Street Smart Chicago

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 »

Dime Stories: The Baby Devils

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

I always enjoy movies about evil children—”The Omen,” “The Bad Seed,” “The Other” and, of course, “The Exorcist,” featuring Linda Blair painting the local clergy from scrot to throat with green puke.

I love this kind of stuff. “Village of the Damned” and “Children of the Corn” also set me off into fits of laughter. In fact, all of the devil shit is hysterically funny to me. When I was a kid, there was a grade-Z stinker called “Mark of the Devil.” It might have been a Roger Corman movie that got made for about six dollars. They had an ingenious marketing campaign of handing out barf bags at the drive-in and the commercials cautioned the moviegoer to keep repeating to him or herself, “Remember, it’s only a movie, it’s only a movie.” Damned if the thing wasn’t a hit.

The old drive-in movies were chock full of evil kids and toys, as were the comics; “Creepy” and “Eerie” especially. Decades before Korn, Slipknot and Marilyn Manson, the comics were full of satanic little fuckers doing evil at the drop of a hat. “The  Demon Seed” and “Village of the Damned” come to mind; the latter with children adorned with bleach-blond page-boy haircuts that made them look more dopey than evil. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Lessons From the Street Where I Live

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

I live in Ukrainian Village. Some of my neighbors don’t even speak English. They like being among themselves. They are suspicious, clannish and, at times, paranoid and unfriendly. This doesn’t surprise me. A great many of my neighbors are from the Ukraine and lived under harsh totalitarian regimes, under a czar or a dictator. Many of them are old enough to remember the scourge of communism in their lives. They don’t much trust strangers: this is Chicago, a city of tribes and bone-deep grudges.

My neighbors have begun to thaw a bit. After all, it’s been four years. One lady brought me a sack of beets from her garden and, noticing that I had several bird feeders in my yard, told me the secret to attracting hummingbirds–red flowers and sugar water. She told me that only she had hummingbirds in this neighborhood even though the city “is lousy with them– you have to know how to attract them.” Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Our Fear of Gay Americans

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

When I was a kid, and in a hurry to assert my masculinity, I made stupid remarks about gay people and indulged in the unfocused and thoughtlessly cruel bigotry of my peers. In other words, before I actually knew anyone who was gay. What I did not know is that there were gay people all around me and these remarks, however offhand, said a great deal more about me than anyone else. The words callow and stupid come to mind.

Thankfully, I came up in the world of art where there was no shortage of gay folks who wanted precisely the same things in life that I did. It opened my eyes and made me regret the stupidity and ignorance I’d harbored. A good many of these people were heroic: Dr. Ron Sable, the Chicago physician who was one of the first activists on the frontlines of the AIDS crisis in the mid-eighties, Larry Kramer, who loudly refused to let gay Americans become marginalized as lesser citizens, Danny Sotomayor, the late cartoonist and ACT UP activist—these were brave people who I was fortunate enough to have known and, in the face of their struggle, they made the rest of America change with them. The gay and lesbian community still struggles with ridiculous and arcane and draconian laws that other Americans stopped having to address a long time ago.

The right to marry, really? The religious right claims that gay marriage is a threat to the institution of marriage. These bigots helped stall the vote for the Marriage Equality Act, just this past week in Illinois. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: The Sad Business of Dreams

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

In the canon of American literature of the last century, Nathanael West figures in a couple of times.

“Miss Lonelyhearts” is considered his signature work,  a novel of isolation and animal longing. My favorite has always been “The Day of the Locust,” which ends with Hollywood burning to the ground amidst a savage mob running amok and devouring all who would try and halt it. It was made into a movie starring Donald Sutherland, William Atherton and Karen Black. “The Day of the Locust” has it all: artists, wannabe starlets, midgets, cockfights, cowboys, darkness, hunger and desperation. Read the rest of this entry »