Street Smart Chicago

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 »

Romancing the River: Falling in love with the underbelly of the city from the water taxi

Architecture, Essays & Commentary, Loop No Comments »

By Dina Elenbogen

I am floating in the underbelly of the city, the same way the summer my son was an infant, walking along the lake with him strapped to my body at dawn, I’d feel as if I were moving through the underbelly of the day. On this boat I take to work, floating under bridges and taking in new angles and facades of buildings, this city feels unfamiliar. It’s like looking into a face you’ve known for a long time and seeing an entirely new quality of beauty.

I used to envy friends who were able to walk only steps from the train to their buildings but now I realize that I am the lucky one. After a thirty-minute train ride on which I review for the writing class I’ll teach later in the morning, I arrive in the city, walk a few steps, and my boat is usually waiting for me. I step off the pier at Wacker and down a few steps into the yellow boat. I usually sit uncovered on a bench in the back. Some mornings I’ll commune with the red steel bridges that we pass between Madison (1922), and the Michigan Avenue Bridge (1920). Other times it will be the glass facades of the newer buildings next to the old stone and turrets of the Crain Communications Building and the Wrigley Building. If the boat didn’t hit the cement at Michigan Avenue to disembark, I’d probably drift away with my thoughts all morning. Read the rest of this entry »

Inside Fandom: A Teenage Glimpse into Obsession

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Thousands of screaming girls leaning forward and reach their hand out to touch their idol. They wake up unbearably early, stay up painfully late, spend hours in miserable weather, hoping for the chance—the possibility—they might be able to brush a hand against a hero. The idol changes, but the audience is ageless. The haircuts, the makeup, the clothes are different, but it almost seems as if everyone is in uniform. The particulars may change, but it looks as if everyone got the memo about what to wear—and spent time in front of the mirror. You want to look your best when you meet the person you admire most in the world.

It’s easy to forget what it’s like, later on. But this summer, when Jacinta Gibson and Genesis Galva, rising seniors at Holy Trinity High School, interned at Newcity, we got a weekly reminder of the passion of real fans, not jaded, critical viewers who, minus a few nit-picky details, applaud an artists’ latest work. We’d ask the interns what they had been up to lately, and what they wanted to write about. Every week, we’d get a similar response: Jacinta hung out online with her Twilight friends, and Genesis counted down the weeks or days until the Avenged Sevenfold album came out, and then she listened to it, over and over again. Jacinta wanted to write about Twilight. Genesis wanted to write about rock bands—preferably, Avenged Sevenfold. Read the rest of this entry »

Common Sense for Chicago 2010

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Nothing but simple facts and plain truths

Independence Day, the time we set aside as a nation to commemorate our founding, remains a worthy notion, regardless of whether you think it’s degraded into nothing more than a long weekend of sweaty, boring barbecues, or an opportunity for the politically obnoxious to invoke the images of our revolution (patriots, tea parties, etc.) while trampling on all of its values. For no matter how you feel about our nation’s current course, America remains founded on ideas and that is worth celebrating. For some, that means whooping it up on our city streets with their newly liberated firearms; for us that means celebrating the aesthetic of conversation, the free speech, that sets our nation truly apart. And thus, our annual edition dedicated to its unfettered exercise. We hope it moves you, one way or another. (Brian Hieggelke)

Godiva’s Only a Chocolate: Skeptical reflections on Chicago’s Naked Bike Ride

Bridgeport Rising: The consequences of the whiteout of a neighborhood’s changing face

Bloggin’ in the Neighborhood: Making the hyperlocal hype a reality

Upward Mobility: A plea for escalator etiquette

Weather or Not: Nothing but blue skies from now on

Train in Vain: The new dynamic of CTA intimacy

Godiva’s Only a Chocolate: Skeptical reflections on Chicago’s Naked Bike Ride

Essays & Commentary 9 Comments »

The map from chicagonakedride.org

Common Sense for Chicago 2010

By Hugh Iglarsh

It was late and I was tired and cranky, as I rather reluctantly drove a stranded friend to her downtown hostel when my desire was for home and bed. I had just attended the opening of the Green Party’s new Chicago headquarters in Logan Square, and had been exhilarated by the energy and sense of community flowing in the humble storefront on Fullerton. But I had used up my finite supply of sociability, and looked forward to a quick trip to the Loop and then blessed rest.

It’s in your weak moments when the city turns against you. I and my even more exhausted passenger found ourselves in a hopeless gridlock at North and Damen; making a U-turn, I tried Division Street going east, but the results were no better. Ashland south—sadly the same. Grand Avenue east—finally, despair and surrender to fate. I had become an involuntary participant in the World Naked Bike Ride-Chicago. Motto: As Bare As You Dare. Once-familiar streets had turned into postmodern cattle crossings, blocked by a monster herd of flesh-baring cyclists, mainly but not exclusively of Gen X vintage. Most wore a little something—thongs, cardboard beer cases, body paint—but a significant minority were as naked as the gnats they resembled to my fatigue-heavy eyes, as they flashed en masse through the traffic lights. And as though possessed of some diabolical collective psychic ability, the snaking line of riders seemed to intuit my path and destination, foiling my every attempt to outflank it. Read the rest of this entry »

Bridgeport Rising: The consequences of the whiteout of a neighborhood’s changing face

Bridgeport, Essays & Commentary 1 Comment »

Common Sense for Chicago 2010

By Jeff McMahon

In the last decade, Bridgeport has emerged as one of Chicago’s most diverse neighborhoods. But the rainbow blossoming there has gone largely unacknowledged, and may even be threatened, by purported egalitarians who continue to stereotype Bridgeport as the racist backwater it once was.

In 2008, a DePaul University study listed Bridgeport as one of Chicago’s four most diverse neighborhoods, characterizing its demographics as “extreme diversity.” That promising designation arrived thanks not to the hipsters who have pushed the frontier of gentrification south from Pilsen but thanks to a spiral influx of people of varied race, class and orientation, who seem to have imported not only difference, but tolerance. Read the rest of this entry »

Bloggin’ in the Neighborhood: Making the hyperlocal hype a reality

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Common Sense for Chicago 2010

The blog is the medium of the modern age. Often and stereotypically it can be a highly individual form of expression—a single person laying out their thoughts, emotions, pictures, or what have you. But there’s another kind of blog, a community-minded organ of hyperlocal news and opinions: the neighborhood blog. In some cities these blogs are a dime a dozen, but unfortunately in Chicago they’re few and far between.

Neighborhood blogs are a great asset for those areas lucky enough to have them. They keep neighbors abreast of local goings-on that metropolitan newspapers can’t help but overlook, and they do it at a speed that community newspapers can’t hope to match. Some are partisan, like the inflammatory Hyde Park Progress, which posts both neighborhood news and tirades against local NIMBYs. Others are more apolitical, like Uptown Update, which sticks mostly to development updates, crime reports, events and other news of local interest. But they all help foster a community in what could otherwise be just a collection of people, streets, and buildings. Read the rest of this entry »

Upward Mobility: A plea for escalator etiquette

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Copenhagen Metro/Photo: Stig Nygaard

Common Sense for Chicago 2010

In a diverse population like ours, we all want different things. Some people want to cast votes for a President Palin; for them, we have secret ballots. Some people want to eat restaurant food in their pajamas; luckily, there’s takeout. And while some people prefer to bask motionless on escalators, reveling in the thrill of this mechanical stairway to heaven, other people want to please keep moving.

Until I moved to Chicago, I believed the escalator dilemma—how climbers of the moving staircase could possibly coexist with the exhausted, the contemplative and the lazy—had, like the challenge of cheap lo mein at home, been solved. Standers to the right, movers to the left. Sometimes, maybe, you have to say, “excuse me” to a wayward traveler, but you can do so with righteousness, because you have etiquette on your side.

Other cities get it. New Yorkers separate, the standers huddling to the right, the climbers marching, single-file and unencumbered, to the left. D.C-dwellers have got it down. Muscovites manage to wordlessly sort out their seemingly incompatible ascent styles, as do Londoners. The good people of Chicago, though—O, corn-fed, oblivious Chicago!—clump together in contented gridlock with alarming regularity, a perpetual human barricade barring forward motion. A single “excuse me” is powerless against this immobile crowd. Read the rest of this entry »

Weather or Not: Nothing but blue skies from now on

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Photo: Tom Harpel

Common Sense for Chicago

As a native San Franciscan, I may be biased, but I doubt I’ll get many naysayers booing down this proposal: better weather in our beloved city. You may think the CTA, the public schools and the local government are a disgrace, and I won’t hesitate to agree with you there, but I say: let’s fix the problems we can solve!

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “I know my bus never comes in the morning, and the aldermen are corrupt by the dozen, but surely—surely!—those can’t be insurmountable problems, like wind and snow.” But that’s where you’re wrong. Wind and snow—and rain and tornadoes, for that matter—aren’t insurmountable, and I have the evidence to prove it.

Look to our compatriots of the well-earned reputation for corruption and crappy weather—the Russians. Last fall, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov wanted to stop snowfall in his city. The only thing stopping him was concern from neighboring towns. Moscow’s neighboring towns are called The Golden Ring. Some of the most picturesque in the country, they’re a favorite among tour guides. We’ve got Gary. Read the rest of this entry »