Monday, February 21, 2005

Doing the Time Warp, Circa 1997

But first, res ipsa loquitor Hunter S. Thompson. May he have put the fix in for his afterlife.

So I had an old friend surfing on my couch this weekend. Almost ten years earlier he and his now wife moved into a loft rental behind the Alley on Belmont and proceeded to turn it into the best loft space I ever visited. "916", as it was called, hosted the best parties- Halloween parties, live music, movie screenings, poetry readings, lounge lizard-themed cocktail soirees, and anything else one could imagine. Most of us began to stumble into careers, families, other obligations, and the maturation process that comes with growing older. As we did, we tended to not hag out as much at "916", which I think created a void in this friend of mine, as he was the one who brought all of these disparate characters together.

So, as a favor to his wife (who had family in town he cannot get along with), he couch surfed all weekend, first on the couch of my neighbor downstairs, then with me. He decided to make the most of it. We ate dinner at Lawrence's Fisheries on South Canal Street, and we now know why the place is packed at four a.m. every morning. It's perfect hangover food. Then we went to the loft apartment of another friend and her fiance a few blocks from my place, where we just hung out and talked all night, reminiscing on old times. Then we headed home and watched W.C. Fields movies until two a.m., each alternating dozing off before we called it a night.

He stayed until he got the word from his wife that he could come home; around 12: 30 yesterday afternoon. We talked and watched more movies. We don't see each other as much as we used to, but I was much appreciated for the time I had this weekend, however fleeting. I'm sure he was, as well.

As he was packing his bags, we hatched a brilliant idea for a housewarming party that I just may put into action. I'm certain I could count on him to help me pull it off.

Friday, February 18, 2005

It's A Furniture Polish And A Dessert Topping

In the "unfortunate name for a cologne" department here's the new eponymous unisex fragrance from actor Alan Cumming (big propers to Blaise for the find).

I can't wait for the day where we see "Dick Johnson Medicated Powder" for those pesky itches and rashes that just won't go away. The most unfortunately named anchor team on Chicago television: Dick Johnson and Ellee Pai Hong.

Only in Chicago.

Monday, February 14, 2005

The Fuller Oat: A Valentine's Tale

The year was 1997. I had moved to the Ukrainian Village in a giant 2 bedroom walk-up on West Walton. That wasn't my rationale for moving to the Village. I wanted to be within staggering distance of my favorite dive bars- Tuman's Alcohol Abuse Center, the Inner Town Pub, Sweet Alice, the Rainbo, the Empty Bottle, and other places seared in boozy memory.

This story starts at Estelle's, back when you could walk in any time of the night and score some crystal meth and salmonella-laced jalapeno poppers. I was with my roommate and one of his friends pounding back beers and maintaining our equilibrium on the jukebox when I saw her. She was decked out in a flowing dress, six inch platform heeled boots, and a crazed gleam in her eye. She caught my staring at her, walked to me, and asked, "Wanna see my navel ring?"

"Okay," I stammered.

She unbuttoned her blouse, pulled open the vents, and there it was- a black onyx stone set in the middle of a stainless steel ring, smack in the middle of her belly button. Seconds later she allowed me to unfasten it with my tongue while she took errant swings at a couple of Lincoln Park Trixies (who always look the same regardless of the year).

By the time we made it to four a.m. and the salvation of Flash Taco we exchanged numbers and beer-laced saliva. Using the "Rules" method I waited until Tuesday to call her, at which point I got her answering machine. She called back at three a.m., pissing off my roommate. We agreed to an evening of movies and cocktails on Valentine's Day.

I walked to her place and waited while she went through her wardrobe, trying to decide what to wear. She finally settled on a plum-colored ensemble and the platform boots. Leaving her place I hailed a cab and we headed for Pipers Alley for the 8:45 screening of "Evita."

And here's where the trouble began.

We entered the half-empty theater and took our seats just as the previews ended. Settled into our seats behind a blonde with ironed-out hair and her meathead boyfriend my date started kicking the seats. The meathead turned around and stared daggers at us; I shrugged my shoulders and apologized, not wanting to take my chances. My date, however, added fuel to the fire. "Move up a few rows, cunt! I need the leg room!" Her voice echoed in the cavernous din of the screening room. Not wanting to push the issue, the couple complied. Within seconds my date stretched her legs over the newly vacant seat.

"Why the hell did you do that?" I asked.

"I didn't like the look of them," she answered. "Fucking yuppies."

"They weren't bothering us."

"Look at that cunt!" She hissed. "I could kick her ass."

I should have walked out and left her to her own resources. But it was Valentine's Day and I thought I still had a shot. So I stayed. I'm a glutton for punishment. As the movie began and Antonio Banderas took the screen as Che she leaned into my ear and yelled, "SO IS HE SUPPOSED TO BE CHE GUEVARA??"

I pulled myself off the floor and was prepared to quietly explain that Banderas' character was a composite character who voiced the concerns and desires of the Argentine people. I only managed to blurt, "'Che is a composite-" when she turned to me, put a finger to her lips and did her best imitation of an asp while she wore a maniacal grin:


By now I was seriously wigged out but the desire for sex still trumped my common sense. I managed to get her to reduce her volume to a level that was tolerable and all seemed right with the date again. Then Madonna's Eva Peron leapt into the centerpiece of the musical. My date recognized this and, in unison with the Material Girl, stood on her seat and started singing "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" in a cackling, warbling soprano. By now I had only the faintest illusions of ending this night with mind-blowing sex, so I leapt up and joined her.

The cab ride back to Wicker Park was uneventful, save for my failed attempt to sneak my arm around her shoulder, a move which she immediately called me on. We headed to Estelle's, where the doorman pointedly asked her, "You're not gonna start any shit tonight, are you. I'm not in the mood."

She just grinned like the Joker as the doorman looked at me like a doomed man. Upon entering she ordered a round, which I paid and left a generous tip. She then started stealing the tips off the bar, which I had to replace from my own pocket. I decided to cut my losses and offered to walk her home. She concurred and we headed for the door. As we were winding our way through the crowd she took a swing at a brunette Wicker Park hipster while dropping the word "cunt" more times than I care to remember. The doorman escorted her the rest of the way out while I checked on the "cunt."

We made it the rest of the way to her apartment building without incident. She told me she had a great time, hugged me and told me to call her for "chit-chat." I smiled weakly and promised to lose her number.

Two days later I'm at home settling into a night of junk food and "The Simpsons." A light snow that started that afternoon had morphed into a snowstorm. The phone rang. I answered.

"What are you doing?" She asked.

When I allowed that I was just laying about she asked if I wanted to go grocery shopping with her.

"When?" I asked.

"Right now," she said.

"But there's a blizzard outside," I argued.

"So what. I'll drive slow." She said she'd be at my place in five minutes and hung up.

Unable to get a word in edgewise to turn her offer down, I resolved to make the best of the situation again and use the grocery shopping excursion as an excuse to restock on some necessary items. We entered the grocery store, picked out separate carts, and proceeded to prowl the aisles. Our shopping styles were studies of contrasts. I came with a list and checked for sale prices and coupons; she threw whatever she could fit into her cart. Our differing styles and personalities came to a head in the breakfast ailse. She crammed a case of instant oatmeal into her cart. I opted for Quaker five-minute rolled oats. Seeing my choice she picked up my potential purchase and studied the nutritional information. Then she patted my belly.

"That's why you're soft in the middle," she said.

"Excuse me," I shot back.

She showed me the nutritional information. "You're eating one gram of fat per serving," she offered as she reached for her oatmeal. "Mine is a half-gram per serving."

I stared at her like the maniac she was coming across and defended my choice of oatmeal with, "But mine is a fuller oat that isn't brimming with preservatives and sweeteners. So even though my oats have more fat, my oatmeal is healthier. It's the real deal."

If I knew two nights earlier that picking the wrong oatmeal was a dealbreaker I would have lunged at the five-minute oats. As it were the conversation was gone and we both rolled to the checkout, where she loudly announced to the cashier that she didn't have the funds in her bank account for the check she wound up writing. She drove me home in silence, dropped me off at my door, and we exchanged our goodnights.

Months passed and springtime brought the potential of new beginning to the city. I was at a friend's loft party when my star-crossed date walked in with a mutual acquaintance she began dating shortly after our moment of truth in the breakfast aisle. Late in the evening we wound up standing next to each other. Our conversation was pleasant if perfunctory. I asked her when she started dating our mutual acquaintance. "Shortly after we saw 'Evita'," she offered. I nodded my head and she added, "You know he likes the quick oats?"

"Five minutes isn't a snail's pace," I countered.

"Sometimes a woman can't wait five minutes. She needs her oats now," she said snapping her fingers for emphasis.

"Well, if a woman wants to eat breakfast with me, she'll have to wait a while for the oats," I said.

We shifted the conversation to what we were doing with our lives. The party wound down and I went home, confused that I read this woman wrong initially and wondering if I would ever meet someone who prefers a fuller oat.

We May Need To Build An Ark

It's been a rather eventful few days here in the neighborhood. Thursday morning, as I was returning from picking uip a videotape of the latest episode of "24" I saw smoke billowing out of every availible vent of an auto shop on South Halsted. Four fire trucks were already on the scene when I exited the train. By the time I made it across the street from the auto shop two more trucks arrived. Black smoke was billowing out of the garage door by then; some firefighters were worried that they would find bodies in the shop. Twenty minutes later the fire was under control and they were assessing the damage. Soon after the shop owners made it to the scene. Immediately they were swarmed by no less than four board-up companies who were monitoring the fire on scanners- vultures, they are. I left just as the police stepped in to keep the board-up people at a distance and maintain some semblance of order.

Saturday night an off-duty cop who lives in the neighborhood was involved in an accident in tinley Park that killed two teenagers. I ran into his lawyer this morning; he was rushing to court to file an injunction preventing his mugshot from being posted.

After I left for work yesterday I received a phone call from my neighbor, who informed me that police were dragging away someone across the street after breaking his door down. Other officers escorted the man's family out of the house shortly after.

Lots of cheap rent down here in Bridgeport. Those are some reasons why. On a lighter note now that I'm awakened by a pit bull at seven a.m. every morning for a walk I have a great handle of how the neighborhood rises from its slumber. It's beautiful in its ritual.

I can walk Emmy without a leash, so I get to observe at a distance in McGuane Park the Chinese seniors and their daily martial arts exercises. I think it's tai chi they practice- they're out there regardless of the weather conditions. Four times a week they exercise with metal practice swords; twice a week with fans. Mondays are reserved for hand and arm movements. Their moves are measured and deliberate, only using enough energy to complete them. Together they move as one cohesive unit with the wisdom and grace that comes with having lived a long, fruitful life. Part of me feels a serene calm watching them; part of me envies their ease of motion.

Once a week a man uses the softball fields- which have better lighting than some minor league ballparks- a a golf range. He'll stand at one end of the field with a six iron and a handful of Titelists, measure his shot, and calmly loft each ball into the air, where they land within inches of the same spot every time. The man will continue this routine until he's satisfied with his swing or tired. I'm not sure which. He's never rattled.

Emmy and I run into other sporadic dow owners occasionally- owners of boxers, pit bulls, and terriers who need attention and meticulous care. Emmy is two and quiet as a church mouse, so I spend our walks watching her body language for signs she might be excited, agitated, or scared. If she stops and looks off in the distance I take it as a sign that she's spotted another dog and quickly attach the leash so she doesn't go off running uncontrolled. As a two-year-old she's also socially awkward, much like her owner at times. I hope the warmer weather affords us more opportunities to socialize with the other dogs who frequent the park.

Otherwise it's quiet here. Almost suburban, but with character. People tend to keep to themselves, but aren't so standoffish that they won't say "hello" to you when you pass. It reminds me of growing up on the west and northwest side. Not idyllic, but not a nightmare, either.

For Lovers Only

I always wanted to let people read this story and now you can thanks to the wonder of weblog links. I miss the infrequent updates of Nita Gale, a woman after my own heart.

If that ain't enough you can go here and breathe easy that you aren't this pathetic. For those of you mending a broken heart, take solace that there's even a website for you- no, not that can help you begin to pick up the pieces of your pitiful life.

Friday, February 11, 2005

The No-Man's Land Between Winter and Spring

We're entering the home stretch of winter where we don't know how layered to dress from day-to-day. I'm chomping at the bit to break the shorts back out. Looking forward to spring, when I can break open the windows and let in fresh (for Chicago) air to my apartment.

My nose has become attuned to the fresh firing of the gas heater and the fresh burst of carbon monoxide it emits. It takes me back to the days of grade school, walking over to John Hay Elementary to catch the bus that would take me to Prussing Elementary on the Norhtwest side. The city finally started integrating the school system in 1977, and my mother worked hard with neighborhood community leaders to make sure it happened.

In the first year of forced busing the city we were shuttled back-and-forth in run-down CTA buses- the "green limosines" of the day. It was sort of a "fuck you" from the city to the Feds: "We'll comply, but we don't have to like it."

Anyway, winter came and my brother and I would make the four-block walk to John Hay with our landlord's kids. I was enthralled by the science behind seeing your breath in cold weather. Hell, any form of exhaust. So I would walk into every form of exhaust I could fin- dryer exhaust, furnace exhaust. My favorite, however, was car exhaust. Car exhaust had a sweet smell to my nose to which I had no resistance. Depending on the make and model a car could produce enough exhaust to fog up a quarter block. I was attracted to it like a moth to a flame. I would walk up to the exhaust pipe and just let the exhaust cascade all over me.

After a week or two of coming home smelling like a garage my mother found out about my fascination with the "car breath", as I called it. She started escorting me to school every day to make sure I didn't pass out or show up at school light-headed. I still find myself fascinated with exhaust fumes. Even though we know so much more about the dangers of carbon monoxide, walking into my apartment late at night wakens the eight-year-old in me.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Long Live The Champ

Jazz Organist Jimmy Smith passes away

Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Smith's "House Party", "The Sermon", "Back at the Chicken Shack", or "Root Down Live!" and find out why he was one of the top five jazz innovators of the 20th century. He was bad-ass.

There isn't much happening here so far this week. Emmy continues to impress me. When she desperately needs to be walked she grabs her leash and whips it around. Yesterday she took a treat off my chin with a four-foot standing jump. Absolutely amazing.

I found a steal of a computer (knock on wood) at a thrift store the other day. It's an IBM Netvista, pentium III 1 GHz processor, 36 GB hard drive with Windows ME as the operating system. It also has a DVD-ROM player, a CD-RW drive, and the hard drive looks to be nearly empty. From what I can gather the previous owner was using it solely to burn cds and download music of file-sharing networks and might've removed the original hard drive. I'm waiting to get a Windows XP upgrade so that the plug and play technology can fix the minor glitches I've found. I'll also be receiving my DSL hardware today so I can finally kiss goodbye the old computer.

I had to re-download the Mozilla suite and manually transfer all my bookmarks to the web browser, but it's completely worth not having the headaches of dealing with Internet Explorer.

Friday, February 04, 2005

And On the Eighth Day I Named This Dog Emmy, And It Was Good...

And it is good. The dog I adopted last week is now feeling completely comfortable in her new surroundings. A bit too comfortable, at times. I took her for a walk around ten p.m. hoping that it would last her until the morning. After watching the ten o'clock "Twilight Zone/Taxi" exacta- and I cannot state how much I love this new "ME-TV' that channel 23 has become- I went to bed with Emmy dozing off in front of the furnace.

I wake up in the middle of the night to the hard nudging of Emmy moving me away from the far side of my bed to lay down. This is what she does when she needs to go out. It was three-thirty in the morning. So I pulled on some sweats and took her out front, let her do her business, and went back in.

Seven-thirty rolls around and she's back at it, this time jumping all over the apartment. We strolled to the park where I almost killed myself on a patch of black ice and Emmy scared half of a group of elderly Chinese folk going through their tai chi exercises with some playful hopping around the tennis courts.

This dog is an attention whore. I've found that the best way to get some free time is to throw her a rawhide bone once a day and let her have at it. It keeps her out of my head for most of the afternoon and lets me get some things done. Otherwise she'd be under my feet all the time. Overall she's a welcome addition to the place. Much better than a coffee table, anyway; although I still want one.

The thaw of the past two days brings with it a need to stretch out and get away from the apartment. So I headed over to the Bridgeport Coffee House this morning for a pick-me-up. I still believe in frequenting the place, even after my last encounter with the owner, so I went in to do my part to the development of the neighborhood business. I also needed a copy of this week's Reader.

So I walk in, grab a Reader and a Sun-Times and wait for five minutes as this tool makes googly eyes and bold proclamations of purchasing a restaurant to some woman who gifted him with a bottle of wine. When he finally acknowledges my presence only to curtly take my order- as if my being there patronizing his business was a nuisance he was barely able to tolerate. Then he gave me the wrong change twice for my order without apologizing. It's like he wanted me out of the building. I wonder if I might have pissed him off at HotHouse one night and he's holding a grudge.

His attitude almost makes me want to walk in with a cup of Starbuck's one morning. But that would be like giving your soul to the devil.

It's my fault for even going there. Anyhoo, last week's Reader cover story by Tori Marlan about Wicker Park scenester Patsy Desmond really struck a nerve with friends and acquaintences of mine who were around this city in the early 1990's and frequented bars like the Rainbo. Response ranged from the sympathetic ("how tragic"); to the snarky ("so she's famous for going to bars a lot"); to the outright vindictive [ "(Reader 'Chicago Antisocial' columnist) Liz Armstong, meet your future."] Some people I know couldn't finish reading the article, having recovered from their own substance and mental problems, it hit too close to home.

I was deeply affected by the story, having gone through bouts of clinical depression myself. I find a decent measure of comfort in the mundane routine of everyday life- paying bills, buying groceries, cleaning the apartment. To me it works as a barometer for how I'm feeling at a specific point in my life. Patsy Desmond confided the same toward the end of the article. Some of us come into our own at a slower rate than others. Some of us struggle the entire way forward. We all carry the scars to prove it, as well as the lessons those scars bring. Hopefully it makes us better people.

While I'm still on a Reader jag I haven't seen such a polarizing effect from regular letter writers regarding Liz Armstrong's "Chicago Antisocial" column. It seems as though every other week there's a letter to the editor either calling for the canceling of Armstrong's column or staunch support of "Chicago Antisocial."

I don't care either way. The response is only good for the Reader. It indicates- more than personals and futon ads ever can- that people are reading the paper and are placing an emotional stake in it. I was talking with someone at work Tuesday about "Chicago Antisocial" who thinks it's the same thing every week- Liz and her friends get high, go somewhere off the beaten path, and snark. So fucking what, I responded. You're reading it, aren't you? I said. She alowed that she was. I replied, that's all the editors care about. If no one was talking about "Chicago Antisocial" or thought so much one way or another to write to the paper about the column, Armstrong would still be primarily writing music reviews. I then again compared "Chicago Antisocial" to Tricia Romano's "Fly Life" column in the Village Voice- which is "Chicago Antisocial" with harder drugs involved.

I find it amusing that "Chicago Antisocial" is getting the kind of emotional reaction normally reserved for men who righ Presidential elections. When she's on, Armstrong is a solid writer. It's something one can choose not to read. Personally I'd rather read "Chicago Antisocial" than, say, Paige Wiser columns in the Sun-Times.

Which brings me to one of my favorite new websites, Sun-Times Watch. For a paper that claims to be "reporter-driven", the Sun-Times sure does have a glut of shitty columnists. They have a gossip columnist whose so far behind everyone else with her scoops (Michael Sneed) that her last name has become synonymous with someone whose behind the times. Their other primary gossip columnist (Bill Zwecker) outright lifts copy straight from the pages of New York tabloids. There's Neil Steinberg, who tries to make himself the story of his thrice-weekly column. We won't go on about him any further. Jay Mariotti is the sports columnist equivalent of Steinberg, only with more recent- but still lame- pop culture references and an alarming lack of actual knowledge of how professional sports works. Debra Pickett and the aforementioned Paige Wiser have this "Betty and Veronica" dichotomy. Wiser plays the wide-eyed dumb blonde, Pickett the priviliged brunette given to moments of largesse treating her interview subjects to lunch.

And yet I'll still read the Sun-Times over the outright conservative Tribune every day. They have the superior Page 2 columnist (Mark Brown) and one of the greatest sportswriters of the past fifty years in Rick Telander. Greg Couch and Carol Slezak are must-reads, focusing on the subject of their columns and not trying to make themselves stars. Phil Rosenthal makes me want to turn on my television more than once a week with his well-written, witty columns.

I'm also digging Redneck Words of Wisdom, from the people who brought us Men Who Look Like Kenny Rogers. Some of the words of wisdom I haven't heard since I left home. I'm sure my stepdad would appreciate it. That is, if I was certain he could read.