Street Smart Chicago

Walking on the Wild Side: A Former Prostitute Recalls Life on the Street

Essays & Commentary, Love & Sex No Comments »

 

Illustration: Kady Dennell

Illustration: Kady Dennell

By Anonymous

I am standing in front of The Closet, a gay bar on Broadway between Addison and Belmont. It is a warm summer night. I am twenty-four. I am going to get in the first car that stops. I am a sex worker, but right now, in the 1980s, we are called prostitutes and streetwalkers. If we do it in a hotel we are call girls. Interesting how long it took for people to realize this is a job and work.

Neither the johns nor the sex workers realize that in a few years a lot of our cruising will be online. We will be using Craigslist and cell phones to screen out nuts and psychos and cops. Hopefully. But the Internet has not been invented yet. Right now, if you are selling it or buying it, you have to rely on your street sense.

When you are out here, you don’t think about the danger. For one thing, I am high as a kite on meth. These guys are rude and repulsive, but I can enjoy myself because I am high. People without addictions don’t understand that there are three highs: the high; the high of knowing you’re going to get high; and the high of doing risky things while you’re high. Read the rest of this entry »

Change Your Life: Quit Smoking?

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By Michael Workman

I’m trying to quit again and I’m not sure if I want to. That is to say, I know the why but not the how. How do I give up the longest relationship I’ve ever had? I first picked up a cigarette when I was sixteen. I remember walking through the neighbor’s yard next to my girlfriend Elizabeth’s house. I’d had sex for the first time ever with her a few months earlier, and she just now broke up with me to get back together with Lenny, the boy she lost her virginity to, and is chasing me across the yard, catching up with me just as I light one, and take my first drag. How appropriate that word, “drag.” I turn to look at her, curly red hair fanning out in the breeze at her shoulders as she lopes toward me, skin flush but pale, lips thin, determined. I manage to crack a grin just as she catches up with me, snatches the cigarette from my hand, throws it to the ground and wraps her arms around me. We cry.

That’s the tradeoff. Nearly thirty years later, I’m in Winnipeg, visiting my girlfriend Norma’s family for the first time. I’m sitting across from her at a table in the restaurant started by her father, a lush, converted train station. It’s the eve of New Year’s Eve. We talk about smoking, her curly black hair shudders as she gesticulates, studying me. Her sister, who owns the place, sits with us, and talk quickly turns to my quit attempt. “You have to let him do it when he’s ready,” says her sister. “How is it going to be different from when you tried last time?” asks Norma. “It’s not a process,” I try to explain, “it’s a struggle.” Everyone in my family smokes except my dad, I stammer. Aunts, uncles, grandparents. My mom sneaks occasionally. “This is the last generation that grew up when smoking was still socially acceptable, cool even.” I say. Norma’s dad died from smoking, and she starts feeling ganged up on. The conversation descends into an argument that ends in tears. I’m frustrated, leave to smoke. Read the rest of this entry »

Change Your Life: Bake a Pie

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2013-05-19 18.34.06By Naomi Huffman

I’ve known how to bake my entire life, for so long, in fact, that I hardly remember being taught. Cookies, cakes, breads—oh, the breads: whole wheat loaves my mother would begin baking on Sunday mornings so that when we returned from morning services the entire house was filled with the aroma of it. I’d help her slice the loaves with the long, toothy bread knife we kept around for just this purpose, and we’d spread butter on the slices and eat them with pot roasts or white bean stew or chicken casserole.

But it was my grandmother who taught me to bake pies. She was known for her cherry pies, baked with the cherries she picked from the tree in her backyard; strawberry-rhubarb pies from the strawberry and rhubarb bushes grown in my family’s garden; sugar cream pies spiced with nutmeg and cinnamon; and apple and blueberry and blackberry and pecan…

I remember quite clearly the way she mixed the dough in a white Pyrex bowl with just a fork, and how she pressed the dough between wax paper to roll it out with a rolling pin. She taught me to coax the dough into a pie pan so it settled snugly against the curve of the glass. She taught me to flute the crust by pinching the dough between my index finger and thumb of my left hand, while using the index finger of my right hand to shape it. She taught me to keep the fruit from becoming too soft by placing slivers of butter on top of the fruit, beneath the crust. Works every time.  Read the rest of this entry »

Change Your Life: Acupuncture

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By Burt Michaels

The afternoon before my son’s wedding, he said he was stressed out about the reception, and asked if I’d go somewhere with him. I figured he meant a bar or maybe a climbing wall, but instead he pulled up to an acupuncture clinic. I didn’t see what acupuncture had to do with his jitters, but figured it was just another side of Berkeley’s kooky culture, like organic tofu and Tibetan prayer flags.

Sure enough, the clinic was seventies redux, with subdued lighting, New Age music and cushy recliners. The acupuncturist asked what was ailing me. My first impulse was to reply, “Nothing,” but then the foot pain I’d suffered nightly ever since a less-than-stellar surgery a few years earlier popped in my mind. She said she’d work on it.

I anticipated needles plunging deep into my flesh like some sort of piercing Thai massage, but didn’t even feel them go in. I expected her to stick them in my foot, which she did—but also in my ear, wrists, belly, back-of-the-knee and other surprising spots. Laying there, I figured I’d soon get bored, but instead zoned out, and when she returned some half hour later to remove the needles, I felt like I’d had a great vacation. Read the rest of this entry »

Chronicles of Continuing Education: The Fable of the Lunchroom Lyceum

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By Kenneth Preski

I had been seduced, and not with the care of a lover. Contemporary concerns, the practical circumstances of life, healthcare, bills, rent, everyday expenditures compelled me forward, salivating toward a paycheck dangled in front of me by a genericorporation. I shelved my education, my ideas for the future, my expectations, my goals, my preferences for my own existence. I stopped living so I could better my quality of life. At least I wasn’t alone.

Gathered at five plastic-coated tables, sitting atop scattered plastic chairs, were my compatriots in the corporate life. From the walls hung authentic art, prints with prices higher than our salaries, bland enough to match the dull decorative theme that encompassed the kitchen. An unspoken agreement was being acknowledged everyday of the week during the lunch hour: we were renting our time out to the highest bidder, though not toward any agreeable end. The business model was determined before our time, was beyond our control, and therefore not our concern. Ours was the inundated life, a wave of unreflective happenings to ride without end or care, so long as the bank account was padded, and we were paid to eat. Read the rest of this entry »

Change Your Life: Privacy Protection

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By Emerson Dameron

According to MRI scans, the areas of the brain affected by social rejection are the same ones that process physical pain.

According to the webcomic Penny Arcade’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory, “Normal Person + Anonymity + Audience = Total Fuckwad.” There’s a lot of brutal rejection on the internet. And it doesn’t always stop there. There’s also invasion of privacy, character assassination and, occasionally, a threat of in-real-life physical pain.

In a long and highly confessional 2013 piece for the website Gawker, humor writer Jeb Lund describes returning from vacation to find voice messages from some people who obviously knew him through his posts on a then-popular comedy site. They included personal information, harassment, threats, and an offer to rape Lund’s wife. Read the rest of this entry »

Change Your Life: Yoga

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Wake up and take a deep breath. Open your eyes and be thankful for the first thing you see and the first thought you think. Exhale completely empty, and BE completely empty; be grateful you made it through the night. Stretch your arms up and your legs down and feel your whole body to its entirety. All your muscles, bones, cricks, hairs, scrapes, scars, freckles and skin are perfect today. You haven’t even gotten out of bed yet! Yippie! The day has arrived! Another deep deep deep inhale through your nose, see your nostrils flare as you try to take in as much air through those little holes as you can to fill up your wonderful oxygen-accepting filters. How magical that you can breathe this abundance of energy and oxygen just by being alive.

Alright, get out of bed. Take your first step. Huh, you’ve already got the memory in your muscles to hold yourself up. Funny, you didn’t even think about it, and here you are standing with your feet on the floor, your hips balancing in place, and your shoulders… where are your shoulders? Pull them down and back and open your chest! You have already accomplished so much today, so go ahead and present your proud open chest. Feel how big you are!  Read the rest of this entry »

Change Your Life: Blog

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They say sharing is caring, but I’d say sharing is imperative. It’s not so much about generosity as a deep human need. Whether celebrating or commiserating, we always need a good pair of ears. Or eyes.  Or whatever. Anything. Tom Hanks, for example, had to resort to a face-painted volleyball when he was cast away in that movie.

And this is where blogging came along in my life. All of a sudden I could share away, with no restraints. For free. No strings attached, no need to call anyone, no need to be hired by any media company (though it was really nice when it happened, thanks Newcity). So yeah, from the comfort of my couch I could voice anything I felt compelled to, and I felt heard. Truly heard. If someone is checking your blog, it’s usually because they’re interested in what you have to say.  They might not like it, but they’re hearing you. And I’ll tell you, it feels great. My husband makes fun of me saying that I think blogging is the solution to everyone’s problems. Trying to lose weight? Why don’t you write a blog about it? Your dog died? Start a blog. Going through a divorce or can’t find a boyfriend? How come you haven’t posted about this yet? In my own case, blogging is better— and cheaper—than therapy, no offense to all the psychologists out there. In fact, if you took offense with that and this was a blog, you could comment about it and start a conversation.  And maybe what you had to say would change my view.  That’s the beauty of blogs: they make you think deeper about whatever subject you choose.  And this is available to absolutely anyone. I’ve heard of very successful bloggers who didn’t even own a computer, or had formally studied a certain topic they were actually really knowledgeable about. Blogging is democratic.

A blog is almost like a book you’re writing—many blogs end up making their way into becoming best-sellers. And if you’re Twittering, you’re micro-blogging. I  don’t like to be constrained to 140 characters, so Twitter feels a bit too claustrophobic for me. But you know what, whatever floats your boat. As long as you don’t feel like you’re alone lost at sea. (Isa Giallorenzo)

Change Your Life: Wait Your Time

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By Jessica Burg

This past year, I came upon an important unforeseen life lesson all because, despite my efforts, my life did not change the way I thought it was supposed to. 

One lazy afternoon just after Christmas, I was sitting at my kitchen table waiting for leftovers to reheat when my phone rang. Jason, my new boss and part owner of the Logan Square restaurant I’d helped open in November, was calling. I greeted him vivaciously, assuming my help was needed in some way. By now I was used to the chaos that followed our trial-and-error system of operations, scheduling and menu changes and last-minute mandatory meetings. I’d made a point to arrive early, help out in any way and remain positive for every shift. It was important because this job meant more than an hourly wage plus tips. It was the first move in my plan to change my life. That was until Jason bashfully said, “You don’t need to come in Monday. Blah blah blah. It isn’t working out. I’m trying really hard to make it sound as though I’m not firing you, but you’re fired.”  Read the rest of this entry »

The Favorite Son: My Fallen Uncle and Our Culture of Abuse

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Sonny's mug shot

Sonny’s mug shot on the news

By Michael Workman

Before dawn, the whippoorwills cry in the trees, their song carrying across the empty expanse of flat land and a two-story Tudor house. As seen from the road, the house appears solemn and absent of movement, the windows dark, horse and pig corrals beside it, only a single sow trundling across the broad side of the barn, nuzzling the damp mud for scraps. Three groups of men in helmets and black body armor appear, blue Ford slowly rolling up behind them as they advance toward the house, unslinging their assault rifles, front and back of their clothes marked, in big, bright yellow, with the letters F-B-I.

It is Summer 2009 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. 3am. Uncle Sonny sits in his Steelcase office chair in the basement, hair weighted with the hours he’s stayed awake, precisely tapping the butt of his Winston on the edge of an aquamarine ashtray, not noticing it’s finished. He’s fixated on the lines of file names as they scroll down the screen, 5,000 or 10,000 of them, and CLICK, another page, more files to share, a huge number of video clips. Small lights blinking on a series of computer panels stacked on the bookshelf beside him: internal storage discs whirring as they read, transfer, copy, transmit and receive child pornography. The small silhouette of a video camera is mounted on a tripod standing in the dark behind him, staring out past him, unnoticed, forgotten. Read the rest of this entry »