Street Smart Chicago

Dime Stories: The Jazz Baroness

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By Tony Fitzpatrick

She was born a Rothschild, an heiress of one of Europe’s great fortunes. The Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, or “Nica” to her friends in the world of jazz, was a darkly beautiful, worldly muse to some of bebop’s titans—Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane, to name a few. Charlie Parker, in fact, died in her apartment in New York’s Stanhope Hotel in 1955. The scandalous and racist media of the day covered the jazz great’s passing with all the salacious glee that the forbidden taboo fantasy of a famous-black-man-and-infamous-white-woman narrative allowed. This story was catnip for the local media, underlining the repulsion/attraction dynamic between the races that was at the heart of the fear and hatred so rampant in our country in the fifties. It was this very narrative that got the young Emmett Till murdered in the South. Read the rest of this entry »

Free Will Astrology

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By Rob Brezsny

ARIES (March 21-April 19): Spencer Silver was a co-inventor of Post-it notes, those small, colorful pieces of paper you can temporarily attach to things and then remove to use again and again. Speaking about the process he went through to develop this simple marvel, he said, “If I had thought about it, I wouldn’t have done the experiment. The literature was full of examples that said you can’t do this.” I’d like to make him your patron saint for the next few weeks, Aries. Like him, you now have the chance to make practical breakthroughs that may have seemed impossible, or at least unlikely. Ignore conventional wisdom—including your own. Trust your mischievous intuition. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: The Sky in Chicago

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By Tony Fitzpatrick

A decade ago I took an Artist in Residency in Missoula, Montana at the University of Montana. I was always leery of visiting-artist gigs.  I’ve always found them a little annoying. The students are cool though. I’ve learned a lot from them and have hired some of them. One of the great things about young artists is they are willing to try anything. Their ideas about art haven’t hardened into inflexibility. Mid-career artists are a little overly fond of what they know and way too dismissive of those emerging talents that push the practice forward. This is particularly true here, in Chicago.

In most cases, I am twice the age of the other artists who work for me. I am grateful for what I’ve learned from them. They came of age a great deal more at home with technology and were able to make me realize its importance and how to use it as a tool. The more of their music, books and art I became exposed to, the wider my array of choices as an artist became.

The kids were great. What I disliked about the visiting-artist gigs were the  faculty. Yup, the teachers and the not-so-veiled resentment that sometimes hangs in the air like a spiderweb. Read the rest of this entry »

All That Glitters: My Father’s Obsession with Designer Christmas Ornaments

Essays & Commentary, Holidays No Comments »

About the time I entered high school in my home city of Minneapolis, my father began a new Christmas ritual that actualized his love for over-the-top decorating, for things that sparkle and glow when he began collecting glass-blown, hand-decorated, designer Christmas ornaments. What seemed like an innocent holiday hobby quickly spiraled into a year-round obsession and a compendium of nearly 750 ornaments.

I don’t think I’ll ever want to know how much money went into those things. It wasn’t just the ornaments. In warmer months he traveled to Portland, Racine and Chicago for exclusive purchasing events with other collectors (mostly rich housewives or, like my father, gay men, and some het couples). I’d come home from soccer and find taped-up cardboard packages on our back steps. Over the following week, several glitter-coated Santas would sit indulgently splayed over a cloth placemat on the dining room table as my father meditated on which to keep and which to return. More and more, the A-frame walls of the attic were lined with stacks of long, airtight Tupperware bins keeping my father’s treasures safe until November. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Chicago Snowman

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Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

In addition to mimes, insurance guys, clowns, Jehovah’s Witnesses and nuns, snowmen are among the creepiest of entities, especially in Chicago. By the time the sun starts them on their slow, shape-shifting erosion, they’ve been pissed on copiously by dogs, drunks and homeless dudes. Invariably someone tries to piss their name into Frosty while circling, and falls on his ass because, there it is: three-and-a-half feet away… the ass-print.

The snowman has also been splashed by slush from traffic and now has the pallor and appeal of the Unabomber. Once they get skinny from the slow melt, I feel like they become their truest creepy selves. The coal eyes sink deep like Ann Coulter and there are piss-divots covering the body. They are like the witch hags from Macbeth. In real life they never look like that happy asshole on the Christmas card. They look like the old codger that Anna Nicole Smith married. Read the rest of this entry »

Free Will Astrology

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By Rob Brezsny

ARIES (March 21-April 19): “Don’t think about making art, just get it done,” said Andy Warhol. “Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.” I encourage you to adopt that mini-manifesto for your own purposes in the coming weeks, Aries. If you’re not an artist, simply substitute the appropriate phrase for “making art.” It could be “creating interesting relationships,” “exploring exotic lands,” “changing corrupt political institutions,” “fixing environmental problems” or even “making money.” The main point is: Focus on doing what drives your quest for meaning, and forget about what people think of it. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Asshopper

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Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

If there is a cooler-looking bug than a grasshopper, I don’t know of it. They’re prehistoric and futuristic at the same time. Some of them even look metallic. Many a science-fiction monster owes its features to the grasshopper. As a kid, I caught them by the jarful; and they were not easy to catch. You’d have to chase the fuckers all over the field. The big ones could jump ten feet and the ones with wings, even further. And they didn’t like being caught—they fought like hell to escape.

When I was a kid, me and a few other dopes would traipse out to the field to capture them. My one friend’s father used to use them as bait for fishing and he’d toss us a buck or two if we brought him back a few jars full. Most of the time I just let mine go. The thought of Scotty’s father sticking a hook through them seemed more than a little cruel.

Paul Lehman, Scotty’s dad, was a thick, strong-looking guy with a tattoo of an eagle on his arm. Like my father, he was a WWII vet and used to cut the grass with his shirt off. He was a hairy motherfucker. My father used to shout across the street to him, “Hey, Apsey-Baby! Put your goddamn shirt on, for Christ’s sake!” Scott’s dad always complied for some reason. Read the rest of this entry »

Free Will Astrology

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By Rob Brezsny

ARIES (March 21-April 19): In old Christian and Islamic lore, the dove was a symbol of the holy spirit. The bird was considered so pure and sacred that the devil, who was an expert shapeshifter, could not take on its form. The dove had a different meaning in other traditions, however. Among the ancient Greeks, it had a special relationship with Aphrodite, the goddess of love. In Rome, its eggs were regarded as aphrodisiacs. Drawing on all these meanings, I’m nominating the dove to be your power animal in the coming week. You will have an excellent chance to intensify your connection with divine truths through the power of love and eros—and vice versa. Read the rest of this entry »

Free Will Astrology

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By Rob Brezsny

ARIES (March 21-April 19): The data that’s stored and disseminated on the Internet is unimaginably voluminous. And yet the 540 billion trillion electrons that carry all this information weigh about the same as a strawberry. I’d like to use this fun fact as a metaphor for the work you’re doing these days—and the play, too. Your output is prodigious. Your intensity is on the verge of becoming legendary. The potency of your efforts is likely to set in motion effects that will last for a long time. And yet, to the naked eye or casual observer, it all might look as simple and light as a strawberry. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: The Path of Thieves

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Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

In his imperfect but fascinating “Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad,” Stephen Ambrose, the late popular historian, tells the story of the building of the railroad between Council Bluffs Iowa and San Francisco, the many lives it took, and the blasting, digging, excavating, back-breaking labor of it all. I’ve read a number of Ambrose’s books and he has often been accused of shoddy fact-checking, misquotes and outright plagiarism. Still, the old grouch wrote a damned entertaining story.

Much more entertaining is “Hell on Wheels,” AMC’s nihilistic, grim history of those who built the railroad—freed men of color, Confederate veterans, the newly immigrated Irish and poor Southern whites. Later, past the Mississippi River, it would also be the Chinese and no small amount of convict labor. All the while, the Lakota Sioux, as well as the Cherokee and Cheyenne and many, many other First Nations peoples, were trying to hold onto their lands. The white man took it by force. The railroads were given a remarkable amount of latitude, and discretionary power with the government. They had their own police force as well as the Pinkertons, a bunch of rent-a-cop-type pukes who were mostly criminals themselves. “Hell on Wheels” introduces us to a Confederate veteran and widower named Bohannon who has a positively biblical sense of justice and the band of cutthroats, shysters, swindlers and and con men who built and profited from the expansion of the railroad. They are some nasty, dirty, scurvy motherfuckers. Needless to say, I love this show. Read the rest of this entry »