Monday, June 28, 2004

Surfing Around

Tipping A Sacred Cow On Parade:

Someone forwarded this wonderfully written article to me this morning about the late Sun-Times gossip columnist Irv Kupcinet. It's a truly sad and eventually apathetic tale of a man who hung on to his position like a Soviet Premier. The person who sent me the URL wrote, "They put up with him till the bitter end, out of some perverse sense of propriety."

The story is an unvarnished account of the lives of Kup, his wife Essee, their glory days of the '40's and '50's when Chicago was a major travel hub in the time before cross country air travel and television, and the tragic tale of their daughter Karyn, a struggling actress whose 1963 death in Hollywood was ruled a murder. The article speculates that the death was an "accidental" suicide; follow-up investigations from law enforcement officials never found a killer, but they never really searched for one. Still, for a Chicago Magazine story, this was simply engrossing. Go check it out.

If The GOP Was This Disorganized Across The Nation, We'd All Be Better Off!!:

Checked out the Howtown page last night. The Humble Wiz weighed in on Jack Ryan's resignation with some concise observation and a deservedly strong rebuking of the media for turning this story into the shitstorm that it became.

The media's been taking some well-earned shots to the chin in recent weeeks. Most reporters knew well in advance what was in the Ryan divorce files, just as they knew eight months before the Democratic Senate primary what was in Blair Hull's divorce records. Ramsin is dead-on in chastising the media for making these issues instead of placing the focus on their long-range plans for getting elected and serving the people of Illinois. Jack Ryan has (allegedly) some sexual curiosity. It isn't like he was handing out drivers licenses to unqualified truckers for campaign contributions. Blair Hull, his fortune aside, seemed to genuinely want to make a change for the people of Illinois.

I think Barack Obama would have defeated both of them straight-up, anyway. I just think the media should have made it a more fair fight instead of resorting to tabloid sensationalism. And for those people who want to point out that the real issue here is that Hull and Ryan lied, get a fucking clue. Most politicians do.

A couple of Slate commentaries explore the intentional scaling back of true investigative reporting in the post-Watergate era. Consequently, politicians and spin control artists have been able to get their message across to the public without much in the way of dissenting opinion.

This is why magazines like Mother Jones and The Atlantic Monthly are important. They haven't forgotten the lesson that Watergate taught. When the checks and balances of our government fail, we need non-partisan investigative reporting to ensure that the people aren't ignored.

But They Never Fucked a Groupie With a Mud Shark:

The lovely and talented Blaise has chosen Motley Crue's The Dirt as a nice piece of summer reading. She truly is a woman after my own heart.

I remember picking it up when the paperback edition first hit the stands, and it is truly an engrossing read. I couldn't put it down, either. It also makes for a nice drinking game. Choosing random passages from the book, readers must drink a shot:

- every time the word "dude" is used during Tommy Lee's passages
- every time Mick Mars refers to his "bellars" cocktail while wanting to commit suicide
- during all passages of Vince Neil having sex, as told by any member
- every time Nikki Sixx blames his drug and alcohol addictions to his rebellious childhood
- every time a Crue member goes to rehab and falls off the wagon

You'll be drunk before you get through the foreword, guarantee.

With Tommy Lee falling off the wagon again (a term loosely used) and Vince Neil rumored to be filming a version of "Extreme Makeover" so he can tour with the Crue next year and go shirtless on stage, The Dirt is a timely read.

I Named Her "Swirly":

Friday I went to the Esquire on Oak Street to see "Fahrenheit 9/11". I should've read the Redhead Papers first. I got home from the movie and was emptying my book bag when I saw a pregnant cockroach casually laying on the damn thing. I gently walked my way to the bathroom, flicked the roach in the toilet, and flushed three times for good measure. Then I bombed my apartment as a preemptive strike.

The next morning I was getting my laundry together. I was inspecting my book bag again and noticed the stickiest residue on the bottom. It was soda syrup from the theater.

And this theater is nestled in the middle of the richest neighborhood in Chicago, next to a dining/nightlife area ruefully referred to as the "viagra triangle." From now on I'm sticking to Burnham Plaza.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Random Thoughts on the Weekend

From a t-shirt I saw on a Sox fan walking down 31st Street Saturday Morning:

They: Have LaTroy
We: Have Shingo
They: Shingo Who?

This is always the most tense time of the year in my beloved Bridgeport. Cubs fans flood the neighborhood en masse to fill the stadium formerly known as Comiskey Park to watch city baseball bragging rights get settled. The past twenty years has seen a quantum leap for Cubs fans that all started with the 1984 team, Harry Caray and cable television that's resulted in neighborhood around Wrigley Field becoming a giant frat house with extended public transportation service.

The White Sox were keeping pace until the strike shortened season ten years ago that robbed the team of legitimately contending for a World Series. Things just haven't been the same since. Even thought the White Sox have fielded better teams, fans are staying away from the park. They will remain removed from the team until owner Jerry Reinsdorf sells his share of the team. Which is a shame, because Comiskey Park really has it all over Wrigley Field as far as amenities are concerned. Better seats, better food, better choices of beer, the field looks more plush. As a Cubs fan it almost hurts to admit that the "ball mall" ten blocks from my apartment is a better ballpark than the Friendly Confines of the boys in blue. I am, however, an objective Cubs fan.

It isn't a stretch to say that if you're born in Chicago you have to pledge your allegiance to either the Cubs or White Sox right after you've drawn your first breath. My first ballgame was a Cubs game in 1977, and I immediately fell in love with the park. It was a rainy July afternoon (there were no lights in the park then) and my brother and I sat with a couple of our uncles in the right field upper deck. Jesus, it was cold that day. Between the atmosphere, the ivy on the walls, and just seeing this game being played that anyone could basically play, I swore right then to be a Cubs fan.

This disheartened my family, as they were dyed-in-the-wool Sox fans. Back then Bill Veeck owned the team and pulled every stunt possible to bring fans to Old Comiskey Park. He installed a shower stall in the Center Field concourse for fans to cool off. His broadcast team was Harry Caray and Jimmy Piersall, who managed to offend nearly everyone in their wake. The most infamous promotion of them all was Disco Demolition Night. My stepfather took my brother and me down to Comiskey Park just for the ballgame that night. It would wind up being the last.

The crosstown classics mean more here than they do in New York, Los Angeles, or the bay area. I think it's because there's so much more at stake here (and not because both teams are contenders this year.) At its heart Chicago is a small town, a cowtown. We're working class people who really get behind our sports teams. To Cubs fans, White Sox fans are "blue collar trash" who don't know how to act in public. Conversely, White Sox fans consider Cubs fans to be fair weather bandwagon hoppers who'll jump off as soon as the Cubs show signs of becoming a bad team.

There's a little bit of truth in each statement. At the Cubs home opener this year I struggled to stay awake while battling the flu, clinging my robitussin like a hobo hoards his wine. Two rows in front of me I heard a man scream "Don't swing at pitches in the dirt, uh, what's the third baseman's name?" Then he took a cell phone call and wouldn't shut up for ten minutes. As I mentioned earlier there are Sox fans who won't forgive Jerry Reinsdorf for adopting a hard anti-union stance in '94, or Frank Thomas for pouting his way through the late 1990's, or former manager Jerry Manuel for not going to the bullpen sooner.

My friend Whitley From Ravenswood (a devout north side White Sox fan) once summarized it this way: "A Cubs fan is someone who thinks he knows something about baseball, which is simply ludicrous. A White Sox fan thinks he knows everything about baseball, which is an equally risible notion."

Indeed, Go Cubs Go!!

Friday, June 25, 2004

Second City My Ass!!: "There's Nothing More Beautiful Than A Conservative Woman, But They're Really Lousy Lays" Edition

I'm sitting here listening to Michael Moore on Howard Stern right now when frequent Stern guest- and conservative mouthpiece- Debbie Schlussel called in to debate Moore about "inaccuracies" in his film. 'Course, Moore handed Schlussel her ass. If you do nothing else this weekend, go see "Fahrenheit 9/11", especially you Bush backers out there. That is, if conservatives truly believe in honest discourse on the issues. Otherwise, here we go:


- John Scofield's the headliner, but frankly, he sucks. Head down to Symphony Center for some kick-ass jazz with the Brad Mehldau Trio.

- Prince is recapturing his '80's-early 90's glory days with five shows at the arena formerly known as the Rosemont Horizon. Sorry, no dry-humping of dancers at the shows. He's a Jehovah's Witness now.


- Taste of Chicago opens. I try to avoid it, but this weekend so does the Chicago Country Music Festival, so I have to deal with one to get the other. The Saturday highlights are Buddy Miller and the Flatlanders on the Taste Stage and Rodney Crowell at the Petrillo Bandshell. Speaking as a fan, Buddy Miller is the real fucking deal. And I've always been a long fan of Jimmie Dale Gilmore's Zen Texan personality. (A bit of Trivia: Jimmie Dale Gilmore was "Whitey", the bowler who John Goodman threatened to shoot for stepping over the line in "The Big Lebowski.")

- I almost forgot this is Gay Pride weekend, where queens and bull dykes across the country paint their faces like maniacal sports fans and celebrate their openness. That's just embarrassing. Anyhoo, PrideFest is happening in Boys Town. Expect the usual array of fag hags on stage.


- Lakeview Arts & Music Festival wraps up at Lincoln and Ashland. The lineup is blessedly free of frat house "tribute" bands, but if you are a meathead and need your Dave Matthews fix, The Chicago Afrobeat Project should be right up your alley. They should be afrobeat enough for you without being too "ethnic."

- When Spanish guitar styles collide: Las Guitarras de Espana will help me pay some bills at HotHouse. You aren't getting in to the Magnetic Fields concert, anyway. It's sold out.

Finally, go check this out and buy from t-shirts from Nita.

Have a nice weekend.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

If Jack Ryan stood a chance I'd be donating a half-barrel...

but he doesn't. I'm donating a 1/4 barrel keg of beer to a "Ba-Rock The House" party next Tuesday in Pilsen, with proceeds to go to Barack Obama's Senate campaign (e-mail me if you want to attend.)

Incredibly, Jack Ryan still thinks he has a shot at beating Obama in November. I still can't believe he couldn't get his wife interested in relatively tame kink. I mean, if I were married to Jerri Ryan and wanting to spice up the marriage I'm relatively certain I could get her to dress up as Seven of Nine so she could "assimilate me into the Borg" every night.

Steve Dahl put a wonderful spin on the Ryan story the other day on his radio show. Ryan should've called the press conference, but instead of flopping like Nixon in the 1960 debates he should've said this:

"My marriage was in trouble. My ex-wife is an actress in Hollywood and I thought that she might have been into this as a way to spice things up and save the marriage." Mention that he later found out she was cheating on him and that the marriage was then irreconcilable. The state and national Republican brass is still pissed, but impressed with how he handled it. The damage is kept to a minimum. The onus of proof and speculation is now put on Jerri Ryan. It could have been his "Checkers" speech.

Instead, Ryan tanked. And because being a Senator is becoming an increasingly rich man's game, Ryan still thinks his fortune can help him dig out of the hole he now finds himself. Before he becomes even more delusional he should ask Blair Hull how his fortune helped him to a third place finish in the Democratic Primary.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Charmed, I'm sure!!

Couple of weeks back, discussion among my oldest friends turned, as usual, to politics. This is generally considered a no-no at barbecues where the booze flows freely, but some of my friends are journalists so the rule doesn't apply to them. At least, they flaunt the rule with the emboldened impunity attributed to booze.

Anyway we were talking about the Senate campaigns of Barack Obama and Jack Ryan. A Los Angeles judge had previously ruled in favor of releasing some of Ryan's divorce records to "Star Trek: Voyager" and "Boston Public" star Jerri Ryan. Speculation began about what was in the records that Jack Ryan wanted sealed. "He wanted it sealed because it's gonna come out that he went to sex clubs with her," was the reply from one of my reporter friends. This led to fantasizing of Jerri Ryan in her "Seven of Nine" costume working as a dominatrix.

Well the files were released and, sure as shit, the speculation at this picnic was on the money. The silence in the background is the Ryan senate campaign coming to a screeching halt, his toothy grin replaced by the pursed lips and measured cadence of a man trying to spin gold from rotten straw. The allegations- and I stress that the information in the Ryan divorce records are that- puts Jack Ryan further behind Obama in the race to fill Peter Fitzgerald's Senate seat.

Obama, for his part, hasn't demanded Ryan resign from the campaign, wisely opting to stay quiet while Ryan defends himself to a press corps that's just tasted blood. At this rate, Obama could waltz in to the White House unscathed should he choose to run. The Hyde Park-based state senator was running a distant second in the Democratic Primary to Blair Hull before allegations of spousal abuse against Hull derailed his well-organized and self-financed campaign.

Ryan outpaced dairy magnate and racial paranoid Jim Oberweis in the Republican primary. To many in the state GOP hierarchy Oberweis is looking like the better candidate right now. State treasurer- and GOP chairwoman- Judy Baar Topinka went so far as to demand for Ryan's resignation from the campaign after assurances that what was sealed in his divorce files was not embarrassing to the party. But then maybe Jack Ryan has a different definition for embarrassing than the rest of us.

Monday, June 21, 2004

The Fleeting Nature of Summer in Chicago

This is when summer begins for you: the Lamprey Pig Roast and belt sander races. You lock your bike to the nearest rack, change shoes, and head in armed with a twelve-pack. You make a beeline for the roof because that's where everyone you know would head. But before that, you make a cursory loop around the garden, checking the spit where the pig's roasting, the veggie grill, the makeshift stage where Danny Black's Healthy White Baby will play later in the evening, and the dj booth.

You make it to the roof, pull out your camera, and start snapping pictures of the area. The Dan Ryan expressway is uncommonly congested for a Sunday evening. You can almost feel the road rage from the cars. The quickly setting sun makes some unique shadings for your pictures. A woman you never met offers you a pull of Maker's Mark and smiles as you drink heartily from the bottle. Your friends slowly show up, but by that time the social lubricant have made you less bashful. Herbal refreshments are broken out. You take a puff, holding it in deep for full effect. The guy who built the belt sander race track walks around drinking beer from a mold made from a prosthetic leg. You just have to snap a picture of him.

The crowd is a beautiful mix of Hideout Hipsters, starving Pilsen Artists, bike messengers, anarchists, bartenders, and neighborhood guys from "long ago." It's a crowd that works, no one gives a fuck about social status here. They're all here for a good time. Tattoos are everywhere. You head down to the garden as Danny Black's Healthy White Baby just started their set and the pig is carved up for serving.

You snap some more pictures and head for the bathroom. Along the climb you pass Miss Mia, who's always got a smile for everyone. Your heart does a slight skipping. She's the kind of woman you just want to buy a cup of coffee just to listen to her talk. More friends show up with beer, which is good since you ran out a while ago.

The belt sander races begin. Bets are placed. The crowd favorite is a simple sander with the name "Slutron" written all over it in marker. Her sander loses quickly to the Toast Master.
Dollar bills fill the wells between the tracks as bets are placed. There's good matured ribbing about baseball teams. You remind the loud, slightly obnoxious Cubs fan that he's in an American League neighborhood and that you're relating this to him from experience. The races bore you and you wonder if that hot blonde with the red checkered schoolgirl skirt is still there. You head for the roof, but there's nowhere to move, so you cut your losses and head for your bike, the party not seeming to end in the background. You change into your cleats and pedal the ten blocks or so to your apartment with a stoned smile on your face and not a care in the world.

This is how you ring in summer in Chicago.

Friday, June 18, 2004

One More Thing

Daylight savings time has always been a curse for me, but on this particular night it is a boon for an insomniac who just had a bad date. Or, in this particular instance, a very bad group date highlighted by an unwatchable play at Victory Gardens. While I wasn’t expecting the play to run into the wee small hours, I certainly didn’t expect it to end at ten-thirty. My date did, however, since she bought the tickets, and thought enough of our initial attraction that things would end with my spending the night at her Skokie condo. No doubt we would’ve had a lot to talk about, since getting her to open up- even among a group of her friends- was harder than cracking a safe. Still, she had enough on the ball to understand the double whammy of my refusing her invitation to go upstairs and telling her that I would call that she didn’t press the issue. Given a new lease on the evening I find myself home just shy of midnight, restless, and aware that I had an extra hour of drinking coming my way should I choose the golden opportunity.

“Blues Before Sunrise” begins this evening with Scatman Crothers singing “Ghost Riders In The Sky.” I fumble for a tape to record it, but by the time I find one the song is half finished. So I listen to the rest of the song then head out to catch a cab. After a couple of passes, a Flash Cab comes to a stop. “Where to, buddy”, the cabbie asks. The way the word “buddy” comes out of his mouth makes my arm hair stand on end. He says it like he’s ready to pull a con on me. The name on his hack license reads like half-digested consonants from a bowl of alphabet soup. I’m almost certain from the spelling he’s Bangladeshi. Almost.

I crawl in the cab and close the door. “Green Mill,” I say, rolling down the windows to counter the combined fragrance of pine air freshener, chai tea, and curry. The cabbie turns left on Irving Park Road and blows past Broadway toward Lake Shore Drive. “Where do you think you’re going”, I demand. “I’m taking you to the Green Mill, buddy”, he answers, playing innocent and not acknowledging that I just read the con.

“The Green Mill’s on Broadway,” I counter.

“I know, sir. This is quicker.” He looks at me from the rear-view mirror, matter-of-factly.

“You may be right.”

“Oh, I am sir.”

“Okay. Let's say you are right. But the ride will cost me five extra dollars because you’re taking me out of the way to get there.”

“But Broadway has all those stoplights, buddy. I can never time then correctly.”

I decide to show my hand. “Did I mention that it’s five more dollars you won’t get tipped because you wanted to save time getting me to the Green Mill, sir?” The cab starts to slow as he looks for a wide space to cut a u-turn. I meet and hold his gaze in the mirror. He sighs and says, “Five more dollars you tip me, buddy?”


He swings the cab around, heading back towards Broadway. “I can wait for the red lights, I guess.” He’s right about being unable to time stoplights. The cab comes to a screeching halt every two blocks. I spy the swing shift- working girls waiting at bus stops at the corner of Broadway and Montrose. Vestiges of the old Uptown clinging to its turf like true working class citizens. They don't justify their career choice, but don't apologize, either. Unable to keep up with the rapid changes in the neighborhood, they still give it an honest try because they're nothing if not professional. Their faces filled with deep lines like a depression map and fake leopard print wrapped around their thighs like circus tenting. One of them leans her head into the open window, reeking of come and imitation Chanel. She doesn’t even try to play coy. “So you lookin’ to blow off some steam, or what?” No sales pitch whatsoever, just trying to seal the deal in an uncertain marketplace.

I look at her with a wry smile and reply, “Only if we’re going dutch.” She looks at me with a half-contemptuous smile and replies, "Suit yourself, honey It's daylight savings; I got an extra hour tonight if you change your mind.” The green light doesn’t come soon enough. She takes her place on the bus stop waiting for the next potential mark.

Ten dollars later- with the extra fin I promised- I make it inside the Green Mill and find a seat at the bar. I’d been sweating manhattans from my pores the past three days, so I switch to something lighter- a Bombay Sapphire gin martini with a twist. I focus my eyes in the din, allowing the available light to do its job. I run into some neighbors out with friends. They’re slightly buzzed; at least two of them are well on their way to waking up uncomfortably in the same bed around noon. We exchange greetings, pleasantries, and farewells in a fifteen second time frame, using only a minimum of words. In short time I’m left to my martini and my own devices. The house band’s feeling it this evening. I can feel the rumbling of the Hammond B3’s bass pedals through the oak bar. I feel a tap on my shoulder, turn around, and am confronted by the most fearsome smile I’ve ever seen, like a death’s head. The smile begins to move its mouth. I lean back instinctively in case a smaller head pops out from his smile to eat my face.

“You look like the type of man who lives in an apartment with wall-to-wall carpet. Am I right?”

Wow, I think to myself, it’s an original opening line, at least. Unsure how to play this, I lie and tell him I’m a hardwood floor guy. “Are you sure,” he asks. I lie again. He says, “Well, if you know of anyone who needs some clean carpet, give ‘em my card.” He shoves a business card in my hand. I look and read the business card:

Alvin Williams
Carpet Cleaner
Venture Capitalist

The upper right corner of his card is designed with a pot leaf and a scale. “What kind of venture capital are you involved with, Alvin?” I ask, hoping he states the obvious with more subtlety than he did on his business card.

Alvin pinches his thumb and forefinger together and brings them to his lips. “You know, pfft pfft, mainly crops,” he says, finishing with a sweeping motion of his index finger past his nostrils. Alvin’s “venture capital” sideline was as a drug courier. He also didn’t seem to care who knew or that he was loudly announcing it within earshot of the Green Mill’s security personnel.

“Well, Alvin. Like I said, I have hardwood floors. But I’m not very good with tools. So if anything ever breaks around the house, I’ll give you a call.”

Alvin runs his finger across his nostrils again and says, “I can fix the motherfuck out of plumbing and ductwork, you know!!” I bring my finger to my mouth, hoping he understands the need to not be so brazen in his advertising. Alvin misinterprets this as an opportunity to buy a potential client another martini and heads down the bar to the waiting attentions of a stick-figure blonde sipping white zinfandel through a straw.

I kill the first martini in two gulps, wondering if Alvin’s resume includes his rap sheet. Time passes; I kill time stirring quiet eddies in my martini. We’re now past daylight savings time. It’s as if Fate gave the two o’clock hour a mulligan. Thinking this, I scan the room hoping Alvin still isn’t in the bar. He is, but his attentions are still on the blonde. To my right I hear a curt laugh. I turn and am confronted by unbound beauty. She slinks on her barstool like a new coat of paint, eyes sparkling like emeralds in the Mill’s ambient light. I can make out the pleasant smell of vanilla on her skin through the smoky haze like a comet’s tail. It’s the type of beauty that a man would break his neck for a second glance if it passed him by State Street in lunch-hour traffic. She looks at Alvin and the blonde and shakes her head. “Great. There goes my place to sleep this morning!”

“You know her?” I ask.

“Yeah,” she says. “She’s my best friend. She’s letting me crash at her place for the weekend.”

“You from out of town?” I ask.

“St. Louis.”

“What are you doing in town?”

“Trying to get over a big mistake I left back there.” She spits the words out like sour milk, all bitter and vindictive. I understand what she’s talking about, as we’ve all been there some time. I nod my head slowly and ask, “What was his name?”

“Jeffery,” she replies. “And Evin over there’s been putting me up while I decide what to do next. Now it looks like she’s going home with Alvin the drug dealing carpet cleaner to get her merkin steamed. What about you?”

“I can’t sleep right when we turn back the clocks,” I tell her. “Had a bad date and figured I had an extra hour to drink.” I stare back into my drink, studying the way the lemon twist floats in perfect balance in the gin, like on an unseen pedestal.

She motions to my other martini. “Well, two more of those should do the trick. Buy me a glass of wine, will you?” She smiles at me as if it’s a chore to bear her teeth.

I do and ask her what Jeffery did that was so bad she had to run to Chicago to clear her head. This opens the floodgates as a seemingly endless litany of sins- both real and imagined, hers and Jeffery’s- flows from her mouth in a torrent. Evin and Alvin pass by on the way out. Evin hands her the house keys, says they’re going to Alvin’s. Then Evin leans toward her ear, points at me, and yells, “He’s cute. Not my type, but you should take him home and fuck him like there’s no goddamn Jeffery in St. Louis waiting for you.” As they leave Alvin turns to me and makes a toking motion with his fingers once more, points at me, and mimes for me to call him. Minutes pass into hours. The conversation begins to stall, but the silence between us is comfortable. She starts eyeing me as if maybe Evin made a valid point, like she wants to make a mistake with me. I nod my head and offer a suggestion as the house lights in the Green Mill come to life.

We catch a cab and head to Alexander’s Diner on Clark Street. The skillets there are hot, the coffee salty, the rubric of redemption she starts knitting once we settle in our booth more so. I wipe away the occasional tear from her cheek and provide a necessary ear; an impromptu soundboard of which she readily takes advantage. As the plates are cleared and the check arrives, she leans into me, whispers advice in my ear guardedly like a treasure, and seals it with a scarlet buss on my cheek. I hail a cab for her, buy the Sunday papers out of habit and walk down Clark Street pondering the secret she left me. It was her answer to my asking whether she regretted getting involved with this Jeffery in St. Louis. After allowing that chances were good that she would most likely take some time to cool down and run back to him, she whispered, “There’s one more thing I need to tell you. I don’t regret a damn thing I’ve ever done in my life. You know, we take our chances in life. And in the end, they must be repaid in kind.”

“To whom,” I asked.

“To the universe,” she replied.

Monday, June 14, 2004

The Sunday Funnies

I ate breakfast with friends at Room 12 yesterday and picked up my Sunday Sun-Times on the way home. I had the entire day off so I could read at my leisure. The Sun Times tries to have a balanced editorial page, but yesterday between Betsy Hart's "Confessions of an adolescent 'Reaganette' from Illinois" and Mark Steyn's tribute to the Gipper, I had to double-check the masthead to make sure I didn't buy the Tribune by mistake. The media is now breathing in the vapor trails of what Wonkette has coined "Gipperporn": 24/7 coverage by the media on the funeral of Ronald Reagan.

I was holding out hope that Reagan's casket would be welded shut, cremated, padlocked, flown to a salt lick and buried, and placed under armed guard in the hope that he doesn't rise from the dead.

Hart's op-ed piece, in particular, was a laugh riot. Here are some of my favorite bits from the essay:

"Other girls were hanging posters of Leif Garrett in their rooms, and I was hanging posters of Reagan."

Wow! Just. Wow!!

"OK, I knew I was a little weird."

Just a little? I mean, it isn't weird like the footnotes of Mein Kampf that a teenaged Ann Coulter used to paper her walls. But it points to signs of a father figure complex, at least.

"I was part of a small coterie of high school girls (whose parents were involved in the campaign) who would meet Reagan's campaign plane around (Illinois.) I only did it a few times."

And I only put it in a little. We all make mistakes.

"Still, I got to wear a sash and have my picture taken and everything. Talk about 'cool.'"

OMG! Did you ask him to the Sadie Hawkins dance, too?

"Flash-forward again, another eight years."

...eight years of chocolate malts and handjobs on her Greg Marmalade-looking steady...

This time I was working in the Reagan White House press office... I was low girl on the totem pole."

Betsy Hart was the prototype for "Washingtonienne?"

"Since it was around the time of his birthday, we gave him a gift from our office, and we all signed a birthday card. I wrote something like, 'Mr. President, I've been working for you since I was 12 years old..."

in violation of child labor laws...

"and it's a privilege to be working for you in the White House."

Betsy Hart was the prototype for Monica Lewinsky? I mean, a simple "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" couldn't properly convey the sentiments. Here was a then 25-year-old woman fresh out of college with an obvious crush on a nearly eighty-year-old man, who also happened to be the most powerful man in the world at that time. I can imagine the fantasies she was having: "Oh, Mr. President!! Fill me with your Great Communicator." Which at that point probably resembled a grape leaf appetizer at a Greek restaurant.

It was like reading a David Sedaris essay. It was that funny (well, not as funny as the picture of Nancy Reagan wearing her Harry Caray glasses and not raising her head toward the sun lest her retinas get fried from the super strong prescription.) Or maybe I'm not as numbed by all the coverage of the funeral. Sometimes it's a blessing to not have cable.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Second City My Ass!!: "Ronald Reagan Is Still Dead" edition

Short post today as the drama that I thought was lacking turning 35 is now rolling home in spades five days later. I'm surprised that I'm even thinking of posting this. Guess it's because if I stick to some routine I'll feel better. Anyhoo, check this shit out this weekend:


- Brooklyn descendants of afrobeat godfather Fela Anikulapo Kuti Antibalas head into HotHouse for two sets, 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. The band's live act serves up two hours of car chase music from a lost episode of "Starsky and Hutch."

- Manishevitz kicks things off at the Abbey Pub this evening opening for Beulah. They're getting some comparisons to Roxy Music but prefer the term "space metal" to describe their music. Tell Adam to buy some pants with his gig money.


- Andersonville Midsommer Fest is kicking the serious alt-country jams with Kelly Hogan and Scott Ligon followed by Anna Fermin's Trigger Gospel

- More Alt-Country: Bi-polar hipsters The Handsome Family bring their tales of stuffed squirrels, overdoses, and train-hopping drunks who speak to God to a "secret show" at the Hideout.


- Head on over to the Old Town Art Fair, grab a frosty one and take a drink every time someone talks of how the art "speaks" to them.

- The legendary Swamp Dogg will wreak total destruction to your mind at the Chicago Blues Festival. He'll be playing a set at the Gibson Guitar Crossroads Stage (Jackson and Lake Shore Drive) from 3:30-5 p.m. You can also go on a mullet hunt at Blues Fest.

Have a great weekend. And remember: what doesn't kill you probably should have.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Looks like my "fan plan" ain't gonna work.

I'm gonna have to suck it up and buy an air conditioner this summer. I had an idea that was great in theory- and absolute genius after six bottles of La Fin Du Monde- that I could devise an airflow system in my apartment by which I took in cooler air from the shaded side of the apartment, blew it out from the side that faces the sun, and used a dehumidifier to suck the moisture out of the air. This would allow me to enjoy my apartment in relative comfort and without the high ComEd bills that result from having an air conditioner.

Then I remembered today that I live in Chicago, where weather has no set rules and summer is anarchy.

The fans are in the windows, but they don't do much except stir up the already muggy air in the apartment. So I gently lift myself from my computer chair every fifteen minutes to wipe off the sweat that's pooled on the back, curse the fans for doing nothing but rattle the windows, and go back to pretending that it's a pleasant spring day.

Another flaw in my logic was that I would need five fans to accomplish this system, one for every window. If I'm gonna buy that many goddamn fans, I might as well buy an air conditioner.

Oh, well. At least I have that nice bottle of tequila in the pantry for margaritas if this fails even more miserably than it has so far.

Everybody's doing it!!!

Sometimes it seems like weeks ago, really that Ronald Reagan was President of the United States. In sixth grade we had an "ballot" as a form of social studies lesson to see who the class would choose as President. Reagan won 19-5, with one vote for Independent John Anderson: my vote, for which I was stripped of morning milk privilege for a week and chased around the playground like a fox hunt.

'Course, Carter was overwhelmed by the multiple crises that awaited him once he took office, so a dead man could've defeated him. Some in my family still contend that a dead man did.

The perspective of history casts a rosy, nostalgic glow over the Reagan years. If you believe Fox News Channel (and if you do please just pass this by) Ronald Reagan returned to America it's intestinal fortitude. "The Great Communicator" was the man who took the Cold War fight directly to the godless Russians, brought the Berlin Wall down, made Grenada safe for democracy, and laid the foundation for Bill Clinton to claim credit for the greatest peacetime economic boom in this country's history. Even I found myself telling people when the news of Reagan's death hit that even though he was a fucking lunatic Reagan had the best interests of the nation in mind, unlike the Shrub currently in office.

These people didn't physically smack me. Their body language (namely their dropped jaws) served as enough of a wake-up call. It reminded me that, as an eight grader in Tennessee twenty years ago, we still held duck-and-cover nuclear attack drills at Pickwick Southside Middle School. This was primarily because the "Great Communicator" saved his most eloquent moments for conveying his belief in a fiery apocalypse.

Reagan talked seriously about the use of neutron bombs if the Cold War ever heated to nuclear proportions as a way to preserve the infrastructure when we rebuilt civilization from cockroach colonies. His ideals were forged in outdated turn-of-the-century ideals of baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet, but also in the God-fearing, brimstone and hellfire letures of Midwestern Christianity. We gave him a pass because he was either senile or cheerful or well-meaning, depending on the situation. Christopher Hitchens still underestimates Reagan in eulogy, much like he was underestimated then and Bush now. Reagan knew what he was doing.

So we sit and flip the channels looking to avoid the snuff porn of his death (he's still dead) while reports filter in of conservative groups lobbying for Reagan's face to replace Franklin Roosevelt's on the dime, as if having an airport named after you while you were still of sound enough mind to remember it wasn't enough. The tributes will flow well into the summer and possibly even dominate the Republican convention later this summer in New York City.

Frankly, I was hoping for a cremation to ensure he doesn't rise from the dead.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Second City My Ass!!: "Here Comes The Sun... and Sunburn."

This is the time of year where Chicagoans doff the windbreakers and start acting as though we've never seen the sun. Overcompensation abounds as pasty white thighs give way to red necks and Noxema. Here's what you can do to get a great sunburn:


- I've been saying for years that Bridgeport is the new Wicker Park. I was only half-joking. Head to the Texas Ballroom at 3012 S. Archer to see nihlist Quebecers Les Georges Leningrad, a band apparently so terrible and/or ironic they received- surprise, surprise- a Critic's Choice in the Reader from anti-music critic Liz Armstrong.

- Danger Mouse & Jemini at the Logan Square Auditorium. Danger Mouse is a damn genius: I absolutely love The Grey Album, the only way I could ever listen to Jay-Z.


- Printer's Row Book Fair gets going. A recommendation: catch Quraysh Ali Lansana reading from his book "Harriet Tubman's Poems" in the poetry tent, a movingly brilliant series of original poems he wrote from Ms. Tubman's perspective.

- The Belmont/Sheffield Music Festival looks to further congest an area already overtaxed from the Cubs being in town. This festival of cover bands and faux-hippie jammers rates a "major dumb drunk" alert. But if you do have to go, don't pay the suggested "donation"; you'll only ensure that this'll happen next year.


- Enjoy a nice bike ride to Hyde Park and check out the Hyde Park- U of C Arts Fest. Then treat yourself to brunch at Dixie Kitchen.

- If you're like me and believe the Christian adage that the body is the temple but can afford to treat your temple a bit better, then pack a bottle of the Blood of Christ and head to the Chicago Gospel Festival in Grant Park. Smokey Robinson (yeah, him) opens the Petrillo Bandshell Festivities at 4:45 p.m.

Finally, if anyone's even reading this and/or interested, you can watch me wallow in my own filth while accepting drinks from well-wishers and the genuinely concerned at Puffer's. It's Bloody Mary Sunday and, believe me, you've never had a bloody mary like this one. Have a nice weekend.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Pizza Pizza!!

I stopped by Punky's Pizza on 26th Street this evening for a slice. "Careful," the kid behind the counter, "we're trying something different with our pies."

I thought was referring to the- uh... let's be generous and call it "crispy"- texture of the slices. I was wrong. The kid proudly held up a slice to my eyes and said "we're cutting the slices a bit bigger."

I walked home and unwrapped my slice. Holy Shit! The kid wasn't kidding. My slice must've been a good 1/8th of the pizza. They could be measuring the slices metrically, which would be a first for the American pizza industry. My guess is that they're feeling ready to compete with Freddie's on 31st and Union for neighborhood supremacy.

Bridgeport has a near glut of good pizza joints: Donnie's on 33rd and Wells by Sox Park makes an excellent calzone. Lina's on 31st Place and South Morgan has some excellent sauce on its pizza. Little Caesar's on South Halsted technically qualifies as pizza, but unless you're new to the city from Kansas you shouldn't even be considering Little Caesar's as an option. No trip to Bridgeport is complete without a stop at the original Ricobene's on 26th Street or Connie's on Archer Avenue, where you can breathe the exhaust fumes from the expressway while eating on the patio deck as easily impressed Midway Airport-bound tourists on the Orange Line crane their necks for a better view of the Connie's delivery truck perched atop a pole fifty feet above the street and ask "isn't that the pizza they serve at Cubs games?"

But for me the undisputed pizza king in Bridgeport is Freddie's. Their slices are New York style: large but thicker than the typical Chicago slice. They use beef sausage, which is spicier than pork sausage. My friend Sue says that it tastes like Burger King breakfast sausage. To my palate it almost tastes like Chorizo. The slices are always hot, which is a plus if you live more than three blocks away from the place, but when you live within three blocks of the place like me you should let the pizza cool unless you like ingesting molten lava. The upper plate of my mouth must have at least fifteen percent scar tissue from eating at Freddie's.

Punky's has been around for a couple years. Previously it was known as Paulie's and it was run like a mob front- they occasionally made pizza between receiving shipments of cash in small bills and cursing at the White Sox on television. Once Punky bought it it became pretty good pizza joint. He kept the one manager who could crack a whip, changed out the menu, and emphasized selling pizza, which was a radical idea for the place. It must be working since cops frequent the place more than a Dunkin' Donuts. Or maybe that's because they're still looking for Paulie.

Anyhoo, Punky's uses pork sausage, which isn't as spicy, but they compensate with a tangier sauce and prominent placements of garlic and oregano. The slices previous to their experiment with the metric system are Chicago style, which means that while they're smaller than Freddie's, you need to use both hands or else your lap is getting a giant ball of boiling cheese plopped on it.

Finally, Punky's motto is "If your last pizza was funky, call Punky." So not only do they have confidence in their pizza, they have a intermediate grasp of poetry. Pizza's always been called "smart food."

I personally prefer Punky's pizza. Too many nights I've awakened in the middle of the night after eating a slice of Freddie's running for the Maalox. It's too spicy. But it's a Pyrrhic victory. What makes a pizza joint- especially on the South Side of Chicago- is how they handle the other staples of the menu. And the only other thing Punky's makes well are fries. Their cheesy beef ain't cheesy enough. When you ask for a dipped Italian beef it's still pretty dry. And they don't have Italian ice like at Freddie's

The true test of a South Side pizza joint is how they handle the breaded steak sandwich. And for my money (which included with a bottle of Pepsi now costs eleven dollars) Freddie's has the best breaded steak in the city. Twelve inches long and as thick as a Mark Prior calf muscle, Freddie's breaded steak is almost four thousand calories of YOU CAN'T POSSIBLY EAT THAT IN ONE FUCKING SITTING!!!

If a place like Freddie's existed when Elvis were alive, the breaded steak would have shaved another five years off his life. That wouldn't have been a bad thing; Elvis at thirty-seven was a tweener. He still had some of that smoldering sex appeal, but he was just starting to need help zipping into the jumpsuits and was keeping his pills in a diamond encrusted "T.C.B." pillbox. And that's why Freddie's will hold market domination in a neighborhood where you can't spit without hitting a pizza joint. Bigger is better, but we still want some flavor. Just think of Tweener Elvis.