Street Smart Chicago

Requiem for My Barber: Who comes between a man and his vanity

City Life, Essays & Commentary 1 Comment »

By Patrick Roberts

My North Side barber died a few weeks ago, and while I did not know him outside the small orbit of his barbershop, I am moved to write about his passing. Over the course of fifteen years I spent little more than a dozen hours with him. I know nothing of his personal life except that he loved dogs and baseball. Nonetheless, I feel disoriented by the disruption of one of my life’s reassuring routines. I’m approaching forty, and haircuts are increasingly becoming exercises in resource management. With his passing, I am forced to find another barber I can trust to carry me through the thinning, middle years of my vanity.

On television and in the movies, a barbershop is usually depicted as a lively place full of bright, chatty barbers and loitering men who talk about sports, politics, women. My barber was always alone in a shop empty of customers. He was profoundly laconic and as emotionally distant from his client as a man clipping hedges. Yet, his melancholy demeanor appealed to me and provoked existential musings. Why was he so sad? Did he regret devoting his life to the barber’s trade? Was he lonely? Or was he simply thinking about baseball?

He also chain-smoked while cutting my hair. Without ever asking permission (it was his barbershop, after all), he would light a cigarette, place it in a nearby ashtray, and pause for a drag now and then as he clipped. My freshly cut hair always smelled of sour smoke, but I didn’t mind. I admired his old-school disregard for my own comfort. I confess that I once asked him to give me a haircut like Brad Pitt’s. He didn’t, perhaps because he felt he could not pull it off, but more likely because he felt I could not pull it off. This is how it should be with your barber; you trust him not to make you look like a fool even when you demand to look like one. Which is not to say he gave a great haircut. More often than not he made me look like a 12-year-old banker. It didn’t matter. I went to him for pathos, not for style. Read the rest of this entry »

411: Free Choice at the Bathroom Door

City Life, News etc., Pride No Comments »

When confronted with a stick figure wearing trousers next to one adorned with a triangular dress on the journey to a public restroom, most Chicagoans can confidently choose. Transgenders, however, are oftentimes afflicted with this decision. The distress does not stem from a gender identity crisis for the apprehensive bathroom user; it is trepidation of hostile intolerance. “Gender-nonconforming people are harassed in public bathrooms every day,” explains Malic White, project organizer of the T-Friendly Bathroom Initiative. White has created a plan of action for the project pioneered by Kathryn Sosin, co-founder of Genderqueer Chicago. “Nearly every gender-variant friend I have has faced this issue, no matter which bathroom they use,” explains Sosin. “I started to think about how absurd it was that we were preventing people from using bathrooms just because of their perceived gender, and I wanted to create something very simple to educate our businesses and community members.” The T-Friendly Bathroom Initiative asks more than 500 Chicago establishments to sign a pledge. In doing so, the businesses and organizations declare that individuals may use the gender-specific bathroom based on their own gender-identity. Furthermore, the establishment agrees to educate their staff on gender-variant sensitivity and interrupt any witnessed intolerance concerning the matter. Those who sign the pledge will receive a “T-Friendly” decal assuring the community their premises are a safe and welcoming environment for Chicago transgenders. (Tiana Olewnick)

Over the Rainbow: Taking a “dream fantasy vacation” at the Pink Palace Whirlpool Suites

City Life, Garfield Ridge, Love & Sex No Comments »

Seeking respite from winter’s deep freeze, you’ve journeyed on the Red and Orange Lines and the #62 bus to the Garfield Ridge neighborhood west of Midway Airport. At 7050 West Archer, it looms like a beacon in the night: the fifty-foot-high neon sign for the Rainbow Motel/Pink Palace (773-229-0707, rainbowpinkpalace.com).

With its whimsically-themed Jacuzzi rooms, this seventies-era honeymoon hideaway is Chicago’s answer to Japan’s quirky love hotels, a fanciful venue for liaisons licit or otherwise. Or, as the Rainbow’s brochure says, “It’s a year-round paradise and a dream fantasy vacation. A couple’s place to get re-acquainted with the one you love, celebrate life with the one you married or begin a new, exciting relationship.”

The eleven fantasy suites are available for four- and six-hour visits as well as overnight stays. The “Hawaiian Waters” room includes an octagonal waterbed and tiki décor; “Space Walk” has a bed shaped like a lunar lander, surrounded by stars, planets and “friendly spaceships”; “Out to Lunch” features a bed shaped like a giant BLT.

The Rainbow doesn’t take reservations over the phone and when you arrive most of the wackier suites are booked, so you opt for the relatively traditional “Valentine” room. The stoic female receptionist, a recent transplant from Lithuania, hands you a complimentary bottle of cheap spumante wine and shows you to your comfy, if slightly dingy, accommodations. Read the rest of this entry »

Ski for Yourself: Whipping winter on its own terms

City Life, Green, Sports No Comments »

Although Chicago is a superior city in most respects, I suspect that Minneapolis, a much colder, snowier town, is actually a place where more people enjoy the winter. This is because residents of the Twin Cities, with their strong Scandinavian heritage, know how to embrace the season, donning cheerful woolen clothing and diving into cold-weather fun like sledding, skating and snowball fights, followed by large quantities of glögg.

Here in the Windy City, most people dress in black and view winter as something to survive, not celebrate. They see it as a series of hassles and indignities: freezing el platforms, slushy sidewalks, salt-choked air and parking spots selfishly reserved with old furniture.

Not me. I’ve got a two-pronged strategy to make the most out of cold weather. The first is indoor coziness and/or winter denial: gastropubs, rock clubs and hot tubs; Hala Kahiki and the Garfield Park Conservatory. As I type this, I’m sitting in the ninth-floor winter garden of the Harold Washington Library, surrounded by leafy trees and ivy-covered walls. Read the rest of this entry »

The Top 5 of Everything 2010

Bicycling, City Life, News etc., Politics, Transit No Comments »

Once again, Newcity ends its year with lists that compile the best, mostly, of the year that was, in the arts, the city, pop culture and the slightly offbeat, more than seventy in all. See you in 2011!

The Top 5 of Everything 2010: City Life and Pop Culture

Top 5 People Who Passed Away That You Thought Were Already Dead
Art Linkletter, 97, TV-show host and ad-lib interviewer (“Kids Say the Darndest Things”)
Mitch Miller, 99, recording artist and 1960s TV-show host (“Sing Along with Mitch; follow the bouncing ball”)
Patricia Neal, 84, Oscar-winning actress (“Hud,” “The Day the Earth Stood Still”)
Teddy Pendergrass, 59, R&B soul singer (severely paralyzed in 1982)
Art Clokey, 88, animator (creator of “Gumby”)
—Sarah Louise Klose

Top 5 Sports Moments That Make You Say “Huh?”
Blackhawks nab Stanley Cup, dismantle championship team
Cubs attendance dips in 2010, ticket prices rise in 2011
Wrigley Field hosts Northwestern vs. Illinois football, only one end zone used for both teams
Evan Lysacek wins Olympic gold medal, loses “Dancing with the Stars”
LeBron James teases Cavs, runs with Bulls and takes the Heat
—Sarah Louise Klose

Read the rest of this entry »

Nolympic Dreams: Six months after the 2016 heartbreak, what’s the legacy of would-be glory?

Bronzeville, City Life, Politics, Washington Park 3 Comments »

Photo: Sam Feldman

By Sam Feldman

In the architectural renderings, twenty-one high-rises line the south lakefront amid rows of orderly green trees. A newly built pedestrian bridge arcs over the Metra Electric tracks and Lake Shore Drive to connect the shimmering high-rises to the lakefront attractions, which include a new fountain, amphitheater and swimming pool. On the side of each high-rise is visible a symbol that’s slowly sliding from ubiquity to oblivion: the Chicago 2016 logo.

In real life, the scene by the Metra tracks in Bronzeville couldn’t look much different. There’s no fountain, amphitheater or swimming pool, no sleek new bridge to connect the city and the lake; instead of the rows of trees there’s a mostly empty parking lot; and instead of the Olympic Village, there’s a thirty-seven-acre deconstruction site. All that remains of Michael Reese Hospital’s thirty buildings are a few ruined hulks, several as-yet-untouched buildings, and numerous piles of rubble with demolition vehicles posed victoriously overhead. Read the rest of this entry »

411: Boy Crazy

City Life, Logan Square, News etc. 1 Comment »

Approaching cute guys just got a little easier. Cara Higgins and Sarah Rodriguez have created cutechicagoboys.com, a blog that posts pictures of cute boys seen around Chicago along with a little information about each one—name, age and where they were seen, for example. In the beginning, Higgins would take pictures from her phone of guys walking around her Logan Square neighborhood and then post them to Twitter or Facebook. From that, she and Rodriguez decided to create a blog for it. “When we started it was very hard for both of us to do because we would get really shy about it,” Higgins says. “Guys are way more embarrassed than we are,” Rodriguez adds. “They’ll be all smiley and shy and ‘I don’t know’ and we have to open them up.” Anyone who sees a site-worthy boy can submit a picture and some basic information. The site has gained popularity mostly through word of mouth, one of the things Rodriguez says she loves about it. “It’s nice that we have something that’s unique and Chicago-based,” Higgins says. “We were both born and raised here…and we’ve always come back to Chicago because it’s our home.”

Smoke ‘Em Out: Wicker Park Fest crams into Milwaukee Avenue

City Life, Wicker Park No Comments »

This was a mistake.

Enter the north end gate of the Wicker Park Fest Sunday evening and you’re immediately slammed with crowd, seemingly herded to no place at all as Milwaukee Avenue boasts an endless sea of patrons. Moved this year from its usual Damen Avenue home, the event’s suffocated by restaurant patios on the sidewalks, food and beer tents in the middle of the road and a centrally located stage, where local pop-punk quartet Smoking Popes explodes into “Midnight Moon.”

Can’t enjoy it, though. Strollers are out and the crowd gets beefier. A young girl with a bicycle struggles to maneuver through the titanic mound of flesh and beer-stink, only to slightly jar into a bearded fellow. “Excuse me,” she offers. He notices her sleeve tattoos. “Yeah, excuse you,” he elegantly retorts. “Good luck getting a job ever.” Nice guy.

Poor Myopic Books is raped; the Sunday night poetry series seems intimidated by the street noise seeping in from outside. The air is tense.

Exit after twenty minutes. Just past the gates outside Violet Hour, an altercation erupts. In the confusion of mass exodus and poorly planned detours, a cabbie has cut off some bicyclists. He yells from the car, “What the fuck you say?”

“Yellow Cab…move the fuck on!”

He peels out south past the park, waits for an opening, and whips a u-turn, heading back to fight some more.

Time to get the hell out of here. (Tom Lynch)

Love at First Byte: Six writers, a dating site and a weekend…

City Life, Love & Sex No Comments »

newcitydatingserviceDuring the site’s highly advertised “free weekend,” six Newcity writers decided to sign up for online dating service Chemistry.com, sister site to Match.com, and each write about our experiences. Launched in 2006 and featuring the famed scientific personality test created by Dr. Helen Fisher, the Web site has more than five million members and helps set up more than 15,000 dates a week. We liked our chances.

First you take the personality quiz, which asks you an abundant amount of questions pertaining to personal preference and background. You’re assigned two of the four possible personality types: explorer, builder, negotiator, director.

You write a description of yourself for your public profile and include a headline, comparable to an outgoing message on Facebook or a headline on MySpace. Once everything is submitted—including a photo of yourself—you receive “matches” from the service, from which you indicate the ones in which you’re interested. (You archive your various rejections.) Meanwhile, your profile is being sent out to members, and they indicate if they’re interested in you. If you’re both interested, you take additional steps—which include comparing “relationship essentials,” like if it’s important to you that your partner loves pets, and an additional “Short Answers” portion—until finally there’s an email exchange, and from there you go. Needless to say, the testing and screening process is rather intensive.

We chose Chemistry.com because we imagined its free weekend would inspire some fresh, new profiles, maybe even people who were first-timers to something like this. Also because the commercial advertising the event was constantly on MSNBC while we were trying to watch our Rachel Maddow.

To Where You Are

City Life, Love & Sex No Comments »

onlinedatingilloWhen I discussed the idea with my girlfriend Sarah, we agreed it would be an interesting exercise to both sign up on the site, compare our test results, inspect our matches together and, finally, see if we are actually matched up through the service.

Why we thought this was a good idea, I’ll never know.

I’m not as hard on online dating services as others; everyone knows it’s difficult in the singles sphere anyway, even if you do have the time to frequent events and bars. We’re all getting older, and the more time passes, the more difficult it feels to meet people. Plus, I have some friends who’ve had great success with sites just like Chemistry.com, and hey, they seem really happy and have met some great people, so whatever works. Read the rest of this entry »