Street Smart Chicago

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 »

Seasons Misgivings: Christmas Has No Conscientious Objectors

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National-Lampoons-Christmas-VacationBy Greg Langen

Taylor Swift was raised on an eleven-acre Christmas tree farm a few miles outside of Cumru Township, Pennsylvania, a small rural community located in the southeastern corner of that state. I don’t know what to do with this information right now, or why it comes so easily to my mind, but considering its heavy rotation inside my head I feel that this is somehow crucial information to consider when thinking about the holidays. I don’t know either.

We learn about the holidays from our families I suppose; that and sheer repetition. I learned how to celebrate the holidays from my dad. Unlike my mom who was sent into a feverish spin until the festivities ultimately unraveled her, my father stood in front of the holiday season and let it hit him like a truck. He didn’t so much participate in the holidays; the holidays seemed to happen to him. This is a notable difference, I think, even if the end is the same.

“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” first arrived in theaters on December 1, 1989. I mention this only to get the numbers right. To date, my father has watched “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” a total of at least twenty-three times, soon to be twenty-four. I am not that far behind. We had the VHS copy of this movie. Now we have the DVD. Despite what cultural commentaries this Christmas movie supposedly makes on my family (as opposed to, say something like the hallowed greatness of “It’s a Wonderful Life”), I forget whether or not I actually like the movie. I know that when I was younger, the image of Clark Griswold rocketing down a snow hill on a saucer greased with “non-chloric silicon-based kitchen lubricant 500 times more slippery than any other competitor’s cooking oil on the market” could send me into hysterics, but when I watch this scene today I don’t know why I am laughing. But I am laughing. My muscles retain the memory. Sitting in front of this movie I am the picture of a Happy Christmas. Read the rest of this entry »

Daunting Bird Day: Heartsick for the Holidays

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The Answer?

The Answer?/Photo: Keith Allison

By John Wilmes

It’s snowing in Chicago, our first one this year. The air is gray, the trees are wet and white and their limbs are flowing. I’m at home in the afternoon, flopping on a futon—heartsick, “writer,” bored, lazy, “existentialist”—watching entire NBA games from 2001, on YouTube. Perhaps there are better uses of time.

I’d been using most of my time the past few weeks to do excessive counts of vain push-ups, of vain pull-ups, and to miscalculate strategies to reign supreme in the abyss of online dating.

I’d be one of the Midwest’s premier cyber egotists, splaying the various limbs of my social-sexual “game” to maximum shine. I’d carry my bold new chest to O’Hare on the week of Thanksgiving, and breed curiosity in the flying hearts of America’s urbane not-so-youth. Their taut bodies would shiver, their pearls of eyes would blink ceaselessly as they buckled in for the clouds.

My father’s brother, a genuine turd king, would lean in respect toward me over the turkey. I’d hold a leg of the bird in each hand, and clobber him with either if he spoke out of turn. Read the rest of this entry »

Deck the Hell: Why Ornament?

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ornamentBy Dana Norris

My family owns way too many goddamn Christmas ornaments and every year my mother buys more. She goes to Hallmark, walks up and down every aisle, peers at the delicate dangling sculptures, and picks one ornament for each of her three children that is supposed to represent our accomplishments for that year. Let’s see—Ben’s breaking his lease, so Santa Claus playing a saxophone?  A snowman swimming in a mug of hot chocolate and, improbably, not melting? The SS Enterprise with a wreath on it?

When I was twelve years old, my mother gave me an ornament of two mice in red pajamas and striped hats, sitting by a fire, stringing comically large popcorn onto a comically large needle and thread. She got me this ornament because I had a best friend. But as we children aged the tradition continued. What does a twenty-two-year-old accomplish in a year that can be expressed in ornament form? Hallmark doesn’t make a “You left your purse at the bar and went to a house party but that one hot guy from the bar was at the house party too and he brought you your purse and then you made out with him” ornament. Read the rest of this entry »

Bad Santa: An Unforgettable Employment Claus

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Santa

Our author in his disguise

By Eric Lutz

A couple years ago, I took a job working with kids to supplement my lavish freelance income. When I applied, I was under the impression my duties would be to provide after-school homework help to elementary age kids. But what it actually consisted of was playing basketball with a bunch of eight-year-olds and teaching them the importance of not hitting each other in the face with their hats. It was awesome.

On my first day at the school, my new boss pulled me aside: they needed someone to play Santa at their upcoming “Breakfast with Santa” event, and she was wondering if I’d be up for the job. Breakfast with Santa, I would later learn, consisted of kids taking turns sitting on my lap, telling me what they want for Christmas and eating cereal while their parents snapped pictures.

Now, Santa and I share very few characteristics, physically or personality-wise. We’re white guys who love cookies and are generally pretty pleasant, but I think that’s about where the similarities end.

Santa Claus: old, fat and jolly. Eric Lutz: young, thin and jolly for—at best—a sum forty-five minutes in the last year. Read the rest of this entry »

The Black Friday Brawl: The Importance of Owning Poo-Chi

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Poo-ChiBy Amber Peckham

In the year 2000, when I was thirteen, my mother seemed to give up on trying to surprise me with Christmas gifts. I was now allowed to choose all my presents, even stand in line with Mom while the bar codes buzzed over the checkout laser, watching as she forked over the family’s hard-earned cash for a new Playstation game or a stack of books six deep that I couldn’t wait to dig into.

Mom forced me to go to Walmart with her on Black Friday that year. She claimed it would be good bonding time for us, but really, she needed a second soldier on the field of retail battle, and my dad was too tired to tag along. For us to get all the best deals, we would have to split up. Mom would head toward the clothing side of the store to grapple for flannel pajamas, socks, and jeans, while I would be deployed to the toy section. I was a slight girl, with mousy brown hair to my waist, unassuming and small. It would be easy for me to fight the crowds, and rabid adults would be less likely to grapple with a child. The two of us would reconnoiter in electronics, where the gem I had chosen to cap off my Christmas crown waited in the video game case as my reward—Final Fantasy IX.

This particular year, there was one toy which outshone all the others, one present my little sister Antonia had talked about day and night since the commercials began airing on Nickelodeon months before. This holy grail of holiday satisfaction was known as Poo-Chi.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Santa Fe Locomotive: For the Love of a Grandfather

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800px-Santa_Fe_98By Naomi Huffman

My grandfather’s hands were large, his knuckles knobbed like branches, his palms calloused from years spent on my family’s farm in Blackford County, Indiana, and from working the line at the Delco Battery plant in Muncie. But he handled the pieces of his Lionel model train with ease, lifting the cars from their plastic casing one by one, connecting the couplers end to end with the sort of precision mastered only with practice and care.

There was a Santa Fe locomotive, silver and shiny, with lights that flashed as it whistled, with red and orange stripes painted down either side. There were cargo cars: yellow, blue, brown. Some had plastic windows, or tiny handles on doors the size of my child thumb. The wheels were small as dimes. My favorite car was the caboose, painted red of course, with a tiny black gate at the rear.

The train came out of its box just once a year, at Christmas, when gifts were piled around the tree set up in my grandparents’ living room. As my grandfather built tunnels with the boxes for the train to run through and tinkered with the speed settings on the transformer, my grandmother worried the tinsel on the tree, and turned the ornaments so they faced just so, and wondered aloud if the star atop it all was crooked. All the fanfare, all the fuss, it was all for us, their grandchildren. Read the rest of this entry »