Street Smart Chicago

Dime Stories: The Magic of Nature

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

Driving back from California through the desert, one is always cognizant of the hungry world that surrounds you. The desert may seem still, but beyond what you can see it is teeming with life: coyotes, owls, hawks, vultures and some genuinely scary-ass reptiles, thick western diamondbacks, prairie rattlers, gila monsters and sidewinders.

There are small boars called javelinas—ugly little fuckers who love-you-not. There are roadrunners who tear along the desert until they find a lizard to peck to death and devour. They are psycho-looking sons-of-bitches who remind us that for all of the cute photos of baby seals and shit like that, that nature is around-the-clock murder. Look into the eye of one of these ground-dwelling birds and one sees all of the madness in the world. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: A Day and Night in Tokyo

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TokyoBy Tony Fitzpatrick

In Tokyo, I took tons and tons of digital shots and I had no earthly fucking idea how to load them onto my computer, because I am a moron. I walked at least five miles a day all over Shinjuku and Shibuya and in the Ginza district. I also spent a little time in one of the parks that are gorgeous in Tokyo, and oddly quiet. Public space is revered in this city because there is so little of it and parks offer respite from the crowds. People are very quiet in the parks and these immaculately manicured places are sanctuary and lend themselves to reading and meditation. The trees are carefully pruned and sculpted and every park is tended to like a giant garden. They are beautiful.

I walked a great deal and saw a lot of Tokyo in a shopping district right by Shibuya. There is a youth culture that is hard to discern the look of; part punk, part slacker, part skate-kid. It is an amalgam of all of these things. I also stumbled onto something Japan really likes–buttons. They are bat-shit for buttons. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Songbird for Nelson Algren

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

I’ve made more than a few tributes to the great Chicago writer Nelson Algren. His shadow looms large over how I see the city. Algren, of course, is the steely realist who will not let us bullshit ourselves about who we are. He is also the soft heart who is full of the gambler’s optimism about who we could be. He was a master of the gray; the good in the bad and the bad in the good. He also leavened his often sad and tragic stories with wry humor. He is also aware of Chicago’s propensity for eating its own. He often remarked that Chicago could not “love you back” and went to his grave believing this.

This is why I get pissed when dipshits from somewhere else attempt to tell us who we are. In his lifetime Algren never let us forget our inequities and cruelties—he saw Chicago for what it was—never mind the cheap boosterism or the “swagger.” When the New York Times Book Review ran its hit piece disguised as a book review a couple of weeks ago it sent me searching for writers who lived here, and their testaments to that experience. Algren never went easy on Chicago. Neither did the oral histories of Studs Terkel or the novels of James T. Farrell. Mike Royko certainly cut the city no slack when it came to blowing the whistle on crooked aldermen, shysters and even the mayor. We’ve never wanted for social critics among our own. Though I suppose we should be grateful that an associate professor from DePaul weighs in and lets us know how deluded we are in our little burg. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: The Infernal Nod Machine of Hollywood Boulevard

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

There is a not-very-good movie from the nineties that bears one lovely, elegiac passage about Hollywood Boulevard. It is an otherwise forgettable piece of grade-D chewing gum for the brain called “Jimmy Hollywood.” Luckily the moments of grace are the opening credits in which a blond-wigged Joe Pesci (never has a hair piece been a worse idea) walks the stars on Hollywood Boulevard with his eyes closed. As he stops at each one he says the name of the honored actor or actress under his feet—he knows them by heart—and by this time, without a word of exposition, we know him. He is an actor who never made it and never will and yet, in our hearts, in a weird way we begin to hold out hope for him. It doesn’t hurt that the music in the opening sequence is Robbie Robertson’s lovely “Soap-Box Preacher.” It’s appropriate this song is used: Pesci’s character, Jimmy Alto, is attending his church—Grauman’s Chinese Theatre—and he is practicing his act of faith, his stations of the cross—walking the stars and honoring those entombed in the cement forever. It is heartbreaking and hopeful in the same moment and, for any other film, would have and could have been a departure point for a wonderful story. Not this one though. Like Jimmy Hollywood, it never gets out of the gate.

When I first saw this film I thought it was an innocuous enough flight of whimsy and didn’t realize that, in Los Angeles, guys like Jimmy Hollywood actually exist. On my last visit there, I arranged a show of twenty-nine Chicago artists at East Hollywood’s La Luz de Jesus Gallery. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: For the Bad Men Who Built Our City

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

“We’re bigger than US Steel.” —Hyman Roth to Michael Corleone in “The Godfather, Part II”

There is a scene in the movie “Bugsy,” in which Benjamin Siegel is standing in the middle of the Nevada desert taking a leak and, looks around, reading the landscape. He sees it: his future and the future of the American mob. There is not a goddamn thing out there other than scorpions and sagebrush, but in his mind’s eye, Siegel can see it: a utopia for sinners and gamblers, servicemen in need of relaxation, a neon-lit Sodom and Gomorrah where “we the people” could indulge our darker and more libertine impulses. And to Bugsy Siegel, Moe Dalitz, and other members of the Chicago, Cleveland and Kansas City mob, it was a place about a fundamental American thing—freedom. You want to gamble away the rent? Eat cheap prime rib? Get blown by a showgirl? Welcome sir, your room is ready. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Godspeed Roger Ebert

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

Los Angeles is rather beautiful at night—kind of a fleet dark animal festooned with signs and lights, as well as the never-ending roar of the automobile. It used to be hard for me to think of it as a city. It always seemed more like an endless labyrinth of smaller towns, a web of connected tribes—strip-mall-type architecture has not helped the place at all. But then you get these breathtaking views of the place lit up at night, which you can see from Laurel Canyon or Mulholland Drive, and you finally understand that the sprawl must be taken as a whole to be understood at all.

Therein lay the beauty of the place. My favorite ride in LA is Sunset Boulevard from the Pacific Coast Highway all the way downtown—in this thirty-mile stretch one can realize the American story, circumstance and appetite in a kind of shorthand. One goes from the Penthouse to the outhouse and back in a minute. One minute you’re in tony Bel Air and a few short minutes later you find yourself among the walking wounded of East Hollywood. You roll by SkyBar and the Whiskey A Go-Go, where young men in hair bands, twenty years past the expiration date of this musical idiom, are still playing gigs to try and jump-start a dream. The cynical may dismiss and laugh at them, but I find them weirdly heroic if a little naive. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Pink Lady

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PinkLadyBy Tony Fitzpatrick

1-1/2 oz gin
3/4 oz applejack
1/4 oz lemon juice
1-2 dashes of grenadine
1 egg white
maraschino cherry for garnish

Voila, the Pink Lady! A perfectly wretched cocktail first made in the 1930s, designed with the idea of separating young women from their virtue.

I knew a prim and pert girl in high school named Elizabeth who would leave heel marks on the ceiling after two of these abominations… followed by twenty or so minutes of ruinous projectile vomiting. Two Pink Ladies would induce nymphomania and nausea with equal ferocity. She was nicknamed “The Puker.”

I’ve noticed that these kinds of cocktails have come back into vogue. Bars now have “beer programs” and “sommeliers.” Fuck me—the game of drinking has gone to hell since I quit.

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Dime Stories: The Relentless Wisdom of Anthony Potenzo, Volume 2

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

It was one of those nights at Three Aces, and it was one of those conversations you can’t quite believe you lucked into: Anthony Potenzo was explaining his aversion to all things monkey to his partner Big Lyle Aker and me.

“I hung around wit’ Jonathan Cain’s little brother when I was seven and they had a pet squirrel monkey—a vicious little bastard who threw his shit everywhere and wouldn’t shut up.”

Anthony pauses long enough to let a couple of women pass by in the crowded bar, and take a swig off of his Pabst. He furtively looks around before continuing: “We fucked with this monkey constantly—tapped him with an eraser on the end of a pencil, and screeched back at the little bastard. He was a prick. We made faces at him and flipped him off. We tried to teach him to screech ‘fuck you,’ thinkin’ maybe the little mutant could talk and we could make a few bucks, y’know.” A couple more people pass by and Anthony smiles and nods and halts the story once again. After they pass he starts again. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: The Owls Among Us

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ohio-owlBy Tony Fitzpatrick

Among the cultures of the American Indian tribes, there are a myriad of beliefs about the owl. An owl on a rock near a lake or a river signified a particular tribe’s ownership of that place for fishing and trapping. The Iroquois of Ohio also believed that the owl was a protector from water monsters and devils, which would drown those who wandered too close to the water at night.

The Apache believed that a dream of an owl was a harbinger of the nearness of one’s death. Cherokee medicine men and shaman thought screech owls had the power to bring on illnesses as punishment. The Cree believed the small owls could summon the spirits with their other-worldly whistles and cackles.

A great many tribes thought owls could travel between the worlds of the living and the dead. The Dakota Sioux believed the Burrowing Owl held sway in the underneath—the world below the ground—and also acted as a protector for brave warriors, whereas the Hopi believed this same owl to be a god of the dead and a guardian of fire and keeper of all things underground, even seeds. They called the bird Ko’ko which means “watcher of the dark.” Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Just A Regular Slob

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justaregularslobBy Tony Fitzpatrick

It happens all of the time with people–especially males–this appraisal, a mutual measuring-up; a silent visual calculus to see who is stronger, wealthier, better-looking, or cooler la-la-la. It’s stupid. It’s right out of nature, this seeking of primacy in one’s species. Women do it as well, but it isn’t nearly as comical as when men do it.

A few years ago, I was flying to New York and sitting in first class because I had the miles and I was really happy to be there for once. It was a really hot day and I took my long-sleeved shirt off and was just wearing a fancy T-shirt. I have a bunch of tattoos and while, lately, you see more tattoos in first class than you used to, for some folks it is still a surprise.

The guy sitting across the aisle from me kept looking over, and then shaking his head. Every ten or so minutes, like clockwork. Look over, shake his head and, toward the end of the flight, add a perplexed-sounding exhalation. I ignored it. I learned a long time ago that what people who don’t know me think of me is none of my business. I honestly, no shit, don’t give a fuck. Read the rest of this entry »