzle." No shizzle. I can only assume that one day in the near future the phrase "I'm Rick James, bitch" will be plastered on the front page of the Sun-Times to describe a wonderful spring day.

And that's the heezy! Represent!!

Friday, April 23, 2004

Like rats to a dumpster, they come.

Scene: Osco 6 p.m. I'm shopping for degreaser and rust remover for my road bike tune-up tomorrow. The guy immediately in front of me in line is an old acquaintance from the days when I would polish off a liter of Bombay Sapphire without a thought of the consequences. This guy could always match that and then some.

This evening, he looked good. He was wearing state trooper shades, clean-cut, clean-shaven, a bit trimmer. Best of all he looked like he'd cut back on his drinking, but he was still someone you could use to fill a few spots on a Hipster Bingo card, if you were so inclined. His girlfriend was with him, complete with the platform shoes, dyed black hair, and faux-fur coat.

I waited for the moment where he would turn around, we would "recognize" each other, and immediately engage in a minute or two of uncomfortable small talk while his debit card was processing. But it never came. He just stood there in his cool-kid uniform, hiding a poker face behind those shades, giving off the same "I'm too good for this shit" attitude he always had. I wondered if he wondered how his life came to the point to where he was using a debit card for a pack of smokes in a drug store on the South Side of Chicago, when Oscos in Wicker Park have so much more cache because they're in Wicker Park.

Before that (un)encounter, the last time I spoke to him was when the Skylark first opened.

Personally, I never thought the place would open, knowing the maze the city makes tavern license holders run to open a bar. The Skylark had been rumored to be opening for years when I first moved out south. Now that it has I'm starting to see some familiar faces. Faces I recognize from boozy nights at Border Line, Rainbo, or Estelle's back when that place was a beer-shot-and-meth bar. Most of them still look the same, with just slight nods to age- a wrinkle here, some gray hidden with hair dye, a slight paunch. They've set up camp at Halsted and 22nd Street as if it's their Alamo. A bridge connects Halsted between 22nd (or Cermak Road, if you prefer) and Archer Avenue, and suddenly you're in Bridgeport, which was always a word that was spat out of our mouths back then as if the neighborhood was beneath us.

Out of necessity I took the plunge and have now lived in Bridgeport for close to five years. I wished I had moved down here sooner. Meanwhile, those same acquaintences sit at barstools at the Skylark, too old for the Rainbos of our past, but not wanting to go over that bridge and let go of their preconceptions and pretensions along the way.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Spin Control

Here's a message from my buddy Whitney From Ravenswood:

"(W)hy the fuck would Bush --who's an idiot but not quite mentally retarded-- allow Bob Woodward anywhere near him?"

I don't know. Maybe Dubya loved Woodward's glowing puff piece potrayal of the Nixon Administration.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

The Disc Jockey in Me!

At the risk of losing my sanity I've been treating myself to constant spins of "The Duel", the new cd by Allison Moorer. "The Duel" has been hailed by the wonderfully credible folks at as "THE most improtant album of 2004" and "(possibly) the bravest country album of all time."

That's the kind of hyperbole usually reserved by the Sun-Times' Jim Derogatis for Courtney Love records.

My guess is that prior to listening to "The Duel" reviewer Matt Cibula was unfamiliar with Johnny Cash's "Live at Folsom Prison." Regardless, "The Duel" is an amazing record. Probably not the most important record of 2K4, but one that should wind up on the year-end best-of lists of any pop music critic that doesn't have an unhealthy fascination with cracked-out fame whores.

The immediate sonic reference point for "The Duel" would be Neil Young circa "Harvest" or the early years of Crazy Horse. Lyrically the range from unhealthy obsession ("I Ain't Giving Up On You"), rejection of role model status ("Once Upon A Time She Said"), loss of faith (the title track), and death (the beautifully maudlin lullaby "Sing Me To Sleep.")

The centerpiece of the album is the one-two combination of "All Aboard" and the title track. "All Aboard" is a six-minute fuck you to pro-war jingoists with a melody reminiscent of the Alan Parsons Project's "Eye In the Sky." The title track, with spare accompaniment of piano and harmonica, contains lyrics that would make Tom Waits or Leonard Cohen proud.

So today I've put "The Duel" aside in favor of "Impossible Dream", the new release by Patty Griffin.

[An aside before I start writing about this album: Patty Griffin records for ATO Records, the vanity label RCA set up for Dave Matthews. Another ATO signee is the awesome My Morning Jacket. I'm finding it very hard coming to terms with the fact that Dave Matthews and I have similar taste in music when I think his band is one of the great evils of popular music. Anyone else feel the same?]

"Impossible Dream" is such a beautifully ethereal sounding album with nods to gospel, folk, country, blues, and rock. Right now I'm rewinding "Kite Song", a tender mournful song with some of the most beautiful lyrics I've read in ages, over and over. "Impossible Dream" is full of songs of loves lost, found, and in transition, arranged specifically to place an emphasis on Griffin's ringing alto. Fans of the Dixie Chicks' Griffin-penned hit "Top Of The World" will like the comparison to Grifin's original arrangement.

I'll leave you with that now that I read like a blushing teenaged girl. Go out and get these albums if I piqued your interest.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Home Improvement with Siegfried and Roy

Yesterday I went to a office and restaurant supply store suggested to me by a friend who runs a catering company. I came upon a cheap piece of butcher block and decided to build my own island for the kitchen. I'd managed to sand down the block to bare wood over the past month and went to this supply store to get price quotes on table legs.

I was thumbing through the catalogs when I noticed a set of pictures of the store owner with a large wild cat. The cat looked like a lynx and in the various pictures was bottled fed, playing in a yard, and nuzzling up to the store owner.

I focused my attention back to the catalogs, looking for the right style legs for my butcher block, when I heard a low purr coming from the back of the store. I ignored it, thinking my mind was playing tricks on me, then I heard it again. I looked up and, having seen nothing, went back to my perusal of the catalogs.

There were two other customers in the store with me- a father and daughter opening a restaurant. They were also looking at the pictures and asking questions. "Is that a lynx?" asked the daughter.

"No, she's an African Serval," was the store owner's reply.

"Where did you see her?" Asked the father.

"Oh, I raised her from a kitten," said the store owner. "She stays here in the store."

I looked up when I heard that. The daughter started to breathe heavy and fidget. The store owner moved to reassure all of us that the cat was harmless.

"If you look up toward the ceiling, you'll see her pop her head out," she said. I looked up and saw a cage on the second floor, then my eyes widened as I saw a high-angled pair of ears perk up above the cage. The cat peered down at the scene in the store, held our collective gaze, and went back to sleep.

"See," the store owner said, "I told you she's harmless."

"You've never had a problem with her," I asked.

She pointed to a certificate on the wall that certified her as a licensed breeder of African Servals. "She's just like any other housecat to me."

"So she's a mouser," I said.

"Don't know. We don't have mice."

I stayed a few more moments, asked for a quote on a sweet set of table legs I found in one of the catalogs, and gave my numbers so I could get the quote. When I reached the door I panicked a bit. Another of the store's employees had locked the door. When he unlocked it I left the store really fast, hoping I could finish my purchase over the phone.

The Shorts Are Out

Unfortunately, so are the vast abundance of accompanying fluorescent legs.

I was going to post earlier in the week about John Ashcroft's testimony to the 9/11 commission. But what is understood really doesn't need to be discussed. Nevertheless, if there is a hell, there should be a special place reserved for John Ashcroft where he's hogtied, his eyelids are forced open with pins like a Dario Argento horror flick, and he's forced to watch girl-on-girl porn for eternity. Every time he gets aroused a dull cigar guillotine comes down on his pee-pee, mangling it beyond recognition while not fully severing it.

Oh, well. Enjoy the weekend.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Epicurean Adventures

The crab cakes were beyond compare, as were the individual entrees. If there was one thing that could have been improved, it was the fluorescent lighting over our heads. But since this dinner was in the middle of a corner grocery, it could be forgiven. Most of all the company was beyond compare.

We hadn't seen Betts in months. She was only back in town in order to say the formal goodbyes she put off last year. When her decision was finally made to stay in Colorado near her mother, things began to fall into place for her. The four of us were relaxed in each others' company, and that comfort transferred easily to the banter at the table. The conversation flowed from textiles; to animation; to music; to the abundance of crystal meth in rural areas; to stories of bad dinners in more upscale places. Did I mention the crab cakes were amazing?

We closed the place, having finally left the grocery long after the stoves had cooled. It was a crisp spring night, so Betts and I headed over to the bar down the street for nightcaps, which turned into four rounds served by a Polish girl who was rocking some serious cuteness behind the bar. Polaroids were snapped and shaken; the jukebox finally made it through the twenty tunes I picked. We drained our shot glasses and headed out into the night. Betts was feeling no pain and leaned on me as we made our way back to my place.

I woke up the following morning. Betts set up camp on my couch, so I tiptoed around and whipped up some breakfast. Betts woke up to the sound of me steaming milk. We ate in the silence that only good friends can appreciate. When Betts finally left, her presence was replaced by high winds and falling temperatures. I don't think it was a coincidence. I can still hear her waxing on about the flat top mountains of Grand Junction and how beautiful Colorado is in spring.