Street Smart Chicago

Dime Stories: Drugstore Girl on Halloween

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

Few memories evoke as much giddy joy for me as Halloween.  For me and the collection of miscreants, juvenile delinquents and future felons that comprised my peer group, Halloween meant that we owed our community some smashed pumpkins, obscene renderings, trees full of toilet paper and, of course, the odd flaming bag of dog shit on the front stoop. Halloween untethered us. It was the day we more resembled the beasts we were to become. Halloween was the day we handed some of the horse shit back to the adults. Halloween was AC/DC, a monster sugar buzz, stolen liquor (in my case, my father’s fifth of Jim Beam) and getting some payback.

My friend, Rick, made a full-scale dummy so lifelike that when it was hurled from the top of a building into oncoming traffic, you honestly thought some poor dildo had fallen or jumped to his death. The “body” was loaded with mushy pumpkins to assure a fairly decent spray of guts upon impact with the car. It was a hoot. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: The Draft Horses

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

There were no horses on the American continent until about the 1680s or so. The Spaniards brought them and in no time they became one of the most ubiquitous animals in the new world. As went the American experiment, so went horses. As a beast of labor, transportation and food source when things got lean, the horse has served us well.

For years they were slaughtered for dog food and sundry other industrial uses as well—brushes, hides and various gluing compounds. It seems that there is no bottom to the ugly cruelties we can levy on the equine species.

The history of our own city is also rich with the labor of horses. In the stockyards, horses rounded up cattle and drove them into pens, and to the slaughterhouse. Horses helped build bridges and roads as well as canals.

Our city’s first police force, enforced the law from horseback—and in many cases, to this day, still do. Just watch on those rare occasions when one of our sports teams wins a championship. The corner of Clark and Division has more horses and cops than a John Wayne movie. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Who Killed Cock Robin?

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Who Killed Cock Robin?_300By Tony Fitzpatrick

All the birds of the air
fell a-sighing and a-sobbing,
when they heard the bell toll
for poor Cock Robin.
– English Rhyme

The name Cock Robin has its origin in this morose little poem written around 1744, for children. Leave it to the English to imbue a perfectly lovely bird with a truly horrid fate. A million laughs in “Jolly Olde.”

The Cock Robin I am familiar with was the name of a chain of hamburger and ice cream fast-food joints that were all over the western suburbs when I was growing up. The two I remember the best were in Lombard and Villa Park.

As a kid, I preferred their burgers to McDonald’s or Burger King, which is not to say that they were good; they were gut-bombs of the rankest order. When you are a kid though, they seem to taste good because you are a walking garbage disposal with a monster metabolism. Today? I wouldn’t eat one. They were kind of like bigger versions of sliders–the kind of burger you should just take home and throw in the toilet. Me and my brother got a huge charge out of the fact that a restaurant had the word “cock” in it and, like every other eleven-year-old, we’d look for excuses to say it in front of teachers, especially nuns. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: A Black Angel

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The Black Moth_300By Tony Fitzpatrick

I have to laugh when I hear the code words the Tea Party brain trust bandies about. “Loud Tribesman” was Newt  Gingrich’s euphemism for the “what-can-we-say-besides-n-word” code that identifies this large, scary and vocal American street gang. It is what they are. They come to our President’s speeches strapped. They engage in a just-above-the-white-linen-and-hood rhetoric that aims to point out at every juncture that Barack Obama is black, and they “got” theirs. The huge, angry, and incredibly entitled white middle class is their target. In fact, I’m their target audience.

Among other white guys, I do notice a more disheartening and cavalier use of the n-word. When I point out it isn’t acceptable, the conversation halts and I get the hurt look of betrayal back in exchange. It is a careful meter of “us and them.” There is this feeling out there in white America that people of color have reached the promised land; that all of the inequities of 400 years of pigment-based subjugation and oppression have suddenly gone away. Such are the petty delusions of the Tea Party folk. Oh that, and the idea that they are the only ones in America paying too much in income tax. Welcome to the big world, whitey. They didn’t seem to mind taking this fucking when George W. Bush was creating the biggest deficit in the history of the Republic.

My favorite playwright right now is probably one you’ve not heard of unless you live in Chicago. J. Nicole Brooks was born on Chicago’s West Side and grew up tough with a single mom on the South Side. Besides plays, she writes a withering blog called “Close Captioning for the Jive Impaired.” In it she skewers white racists, black racists, rappers, the vain, the rich and the richly deserving–there is nothing PC or out of range for her bitterly funny barbs. It is a destination blog. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: An Autumn Dream of Blue Jays

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

A number of years ago, the bird population of Illinois and other Midwestern states was nearly devastated by West Nile virus. For reasons I never quite understood, crows, jays and magpies, which are all part of the same family, were particularly hard hit.

When I was a caddy, I loved the pugnacious behavior of bluejays and also finding their feathers on the golf course—that other-worldly blue of the tail feathers, which you’d find on the ground after the spring moult happened.

They were like finding small treasures. Other caddies would pick them up for me when they spotted them, knowing I liked birds. The idea of the bluejay population being damn near wiped out made me immensely sad. They’ve come back some, but not like they used to be. When I caddied, if a golfer got too close to a bluejay nest, the female would dive-bomb the poor fucker and peck at him. I laughed my ass off many times watching grown men run away from these birds trying to shield their heads with a putter. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: The Art Racket

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

Every once in a while I try to get on the “Chamber of Commerce” side of art fairs. They bring in a lot of money to the city and everyone benefits: hotels, restaurants, clubs, bars, pedicabs and hookers. Everyone.

Artists? With a few exceptions, which varies every year—not so much. Dealers? Again with some exceptions, and if they’re being honest—not so much.

One has to admit that last year’s Expo Chicago did very well, considering the deep hole it had to crawl out of courtesy of the Merchandise Mart’s assiduous “branding” of all things art fair. In their incarnation, the phrase “art fair” became a dirty word to me—and remains so.

Still, in fairness, one must credit Tony Karman for resurrecting what had become a moribund concept in Chicago: a Chicago art fair. With sheer moxie, unflagging salesmanship and brutal optimism, Karman pulled it off. I don’t know him well, but well enough to tell you that he is impossible to dislike. Believe me, I’ve tried. The guy is eternal sunshine. Show him a barn full of horse manure and he’ll tell you to look for the pony. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Among the Beasts

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

In theater, nobody likes the guy who chews the scenery, the hammy asshole who treats every line like a star turn. It seems unnatural and doesn’t allow the audience to adequately suspend disbelief.

In politics, this style of jambon behavior is the coin of the realm. We had a choice episode of this the other night at Jones College Prep, in the South Loop. It seems that Alderman Bob Fioretti got it in his head to try and glom some of Rahm Emanuel’s screen time while the mayor was playing his best role: the heart-wrenching and deeply dramatic “I give a fuck about public schools.” Which, perhaps, is more aptly titled “I give a fuck about public schools in white neighborhoods.”

After getting his ass handed to him by the teacher’s union and then shuttering fifty Chicago public schools, Rahm loves cutting ribbons at schools. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: The Black Swans

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

Some years ago, I made some drawings all with different kinds of “Ace of Spades” motifs. I had planned a big series about my father, whose nickname was “Ace.” I stopped after making six of them. The ones I made were terrific, but emotionally brutal to get through.

My father loved games of chance–blackjack, poker and the Lotto. He often bought 15-to-20 “Quick Picks” a day. He was a child of the Depression, the Irish Sweepstakes and “policy,” a game more known by its other name, “numbers.” He had a gambler’s optimism to the point of being delusional about the Lotto. I once tried to explain the math to him, since the State of Illinois basically made the numbers racket legal and called it Lotto in 1973. I surmised that my Dad had spent, conservatively, a couple of hundred grand on Lotto tickets between 1973 and 1997. He wouldn’t hear of it being a sucker-bet, noting that in the mid-eighties he’d once won five grand. When I tried to explain the long-term calculus of this, he told me to mind my own fucking business.

The Irish are superstitious this way—raffles, pools, games of chance—we’re suckers for it. It’s not an accident that bookmaking is legal in Ireland. We believe in the vagaries of luck. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: The Archer

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

I have so much fun making the White Canary Samurai Chicks that I may make my own little army of them. They were kind of based on the teenage girls I saw in Harajuku in Tokyo a couple of years ago, and then I realized they’re kind of like teenage girls everywhere. They don’t dress differently from the teenage girls I see at the five-corner asylum that is Damen-Milwaukee-North in Chicago, or Williamsburg in Brooklyn or any other hipster enclave in the world. I have a teenage daughter and know the many hours of grooming it requires to achieve the requisite style of “idiotic” before walking out the door. I love when they wear stockings, shorts, boots and slacker fedoras, complete with the raccoon make-up and teal-colored streaks in their hair. I love when my daughter rolls her eyes in conversation with me as if she is talking to a mental-defective and it requires her every last bit of patience. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: The Orange Spider

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TheOrangeSpider(forLouiseBourgeois)By Tony Fitzpatrick

I once met Louise Bourgeois. She was a marvelous, elfin, dirty old French lady who made some of the most compelling sculpture and drawings of the last fifty years. She was a bit like licorice; you loved her or hated her. I loved her ferocious sculptures of spiders. Gigantic and full of feminine menace, they were present, for me, in a way that was unnerving. I remember the first time I saw one at the Tate Modern in London. I was standing on the balustrade above the piece. From above, it looked predatory, and when people walked underneath the giant arachnid, it looked as if she might just eat them. I say, “she” because they always seemed female to me, for no particular reason. They just did. I think this was part of  Bourgeois’ power as an artist, the ability to feminize a powerful figure without saying so. When I met her she was already in her eighties and she told me that “Boys become artists to fuck all the girls.” I replied that we certainly give it a good-faith effort. She laughed a greasy conspiratorial laugh and I liked her immediately. She wasn’t like anyone’s grandma. I was lucky enough, early in my career, to afford an etching of hers—it is a diabolical and yet friendly image of a spider with hundreds of baby spiders on her back, and she looks almost as if she is smiling. Read the rest of this entry »