Street Smart Chicago

Dime Stories: The Luck of the Irish

Dime Stories, Essays & Commentary 3 Comments »

By Tony Fitzpatrick

Almost every year in Chicago, it’s the same story on St. Patrick’s Day–a bunch of drunken, green-wearing slap-dicks spilling out of bars all over the city and projectile-vomiting foamy green puke on everything in sight.

There is an impression that the Irish are a bunch of happy-go-lucky dipshits with fake brogues and cheery dispositions. Let us dispense with this myth right now. There is no darker heart than that of the Irish, Boyo.

We gave the world Whitey Bulger, The Westies, Michael Collins and Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll, as well as Owney Madden and Legs Diamond–not a bunch to fuck around and try to ‘high-five’ with. They were all poor kids who had to beat, steal and kill their way to a small piece of the world, and they knew well that the “luck of the Irish” was a myth and the cruelest of jokes.

You don’t want the luck of the Irish. Poverty, famine and the oppression of the British Crown are some of the components of this “luck.” Still, from time to time, our boys managed to get their licks in. Read the rest of this entry »

Hope Dies Last: The Lasting Scars of Difficult Times

Essays & Commentary, Politics 1 Comment »

Illustration: Zeke Danielson

By Michael Workman

In America, there is no more terrifying a ghoul than the threat of sustained, cripplingly high unemployment. We hear about it all the time. Have maybe even decided just to tune it out or maybe the ubiquity of the bloodless discussion of it has just inured us to the subject. It’s just numbers, right? It’ll get better eventually. Figure it out. After all, it’s hard to get a sense of what’s happening from those chatterboxes in the news, those talking heads feeding us an endless tickertape of statistics, empty percentages; high here, low there. We treat it like the weather. Numbers. Never any stories. Why does it always have to be numbers? Maybe it’s too much, what’s happening. Too garish, what’s happening to them, how the poor behave. How low.

Ask yourself. What actually are the effects on a family slipping below the poverty line, of losing their home in a foreclosure, of a family unable to afford gas, utility bills, clothes? Its effects aren’t just felt for a month or two, or something you get past in a year. There’s a price. And it’s one paid almost entirely by the less fortunate. And that’s what defines our society: how we treat our less fortunate and what price they pay for other’s prosperity. And if we’re a privileged society, maybe all that means is that the privileged get to ignore the silent anguish of the poor. But the cost of it doesn’t go away, ever. It stays with us as a people, changes and defines us psychologically and emotionally, and sometimes we lose one. But surviving it doesn’t fucking make you stronger, it scars and mutilates. Read the rest of this entry »

13 Ways of Looking at Occupy Chicago: The Aesthetics of the Movement

City Life, Essays & Commentary, Loop, Media, Politics 3 Comments »

Photo: Erica Weitzel

By Monica Westin

1. “Grant Park: three years later” was the initial vision for this article—a snapshot of the stark difference in Chicago’s political and emotional temperature between the downtown celebration of Barack Obama’s election night in 2008 and the Grant Park arrests in mid-October of this year. But this comparison doesn’t begin to get at what’s interesting about Occupy. Because of what I will call its “aesthetics” as well as its size (at last count, more than seventy American cities have an Occupy protest, not counting the strength and scope of related protests abroad), the protest, or movement, depending on how you look at it, is very much that—an amorphous, sprawling political form that looks different from every angle and every subject position, like Wallace Stevens’ blackbird. That American mainstream media is unable to cover Occupy in any kind of coherent, proficient way is well-documented, but even as a single observer it was nearly impossible for me to take any kind of clearly articulated position about Occupy Chicago without immediately realizing I could make a strong case for an opposite view of the phenomenon (and usually I had heard someone do so in an interview). Read the rest of this entry »

Voices in the Emptiness: Michael Esposito listens carefully to the Electronic Voice Phenomenon

Essays & Commentary 1 Comment »

Photo: Heidi Harman

By Arvo Zylo

My first exposure to Electronic Voice Phenomena, or EVP, was late at night more than a decade ago, on Art Bell’s Coast to Coast AM radio talk show. People had been recording in an abandoned mental hospital, and all of a sudden a scary old lady said, “He broke my neck!” Later that night, listeners heard a broadcast over the airwaves of what sounded like a child drowning in a room where there was neither a child nor a body of water. Supposedly, these voices were issued from a world out of reach to the human ears, or maybe the “underworld,” but certainly not from a living person, or at least what we consider to be a living person. Read the rest of this entry »

Soul Searching: Legend Tripping in the Ghost Culture of Chicago

Elmhurst, Essays & Commentary, Holidays, Naperville No Comments »

Photo: Gil Castellanos

By Eric Lutz

I don’t believe in ghosts.

But, if I did, it would be because of a weekend trip to Galena I took a few years back, when about ten seconds of “The Lovecats” by The Cure emanated from a closed laptop in the middle of the night.

I was pretty freaked out at the time, certain we’d been visited by some hipster ghost with a penchant for eighties post-punk, and wound up driving around all night until day broke.

Nowadays, I’m inclined to think the only thing scary about that night was my carbon footprint.

Maybe it’s strong to say I don’t believe. More accurately, I just don’t think about it very much. Read the rest of this entry »

Chicago’s Biggest Fools

Essays & Commentary No Comments »

By Brian Hieggelke

We live in a city of fools.

Consider: our most famous living musical export, fool. The most powerful man in Chicago media (until recently), fool. Our World Series-winning baseball manager, fool. But it’s our politicians, and ex-politicians, who put us into a special category of our own. In fact, a certain ex-governor, too foolish to even be named, would see the Trophy of the Fool cast in his likeness, if such a thing existed. And he’d be proud of it.

But it runs much deeper than him. Our sitting mayor, though perhaps too powerful to qualify, exhibits a running repertoire of fool-like behavior, whether it’s his sometimes impetuous leadership or, more endearingly, his losing battle with the English language. And our incoming mayor was so well-known for a particular brand of foolishness that he spawned a twitnit of a doppelganger who’s already parlayed his tomfoolery into fifteen famous minutes and a book deal.

What is a fool? A fool is not someone who commits a violent crime, no matter how foolish they behave. John Wayne Gacy, not a fool. A fool is not your boss, no matter how insipid their management or ill-advised their leadership.

He that has and a little tiny wit—
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,—
Must make content with his fortunes fit,
For the rain it raineth every day.
—The Fool, “King Lear”

So what is a fool? A hint, perhaps, can be found in the origin of the word, derived from the Latin follis, which translates loosely into “windbag.” Although the word has many uses, our conception of the fool here is an extension of the jester, or fool in the Renaissance Court as one who serves to amuse us. And in doing so, serves himself. Read the rest of this entry »

Our Celebrity Scion Fool, Chet Haze

Essays & Commentary No Comments »

Frankly if you haven’t heard of Chet Haze, it’s understandable. But you’ve probably heard of his father. Tom Hanks is a multi-award winning actor, producer and director, but Chester (born Hanks) isn’t planning on going into the family business just yet.

No, this year marked the launch of his hip-hop career in a dirty frat basement at Northwestern University, where he’s a sophomore. His first mix-tape details his experiences with drugs, drinking and being an all-round achiever, providing some valuable insights into, well, being Tom Hanks’ son. Tracks include “Adios Motherf****r”, “Roll Up” and “Chivalry.” In his remix of Wiz Khalifa’s “Black and Yellow,” called “White and Purple,” Chet describes an average night in Evanston: “I got a call from the brothers in the frat house/ I’m with my girl, tryin to get up under that blouse/ She a freshman/ She a freak though/ In the bed, but a lady in the street, yo.” Read the rest of this entry »

Our Sporting Fool, Mike Ditka

Essays & Commentary No Comments »

Photo: Rachelle Bowden/

When we’re tired of our serpentine politicians, our slimy talk-show hosts and our punch-wielding punk-rock singers, we’ll always have Da Coach.

Who, more than Mike Ditka, has the loudest, largest mouth? He’s Chicago’s coach of coaches, the man who shepherded great glory long ago but could never stop talking.

A buffoon of a magnitude far greater than the boundaries of a football field, he fought for public smoking in bars and restaurants, even as those stricken with cancer sat on the other side.

A hypocrite, he questioned Jay Cutler’s toughness for not playing hurt, despite serving as spokesperson for the Gridiron Greats, a nonprofit that raises funds for retired NFL players, some who fall on hardship due to injuries sustained while they played.

A blowhard, who once said, “If God had wanted man to play soccer, he wouldn’t have given us arms.” (OK, that’s a little funny.) Read the rest of this entry »

Our Artistic Fool, Matt Lamb

Essays & Commentary No Comments »

Until they actually achieve it, every wanna-be art celebrity can be called a fool. Lured by the status of a glamorous occupation, time and money is thrown down the tube, usually against the wise counsel of family. For each and every successful actor, ballerina, or rock star, there are thousands of fools who came up short. But even more so in the visual arts, where not only is success extremely rare, but nobody knows how to get there. Anybody can be a famous artist—it’s just that hardly anyone ever is.

But funeral-home heir and retired businessman Matt Lamb takes the ordinary foolishness of hopeless dreams to a new level because he has both more money, and less shame, than all the others.

Set to officially open in Chicago next month is his new “Museum of Private Art Collections,” following four days of festivities throughout the Chicago area, including the “Umbrellas for Peace” parade, and a daily speech delivered by Mr. Lamb himself. But Lamb’s museum has already been in the River East Art Center for more than a year now, where it was initially called the “Dali Lamb Museum,” in recognition of the two great artists who are on display: Matt Lamb and fellow master, Salvador Dali, both of whom are also in the museums that Lamb owns in Spain, Argentina, Russia and Germany. Somehow, the surreal delusions of Dali seem particularly appropriate in this context. Read the rest of this entry »

Requiem for My Barber: Who comes between a man and his vanity

City Life, Essays & Commentary 1 Comment »

By Patrick Roberts

My North Side barber died a few weeks ago, and while I did not know him outside the small orbit of his barbershop, I am moved to write about his passing. Over the course of fifteen years I spent little more than a dozen hours with him. I know nothing of his personal life except that he loved dogs and baseball. Nonetheless, I feel disoriented by the disruption of one of my life’s reassuring routines. I’m approaching forty, and haircuts are increasingly becoming exercises in resource management. With his passing, I am forced to find another barber I can trust to carry me through the thinning, middle years of my vanity.

On television and in the movies, a barbershop is usually depicted as a lively place full of bright, chatty barbers and loitering men who talk about sports, politics, women. My barber was always alone in a shop empty of customers. He was profoundly laconic and as emotionally distant from his client as a man clipping hedges. Yet, his melancholy demeanor appealed to me and provoked existential musings. Why was he so sad? Did he regret devoting his life to the barber’s trade? Was he lonely? Or was he simply thinking about baseball?

He also chain-smoked while cutting my hair. Without ever asking permission (it was his barbershop, after all), he would light a cigarette, place it in a nearby ashtray, and pause for a drag now and then as he clipped. My freshly cut hair always smelled of sour smoke, but I didn’t mind. I admired his old-school disregard for my own comfort. I confess that I once asked him to give me a haircut like Brad Pitt’s. He didn’t, perhaps because he felt he could not pull it off, but more likely because he felt I could not pull it off. This is how it should be with your barber; you trust him not to make you look like a fool even when you demand to look like one. Which is not to say he gave a great haircut. More often than not he made me look like a 12-year-old banker. It didn’t matter. I went to him for pathos, not for style. Read the rest of this entry »