Sunday, April 17, 2011


The last week I was in Chicago as a Chicago resident I thought I should do a post about what I will miss and what I will not miss about my former city. Today I was reading something and it mentioned the dramas of Samuel Beckett, and an image popped into my head of Francis Guinan storming down the stage at the Steppenwolf Theater with a crazed look on his face and his arms held out in front of him at shoulder width, palms up and slightly pumping. He starred in the Steppenwolf’s production last year of Beckett’s Endgame. I have no idea if he actually did what I saw him doing in my head in that production, but it imagined real enough to me. Anyway. I miss getting to see plays featuring Francis Guinan—I love that dude. So I was reminded of my list, which is not exhaustive and not ranked in any particular order.

But before the list, I want to say that Chicago is a great city qua city. It has great neighborhoods, lots of theater, lots of sports, and all that. If you want to live in a proper city east of the Mississippi, it’s one of your best options. It’s has fewer assholes than New York, fewer douchebags than the District of Columbia, and fewer Red Sox and Celtics fans than Boston (of course those are gross generalizations, but…) But I have issues with Chicago for climatic and topographic reasons, which are not to be undervalued. I’m from the west (the real west)—my mom’s family has lived in the Pacific Northwest for as long as people have lived in what’s now the United States (in the parlance of Indian law, since “time immemorial”) and my father’s father’s father lived and worked at a brothel in Tombstone during the “gunfight at the OK Corral” era. This is where I want to be. A coworker told me yesterday that this is paradise, and I probably agree.

What I Will Miss About Chicago

(1) Francis Guinan, and to a lesser extent the Steppenwolf generally.

(2) Lou Mitchell’s, a breakfast institution and rightly so. Their eggs are buttery and airy and delicious, and their banana pancakes are even more delicious. Sitting at the bar with old regulars was always an experience that made me feel like a real Chicagoan.

(3) Hopleaf, a good beer bar and restaurant. The beer list was decent—which means excellent by Chicago standards—and the food was good too. I’ll most miss going there probably because I’ll miss listening to my wife talk about how she thought about ordering something else but couldn’t pass up her “execution sandwich” (what she’d want as her final meal if she were on death row), and afterward walking around Andersonville and getting amazing ice cream at George’s Ice Cream and Sweets.

(4) Myopic Books, a madhouse of a used bookstore. Several floors of bookshelves jammed too close together.

(5) The Seminary Co-op and 57th Avenue Books. The Seminary Co-op is probably the best academic bookstore in the country (and because I’m an American I tend to assume that means in the world—I’ve been to the bookstores in Oxford at least and they don’t hold a candle to the Hyde Park shop). 57th Avenue is warmer and less academic. The two together are bliss.

(6) Medici on 57th. After #5 a meal at Medici is always a good decision. The food’s good, but even if it weren’t the feel makes it worth it. Tables and booths with writing all over them give it a slightly dingy surface that has its own charm combined with good lighting or something and it feels warm (I realize I’ve used that word in that way twice in the last few sentences, so what). Plus there are tons of students and academics in there and while sometimes I find the conversations I eavesdrop on to be incredibly irritating, I do like the college feel except to the extent it makes me pine for my youth.

(7) Portillo’s. You don’t actually have to be in Chicago, or even in the Midwest, to enjoy Portillo’s, but I’m not sure when I’ll get to eat there again. Big Beef, hot, dipped, with some of the finest fast food fries around. I really wanted to prefer Al’s Italian Beef for several reasons, most of which are probably not good reasons (Portillo’s is to Al’s what the suburbs are to the city), but I just couldn’t. Portillo’s was my first “beef” (thanks, Mr. Fenner!) and from that point forward that was what a beef should taste like.

(8) Pequod’s Pizza. Very late in my stay Pequod’s became my preferred purveyor of deep-dish pizza. Very delicious. A shout out to Bacino’s too, as my favorite deep-dish place before Pequod’s made its mark. Both places had acceptable beer options, which is good for Chicago.

(9) The Bourgeois Pig. My favorite coffee shop in the city, hands down. Yes, it’s relatively expensive and snobby and whatever, but talk about warm. I also enjoyed a few of their sandwiches very much (Pilgrim’s Progress, mostly). I couldn’t help but smile every time a song from a recording of Les Miserables (I think Broadway cast) popped on in what I assume was shuffle play, which if you went there enough (like I did) you knew happened somewhat regularly. I particularly enjoyed seeing/hearing others in the shop look up and, often, mutter “what the hell?” every time it happened. Here, unlike at Medici, the discussions of students almost always annoyed me and had little to no redeeming value. My wife once commented that such comments were bound to be worse at the Pig because of its proximity to DePaul. I suggested I detected a hint of snobbery and she assured me that it wasn’t snobbery it was just the truth.

(10) The Art Institute, Field Museum, Museum of Science and Industry, and the various other museums. They are way too expensive if you have to pay, but the number of free days/evenings they all had made them all fantastic places to spend a few hours during those free periods.

(11) ParkWest. An excellent music venue. I saw Billy Bragg and Kaki King there.

(12) Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Some of their productions irritated me tremendously, but I always enjoyed spending an evening there with my wife.

(13) Kuma’s Corner. There are way too many places that claim or are reported to have the “best burgers” but Kuma’s truly has the best burgers. Truly. The best burger I’ve ever had in my life I had at Kuma’s. Plus they have good beer, good music, and cool art (even if it feels like they are trying way too hard to be hardcore).

(14) Children’s Learning Place, Carver’s first school. I can’t imagine a nicer place to send a pre-k kid (well, actually I can, it would be CLP but in a location like Carver’s current school: on a five acre property removed from everything else, with an orchard and chickens and wild animals and plants all around). It’s hard to imagine nicer and better teachers of toddlers than Mlles Jessica, Arlinda, June, and Gina.

(15) The Center for Book and Paper Arts at Columbia College Chicago, where I took Letterpress one and two. A beautiful little shop with a bunch of Vandercooks and type of all sizes, styles, and vintages. I never got to take a paper making class there but I bet that’s cool too.

(16) Autumn. The nice days during the fall are some of the nicest you’ll ever find. But see below. Brisk air, changing leaves on the ground; it’s the time when the city feels like it is in its true state.

(17) The Chicago Humanities Festival.

(18) The “bridges smell of chocolate.” I first heard this on This American Life and didn’t really get it. But it is true. At certain times, when the circumstances are right, you do get hit with the distinct smell of chocolate as you drive across certain bridges (I most notice it in the River North area, particularly when entering downtown from the Ohio Street exit off of 90/94).

(19) Its proximity to Michigan.

What I Won’t Miss About Chicago

(1) Wrigley Field. OK, so, unlike everything else that follows I actually don’t dislike Wrigley; it’s a very nice place to watch a baseball game when the weather is nice. I just put it here because I wanted to say that for a place that people call the “world’s largest beer garden” or whatever the beer selection is abysmal.

(2) The traffic. The worst I’ve ever experienced, both the “freeways” and the streets. Also, if I were ruler of Chicago, there would be no stoplights on Lake Shore Drive.

(3) The weather. The summer is worse than the winter. I loathe humidity. There are approximately seven weeks of the year when the weather in Chicago is almost reliably nice, early October to Thanksgiving.

(4) The lack of seawater. The lake does not cut it.

(5) The flatness. I hate flat country, it’s just wrong. No horizon to orient yourself, no rising and falling roads that are interesting to drive. No houses for the soul. Nothing.

(6) The politics. Why is it legal for the mayor and aldermen to stick their name on everything at taxpayer expense? And that’s not even scratching the surface.

(7) The taxes. I’m a tax loving Democrat, but come on. Sales taxes that exceed 11% are insane. Property taxes that make owning even a condo a painful thing, never mind an actual house.

(8) The traffic (and this is coming from someone who spent years driving all over southern California!), and the public transportation is slower than and not nearly as good as many Chicagoans seem to want to admit.

(9) That pedestrians have the right-of-way but are never given it.

(10) The number of bars that affiliate themselves with Michigan State. I mean come on. Maybe I’m overly sensitive but it seems like there are more MSU bars in the city than there are bars that affiliate themselves with all other Big Ten schools combined.

(11) Its proximity to Ohio. You can’t get far enough away.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Dog-eared 20

I’ve decided to copy my wife's “dog-eared” feature. These posts will contain quotations from books, music, movies, and whatever else I feel like sharing.

The Caine Mutiny

“What makes you think he’d be good for the Caine case?”

“Well, sir, Maryk is a dead pigeon, the way I see it, and Barney goes for that kind of case.” Challee paused. “I guess you’d call him odd in a way. Very odd. I’m used to him. He’s from Albuquerque. Barney is interested as hell in the Indians. You might say he’s nuts on the subject. He specialized in Indian cases after getting out of law school—won a lot of them, too. He was working up a pretty good general practice in Washington, before he joined up—”

“What was he, ROTC?”

“No. V7, then switched to air.”

Breakstone pulled at his nose with thumb and forefinger for several seconds. “Sounds like he might be pinko.”

Herman Wouk, The Caine Mutiny, pages 349–50.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Dog-eared 19

I’ve decided to copy my wife's “dog-eared” feature. These posts will contain quotations from books, music, movies, and whatever else I feel like sharing.


Suttree went on. A mute and shapeless derelict would stop him with a puffy hand run forth from a cavernous sleeve of an armycoat. Woadscrivened, a paling heart that holds a name half gone in grime. Suttree looked into the ruined eyes where they burned in their tunnels of disaster. The lower face hung in sagging wattles like a great scrotum. Some mumbled word of beggary. To make your heart more desolate.

Cormac McCarthy, Suttree, page 383.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Three Things, After a Long Absence

Can I see some ID?

I bought a pack of cigarettes for my sister a few weeks ago. The girl at the checkout counter, who was just a girl, likely still in her teens, looked at me sideways for a bit longer than is normal for that kind of transaction, so at looked at her back, waiting. She finally scanned the pack and said, “I almost carded you there….” Somewhat flattered and somewhat shocked, I said, in my attempt at charm, “Well, you got it right. It’s been a pretty long time since I was too young to buy cigarettes.” And she quickly replied, as if to immediately shoot down any confusion, “Oh, yeah [clearly meaning: obviously]. But we’re supposed to card anyone who looks under 40.” No longer flattered, and somewhat crushed, I said, “Oh,” looked away, and started to pretend something else had caught my attention as she finished ringing me up.

God damn you, father time.

Carver and Zoë

My immediate family came to visit this weekend. That includes my grandniece Zoë. Zoë and Carver love each other. It’s interesting, as a parent, to see. Carver thinks Zoë could walk on water. If she likes something, he’s almost set on liking it himself. When he sees her, he lights up. And it is just obvious to someone who has spent a huge amount of time around Carver that he thinks about her in a different way than he thinks about anyone else.

I’m not trying to say something ridiculous, like they are bound to get married, or something. First of all, they are first cousins once removed. Second, Carver is two and Zoë is six, they don’t think that way yet and we don’t think about them in that way. And when it comes right down to it, Carver would miss either of his parents more than he’d miss Zoë, but the friendship is special. There’s something about how kids relate to other kids that adults, no matter how fun and cool, just cannot match. And that’s better than fine.

The Road

Anne and I just finished watching The Road. Here are some of my thoughts:

(1) It was a pretty faithful adaptation of the book. With a few minor issues, some of which could be considered major depending on your viewpoint.

(2) Viggo Mortensen is a badass. He is the epitome of hardcore when it comes to acting. I love that dude.

(3) Anne thinks she’d take the route the mother did [SPOILER ALERT], which is to kill herself after the point when things get really bad. I like to think I’d stick it out and follow “the road,” clinging to hope. But who knows what one would do if things got really, really bad.

(4) Anne says she wouldn’t eat our dog. I say, you know, if you’re starving…

(5) Anne and I listened to the audio book of The Road when we took a road trip to South Carolina when Carver was a month old. During the movie Anne and I had a quick conversation about how the story is harder to bear now than it was then, because we have a child. We had a child then, but it was different. I figured that then the reality hadn’t really set in, and/or that it’s harder now because Carver is more of a person, with his own personality, than he was then. Either way it is true, and tells me something about love.

I love my son more than anything. Not to be flip, or silly, or spout some sort of cliché, or whatever, but I didn’t know what love could mean until Carver came along. I love my wife, and my family and dear friends, and have loved past girlfriends, and (particularly with my wife and past girlfriends) at various times I’ve felt I’ve loved them so much that I’d die if something ruined that relationship. But seriously it doesn’t even compare to how I feel about Carver. While it’s hard to think about and accept, I think if anyone I cared about other than my son died I’d be very, very upset, but I think I’d recover eventually. I’ve suffered that kind of loss before, and it’s awful but I can take it. But if something happened to Carver…I seriously, from a very informed perspective, cannot even imagine being able to go on.

And all of this informs my reading/listening/viewing of The Road. And let’s just say that the story is hard to take.

Also: I don’t think I ever fully appreciated what my parents felt about my sisters and me. When I think about how they probably think (or at least thought) about me the way I think about Carver, it makes me wish I were much, much nicer to them.

(6) The story also, I’m somewhat ashamed to admit, makes me think that maybe those survivalist crazies aren’t so crazy. Of course I don’t mean those who think our government is out to get us, or those in the town I grew up in who thought they needed to arm themselves to the teeth during the LA riots because all the brown people from the city were going to storm our fair (literally, in one respect) enclave of privileged racists. But if something horrible happens and you want to protect those that mean more to you than everything else in the world, how frustrating would it be to not have an extra $10 in ammunition when you’re left with two bullets in your revolver?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dog-eared 18

I’ve decided to copy my wife's “dog-eared” feature. These posts will contain quotations from books, music, movies, and whatever else I feel like sharing.

Wittgenstein’s Mistress

Was it really some other person I was so anxious to discover, when I did all of that looking, or was it only my own solitude that I could not abide?

In either event people continually looking in and out of windows is doubtless not such a ridiculous subject for a book, after all.

Even though Emily Brontë once struck her dog so angrily that she knocked it out, simply because it had gotten onto her bed when she had told it not to get onto her bed, which is the one thing Emily Brontë did that one wishes she hadn’t.

Even if, as I have perhaps said, there are also things Emily Brontë did not do that one wishes she had.

Although which may well be none of one’s business either, it finally occurs to me.

And meantime I would appear to have completely forgotten my russet cat’s name.

David Markson, Wittgenstein’s Mistress, page 134.

Practically every single day at Corinth, for instance, when I did remember to let the cat back in, I said good morning to it.

Good morning, Rembrandt, being exactly how I said it practically every single time.

Russet as a color that one automatically associates with Rembrandt having been the origin of this, naturally.

Even if russet is perhaps not a color.

In any case it is surely not a color that has anything to do with painting, although admittedly it may be a color that has something to do with bedspreads. Or with upholstery.

Although not being a painting a cat can be russet too.

And being russet is apt to be named Rembrandt.

Which in fact no less an authority than Willem de Kooning found to be a perfectly suitable name, on an afternoon when the identical cat happened to climb into his lap.

Perhaps I have not mentioned that my russet cat climbed into Willem de Kooning’s lap.

My russet cat once climbed into Willem de Kooning’s lap.

Page 135.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Dog-eared 17

I’ve decided to copy my wife's “dog-eared” feature. These posts will contain quotations from books, music, movies, and whatever else I feel like sharing.


Morrissey was asked what he thought of t.A.T.u.’s cover of “How Soon is Now?” He said he thought it was magnificent but admitted that he didn’t know much about t.A.T.u.

The interviewer explained, “They’re teenage Russian Lesbians.” To which Morrissey replied, “Well, aren’t we all?”

I do not like t.A.T.u.’s cover.

Note: I cannot believe I didn't already have a "Morrissey" tag.


The last two years of my life captured in a New Yorker cartoon.

"Look at you! Breaking out the good sweatpants today."

To the extent this was anyone's fault, it was mine.