|Eli's cheesecake are perfect for birthdays too.|
Yeah, you, reading this now: listen up. Every day—every goddamn day—I present a big warm helping of high quality journalism or certified whimsy, some work of semi-professional writing, and your obligation is ... what? Pretty much nothing. You show up. The big scorekeeper in the sky registers a click that some consider all-important but in reality neither puts a nickel in my pocket nor decreases the general shabbiness of this endeavor by smoothing out a single wrinkle. You read the thing, or don't. You gaze at my attempt to produce photographs. You comment, or don't. Half the time you complain. And I let you, generous, open soul that I am.
Ten months a year, that's it. No coral reef of ads generating a dime or two an hour. Why stoop in the gutter for pennies? No cup-rattling button to click, begging for dollars. No paywall, no membership drive. I don't need to monetize the blog, because I've got my gold-plated Chicago Sun-Times columnist job fire hosing money at me. Really, it's embarrassing, and takes all my ingenuity to find way to spend it. Thank God for my two boys in law school. What will I do when they become high-powered attorneys, at the end of next year, mirabile dictu, and no longer look up from their studies, blink, and realize they need another four-figure handout from ma and pa? Uncomplainingly given, I hasten to add, though I do like to telegraph, by a remark or two, that in a few decades—sooner than you think—and the shoe is on the other foot, I don't imagine the river of largess will run quite as easily backward. "Gosh, that CHA senior living facility is getting kinda pricy. Couldn't we put dad in a box on Lower Wacker Drive? A really good box, I mean. Heavy duty."
Sorry, where was I? Oh yes. You, leech. The only attempt at monetizing the blog happens at the holidays, when Chicago's own iconic Eli's Cheesecake runs a holiday ad from mid-December to mid-February, reminding people how nice it is to send a cheesecake for Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year's and Valentine's Day or, ideally, all four.
So Eli's is doing their best to nudge you toward the superlative joy of cheesecake. And I, by accepting their money at great personal sacrifice—even more money to worry about, guard, and dispose of, somehow—and posting the ad, do my share.
But you, what are you doing? Personally, I mean. Have you clicked on the ad and been taken to the Eli's wonderland of gustatory delights? Have you examined the astounding range of flavors available? My guess is you haven't. Do so now, then return.
No really. Do it. Click RIGHT HERE.
Hmmmm, mm-mm mmmmmmmm. La-la-lah.
Did you notice the Double Chocolate Cheesecake? The Turtle Cheesecake? The Chocolate Chip Cheesecake—my personal favorite. How about the Peppermint Bark Cheesecake? Did you order it immediately, impulsively, like a diver breaking the surface of water and filling his lungs with sweet sustaining air? Why the hell not? Are you dead?
Peppermint ... bark ... cheesecake. The bark being chocolate ... not real tree bark. Sometimes I forget that not every reader is... well, better not to go there. Just remember: bark = chocolate.
I would like to draw your attention to Eli's Original Plain Cheesecake. That's the one served at Eli's, The Place for Steak back when men were men and could walk the streets of Chicago, hog butcher to the world, with pride without stooping over their phones to tell them how to think and feel. That's the cheesecake that I sent to my own sainted mother last week, because she loves cheesecake.
It arrived in two days. Halfway across the country. Meaning that you can dispatch your gifts for Hanukkah or Christmas and be done with it before other people have even contemplated the 9-ring Dantean Hell of Christmas shopping.
The moment I told my mother it was coming—anticipation is part of the joy—she said she would invite her Colorado pals over so they could experience actual authentic Chicago cheesecake produced as God intended it in the famous gleaming Eli's factory on the Northwest side of Chicago, the same factory where her grandsons once sat, in white lab coats and paper hats, decorating their own cheesecakes because they're special, connected, clout-bedewed boys.
But actually having the cheesecake in her possession meant she could no longer merely tuck it into the freezer for future use. Here is her actual, unedited reaction:
"We tried it," she said, in her joyous phone call to her elder son, me, giddy with gratitude. "I took out two pieces—very easily—and put them on two beautiful plates to let them thaw."
She served them to my father and herself with a dollop of fudge sauce from Trader Joe's, which I had informed her is almost as good as Margie's Fudge sauce.
"It was wonderful," she said. "Better than The Cork"—the Boulder Cork, big deal steakhouse—"creamier, more substance to it. I like the plain because we can put whatever we want on it."
There you have it. Now what about your mother, if you are lucky enough to have her around? Or son, or brother or close friend, some significant person who you haven't sent a cheesecake to yet but really should. Why is your bond so much less than mine? Bearing in mind what an extraordinarily cheap person I am. Are you really willing to let me have that to lord over you, all year long? I should think not.
|Charlie Percy enjoying his cheesecake|
If the Percy name rings a bell, it is because he is the great grandson of Charles Percy, the Wonder Boy of Illinois, our former senator. A reminder that Eli's is interwoven into the history of this city and state, from 1940 when Eli Schulman founded his coffee shop, Eli's Ogden Huddle, the tap root reaching deep into the loamy soil of Chicago's culinary patrimony. Order one, and you never know where in history it will bring you.
Hanukkah begins Dec. 22. Christmas is three days after. Sure, you could join the miserable scrum in some department store, or flop your fingers on a keyboard and gaze with limp uninspiration at the web site of some enormous international conglomerate offering anodyne crap that your loved one wants to receive even less than you want to send it, if such a thing is possible.
Or you could send cheesecake, which would arrive in plenty of time and distinguish this year as the year you gave cheesecake, and redeemed yourself in the eyes of your mother/son/friend/whatever, who honestly had begun to take a dim view of you, in their secret heart, after the crappy gift you sent last year, worse than no gift at all in its utter wrongness.
You could order cheesecake. Here. Three words: White Chocolate Raspberry.
A friend of mine mentioned that the "parasite" in the opening sentence is sorta harsh. "You don't usually insult your readers," he said, perceptively. And that's true. But an important ethical value is at stake here. If you were failing to send your child to school, I would speak to you severely. If that child were cheating on his exams, or stealing money from the poor box at church, you would have harsh words for him. Such is the situation here. "Parasite" of course does not apply to those readers—an elite—who take that step, cross the burning bridge, and fulfill their obligation to this blog. You gave $50 to Beto O'Rourke, didn't you? And what did that get you? Nothing? A flash in the pan. You've given that much to hidebound, bureaucracy-clogged supposed charities. No cheesecake traded hands.
If today's offering seems particularly protracted and strident, I'm trying to avoid two very dire situations: first, someday I'm going to see Marc Schulman, the owner of Eli's, at a dinner, or a Chicago philanthropic event—he glides seamlessly across the city, appearing now here, now there, lifting up the downtrodden, succoring the struggling poor, supporting the worthy. He will make significant eye contact with me, and raise one hand, fluttering three or four fingers. He will tap those fingers with the index finger from his other hand, shaking his head and mouthing the words, "One, two, three, four..." representing whatever completely inadequate number of cheesecakes that his Every goddamn day sponsorship netted. The skull of steely business acumen appearing through the avuncular skin of literary beneficence. And whatever little spark of significance I harbor in my secret heart, like that tiny flame being toted around in a rag bag in "Quest for Fire," will snuff out in a wisp of smoke. It'll kill me.
Shortly thereafter, word will reach you, through the one or two surviving news outlets in our beleaguered city, that a certain minor blogger has gone insane, deleted his blog, and been institutionalized in some grim state facility reserved for that purpose. You'll go to read the high quality professional journalism, or certified whimsy, that you are used to finding here, day in and day out, week after week, year after year. But it will be gone. The wind howling through a bottomless silence. And you'll look up, the cold and bleak uniformed future stretching before you like a curse, and think, the stone of regret you will carry through the rest of your life forming around your heart, "I should have bought a goddamn cheesecake."
It's not too late. Buy a cheesecake. Now. Here.