Street Smart Chicago

Chicago’s Biggest Fools

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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The map from

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 2 Comments »

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 »