#972: The Barber Battle Book

August 27th, 2018 § permalink

My barbershop plays rock ‘n’ roll.

They have biker and shave-culture memorabilia on the walls and stacks of Hells Angels zines next to vintage ’70s Playboys. They have a “pint club” where you can pay $20 for a year of free beer, plus smiling, tattooed men who take as much time as it takes to make sure you’re perfectly happy.

No appointments, cash only. When you walk in, you sign your name on a chalkboard and they call you in turn.

This is how we get haircuts in 21st century America. And I wonder if the smiling man with the thick blonde ponytail, the man calling my name and brushing off my chair, knows we live in the city that shaped how the nation cuts hair. » Read the rest of this entry «

#971: The End of Bubbly Creek

August 24th, 2018 § permalink

At the end of Bubbly Creek, the southern fork of the Chicago River’s southern branch, where the meatpackers once dumped blood, guts and industry, where the bubbles of carbonic gas once burst in “rings two or three feet wide,” to quote the muckraker Upton, where men gathered filth for lard, skimming in scows the fat of the water, a tattooed bartender checks her phone waiting for the craft brewpub to open. » Read the rest of this entry «

#970: Fed Shreds

August 22nd, 2018 § permalink

“In the six months since the aliens landed, demands for goods and services has dropped sharply,” said the video of a man whose eyes move along with the cue card.

Around me, children ran and squealed.

“Most consumers are either hiding at home or toiling beneath the cruel yoke of their new alien overlords,” the video continued. “This has brought the economy to a virtual standstill, despite many stores aggressively slashing prices to bring in customers. While the invaders have assured world leaders that they will soon be leaving, lenders are reluctant to issue loans to business customers, whose profits keep dropping.”

The world is in crisis. There is life beyond the stars and it is malevolent. The fate of the planet is in one set of hands — mine. Now do I raise, lower or retain current interest rates?

Welcome to the Money Museum. » Read the rest of this entry «

#969: The Original

August 20th, 2018 § permalink


The strip malls grew up around the ice cream.


It’s called Original Rainbow Cone, but I don’t know why they felt it necessary to add the “Original.” This isn’t a New York pizza place, Oregon-based chain of pancake houses or any other place that needs to declare itself “original” because it isn’t.

It’s the Original Rainbow Cone because it’s the only damn one.

PALMER HOUSE (New York Vanilla with cherries and walnuts) » Read the rest of this entry «

#968: White Babies

August 17th, 2018 § permalink

I want to wait until after my kid’s born to post this.

As I write this, it’s early-mid August. My wife and I are in the “any day now, any moment now” phase. She’s sprinting like a madwoman, running every errand, cleaning every surface, complaining all the while that she’s being lazy and lumpy. She’s like that. Good enough is never enough. I admire that in her.

But since we don’t know the moment she’ll get a pain and I’ll get a call, I don’t want to schedule this story yet. I don’t want to look back on the moment of my daughter or son’s birth and have it be the day I posted a story about the hate sign dangling lazily in the first neighborhood my child will know. » Read the rest of this entry «

#967: The Legend of Boots Merullo

August 15th, 2018 § permalink

Everyone has a favorite athlete and then their “favorite.”

The “favorite” is the top athlete they like and can admit to liking. The socially acceptable one. The one you can show off to your friends and take home to momma.

But everyone has a shameful, secret, actual favorite. Like a scandal-plagued athlete who you can’t admit still inspires you most, or one who became a joke but you still can’t get out of your head. Lance Armstrong. Tiger Woods. Pre-North Korea Dennis Rodman.

My ”favorite” is Ryne Sandberg. But my actual, secret favorite is the immortal Lennie Merullo, who had a secret darker than blood doping, the ladies or whatever the hell happened to Dennis Rodman because that dictatorship stuff just went off the rails.

Lennie Merullo, my hero, was a really lousy baseball player.
» Read the rest of this entry «

#966: The Indoor Border

August 13th, 2018 § permalink

Through a door past the elevators of a luxury suburban hotel, there are bone-white, bone-shaped drywall sculptures that run the length from floor to ceiling.

There’s a foyer dangling with massive paper airplanes.

There’s the “Artist Coat Room” through that door.

Walking through that door, you’re crossing from hotel to art gallery meeting space, from rooms with names like #381 to rooms with names like The Cassatt Ballroom and Warhol.

You also crossed from Rosemont to Chicago. And here’s the story of how Chicago’s city limits run through the middle of a hotel.  » Read the rest of this entry «

#965: Candyland

August 10th, 2018 § permalink

Overhead, Michael Jackson is starting with the man in the mirror.

It’s a Saturday morning in April. The day’s starting slow in the windowless warehouse on a frontage road alongside the highway. Only a few of the shoppers have ambled into the store. The homeless who gather to solicit loose change haven’t yet arrived, taking a slow jaunt in because the spring feels too nice to start their shift that early. The off-duty cops in Sox caps joke as they arrive for their own shifts working the door as a side hustle.

And Jackson plays overhead in the grocery store.

I’m gonna make a change,
For once I’m my life
It’s gonna feel real good,
Gonna make a difference
Gonna make it right » Read the rest of this entry «

#964: The Blip

August 8th, 2018 § permalink

On the Northwest Side, where winding cul de sacs hit the strip malls of Touhy Avenue and the subdivisions bear the name of the natural features they tore down to make the subdivisions, there’s a little blip of Chicago carved out of Niles, Illinois.

Here, look at it. 

There are no markers that say the blip is still Chicago. On the south side of the street and down a touch there’s a small sign that welcomes people to the North Edgebrook subneighborhood of Chicago’s Forest Glen, but on the north side of Touhy the blip is nondual from the suburbs. Same bleating, strip-mall commerce. Same constant assertion everything’s as folksy as Nana’s peach cobbler crumble.

There’s a massive bulwark of storage lockers there, and charming older homes I want to buy. It’s a single subdivision, about 600 feet side-to-side, 1,300 top-to-bottom. It’s Niles to the north, east and west, but it’s legally Chicago. There’s no reason it should be Chicago, or at least not a reason that doesn’t trace to a 1920s land boom and an empire of flowers, but we’ll get to that.

The man in the flip-flops has lived in the blip 25 years. » Read the rest of this entry «

#963: Nobody Gets Around Johnny Twist

August 6th, 2018 § permalink

I paid him the money, so I feel OK going ahead with the story.

A few months back I knocked on the door of a storefront on Cottage Grove, but not any storefront. THAT storefront. The one with the handpainted signs offering blues CDs, afrocentric books, King Tut and a once in a lifetime chance to meet the man himself, the one the only, the legend — Johnny Twist.

The door opened before I got my hand re-lowered. The man was there, asking for five dollars. » Read the rest of this entry «

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