Street Smart Chicago

Grand Theft Noel: Tis the Season for Familial Larceny

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By Robert Rodi

I come from a large family—three sisters, three brothers—and for years we siblings bravely persisted in honoring the holiday spirit by giving each other Christmas presents. But when spouses entered the picture, and then kids—the latter popping out at the alarming rate of sometimes two or three a year—our gift-giving expenses seriously spiked. As the only childless member of the clan, and therefore the one who took the biggest hit to the fiscal solar plexus, I ventured to suggest that maybe it was time we adults retired the habit, at least with regard to each other. As it was, the practice had devolved into everyone submitting a list of several things he or she wanted, and the others dutifully trotting out and buying them. “The whole spirit of gift-giving isn’t even there anymore,” I said. “It’s like ordering online. Only without a return policy.”

So we tried it the following year at our traditional Christmas Eve dinner, and it went just swimmingly. The kids had the pleasure of ripping into boxes beneath the tree like a pack of crazed weasels, while the adults celebrated the occasion in a more dignified fashion, with platters of home-cooked food and a cascade of fine California wines. Read the rest of this entry »

The White Castle Song: Why? Because It’s Open on Christmas

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It’s open twenty-four hours, round the clock
Good service all the time, there’s always something going on.
Always something going on.
Simple Menu… excellent service.

You know this is a song about White Castle.
Because when you are on your way home at 4am,
White Castle is always open… Even on Christmas.
But if you are at White Castle on Christmas, you are out of luck.
Then again, maybe not. Read the rest of this entry »

A Buddhist’s Holiday: Shambhala Day Well-Wishes from a Wounded Would-Be Warrior

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greateasternsunBy Emerson Dameron

As a practicing Shambhala Buddhist, I like to think I don’t have too terribly much invested in this forthcoming holiday racket. That’s good, I suppose, because it’s stacking up to be another tough one.

This year, I have lost two jobs, one rather recently. And I have twice come rather close to losing my life. The first came in April from a sudden flareup of acute pancreatitis that had me in the hospital for four indescribable days, detoxing from booze and experiencing worse physical pain than I had previously imagined possible. The second came a couple of weeks later, which had me back in the ER with a severe gastrointestinal bleed and a hemoglobin level that my admitting doc described as a third-world problem.

It was a time of severe disappointments and learning to be less clingy by having certain attachments violently ripped asunder. On the upside, it was the year I finally began practicing Shambhala Buddhism in earnest, with accountability, as part of a community and as someone determined to thrive in a very new and unfamiliar reality. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Gifts for Transportation Geeks

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Recyclery’s t-shirts feature a cool intermeshed chainring design.

By John Greenfield

My holiday wish for 47th Ward CTA riders? The return of the full #11 Lincoln Avenue bus route.

For everyone else, here are some groovy gift ideas for transit, walking and bike enthusiasts. Most of these Chicago-centric goods and services are homegrown, so you’ll be supporting local businesses and organizations, while minimizing the amount of gasoline burned in transporting schwag to stores.

Up in Rogers Park, the Recyclery offers bike safety and mechanics instruction for kids, plus open shop sessions and maintenance classes for adults. They also donate refurbished bikes to refugees, people experiencing homelessness, and low-income families. You can help fund their good work by purchasing gifts from their online store. Gift cards are available for bike upgrades at an open shop session ($30), a two-part tune-up class ($75), a six-week overhaul class ($180), or a used bike, helmet and lock ($300). They also sell Recyclery t-shirts, featuring a beautiful intermeshed gears design ($25), and limited-edition posters by local artist Jay Ryan, with a fanciful image of the shop overrun by cats and bears ($25). The Recyclery, 7628 North Paulina, TheRecyclery.org.

Another organization that deserves your support is the Active Transportation Alliance, which advocates for better conditions for walking, biking and transit across the region. You can buy gift memberships online for as low as $35. In addition to bankrolling the group’s work, an Active Trans membership includes discounts at more than 100 bike shops and small businesses, a copy of the regional bike map, and a discount on an annual membership for Divvy bike-share. ActiveTrans.org/membership.

Read the rest of this entry »

Presents: The Holiday Issue

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Cover by Max Clarke

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 »

Seasons Misgivings: Christmas Has No Conscientious Objectors

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National-Lampoons-Christmas-VacationBy 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 »

Daunting Bird Day: Heartsick for the Holidays

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The Answer?

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 »

Deck the Hell: Why Ornament?

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ornamentBy Dana Norris

My family owns way too many goddamn Christmas ornaments and every year my mother buys more. She goes to Hallmark, walks up and down every aisle, peers at the delicate dangling sculptures, and picks one ornament for each of her three children that is supposed to represent our accomplishments for that year. Let’s see—Ben’s breaking his lease, so Santa Claus playing a saxophone?  A snowman swimming in a mug of hot chocolate and, improbably, not melting? The SS Enterprise with a wreath on it?

When I was twelve years old, my mother gave me an ornament of two mice in red pajamas and striped hats, sitting by a fire, stringing comically large popcorn onto a comically large needle and thread. She got me this ornament because I had a best friend. But as we children aged the tradition continued. What does a twenty-two-year-old accomplish in a year that can be expressed in ornament form? Hallmark doesn’t make a “You left your purse at the bar and went to a house party but that one hot guy from the bar was at the house party too and he brought you your purse and then you made out with him” ornament. Read the rest of this entry »

Bad Santa: An Unforgettable Employment Claus

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Santa

Our author in his disguise

By Eric Lutz

A couple years ago, I took a job working with kids to supplement my lavish freelance income. When I applied, I was under the impression my duties would be to provide after-school homework help to elementary age kids. But what it actually consisted of was playing basketball with a bunch of eight-year-olds and teaching them the importance of not hitting each other in the face with their hats. It was awesome.

On my first day at the school, my new boss pulled me aside: they needed someone to play Santa at their upcoming “Breakfast with Santa” event, and she was wondering if I’d be up for the job. Breakfast with Santa, I would later learn, consisted of kids taking turns sitting on my lap, telling me what they want for Christmas and eating cereal while their parents snapped pictures.

Now, Santa and I share very few characteristics, physically or personality-wise. We’re white guys who love cookies and are generally pretty pleasant, but I think that’s about where the similarities end.

Santa Claus: old, fat and jolly. Eric Lutz: young, thin and jolly for—at best—a sum forty-five minutes in the last year. Read the rest of this entry »

The Black Friday Brawl: The Importance of Owning Poo-Chi

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Poo-ChiBy Amber Peckham

In the year 2000, when I was thirteen, my mother seemed to give up on trying to surprise me with Christmas gifts. I was now allowed to choose all my presents, even stand in line with Mom while the bar codes buzzed over the checkout laser, watching as she forked over the family’s hard-earned cash for a new Playstation game or a stack of books six deep that I couldn’t wait to dig into.

Mom forced me to go to Walmart with her on Black Friday that year. She claimed it would be good bonding time for us, but really, she needed a second soldier on the field of retail battle, and my dad was too tired to tag along. For us to get all the best deals, we would have to split up. Mom would head toward the clothing side of the store to grapple for flannel pajamas, socks, and jeans, while I would be deployed to the toy section. I was a slight girl, with mousy brown hair to my waist, unassuming and small. It would be easy for me to fight the crowds, and rabid adults would be less likely to grapple with a child. The two of us would reconnoiter in electronics, where the gem I had chosen to cap off my Christmas crown waited in the video game case as my reward—Final Fantasy IX.

This particular year, there was one toy which outshone all the others, one present my little sister Antonia had talked about day and night since the commercials began airing on Nickelodeon months before. This holy grail of holiday satisfaction was known as Poo-Chi.  Read the rest of this entry »