Monday, November 30, 2009

A little piece of Cartagena in Chicago

This past weekend I went to a surprise birthday party for a woman who will turn 80 on Christmas Day. Don’t be fooled, though—it was no ordinary party, and she is certainly no ordinary 80-year-old. Yaya, my boyfriend’s grandma, is a very spirited, very feisty lady who can outswear and outdrink any 20 year old boy you know. The surprise party we threw in her honor, with 30 Colombian guests (costeños, no less) was not exactly a nursing-home experience—it was a dance-filled festival of food, music, and laughter. (If you have any Colombian friends or family, you know what I’m talking about.) What struck me about Yaya’s 80th birthday party was the sheer number of families from my boyfriend’s neighborhood in Cartagena who have migrated to the Chicagoland area--it's as if the whole neighborhood has been transplanted into Chicago.

Intrigued by the idea of Colombian immigration to Chicago, I found an article at the website of the Encyclopedia of Chicago about Colombian migration patterns. Colombians first began to immigrate to Chicago in the 1950s, during La Violencia, a period of extreme civil unrest. The first groups to come were the professional classes (doctors, lawyers, etc) in the 1950s, followed by costeños (people from the Caribbean coast—Cartagena, Barranquilla, etc) in the 1960s and 70s. In the 1980s and beyond, Colombians of all classes and from all regions moved into the Chicagoland area. My boyfriend’s family was among the many families from Cartagena that came to Chicago in the mid-1990s.

According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, “Chicago's Colombians have been atypical of the city's immigrants and of Colombian Americans elsewhere [in the U.S.] in their pattern of settlement. Rather than form neighborhood enclaves, they have tended toward a dispersed residential pattern. While they initially settled in apartments on the North Side, where many of the city's Puerto Ricans also lived, as soon as their earnings allowed, most Colombians moved to private homes in such northern suburbs as Skokie, Evanston, and Arlington Heights.” Much like their residential patterns of settlement, Colombian businesses are dispersed throughout the city, with no centralized Colombian community.

There are numerous Colombian social clubs throughout the city to unite Colombians, despite their dispersal all over the area. They include Club Colombia, Club de El Dorado (which are social clubs that organize dinners and other events), CartaMed (Cartagena Medical Alumni Association), and Colombianos Unidos para una Labor Activa, whose mission is to help new immigrants transition to life in America.


Having spent the better part of the Thanksgiving weekend with a bottle of beer in hand, it seems quite appropriate to write about one of Chicago’s beer companies, Goose Island. My boyfriend is obsessed with 312, one of their beers brewed in the city’s honor.

According to the company’s website, Goose Island Beer Co. was founded in 1988 by John Hall, a former businessman for the Container Corporation. For his job in the packaging industry, Hall often had to travel to Europe; on each trip, he sampled local and regional beers. The beer enthusiast, during a delayed flight, began reading an airplane magazine article on boutique beers. The article inspired him to open his own brewery where Chicagoans could enjoy a local beer.

Hall opened his first “brewpub” at 1800 N. Clybourn Avenue in Chicago on May 13, 1988. Since then, Goose Island Beer Co. has expanded significantly, with a second brewery/pub in Wrigleyville. Goose Island now produces 50 craft beers, including Honker’s Ale, Nut Brown Ale my boyfriend’s beloved 312, and a Christmas Ale that I am eager to try. Goose Island ships its beers to 15 states and to the UK.

If there’s anything to be learned from Goose Island’s story it’s that: 1. Those airplane magazines might actually be worth reading, 2. You can’t go wrong if you make a product that you are passionate about and that “nearly every American adult like[s]”, in the words of John Hall, and 3. Chicagoans love their beer!

For anyone who is interested, you can find out more info about their beers, their brewery and pubs, and the company history at:

Algren's Chicago

One particular quote grabbed my attention while reading City On The Make -"Yet once you've come to be part of this particular patch, you'll never love another. Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies. But never a lovely so real."

This definitely describes Chicagoans well in my opinion. Before I chose to come to UIC and make the move from the northern suburbs to this urban environment, I had no idea how it would be to live in Chicago. The city atmosphere wasn't what lured me to this college but it is definitely one of the reasons why I have stayed here for all four years of undergrad. The history of the city and the different characters I've encountered around every corner I make every moment a memorable one. The people in this city are "real" people, people I will probably never encounter anywhere else. Lately, I've been having an endless debate over whether or not I want to remain in the city after I graduate in May. There are many advantages and disadvantages to either decision I make but the idea of staying within Chicago seems to be winning lately. I may be a suburban kid at heart but the last 4 years in Chicago have definitely made an impression on me which I'm likely not going to shake off.

Sinclair's disappointing jungle

After reading Mike's post on Sinclair's motive for writing The Jungle, I couldn't agree more. Prior to reading the text, I had always heard positive reviews from others who had read it, and I placed it on my long list of books to read when I found the time. I was excited to finally get the chance to read it during this class, but this excitement turned to disappointment after I dove into the reading.
Of course there is the sad story of Jurgis and his family and all of the hardships they have to face after moving to the city of Chicago. There are the horrors of the slaughterhouses and the horrendous working conditions that thousands of men and women had to work in to make a living. The novel made me question what was in all of those burgers I've eaten over my 21 years and how working conditions have changed since then. Despite this, all of my insights into the novel seemed to go away after Sinclair abandoned the novel and continued to rant against capitalism.
Overall, I didn't enjoy The Jungle as much as I thought I would have. The story was decent, but the characters weren't very fleshed out. The slaughterhouse descriptions didn't turn my stomach and I definitely didn't give up eating meat. Had Sinclair not gone on his anti-capitalism rant, I may have enjoyed the novel or at least left it with an appreciation of Sinclair's reporting, but this just wasn't the case.

Joe Six Pack is not Joe Six Pack: Carl Sandburg

Is the poem Chicago by Carl Sandburg an excuse for Chicago? Is it an excuse for the behavior’s we here seem to take for granted? It seems so. Sandberg clearly knows that Chicago is a bad place where bad things happen:
“They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys.And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again.And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is….”
But Sandburg then answers with the idea that Chicago, as a place is also alive and vibrant even if it is shouting curses and letting gunmen go free. The only reason he gives for this is the working class roots that permeate Chicago:
“Hog Butcher for the World,Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;Stormy, husky, brawling,City of the Big Shoulders:”
Is the reason that Chicago is a brutal place because it is filled with working class, or is the reason Chicago attracts the working class that fills it because it is a brutal place? It seems to me that either way, this poem is disparaging of the working classes. It is the equivalent of the “Joe six pack,” line Sarah Palin remarked on during last year’s election.
And that to me is a bit offensive. That to me is saying the working man is incapable of doing anything but going home and having a beer, and perhaps fighting. I have worked many jobs, with many different people. I know box loaders who listen to Mozart, firemen who build toys for their children, and paramedics who write. I know computer techs that play music and pizza drivers that golf.
But the poem makes all blue collar people seem like drunken idiots who fight all the time, and allow their betters to abuse them.

Welcome to the spin zone: The Jungle and its message.

The problem I have with the Jungle is not the gratuitous violence, not the pain and suffering. I am ok with this. I am even ok with the Rudkus family life going to hell and back. That is what makes for a good story. Literary characters are supposed to have crappy lives; no one wants to read about an average, normal day. No one at all wants to read about the happy life of Joe Blow.
My problem with this book is that it is obvious that Sinclair has a motive. He is not writing this book for fun, or even out of expression. It is written to destroy capitalism. Now, I am far from being a capitalist above all else. I voted for Obama. I think that we should have good healthcare available to all. I think that bankers should be fair, and that the government should help people out when they need it.
However, I don’t like literature, or any other media that beats us over the head with this idea, or any other idea. The Jungle does this. It is one big anti-capitalist rant disguised as a novel. I hate this. I don’t mind a theme or maybe illusions to the way the author actually feels but when someone has an obvious agenda that is beaten into the reader it bothers me. The problem with knowing too clearly how the author stands on a subject is that it makes the entire novel difficult to believe. If you know that the author loves or hates a concept with all their heart (and Sinclair obviously does hate capitalism) then it is difficult to believe everything the author says.
Let me explain. An author may out and out lie at times, to protect a cause he believes in. He also may stretch the truth, or perhaps tell only one side of the truth in order to make their cause seem completely just and the other side seem evil. This causes me to doubt everything an author says.
This is the case in Sinclair. I have no doubt that the conditions in the stockyards were bad, but, as Sinclair is so anti capitalist, I have no idea how bad. How much is true, and how much is spin? I don’t know. That is the problem with Sinclair, and The Jungle

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Chicago's Tunnels/the Chicago Pedway

I think I may be the last person on earth to hear about Chicago’s system of underground tunnels, but I find this really interesting! I’ve always known about the tunnel beneath Marshall Fields/Macy’s, but I didn’t realize that there was an extensive system of tunnels under Chicago.

In his 1992 New York Times article, “Chicago’s Well Kept Secret: Tunnels”, Don Terry describes a 250 million gallon flood of the tunnel system, caused by an underflow of the Chicago River. The construction of the tunnel system began in 1898, and finished in 1904. The tunnels run a total of 60 miles beneath the downtown area, and are about 40 feet bellow the city’s surface. The tunnels are 7.5 feet high and 6 feet wide; the walls are made of 10 inch thick concrete. The tunnels were initially built for telephone lines, but were more commonly used for small freight trains and coal transportations between buildings in the loop. Because they were so far underground, the tunnels were usually quite cool—about 55 degrees Fahrenheit, so the coal companies actually built shafts into movie theaters and sold the cool air to the theaters in the era before air-conditioning!

Two days before Terry’s report was released, a car-size hole developed in the concrete walls of one of the tunnels, approximately 15 feet beneath the bed of the Chicago River, causing massive flooding. The water rose up into the basements of some of the retail stores and office buildings that are connected by the tunnels.

The railroad tunnels described by Terry are separate from the Chicago Pedway, which is another series of underground tunnels designed to reduce traffic and protect pedestrians from bitter winter cold. According to Alice Maggio’s “Subterranean City: A Tour of Chicago’s Pedway”, there are two main parts of the Pedway: the first section connects twelve businesses and offices together in the Loop and also connects to the Metra and the CTA; the second section links part of east Michigan Avenue. The Marshall Field’s tunnel is in this section of the Pedway. The Pedway was constructed in 1951 when the city built tunnels to connect the Red Line and Blue Line stations at Jackson and Washington. Since then, the Pedway has been further developed, though it is inconsistent and not always interconnected. Maggio warns potential Pedway adventurers to expect confusion, as there are few maps within the Pedway itself.

I think I might have found myself a winter break adventure to embark upon!

Terry’s NYT article:

Maggio’s Pedway Navigation Guide:

Trade Shows

As if the losses of Brian Urlacher and the 2016 games wasn't enough, Chicago is hemorrhaging trade shows faster than Jay Cutler throws interceptions. Earlier this month, the national plastics show decided to move its exhibition to Orlando after more than 4 decades at McCormick Place. The loss of the plastics show is part a disturbing trend of big businesses leaving Chicago. Plastics Industry President and Chief Executive Officer Bill Carteaux said the decision boiled down to cost. "At the end of the day, when I talked to the folks in Chicago, it really came down to one major issue… and that's the cost," he said. "What they haven't been able to do yet is address the cost of exhibiting in Chicago." Trade shows play a critical role in the city's budget and generate vital revunue. For example, in June the plastics show brought in 95.3 million dollars. To put that in perspective, with that kinda dough you could buy 317,667 Playstation 3's or 238,250 Platinum Tickets to see the Blackhawks. Union officials claim they are not the ones to blame for driving trade shows out of Chicago, citing the high cost of food and drinks. Let's say your booth wants a case of Pepsi, at McCormick Place that'll run you $138. Oh, what's that? You want to keep your Pepsi cold? No problem, it's only $804 to rent a refrigerator for a week. At a recent press conference, Mayor Daley responded to Carteaux's decision to leave Chicago by stating, "Betrayal may come easily to women, but men live by iron codes of honor." Asked if he really believed that, Daley said, "I'm trying to. Real hard."

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Better than Larson

If anybody is interested in more serial killer stories, then they should check out the graphic novel From Hell by Alan Moore. He tells the tale of Jack the Ripper. Moore heavily researched it, which creates this incredibly intense story. As you all probably know, Jack the Ripper was never solved, but there have been many theories on who he or she was. Moore takes the stance on the theory he feels most connected to, believing that the Ripper was a prestigious doctor hired by the Queen. The doctor, Sir William Gull, is misogynistic freemason with brilliance unlike anybody of his time.

The story begins with the prince having an illegitimate child with a woman in a lower class. The royalty try to hide it, and in an attempt to not be blackmailed the queen hires Gull to eliminate the prostitutes who knew of the women who had the child with the prince. Moore also writes the story of Gull’s past, and how he became a doctor while at the same time controlled his violent urges. Gull also never sees his acts as evil. His ties with freemasonry create a monster with no conscience.

Warren Ellis describes From Hell as a tale of the birth of the 20th Century and a dark view of the Victorian world. It is entertaining, but at some points hard to get through because of how dense it is. If you are looking to read more stuff like Larsen’s interpretation of Holmes, but with better writing and a more comprehensive and imaginative tale, then take a chance with Alan Moore’s From Hell. You will not be disappointed.

UIC Architecture

We have Walter Netsch to thank for UIC’s dreary architecture. Netsch, a Chicago-based architect, was part of the brutalist architectural movement that was en vogue from the 1950s to the 1970s. The term “brutalism” comes from the French “béton brut”, which means “raw concrete”. While Brutalist architecture frequently utilized concrete; brick, glass, and steel, among other materials, were also used. Brutalist buildings are often “unpolished” in appearance; they reveal their function through their form. Interior elements are sometimes exposed externally; the grid on the exterior of UH is a good example of this—its internal structure is visible from the outside, rather than covered over by a facade. As a result, we can see the support beams.

Perhaps surprisingly, Brutalist architecture is associated with utopian thinking, though many have criticized it for its dreariness and “unfriendliness”. It was originally supposed to appear “integrating and protective”, though in practice, Brutalist buildings are often intimidating and unwelcoming. Brutalist architecture is associated with a UK effort to design affordable public housing, though many of the buildings used for public housing were not conducive to strong community, and thus many of the communities were overtaken by crime. In addition to use in the construction of public housing, Brutalist architecture was also used on the campuses of many American and international universities, including all of UIC’s East Campus. Other Brutalist universities include: the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, parts of the University of California-Irvine, the Ryerson University Library in Toronto, University of California-San Diego’s Geisel Library, and numerous other campus libraries and centers.

Big names in Brutalism, aside from Walter Netsch, were Erno Goldfinger, Alison and Peter Smithson, and Sir Denys Lasdun, Paul Rudolph, Ralph Rapson, Clorindo Testa, and others.


Though I must agree with the rest of the class that Sandburg could have written all of his ideas into about 20 poems, and never written another thereafter, I thoroughly enjoyed “Chicago Poems”. I will never tire of working-class literature and socialist politics; Chicago’s story is a story of class struggle, just like America’s and the wider world’s. Certainly the poems would have benefited from a little innovation; still, they speak through a raw American voice. One of the things I find most beautiful in Sandburg’s poetry is the simplicity of the language; Sandburg is unpretentious, a poet for the people.

I found “Fish Crier” to be one of the most poignant poems of the whole collection. The raw, simple beauty of these lines expresses all the despair and the joy of the immigration experience. To read these lines is profoundly humbling.

“His face is that of a man terribly glad to be selling fish, terribly glad
that God made fish, and customers to whom he may call his
wares from a pushcart”

The fish crier is thankful for the opportunity to sell fish, for his existence in a world where selling fish is possible as a viable alternative to a worse situation. The simplicity and humility of his desires and his gratitude is so moving because it makes an implicit comparison to what must have been a far worse experience from before he became a fish crier. A man who is deeply thankful to push a cart of dead fish is a man who survived more extreme poverty, or a war, or the misery of third world poverty.

Sandburg's gift is for capturing these small, beautiful, redeeming scenes from the rough lives of the American underclass. While not always elegant, Sandburg's scenes and observations remind us of the hard work, struggle, and modesty of the American people. He shows us the faces of the men and the women who built modern America.

“They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yous to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way! And that’s how you get Capone!”

I have just recently watched The Untouchables for the first time. The movie came out ten days before I was born in 1987, about twenty-two years ago. The movie presents Chicago during Al Capone’s reign when prohibition was instate and distributing alcohol was a good way to make some money. The quote mentioned is Sean Connery’s Jim Malone talking to Kevin Costner’s Eliot Ness. Malone is an old time Chicago cop while Ness works for the government as a prohibition agent. Robert De Niro plays Al Capone. The quote is about out doing the enemy. Going to further extremes to claim the victory. It is vengeance and redemption. It is what one must do to survive in their Chicago. For Capone, his friends and enemies must watch out for this kind of living.

The movie really pushes this idea of the “Chicago Way.” There is this two sidedness to the main characters; one side is the Chicago side - a side that Nelsen Algren describes in his Chicago City on the Make. This Chicago side is doing what you got to do to get your way. Eliot Ness and Malone form a small hit squad in order to disrupt Capone’s illegal liquor business. They know that what they are doing is dangerous, but persist in trying to take down Capone. Ness’s untouchables soon find out how far Capone’s reach is into their world. They begin their mission with four men, and in the end two are left standing. Ness must hide his family during the whole process, otherwise Capone will send out his own hit squad for them. Ness refuses to be intimidated by Capone’s tactics, and so Ness pushes harder and takes out another one of Capone’s liquor runners.

Capone, in front of the press, is calm and intelligent, but changes his behavior when the press isn’t around. After one of is liquor distributors is shut down, he becomes enraged at the man who was in charge. Capone waits untill he can deal with the man in front of everybody. He wants to teach everyone a lesson by being one scary bastard. So during a big dinner, with what I am guessing is all his top men, he starts talking about baseball, while walking around with a nice wooden bat. Capone says, “a man becomes preeminent, he's expected to have enthusiasms. Enthusiasms, enthusiasms... What are mine? What draws my admiration? What is that which gives me joy? Baseball! A man stands alone at the plate. This is the time for what? For individual achievement. There he stands alone. But in the field, what? Part of a team. Teamwork... Looks, throws, catches, hustles. Part of one big team. Bats himself the live-long day, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and so on. If his team don't field... what is he? You follow me? No one. Sunny day, the stands are full of fans. What does he have to say? I'm goin' out there for myself. But... I get nowhere unless the team wins.” Then his men shout, “Team!” Right when Capone knows he has every man in full cooperation and under his spell, he beats the man who was in charge of the distributor that was busted. He swings his bat into the man’s skull numerous times until the man’s blood has splattered on to everybody around that table. That’s Chicago business.

Supposedly the real Al Capone did something like this, except it was two men that were at his table, and the reason he killed them was because he heard they were plotting to kill him and take over the business. In that story, he bludgeons them to death and them shoots them both in the head. It has also been said that it wasn’t even Capone who did this, but his hitman, Tony “Joe Batters” Accardo.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Femininity in Fire Sale

In class last week, Luis asked us what we thought V.I. Warshawski represents for Sara Paretsky. My response would be that for Paretsky, Warshawski is an idealized version of the Modern Woman. Warshawski is, as others have mentioned, perfectly rational, yet also compassionate. While driven by reason, she is not hardened or emotionless. Warshawski is tough, certainly, but she’s neither macho nor overly-sentimental. While her behaviors are largely “gender-neutral” in that they follow no particular stereotypes, there are moments in which she exhibits some stereotypically “feminine” traits, though presented with a modern twist.

Warshawski is very community-oriented in that she develops strong personal ties to her clients and her team; she cannot help but be helpful. This sense of obligation to others drives her to aid her ailing coach, help out with the basketball team, keep her word to Billy Bysen (despite his father’s threats), pursue Mrs. Dorado’s concerns about Fly the Flag, and monitor April’s health, among other things. Warshawski can’t overcome a sense of obligation to aid and protect others. In place of "maternal instinct", her behavior is motivated from a concern for justice. Her obligation to others comes from her advantageous position as a private investigator.

Interestingly, Warshawski’s body plays a considerable part of the narrative, not just because of the injuries it sustains, but also in terms of her fashion choices and her self-image. Warshawski crosses a muddy parking lot in sandals to avoid ruining her beautiful pumps. She cries over her destroyed designer clothing the day she is hit by shrapnel. She tells us how she looks when she is tired and describes her beautiful clothing. Paretsky gives us a tough, glamorous, crime-fighting woman: she is always elegant, but unafraid of the brutality and the dangers of her profession. Paretsky’s ideal woman is stylish, but unafraid to roll up her sleeves and get dirty. Women don’t have to give up femininity to work in the world of men; Warshawski is Paretsky’s proof of this. Warshawski is Paretsky's proof that women don't have to sacrifice traditionally "feminine" traits and interests to get ahead.

Tina de Rosa’s Paper Fish

One of the Chicago/Little Italy authors that Joanne mentioned during her visit to our class was Tina de Rosa, author of Paper Fish. If you recall, de Rosa was the grad student whose home was bulldozed for the construction of UIC. For my final project, I’ve been working on a retelling of Tina de Rosa’s Paper Fish in poem form. While I don’t plan on presenting my final project to the class, I thought I’d let everyone know a little bit about the novel.

Paper Fish is a very lyrical novel, with very little dialogue. There is a dream-like quality in de Rosa’s description of life in Little Italy in the 40s and 50s. De Rosa employs short, syntactically simple and repetitive, although hauntingly beautiful, sentences. Despite the sensuality of her prose, the novel is emotionally devastating. It follows the BellaCasa family: Doria, the Italian-born grandmother; Marco, her policeman son; Sarah, his Lithuanian wife; Doriana, their mute, retarded daughter; and Carmolina, their very precocious, adventurous younger daughter. The horrors that Marco encounters everyday on the job, and the stress of caring for Doriana, as well as financial hardship, have strained Marco and Sarah’s marriage. Doria, Marco’s mother, is quite aware of their faltering relationship (in part because she spies on them from her kitchen window across the alley). She doesn’t quite approve of Marco having married a non-Italian girl, though she is sympathetic to all of Sarah’s suffering (although at times she blames her for Doriana’s illness).

Though the plot is presented in a fragmentary style—and the reader is often left to figure out the time frame of the narrative, the central story of the novel is Carmolina’s escape from her family home at the age of eight. Carmolina overhears her relatives’ plan to send her sister away to a nun-operated asylum for the mentally ill. Terrified to lose her sister, and equally afraid that they will send her away, too, Carmolina decides to run away from home. She spends three nights away from home; in those three days, she faces fierce anti-Italian racism and terrible hunger. She is kicked out by a restaurant owner for being a “dago kid” and robbed by a gang of older boys before she finally runs into a policeman who returns her to her family.

Paper Fish is not an action-packed or plot-driven novel. Though at times quite slow-moving, it is always beautiful and often heart-breaking. The passages narrated from Doriana’s perspective are difficult to read:

“This morning at breakfast, Doriana smashed a fried egg with her fist. When Mama yelled, Doriana picked up a fork and stabbed Mama’s hand with it. Then she held the fork in front of her own eyes...Mama sat down at the kitchen table and cried. She didn’t make any noise when she cried; her shoulders just shook a little, like Jello, and tears ran down her face, out of her eyes...” (72).

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Welcome Back, Welcome Back

One of the things we discussed in class about Fire Sale is V.I.'s implacable rationality. We agreed that Peretsky paints an exceedingly practical character who seems unruffled and capable in most situations, and we mused that this may be her feminist response to the stereotypically "hysterical" female character. Nevertheless what stood out to me in reading this novel were the rare instances when V.I.'s emotions take over; perhaps because of the purview of this course, but these instances seemed often to be associated with her relationship to the South Side of Chicago. For example, early in the book, she admits that she cried when she drove by her boarded up former family home. This sadness for the depressed condition of the old neighborhood, its schools, its homes, its abandoned industries seems to manifest itself in a certain form of guilt.

V.I.'s guilty associations with the old neighborhood are critical to the trajectory of the novel. It is her guilt that brings her to the South Side in the first place-- her former coach pushes all the right buttons when she mentions V.I.'s new neighborhood: Lakeview. It is this guilt that keeps V.I. working hard for the girls she coaches-- bring her to Buy Smart to ask for assistance etc. It was this return to "old the sod" aspect of the novel that most intrigued me and seemed to resonate strongly as an aspect of its Chicago-ness. V.I. hasn't moved away-- her whole career has been based in the city of her birth-- yet this novel has a strong sense of nostalgia and feeling of debts owed and repayments made. She is in her old high school-- named, which interestingly recalls another "old Chicago" as its named after the old baron Palmer Potter's wife--walking the beat so to speak on her old streets. It is this pull home--this collision between all that has changed since she left and all that still contains her memories and her heart-- that created a most palpable energy in the novel. And also lodged an old TV theme song in my head:

Welcome Back, Welcome Back, Welcome Back....

Fire Sale

Sara Paretsky’s Fire Sale is an entertaining novel. From the beginning, I knew to read it the same way I would read any other type of popular fiction. I don’t think too much about it and just let the story happen as the author intended. It is relaxing to be able to read a novel quickly and not have to worry about every little thing like I do when I read literary masterpieces. I was worried that the story of V.I. Warshawski would be a little confusing because she has had so many earlier adventures, but it was easy to figure out who Warshawski was. As a new reader to her series, I felt that I could understand Warshawski enough to enjoy the story. Paretsky’s character represents the good that always works for the best interest. She is similar the other good characters that are in media and other popular fiction.

What I found most interesting about the story was the picture of Chicago that Paretsky was able to draw. She makes Chicago feel like this whole new world of mystery and corruption. Half the time I was reading it, I forgot that it was taking place in Chicago.

You could definitely see Partesky’s politics in her novel. I wonder why she does not try to make a novel that would be considered more literary. I believe she easily could, especially after we read some of her autobiography. I think a more literary novel would make her beliefs stick out more. By hiding them in a mystery thriller, she is not going to open too many people’s eyes. When people read her book, they are looking for suspense, murder, action, not society’s ruthless hold on the lower class. I never felt like Paretsky was overbearing with her beliefs. Honestly, I think she is a wonderful storyteller, and sly in the way she inserts social problems in a mystery novel. It is not your normal testosterone pumped action mystery thriller. Warshawski will work for anyone if they are in desperate need of her help. She, like Paretsky, works with the poor and needy, except Warshawski probably gets involved in more interesting situations.

I didn’t really like any of the side characters in the story. I was never able to get a grip on who they were. This might be, because they are more described in greater detail in previous Warshawski novels, or Paretsky doesn’t feel they are really important. They move the story along, and that’s about it. The reader never learns more about them, especially Warshawski’s boyfriend. I feel that I know more about the girls on the basketball team and their parents than Warshawski’s boyfriend.

The Actual

When I first started reading Saul Bellow’s The Actual, I thought, at first, Bellow was talking to the reader. I was unsure if he was creating a character or if it was he himself talking to his audience. I checked if I missed an author’s note or prologue heading but there was and still is none. I felt pretty sure that Bellow was creating a character, but there was a small part of me that felt I was going to be surprised to find that it was the author actually talking. When Harry Trellman told the audience he looks Chinese, I looked at the picture of Saul Bellow on the back cover trying to see if he looks Chinese, while still unsure if he is creating a character or talking as himself. I have no experience with any of Bellow’s books, so while I was reading him for the first time, I tried to get some sort of feel for him.

That is where much of my confusion was floating as I began The Actual. I kept reading, and I felt pretty sure Bellow was creating a character who was talking to an audience, but this character felt so real. There is an incredible honesty that Harry Trellman possesses that allows him to view his life and the life of others in a very particular way. There is something about Bellow’s writing that has an intense directness and powerful use of language that allows this character to come into being within the novella’s first paragraph. Both Bellow and Harry know people better than they know themselves. I believe this is truer for Harry, because I don’t know much about Saul Bellow. There is a deep trust that Harry has in his readers. He clearly explains his orphan-like up bringing, his small successes, his feelings on Chicago and it’s “emptiness”, and the beginnings of his relationship with Adletsky. I find this stuff important, because Harry does not seem to like to talk about these personal things, especially when it comes to Adletsky who, Harry says, “had been so fully briefed that there would be no talk abut my origins, education, accomplishments – thank God.” Harry is no simple kind of man. The rest of novel revolves around him and some of his complicated relationships especially that with Amy Wustrin, a woman he briefly dated in high school, but is still madly in love with her in a very human way. Human because its not like the romantic comedies or dramas. It isn’t sentimental in any way. It is odd and, in the end, that is what love ends up being.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Hidden Chicago 2

Found this WTTW video just put up as part of the Hidden Chicago 2 series that is coming Monday, November 30 at 7:30 pm. This particular video gives some very interesting history of Chicago's theater including the Oriental, the Congress, the south-side Regal Theater, the Uptown theater (built for $4 million in 1925 with 4,300 seats), and the Rialto. It also mentions many of the abandoned theaters throughout Chicago.

Apparently there were more then 350 theaters in Chicago by the mid 1920s.

Here's a link to the WTTW Hidden Chicago 2 website.

Sara and the socialists

I couldn't read Fire Sale.

I realize that people have agendas, and authors being people also have agendas, but Sara Paretsky is pushy and distracting with hers and it took away any credit I had given to her work. Fiction is absolutely a great vehicle for the establishment of ideas and ideals but...genre mysteries? Perhaps not.

But if nothing else, Paretsky's (tame by former standards) socialist leanings are what authenticate her as a genuine Chicago author.

I happened on Paretsky's blog today and saw first hand the full force of her views.

In a post from November 6:
"I believe that Beck uses the same tactics that worked so well for the National Socialists in the 1930’s. He repeats slander and inuendo, loudly, and repeatedly, and takes advantage of a part of the population that is terrified already by change, by the economic meltdown, and the threat of terrorism, and plays on their fears. Like the National Socialists, he finds scapegoats that his listeners can blame for their own fears. When I see a ragtag group of poor people protesting health care reform, I know he’s been a success: these are the people who will become homeless if they have a catastrophic illness, but they are sure that Beck, and his cronies like O’Reilly and Hannity, are right to oppose government-sponsored health care, because all of these broadcasters have identified the real problem as belonging to feminists, or Muslims, or blacks, or President Obama, or all of the above. These broadcasters have persuaded a significant fraction of America that President Obama is a Muslim and a terrorist, that he wasn’t born in the U.S., and even that he has set up concentration camps in Arizona."

It's sad, I think, that a writer should sink to such levels, to join in with the media squabbling, the bickering. That's why she became an author in the first place, no? To eloquently show what's wrong in our country, to convey through story what the real problems are, and to illustrate with words what needs to change, that is why authors are great.

But Sara is only vindicated in her outspokenness. The great Chicago writers: Sandburg, Sinclair, Richard Wright, Algren, and Bellow all share a common bond of sympathy for the working class and of writing on their behalf.

Milwaukee had a socialist Mayor (thanks Wayne's World); Chicago never did. The culture of the working class is so evident in our literature, and I just can't figure out why.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Other Half

Certainly we had a glimpse of the other half in Devil in the White City, but it is easy to identify what makes Saul Bellow's The Actual a true representation of the upper classes-- it is his ease. Lacking in the grandiose descriptions of Larson, eschewing the preaching of Sinclair, dismissing the rhapsodic lyricism of Algren, Bellow chooses a minimalistic approach for his representation of Chicago in this slim novella.

Bellow does not wrench us into the world of mega-money Chicago in the five-dollar word style of Larson. Instead, his economy with words sharply carves us out a place, to stand and assume a blase attitude like the characters. We don't stand with our mouths-hanging open at the lake view or try unsuccessfully to imagine ourselves inside the limo cruising the city. We step right in; we casually accept this image of Chicago as our own. It is as sharp as the carefully crafted sentences allow, as blurry as the scene on Lake Street when Harry runs into Amy when it needs to be. We see the details of this Chicago-- but not so many it feels like bragging and not so many as few as others start to intrude, "There was no occassion to look outside-- to see the people whose mad doings the papers are always report..." (Bellow 60). This nonchalance, this masterful way of Bellow's, not just for representing the rich, but well exemplified in this instance marks a change from our other books of the semester.

Does this characteristic ease that even Algren in his heart-pumping high-energy can't slow down verse can't replicate mark a shift in aesthetics? Is this a Chicago that doesn't feel the need to respond directly to Sandburg? I see what our pal Leigh was saying about the content of the book working through a little intellectual inferiority or anxiety-- but not its form. Its form is smooth. It's form is rich. It has no complexes-- no chip on its "Big Shoulders. "

Otters, Sting-Rays, and Whales-- Oh My!

I'm going to take a leap now out of my usual pounding-the-pavement-neighborhood exploration and venture into some fishier waters, specifically those of the world's first inland aquarium, Shedd. How's that for a factoid? Before 1930 when Shedd Aquarium opened, other such facilities pumped salty ocean water out of their backyard and into their tanks. The first salty tanks at Shedd were filled with seawater trucked in on a railroad car. One of the first star exhibits featured a single neon tetra-- a tiny fluorescent fish now common to many home aquariums; in this pre-television era, Chicagoans, and other visiting Midwesterners lined up by the thousands and waited for hours to catch their first glimpse of ocean life. It's a long way from beluga whales-- but it was quite a feat at the time.

Just like many Chicago buildings, if you pull open the doors of this place, a slew of Chicago stories pour out. The building's namesake himself is his own Chicago tale. John G. Shedd started as a stockboy at Marshall Field's, and eventually grew to become the company's second CEO, after Marshall Field himself. Shedd didn't live to see his fabulously ornate Neptunian Temple (look for Neptune's trident on the top of its dome) erected, but there is some speculation that the level of detail work on the building was meant to be in direct competition with Field's own legacy to Chicago-- The Field Museum, which sits next door. Built during the height of the depression, Shedd cost approximately 3 million dollars to build. Looking at its intricate details which all reference the building's contents--such as specially cast conch shell light fixtures andwave-like marble lining the halls, makes it clear that that kind of money wasn't chump change.

Today, Shedd's the most visited cultural institution in the city, and its easy to be lost in crowds of kids crowding up against the piranhas in the Amazon exhibit or the the eels in the Wild Reef, but for me, I still run into the ghosts of Chicago when I walk around this magical little ocean in the prairie.

Fire Sale

Fire Sale was overall not bad. I’m not a mystery person at all, and I’m not really an action person either. It was hard for me to get into the characters with such a plot-driven novel. And plot-driven isn’t bad, but I don’t know that I really could find a character to latch on to, or care about, if that makes sense. V.I. was okay herself, but I didn’t really buy her, she seemed too kitschy, forcefully abrasive. I also had a slight problem with the “preachy-ness” of the book, the background liberal agenda or whatever you want to call it. I feel like the author tries to hide it, but it comes out, and that annoys me. The rich people were portrayed so thinly, and I think they would be more interesting if they had depth (they could still be evil, you know). Aside from that, though, this was really not bad. I did feel the plot was slow going at first, there’s lots of setting up to be done (maybe this is how it is with all mysteries), so I did have some of that “heavy page” syndrome of wondering when things were going to get going. What I did like about the book was of course it being set on the southside of Chicago. I wonder, if the book were not set here, would it work at all? I don’t think so, because Chicago is a character here was well. Overall, it was nice to read a genre novel with good writing. I don’t know that I’m a convert, but still, no regrets on the time spent.

Wicker Park: Algren's 'hood (and mine too!)

Sometimes on my way home from the farmer's market, bags stuffed to the brims with the spoils of the harvest, I walk a block out of my way to pass by 1958 West Evergreen Street. As I stare up the third floor, I can't help but wish that some of the words that swelled, the images that sharpened, the ideas that formed up there in that apartment will drift down and assault me, the enchanted bearer of vegetables. Algren lived on the 3rd floor

I know the neighborhood has seen a lot of changes since then-- hell, the old timers won't let you forget it. It's a point of contention for sure--from 'it was better before the yuppies and their cookie-cutter condos, when, fill-in-blank-here with now-defunct local tavern, was open." to the cabbies that tell you, "Twenty-five years ago, I wouldn't have agreed to take a fare over here." It can be hard to be an outsider, especially if you don't know the history. It's clear the neighborhood's changed, but it was probably the same story when Algren walked Division. From the Pottawattomies to the days of the "Beer Barons" in their mansions on Hoyne Avenue to the rough Polish neighborhood Algren knew, Chicago had already seen a lot of changes.

Algren on Division Street

Maybe that's the point, I think, as I, hands-in-pockets, wander on a colder day down Division. I finally walk inside the dimly lit Rainbo Club that Algren used to frequent (some say with Simone de Beauvoir)-- in the 30's and 40's the club featured jazz and burlesque performances. The stage still stands behind the bar. I know I don't fit in with the skinnier, artsier, hipper crowd that claims this hang-out. But I order a beer anyway, and remember Algren wasn't always the biggest hit with his neighbors either; afterall, West Evergreen Avenue would still be West Algren Avenue if he were.

Richard Wright

Perhaps the most widely appreciated African-American author to hail from Chicago (although not originally) Richard Wright deserves his own blog post on here.

He was born in Adams County, Mississippi in 1908 and came to Chicago as a postal clerk at the age of 19, at the height of the Harlem Renaissance and the so-called "flowering of Negro literature" (James Weldon Johnson). During the great depression era Wright's government position was eliminated and he began to gain an interest in the Communist Party; he officially joined in 1933. There's, of course, a curiously common theme at work here that includes most of Chicago's great authors (and will be fodder for a later blog post). Wright was soon writing proletariat poems and his first novel, Uncle Tom's Children came in 1938 to great critical praise and a Guggenheim fellowship followed in 1939.

His second novel, Native Son, came in 1940, which garnered him immediate popular attention. This work was noted for its violence and a murder trial that it is speculated was based upon the Leopold and Loeb murder case that Clarence Darrow is famous for. Literary critic Irving Howe wrote that "The day Native Son appeared, American culture was changed forever. No matter how much qualifying the book might later need, it made impossible a repetition of the old lies . . . [and] brought out into the open, as no one ever had before, the hatred, fear, and violence that have crippled and may yet destroy our culture."

Wright moved around between New York, Chicago, and Paris where he died in 1960.

His list of works thanks to Wikipedia:


* Uncle Tom's Children (New York: Harper, 1938)
* Native Son (New York: Harper, 1940)
* The Outsider (New York: Harper, 1953)
* Savage Holiday (New York: Avon, 1954)
* The Long Dream (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1958)
* Eight Men (Cleveland and New York: World, 1961)
* Lawd Today (New York: Walker, 1963)
* Rite of Passage (New York: Harper Collins, 1994)
* A Father's Law (London: Harper Perennial, 2008)


* How "Bigger" Was Born; Notes of a Native Son (New York: Harper, 1940)
* 12 Million Black Voices: A Folk History of the Negro in the United States (New York: Viking, 1941)
* Black Boy (New York: Harper, 1945)
* Black Power (New York: Harper, 1954)
* The Color Curtain (Cleveland and New York: World, 1956)
* Pagan Spain (New York: Harper, 1957)
* Letters to Joe C. Brown (Kent State University Libraries, 1968)
* American Hunger (New York: Harper & Row, 1975)
* Big Boy Leaves Home (2007)
* Black Boy" ( Harper and Brothers 1945)


* The Ethics Of Living Jim Crow: An Autobiographical Sketch (1937)
* Introduction to Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City (1945)
* I Choose Exile (1951)
* White Man, Listen! (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1957)
* The Man Who Lived Underground


* Haiku: This Other World. (Eds. Yoshinobu Hakutani and Robert L. Tener. Arcade, 1998)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Music in Devil in the White City

Even though Devil in the White City was not the most literary work, with its use of embarrassingly unconvincing metaphors and its omniscient narrative style, I loved it for its history, its details, and its lists of central, as well as tangential, facts. I knew very little about this specific time in Chicago, and Larsen cast a wide net in gathering information and stories for this book, and I'm grateful for this new awareness that I have of my city. I love it as a book about the architecture of Chicago and about the 1893 World's Fair, but I could have done without Holmes. Frederick Law Olmsted was my favorite "character" of the book. His views on landscape architecture and the anecdotes about his obsessive nature related to his work were a pleasure to read.

One of the things that caught my attention reading this book were the passages regarding the music of the Exposition. Larsen writes about the day George Ferris officially sent the Wheel for its first spin, and the forty-piece Iowa State Marching Band who played "My Country 'Tis of Thee" from aboard one of the ferris wheel cars. What an amazing site that would have been.
Following that, Ferris blew a gold whistle, which his wife had given him, and the Iowa State band began to play "America" setting the wheel in motion again. On the dedication day of the Exposition, a 5,000 person choir singing Handel's "Hallelujah" chorus and accompanied by 500 musicians. I read elsewhere that this was actually a 5,700 person choir. I did some additional research to see what else I might turn up.

One thing I found out was that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed there, which was the culmination of its first major concert tour. Also, the first Indonesian music performance in the United States took place at the Exposition. Finally, the Stoughton Musical Society was the only chorus invited to play American music. The Society gave two concerts in the Music Hall of the World's Columbian Exposition on August 14 & 15, 1893. Below is the complete concert program that they performed:

1a. "Turner" (pub. in 1802)-- Abraham Maxim
1b. "Invitation" (pub. in 1793)--Jacob Kimball
1c. "Contentment" (pub. in 1805)--John Cole

2. Duet: "Arrayed in Golden Light"--Oliver Shaw

3a. "Emmanuel"(pub. in 1790)--William Billings
3b. "New Bethlehem" (pub. about 1800) --Edward French
3c. "Majesty" (pub. about 1790 [1778]) --William Billings

4. Trio: "Omega" --Oliver Holden, pub.about 1793

5a. "Austria"(pub. in 1790)--Nahum Mitchell
5b. "Greenwich"(pub. in 1793)--Daniel Read
5c. "Heavenly Vision" (pub. in 1786)--Jacob French

6a. Solo and Chorus: "Ode to Columbia's Favorite Son" (1789) --Oliver Holden
6b. "Chester" (pub. in 1770)--William Billings
6c. "Ode on Science"(pub. in 1798)--Jezaniah Sumner

7. Song: "There's" Nothing True But Heaven" --Oliver Shaw

8. "Easter Anthem" --William Billings

9. "China"(pub. in 1788)--Timothy Swan

10a. "New Jerusalem" (pub. in 1802)--Jeremiah Ingalls
10b. "David's Invitation [Lamentation]" --William Billings
10c. "Mount Vernon" (pub. in 1803) --John Cole [Oliver Holden]

11. Quartette: "When as Returns This Solemn Day" --Lowell Mason

12. Anthem: "Jehovah's Praise" (pub. about 1837)--Edward L. White

God I am hungry! The Chicago Hot dog

A Chicago style hot dog is like a piece of great art. It is tasty and delicious. It follows a great plan, starting with small little steps, and progressing in steps to build the final product: A hot dog that is second to none. Perhaps a Chicago style hot dog is more like a great architect drawing and constructing a building. Although it was never mentioned in Devil and the White City, I am sure that as a true Chicagoan, Burnham himself enjoyed a hot dog or two from time to time in between lavish French meals. After all, like so many other great things, the Chicago style hot dog originated at the World’s Fair.
Author’s note: I can’t back that Burnham thing up. He may have only liked to eat large difficult to pronounce French meals. But since he was a Chicagoan, and the fair was his baby, then the Chicago style hot dog could rightfully be called Burnham’s grandchild. Since Burnham was a family man, it stands to reason that he would have been interested in his grandchildren.
A Chicago style hot dog begins with a great bun. This is the foundation in our building analogy. The bun sets the tone for the rest of the hot dog, and only one type of bun will do in a Chicago style hot dog. The type of bun we are looking for in this case is a good all American white bread bun covered in delicious poppy seeds. Not too many poppy seeds, not enough to make you fail a drug test, but enough to flavor the bun while at the same time making it just messy enough with black seeds falling off in every bite.
The second addition to our hot dog building is the hot dog itself. This is the equivalent of the interior of our building. Just as the interior of a building sets the tone for its functionality, so too does the type of hot dog set the tone for the entire hotdog. It may be the most critical ingredient in the overall blueprint of the hotdog. Chicago style hot dogs are all beef; we don’t allow that inferior Oscar Myer pork product to carry the name of Chicago hot dog. That said, not any all beef hotdog will do. In order to be a true Chicago hot dog, the dog must either be either a genuine Vienna Beef hot dog (made where Elston, Damen, Fullerton and the Chicago river meet on the north side)or a Kosher’s Best hot dog, the latter being the hot dog that is blessed by a rabbi, and guaranteed to contain no pork. (For information on what the hot dog does contain read, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair) This part of the hot dog is critical. Without one of these brands of hot dog, you have at best an Alberta dog. And that is Canada. Do you want to be Chicago, or Canada?
The most important part of this hot dog is that it is to be steamed until it is fully cooked. A grilled hot dog is acceptable, but only in instances in which steaming is unavailable. . Under no circumstances is the hot dog to be broiled.
Now that we have a building that has a great foundation (the poppy seed bun) and an interior that will fit our purposes (the hot dog itself) Now we need to make the building pretty. After all, in a city whose skyline features the Sears (not Willis) tower and the Hancock building, we insist on great looking architecture. This architecture is another feature that distinguishes Chicago hot dogs from others: the toppings. We start off with tomato wedges and a kosher spear pickle, cut lengthwise to fit into a bun. On top of this we pile sport peppers and raw white onion. For flavor, neon green relish is added. It is very important that the relish is neon green; if any other color is present in your hot dog, the results could be disastrous. Put the hot dog down immediately and seek out a true Chicago hot dog before disaster strikes. Top all that off with yellow mustard and a dash of celery salt, and you have yourself a Chicago style hotdog that is not only functional, but easily as beautiful as any piece of architecture. After all, buildings crumble, but a hot dog is eaten. And, if I may go out on a limb, people will still be eating hot dogs long after the great buildings of the Earth are nothing but rubble, because, well, people have to eat.
AUTHORS NOTE: Under no circumstances should you put ketchup on a Chicago style hot dog. If you notice any person over the age of 12 and under the age of 70 doing this, it is your right, neigh, your duty as a Chicagoan to correct them, using physical violence if necessary.


Haunted Japan

Mount Fuji, an active volcano, is the highest mountain in Japan and one of the nation's three "Holy Mountains." The mountain is a well-known symbol of Japan and more than 200,000 people climb it every year. While Mt. Fuji is one of the most beautiful places on Earth, the forest that lies at the base of the mountain, Aokigahara (Sea of Trees) is by far one of the creepiest. The Death Forest - which is reportedly so thick that even in high noon it's not hard to find places completely surrounded by darkness - boasts the highest number of suicides, second only the the Golden Gate Bridge, with more than 500.

The trend supposedly began after the publication of Seicho Matsumoto's novel, Kuroi Kaiju (Black Sea of Trees). Matsumoto's 1977 novel tells the story of a woman who has a love affair with a young public prosecutor. He is blackmailed by the woman's husband, and the only escape for the lovers is a double suicide inside the dark and mysterious Aokigahara forest. It should also be noted that a Sixties novel, The Pagoda of Waves, featured a woman who killed herself in the Aokigahara forest; the story was later turned into a television drama series. Making matters worse, the best-selling Complete Manual of Suicide described the forest as "the perfect place to die". In 1999 the manual sold more than 1.2 million copies.

In the 70s, the problem got national attention and the Japanese government began doing annual sweeps of the forest in search of bodies. In 2002, they found 78. Uplifting signs are scattered throughout the forest in order to to dissuade others who venture inside. "Your life is a precious gift from your parents," reads one. "Think calmly once again about them, your siblings and your children. Don't agonize over problems yourself - please seek counseling."
In 2004, director Takimoto Tomoyuk was shooting a movie about the forest and stumbled upon a wallet containing 370,000 yen (about $3,760). Thus began the proud Japanese tradition of Aokigahara Scavenging where people are running around the Death Forest, looking for dead guys to loot. I'm including a link with pictures of Aokigahara, but be warned: they're pretty brutal.

Who is your valentine this year? Mine is John Thompson

February 14th, 1929. Currently, two rival factions of the mafia, one led by Al Capone, the other by Bugs Moran, are battling it out to control Chicago’s illegal liquor supply, gambling action, and “protection rings.” The battle has thus far been bloody, but nothing like the events of this day had been seen in America yet.
On that day, February 14th, seven members of Bugs Moran’s Irish gang went to a warehouse to supposedly look at some cases of bootleg whiskey that could be acquired cheaply. Like most things in life, this turned out to be too good to be true. As the men entered the warehouse, several of Capone’s men entered the warehouse dressed as Chicago police. After placing the men under arrest, the disguised gangsters lined them up facing the back wall of the warehouse, telling the men that they were to be frisked for weapons. Instead, two more men, dressed as civilians, entered the warehouse carrying classic gangster “Tommy Guns,” or M1A1 Thompson Submachine guns, capable of firing six hundred .45 caliber bullets a minute. And fire the guns did. Bullets tore into the men, killing six instantly and wounding one, Frank Gusenberg, so severely that he died a few hours later. Then, all the members of Capone’s gang, fake police and civilians alike, entered a car and drove away, leaving their human carnage to rot in the alley.
No one was ever convicted of the killings. Al Capone was purposefully in Florida on vacation, and although he was suspected of ordering the hit, was never officially charged. According to rumor, Bugs Moran was the target of the assault, but he was confused for one of his men, who looked like him, and survived the day unscathed.
The area of Lincoln Park where the event took place is today a nursing home parking lot. According to legend, sometimes at night, you can still hear the screams of the gangsters crying out in surprise and horror as they realize their fates.
Of course, that may just be the elderly patients, trapped in the nursing home, realizing their own grim fates, in lives nearing their end.
Although the massacre initally sparked public outcry, it soon, like everything else in Chicago, was used for profit.

Chicago's Most Wanted: Benny the Bull

Chicago has come a long way since the blood-soaked years of the 1920's-30's. Remember the good ol' days when the city was known for heinous criminal acts and bullets fell from the sky more often than rain? When Valentine's Day was more than just a lame dinner with your significant other? Unfortunately, criminal masterminds like Al Capone and Bugs Moran are long gone. Nevertheless, the criminal element is still alive and well in Chicago, and the man holding the reigns dons a red furry suit and rides around on a miniature motorcycle: Benny the Bull. That's right, having worked with the Chicago Bulls mascot, I can tell you that this guy is one mad mother. But you don't have to take it from me, just look at Benny's (a.k.a Barry Anderson) rap sheet:
  • Charge: Misdemeanor Battery
During the Taste of Chicago in 2006, Benny the Bull took it upon himself to entertain the masses by riding through the crowd on his mini-motorcycle. An off-duty Chicago police officer tried to get the mascot off his motorcycle and Benny refused. After a short slow-speed chase, the officer caught up with costumed troublemaker and Benny rewarded him by punching him in the face, knocking off his glasses. Mr. Anderson argued that he was in character when he punched the officer, and, not surprisingly, the defense didn't hold up and he was charged.

  • Charge: $80,000 lawsuit
Anyone whose ever been to a Bull's game before knows that Benny like to get the crowd going by running down the aisles and giving the fans high-fives. However, during a game on February 12, 2008, Benny forgot how strong his was and tore a man's bicep. The only problem was the man, Don Kalant, happened to be a well-known oral surgeon in the Naperville area. Kalant needed to have surgery and missed more than 4 months of work, so he sued Benny for more than $80,000 in back wages.

  • Charge: Hilarious
Only in Chicago would a mascot shoot players on the opposing team. During a barn-burner against the Boston Celtics on April 1, 2008, the cowardly Celtics called a timeout and Benny the Bull saw his opportunity and took it. Armed with an air-pressured t-shirt gun, Benny shot Kevin Garnett and James Posey in the back as the sissies walked to their bench. Garnett and Posey gave Bennie the Bull a glare, and, said Garnett, “We exchanged words.” After the game, James "Turd Sandwich" Posey made these comments, "I felt threatened,” said Posey, who is considered a villain among Bulls fans for his tough fouls when he played for Miami, and was booed every time he touched the ball last night. “They already don’t like me here already. Two T-shirts were thrown at me and KG. I don’t feel safe. The T-shirts were fired out of that gun or whatever. I feel a little sore in one spot. I might have to get treatment. First, I thought it was a teammate just tapping me. But then I looked down and there were T-shirts and there were only two down there. Let’s see how the league handles this.” Thankfully, then head coach, Jim Boylan, did the right thing and supported Benny's attempted assasination, "It was against Posey so, it’s open season against him whenever he steps on the court in Chicago. I was proud of Benny, glad he took matters into his own hands. He orchestrated it behind the scenes.''

Mary Mary quite....dead. How did you die?

Resurrection Mary. Her name has captivated many people in the Chicago land area for more than 60 years. There is even a song called, “The Ballad of Resurrection Mary.” But what happened to make this ghost so famous? Who was this woman that has supposedly done everything from jump on the running boards of cars passing by to dance with unsuspecting boys at the nearby Willowbrook ballroom?
The answer is….no one knows. Two major candidates emerge from the list of literally dozens of women. A woman named Mary Bregovy is the first candidate, having been killed in an auto wreck in 1934 on the way out to dance with some boys. According to a friend, the boys Mary was riding with the night she was killed were, “wild boys.” This story explains both why she is interested in dancing and why she seems to enjoy riding in cars. The fact that Mary was willing to ride with these “wild boys” shows that she is a free spirit, and the type of person that would rebel at being killed with so much life left to live. The problem with this theory is that Bregovy was killed on the north side of the city, far from the south west Willowbrook ballroom.
Another possible Mary wasn’t named Mary at all. She was named Anna Norkus. She was a 12 year old girl who was taken dancing by her father to celebrate her 13th birthday. The pair went to the Oh Henry, which later became the infamous Willowbrook ballroom. On the way home, Anna and her father’s car spilled into an unmarked and unseen 25 foot railroad cut (proving that road construction sucked long before now) Norkus was killed instantly, and supposedly became the ghost of resurrection Mary, constantly going out to dance and never returning home. The problem with this story is that Anna Norkus at 13 is far from the more mature late teen/20 something most of the men report seeing.
There are various other reports of “Mary’s” being Resurrection Mary, ranging from girls killed outside the cemetery itself after stealing her parents car to visit her boyfriend for some late night dancing to a girl killed on the south side by a passing car on or near Halloween. Personally, and for purposes of the stories I am writing for my final class project on Mary, I am using Mary Bregovy- but this is based purely on dramatic effect, not on any facts. The truth is, we may never know who the real Mary is, or why she keeps coming back to earth to dance and scare teenage boys instead of resting in peace.

Chicago Haunts by Urslula Bielski was used to get the names and facts of the women mentioned above.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

So...what's your style?

In August, two good friends from California flew out to visit me - my first real opportunity to play Chicago host since moving back here six years ago. I did the best I could, but as is often the case with Jason and Mike, my antics became a running joke among us. To briefly summarize:

(1) Because my natural sense of direction falls somewhere between "unacceptable" and "deeply retarded", we spent an inordinate amount of time wandering aimlessly through unknown neighborhoods. I tried valiantly to take a positive spin on our meanderings ("Hey guys, it's all about the journey, not the destination, right? Right? Guys?"). They were unimpressed...and occasionally hostile, I might add.

(2) Although I have been living in the city for several years, I normally spend the vast majority of my time either at work or in my apartment. This returns us to the main problem addressed in (1) - I had no fucking idea what I was doing.

Hence, I had to quickly abandon any hope of providing useful, informative, or otherwise appealing guidance, and instead settled comfortably into the role of Meta Host. Rather than clinging to sad delusions of even middling competency, I decided to use my position as a vehicle for delivering ironic commentary on the very idea of being a host. This led to the two main catchphrases of the week: (1) "We are doing it Chicago style!", and (2) "That's just the Chicago way."

These catchphrases could be used in an astounding array of circumstances, no matter what their shape or form. When riding the El, for example, I would often (and for no discernible reason) gesture at Mike and Jason with monumental grandiosity and bellow, "Boys, I'm telling you - we are doing it Chicago style right now!" However, on the frustrating occasions when we barely missed a train (and there were many), I would instead shake my head sympathetically, pat one of them on the back, and say (with a touch of sadness), "Don't take it personally, my friend. That's just the Chicago way." Regardless of the situation, I managed to find a reason why it was perfectly and unequivocally Chicago, even for actions as mundane as methodically trudging down Irving Park Road, or entering the public restroom in Grant Park. Although my insistence on repeating these catchphrases ad nauseam lead to periodic threats of violence, they were, for the most part, received with good cheer, and served as an effective smoke and mirrors job to cover up my deep inadequacies as host. Also, I bought them a lot of booze. That helped, too.

At some point, it occurred to us that some cities absorb the monikers "style" or "way" exceedingly well (Chicago appears to stand head and shoulders above the rest, one of many reasons why we live in such a kick-ass city); others, though, seem to fare rather poorly. We could often pin-point specific reasons for this, but not always. Consider the following examples:

"Boston style" works reasonably well, although it's hard for me not to think of a rotisserie chicken when I say it. "The Boston way", though? Pretty damn cool, I have to say...pretty damn cool. "Philadelphia style" (Or "Philly style", for those in the know) brings to mind a steak sandwich with cheese whiz (not necessarily a bad thing), but "The Philadelphia way?" Come on - that sounds like a bad cop buddy film from the 80's. "Seattle style" is pleasingly alliterative, while "Sacramento style" is not. ("The Sacramento way", though? Intriguing!) "Vegas style" is inherently and unassailably cool; the very phrase implies an exciting, illicit, and quite possibly insane journey to the wild side. "New York style" and "The New York way" summon an intense rage that I didn't even know existed, exceeded only by the infuriatingly vacuous pomposity of "L.A. style" or "The L.A. way." If anyone ever said the latter two phrases within earshot, I would have no choice but to punch them in the face.

For brevity's sake, let us momentarily abandon "way". "Cleveland style" is weirdly appealing, as are "Memphis style", "San Antonio style", and "Denver style". By adding one word, these cities instantly become more fascinating to me, whether deserved or not. If somebody said, "Buffalo style", I would immediately demand a plate of chicken wings drenched in hot sauce. "Milwaukee style" trumps any of the food-themed cities by recalling the holy trinity of bratwurst, cheese, and beer. "Montgomery style" and "Jackson style", on the other hand, somehow conjure the image of Ned Beatty being viciously sodomized as an inbred banjo player strums vacantly in the distance. Is this a blatantly unfair characterization of the Deep South, based entirely on a long-outdated Hollywood film? Yes, it is. Next!

Many other cities inevitably set themselves up for ridicule or self-parody in this fashion. "Bismark style?" Gloriously insipid. How about "Tulsa style" or "Dover style?" Now there's a good one. "Orlando style?" You have got to be fucking kidding me. I long for the day, though, when I hear the following words: "Boys, get ready for a very special evening, because we are doing it Montpelier style tonight!"

Ramble - My College Career

I am a mother of three and I decided to raise my children and put my goals on hold. Once they reached a certain age I decided that it was time for me to go back. I was ready and excited. Boy or boy was it a challenge. I juggled my family, a part-time job, and full-time school schedule for the past six years. This is the last semester of my journey and I am thrilled.

During this time, I have lost the only father I've ever known, Grandpa. My oldest has had surgery and my mother a stroke. How did I make it, I can't tell you. But I am grateful to say I have made it to the end. As I reflect back on my life I wonder why must things be so difficult when you are trying to do better? I am curious to know why poor people suffer the way that they do. I tried to understand the difference in high-and low brow literature. I needed to know why Hip-Hop had such a bad reputation. I have thought about Michael Jackson's numerous surgeries and how a man that was loved by millions, died "lonely." I have questioned the use of a Bachelor's degree in English for a young Black girl? How can I be this close to graduation with so many unanswered questions?

In the end, I am proud of my accomplishments but ashamed to say so. Pride is not something I'm proud of having. I'd rather say I am grateful for this privilege, this opportunity to do what many Black people are not fortunate to do, graduate from a university. Wow! Look at me. I am the first one in my entire family to do so, I am the only one that knows this type of struggle. My mother knew different struggles. Her White/Black/Indian grandmother would not allow her in her front door on a Sunday morning because her "skin was too dark." Her biology teacher said lets use a strand of Helen's hair as a specimen under the microscope because it should be filled with dirt." My mother knows of different struggles. So am I proud? I don't think my emotions or questions can be equated with pride but I feel something.

If someone asked me to sum up the last six years of my life, I would say:
M - arginal
A- ltered
S- urreal
T - ough
E - xplicit
R - ough
E - xquisite

Graduate Application

Why am I so frightened? Why Am I in fear? Why do I feel discouraged before the deadline is here? Why do I feel less adequate than others that are near? Why do I feel ashamed to be tested in this year?

I am so afraid to take the GRE and submit my graduate application. I know that I have had a rigorous undergraduate education and have learned quite a bit. I have studied hard, read a great deal, and absorbed an extreme amount of information. However, I have taken a GRE prep class and it frightened me more than words can explain.

What is fueling my anxiety is my current workstudy position. All day I open GMAT scores and transcripts of applicants applying to the MBA, MSA, or MIS programs their scores are through the the roof, especially from the international applicants. I have to tell applicants all day long that "although we do not have a minimum score our applicants are averaging a 610." Wow, many say that the score is high, other schools are in the 500's. I apologize and wish the applicant luck. Now, I am scared to death! I have been told that my GRE will not be the only determinant of the application but I am still scared. WHY?

"Maybe the Whole Town Went to Work too Young"

I loved the tone of this book for many reasons-- not least of which is the way he manages to critique Chicago while still clearly (to me at least) professing his love for her. Nevertheless, one of the things I really appreciated about Chicago: City on the Make was the chapter Algren did from his own kids-eye-view. I took it to be autobiographical when he described the move from the South Side to the North Side in the context of the 1919 Black Sox season. Since I'm not a Chicago native, I really appreciated this sketch-- made visceral with the slang of the time and the sense of childish proportion-- of growing up in Chicago. Delivering papers, sneaking into Comiskey, negotiating with his new North Side neighbors, Algren drags us around the city of his youth like the little red wagon he uses to deliver the Saturday Evening Blade.

What is striking aside from the whimsical shift in perspective--for instance, imagining all of the North Side alleys leading straight to Wrigley--is the way that this chapter is definitively a description of a Chicago child's introduction to what it means to be a "hustler's town." From the goings-on at the shady South Side tavern that Uncle J. frequents, to the national story of World Series-level fraud of the 1919 Chicago White Sox-- the narrator of this chapter is learning the language and logic of Chicago's streets. After his team is found to have purposely thrown their chances of victory, the narrator learns how dangerous a game loyalty in Chicago can be. His new North Side acquaintences immediately throw him in with the tarnished South Side team. The grilling is reminicent of a Chicago Sun Times article on clout abuses or mafia meddlings in Chicago politicians, as Algren describes, "I was coming around Troy Street almost a year later pretending I believed Risberg to be an honest man. I'd gone out to the ball park, seen him play in person and was now insisting I'd seen nothing wrong, nothing wrong at all [...] And I still pretended I hadn't suspected a thing?" (Algren 37). And concludes with the ultimate question, "What kind of American are you, anyhow?" (Algren 37). This questions rings throughout the whole book-- and the answer is a resounding-- I'm a Chicagoan, that's what kind.

"I guess that was one way of learning what Hustlertown, sooner or later, teaches all its sandlot sprouts, 'Everybody's out for The Buck. Even the big-leaguers.'" (Algren, 39).

Wow a book by an author that I have heard of!

I guess I should preface this blog by saying that this was not my first experience with Sarah Paretsky. I have been reading and listening to Sarah Paretsky for years. My mother used to take us on trips as little kids, and we would listen to books on tape. My mom loves mysteries, and as a single mother, loves ass kicking females. V.I. was one of her favorites.
So I guess you could say that I was pre disposed to like this book, from a young age. I must admit, I was surprised to be reading this book in a class at school, and pleasantly happy to be reading a book I was sure to enjoy.
And enjoy this book I did. It has everything to make a person happy- sex, violence, and more sex. It is great. There is even a cool English journalist put in just to spice things up. I enjoyed the fact that although Vic is in a male profession, she remains fundamentally feminine much of the time, thinking about things like clothes. The part where she talks about being jealous or not being jealous because she is a modern feminist woman is quite funny as well.
Of course, the action is nonstop, which is also a plus. There is not a lot of thinking or pondering going on in Vic’s world. Much of the time she simply charges head into situations without thinking about the consequences, which are often very bad. One such example of this is her wandering the south side swamp/garbage dump and almost dying. The book is cool for that reason- it is funny, hip, and moves quickly.
The imagery of Chicago is also great, although it leads me to one of the problems of the book. I know that Paretsky has socialist roots, but everyone living in South Chicago is not a working class hero being held down by the man. Although I am personally sympathetic to workers plights (being a worker myself) having worked in the South Chicago area, and having entered many of the homes in this area, I can assure you that while there are good people, there are also a lot of bad people as well. Lazy people who have never worked. Crackheads. Criminals. There may be working class heros, but most of the families are people who never got a chance to succeed in life in this book, while the reality is not the same as the book. I understand the need to further her political agenda, but this got really old really quick to me. The black and white of the culture (lots of people in the south shore area are nicie people downtrodden, and all the Buysmart folks except Billy are evil) turned me off. Nothing is black and white, and using black and white examples makes the book unrealistic.
I also did not like the way the Emergency services of the city are represented. Throughout the book, they are consistently late to places, and seem at best apathetic to the plight of the people in the story. However, there is a reason for this. The cops in these areas have calls stacked up, and receive 3 calls at a time. The area is infested with crime and criminals. It also contains people that call 911 because they have a cold, and want a trip to the ambulance to rule out the swine flu. Her beloved working class heroes stretch the system thin, and the workers to the breaking point. Sorry, I will get off my soapbox now, but that was really annoying to me.
All in all, I believe that the book is really good, and has some good political messages in it (such as the evil big corporations abusing the employees) However, I do feel that Paretsky could do better than one dimensional characters being good or bad. But, all that aside, it sure was fun to watch Vic kick some bad guys asses!