Street Smart Chicago

Dime Stories: Nature Calls

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

The common starling or European starling was introduced to North America a couple of centuries ago by enthusiasts of Shakespeare. That’s right, Shakespeare. I had to read that twice myself. Evidently, the Bard was fond of the plucky bird’s gift for mimicry and a bunch of blue-bloods thought it would be jolly-good fun to have the little winged gangsters over here. The first thing the common starling did was muscle as many songbirds, including the lovely Eastern Bluebird, out of nesting spots as it could. It spread wildly, becoming one of the most successful species in the history of the continent. Particularly hard hit were the bluebirds, who were pushed damn near across the Mississippi River, damn near becoming  Western Bluebirds. Population-wise, they are just beginning to come back now in the last two decades. This is what happens when we decide to diddle-dick around with nature—we become the victims as well as the beneficiaries of unintended consequences. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: The Chicken Store

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

All over the West and South Sides of Chicago there are still live poultry shops. It only now occurs to me that I’ve never actually been in one. Americans are particularly squeamish this way—we never want to look the creature we’re about to slaughter in the eye. We’d rather see it fried with some biscuits and gravy on a plate, or in nugget form in a small styrofoam box or, even better, chopped up with a bunch of vegetables in some soup. We’re not much for the blood and the feathers and the screeching death that comes along with butchering poultry.

A number of people have begun to keep chickens in their yards in Ukrainian Village to raise their own eggs and I have to admit it is kind of heartening to see a plump chicken or two walking the alleyways. You want to warn them that feral cats, large rats, raccoons and now coyotes also walk these alleys, and would gladly feast on them. But then you notice these are some big-assed chickens and when you get right up close and look them in the eye you see all of the madness in the world. These chickens are Chicago chickens and they just might be able to hold their own. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: A Night in Tokyo

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

Some years ago, I visited Tokyo with the filmmaker John McNaughton. It was one of those experiences that has stayed with me and opened my mind to Asian literature and art, and broadened my view of the world. It also made me aware of the long lens with which the East and the West view each other. How little we know of each other and, oddly how alike we are. These are some of the thoughts I still have about this trip.

Li Po has been the best-known Chinese poet in Asia for about the last thousand years. He was a huge influence on the haiku poets, and is credited with being the seminal influence in the idiomatic languages of poetry and specifically, haiku. He was one of those wandering, searching poets who worshipped nature. Much like the Japanese haiku monk and poet Basho, who would be born a thousand years later, he was so great a poet that there are volumes of poems by other poets proclaiming their devotion to him—

Today I laid bare before you
all things stored in my heart. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories:  The Art World—An Occupied One-Percent Country

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The Art Racket_3001By Tony Fitzpatrick

A funny thing happened at Sotheby’s a few years ago. The consumers in the rarified art marketplace met Occupy Wall Street. I wasn’t there, but from what I’ve gleaned from those who were, the OWS crowd showed up in support of Sotheby’s striking art handlers, Local 814 Teamsters. The august auction giant beefed up the security and escorted the bigwigs in under guard—and, as Dennis Miller once said, “It was the sharpest bit of choreography since the Oswald prison-transfer.”

The auction folk were shocked—shocked I say!—to realize that the art market, too, is considered a valve in the malignant heart of the One Percent. If you notice, I didn’t say “art world,” though one can make a fairly decent case that many of its inhabitants are also the dreaded One Percent. And you know what? The OWS folks are right: the OWS people as well as Local 814, the Teamsters striking at Sotheby’s for a living wage (or I should say a living in New York wage), could not have picked a better target than that atmosphere and that activity—the goosing, cajoling and casual brutality of the market mentality, i.e. rich imbeciles measuring their worth in the reflective glow of  art.

And the art world should get its head out of its ass and ask itself just how the fuck it got there. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Some Etiquette Tips from Tony

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

There is a fancy-schmancy health club to which some very prominent Chicagoans belong. It is full of upscale lawyers, doctors, business-types, and famous athletes. It offers yoga, swimming, tennis, racquetball, squash—yes, Old Chap, squash—handball, boxing, Pilates (whatever the fuck that is) and spinning, which as far as I can tell means riding a stationary bike real fast to a really shitty disco soundtrack while  some very fit goof yells at you from his bike. In other words, this place is the goods. It also has all manner of  treadmills, elliptical machines and a weight room.

I only use the pool. I get in the slow lanes with the stroke victims, non-swimmers, fat guys and people who’ve just had heart attacks. I’m overweight, but I’m not like Orca-fat, and my goal is not to get fit or buff. My goal is to not fucking die.

Many of my friends there make full use of the place. Their workout is complex and varied: a half hour of cardio on the bike or the treadmill, fifteen minutes on the elliptical machine, a spin class (Really? Somebody has to TEACH you how to peddle a stationary bike?) and then thirty minutes of laps in the pool. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Tony World

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

When kids are in high school, doodles usually adorn every surface of their textbooks—at least they did on mine. I loved scribbling on the back of my tablet, or in the margins of my history book, or just on looseleaf and in notebooks. Anything was better than listening to the teacher and taking notes on whatever useless drivel they were going on about. I could be drawing anything: hotrods, planes, Rat Fink, giant dicks, monsters, birds, tits, monkey heads and always band logos and comics—a character named “Bong-Man” and word balloons containing thoughtful utterances like “Shimmy-Shimmy beat my meat,” “Transistor Sister” and “Maggot-Brain.”

I had a lot on my mind.

What I’ve most enjoyed about making my “Lunch Drawings” is just how much they remind me of those drawings I made trying to escape the mind-numbing dog-shit they tried to teach me in school. With very few exceptions, my teachers talked like rolls of toilet paper. One bloodless, colorless factoid after the next, until I had annihilation fantasies about blowing up my high school. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Hooray for Pedro!

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By Tony Fitzpatrick

Pedro Vélez

Pedro Vélez

I don’t often pay any attention to the Whitney Biennial—to me it has always been like prom night in the art world. It also seemed hopelessly stacked in favor of New York  artists and my friends used to refer to it as the “New York Biennial.” When I read that two of the curators, this year would be Chicagoans, I was a little interested but not much. Both Anthony Elms and Michelle Grabner are eminently qualified choices and wound up doing a great job but at first—again  it is at the other end of the pool for me—I’m in a different art world. In fact, it’s debatable whether I’m really in at all anymore, but this is a different story.

What is edifying to me was a view of the list. For the first time that I can ever remember, the list of artists for the Whitney Biennial actually seemed like a survey of American art. It felt democratic and everyone was represented—in particular, Chicagoans, and not the usual suspects. It does my heart good to see Dawoud Bey in this show. For years he has made a dignified, relentless and ever more fascinating body of work. He has also been a mentor, confidant and luminous example of what is possible for an artist in Chicago. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: High Hopes and Faint Praise

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

There is actually a lot to like about “Chicagoland,” the eight-part consideration of this city airing on CNN this spring starting March 6. Namely it gives us a look at the lives of people like Fenger High School principal Elizabeth Dozier and police commander Leo Schmitz. These are Chicagoans with very difficult jobs who perform them bravely and make life-and-death decisions every day. Dozier particularly earns our admiration with  the compassion with which she dotes on “her kids”—the student body of Fenger—often following them on foot to navigate the gang-infested mean streets around her high school. At one point, the heel of her shoe breaks off and she continues—barefoot.

Commander Schmitz maintains an optimism and a sense of goodwill though he presides over a district in which far more young people are in gangs rather than college, on the turf that has earned the ugly moniker of “Chiraq.” Commander Schmitz  isn’t jaded  and is the very face of hope for the good people of his district.

These are people who make me proud to be a Chicagoan. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: “Walk on the Wild Side” Changed Everything

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

There is a very expensive steakhouse in Brooklyn called Peter Luger’s that, for more than a hundred years, has served what’s thought to be the best steak in New York, or the country for that matter. And when you eat their beef, it is hard to argue with this appraisal. It melts in your mouth. It is perfectly seasoned and cooked at a very high temperature in butter. The Luger’s steak is delicious. No argument. The service leaves a lot to be desired, though: snotty old Kraut waiters, a long wait even when you have a reservation, and the light so bright, you’d think you were in an operating room.

For many of the years that I knew Lou Reed, this was his favorite steak and we ate a lot of it. We’d often go with a big group, five or six people at least. Luger’s was less likely to fuck you around if it was a big table. Over the years, Lou brought Salman Rushdie, Hal Willner, the musical genius, Laurie Anderson and a host of dudes from his tai-chi classes, including the instructor. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: The Wonder of Birds

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

The other night at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Lincoln Park, an event celebrated the publication of my friend Joel Greenberg’s fascinating natural history account of the extinction of the passenger pigeon, “A Feathered River Across the Sky.” It is a remarkable book about the squandering and wholesale slaughter of a single species.

In 1860, a single flock of passenger pigeons so huge and in such great volume took two days to fly over. The estimate is something like three billion birds. So many that the sky was darkened; a phenomenon reported on many other migratory paths as well. It must have been almost unfathomable that these birds would ever NOT be in the world. A scant fifty years later, they were gone. The last one, “Martha,” died in captivity in a Cincinnati Zoo having never flown or even been in the wild. It is almost impossible to believe that this hearty species, a bird that could swallow acorns whole, could be wiped out in such short order. Read the rest of this entry »