Category Archives: chicagoland

oh, america

Sometimes I get this niggling urge to go live in Europe, take public transit everywhere, enjoy raw milk cheeses, and explore cities established more than a few centuries ago. I like bridges, you see, and winding streets and architecture that’s had time to crumble. If I ever get my shit together, maybe this will happen. In the meantime,  I will admit to a deep and profound love of Americana in all its forms. This love, by the way, is completely without irony. Is sincere.

Chicago is sort of great simply because of its mid-century signage — oh, terminus of Route 66, how I appreciate your existence. Nostalgia for the west, the closing in of the prairie. It’s so spectacularly beautiful, even now. Totally the best thing about the Northwestern suburbs. Remember, guys, this used to to be the fucking frontier!

Now, while I do not love the back-and-forth trek to Kentucky– and please, no comments on Indiana as the great corn-growing crossroads of America, because while I like a tenderloin sandwich and GNR as much as the next girl–

It is still a fucking balls-ache of a state that takes HOURS to traverse in any direction, assaulting your senses with bad country music stations, billboards encouraging you to reverse your vasectomy and remember that you’ll meet Jesus after you die, and also the relentless smell of cow shit. And corn fields stretching to the horizon, industrial farming that makes me weep for the loss of the yeoman farmer (shut up, I’m allowed to romanticize just a wee bit here), and profoundly sad about the reach of agribusiness and the thumbhold of King Corn.

Last trip back, though, I did make a spectacular purchase at a truck stop. Possibly ironic, but it pleases me immensely.

WOLVES ON A DREAMCATCHER, people. It is no three-wolf moon shirt, I grant you, but it is my new writing talisman and I CHERISH IT.


second city

Author’s note: I am full aware that I am not Nick Hornby. My record collection is far less impressive, for one thing. But what is the point of blogging if you can’t play with narrative conventions, right? So today you can have a list.

Have signed up for sketch comedy writing class at Chicago’s Second City. Class has met twice thus far. They made me do improv, which I have not done since…oh, 8th grade, I think? It’s weirdly fun, kind of zen, insofar as it takes you out of yourself and clamps a damper on your constant internal monologue (just me, with that? doubtful). You have to listen. Not like talking with other people, where you’re just sitting there anxious for it to be your turn again, but truly attentive and in the present moment.* Terrifying, but weirdly exhilarating. Also all about fostering ‘hivemind.’

So I did that, met a bunch of children. Sort of shocked at how many of them had moved to Chicago for the sole purpose of  taking classes there. It felt like the first day of school, I had to amp myself up with horrible tunes. And then had drinks with delightful and funny anthropologists in my OWN AGE BRACKET the next day. Good times.

  • Notebooks purchased for writing class (2, pink, slightly pretentious)
  • Iced teas consumed before class (4 )
  • Times Miley Cyrus’ Party in the USA was played as incentive to walk into classroom (3)**
  • Times Rough Riders rap (Biggie, Eve, L’il Kim et all) was played (10+)
  • Times I remembered Second City’s “no refunds” policy (more than once?)
  • Number of people in sketch comedy writing class (14)
  • Number of girls in SCWC (4)
  • Number of girls in SCWC who went to Harvard (1, not counting my own horrible stint at summer school)
  • Times debated asking this girl whether I could call her “Toofer” (2)
  • Number of guys in class who claim “not to read” (5)
  • Number of guys who clearly want to be the next Andy Samberg (3)
  • Number of guys who actually look like Andy Samburg (0, and a DAMN SHAME IT IS)
  • Drinks consumed with semi-adults (4)
  • Plates of french fries eaten (3)
  • Excellent puns made (1)
  • Excellent puns heard (6, including the fabulous Ms. B’s title for a Marxian porn– “Come Oddity Fetish”)
  • Cigarettes smoked (0, +10000 points of awesome!)
  • Stabbing pains in calves (well over two dozen)
  • Bottles of vitamins purchased (2)

Single best thing about this clip? Animal reaction shots.

*Russell T. Davies has a great quote, which I will paraphrase here. Namely, that when two people are talking, it’s very rarely a conversation. It’s two monologues happening simultaneously. Which, whoa. But, true?

**I know it’s been autotuned to all hell and that it’s atrocious, but if Rivers Cuomo says it’s okay, it’s okay. (From Details: “Miley Cyrus’ ‘Party in the USA” kills me with jealousy.’ The melodies are out-of-control beautiful.” )


chicagoland, still

Despite loathing winter (whine, whine) and various other things that bug the everloving crap out of me, Chicago does have its moments. The cityscape being the obvious one, especially the gorgeous “corn cob” buildings of Marina City.*

Rather amusingly, they have been filming Transformers 3 downtown. While I don’t give a hoot and a half about the franchise, I do love that this is the sign they posted to alert pedestrians that a terrorist attack is not actually taking place. (Or, that they don’t need to play the favorite guessing game of Chicago residents: “Gunshots or Fireworks?”)

Here is a clip of some of the filming. To be honest, it did sound pretty damn scary from the street.

Still won’t see it, of course, unless it ends with Shia LaDouche getting kicked in the head. He seems atrocious.

*One of the greatest pleasures on earth, I am convinced, is listening to music while visiting the place it emerged from. Crimpshrine in the East Bay, the New York Dolls on the Lower East Side, Lyle Lovett in the Texas hill country, and so on, are all examples of this. I love nothing more than to go stare at these buildings while listening to Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, because, as the Watcher said, it feels like synchronicity  bordering on predestination.

things that confuse me, special local edition

If you asked, I would say, fuck yes, public art is awesome. Whether it takes the form of bronze sculptures of local figures of moderate renown (Nizhny Novgorod and Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov, I am looking very pointedly in your direction) or even the whole animal-as-totem of a cityscape (Lexington, Kentucky and variously painted horses being the main one I can conjure off the top of my head). I mean, yeah, rock on out with that.

It’s not always the best use of public funds, granted, since Chicago has potholes that can actually swallow your car and/or rip off a tire.

But this, people. This.  Seeing a giant creepy bloodshot eye looming over State Street genuinely freaks my shit out. I glance up from the bus, unprepared, and want to SCREAM in terror.

But, if someone wants to install another sculpture, just across the street, of a giant finger with a contact lens poised on it, I would laugh and laugh and laugh.

Article with the details on the giant eye art here.

ah, summer.

A stretch of home games for the Cubs and the traffic nightmare that is the Taste of Chicago have turned downtown into a one-two punch of appalling annoyingness and shuffling white people. Michigan Avenue is just not really that interesting, especially when you can’t make your way down the sidewalk at anything resembling normal speeds, owing to the mooing bovine herds in from Naperville or Boilingbrook or some other suburban shithole who, honestly, could stand to be hustled along with a cattle prod. Surely they have Forever 21 and Borders in the mall in those places. You have to have seen this shit before. Chop, chop, people.  And I say this as someone who is usually half a block behind my significant other because he is TALL and I am SLOW.

God forbid you should have to say, run any kind of errands within the boundaries of the Loop, whether that be making a quick Trader Joe’s run for staples (beer, melatonin, cat food, parmesan), trying to get frozen yogurt at one of Chicagoland’s fine Pinkberry imitators*, or buying outlandish five dollar dangly earrings from H&M that will be worn exactly three times before they break into tiny fragments from the insistent pressure of your cell phone. Gotta love that far eastern quality control!

It’s certainly enough to make you go all What About Bob, i.e. to wear this:

Shirt available at Found Item Clothing, and seen in action here

The Onion’s AV Club has an excellent piece on the summer-induced recession-heightened tourist deluge that is upon us. Link here.

Rachael Ray’s $40 A Day says: “Rachael Ray toddles into the Windy City of Chicago with a farmer-sized appetite and just $40. She hits Kitsch ‘n on Roscoe for breakfast, and BackStage Bistro for lunch. For dinner she tries Greek Islands, a Greek family restaurant. The evening ends at Navy Pier with macadamia popcorn.”

But they forgot to mention: That frugality needn’t go hand in hand with scattershot dining choices. Also, no evening should end at Navy Pier.

Never listen to anything Rachel Ray says. “EVOO” is just not going to happen, because it’s an absolutely un-bloody-necessary acronym. And, there’s the whole part where she can’t cook. Howevs, I will concede that her magazine is kind of cute. Probably because you can’t hear her yapping beagle voice when you read it. That’s a start for making her, oh, an eighteenth more tolerable.

The Onion article also links to this website, which you can use to scare the bejeesus out of yourself and plot the incidences of various crimes on each city block. It was one of my most favorite activities before moving from Kentucky.**

Which, in light of the fact that Chicago’s longstanding handgun ban was just struck down, means there will likely soon be a lot more dots on that little crime map. Just in time for a rousing summer round of my fave summer game: “Fireworks or Gunshots?” Not to mention that the New York Times can reward us with charming gems like this, that go so damn well with your a.m. iced coffee–

Last school year, 258 public school students were shot in Chicago, 32 fatally, on their way to or from school, traveling through gang-infested territory and narcotics wars on the South and West Sides.

Oh, woo. If you need to shoot pheasants on weekends in Wisconsin, get a friggin’ rifle. Otherwise, the second amendment can GET BENT.***

*I love Pinkberry and the denizens of imitators it has spawned. I now long to go to Korea because I fondly imagine that you can get tart frozen yogurt everywhere. The streets are awash in it. Pinkberry’s motto is “Swirly Goodness,” which sounds like the kind of kink you would normally hear some traumatized woman call in to Savage Love about. And think to yourself, lordy, glad I’m not fucking that guy. No? Just me, then.

**And also try to parse the language of incident reports. Why is domestic violence classed as “simple battery”? It seems like the convergence of factors that feed into household violence are mind-bogglingly complex.

***I must steal a tweet from Charlie Brooker (about David Cameron, zoinks!), and co-opt it for my own purposes: “LEAST SEXY AMENDMENT EVER.”

chicago manual of style

If you like words and punctuation, do check out the Chicago Manual of Style’s Carol Fisher, blogging on copy editing.

Chicagoans have a tradition of scavenging stuff from curbs and alleys. It’s honorable to set out household debris that you want to disappear, and it’s honorable to cart away an object you find abandoned. Sometimes you can hardly believe your luck: last week my son Ben found a leather recliner and hauled it back to his place. He’d wanted to buy one for a long time, but had resisted (even after I pointed out that it would make a credible business expense for his video-games blog).

The catch, of course, is that there’s usually a defect in discarded goods, no matter how good they look. In the case of upholstered furniture, everyone knows you have to turn it over and check for squirrels.

Link here.


I live five doors down from the Obama’s house  in Chicago. The proximity to political bigwigs wasn’t necessarily a factor when we rented our place, and we actually used to park in front there all the time. Then we discovered that Ellis actually had better street parking and was less of a schlep.

I didn’t think much about any of this until the presidential campaign really got underway in 2008. Suddenly, Greenwood was blocked off, and there were cop cars stationed every twenty feet. In the run-up to election day, Chicago’s finest were joined by what can only be described as a smokin’ hot security detail: dudes in navy polos, bulletproof vests, and regulation khaki pants.* I once saw a giant white Escalade dropping off an honest-to-God sniper on my street. Presumably, he then went and climbed a tree and sat there perched with his rifle or whatever they carry, ready to pick off intruders. Eek.

In the three months between the election and the inauguration, the security ratcheted up to a fever pitch. Three blocks of my street were  barricaded in with cement road blocks. All the bus stops were removed. Cars were diverted elsewhere, and the residents who wanted to park had to submit to having their trunks sniffed by giant German Shepherds. Pedestrians were discouraged, and those of us who live here  had to have our bags searched and IDs checked every time we came and went.

A wrap-around gate encircles the building, but we have two separate entrances for each part of it. I quickly learned that entering on the Ellis side meant I could bring my groceries and toilet paper in without being wanded or patted down. For the most part. Before I had an Illinois driver’s license, I had to carry my voter registration card around as proof of residency. Once, a secret service guy stopped me.

“Ma’am, where are you going?”

Um. Here? My building? Where I, you know, live?

“Just inside, sir.” I’m going to what, jump the cast iron fences of the next five lawns?!

“Well, we need you to use the other entrance.”

“Sure, just, it’s not connected? Inside?”

“Oh, well. Okay then.”

This happened more than I would care to repeat. Don’t get me wrong, I want the leader of the free world to be protected. I just wish when they come to town they’d stayed in a goddamned hotel, with security cameras and CCTV and secure entranceways and egresses, is all.

Given the level of security, I’m also kind of surprised that you can still blithely explore the surrounding area using Google Street View. I was almost 100 percent positive that great stretches of the neighborhood would be grayed out, like Area 51 or Roswell or some such.

I don’t necessarily feel safer, just massively inconvenienced.

Like the time when I had to explain to AT&T–whose customer service department must have been trained in Soviet post-offices for their interminable fucking bureaucracy and insistence on making everything just that much worse– that, no, they couldn’t fix any of the telephone poles or wires within a half mile of my house, because that would necessitate running cables to 47th, which is now a protected area, because the president, yes, I do mean President Obama, and I’m sure you were a McCain-Palin supporter since this call center is probably located in Provo or Texarkana or somewhere god-awful where people think cappuccino comes out of a machine at the Dairy Mart and costs 79 cents and I know you think he’s in league with the terrorists but that’s not really the issue it’s more like could you just please for the love of Christ find a way to reroute the DSL wires so that we don’t cause a security breach and not disable my internet every time a new tenant moves in to the building and not mysteriously slap a $200 charge on my direct bill which I then have to spend an entire afternoon on the phone contesting owing to your utter shit-ass incompetence?

Yeah, cheers.

*These guys were hot. In stark contrast to the tubby whiteness of the CPD. Google image searches for “Secret Service” don’t turn up the same stunning caliber of attractiveness. Most of those guys look like miniature jujitsu experts or minor supporting characters from The Sopranos.