Sonny’s mug shot on the news
By Michael Workman
Before dawn, the whippoorwills cry in the trees, their song carrying across the empty expanse of flat land and a two-story Tudor house. As seen from the road, the house appears solemn and absent of movement, the windows dark, horse and pig corrals beside it, only a single sow trundling across the broad side of the barn, nuzzling the damp mud for scraps. Three groups of men in helmets and black body armor appear, blue Ford slowly rolling up behind them as they advance toward the house, unslinging their assault rifles, front and back of their clothes marked, in big, bright yellow, with the letters F-B-I.
It is Summer 2009 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. 3am. Uncle Sonny sits in his Steelcase office chair in the basement, hair weighted with the hours he’s stayed awake, precisely tapping the butt of his Winston on the edge of an aquamarine ashtray, not noticing it’s finished. He’s fixated on the lines of file names as they scroll down the screen, 5,000 or 10,000 of them, and CLICK, another page, more files to share, a huge number of video clips. Small lights blinking on a series of computer panels stacked on the bookshelf beside him: internal storage discs whirring as they read, transfer, copy, transmit and receive child pornography. The small silhouette of a video camera is mounted on a tripod standing in the dark behind him, staring out past him, unnoticed, forgotten. Read the rest of this entry »
Illustration by Tony Fitzpatrick
By Tony Fitzpatrick
This, another of my “Lunch Drawings,” came from an encounter with some drunk girls at Black Dog, the greatest gelato place in Chicago. These young women were shit-faced and trying to eat gelato, string noun and verb together, and play with my dog, Chooch, who ate their gelato and they giggled until one of them puked like a fire-hose. It was a serious puke with the projectile force of a jet engine—even my dog got the hell out of the way.
I was terrified her friends might be tempted to join in with a “sympathy puke,” seeing as they were all pretty hammered. Though I feared it might turn into a group puke-a-thon, luckily it was just the one poor girl, so I decided to help.
I held her hair so she wouldn’t puke in it, and then they cried and told each other they loved each other and they loved me for not letting their friend vomit in her own hair. There was some puke on my shoes but it was no big deal. I felt bad for her; I can remember many a night this also afflicted me. It also occurs to me that women are nicer drunks than men—or at least the men I knew when I drank. Read the rest of this entry »
Lorde, in a screen shot from the “Royals” video
By John Greenfield
If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to depart from my usual Chicago-centric focus to explore a question that’s been puzzling me for a while now: is Lorde’s hit song “Royals” pro- or anti-public transportation? Depictions of various travel modes in pop culture influence listeners’ commuting habits. While everyone from the Beach Boys to Public Enemy has written tunes glorifying cars, there are precious few that make mass transit sound like a cool way to get around—“Kiss Me on the Bus” by the Replacements springs to mind.
I was hoping to chalk up “Royals” as one of the latter. By now you’ve probably heard the smart, minimalist electro-pop earworm by the seventeen-year-old New Zealand wunderkind, real name Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O’Connor. I confess that I spent a recent Sunday evening listening to her album “Pure Heroine” over and over while I did housework—it’s that good. Read the rest of this entry »
By Rob Brezsny
ARIES (March 21-April 19): Sometimes I think too fast and too much. My logic gets sterile. My ideas become jagged and tangled. When this happens, I head off to Turtle Back Hill for a hike through the saltwater marsh. The trail loops around on itself, and I arrive back where I started in about fifteen minutes. Sometimes I keep walking, circumambulating four or five times. Going in circles like this seems to help me knit together my fragmented thoughts. Often, by the time I’m finished, my mind feels unified. I recommend you find your own version of this ritual, Aries. From what I can tell, you need to get rounder and softer. Read the rest of this entry »
By Rob Brezsny
ARIES (March 21-April 19): Thinking inside the box will be a crime against your nature in the coming weeks. The last place you want to be is in a pigeonhole. I advise you to stay far away from tight squeezes, claustrophobic “sanctuaries” and “convenient” confinements. If you’re in a one-size-fits-all situation, you simply won’t be able to access your highest intelligence. So then where should you be? I am rooting for you to wander into the wild frontiers where unsanctioned wonders and marvels await you. I’d love for you to find virgin terrain and uncharted territories where the boring old rules don’t apply. Read the rest of this entry »
Cover by Max Clarke
In these secular, overwhelmingly commercial times, the holidays can easily become a season of dread, of disdain, of why-do-we-do-this-again-and-again? Like Charlie Brown, every year I find myself searching once again for the true meaning of Christmas. I found it, this year, when reading Naomi Huffman’s heartfelt essay about her grandparents, in this line, which unexpectedly choked me up: “All the fanfare, all the fuss, it was all for us, their grandchildren.” You have to read it in context, of course, but I realized: That’s what the holidays are all about—family, memories and love, unconditional love, the kind of love those lucky enough to feel it as children binds us forever to those who gave it to us and creates a lifelong longing to find it again and, ultimately failing that, to pass it on. Read through these essays, all written by sophisticated, urban, maybe even “ironic” writers, and see if you can’t find that thread yourself. It’s there. (Brian Hieggelke) Read the rest of this entry »
Ambassador Ryszard Schnepf at a White House credentialing ceremony with President Barack Obama, January 14, 2013. Photo: U.S. Dept. of State.
By Martin Northway
“In Poland, government is a crime,” emphasized my friend Ryszard, whom I had met that fall here at the Daily Grind coffeehouse, just off the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington. Ryszard was a visiting professor in history from Warsaw University. Poland was just out from under martial law, but Ryszard remained a clandestine member of Solidarity, the rising national movement to restore democracy.
Among other things, we talked about the “Black Book of Polish Censorship” restricting journalists. In such a state, it was a part-time job for citizens to gather accurate information that affected their loves. “You are so fortunate in this country to have a free press,” despite its flaws, he insisted.
Ryszard spoke in accented but good, very precise English. Besides an interest in history, we shared another bond—while my father’s family goes back to the beginning of this nation, my maternal grandparents came here from Poland around the turn of the twentieth century. When he and I met, I was writing for the company magazine of the diesel engine manufacturer Cummins Engine Co., three years out of my gig as as managing editor of the weekly Brown County Democrat and two years into my divorce. Read the rest of this entry »
By Greg Langen
Taylor Swift was raised on an eleven-acre Christmas tree farm a few miles outside of Cumru Township, Pennsylvania, a small rural community located in the southeastern corner of that state. I don’t know what to do with this information right now, or why it comes so easily to my mind, but considering its heavy rotation inside my head I feel that this is somehow crucial information to consider when thinking about the holidays. I don’t know either.
We learn about the holidays from our families I suppose; that and sheer repetition. I learned how to celebrate the holidays from my dad. Unlike my mom who was sent into a feverish spin until the festivities ultimately unraveled her, my father stood in front of the holiday season and let it hit him like a truck. He didn’t so much participate in the holidays; the holidays seemed to happen to him. This is a notable difference, I think, even if the end is the same.
“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” first arrived in theaters on December 1, 1989. I mention this only to get the numbers right. To date, my father has watched ”National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” a total of at least twenty-three times, soon to be twenty-four. I am not that far behind. We had the VHS copy of this movie. Now we have the DVD. Despite what cultural commentaries this Christmas movie supposedly makes on my family (as opposed to, say something like the hallowed greatness of “It’s a Wonderful Life”), I forget whether or not I actually like the movie. I know that when I was younger, the image of Clark Griswold rocketing down a snow hill on a saucer greased with “non-chloric silicon-based kitchen lubricant 500 times more slippery than any other competitor’s cooking oil on the market” could send me into hysterics, but when I watch this scene today I don’t know why I am laughing. But I am laughing. My muscles retain the memory. Sitting in front of this movie I am the picture of a Happy Christmas. Read the rest of this entry »
The Answer?/Photo: Keith Allison
By John Wilmes
It’s snowing in Chicago, our first one this year. The air is gray, the trees are wet and white and their limbs are flowing. I’m at home in the afternoon, flopping on a futon—heartsick, “writer,” bored, lazy, “existentialist”—watching entire NBA games from 2001, on YouTube. Perhaps there are better uses of time.
I’d been using most of my time the past few weeks to do excessive counts of vain push-ups, of vain pull-ups, and to miscalculate strategies to reign supreme in the abyss of online dating.
I’d be one of the Midwest’s premier cyber egotists, splaying the various limbs of my social-sexual “game” to maximum shine. I’d carry my bold new chest to O’Hare on the week of Thanksgiving, and breed curiosity in the flying hearts of America’s urbane not-so-youth. Their taut bodies would shiver, their pearls of eyes would blink ceaselessly as they buckled in for the clouds.
My father’s brother, a genuine turd king, would lean in respect toward me over the turkey. I’d hold a leg of the bird in each hand, and clobber him with either if he spoke out of turn. Read the rest of this entry »