#605: A Most Difficult Chicago Trivia Quiz

March 9th, 2016 § permalink

You might know the Iroquois Theater Fire happened in 1903, but do you know the name of the assistant chief usher called to testify after?

Sure, you know that the first self-sustained nuclear chain reaction was at the U of C campus, but do you know what sport the room was originally made for? » Read the rest of this entry «

#577: In the Time it Takes to Carve a Frog

January 4th, 2016 § permalink

The man with the leather or rubber apron and the chainsaw paced the raised platform amid a dozen or so earlier creations. Dragon. Fish. Penguin. Octopus. Waving bear.

He patted the block of ice, gave statistics on its weight. 300 pounds. He and a young woman grabbed it with large metal pincers, set it on the short table.

He called for suggestions from the small crowd huddled around the surrounding fence. They called fish, penguin, bear. He rejected them all, pulling what looked like an awl out of his back pocket to start scratching out a shape for the crowd to guess at. » Read the rest of this entry «

#553: A Pumpkin Spice Update and the Failure of Communism

November 9th, 2015 § permalink

It was a clear plastic knife, the type built for picnics where they really care.

I picked up the little knife, hefted it as much as one can with a sliver of molded plastic too light even to get a recycling number printed on it and cut off a slice of vanilla bean gourmet fancy-pantsy doughnut.


Now a slice of a cinnamonny looking ‘nut.


Now a risk, a gamble. A weird, sort of orangey thing with these odd teardrop seeds on top.

I pushed the knife into the doughnut until it gave, springy cake bits popping around each side of the dull petroleum blade. I popped a piece into my mouth. » Read the rest of this entry «

#551: A Quiet Block

November 4th, 2015 § permalink

It’s quiet on the block.

Other blocks are loud and brutal, but not this one. This one’s quiet and pretty. » Read the rest of this entry «

#543: Coronado’s Cross

October 16th, 2015 § permalink

It didn’t start in July.

It didn’t start then, but I don’t know when it did start.

I don’t know when the first notion for the exhibit appeared to people. I don’t know when, according to the Tribune, they started the crowdsourced process of having online folks determine whether the new Chicago History Museum exhibit would be on local lit, local women or another Capone-apalooza.

I don’t know when click poll voters chose an exhibit about Chicago writers.

I don’t know who nominated something I wrote.

I don’t know who picked it.

But I’m glad they did. » Read the rest of this entry «

#532: Where’s the One-Armed Gibbon?

September 21st, 2015 § permalink

In the Lincoln Park Zoo’s Helen Brach Primate House, he used to fling himself from artificial branch to artificial branch with one long, lone arm.

Covered in black fur with white tufts springing from his happy, alert face, the gibbon would hurl himself through the air with the same arm he would catch himself with split-moments later. Fling, catch, fling, catch, fling, catch, stop, eat something using his foot, fling, fling, catch, catch.

His name was Kien Nhan, and in 2005, one of his arms had to be amputated. » Read the rest of this entry «

#526: One Chicago Afternoon

September 7th, 2015 § permalink

The little bar had almost no light, just small hexagon windows letting in what little of the sun they cared for. » Read the rest of this entry «

#517: Zouaves

August 17th, 2015 § permalink

Past the pimped-out muscle car in the foyer and the flash and neon of a man-sized “Gas For Less” sign, up the stairs and past four interactive windows of Lincoln assassination relics, past a stately, chandeliered room of arches, columns and Civil War portraits is the Chicago History Museum’s Chicago Room, where an old janitor and a young security guard watched out the window and narrated each other the death machines. » Read the rest of this entry «

#500: Return of the 499

July 8th, 2015 § permalink

500. Half a thou. D, to the ancient Romans. As close to the halfway point of the project as an odd-numbered goal allows.

So what should I write this milestone story about?

I decided to toss that question to the folks who made up the first 499, asking the people who got me this far how I should kick off the second half. » Read the rest of this entry «

#433: For Future Reference

February 2nd, 2015 § permalink

1931, The Ritz Club

Bill Bottoms’ popular black-and-tan, where the atmosphere is torrid during the wee small hours. Plenty of action from the colored saxophone player and the drummer, and the entertainment goes on at a merry clip. Floor shows, dancing between, exotic atmosphere, food, and the beaming personality of Bill himself. Chicken and chops are a specialty on the menu.

It’s a weed-choked field in Washington Park. » Read the rest of this entry «

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