Street Smart Chicago

The Chicago Manual: Today is the First Day of the Life of Your Mind

Essays & Commentary, Hyde Park No Comments »

chicago-manual-cover3Near the beginning of my third year in the College, I quit the football team and, days or weeks later, wandered for the first time into the Smart Museum. Though I did not notice it at the time, my life changed profoundly, and on the spot. I’d never been inside an art museum; as the son of a physicist teaching in the suburbs, our family visits to Chicago had always been bound for the Museum of Science and Industry, the Field Museum or, most likely, Gino’s East Pizzeria. On display at the Smart that day were the watercolors of Wassily Kandinsky. I can’t explain what, but something fundamentally connected for me in viewing that exhibition. Before long, this econ-major-cum-MBA student was squeezing in as many classes as he could in art history, even convincing Professor Joel Snyder to spend a quarter conducting an independent study course in photography with me before I left for Wall Street. My wife Jan (AB ’85) and I started spending much of our free time in galleries and museums. An interest in all the other arts you’ll see covered in the pages of Newcity soon followed, and a year into my to-be-short-lived Goldman Sachs career, Jan, my brother Brent (AB ’88) and I started this publication. My life’s work connects in a direct line to that afternoon in the Smart Museum back in 1981. Read the rest of this entry »

One Perfect Life: An Ode to the Real South Side

Back of the Yards, Bridgeport, Bronzeville, Chinatown, Englewood, Essays & Commentary, Hyde Park, Kenwood, Little Village, Pilsen, South Shore, Southeast Side No Comments »

By Scoop Jackson

“Pharaoh of the Sun/Lookin’ down the barrel of a gun/Y’all know where I’m from.”
—from the poem “Keep On” by famous South Sider Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr. (aka Common)

We call them “pockets.” It’s the best way any of us who come from the South Side of Chicago can describe the drastic ebb and flow of the ‘hoods we live in.

“On the South Side,” real estate agent and South Side resident Chrystal Caruthers says, “you can grow up in a good neighborhood but go two blocks over and I’ll bet the people won’t feel the same.” The block-to-block change. The neighborhood-to-neighborhood shift in dynamics, living conditions and mentality. It exists in other neighborhoods in the country, but not like on the South Side in this city. The same way Chief Keef can weave tales about life on the South Side, Will Smith can come here and hang out on the lake on 31st Street and go write “Summertime.”

Growing up here gives one a perspective of range. Range in the sense of how far-reaching an area can be, how diverse and disconnected and devoted people raised on the same concrete can be. Where oftentimes the kids at Bogan were more dangerous to a young black kid than the GDs or El Rukns who went to Dunbar.

There is more beauty in the real South Side than anyone who doesn’t live here could understand. Through all of the bullshit, all of the incidents that happen on the side of Chicago that gives it the nicknames “Homicide Capital” and “Chiraq,” there exist pockets of life that bring an unmatched sense of pride and joy not found anywhere else in the city. Read the rest of this entry »

Chasing Temporary Anonymity: Find the Courage to Be a Nobody

Education/Training, Essays & Commentary, Hyde Park 2 Comments »
Harper Library/Photo: Tom Rossiter

Harper Library/Photo: Tom Rossiter

By Greg Langen, MA ’13

Welcome to the University of Chicago. If the manicured quadrangles did not tip you off, you have arrived at one of the most intellectually rigorous and prestigious research universities in the world. But I’m sure you already know this. I’m sure you’ve already looked up the rankings of the school and your particular programs, crosschecked them with the schools that rejected you, compared them with the school that that one kid from your high school got into. If you are an incoming First Year, I’m sure you’re a bit anxious about starting classes, a bit uneasy about those things that you saw on your roommate’s Facebook page. And I know some of you are rapidly wondering where you can buy fresh goji berries or coconut water in Chicago. Don’t worry. I’m sure they’re here somewhere.

However, before you allow the pomp to confer upon you either a sense of accomplishment and/or an obligation to be unendingly brilliant, I kindly ask you to find the courage this year to be an absolute nobody.

Last year, before setting foot on campus, I made the mistake of Googling the notable University of Chicago alumni, assuming that in some absurd and distant way me and say, Philip Glass, were now somehow connected. We aren’t. At all. Read the rest of this entry »

The Air Down Here: Finding Myself in Hyde Park Without Even Attending the University

Essays & Commentary, Hyde Park, Lit, Literary Venues No Comments »

photoBy John Wilmes

At first, I felt like an outcast. I lived against my will in quaint, pastoral places, and screamed about things which no one near me understood. I saw the city as my escape. At first, I merely wanted to belong to Chicago, to belong to it at all.

But once I did, once I’d been paying too much rent and squeezing through the Blue Line for some months, jittery with my sense of inclusion, I grew to want something more. I wanted for my leanings—my preferences for the written, for the expressed, for the over-thought and the intellectually overwrought—to flow freely. For my bibliophilia and existential self-pummeling to be worth something; for them to find a home. I’d long assumed the city was pure fertilizer for the madness I’d always felt, that it was a place for my socio-political yowling to take root, to bloom. This, I thought, was where the alienation I felt through all my suburban life, through all my years in the Big Ten, would be assuaged.

But it wasn’t. I was too surrounded by those merely feigning to feel what I felt. They’d only scheme tragic visions with me until they found a beer, a joint, the correctly musty bar, or the sound of a song that was properly sold to them—at which point they were as opiated as anyone, and closed themselves to the continued crocheting of our dystopian, perversely celestial quilt of the world. I would have to stay up sculpting it myself in Microsoft Word, through any number of failed novels. I would have to fall asleep with my shoes and sweatshirt on, with all of the lights on, with my fingers on the keyboard. Read the rest of this entry »

Mark the Music: U2 and One Man’s Escape From Everyday Life at the U of C

Essays & Commentary, Hyde Park No Comments »
U2 at U Chicago, April 11, 1981/Photos: Paul Sandberg

U2 at U Chicago, April 11, 1981/Photos: Paul Sandberg

By Bart Lazar, AB ’82

Music can be a great diversion, punctuate life’s experiences or be a life’s work. New students at UChicago or new residents in Hyde Park should not eliminate music from life’s major food groups.

WHPK 88.5FM, the university’s and community’s radio outlet, is definitely worth many listens. The music includes indie, rock, folk, blues, jazz, dusties, R&B, classical and live bands, and the hosts are as diverse as the music, including a mix of current undergraduates, graduates, alumni and community members. In today’s world of computer-programmed commercial and Internet radio outlets, it is refreshing to hear an actual human being presenting music and/or information that he/she cares passionately about.

My first day of orientation week, I walked up the elbowed steps of the Reynolds Club and ran into the station’s program director hanging around talking. I told him I had been a DJ in high school and was interested in continuing. He said “great, how would you like Friday afternoon?” Read the rest of this entry »

A Hopeful Inquiry: Teaching Sophocles in the Community College

Education/Training, Essays & Commentary No Comments »

By Alli Carlisle

I laughed out loud when I walked into my first college classroom as a teacher. I couldn’t process the disjuncture—three months earlier, I’d been sitting in the back of the room, terrified of public speaking, and now I was at the front. And not only that, but these people expected me to have something worth saying, worth being paid to say (well, worth barely being paid to say).

So when I walked into the classroom that first day, everything—the doubt, the insecurity, the idea that I was supposed to talk to thirty people at a time—rushed up like pressurized lava out of a subterranean vein, and bubbled into the air in the form of giggles. Yeah, I was pretty sure they were going to respect me.

That first day, I passed out little pieces of paper printed with excerpts from the radical Brazilian education theorist Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”:

…in the last analysis, it is men themselves who are filed away through the lack of creativity, transformation, and knowledge in this (at best) misguided system… Knowledge emerges only through invention and reinvention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry men pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other. Read the rest of this entry »

A Ball of Baby Snakes: A Victorian Love Story

Education/Training, Essays & Commentary No Comments »
The coiling byzantine “arc” of my collegiate career is often thought of, by me, as something not unlike a ball of writhing baby snakes slowly finding their way out of the heat and discomfort of the nest and into the space of the open world. It began when false promises of an athletic variety delivered me to a tiny, haunted Catholic campus on Philadelphia’s Main Line, an alien amongst astronauts (the school ran thick with admittedly gorgeous girls who, when freed from the monotony of their fantasy-fueling Catholic school-girl uniforms, would overcorrect and swaddle themselves in sweatpants, thighs once exposed between pleated skirts and bobby socks now covered by comfortable heather gray and emblazoned vertical brands demarcating where they came from, Prendie, Ursuline, Sacred Heart, that they would tuck in to any manner of expensive Ugg boots—that is the astronaut part—which were adored above near all other possessions for their ability to provide individual statement to the aforementioned uniforms; (North Face fleece tops, hair wraps, designer sunglasses and Burberry scarves often completed the uniform) and buried in the demands of an exercise science degree, most notably the dreaded A&P, which required that one not only learn both anatomy and physiology and participate in a lab, but was a two-semester course so that, upon completing one half of it, one went home for the holidays with the chilling notion that, stacked like textbooks in black garbage bags, preserved cats, chest cavities gaping like pink, fleshy clutches, awaited you. Read the rest of this entry »

Home for the Holiday: A Jew’s First Christmas

Essays & Commentary, Holidays No Comments »

By Rachel Helene Swift

“[Christmas is] the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.” —Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol”

Jeremy was twelve years old when his father left. There was another woman—a family friend—and an ultimatum, and finally a bitter divorce. The wounds remained raw, and the kids didn’t talk to their father much. But every year, on the evening of December 24, he arrived on Jeremy’s mother’s doorstep in time for Christmas dinner.

“You’ll like him,” Jeremy assured me as his beat-up Corolla rumbled incongruously along the tree-lined streets of Stamford, Connecticut. “He’s very charming. He’s even more charming when he’s drunk.”

I was twenty years old, and this was the eve of my very first Christmas. My parents, practicing Jews, took us kids into the city to see the lights every year, but that was the extent of my yuletide experience. I felt curious, like an anthropologist entering a strange country; nervous, like I feared that the natives would see me as a fraud.

Outside the window, colored lights wound between the bare branches of evenly spaced maple trees, and baubled evergreens winked through the windows of sprawling, well-maintained houses. On the sidewalk, a woman slouched into her heavy coat, clutching a plastic bag as her small dog squatted. Tiny flecks of snow drifted in the air, melting to nothing as they touched the ground. Read the rest of this entry »

All That Glitters: My Father’s Obsession with Designer Christmas Ornaments

Essays & Commentary, Holidays No Comments »

About the time I entered high school in my home city of Minneapolis, my father began a new Christmas ritual that actualized his love for over-the-top decorating, for things that sparkle and glow when he began collecting glass-blown, hand-decorated, designer Christmas ornaments. What seemed like an innocent holiday hobby quickly spiraled into a year-round obsession and a compendium of nearly 750 ornaments.

I don’t think I’ll ever want to know how much money went into those things. It wasn’t just the ornaments. In warmer months he traveled to Portland, Racine and Chicago for exclusive purchasing events with other collectors (mostly rich housewives or, like my father, gay men, and some het couples). I’d come home from soccer and find taped-up cardboard packages on our back steps. Over the following week, several glitter-coated Santas would sit indulgently splayed over a cloth placemat on the dining room table as my father meditated on which to keep and which to return. More and more, the A-frame walls of the attic were lined with stacks of long, airtight Tupperware bins keeping my father’s treasures safe until November. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: The Road to Zero Homicides

Checkerboard City, Essays & Commentary, Green, News etc. No Comments »

Mural at Drake and Bloomingdale in West Logan Square/Photo:John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Each morning I scan the dailies for sad stories of local pedestrian, bike and transit deaths to adapt for “Fatality Tracker” posts on my transportation blog, Grid Chicago, in order to raise awareness of the need for safer streets. And almost every time I look at the papers I also see tragic news about the latest murders, averaging more than one killing per day.

This year the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) put out two planning documents with the stated goal of eliminating all traffic deaths and crashes within the next ten years. I applaud this bold approach, and I can’t help but wonder out loud if “Zero in Ten” could be successfully applied to our city’s homicide epidemic as well.

Released in May, the Chicago Forward Action Agenda is a roadmap for creating a safer, more efficient and more sustainable transportation network for people traveling on foot, bicyclists, transit riders and motorists. The Chicago Pedestrian plan, published in September, lays out more specifics on improving conditions for walking. Read the rest of this entry »