Street Smart Chicago

Dime Stories: Send in the Clowns

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Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

Miami, Tuesday, 6am. He stares out from beneath the Days Inn sign, steeped in his own deep thoughts, slowly drawing in his Camel. Suddenly he looks over at me and says, “They let me walk around all night with a VIP pass stuck to my ass and nobody told me. The fuckers just let me look douchey in South Beach, man.”

I don’t know what to say to him, so I say nothing and keep smoking. This guy is a real estate man from Delaware. I tell him the VIP pass certainly didn’t make him look douchey. That it, for sure, isn’t the pass. He is relieved.

11:30pm, 15th and Collins, South Beach. A young Hispanic man is having a cordial if heated conversation with an escort, a zaftig Dominican girl. She is big everywhere, fleshy and sexy in a way girls in the seventies were. She’s wearing skin-tight, silvery sweats and sporting a camel-toe you could lose your keys in. They are haggling price.

I’m at Jerry’s Deli—kind of ground zero for all of the fairs at 15th and Collins. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: The Jazz Baroness

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By Tony Fitzpatrick

She was born a Rothschild, an heiress of one of Europe’s great fortunes. The Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, or “Nica” to her friends in the world of jazz, was a darkly beautiful, worldly muse to some of bebop’s titans—Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane, to name a few. Charlie Parker, in fact, died in her apartment in New York’s Stanhope Hotel in 1955. The scandalous and racist media of the day covered the jazz great’s passing with all the salacious glee that the forbidden taboo fantasy of a famous-black-man-and-infamous-white-woman narrative allowed. This story was catnip for the local media, underlining the repulsion/attraction dynamic between the races that was at the heart of the fear and hatred so rampant in our country in the fifties. It was this very narrative that got the young Emmett Till murdered in the South. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: The Sky in Chicago

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By Tony Fitzpatrick

A decade ago I took an Artist in Residency in Missoula, Montana at the University of Montana. I was always leery of visiting-artist gigs.  I’ve always found them a little annoying. The students are cool though. I’ve learned a lot from them and have hired some of them. One of the great things about young artists is they are willing to try anything. Their ideas about art haven’t hardened into inflexibility. Mid-career artists are a little overly fond of what they know and way too dismissive of those emerging talents that push the practice forward. This is particularly true here, in Chicago.

In most cases, I am twice the age of the other artists who work for me. I am grateful for what I’ve learned from them. They came of age a great deal more at home with technology and were able to make me realize its importance and how to use it as a tool. The more of their music, books and art I became exposed to, the wider my array of choices as an artist became.

The kids were great. What I disliked about the visiting-artist gigs were the  faculty. Yup, the teachers and the not-so-veiled resentment that sometimes hangs in the air like a spiderweb. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Chicago Snowman

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Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

In addition to mimes, insurance guys, clowns, Jehovah’s Witnesses and nuns, snowmen are among the creepiest of entities, especially in Chicago. By the time the sun starts them on their slow, shape-shifting erosion, they’ve been pissed on copiously by dogs, drunks and homeless dudes. Invariably someone tries to piss their name into Frosty while circling, and falls on his ass because, there it is: three-and-a-half feet away… the ass-print.

The snowman has also been splashed by slush from traffic and now has the pallor and appeal of the Unabomber. Once they get skinny from the slow melt, I feel like they become their truest creepy selves. The coal eyes sink deep like Ann Coulter and there are piss-divots covering the body. They are like the witch hags from Macbeth. In real life they never look like that happy asshole on the Christmas card. They look like the old codger that Anna Nicole Smith married. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Asshopper

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Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

If there is a cooler-looking bug than a grasshopper, I don’t know of it. They’re prehistoric and futuristic at the same time. Some of them even look metallic. Many a science-fiction monster owes its features to the grasshopper. As a kid, I caught them by the jarful; and they were not easy to catch. You’d have to chase the fuckers all over the field. The big ones could jump ten feet and the ones with wings, even further. And they didn’t like being caught—they fought like hell to escape.

When I was a kid, me and a few other dopes would traipse out to the field to capture them. My one friend’s father used to use them as bait for fishing and he’d toss us a buck or two if we brought him back a few jars full. Most of the time I just let mine go. The thought of Scotty’s father sticking a hook through them seemed more than a little cruel.

Paul Lehman, Scotty’s dad, was a thick, strong-looking guy with a tattoo of an eagle on his arm. Like my father, he was a WWII vet and used to cut the grass with his shirt off. He was a hairy motherfucker. My father used to shout across the street to him, “Hey, Apsey-Baby! Put your goddamn shirt on, for Christ’s sake!” Scott’s dad always complied for some reason. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: The Path of Thieves

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Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

In his imperfect but fascinating “Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad,” Stephen Ambrose, the late popular historian, tells the story of the building of the railroad between Council Bluffs Iowa and San Francisco, the many lives it took, and the blasting, digging, excavating, back-breaking labor of it all. I’ve read a number of Ambrose’s books and he has often been accused of shoddy fact-checking, misquotes and outright plagiarism. Still, the old grouch wrote a damned entertaining story.

Much more entertaining is “Hell on Wheels,” AMC’s nihilistic, grim history of those who built the railroad—freed men of color, Confederate veterans, the newly immigrated Irish and poor Southern whites. Later, past the Mississippi River, it would also be the Chinese and no small amount of convict labor. All the while, the Lakota Sioux, as well as the Cherokee and Cheyenne and many, many other First Nations peoples, were trying to hold onto their lands. The white man took it by force. The railroads were given a remarkable amount of latitude, and discretionary power with the government. They had their own police force as well as the Pinkertons, a bunch of rent-a-cop-type pukes who were mostly criminals themselves. “Hell on Wheels” introduces us to a Confederate veteran and widower named Bohannon who has a positively biblical sense of justice and the band of cutthroats, shysters, swindlers and and con men who built and profited from the expansion of the railroad. They are some nasty, dirty, scurvy motherfuckers. Needless to say, I love this show. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Ohio—Further Mysteries of a Battleground State

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Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

With the election ever nearing, operatives and politicians are beating Ohio like a rented mule. From river to city there are dipshits with clipboards talking a smooth line of  sophistry from both parties.This is the low-tide of democracy, down where the kernels get small, dark and greasy—the margins—where elections are won and lost.

Sadly, that IS the history of this unique slice of ruptured geography.

Ohio remains, as the writer Charlie Finch noted, the state nobody really knows—it has given us our worst presidents—Hayes, Garfield, McKinley, Harding—to name a few. It has also given us some of our finest writers: James Wright  and Sherwood Anderson  included. Yet every  four years  this  fascinating place becomes the  bête noire  of American electoral politics and the faith of its citizens  ever more jerked around by the  process that emboldens its worst elements. And still, we don’t really know a damn thing about the place. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Hud’s Girl

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Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

In the cinematic  pantheon of  scumbags, louses and all-around rotten motherfuckers, Hud Bannon ranks  right up there with the worst of them. He is amoral, unprincipled, selfish and brutish. He spends most of his time chasing all of the available tail in his Texas Cow-town. He is a  lousy brother, uncle and son; a loathsome ass-wipe who would sell cattle with  hoof and mouth disease in order to preserve his inheritance. As played by Paul Newman, his charm is damned near SO disarming we almost let Hud off the hook. It is to Newman’s credit  that he allows himself to be such an awful man. When Hud forces himself on Patricia Neal’s Alma, we rightly hate him and keep on hating him through the end of the movie.

Newman’s work is bookended by performances that steal the movie from him—the late, great Patricia Neal, and the towering Melvyn Douglas, both of whom won Oscars for their work in this magnificent American film. The film “Hud,” is one of my favorite movies; directed by the profoundly humane Martin Ritt, from Larry McMurtry’s novel “Horseman, Pass By”one of those  enterprises that tried to capture the mid-century American West like “The Misfits” and “Lonely Are the Brave”—a cowboy movie informed by the twentieth century where all chivalry is dead and the lessons of the Depression and the Dust Bowl are still fresh in people’s minds. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: The Tool

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Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

On occasion, in life, one meets the irredeemable shithead.

The asshole’s asshole. The pork-sword who cannot find his better self—or get out of his own way. The art world is fairly littered with them. The slack-jawed dipshit, who is convinced they know a lot more than they do.

The Tool.

I remember the first time I heard this word used to cast aspersion. I was fifteen and I lied about my age to get a job at the local Taco Bell in Lombard, Illinois, which believe me, is its own punishment. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Stella

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Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

When you hang around New Orleans long enough, eventually you run into someone with a Tennessee Williams story. He lived there for a long time as a young man. His plays and repartee would have one believe that he lived in the Quarter and was part of that milieu. The truth is, early on, he lived out by Elysian Fields in a working-class enclave that was infinitely less glamorous and lacked the transgressive chic of the Gay Quarter culture he lived among when he became successful. My friend, Henri Schindler, told me stories of Williams flirting with the waiters at Galatoire’s while drinking the afternoons away.

He also relayed another tale of Williams, after he was famous–meaning after “A Streetcar Named Desire”–getting waylaid by a group of blue-haired ladies from a book club wanting to know all about New York and Williams not quite knowing how to handle this group of curious interlopers. For all of the drunken Williams tales, he was actually quite shy, or those who knew him have told me. He is, perhaps, our greatest playwright. At the very least, he is probably our most internationally known. Read the rest of this entry »