Monday, December 31, 2007

If Wishes Were Horses, Then Dreamers Would Ride

When this year started, I declared it to be the "Year of the Squeaky Wheel." I tried to stay intentionally vague on that subject. Whether or not we care to admit, we're all a little superstitious. And for this year, I made one major resolution.

I was going to take charge of my life. As 2K6 drew to a close, I saw friends around me get laid off from a job where we'd built a close, almost familial bond. Even though we didn't state so out loud, those of us who remained knew that it was only a matter of time before it was our turn. Keeping an ear close to the ground for a better job became part of the mantra.

As a writer I was satisfied with what I was doing at Chicagoist, but I wanted to do more and wanted to improve all around in that area. I read what's in the dailies, the weeklies and the local magazines and I thought to myself that I could do at least just as well. So developing something of a freelance career was on the "take charge" agenda.

We're also vain to varying extents, and I was already working on changing my eating habits by cutting out high fructose corn syrup. If I could eat better, it would also help me not only health-wise, but from a writing perspective, since I'm a food writer. That made the list. Then I called it the "Year of the Squeaky Wheel", kept the resolution close to my vest, and set out to act.

Those tentative first steps reinforced something I read once: "A man without hope is a man without fear." And in those early weeks of this year, I was nothing if not scared. But it forced me to focus on what I wanted to achieve. I'm impatient by nature, and I had to learn to take things slow and keep working for those goals. It started slowly: some assignments for Centerstage, hours browsing job boards, sending out resumes, and drinking water when I normally would have eaten. But I stuck with it.

By the time May rolled around and we knew that time was wasting at HotHouse, I had managed to get my first assignments with Time Out Chicago and the Sun-Times. Again, baby steps. Where others at HotHouse were taken with shock at the news it was closing, I at least had some semblance of a backup plan. And freelance work was able to keep me afloat until I landed my current job, just in time to take stock at what I wrote in January.

Looking back I can state unequivocally that this has been one of the best years of my life. It's been fulfilling and rewarding, in the shadow of uncertainty. There are times I hear something playing on Winamp that reminds me of HotHouse, which was such a long chapter in my life, and I miss it. But I can't afford to look back now. 2K8 is upon us, and I have another set of resolutions to knock out. Again, I'll be vague about what they are, and let you know what they are when I see them in sight.

Happy New Year, everyone!!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Again, If I Was a Music Critic

Nectar of the Gods
Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

These would be my favorite records of the year:

  • Robert Plant and Alison Krauss: Raising Sand Easily my favorite of the year. Plant doesn't get the recognition that Peter Gabriel or David Byrne do as far as world musicology is concerned, and on this record his encyclopedic knowledge of American roots music comes to full bore. Krauss, who's become more boring and safe as she's become more blonde and slender, is inspired here. Producer T-Bone Burnett brings it all together.

  • Grinderman: Grinderman. Easily the sleaziest record I listened to all year. Nick Cave steps away from the piano, straps on a guitar, and lets the fuzz fly.

  • Pink Martini: Hey Eugene!. These symphonic popsters released their most accessible record to date, and their March date at the Chicago Theatre is one of my most eagerly anticipated concerts of early 2K8. this record ends with a tender duet between vocalist China Forbes and the legendary Jimmy Scott on "Tea for Two".

  • Talib Kweli: Right About Now (The Official Sucka Free Mix CD). Jay Z says it best - "If skills sold/ Truth be told/ I'd probably be/ Lyrically/ Talib Kweli."

  • Little Big Town: A Place to Land If you're a fan of the California sound of the 70's and creative four-part harmony, then pick this up this record.

  • Kurt Elling: Night Moves. The local jazz singer's latest and best record is also his most consistent to date. Elling finally tones down his cheesier tendencies and delivers on his enormous potential.

  • Manu Chao: La Radionlina. The future of international pop. This is years ahead of everything else he's done before.

  • Pacha Massive: All Good Things. Grooves that to me bring back memories of muggy August afternoons holding down the basketball courts at Hermosa Park.

  • Orgone: The Killion Floor. This was a great year for old school soul music. This west coast band wound up being the answer for my next selection from Staten Island.

  • The Budos Band: The Budos Band II. Daptone Records strikes again. The Budos' sophomore release is light years ahead of their debut.

  • Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: 100 Days, 100 Nights. The new "Queen of Soul" cemented her claim to the title with this hot lo-fi mix of sweet soul.

  • The Betty Davis Re-issues: Lost for over thirty years, Light in the Attic Records re-issued Betty Davis and They Say I'm Different in May. How these records were lost while other slick funk bands found success in the 70's, I haven't a clue. This is some fierce, unrepentant, sexual music a solid fifteen years ahead of Madonna and seven years ahead of Prince.

  • The Duhks: Migrations. Now that Nickel Creek is on "indefinite hiatus", this Winnipeg-based "jamgrass" band is poised to lay claim to a lot of Nickel Creek's fans, and they have the chops for both bluegrass purists and the patchouli set. The Duhks also lost their soulful charismatic lead singer, Jessee Havey, but replaced her with the even more soulful Sarah Dugas.

  • Bettye Lavette: The Scene of the Crime A tour de force collaboration with the Drive-By Truckers. Recorded at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, which was the setting of the "Great Lady of Soul's" biggest professional disappointment. In 1972, she recorded an album for Atlantic Records that was, by all accounts, a masterpiece (if I can find it in my collection, I'll share some tracks). Then Atlantic decided to shelve the record on the eve of her tour to support it. This record reunites Ms. Lavette with David Hood, who played on that Atlantic record and also happens to be the father of lead Trucker Patterson Hood, who produced "Scene."

Saturday, December 29, 2007

If I Were Still a Music Critic...

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss' Raising Sand would hands down be my album of the year. Thanks, Olivia, for IM'ing me and asking me about this the other day.

For the rest of you, here's some of what you're missing. Krauss, in particular, sounds genuinely inspired by the pairing:

Carl Segvich Mad Libs

I slipped on four or five of these glossy card-sized political leaflets trampling up the stairs last night and almost broke my damn neck. Rather than head to Carl Segvich's home and give him a piece of my mind, I picked up one and the first thing that popped in my head while reading it and seeing all the underlined and capitalized words was Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi in "Ed Wood", where he has the freakout over being called Karloff's "sidekick."

Then I decided to have a little bit of fun. Be creative, I want to see what you've got.

The Pre-Game

"In Case You Forget..."
Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

So all the fun I had at the B News Neighborhood pub quiz Sunday followed a pretty tense hour at Bernice's. To give you an understanding of what I'm talking about, I suggest reading this first, for some back story.

Anyway, I belly to the bar at Bernice's, order a beer, take a seat at one of the high tables and wait for Kevin and his girlfriend to arrive. There are a few of the old Puffer's regulars in the bar, but, like then, I mainly kept to myself, nodded when they acknowledged my presence, drank my beer and ate my tacos from Erendira (al pastor is the way to go there).

That's when one of the former bartenders came up to me and said that she read what I wrote about the sale. "It was really good," she said. I thanked her then returned to my beer. Over the following minutes she kept coming back up to me, showing me a Led Zeppelin skullcap she received for Christmas, and we enjoyed some back-and-forth. Nothing more.

It all went downhill when she introduced me to her husband. "This is the guy who gave you all the information," she said. I assured her that he wasn't, and he started to give me the stink-eye, not because of the article, but because I was talking to his wife.

Not even ten minutes later I notice them arguing at the bar. Well, not so much arguing as him getting worked up and her trying to calm him down. Listening in, which wasn't hard to do, I realized they're arguing over me.

"Who is he?" he asked.

"He's a writer, I knew him from Puffer's," she'd say.

"I don't know him."

"Yeah you do."

"You say I do, but I don't."

"He's a funny guy."

That set him off further. Motioning in my direction, I heard him say, "How about if I rip his head off and shit down his throat? I'd think that would be funny." At that point I started draining back my beer, in case I needed the bottle to keep that from happening, and thanking the fates I ordered a large Lithuanian lager. I've been in sticky situations on on five continents, but I haven't been in an actual fight in ages. I'm sure if he wished to escalate things and try to make good on his wish to shit down my throat, I could hold my own in preventing it. But no one wants to get into a fight.

"He's a good writer," she tried to assure him, unknowingly giving him an invitation to whip my ass by letting him know I was a writer. I don't know what happened after that, but Kevin walked in shortly after and I caught him up on everything.

"You really know how to make friends and influence people, don't you, Chuckles," he said.

I sure do.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Christmas Gift to You All

Bernice's Sleigh
Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

Happy Holidays, everyone. Here's a couple hours of Christmas cheer. Have your preferred media player at the ready.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas to All

Santa's Seen Better Days
Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

And Happy Holidays for our non-Christian brethren, as well.

And to the folks at B News and Jimm Dispensa at Aldertrack: thanks for a wonderful time with last night's neighborhood quiz. The quiz itself mitigated a tense and interesting few moments before which I'll go into detail later.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Week in Review

Laundry Wonderland
Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

First, something I shared with Tankboy and Our Man in Chicago this week that any comic book fan in the 90's can appreciate: The 40 Worst Rob Liefeld Drawings.

Three weeks into the glamorous world of property tax appeals and I've finally acclimated myself to the change in schedule, from going to bed at 5 a.m. to waking up at 5 a.m. the commute to Evanston and back has forced me to focus on how I utilize my time and energy, especially prudent since I'm not giving up looking for freelance work. So the hours before I head for the train are used for Chicagoist responsibilities, lunch is used for interviewing folks for outstanding jobs, and the time after dinner is used for both. I'm essentially putting in a 14-16 hour day of work. But it's good, it instills discipline.

Speaking of, I've long held a Vox account that I never had any use for until I started interviewing for a editor position for another site that's soon to launch in a few months (I didn't get the job). They wanted to see how I would guide the editorial content of their site, and so asked that I put together what amounts to a day's worth of posts so they could gauge my style.

Anyway, I liked enough of the content I came up with - and the experience of writing in a punchy style that I normally wouldn't write in - that I decided to keep it solely for the purpose of restaurant, bar and other food/drink-related things I find interesting. It'll also be a place where you'll be able to find rough draft versions of much of what I plan on posting to Chicagoist and other places in the near future. Want to take a look at it, click here.

Finally, Chicagoist political beat writer Kevin Robinson has been developing his own Blogger-based site that I think you might find interesting (he also gave me the idea to write about the sordid past of "Northside Chuck" in the immediate future; you won't be disappointed). He asked for an editorial critique of it a while back, but I was just busy with other stuff. So, Kev, in a nutshell: It's ready for its close-up.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A Good Week

Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

Today we play a game called "Bridgeport or Suburbia?" I took this shot a few weeks back (and I'm not a fan of my wide angle lens, as an aside; the macros fuzz up the corners), and you get to guess whether I took it in Bridgeport or the suburbs.

As a freelancer I'm used to having to rob from Peter to pay Paul, but everyone I've done work for has fallen behind in invoicing lately. I've become accustomed to it with Time Out Chicago (particulary if it's a food or drink-related story), but the usually reliable Sun-Times has now fallen behind. As Laura said the other day, "I'm trying to be zen about it." Unfortunately zen doesn't pay the bills. But after frantic e-mails I've been assured that the invoices have been routed, so I'll either wait for one of the checks to roll in or my first paycheck from the law firm on Wednesday. Until now I'll just have to make do with the growler of 312 I have in my fridge

Neighborhood readers unite: the folks at B News are prepping for their 2nd Annual neighborhood pub quiz next Sunday. It's tentatively scheduled to be at Bernice's , depending on response. But it is a firm 7 p.m. start.. IF any of you are like me and want some idea of the neighborhood history, or just want to meet your neighbors, come out.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Video Find

So I've been sitting in front of this damn screen most of the day and was checking out the sites I usually read before I headed to bed when I cam across this via Crooks and Liars.

As far as I'm concerned Emmylou Harris can do no wrong. Wrecking Ball is, in a word, one of the greatest records of the past fifteen years, combining the ethereal sound of early U2 (courtesy of Daniel Lanois, who was instrumental to that sound) with Emmy's timeless voice. It also sparked a career renaissance that saw her become a songwriter in her fifties. This song, from the follow Up Red Dirt Girl, shows off her vocal chops and the lean playing of her backing band Spyboy.

Bonus: she makes gray hair sexy. Is there any wonder I named my dog after her?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Surfacing, Finally

Jimmy Ethyl 1
Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

Once I get some money rolling in I'm totally buying a Metra pass. The "L" ride to Evanston has been loooooonnngg, to say the least. With the way to really fly, I can wake up at 6, as opposed to 5, eat, walk the dog, shower, get to the train before it pulls out of downtown at 8:35, and into Evanston before I have to punch in.

The work has been dry - I'm at a law firm that specializes in property tax appeals - but with two north suburban townships closing their filing periods yesterday there was work to do. Everything I set out to do last weekend freelance wise I did, only when I sat down to start writing copy for my Sun-Times pieces this morning I double checked my deadlines and remembered they aren't due until the 19th. But the majority of the research has been completed, and I don't have to stress as much next week when I finish.

That turn of events turned out to be fortuitous, as the folks for the job I interviewed for two months ago finally got back to me last week for a second interview. At the very least, I'll have a job. It's just in a couple weeks I'll find out which job that will be. The dreamer in me says I could do both, still freelance on the side, really pad the bank accounts, put everything into storage for a year, buy a car and drive around the country with the dog. That's why the dreamer's a dreamer, not a realist.

I caught Mom up on all this this morning in my belated birthday phone call. When I finished, she asked, "How are you going to find the time for all this?" Don't know, Ma. Don't know.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Aren't You Hungry?

Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

I've started adding tags to the food and drink posts at Chicagoist for maximum SEO (that's "search engine optimization" for those of you who don't live online). And it paid major dividends yesterday with our latest "One Great Sandwich" post, which as of this morning is the fourth most popular link in Google when I type "breaded steak" in the search bar (the third most popular is last year's profile of Uncle Johnny's. I think that Freddie's is going to see a lot of business in the upcoming weeks from the curious. So will Chef Efrain, after yesterday's article in the Sun-Times on underground supper clubs that I wrote. Amelia e-mailed me to show me that the story was picked up in her company's daily e-mail newsletter, which goes out to over 200,000 subscribers.

I start a new job on Monday, and I'm anxious to finally get out of the house and work. It's also the first straight office gig I've had in ten years, but the atmosphere is laid back so I can wear jeans to work (although if I had to wear slacks I made certain I could still fit in the ones I have).

It also means that I have to finish the prep work on all my current freelance obligations this weekend. I have a story due for Time Out Chicago next week and two pieces for the Sun-Times the week after that. So I should stop screwing around here and hit the floor running.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

You Can't Control Nature

A Controlled Environment
Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

I was going through some old photos yesterday and came across these shots from the Bonsai room that the Brooklyn Botanical Garden from five years ago. This one really stood out because of the color of the changing leaves.

I miss my bonsai trees.

I've been listening to a lot of Orchestra Baobab since I returned from Anne and Pete's place in Roselle last night. It was the first time I made it to their home since they moved out of town (and the neighborhood) and they've put together a beautiful home. Anne and I got to talking about Cuba, for some odd reason. I think she mentioned that a relative is enthralled with it, to the point of having visited the island proper.

Not counting my mandatory visits to Guantanamo Bay when I was serving in the Navy, I've been to Cuba twice myself, so I grok the allure. Having just finished work on a story on Cuban sandwiches it's also fresh in my mind. Even with the current embargo, Cuba has served as a vital nexus between the Old and New worlds. It served as a frequent port-of-call during colonial times. The cultures and traditions of African slaves and Spanish colonials were absorbed by the native populace, who then added their own flavor and returned the favor to West Africa, who absorbed what the Cubans added and made it their own. That Afro-Cuban music still influenced West Africans even during the early embargo years was amazing; we didn't get to hear it until five or six years ago. I remember the first time Baobab played HotHouse and there were some anti-Castro Cubans in the house grooving on the music. We always got a handful of them at Cuban-themed shows; the night HotHouse was shut down in 2003 for license infractions Orquestra Aragon was on stage. But that's a story for another time.

On this particular night with Baobab on stage, someone asked for a rum-and-coke with a lot of lime. I was still at the point where I would enjoy a drink or four behind the bar during a show, and when he raised his glass and said "Cuba Libre" I (wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt) returned the toast with my beer and said, "From this side of the bar, she already is." I was feeling my oats, to say the least, and had to be pulled away from the bar when we started arguing.

You can hear the cross of influences in Orchestra Baobab's music. The sax is pure jazz, the melodies reminiscent of son montuno, the vocal harmonies come from Senegalese Wolof tradition. It all coalesces here in the song "Cabral" from A Night at Club Baobab. I'm sharing it with you below, along with the rocking track "Kelen Ati Leen" which is a guaranteed rump-shaker that betrays some serious funk influences that would make both James Brown and Fela proud.

Orchestra Baobab: "Cabral"

Orchestra Baobab: "Kelen ati Leen"

Saturday, November 17, 2007

My Winamp Screen Capture

My Winamp Screen Capture
Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

I've always been a fan of Winamp, one of the few things AOL gets right these days. This is the screen capture of their 10th anniversary addition (version 5.5). it includes a new skin called "Bento" that approximates the iTunes appearance, integrates with iPods better (without a separate plugin), and loads quicker than iTunes, Windows Media, and other players.

Winamp 5.5 also has a built-in browser that allows you to browse your favorite websites while listening, and a media monitor that searches popular MP3 sites for new downloads. This is a great feature because it allows the user to check out and catalog his or her favorite music blogs. Right now I'm listening to the Funky 16 Corners blog, one of the best classic soul sites around.

It still has its drawbacks. For example, if you made any DRM-protected or other fairplay songs from iTunes, those songs won't be added to the Winamp jukebox. Lucky I still subscribe to eMusic, so the libraries are easily integrated.

Speaking of, I'm absolutely digging the new eMusic remote downloader. It allows me to both automatically enter my downloads into my preferred player and sync my playlists at the same time.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Why I Have a Home Bar

Clown Arm Wrestling
Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

Between my hard drive crashing under the weight of a fucked-up registry and a urinary tract infection Emmy developed over the weekend I'm just glad to see the weekend in sight. Deadlines are finished, for the most part, I have some more work in the hopper and a possible job interview in the works.

But the double whammy of the hard drive and Emmy threw me into crisis mode. The former started up last week, when I downloaded a virus somehow that just infected the hard drive with trojans. My friend Brian came through with a copy of the installer that he gave me when I installed XP, but it wasn't enough. I had to uninstall everything and start from scratch. The silver lining in all this is that the reboot didn't delete my music library or, more important, my writing.

Emmy started peeing blood Sunday, thick enough that I didn't hesitate to wait until Monday to take her to my regular vet. So I called a cab and loaded the two of us up for the ride to the Emergency vet on Clybourn. Thank God for CareCredit, otherwise I don't know what would have happened. Some Clamavox and antibiotics and Emmy was feeling better by Tuesday.

All this overshadowed a chance encounter with a reader of this site, which shocked the hell out of me as I didn't think anyone outside of folks I know read this. This particular reader is working on a piece for the Tribune Sunday magazine about the Stearns Quarry, which is now the future nature preserve across the street from McGuane Park. I referred him over to B News, as they have the native history on the quarry he might need for his piece.

Anyway, thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Guilty Pleasures

Scott and I had an e-mail exchange yesterday about, of all things, the Spice Girls, and my contention that Melanie C (aka "Sporty") turned out to not only be the most talented one of the bunch, but the hottest one, as well (Scott readily admitted that while Ginger was his favorite, her junky trunk had turned into a "hatchback"). Don't believe me? Take a look at the reunion photos and see for yourself.

Then I was goofing around You Tube a couple days ago, before a trojan I inexplicably downloaded nearly crashed my hard drive, and I found this which is currently getting heavy rotation on the sudoPod:

And then there's this. While I can take or leave the song, it reinforces my argument about Ms. Chisholm's hotness (I'm miming cat claws right now):

Finally, I'm all over the new Angie Stone record, which is a great addition to the newly re-launched Stax Records. Check this out:

Now I really have to get back to work.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Retro Goodness

I'm just getting started on a long overdue deep cleaning (man was my pantry a mess), but I wanted to share this video. It's to promote the new Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings record, and man does this remind me of old "Top of the Pops" or "Old Grey Whistle Test" clips:

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Another Halloween in the Books

Racer X Unveiled
Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

Dig how my mask has a reservoir tip. A couple older folks got the costume right away. One asked how old I had to be to understand the character, and I said that once the live action Speed Racer movie comes out next year, I'll just need to be twelve.

I've uploaded some of the shots from this evening to flickr. Best of all, there were no Amy Winehouse sightings this evening.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Here We Go Gathering Nuts in May...

One of the things I'm absolutely digging about having Margaret aboard as editor at Chicagoist is we're starting to have some solid exchanges of ideas that will only make the site better overall, and me a better editor in particular. That, in turn , is already starting to reap dividends in my other endeavors: waking up, staying to a schedule, setting goals and meeting them ahead of schedule, and being consistent in my work.

We're launching another new feature tomorrow that I'm really stoked to see go live to the site. Between that and the really big thing I've got in the works, I'm more excited than I've been in a while.

In the meantime, I've got to get myself ready to shave this beard off. The costume, after a wash, is raring to go for the actual Halloween tomorrow. My friend Calvin and his girlfriend Annie throw a Halloween bash every year. They go all out with the decorations and the costumes and the entertainment. Last year was fun, this year I'll probably stay seated in front of their movie screen watchin
g Frankenstein movies all night.

Saturday, October 27, 2007


Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

The title of the photo and basically the theme for today.

Or the weekend, anyway.

I'm still coming to grips with the fact that Mike at Bridgeport Coffee House now knows my name, thanks to this. After I'm done here I'm heading to my old childhood stomping grounds of Logan Square, Avondale, and Hermosa on the northwest side to scope out some Cuban restaurants for a piece I'm working on for the Sun-Times on Cuban comfort food, and the relative lack of such in the city, that'll be published in a couple weeks (another hint: you may want to check out the cover story of the Sun-Times food section Wednesday, anyway). Then I'll probably hit some thrift stores on the way home shopping for the items I need for my Halloween costume. Here he comes...

I don't go as balls-out on Halloween like I used to. I don't have the patience for painting my entire body green, like the year Peg and I dressed as the Hulk and She-Hulk, then froze our tits off hopping from party to party in Wicker Park on a Saturday night. Then there was the year that I dressed as Ace Frehley from the cover of Kiss' "Dressed to Kill" album and applied the makeup from memory, ruining my favorite cheesy sharkskin suit in the process. Then there was the year I dressed as Charlie Chaplin for a private bartending gig, but at a whopping 265 at the time I looked more like Oliver Hardy than the Little Tramp.

I've been Michael Allred's Madman, Hugh Hefner, Big Boy, Baby New Year, an Indonesian hooker, the Invisible Man, a horny, surly Cat in the Hat on a drug binge (complete with some impressive Method acting, thanks to a pint of Brass Monkey and some mushrooms), a luchador, a Kung Fu Master and, last year, The Dude.

Most of these costumes have required that I shave off my beard in the process. I've worn one off and on most of my post-Navy adult life, but the past two years have been the most consistent time I've worn one. It's always interesting to see how my face looks underneath it all, and that I have a face underneath all this. A large reason I grow out a beard is to hide a prominent double chin, still there even after slimming down to under 230. Then I can't wait for the beard to grow back in.

But if I can pull off this, it'll all be worth it.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

My time management sucks lately

Peterson and Powerpoint
Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

Has it really been a month since I checked in here? That's what it says on blogger, and they can't be wrong.

Anyway, I am alive and still getting used to this whole "freelance" thing which, when slow, smacks heavy of "unemployed and not looking." Thankfull, as long as I keep a byline coming, the landlord knows that I'm not intentionally squatting.

The dance card filled up rather quickly last week. I had a deadline for a Day of the Dead cover story I'm working on for the Sun-Times food section that came together at the last minute. I managed to pitch two more stories to the Sun-Times for November, as well. The Centerstage venue write-ups keep coming and adding up, and with Margaret Lyons settling in as the new full-time editor at Chicagoist I'm finding some renewed energy to the food and drink beat. Back when I accepted the beat editor post in February I wrote a long-range editorial plan for how I'd like to see the beat being covered on the site. I'm finally able to actualize that, with the two new features we launched this week in addition to "Beer of the Week" and "The Friday Buffet." Now if I can just pick up the restaurant and bar reviews.

I even scored some publishing house contract work this week. It's nice to have editors who trust your work enough to have you on their short list for these types of things. And the pay is decent, to boot.

All said, the one thing I've had the most problems adapting to working from home is the sense of being cooped up all day. I don't have a notebook computer, so I don't have the luxury of packing it up and heading someplace where there's free wi-fi, just for a change of scenery. Working from home works out fine for the dog; Emmy's begging more than usual to go out and have a round of fetch these days. So when I landed a job interview this past week, I was surprised. Especially since I didn't follow the instructions in applying for the position (write a few paragraphs about myself, etc.), I think I just sent a link to my content at Chicagoist and hoped for the best. I tend to stutter and break out in flop sweats at interviews. I also woe a vest and tie-dyed necktie to the interview while my interviewers were dressed business casual. But the interview went well; it turned out that the Gothamist LLC cachet reaches farther than I imagined. There's no final decision yet, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't interested.

This week reminded me of a discussion Courtney and I had around the time HotHouse was closing, just as I was starting to get some freelance work. I was worried that I would have had to start looking for another bartending gig immediately. She assured me that it appeared I was on the right path and all I had to do was persevere. Nothing's ever certain.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Stumbling Into Good Things

A few weeks back I reviewed the new Half Acre Lager on Chicagoist, which promoted the usual mix of sincere commentary and bullshit flame bait that accompanies the articles these days. I've got an article in today's Sun-Times which was the result of an interview I conducted with Half Acre point man Gabriel Magliaro. We discussed his decisions to start a beer company and brew the beer on contract at a Wisconsin brewery, while Magliaro went into detail behind his fascination, love of craft brewing and his hopes for the company. But the proof's in the pudding, and Half Acre is a damn tasty beer. It's a dark lager, with lots of Munich malt and Saaz hops. It tastes like an India Pale ale, but doesn't have an ale's weight

Half Acre so far has been limited to Wicker Park, but Magliaro's working hard with the distributor (Chicago Beverage Systems) to find as many placements for the beer as possible. Lucky for us in Bridgeport that CBS distributes down here; the beer territories in the city are even more gerrymandered than ward or congressional district maps. So if you're a regular at Mitchell's, Catcher's, Skylark or Bernice's, start lobbying for them to carry Half Acre.

This month is also Illinois Wine Month, and I've compiled an extensive listing of events tied in with it at Centerstage. The event I definitely plan on attending is the Lynfred Winery Oktoberfest, barring service cuts and fare hikes on Metra.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The View From the New Cockpit

I don't believe in feng shui. Here's all I need: port and starboard lava lamps, La Parka, Santo, and a luchadore animatronic James Brown looking over me. Emmy's pillow is right behind the new man chair, and the four-foot distance between my eyes and the computer screen make a world of difference for my astigmatism.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Dust Bowl at 30th and Halsted

The Jewel grocery store by my apartment closed down Thursday, and to the final minute they never discounted the Kingsford char-wood. Had they discounted it, Chuqueaux would have spent a lot of blistering cold January days grilling in the snow drifts in my backyard.

With the Jewel closed the closest grocery store in the neighborhood within walking distance is this Certi-Saver on Halsted, by 34th Street. I get nauseous walking in there, and it takes a lot for me to blow chunks. It's kind of what you expect a Certi-Saver, or Butera, or A&P (if those are still around) to look and smell like: faded linoleum floors, a smell of pine sol and absorbent sawdust in the air, cashiers who really don't want to be bothered with ringing you up, and the slight feeling of dread that there's a rodent problem that gets cleared up just in time for a surprise health inspection. Which is a shame, because it looks like they have some decent produce and meats in there. I just get sick walking in from the smell. It reminds me of this Butera that used to be at Wilson and Clark when I lived on the north side. Same smell, same floors that saw better days, same cashiers. I actually saw a cockroach skitter across a shelf there once.

Anyway, I was shopping at this Butera once, I think it was late '95, right after Halloween. Yeah, it was because that was the year Peg and I dressed as the Hulk and She-Hulk for Halloween and my nipples froze till they cracked while hopping from party to party in Wicker Park. Another story for another time, I suppose. Back to Butera. On this particular visit there were two cashiers at one register admiring each other's lacquered hair, brown lipstick, and neck tattoos (nothing is classier than a tattoo inked in Olde English script on someones neck). The girl actually working the register was methodically scanning my groceries across the reader while rubbing her visibly pregnant belly. The second one asked in between gum snaps, "Girl, what are you, five months now?"

First one said, "Yeah. And Mousey better do right by me, too." The second girl was twirling her gum around her finger when it broke and she asked, "What about Mousey?"

Pregnant cashier said, "I said Mousey better take care of his kid when he's born." The second girl started to think, which might have been a foreign occurrence for her, and asked, "Are you going out with someone named Mousey, too." That's when all three of us got that look on our faces that said, "uh-oh."

Second girl decided that right then would be the ideal time to keep it real. "Oh, hell no. Tell me you ain't been sleeping with my boyfriend." The pregnant cas
hier snapped back, "If that's your boyfriend, he wasn't the night he knocked my ass up."

"You fucking ho!" screamed the second girl. Suddenly they were in each other's faces, screaming and pointing with their fake nails. I thought some corneas were gonna get scratched. The manager ran up to the checkout line and asked me if there was a problem. I assured him that the problem was most likely Mousey's. He somehow managed to separate the two cashiers, ring up my groceries, and get me off on my way. Had I shopped on a regular basis at the Jewel on North Lincoln, I probably would never have had this story to tell.

With this Jewel closing it means that sometime in the upcoming weeks I'm going to head to Kozys and start pricing grocery panniers for my Schwinn, as the next closest grocery stores that don't trigger my gag reflex when I enter are a Dominick's on Archer and Ashland and a Pete's Fresh Market on 22nd, west of Western. I was at the latter with Sue the other night - she was loading up on stuff while I was picking and choosing what to replenish. I think I walked out with a load of frozen juice, fruit, and sliced lunch meat for under $30. I've always loved Pete's Fresh Market. the stores are clean, the food is fresh, they may actually have a basic understanding of "free range" and organic there, if not actually try to carry some, and their cashiers never seem to be involved in any baby daddy drama.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Mad Doctor

Fiesta Del Sol in Black-and-white
Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

I'm testing out a grilled pizza recipe this afternoon in preparation for the annual movie night and barbecue I'm throwing in a couple weeks. If I like the results, I'll post them here first.

In the meantime I have to rave about the new Soulive record, incidentally the first new release on the re-launched Stax Records label. Soulive is one of those bands that just burns in concert, but their records left a lot to be desired. The energy and fierceness of their live show never translated. They've added this vocalist named Toussaint, which forced the Evans Brothers and Eric Krasno to structure their songs into more concise pieces for vocals. In other words, they dropped recording all the jam band noodling that turned me off from their records. It almost sounds like a completely different band, but better.

This new record, "No Place Like Soul", simply sounds fierce. Check it out.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Be Thankful For...

  • Chicken fresh off the grill, sliced thin for club sandwiches, and seasoned with West Town Tavern's proprietary barbecue rub
  • Checks for invoices that come in when you absolutely need them
  • Running unexpectedly into friends at the most unlikely of places, shopping for ties while you look for a KitchenAid mixer
  • A dog that never begs too much for table scraps
  • Fresh tomatoes and basil
  • Football season
  • A mother who understands, even when you know she's lying
  • The seventeen-ounce margaritas at this place Sue and I found the other night on Blue Island after grocery shopping
  • Bridgeport Coffee House's "Stockyard Blend"
  • Starting to get the hang of pitching story idea to editors
  • Running into friends on Myspace you never thought you'd see again
  • The free contraband delicacy at a restaurant I'll be reviewing on Chicagoist later this month
  • Homemade grilled sweet corn and mango salsa
  • Chilaquiles al Gualjilo.
  • Stupid lists. I'd never get anything done without them.

Friday, September 07, 2007

How Chicagoan Am I?

Like there was ever a doubt.

You are 100% Chicagoan!

Congratulations -- enjoy a slice of pizza. You are so Chicago you vote early and often! Butt head! Say RAAAH!

How Chicago are you?
Take More Quizzes

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Late to the Party, But I DID Show Up

The Bar is Open
Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

My 20th anniversary high school reunion is Saturday. The last time Harry and I were together he said he wouldn't go unless I went. And I'd go only if we could get his wife to attend. And I knew that wasn't going to happen. So I'll be doing something else Saturday. But I'll be doing it while wondering how some folks have turned out in the ten years I last saw them.

We went to our 10th anniversary reunion, along with our friend Missy. My most vivid memory from that was how quickly we all reverted back to our little cliques from high school. There was this ongoing sense of "can you top this" and "here is a list of the great things I've done" in the air. In hindsight it was fairly petty. We were on the expressway to adulthood, but some of us were stuck in traffic, others were speeding in the carpool lane, and still more of us were engaging in some form of gapers block, looking back at the friends and classmates who didn't make it. Then the mask of who we were when we'd go to Hero's, Mickey D's Hot Dogs, or Wendy's for lunch started to fade, probably with the help of the open bar, and we began to look at each other as people in their late twenties just starting to gain the knowledge that will carry us through life, along with falling in love and thinking of having kids; stumbling into careers; and leaning how to cope with the things our parents shielded us from: like debt, taxes, the uncertain news from that check-up; worrying about the end-of-year bonus and where we're gonna find that video game Billy wants on Christmas Eve. In other words, we were just beginning to become our parents. Only our parents didn't have to worry about the iPod touch.

I'll be the first to admit that I took the scenic route to where I am today. I can remember holding up a copy of the Sun-Times (only .25¢ in 1986-1987) in speech/debate class my senior year and saying that my dream was to have my own byline in a newspaper. Four months after that a Navy recruiter's lying through his teeth at me as I'm enlisting for six years to study nuclear engineering, saying "Sure you can study journalism if this doesn't work out." But he also told these hilarious stories about how he contracted the venereal warts he loved to brag about and said I could tell similar stories, but without the warts, if only I signed on the dotted line.

It could be said that what I'm doing now is a story in perseverance, and I guess that's true to an extent. But I also look back at all those years where I just did nothing because where I was in my life at any particular moment was comfortable, and I didn't want to shake that up to shoot for what I wanted to really do. All I've ever really wanted to do was write, and I've never actually stopped. It's just now I'm at a place where I take it more seriously than I've ever done. It's amazing what happens when you place stock in something you love.

Maybe I'll pick up a guitar again.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

I'm Gonna Make You Shine

Greek Salad, two ways
Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

I was browsing through the job boards at mediabistro this afternoon when I came across a posting that could be used as an example for the definition of "irony." Fox News is looking to hire a "fact writer."

I hear Karl Rove is available.

In one of the instances where I found myself fucking off instead of working yesterday, I spent hours on Myspace looking for people. I should probably put something on my profile that keeps away the mediocre white rappers, jam bands, and barely legal webcam girls from wanting to add me as their friend. Something along the lines of "Don't come to me, I'll come to you." But I fear it might just increase the amount of requests I receive.

It goes without saying that Myspace is used as a marketing tool for bands (and other artists) to varying degrees of success. My "friends list" is not without a load of bands. If I got rid of all the bands listed in my network, I'd probably be down to under thirty actual contacts.

But I was browsing the bands and I started thinking that I could fill a pretty damn good jukebox with what their music. Like when Tuman's was TUMAN'S, Holly would put the space-age bachelor pad music of Esquivel next to Diamanda Galas' "Masque of the Red Death". Or Screaming Jay Hawkins' "Constipation Blues" would be a few clicks away from some Pantera's "Cowboys From Hell."

So, in the interest of having a virtual jukebox in a virtual bar with a virtual Holly and me serving virtual hard drinks for virtual people who want to get virtually drunk fast, I've listed some of the bands in my Myspace network and their corresponding Myspace pages for you to check out for yourselves. You know you'd want to drop twenty in the slot and pick songs if this were real. Don' t lie to yourself.

  • Motörhead: They play rock and roll and are fronted by a speedfreak bass player named Lemmy. Need I say more?

  • Bantam: Classic down-tuned, power-trio rock fronted by Gina Volpe of Lunachicks fame. Avril Lavigne wishes she could sound this hard.

  • Baby Teeth: A single degree of separation in the corporeal world with this band. Drummer Peter Andreadis is a HotHouse alumni. He was the chief sound engineer when I hired on. This is baby making music for the retro crowd.

  • Spanking Charlene: Here it's vocalist Charlene McPherson doing the spanking. This is one of my favorite new eMusic downloads, courtesy of some great songwriting and the production of Eric "Roscoe" Ambel. "Field Trip" is a look at "scared straight" programs from the point-of-view of juvenile delinquent.

  • Patty Griffin: The heir apparent to Emmylou Harris and one of the best songwriters in America, period. If you can't shed a tear listening to "Impossible Dream" then you're a heartless bastard.

  • Motep: another genius, another HotHouse connection. Motep draws his influences directly from the well: Richie Havens, Bob Marley, Nina Simone, A Tribe Called Quest, Gil Scott-Heron. Full of flava. If you're reading, Tankboy, we should so snag him for one of the Chicagoist Ctrl-Alt-Rocks.

  • e.s.t.: Every jukebox needs some killer jazz for when a devil's rain passes through. Ensbjörn Svensson Trio fits the bill, and I've written about them before. Another HotHouse connection.

  • Antibalas: Probably the best value on the jukebox, next to Fela (once I add his tribute page). Throw a buck in, play five Antibalas tracks, and sit back for an hour. You'll leave a Marxist, to boot

  • The Blacks: 'Cause you never know when Gina or Nora might walk in.

  • The Brand New Heavies: When acid jazz is done right, it's excellent. Even today, listening to "Heavy Rhyme Experience" takes me back to memories of late nights shooting pool and drinking Amstel Light with Early Times chasers at Magnolia's Steak House in Norfolk, Virginia, hustling co-eds from Old Dominion University in ways other than the pool table. The Heavies got wise and realized that the only way folks really want to hear them is with N'dea Davenport on vocals. They're at the House of Blues tomorrow with Macy Gray opening.

  • galapagos 4: For years one of the hardest working hip-hop collectives in the city. Ryan Fernandez (a.k.a. "Offwhyte") was HotHouse's IT coordinator.

  • Cibelle: Every jukebox needs some chill tunes for the dope smokers, and Cibelle's mashup of Brazilian, folk, and emo fits the bill perfectly. Did I mention that my jukebox is a Dave Matthews-free zone?

  • Catfish Haven: Sweaty, blue-eyed white boy soul music for the last call hookups. My friends Tina Howell and Avery R. Young sang backup on their record "Tell Me."

  • Cassandra Wilson: Back when my friends and I were Wicker Park royalty, Cassandra Wilson's "New Moon Daughter" record was what I put on the stereo when I was really digging the moment or the woman I was with. She's aged with time like wine since "Belly of the Sun." Check out her live version of the classic Robert Johnson blues number "Come into My Kitchen," which is the perfect blend of Delta blues and hard Brooklyn funk.

  • The Mighty Hannibal: If you don't know the Mighty Hannibal, you better learn about him quick. The lone song offered on his Myspace page is the cherry high that most junkies wax poetic about.

  • Betty Davis: A funk trailblazer who was too much for Miles Davis to handle. 'Nuff said.

  • Allison Moorer: My perfect woman is a redhead from Alabama. Too bad this one is married to one of my idols. She's just starting to come into her own as a singer and a songwriter; I recommend her albums "The Hardest Part" and "the Duel."

  • My Damn Butterfly: If you haven't figured it out by now, the HotHouse staff was one talented bunch of folks. the all-female a capella group My Damn Butterfly has among their ranks the previously mentioned Holly Stevens as well as Courtney Glascoe, two of the best people I've ever held down a bar with.

  • Marah: "Kids in Philly" and "20,000 Streets Under the Sky" are enough to overcome "Float Away with the Friday Night Godz." IMHO, "Kids in Philly" is a desert island disc for me.

  • The Bottle Rockets: Deserve inclusion for "Radar Gun" alone. "Song of Sahm" just puts it over for me. The Bottle Rockets would be my soundtrack if I had to fight my way out of a bar.

  • Mary Lee's Corvette: The backstory - it was Halloween 2K2 in New York City and I was on vacation there, largely to work out some post-9/11 issues about whether or not I wanted to strike out there or stay in Chicago. Mary Lee's Corvette was the featured band onstage that evening at the Lakeside Lounge on Avenue B and 10th (Mary Lee Kortes' husband, Eric "Roscoe" Ambel, also produced the Spanking Charlene record, is Steve Earle's guitarist, and owns the Lakeside). She came onstage and did a track-by-track recreation of Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks" that had to be seen to be believed - you can preview her cover of "Buckets of Rain" on her Myspace page - it was so polished. Turns out it wasn't the first time she did this. I own the proof of her first time re-creating "Blood on the Tracks" at Arlene's Grocery in Manhattan, which she released as a full-length album. Incidentally, Dylan praised Mary Lee's version.

  • Corey Wilkes: Watching Corey come into his own as a musician and a man have been two things I've been blessed to witness. If I had to choose something for the jukebox, I'd go with some bootleg Art Ensemble of Chicago performance, to catch Corey fully giving in to the moment (you know they're floating around, Wilkes).

  • Binky Griptite: Earns inclusion for being the guitarist and emcee for Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings shows (another inclusion once the request is accepted) and for having to put up with Amy Winehouse's cracked-out bullshit.

  • The Head Cat: What do you get when you put Lemmy, Slim Jim Phantom of the Stray Cats, and Danny B. Harvey of Lonesome Spurs together? A novelty, sure. But a novelty with surprisingly strong legs and faithful adaptations of classic rock 'n roll and rockabilly. Remember, Lemmy has a soft side; he wrote the lyrics to "Mama I'm Coming Home" for Ozzy Osbourne.

  • Solaris Earth Pipeline: Raven Mack used to write this DIY zine called "The Confederate Mack" where the words and stories were so vivid they flew off the page. He's also a fan of old school hip hop. If you want to know what it sounds like, read his "sounds like" passage on his page. You'll get a feel for both the music and his writing.

  • Manishevitz: One night a few years back Manishevitz opened for Wilco at the Auditorium Theatre. They came by HotHouse afterward to continue the party, and Adam Busch got so belligerent praising Television's "Marquee Moon" that I thought I'd have to knock his ass out in order to shut him up. "If you don't have 'Marquee Moon' in your record collection, Chuck, you're a fucking poseur," were his exact words. Yeah, I'm glad it didn't have to come down to that, because I love Adam like a brother. And I'm not exactly close with my brother.

  • The New Outlaws: A new addition to my network, but worthy at such a short stage. There could be countless bands calling themselves "The New Outlaws" out there, but if I saw these folks onstage at, say, Robert's Western World or Tootsie's Orchid Lounge in Nashville, or Carol's Pub here in town, I'd pay a cover to see them, and possibly pass around the pickle jar around for tips, depending on how many bottles of PBR I had in my system. Now, for a personal connection that is NOT HotHouse related, one many people probably don't know. Years ago, when my mother first remarried, we left Chicago and lived in Tennessee for a few years. I actually went to middle school and my first year of high school with the keyboard player in the New Outlaws, Mendy Bob Casabella (née Waddell). I don't think anyone ever had a bad word to say about her, to her face or behind her back. Now that's something.

There are a few more I could list, but I need to save them for later, as a surprise.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Going on a Field Trip

Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

Something of a busman's holiday today, as I'm finding myself waiting for invoices to be processed. The thing I'm having a hard time reconciling about freelancing is the feeling that I'm accomplishing nothing, even when I know I'm not. I'll sit here, pitching, working the phones, researching pieces and filing notes, but until a check comes in, it's like hedging a bet.

I'm getting better at pitching stories, in that so far I've only had one idea shot down that I thought was a slam dunk idea from numerous perspectives. But it's a hustle, one that I have no idea how some of my friends have done for years.

So that's why I only answered one e-mail yesterday and spent most of the day in the back yard, pruning, mowing the lawn, and grilling. The Jewel by my house is closing on Thursday, so I loaded up on basics for twenty bucks, like eggs, milk, and chicken. I'm waiting to see if they cut the price of char-wood, then I'll load up for the 15th and that little get-together I'm planning.

Monday, August 27, 2007

You Hear the Most Amazing Things at "Little City Hall"

Broadway at Dusk 2
Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

You don't know if it's boasting, or if the the bloated old guy talking about what happened forty years ago under the 38th Street "viadock" was actually backing it up, but it was enough to let me surrender my Early Times to the ice and head to Mitchell's, where I and Our Man in Chicago proceeded to watch the White Sox bend over like good little submissives, drink good beer, discuss the DC and Marvel universes, and gawk at the bug-eyed beauty of Tracee Ellis Ross while watching Girlfriends reruns on the plasma screen.

Enjoy Dream Boogie, Mr. Smith.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Don't Expect This to Become a Habit

The South Fork
Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

Saturday, after snagging an interview with Willie Wagner of Honky Tonk BBQ, I dropped in at Skylark to see how Brian was doing. He had just landed a job there tending bar on Saturdays after about six months without a job, opening from 4-8 p.m. It isn't the best shift and doesn't take advantage of the full range of his managerial skills, but it's a foot in the door. A baby step, but still something.

Sitting at the bar were some old friends from HotHouse: Pierce, who used to run sound there, and Alton, who worked maintenance before he went full-time into social work. As is the case whenever four people with a shared history of employment gather in the same place, things eventually turned to HotHouse. In fairness, it would have anyway, but Brian is an obsessive type so the subject was broached rather quickly.

Brian came to HotHouse after a much-publicized firing from his old job, the California Clipper. This was back when the Clipper was a really cool place to hang, and Brian was a large reason why. I don't know the details of how he came to our attention, but he was well organized and able to walk softly while carrying a big stick while making the bar and wait staff a more professional group on the job. This was in stark contrast to the other managers we had, who often got drunk on the job or let their coke fiend friends have at the liquor inventory after a show.

However, almost from the start Brian and Marguerite were like oil and water. He'd try to implement some best practices for the staff, and she'd put the kibosh on it because it wasn't her idea of "best practices." She'd recommend friends of hers for a job on the floor or behind the bar (and by "recommend" I mean "she'd tell Brian to hire these people"). He couldn't bring himself to do it. He'd interview them, determine that they were already promised a gig by Marguerite - which effectively undermined his authority - but couldn't bring himself to actually hire them because they were "flaky."

Brian would bring in bartenders, waitresses, security and box office staff who "got" what HotHouse was about largely by telling them the truth: that they'd work for little pay and recognition for a boss who marched to the beat of her own drummer; but they'd get to hear some killer music they wouldn't find anywhere else in the city and work with people who were likable and somewhat professional. The instilling of a family dynamic into the front-of-house staff was almost all Brian's doing.

And I don't think Marguerite liked it one bit. Brian was a favorite whipping boy of hers, and she'd emasculate him at every possible opportunity. I mean, sometimes she's just castrate him in front of guests or people of influence who might have wanted to help the organization's non-profit mission. So, it wasn't surprising that, once the board of directors voted to suspend Marguerite, Brian was one of the first dancing on the grave. As the final note from that stage faded into the ether, Brian still believed that, even though the board made their share of mistakes, they got that decision right.

When we do talk, the conversation invariably comes around to HotHouse, then Marguerite. We've both been on the receiving end of her diatribes. Eventually, I learned to shake it off and get back to work. Like I keep saying, I don't hate the woman, in spite of it all. But with Brian, it's a personal matter, one that I'm not certain he can let go. It's almost like post traumatic stress disorder.

Get the two of us together and it does make for an interesting evening of war stories.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The New Order

"Ballpark" course (aka "dessert")
Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

Now that I'm freelancing more I'm learning to appreciate that what I'm doing is actually leading to an end. I find myself in front of my computer every day, writing query letters, pitching, replying to requests, accepting the assignments coming my way. But at the end of the day I have to take stock and remind myself that I haven't been futzing around all day.

I'm also accepting more invitations with the goal of networking in mind. Freelance is a hustle, and the aggressive are the ones who make a living of it. This photo - from a dinner at moto Thursday night - was an example of such. It was sponsored by Gourmet magazine, and I thought it would be an opportunity to meet someone who I could plant that little seed in his or her head.

It was a fun dinner, too.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


Season 2 of "The Tick" is now out on DVD. Dig.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

"This Bud's For You"

Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

That was what Mike Lukowski said on stage during his benediction at the graduation ceremony for the Lane Tech class of 1987. Overall, the ceremony itself was one of those memorable occasions, not just because we were graduating, but for everything that went wrong during the ceremony. There was a threat of rain all day, and some of us thought there would be a chance the ceremony would be switched to the auditorium.

But it wasn't, and when the lightning started striking the WGN-TV parking lot about an hour into the ceremony, the students headed for the cafeteria, where we turned in our rain-soaked gowns for diplomas. My family, disgusted not only with the weather, but the behavior of the class (we were also tossing beach balls around and generally acting like, well, teenagers), left me to my own devices to get home. When I did, my Auntie Ann let me have it.

"Your cousin Danny - my SON - graduated from summer school and his graduation ceremony wasn't the farce yours was. 'Best and brightest', my eye!" She stated matter-of-fact. I replied, "Yeah, but I graduated on-time, with my class." Then I changed clothes and headed out to meet up with my friends at Ed Debevic's. I don't remember much of that evening, except that I think I wound up sharing a cab back to the Northwest side with Ralph Bonatz.

Last week, I received a package in the mail from the organizers of the Class of '87 20th Anniversary party, and it just made me feel old. Older than waking up with a screaming back; or looking in the mirror and wondering where the past ten years went, or the knowledge that I'm of an age where going out until all hours on a Saturday night is no longer a compulsory exercise. This time it's at a Holiday Inn in Skokie, and I don't see a re-hash of out 10th anniversary reunion. Back then, I was amused and genuinely surprised at how quick we all fell back to our regular cliques from high school. At the same time, fellow graduates I got to know after graduation were instrumental in bridging the gap between those cliques at the ceremony. Some of us - I include myself among that number - were still stupid enough to think that we had the world by the balls, and were living in some protracted form of adolescence.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Bar is Always Open

The Bar is Open
Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

So, in addition to everything else I have going on (the freelance, looking for a job, et al.) I made time Tuesday evening to head to Scoozi for a wine tasting/singles mixer as a personal invitation from master sommelier/"Check Please" host Alpana Singh. Now I used to dabble a little bit in online personals and mixers, but as I've gotten older I just don't do it. I'm usually preoccupied with professional and personal goals to worry about feeling lonely or looking for "the one", whatever that is.

I digress. Ms. Singh is utterly disarming with charm and personality. She told me, Rachelle, and Erin, "If a man can't get laid at a wine tasting, he can't get laid." This at a table with three working writers. We also got to meet her husband and a friend who "heart(s) Chicagoist" that I later allowed to Rachelle and Erin I thought was "kinda cute."

I also had to step in when this guy sidled up to Erin near the end of the tasting who was feeling the effects of a bit too much wine and was trying to be amorous. It's embarrassing to be ruddy and puffy and unaware that she's just not that into you. So I somehow worked into the conversation plans for the movie night in the backyard and told the ladies, "bring your boyfriends." Mr. Valentino picked up on that right away.

As we were leaving, Alpana said, "we should get together sometime soon and formally taste some wine." I replied, "Fuck that. Let's drink some whiskey sometime." We both know this guy Martin Duffy, who's a scotch ambassador. So I think this might be in the works.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

It's a Carnival Feeling Today

Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

So what can I do to top getting published? How about making the cover story for today's Sun-Times food section?

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to run and buy about ten copies for Mom and the family.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Little George Michael Bluth Grows Up

I still miss "Arrested Development" long after it went off the air. It looks like the one cast member who really learned lessons from the show was Michael Cera, who played the awkward, pining-for-his-cousin-in-a-Biblical-way George Michael Bluth.

So, if you haven't watched any of the webisodes of "Clark and Michael" do so. They're seven-to-eleven minutes of pure genius. Watch it only to hear Cera say, while working out, "my body is a tomb."

Then there's this video Cera made last year:

Which is a parody of this real video, sent to an investment banking firm by an ambitious young man as part of a resume. The guy later was revealed to be a major fraud, and a douche:

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Weekend Checklist

La Justicia Negativa
Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

- Visit Bronzeville Farmers Market (I went where the city's website said it was supposed to be. Apparently Dunbar High School didn't know they were the host.)

- See "The Simpsons Movie" check

- Visit Fiesta del Sol (This evening)

- Prune tomato plants landlord planted, allowing sun to reach dill weed, cilantro, thyme, oregano, and parsley check

- Cut fresh basil I planted, allowing sun to hit the rosemary behind it check, and the kitchen smells so sweet right now.

- Work on rough drafts of this week's planned Chicagoist posts so I can focus on job hunt check

- Finish story for Time Out Chicago ahead of deadline check

- Create list of pitches for Time Out Chicago, Sun-Times, and other possible freelance opportunities check

- Polish resumes check

- Ride fifteen miles on bicycle Actually, I knocked out thirty yesterday. Most of it on Archer, which requires that one puts the thought of death out of his mind.

- Get haircut. (Tuesday)

- Send clips to Mom for her scrapbook (Tomorrow. We always procrastinate with our parents, don't we?)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Green Thumb

Tomatoes, July 2K7
Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

So around Memorial Day I decided to put the landlord's planters boxes in the backyard to good use, but planting an herb garden, tomatoes, and peppers. Here is the initial results of the tomatoes. I'll be chronicling the gardening experience at Chicagoist for anyone who wants to keep track.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Apparently, It Comes in Waves

The Old Style Sign at Margie's Pub
Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

Hot on the heels of seeing my work in print in the Sun-Times comes Time Out Chicago's "dive bar" issue.

I'm all over that issue, as well. Check out the cheap beer chart, which shows that I don't just know my highbrow brews.

Overall, it's been a week of major highs and lows. But isn't that life itself?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

"Write About What You Know"

Black Orchid
Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

So I did. NOw it's your turn to go out and buy a copy of the Sun-Times today, or just read my article on summer beers here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Make Sexy Time in France

Most of you know that I'm an avid cyclist, so it's no surprise I'm keeping up with the Tour de France and wondering if this year's winner will get stripped for doping.

Then you have moments like this that make it all worthwhile.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Now It's Hitting Me

Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

Last night's show with Zohar (featuring Erran Baron Cohen) was a great way to close out this chapter of HotHouse, and proved again that it's about the music, stupid. I also gave a little speech to that extent distilling the better passages of what I wrote here yesterday for public consumption, which was received with a mixed reception; there were some pro-Marguerite types in the audience who didn't appreciate some of my words. It's been a year, and I can't fathom the levels of hostility and emotion I feel from others when her name is mentioned. I know that she founded the place and all, but a sign of a good leader is that he or she leaves his charge in a position to succeed after him. and that didn't happen. I've been trying to be the shepherd recently, both at HH and at Chicagoist, and not lash out when incited. But it's hard. And when people started cheering her name last night, all I could think of is how they would react if I stopped the speech and asked them if they had to choose between paying rent and bills or eating over the winter, like some I know had. Would they cheer then?

This morning, it's all about recovery, as the unofficial staff goings away celebrations started last night. I should do laundry, browse job postings on Craigslist and mediabistro, and clean the house. And I probably will. But right now, I just want to breathe. This is my first unplanned Monday night off in close to eight years. I knew that most every Monday I had a standing date with Yoko Noge, one of the most genuine, lovely people to bless my life. That will be missed. Dearly.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Your Memory May Not Keep Me Warm, But It Never Leaves Me Cold

MH and Studs
Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

In a few hours, my professional obligations to HotHouse will be, for all intents and purposes, finished. Beginning tomorrow I tie up loose ends: bar equipment needs to be inventoried and packed, remaining liquor and supply bills need to be paid, and goodbyes (for now) are said to people I've come to love and respect over the years. My resumes are completed and ready to be dropped like ticker tape all around the city. And I'll be looking to maintain the momentum of new career options and revenue streams that I've worked months to develop.

Right now, though, the only thing I feel is a slight disgust - especially after the actions of some people last Monday night - with how the recent events at HotHouse came to pass, something out of my control that I long resigned myself to witnessing. It was a string of missteps, miscalculations, and errors in judgment.

When people ask me why I stayed at HotHouse for as long as I have, I've always answered (truthfully) that I believe in what the place stands for, even if I didn't necessarily agree with how certain individuals went about achieving those goals. In eight years at HotHouse I've witnessed artists play to adoring crowds leave with a pittance of the door proceeds, their signed contracts either renegotiated on the spot or reneged on; grant money intended for programming go to cover capital expenses; influential people in the arts and business communities given the cold shoulder; questionable accounting practices; bounced checks to vendors, artists, and employees; secrecy over the books; and an almost perverse, hubristic sense of self-entitlement by one person and a close cadre of friends and associates because that one person had the idea to create HotHouse. But I still believe that HotHouse can act as an agent for progressive politics, social justice, fostering positive change, and celebrating the good of humanity through music, culture, and the arts.

Between Marguerite Horberg and the current board of directors, there's more than enough blame to be shared in HotHouse's impending itinerant status. Caught in the middle of the sniping and pointed attacks was the staff that dutifully stayed behind to carry on and try to make something good out of the situation, and mostly because we all believed what I previously wrote about the organization's mission. Once a business manager was hired and started weeding through the tumbleweed that is the HotHouse financials, the gravity of how in the dark Marguerite kept us in the dark regarding the true financial health of the organization chilled us to the bone. Still, we believed that we could right the ship, with crafty booking and increased special events and private rentals. But the hole was too deep for us to lay the groundwork. The full-time office staff stayed until they were told with a nonchalant "sorry, but we're gonna have to lay you off" by the outgoing board president at Christmastime. The rest of us soldiered on in the subsequent, uncertain weeks, unsure if we would make it out of the winter. Many of us, including yours truly, went for months choosing which bills to pay in order to stay afloat. Some of us volunteered our time at HotHouse even after being laid off. None of us lost contact or completely dropped out of sight. We all still chipped in where we could to try to help the organization

It's a small victory that the place stayed open just over a year after Marguerite was removed, which showed to us that it wasn't simply about one person, but the music and mission. Marguerite may have founded the place and been its most visible presence, but its growth and successes were through the hard work and sacrifices of the scores of workers, board members, volunteers, and audiences who passed through the doors over the years. Through the bitter end, the audience has stayed, showing up whenever they know about a show.

The building changed ownership a few months ago, and the desire for the new owner to bring in a tenant who could pay fair market commercial rental value for the space certainly hastened the closing. It's quite possible that Marguerite would have gladly accepted her redefined role in HotHouse overseeing the artistic vision and fundraising, the board would have hired a business manager to keep track of the financials, and this closing still would have happened. It isn't the first time HotHouse has found itself as an itinerant organization, hopefully it will be the last.

Every day that HotHouse exists as an itinerant organization is a day that the cultural fabric of this city suffers. Every moment of energy spent by the board of directors refuting attacks in the media by Marguerite and her small but vocal cult of personality is energy that is better served raising the capital for a new home, or to re-establish ties to the city's arts and music communities, donors and endowments. People who care, truly care, about seeing HotHouse survive need to hold the board of directors to their word that a new home will be found, and soon. Still seething with anger at her ouster, Marguerite is raising funds for a new organization, Partisan Arts International. I think there's room in the city for both, and don't see why both can't coexist, even as rivals.