#976: Fez Sez

September 5th, 2018 § permalink

The cabinets’ contents are not for sale.

Sure, you can buy the $1,500 crystal vases and $99 place settings from the display cases shuffled among the relics. Of course you can buy them — it’s a store, from the top floor of bedding sets down to the entrance where soaps, candles and other heavily potpourried toilet decorations mace you with scent when you walk off the street.

Among the three stories of designer corkscrews and Persian-inspired throw rugs that define the downtown Bloomingdale’s home store, only the two glass cabinets are off limits. More than Orrefors or Simon Pearce crystalware, they contain the truly valuable.

Fezzes. Badges. Photos of clowns. » Read the rest of this entry «

#975: Will Tomorrow Smell Like Chocolate?

September 3rd, 2018 § permalink

The smell of chocolate wafts around the building.

It has for years, decades. That smell permeates the building and spreads out onto the North Branch of the river. When the wind is right it scents the whole downtown with a short, tangy reminder of cocoa and jobs. On summer days, it’s what Chicago smells like to me.

Inside the factory door of the blankface warehouse, there’s a glass booth decorated with hygiene requirements for any visiting subcontractors. A few workers pile out the door, their shift done. They laugh wearily and joke, like kids at the end of a school day.

The hefty man behind the glass sees me and nods me in what’s clearly the right direction. I enter the shop.  » Read the rest of this entry «

#974: Coco’s Famous Deep Fried Lobster

August 31st, 2018 § permalink

Two years staring at the restaurant was enough. I decided to get some lobster.

Across Clark from the modernist federal prison shaped like a triangle, on a block of 1800s buildings that somehow survived the skyscrapering and Mies van der Rohe-ing of the Chicago Loop, next to a sign that blares HOTEL MEN ONLY into the atmosphere, there’s a soul food joint that’s been alluring me.

My main attraction to the place was also my main source of reluctance: the awning that declared it the home of Coco’s Famous Deep Fried Lobster. » Read the rest of this entry «

#973: The Vanishing Chicago Sewer Clown

August 29th, 2018 § permalink

Chicago has a sewer clown problem, but it’s not what It looks like. » Read the rest of this entry «

#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 «

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