Street Smart Chicago

Dime Stories: Steve Jesus, the Magic Lark and the Ghost of Jerry Garcia

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The Magic Lark 300By Tony Fitzpatrick

My pal Steve Jesus was in town for the weekend’s Grateful Dead end of days. He was happily sad at the prospect of a final Dead show. He was determined to experience the holy trinity of mind-altering Grateful Dead substances : X, acid and ‘shrooms, in that order. He also, thanks to Tinder, got to experience some slap and tickle twenty-first-century style. He hooked up with a lass who wasn’t looking for Mr. Right, but Mr. Right Now. Steve was happy to oblige. All in all, his weekend was sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Jerry Garcia would have been proud.

Steve is one of my oldest and best friends. Years ago, when I was on the radio, he was my producer. He has since gone on to work for a large tech outfit in San Francisco. He is a proud member of five or six dispensaries in San Fran and has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things cannabis.

There were all manner of Deadheads in town over the weekend and at first I thought they would be of the sixty-plus-year-old vintage. To my surprise there were plenty of kids who were not even alive before Jerry Garcia died. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: H is for Hawk—and Helen

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

Every once in a while a book sneaks up and surprises you. What fascinates me the most about Helen Macdonald’s exquisite “H is for Hawk” is what it is not. It is an intimate, fierce memoir of furious loss, falconry, as well as a meditation on the lonely legacy of Arthurian novelist T.H. White; it is also a love letter to the English countryside which she renders in lyrically brackish beauty when describing the winter “hawking.”

What it isn’t? It isn’t like anything I’ve ever read—and this is a good thing. It’s a serious book about how you negotiate life when tragedy and death blindside you and leave you alone in the world.

The book is written in a language so rich one must read it slowly to savor the story and its telling, which unfolds after the passing of Helen’s father—a news photographer, a watcher and a transcriber of the mysteries of planes that fly over. He casts an immense shadow over this story and his daughter’s grief is enormous.

She decides to lose herself in the training of a goshawk. An experienced falconer; she endeavors to tame and train the most contrary and fierce of hunting hawks. Even experienced falconers—good ones—approach the idea of flying goshawks with great pause. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: The Killing Ghost and Her Falling Stars

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

The more I read about owls, the more I realize how paranoid white people have always been. In Western culture, owls are almost always associated with witchcraft  or some other nefarious practice. Maybe it is the eyes; they’ve always weirded people out. The eyes that Athena found “burning with inner light” freaked out the civilized types.
I must admit, when I found the down-covered screech owl, I was intrigued because I thought owls were mysterious and weird. I was not a popular kid, an ill-tempered little fucker who didn’t have many friends; mostly art kids and the other weirdos like me who hung around the pet store and drew pictures. I was thirteen when I found him and my sister named him Oliver. That summer he ate his weight in cicadas and eventually mice. He was not a friendly pet, in fact not really a pet at all, but an orphan. He was a gray screech owl and when he shed his down and his plumage filled in he was a beautiful bird; odd in all of the ways that I myself was. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Brian Wilson’s Second Act

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Ghost Thank You (Nocturne) 100

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

About halfway through “Love and Mercy,” the Brian Wilson biopic, one realizes how Brian Wilson’s songs have never lost their currency. We still sing along to these happy tunes. Of all the music from the 1960s, only the Brian Wilson’s Beach Boys offer a safe harbor from the cynicism and tragedy of that troubled decade. Even forty-nine years later, “Pet Sounds” still stands as a transcendent recording that would influence a good measure of what came after—including the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Just listen to the layering of sounds; Wilson did it first. It is to the picture’s credit that this period in Brian Wilson’s life is rendered in sunshine and bold, vibrant colors. Brian has broken it wide open, even if he is the only one who understands this. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: The Scavengers

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

The great Charles Bowden passed away last year. He wrote a great many articles and books about the border, the one we share with Mexico. In the years since NAFTA passed there have been hundred upon hundreds of women murdered in and around Juarez–a great many of them maquiladora workers. A maquiladora is an assembly plant, or factory, that hires thousands of women and pays them stoop labor, shit wages to do piecework–sewing, circuit boards, and other close work that require small, deft hands.

A great many women from as far away as Central America flocked to the border for jobs. So NAFTA managed to impoverish two cultures. The women of the maquiladora plants and the American union worker, and some big American companies outsourced jobs here to avoid paying a living wage to union workers: Levi’s, Motorola, IBM, Black & Decker, GM, Cooper Tire, among others. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Uptown Cat Girl

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

More than thirty years ago, New Orleans crept into my work and she never left. My heart is perpetually divided between my home of Chicago and my home of New Orleans. It is a place for which I have nothing but unconditional love.

When I first got there, it seemed everyone around me was a lot freer than I was, as odd as that sounds. It was a crazily sexy place with grownup women who were frank and forward about what made them happy. It was hot, so there was always a lot of sweaty skin and poetry and music. It was like entering one of those snow globes without the snow. It was Spain and France preserved in architectural amber. It was history. My friend Charlie Neville told me about Congo Square which along with Storyville, was the birthplace of jazz. He also had me read “Up from the Cradle of Jazz,” Jason Berry’s essential history of New Orleans music. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: It’s Spring

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

Well, it’s over, the fat lady has sung and the kinder, more sensitive Rahm has won another term. Chuy Garcia ran an honorable, honest campaign and honorable and honest gets you shit, and shoved in it—when it comes to Chicago politics.

No big deal. Baseball season started and it is still colder than a nun’s ass on Good Friday. On opening night the Cubs forgot that, after all of that Old Style, people would need to take a leak and started filling their beer receptacles with the personally brewed amber fluid. Jesus, shut it down to one bathroom and the whole park turns into “Lord of the Flies” in a blue ball cap.

Such are the pleasures of spring in Chicago. Not that my White Sox had it any better. Jeff Samardzija and the Sox bullpen got shelled in their first game in Kansas City 10-1, therefore making it hard to harass Cub fans about the rivers of piss over at the friendly confines. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: The Long Cruel Line

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

The Union Stock Yards have been closed since 1971. The century of suffering, human and animal, still bears much  historical currency. We are still thought of in literature as “Hog Butcher for the World.”

Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” brought great change in the meatpacking industry—until this great novel, nobody inspected the meat we ate. Six months after “The Jungle” was published, the U.S.D.A. started inspecting the slaughterhouses and the meat being issued by them. It was a grimy, filthy business; the Armours and Swifts built threadbare shanty-towns for their workers, mostly Czechs, Poles and Ukrainians. The conditions were so unsanitary that workers often brought home blood-borne diseases on their clothing and skin—there were no wash stations or showers. At one point the infant-mortality rate was so high that one out of three children did not live until their first birthday.

It was a cruel life imposed upon generations of immigrants, all the while building great fortunes for the Armours and Swifts. I write this because I realize this has always been a city of great cruelty—to people, to animals—and somebody always profited from this suffering. It’s a little late in the game to be surprised by this yet, still, I am. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Transit Platforms

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, City Life, Dime Stories, Green, News etc., Politics, Transit 4 Comments »
Rahm Emanuel and Chuy García. Photos: John Greenfield

Rahm Emanuel and Chuy García/Photos: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

As I’ve discussed with noted Rahm-hater Tony Fitzpatrick, the talented artist and storyteller whose column occupies the other side of this page, there are many issues to consider when deciding who to support in Chicago’s April 7 runoff election. These include jobs, education, crime, privatization, transparency and ethics, to name a few.

However, we shouldn’t overlook the importance of transportation when choosing whether to reelect Mayor Emanuel, or anoint his challenger, Cook County Commissioner Jesús “Chuy” García. The need for a safe, efficient transportation system is a huge factor in quality of life for all Chicagoans.

With that in mind, here’s a comparison of how the candidates differ on key traffic safety, walking, transit and biking issues. Note that this article does not represent an endorsement of either candidate.

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Dime Stories: Invasion of the Rahmbies

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

Since coming out for Chuy a couple of weeks ago, I’ve encountered no small amount of hostility from the Rahm supporters—the “Rahmbies” as I like to think of them. They can rationalize any inequities brought forth in the last four years because the shuttered schools, the ubiquitous gunfire, potholes and unplowed streets—these things don’t directly affect them. That’s where we live now: Rahm, in four short years, has made this an Us and Them city. A city of wealthy one-percent types, and then there is the rest of us. We’re useful because we can fix their cars, bus their tables and deliver their groceries.

The poor? I think he and his pal Rauner just hope they go away. Emanuel took a page from what then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg did to New York, and now Manhattan is an island of the wealthy and the people who do their dishes. The poor and the creative class were scattered to Brooklyn, Queens and Jersey. Emanuel, Bloomberg, Rauner and their ilk are succeeding in building a culture glaringly divided by economic class, and it is more pernicious than the machine politics we’re used to. Read the rest of this entry »