Street Smart Chicago

Dime Stories: A Change of Heart and of Mind

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

Almost a year ago I decided to move to New Orleans. It was the day before Christmas Eve and my pipes had broken. I’d heard of this happening to other people and knew that it probably sucked but I was unprepared for the freezing filthy water and slimy primordial shit that filled the basement when it happened. Luckily I’m Irish, which means at any given time in my life, I’m related to seven or eight drunken plumbers. They live for this shit—overtime out the ass and other costs due to the fact it is forty below zero. Yeah, it was that day. It was colder than a nun’s ass on Good Friday.

I called the closest plumber and he fixed it skippy quick—it took four hours but it was worth it and I’d have paid anything. Between this, the shoveling, the falling down the front steps and damned near breaking my ample Irish ass, I’d decided I’d had it: Fuck Winter. Fuck Emanuel. Fuck Dibs. Fuck Snow. Fuck Slush. Fuck Mormons ringing your doorbell trying to talk Jesus to you. Fuck it all. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Some Thoughts on Crazy Horse

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

“Crazy Horse’s vision first took him to the South, where in Lakota spirituality one goes upon death. He was brought back and was taken to the West in the direction of the Wakiyans, or Thunder Beings…” —Wikipedia entry about Crazy Horse

I haven’t a fucking clue as to what the above quote is supposed to mean. Nor, I suspect, am I meant to. Native American and Indian lore wasn’t written for me. Still, the idea of a “Thunder Being” sounded powerful and poetic to me. As a kid I was scared by thunder and thought of it as something that walked the earth; a giant of some kind.  As I grew older, I rather liked it. It seemed something that nature had in its back pocket anytime it wanted to let us know who (or what) was in charge. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Notes From a Former Lifetime

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TheStrangeAngel_300b

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

If you drive rural roads, particularly the ones in the Midwest where the landscape is flat, you often see owls in radio towers at dusk or dawn. This is mostly when they hunt. When I was young, I hitchhiked everywhere (across the country a couple of times) and I remember being stuck on a road outside Galesburg, Illinois, which  is the very definition of “East Bumfuck,” trying to thumb a ride. I got picked up by a guy who was shuttling U-Haul-style moving trucks who drove me back to Champaign where I was not attending college. He gave me a job cleaning and servicing moving trucks, which I used to load up with my friends after hours and have rolling parties, with twenty goofballs packed into the truck, a keg and a boom box blasting AC/DC. We would stop at a townie bar in Urbana called Huffy’s, owned by one Earl Huffman, an ill-tempered drunk and bad pool player who, when angered, would start throwing pool balls at the clientele while ordering everyone to, “Get the fuck out, Skippy!  Chop-Chop!” Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: City of Killers

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

“There are nothing but murderers in this room…”
—John Rooney (Paul Newman) explaining just who they are in the world to Michael “The Angel of Death” Sullivan (Tom Hanks), in “The Road to Perdition”

There was a lot wrong with the movie “The Road to Perdition,” but not a damn thing wrong with “Road to Perdition,” the graphic novel by Max Allan Collins. It is a moody, poignant story of the love between father and son, the unforgiving nature of the Irish mob and the primacy of revenge among the Irish—and we are some vengeful motherfuckers.

The movie was far too long, but Jesus was it beautiful to look at, shot all over Chicago and Illinois, as well as bordering states. The Midwest has never looked more bucolic and heavenly than it does through the late, great Conrad Hall’s lens. Sadly, it was Hall’s last film—a noble effort by director Sam Mendes and actor Tom Hanks who, at his best in it, made you believe that he could be a remorseless murderer for hire. He was cast against type, to say the very least. Paul Newman gives what is to be his last film performance and it is a gem, a study in charm and stillness and Irish melancholy. The film is worth watching for his work alone. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Of Hobos, Card Games and Bughouse Square

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The Letter 'S' 300

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

“Chicago is the greatest railway center in the United States. No one knows these facts better than the hobo. It is a fact that trains from all points of the compass are constantly entering and leaving the city over its 39 different railways. According to the Chicago City Manual, there are 2,840 miles of steam railways within the city limits. The mileage of steam railroad track in Chicago is equal to the entire railroad mileage in Switzerland and Belgium, and is greater than the steam railroad mileage found in each of the kingdoms of Denmark, Holland, Norway, and Portugal. Twenty-five through package cars leave Chicago every day for 18,000 shipping points in 44 states.” —”On Hobos and Homelessness” by Nels Anderson

Given that Chicago was the hub of the American railroad system, it’s not a surprise that the largest ‘”hobo jungles” were here. The area around North Dearborn Street (Washington Square–better known as Bughouse Square) was one of the safe harbors for itinerant men and women. In the years between 1900 and 1920, much was changing in American life and this part of the city, known then as “Tower Town” because of its proximity to the Water Tower, was known as a neighborhood of bars like the Dil Pickle Club, brothels and gambling dens. It was also the center of the newly realized avant-garde in Chicago. The nascent American art form of jazz could be found here. Although mostly on the South Side, it also had devotees among this crowd of free thinkers. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Welcome to Dystopia!

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

It isn’t hard to figure out where all of the dystopian entertainment is coming from lately. “The Leftovers”—based on Tom Perrotta’s novel of the same name and about a Rapture-like occurrence  that disappears about two percent of the population and leaves a befuddled, confused populace in its wake—is probably the smartest of them, but they are abundant. “The Strain,” “Lottery,” “The Last Ship”… it goes on and on. It seems there is some jack to be made on the end of the world, the end of times, the apocalypse—pick one. It seems everyone is ready to write our obit as a world. Hell, it’s a bumper industry.

It was the same thing with the end of the millennium—the Y2K idiocy—the first Rapture, comets, la-la-la. The Mayan calendar wanted to rip up our ticket in 2012 and Nostradamus is forever inspiring idiots to fashion their doom-and-gloom gibberish to be mouthed by the same gullible drool-cases who buy into the “Illuminati” wolf tickets. Hell when my daughter was talking about this in eighth grade, I thought she said the Lou Malnati’s was coming and I was going to get pizza. I was thrilled. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: The Nation of Facebook, The Pornography of Grief

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

Something odd often happens in the toneless and contrarian public square of Facebook. In fact I shouldn’t say “odd” because it always happens. Express an opinion, a thought, an observation and the trolls come out—like gremlins barreling out of a psychic clown car, they come rolling out full of indignation and venom and the kind of puffery one can work up from behind the safety of a locked door and a computer screen. And they are ready to stack asses.

I’d been watching the sad, brutal footage from Gaza over the weekend and like everyone else was horrified at the sight of shroud after bloody shroud of Palestinian children being lined up like so much lumber. A skip down to CNN and I caught Benjamin Netanyahu admonishing Secretary of State John Kerry, “Not to ever second guess him again.”

This pissed me off. Kerry merely urged restraint and rightly criticized the brutality inflicted upon Palestinian non-combatants—mainly children. He was suggesting that Israel had made its point and called for a cease-fire. Netanyahu was offended and decided to bitch-slap Kerry on the world stage. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: My Pal Penn

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

My pal Penn Jillette once owned a vehicle named Pink Death. It was a Ford Bronco painted a color Penn invented, called “Stripper Inner Labia Pink.”  So candy-colored pink was this car, that the guy at the body shop made Penn stand there and watch as they gave his formerly butch truck something like a hundred coats to get it the right blush of “Inner Labia Pink,” which is, “Stripper.” There is actually a paint-chip named Stripper.

Damn I love this country.

I spent a week zipping around Vegas with Penn on assignment from Playboy and it was a holy hoot watching people’s reactions to Pink Death. It were as if the goddamn thing were radioactive. Even twenty years ago in Vegas this was regarded as weird. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Murder City

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Bull#6_125

By Tony Fitzpatrick

There is a bitter, humorless irony in the  wake of Chicago’s bloodiest weekend this year. “Chicagoland,” the  eight-hour  reach-around  CNN extended to Mayor Rahm Emanuel now appears to have gotten it wrong! The little man with the shiny shoes is beside himself with the Fourth of July weekend’s horrifying murder statistics: eighty-two people were shot. Fourteen of them died. The police shot a fourteen- and  sixteen-year-old and killed both of them.

Rahm fumes, flinging blame in any direction it will land: “Where are the parents?… Where are the community leaders?” Oh where, oh where, oh where? Here are the better questions: Where are the cops? Where are the jobs? Where is the leadership? Why do we keep hearing horse-shit about the shrinking crime rate while  our city’s children are being cut down by gunfire in the street? Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: The Relentless Wisdom of Anthony Potenzo, Volume 3—The Patio.

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

Anthony Potenzo believes a good joint must have rules. That there are unwritten rules which most sentient, sane, bar regulars understand without explanation—the barroom social contract: “Y’know, stuff you don’t have to explain to anyone except the drool-cases and mutants,” he says. “You know what I’m sayin’? Stuff that people who walk upright already understand.”

 And then there are the rules you have to write down and spell out. You notice that the people who have to read the posted rules? Their lips are moving while they read them. Hell, their lips move when they read the comics or a grocery list. Read the rest of this entry »