#893: Just Like a Waving Flag

February 23rd, 2018 § permalink

Gus Porter’s father would joke he had the most famous rear end in Chicago.

It was 1987 and Mayor Harold Washington had just died in office. WGN Flag & Decorating, a small shop in South Chicago, had the city contract to decorate council chambers in black mourning bunting. An Associated Press photographer snapped a shot of Porter’s dad and other WGN employees at work, mislabeled them as city employees and sent a photo of their backs out to the world.

It wasn’t the first big job for WGN — named for Porter’s great-grandfather William George Newbould and no relation to the TV station (but people always ask, Porter said). They were the ones who decorated Marshall Fields for V-Day in 1945. They still decorate police stations and fire houses when tragedy hits. They work with the archdiocese when popes or bishops pass.

But they were there for happier moments too. They do the championship flags for the Blackhawks and White Sox, decorated the official city visit when Queen Elizabeth II came to call in 1959. They put Harry Caray’s face on his steakhouses, cover universities and businesses, make the sigils for Oak Lawn, Orland Park, South Holland, Cook County and scores more governments.

If it happened in Chicago, they’ve been there. Since 1916.

Photo by AJ Kane.

» Read the rest of this entry «

#892: A Primer on Metaphors (Or Don’t Put Lawn Jockeys on the Reader)

February 21st, 2018 § permalink

I’m not here to talk about the racism. Better men than I have that covered.

I’m not here to talk about bullying in media, or about liberals who use people of color as proof of purchase for ideology.

I’m not here to join the chorus of thinkpieces saying the Chicago Reader’s cover using a lawn jockey to symbolize black voters is really about this and that is really about that. This is really about what Adeshina Emmanuel said it was about — racism both overt and covert, a decision-making process that put a bully in command and the media’s desire for black men’s voices so long as the black men say what they’re expected. I have no words to add to that.

My sole purpose in this non-thinkpiece thinkpiece is to remind Chicago writers how to use a metaphor. » Read the rest of this entry «

#891: The Corner, Prequel

February 19th, 2018 § permalink

Picture an ocean of warm, shallow water.

Long, eel-like fish slip by coral reefs. On the sea floor, oval not-crabs skitter through sand, pausing to glance with crystal eyes for food, predators or just to watch the hot sun shimmer and diffract through warm waters. » Read the rest of this entry «

#890: Thursday Morning, Body Count 17

February 16th, 2018 § permalink

My wife’s school has active shooter drills. » Read the rest of this entry «

#889: My Local Doughnut

February 14th, 2018 § permalink

The line snaked the perimeter.

It crept along the bakery’s inner edge, past the street-facing glass cases trying to lure wanderers with wedding cakes, curling around the side room where pickup orders happen any other day of the year, almost reaching to the dining room off to the back where people eat sandwiches and drink coffee any other day of the year.

But it’s not any other day of the year.

“I should have pre-paid,” I said, eyeing a man in a tan greatcoat who hopped past it all, picked up his box of pączki and left.

“Every year I am saying to myself I should do that,” the woman behind me in line said, chuckling. » Read the rest of this entry «

#888: The T. rex That Wasn’t

February 12th, 2018 § permalink

Her ass is gone and her ribs have been marked up, hand-writ tags dangling from each one like they’ve been priced for a yard sale.  » Read the rest of this entry «

#887: Harley and the Pickles

February 9th, 2018 § permalink

Last night, I received a comment on my portfolio site from a student named Harley.

Harley was reading about 1920s bohemian hot spot The Dil Pickle Club for the Chicago Metro History Fair, a project of the Chicago History Museum that turns students in grades six to 12 into historians by making them research and present on Chicago and Illinois history. She or he (Harley like a 1990s villainess or like an 1890s vice admiral?) had come across a blog post of mine about the club and wanted to know where one could find out more about the Pickles.

First, Harley, I’m impressed. I never would have reached out to anyone for a project at that age. That level of initiative will carry you far in life.

Second, it’ll carry you a lot farther if next time you remember to leave some contact information.

So rather than try to track down a lone schoolkid somewhere in northeast Illinois, here’s a story directed at one person, but on a snowlocked morning meant for all. Here’s a quick and dirty guide for finding out what you want to know about Chicago history, including about one of the weirdest, wildest clubs the city ever knew. » Read the rest of this entry «

#886: Welcome to 2008

February 7th, 2018 § permalink

The bar lets you bring in food from the greasy spoon next door, so I got a hamburger on a pita, which is apparently something that exists.

The place was designed for the young, the beer pong table and oversized Jenga tower attested, but at this early hour it was inhabited by the old. The guys at the bar talking wildly and broadly to pack in as much mock drunkness and youth as possible before their wives call them home for supper, old. The white-haired drinker at the end of the bar, silent but for the occasional gloomy sigh as he stared into nothing, real old.

And the bartender was old, thick Chicago accent that caused me to code switch into my own Chik-kahgo Guy ever so slightly as I ordered a beer to wash down my pita-meat.

I nestled by a window to watch snow glimmer over neon and sexless forms wrapped in scarf and hood hustle down the sidewalk. This was it. This was the place. This mixture of old men in a young bar, of desperation on a poor slip of a rich neighborhood, this sandwich ne’er before seen in my lifetime was a perfect, patented, ready-made 1,001 Chicago Afternoons story.

But first I just need to check something on my phone.  » Read the rest of this entry «

#885: Finding Mercedes

February 5th, 2018 § permalink

She was a South American beauty, body born for the beach.

She cast her head around as her dark eyes scanned the room. All eyes were on her sleek form, the swivel and sway in her walk.

And her lateral nasal supraorbital gland used to expel bloodstream salt accumulated through the repeated ingestion of sea water she pursued her diet of squid, krill and cuttlefish? Dang. » Read the rest of this entry «

#884: The Other Loop

February 2nd, 2018 § permalink

It seems obscene to have curved roads in Chicago.

Chicago’s a place for The Grid, with streets so regimented and designed “The Grid” gets capitalized. We can tell where people live by how many hundred their address is north or south. Our city looks like Tron when you fly into Midway at night.

Sure, something might bend a tad, but those are blotches of history, curves of road to avoid since-filled creeks or railroad lines that dissolved into bankruptcy 60 years ago. The streets snap back into shape as soon as they are physically able to realign with our urban skeleton’s obsession with 90 degrees.

A circle of houses swirling like a suburban subdivision around a central kids’ park seems obscene in Chicago. But Chrysler Village isn’t obscene. It took something more than obscenity to create this. It took a war. » Read the rest of this entry «

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