Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Tuesdays are usually early days for me at work. I leave around 2:30-3 p.m., and just take my time walking to the train station. Today, I decided to walk north and catch the Orange Line at Clark and Lake, a solid mile away from work.

I'm walking a brisk pace along State Street, approaching the panhandlers' row between Jackson and Madison, when I come across the scariest one I've seen in a long time. She was short, just shy of five feet, curled against the side of a building, wrapped in a comforter. But what scared me about her was the sound that came from her mouth. It was a vicious, guttural croaking that reminded me of Regan in "The Exorcist." I jumped back slightly, in case she was speaking Latin and attacking her crotch with a crucifix. I know it reads like I'm making light of this, but this woman was in real pain.

Then, I couldn't reach into my pockets fast enough. It was like the cockroach scene in "Borat", I didn't know how much to give her. The thought that any amount would go to waste didn't cross my mind, I just wanted to alleviate her pain. I made it to the station, hopped on the train, and counted my blessings. It's been rough few months, but I'm not on the street, and far from the position this woman was in, at least. Barring something unfortunate, I should be caught up on pertinent debts by the end of March, which should make the landlord breathe easier.

I just don't want to ever wind up like that.

The Teaser...

By the way, my interview with Michael Ruhlman (The Soul of a Chef) - one that I stuttered through for twenty minutes - is up at Chicagoist. Thursday, an extensive interview with Alinea's Grant Achatz goes live. Both subjects were very entertaining and candid. Digg 'em, Del.ici.ous 'em, recommend them all.

Look Who Popped Up in Beijing!!!!

It's my favorite Ultimate-playing, Oberlin-educated physics major, and one of many who kept HotHouse from imploding in the immediate weeks after the board suspended Marguerite Horberg.

Brady's fiance Peggy won an Oppenheimer Fellowship (I think), and the man - God Bless him - quit HotHouse, packed up his shit, and left to be with her. I received an e-mail from him yesterday, catching me up on things in China and pointing me to his and Peggy's blogs. She's taken to the medium a bit better than he, but they're both worth a perusal. I watched Brady grow up, from a student living in a collective in Hyde Park and part-time janitor, to a true leader of people. One of Marguerite's assets is that she recognized the talent of those around her, and utilized it to its fullest. Few epitomized this more than Brady. Peggy seems to perfectly complement him. It makes me remember why I miss them.


Creole cuisine is one of my mainstays for dinner parties and barbecues, so I was surprised when I found out about this article on New Orleans cuisine, post-Katrina, from the January issue of GQ (I found out about it thanks to Harry Shearer's "Le Show" podcast via KCRW). Alan Richman has written one of the most ill-conceived hack pieces in recent memory. It largely ignores fact, refutes Creole as a legitimate cuisine style, and reinforces many of the prejuidices and outright lies northerners have of the South and New Orleans (Mr. Richman would be wise to remember that many of the reasons he doesn't like New Orleans are attributed to the bad behavior of tourists. Northern tourists).

This article stands as an example for all writers, regardless of medium, on how to not go writing about a subject. It also reminds me of something Flannery O'Connor wrote about Southern Gothic, one of my favorite literary styles. O'Connor wrote, "anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic." This is the main point that Richman fails to recognize and largely ignores in his article.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

You Ever Have a Week You Were Just Glad Was Over?

This was one of those weeks. From stupid mistakes in writing, to the flu, to Mom's hip replacement surgery, to the sleet that's coming down right now, it's just been a week I'd rather forget. Sure, there were some highlights, like the stripper who came to HotHouse Tuesday night to celebrate her birthday by taking in Motep's "Soul Sessions" series (and if you don't know about Motep, you need to). She was fun, especially when she took the stage during William Kurk's set, announced that she and her girlfriends were the "finest bitches on the South Side", got in a plug for their place of employment (Cowboys Gentleman's Club in Markham, for the curious), let loose a lingering fart in front of the guitarist just before I escorted her off stage to her handler "Blu", and used her goldmine to make it rain on a cameraman's face.

Oh, and she gave me a package check, too.

So after a week of insomnia and illness, I was finally healthy enough to go out. So Sue (who was pissed at her roommate for not telling her about their clogged bathtub drain) and I braved the sleet and headed to Bernice's for metal night and cheap beer. That's when the other highlight of the week occurred, in the form of our bartender, who came in lit up like a Christmas tree jamming to "Bitchin' Camaro" by the Dead Milkmen, drinking jager bombs, and telling us that she thought "Crash" was a comedy when she first saw it. I wouldn't know, preferring the serious drama of "This is Spinal Tap" and "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle." I thought getting Sue out of the house would be enough to get her to vent, but we were both just too tired to do anything but watch Iron maiden videos and stare incredulously at Mary Beth whenever she opened her mouth.

My only other experience with a bartender named Mary Beth is, well, Mary Beth Puffer (now of Mitchell's, formerly Puffer's). She takes what I like to call a "scorched earth" policy to tending a bar. You know in "It's a Wonderful Life" when Clarence grants George his wish that he never was born, and Bedford Falls turns into Pottersville? Remember that scene where they go to Martini's, except it's now Nick's Place, and Nick is a jackass who "serves hard drinks here for folks who want to get drunk fast" and doesn't have room for "folks with character?" That's Mary Beth Puffer, except she's not giving out wings after throwing George and Clarence out on their asses, and wishing that her shift would end so she can "stop dealing with these jagoffs."

But she grows on you. And so does this Mary Beth at Bernice's. Hell, Bernice's grows on you. The put up a sign at the request of the 11th ward office, indicating that it was, indeed a bar. But you still need to get buzzed in. And when you do, you either drink Miller, Bud, or any of a handful of Lithuanian and Czech beers that don't taste good when they warm up, if you're the type of person who nurses a beer. But they have Metal and Punk night on Saturdays, for fuck's sake. And they have a sizable number of ex-Puffer's regulars. It's a dive, and a good one, at that. It's what the Skylark wished they could be.

And now, I'm off to get a new start to hopefully a better week.

With eight hours of sleep.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

A Chick Music Weekend

It just seems like the time of year and weather are cooperating enough for me to really get into the new releases by Patty Griffin and Lucinda Williams. That's not to say that I'm feeling remorse or melancholy, at least no more than usual. But there's a lot of time between work and other things for me to give these records multiple plays. These are two of America's best songwriters, regardless of gender.

Williams' "West" follows the same template since her breakthrough with "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road" nearly ten years ago (Jesus! Has it been that long?) The production is sparse and the music is lean and muscular, which lends itself to the immediacy of Williams' songs, following the pattern established by "Car Wheels'" follow-up, "Essence." Since the 2004 release of "World Without Tears", Williams has endured the death of her mother and the breakup of a relationship (the latter seems to be a running theme throughout her albums). And though interviews indicate she's completing the healing process, the two events inform the lyrics throughout the album. With songs like "Come On!" and "Unsuffer Me", Williams gives Emmylou Harris a run for her money as the Queen of Remorse.

Meanwhile, Griffin achieves her own artistic breakthrough with "Children Running Through", which is even more solid track-by-track to 2004's "Impossible Dream." Known more as a master songwriter than a singer (the Dixie Chicks owe a large debt of their success to Griffin's songs) she's steadily become more comfortable with her voice over the years, combining soulful gospel with Bruce Springsteen's more countryesque leanings into a style that's all her own. Griffin's voice is front and center on "Children Running Through", from the opening torch of "You'll Remember", to the Stax/Muscle Shoals send-up "Stay on the Ride", to the gospel touches on "Heavenly Day" and "Up From the Mountain (MLK Song)", a song given a second authoritative take by Solomon Burke on his "Nashville" album. "Children Running Through" cements Griffin's arrival as a performer of serious merit. She won't be known as just a songwriter anymore.

'Round the Corner

Words of wisdom from The Office's Dwight Schrute:

"Whenever I get ready to do something I think to myself, 'Would an idiot do that?' And if they would, I do not do that thing."
Following that, Dwight unwittingly sets loose a bat in the Dundler Mifflin offices.

Luaka Bop records is finally available on eMusic. I'm so stoked for this. David Byrne's label, dedicated to releasing the best cosmopolitan music from the Americas and beyond, is the home to such reknowned artists as Susana Baca, Zap Mama, Tom Ze, Os Mutantes, and Los Amigos Invisibles. Luaka Bop also released the second greatest album reissue ever (next to Iggy Pop's remastered "Raw Power"), Shuggie Otis' "Inspiration Information." I'm a confessed eMusic junkie. This only furthers the craving. The curious and cynical can get a taste of the Luaka Bop experience by sampling from their jukebox.

For those of you who enjoyed the Doug Zell interview at Chicagoist this week, stay tuned. One of my chief goals with the food/drink beat when I accepted the beat editor position was to place a focus on interviews. I didn't think we'd get such a quick start to it. We've got two more interviews in the works, one of 'em's big.

Real big. As in, "Face it, Tiger, you just hit the jackpot" big.

Like I said, stay tuned. The year of the Squeaky Wheel is in full swing.

Sunday, February 11, 2007


This is called, "Staying ahead of the pack."

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Suhffle On: Why I Hate the '85 Bears

Gut check time for an entire city arrives at 5:25 tomorrow night. I have this gut feeling that the Bears are gonna take the field with something to prove and lay some wood to the Colts. It has nothing to do with disrespect from the media, or playing the underdog card, and everything with just wanting to be a champion. All it took for me to truly believe was looking at the photo of Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy posing with the Lombardi Trophy yesterday. Dungy was all smiles and "It's a blessing to be here", while the look on Lovie's face was all business. It was the look of a shark that smells blood in the water and is waiting for the right moment to go for the kill.

All I've heard this week from both fans and front runners is, "Daaaaaaaaa Bears", and if I didn't know otherwise, I would have thought the guy sitting next to me on the train on Tuesday morning went to trade school straight out of high school, and wasn't an MBA. But that phrase - "Daaaaaaaaa Bears" - and everything associated with it is ill-fitting for this particular squad. This team seems more likely to trick its way to victory than outright pummel its opponents. it's not a work ethic in line with what we're accustomed to as fans of the Chicago Bears. It's almost as though some of us are waiting for the letdown, so we can run back to the form-fitting bosom of the 1985 squad, and nuzzle away the heartbreak that might not even come.

We fans of Chicago sports teams live in the past, there's no doubt. We have the memories of elephants. I might not be able to tell you my sister's birthday, but I know what play the Bears ran for Walter Payton to break Jim Brown's all-time rushing mark. Cubs fans can still remember with clarity the '69, '84, and '03 teams that fell just short, but added to the "lovable loser" aura. We were blessed with seeing two versions of Michael Jordan's greatness: the gravity-defying alpha male bravely clearing trees in the paint en route to three NBA titles, and the wiser floor general with the wicked fade away jumper who knew when to let Scottie, Dennis, and Toni cut loose, and a second three peat. The 2K5 White Sox will be forever known as the team that came out of nowhere to forever claim diamond bragging rights in the ongoing sectarian cultural struggle for the south side. Most of all, the '85 Bears will be forever known as one of the most dominating football teams ever. Those memories are the most vivid of all, as though they were washed in a delicate cycle with all temperature Cheer, hand formed, lightly pressed, and left for special occasions.

They were the flash in the pan that should have been so much more, and that's the main reason why I can't stand them. I'm not alone in that rationale. They had the talent to win three, maybe four, Super Bowls in a row. But once they finally climbed the mountain, they lost the desire. Or, as Mel Brooks succinctly put it, "It's good to be the king." It sure is, until you're dethroned. Don't believe it? Then consider that the '86 Bears defense, under Vince Tobin's guidance, surrendered less points than the crew that terrorized New Orleans during Super Bowl XX. Or that they went 14-2 in the post-title campaign, only to have Washington hand their collective ass to them in the playoffs.

It's starts at the top. Which means it starts with Ditka. "Da Coach", who insists that he doesn't live in the past, sure as shit doesn't mind cashing in on it in the present. By the time Jostens had the Bears' Super Bowl rings cooling, Iron Mike opened his first steakhouse across from Ed Debevic's. He also lived by the rule, "Do as I say, not as I do", chastising his players for focusing too much on commercial endorsements, even as his status as a pitchman grew larger. It's like getting a lecture from your parents on the hazards of drugs while you're sharing a one-hitter with them. Today he's still got the steakhouse, as well as endorsements for sauces, wines, cigars, clothing, and medicine guaranteed to put the tiger back in your tank, all emblazoned with his signature Eddie Munster widow's peak, which still looks as severe and healthy as it did twenty-one years ago.

Then there's Jim McMahon, whose aloof, near-antisocial behavior in the twenty-one years since Super Bowl XX has been more "prick" than "Punky QB." We were reminded of that this week, as he made the media rounds in Miami, vainly claiming that he has no rooting interest in tomorrow's game. Asked how he could think this, especially considering that the franchise with which he's most associated with is one of the participants, McMahon said, "I could give a shit about the Bears. They traded me in '88." What McMahon fails to mention is that the reasons he was traded was because he couldn't stay healthy enough to remain the starting quarterback, and had no desire to groom another quarterback for the position. Ask Doug Flutie about Jim McMahon sometime. Furthermore, the kid gloves with which Ditka handled McMahon stood in stark contrast to his insistence on grooming Neal Anderson for the starting tailback position, while Walter Payton was on the team, still capable of doing the job.

Those two led a trickle-down effect that permeated the entire team. Steve McMichael and William Perry tried their hands at wrestling. Gary Fencik opened up a nightclub/beaver poaching cabin in River North with Garry Meier across the street from Rich Melman's and Steve Dahl's "Hat Dance" restaurant (today known as Nacional 27). Everybody drove a Chevy because that's what "Danimal" drove. And we still bought all the tchotchkes they pimped: the buttons from Walgreen's that played the fight song, the jerseys, the headbands, Dave Duerson hot dogs, McDonald's "McDLT" sandwich, which kept the hot side hot, the cool side cool, and made us kids run screaming back to our quarter pounders.

They still played at a high level, but the killer instinct was long gone. The swan song, the closing of the book, the Waterloo of the '85 Bears, didn't happen in New Orleans. It happened in Chicago, in the 1989 NFC Championship game, when the San Francisco 49'ers and Joe Montana came to a frigid Soldier Field and embarrassed the Bears, in "Bear weather", no less.

Comparing the '85 Bears to this squad is the proverbial apples and oranges. The economics, salaries and corporate nature of sports in the 21st century dictates that players with championship aspirations tone down their personalities in deference to the team concept. They don't need to seek endorsements as readily these days. Sure, players like Terrell Owens make it to the big game, but they're also the first people to remind us that, while there's no "i" in "team, you can't spell the word without "me." These Bears, while far from underdogs, have the same drive to be remembered as the team whose accomplishment they hope to match tomorrow. But if they truly wish to differentiate themselves from the team that we can't stop talking about, they'll not only win tomorrow.

They'll win a second one before their window of opportunity closes.



Thursday, February 01, 2007


Molly Ivins 1944-2007.

The Artists of Bridgeport

This month, go check out Jodi Bova's new exhibit, "Exposure", at Gourmand Coffee House in the South Loop (728 S. Dearborn). Jodi's work has also been featured in SOFA and the Jean Albano Gallery; the painting shown is solder on acrylic paint. I like the narrative flow of the painting here. The opening night reception is tomorrow night from 5:30-8:30.