Sunday, August 31, 2014

You're smart and cute for reading this, and I love you.

     You can park at O’Hare airport for $2, and not just for 20 minutes, but a full hour; $5 for the first three hours.
     So much about air travel is idiotic, dysfunctional, costly or all three, you’d think this fact would be better known. It makes sense—rather than loop around the gates, trying to spot your incoming passenger with one eye while noticing the triple-parked Kia you’re about to rear end with the other, you can park, pay a couple bucks, greet your loved one with civility—the rarest thing in air travel nowadays—and be on your way.
     The third time my wife mentioned this bargain to me, I realized that she was slyly suggesting I park when picking her up Thursday on her return from six days in Los Angeles, where she went to drop off our older boy at college and then visit family.
     So I did. A good husband takes a hint.
     Not wanting to be late, I pulled into the airport 15 minutes before her flight, parked, and ambled over to Terminal 3, where the ARRIVALS information board told me that—parking notwithstanding—the airport had not changed that much. Most flights were late, between two minutes and three hours. My wife’s was an acceptable 12 minutes late.
     I strolled over to the exit. There were 100 teenage girls crowded againt a wall, facing a dozen Chicago and airport police. At first I thought, “school group” maybe assembling after a trip before leaving the airport. But from their body language—looking hard to the right—and the cops, I quickly realized they were waiting for somebody.
     “Some band,” a cop said. I yanked open my mental file drawer of hot new bands and found a dusty scrap of memory with “New Kids on the Block” scribbled on it. But they formed in 1984 and are all pushing 50.
     Using my investigative skills, I walked over to the line of girls, picked one, and asked.
     “Five Seconds to Summer,” she replied.
     Oh. One of the many vexing aspects of growing old is that band names mean nothing. Gibberish. I tried to go online and find out more, but O’Hare, unlike every coffee shop, charges $6.95 for Wi-Fi, except for a few travel sites. Which drives home just how unusual that $2 parking bargain truly is.
     Thwarted, I sought knowledge the old-fashioned way and approached another part of the line. What band were they waiting for? I began again, figuring a fresh start was best. “Five Seconds of Summer,” she said. And what made them worth coming out for?
     “They’re a good band,” she said.
     I see. I took up a position by the cops, to watch the crowd — some puzzlingly old people to my right. Middle-age fans? We all gazed at the girls. Airport security had obviously told them to keep against the wall and keep quiet, and every so often the buzz would grow, then the group would hush itself, a few percussive “Shhhs!” breaking out along the line. They’d be quiet again, briefly. Heartbreaking. Once they might have clutched autograph books, now cellphones.
     “No Marine coming home would get this,” a cop muttered, a line dating to Sinatra.
     Later, at home, I found their story: In 2011, 5 Seconds of Summer were four guys in Australia posting videos on YouTube of themselves playing covers. The videos got hundreds of thousands of hits, which led to a recording contract and Top 20 hits.
     I jumped onto iTunes and gave their music a listen and realized something probably obvious to those who know about boy bands. The songs — “She Looks So Perfect,” “What I Like About You,” “Kiss Me Kiss Me” — each one I listened to was a big lacy valentine to the girls waiting at the airport. I’m surprised there weren’t more waiting. Pandering: It works. I’ll have to try it here more.
     Back at the airport, my wife’s plane landed — she told me, via text. There was a flurry around the corner, whether the band had been spirited through another entrance or it was just nerves of the girls in the back, I couldn’t tell. But an authoritative adult announced loudly that the band was gone, they were gone, and by the third time he said it, girls were racing in every direction. The crowd scattered, most departing in spirits that didn’t seem particularly dampened. One girl slumped sobbing in the arms of her mother — the adults to my right had been parents — her face a mask of desolation, a ticket (the band plays Friday night at Soldier Field) clutched in her hand.
     My wife arrived bearing colorful French macarons from LA’s hip Bottega Louie bakery. Turns out the band was on her plane. “Four boys about Ross’s age,” she reported. “They looked cool, but out of place in first class.” Any bad behavior? “They left a mess,” she said. “Fiji water bottles scattered around.” Not quite The Who trashing hotel rooms, but it’s 2014, and that will have to do.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Saturday fun activity: Where IS this?

     Last week I thought, for sure I'd stump you with that plain "CASH ONLY" sign hanging in a piney interior. No way. It was quickly ID'ed as the Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder on Clark (one of the great, idiosyncratic Chicago institutions. I go just for the salad and the Mediterranean bread). 
      This one, being a large public building, will probably be guessed in a moment, though I had never seen it before stumbling across it. I liked this building because it has a certain cool, architect's rendition quality to it, and I'm offering it up more to show it off than to even hope that someone among the hive won't nail it at 12:05, per usual. 
      Although ... in typical Br'er Rabbit fashion, I can't help but hope a little, in my secret heart (and, here, not so secret, I guess, since I'm saying it) that through some inverted logic, picking the obvious big public building will finally stump the Hive.
      What is this boxy greyscale thing? And where is it located? Given the certainty that it'll be picked, the winner will receive ... hmm, something easy ... a signed paperback copy of "Complete & Utter Failure," a book that I feel stands up well to the passage of time.
      Good luck. Remember you must post your guess below (as opposed to Facebook) to win. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

If you have an argument, you can pretend it isn't just hate

     You know what I admire about bigots? And I’m not referring to the merely-prejudiced, mutter-out-of-the-corner- of-their-mouth bigots, but the real wackos, the warped, scary, neo-Nazi, open Klansman, proudly-sign-their-name haters.
     You know what’s kinda great about them?
     At least they’re candid. No pussyfooting around for them. They state their hate boldly, cast their slurs loudly and only then try to back it up with whatever false theories they believe support their irrational hatreds.
     For everyone else, it’s the other way around. They timidly roll out their specious argument first, as if that were the important part, the crucial logic that made up their impartial minds, and led to their subsequent negative opinion, an unfortunate by-product.
     “Gosh, I’d love to end the permanent legal limbo and semi-serfdom that millions of Hispanics living in the United States endure, but gosh-darn it, their entry was ILLEGAL, so I find myself forced to insist they all be loaded onto cattle cars and sent back to what will always be their true home.”
     And when you try to call them out, and ask, for instance, what other misdemeanors this laudable passion for the law forces them to view as eternally unforgivable — Speeding? Tax evasion? —they just stare at you blankly. Because they are unable to look up at the puppeteer pulling their strings. It’s easy to view hatred as evil, but it’s really a kind of willed ignorance. Since a measure of cowardice is also involved, being bigoted requires you to advocate dumb arguments, in an attempt to hide your loathsome beliefs.
     We saw this on full display this week in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, as attorneys from Wisconsin and Indiana tried to justify their bans on gay marriage.
     The facts are simple: Gays make no worse spouses or parents than anyone else. But an argument must be made, and since the "We hate them," and "They wreck straight marriage" tacks have finally been hooted down as too embarrassing, the states claim that 1) it's better for children to be raised by two parents, and those parents generally are straight so 2) gay marriage should be illegal.
    The first is true, sort of, though a gross simplification. But aren't gay parents also two people? In a not-so-deft sleight of hand, the focus is put on the number, since the true concern — the sexuality of the couple — is a nonstarter. So the talk was of vague cultural norms, though Judge Richard Posner saw through that smokescreen.
     When Wisconsin's assistant attorney general cited "tradition," Posner shot back: "It's based on hate" and the "history of rather savage discrimination against homosexuals."
     While die-hard bigots spout invective, those trying to be subtle attempt a kind of magic act. You distract the audience's attention fluttering one hand while the other lays the key card. Zealots say, "Oh no, it isn't about fearing gays at all. It's about respecting my religion, which orders me to oppress gays (even though I ignore lots of other stuff my religion orders me to do and could ignore this too if I didn't hate gays so much)".
     They leave off that last part.
     Similarly, anti-Semitism, which hardly needs a faux reason to stir, is having a field day with the Israeli crisis in Gaza. Their logic is: Israel does bad stuff, therefore Jews, who support Israel, are fair game. You see that, and almost expect it, say, in a French mob burning a Jewish store. But I noticed it this week in the letters section of The New York Times, from a surprising author.
     "The best antidote to anti-Semitism would be for Israel's patrons abroad to press the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for final-state resolution to the Palestinian question," wrote ... no, wait for it. It's too ironic to reveal immediately.
     "Israel's patrons abroad." Hmm. He doesn't mean the fundamentalist Christians and far-right pundits who offer knee-jerk approval of whatever Israel does. Can't be them: what's their connection to anti-Semitism? Then who? Oh, right! "Patrons abroad" means Jews, as if many weren't deeply ambivalent about Israel and eager to remedy this situation (and notice how the mystery writer says nothing about the Palestinians, as if they have no say in their destiny at all, which gives you a hint that the passion people feel about this is not entirely fueled by actual Middle Eastern reality).
     The author is the Rev. Bruce M. Shipman, the Episcopal chaplain at Yale, which had trouble admitting Jews before Israel existed.
     Here's where hate-first bigots and their rationalizing cousins merge: Both groups love to pin blame for their hatred on their victims. Not my fault; if only you were different then I wouldn't be forced to feel this way. It's a dumb argument, but bigotry does that.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Peter Max, or minimum?

   When I heard that Peter Max was having a show of his distinctive colorful artwork, opening at Northbrook Court on Friday, I couldn't help but flash back to a previous time his work was spotlighted there and I wrote about him.
      The typical story would be the kind of respectful though toothless treatment that the Chicago Jewish News gave to Max this week, stressing his Jewishness, of course. When I wrote my piece, I asked an impolite question: is this art? And if so, what kind of art?
     So I interviewed him, and the column below was published. The publicist who pitched the story at me was aghast, enough to call me up and yell. But Max, to his credit, was intrigued. He appreciated being treated as a serious artist, even if battered a bit in the process. I think he liked my even raising the question, since most people don’t.  
     We sat down for lunch, and something happened that has never happened to me before or since: we sat talking until dinner. Red wine was involved, but it was also the tenor of the conversation, the ideas. I didn't take notes, and the only thing I remember is us discussing was his autobiography, which I volunteered to write, suggesting that instead of producing the typical coffee table book, he write something candid talking about his art as a business, and what it was like, as a man, to be rich and famous for the previous 30 years. I told him the problems a pal was having trying to write Hugh Hefner's autobiography, because Hefner thought he was an important figure in the history of free speech, like Thomas Paine, when the average reader was more interested in him screwing Barbi Benton on his round bed.
     The idea of my writing his bio lingered a bit —I remember him phoning late one night from his studio shortly thereafter. And he did send the boys a pair of posters signed to them, which are still framed in our rec room. But that was it. A few years later, the standard coffee table book came out, written with the usual self-satisfied rosy glow. Looking back, of course he would never take a hard, honest look at life: why start now and spoil a good thing? But it works for him, and he does have his ardent fans. This was originally publishing the Sun-Times in February, 2000:

    Yoga is back, big time. Tie dye, too. The Beatles—though they never left—are hot again; they just sold 600,000 copies of a new CD. 
    So why not Peter Max?
    When I heard Max is coming to town—he'll be at the North Shore Gallery the  weekend of the 16th—my first thought was, to be blunt, "He's still alive?"
    Sure, I remember him from the late 1960s. A thin guy in a Doug Henning mustache churning out wild, Day-Glo-colored images of running men and psychedelic heads. They covered the walls, floors, notebooks, lunch boxes and just about every other flat surface of my youth.
    But surely he had—oh, I don't know—gone into real estate or stepped in front of a bus or done a Cat Stevens and disappeared into religion.
    In fact, Max is where he has always been, in New York City, doing what he has done for more than 30 years—churning forth a jaw-dropping output of images, covering everything from a Continental Airlines 777 to Dale Earnhardt's NASCAR racer. He has been turned to for a burst of colorful whimsy by big events from Woodstock to the Super Bowl and big corporations from Target to Playboy.
    Therein lies the rub.
     If art has a myth, it is the outlaw, the renegade, the Impressionist masterworks banned from the Official Exposition. Artists thrive on scorn—the right kind of scorn, public scorn—while Max thrives on approval. His press packet is filled with the presidents he has painted, the awards won, the corporations he has bedded down with.
    Needless to say, this drives the art world crazy. Trying to express my own inarticulate Max angst—which I must have leached from the atmosphere—I called my pal, renegade artist Tony Fitzpatrick. The mere mention of Max's name was like taking an ax to a beer keg; out came a geyser of scorn.
    "Peter Max basically took all the ideals of the '60s generation, all the flower power stuff, pretended to be this voice of a generation and really was a corporate hack," said Fitzpatrick, taking a breath. "Peter Max was never in the real art world. He pretended to be some kind of countercultural element, and the guy was whoring himself to corporate America. Also his work sucks."
    Fitzpatrick went on in this vein for 20 minutes, but you get the idea.
    I don't want to leave Tony out on a limb. I was nodding and smiling with him the whole time. How dare Max present himself as an artist, and make his millions, when people like Tony and me know what real art is?
    And then I slipped on my sheep's clothing and slunk off to interview Max.
    Shock  No. 1. His voice. He didn't sound like I expected. He was no flipped out patchouli-oil-scented hippie marinated in a money cocoon for the past 30 years. He sounded like my Uncle Max, his voice rich with the Brooklyn of his youth. (He was born in Berlin in the late 1930s, his parents fled to China, and he ended up as a teenager in Flatbush.)
    Second shock. He was interested not in touchy-feely mysticism, not in promoting his newest swami, but in science, in math, in concepts.
    Third shock. His first love was old-school realism.
    "In 1967, before I got into that commercial wave, I was a full-time painter, a la John Singer Sargent, Rubens, Velasquez," he said. "Real academic stuff. I was so good at realism. Then the Beatles came to America."
    Max saw a revolution going on. Everything was media, pop, pizzazz. He gave up painting nudes and opened an ad agency. His clients were J.C. Penney and beer companies. Awards racked up; people loved his colorful style. Then somebody asked him to design a restaurant. He did, but something was missing.
    "I said to the owner of the restaurant that a restaurant is not a restaurant unless it has a poster," he said. "Think of `(Le) Moulin Rouge.' If (Toulouse-Lautrec) hadn't done a poster, nobody would know what it was. He said, `OK.' "
    A year later, Max had sold 9 million of his "crazy, wacky" posters. In 1969, some 700 commercial products carried his designs. Max had 55 people working for him in the early 1970s. Now he has 110.
    "I've got people who stretch canvases, people who do just backgrounds for me," he said, citing a constant need to draw and to change.
    "Many artists stay in the same style—Chagall or Miro. Miro spent half his life in the same style," he said. "I wanted to be more like  Picasso. To allow my style to change constantly."
    I began to see where Max ran into trouble. Any artist who compares himself with Rubens while pooh-poohing the limitations of Miro is just begging to be kicked. As we talked, I could see him torn between two mutually exclusive goals: to continue his fabulous marketing bonanza and to gain the kind of respect the art world has always denied him and probably always will. (Though, hey, they finally gave Norman Rockwell his due, so you never know.)
    An hour into our conversation, the charming, personable Max had won me over so completely that it occurred to me that I had been co-opted and had better run to the mountain to get some sort of final wisdom on the matter.
    I called my old teacher, the renowned artist Ed Paschke, fresh from Paris where he went for the unveiling of his work in a show at the Louvre.
    "It's a heady experience," he said. "Usually you have to be dead."
    I outlined the dilemma. On one hand, all this art world outrage damning Max to critical hell for being popular. On the other hand, lots of people like him, and he's a really, really nice guy who's sending posters to my kids.
    "You're caught between a rock and a hard place," Paschke said. "He's captured this kind of whimsical spirit of optimism that characterized the flower child generation. He's not somebody the serious art world takes seriously. Yet he has somehow managed to stay in the public eye many years."
    Isn't that art? How can someone like Jeff Koons pull all sorts of commercial stunts, and the critics roll over like puppies. But Max is damned because his work is on scarves?
    "Jeff Koons was a student of mine," Paschke said. "Jeff was trying to outrage the status quo, as Peter Max was trying to play the mainstream as an audience. It's about pushing the edge of what's acceptable. Koons is trying to push the buttons for shock purposes. Peter Max is trying to satisfy a safe, conservative, mainstream point of view."
     It's a shame, really. If only Max had written a manifesto declaring that he intended to shock art critics by playing to the unwashed public — God, the critics would love his daring, his rude gesture of contempt for the higher art circles. But he was too candid in his aspirations; that'll get you every time.
     Max, who's still into yoga, has no regrets.
     "When the posters happened to me, I realized I was in the right groove," he said. "That's when I made my decision: to walk one foot in fine art and the other in media. Media became my canvas. People who don't understand it, or who are jealous, or whatever—or even if they're right—I don't care. I have re-examined making that move, and I'll tell you one thing: I have made the right move. People love me around the world."

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

O doughnut chain! U.S. snatches Canada's sweet round heart

     Brand loyalty is a funny thing.
     Because it’s a kind of love.
     And love is a funny thing.
     Take Burger King.
     I do not love Burger King because I’ve never loved Burger King. McDonald’s, all shiny white and red tile, showed up and won me when I was a wee lad. They didn’t offer seating, and you ate in your car, itself a thrill for a 6-year-old. McDonald’s lodged in the spot in my heart—metaphorically, though it probably lodged in an actual spot in my physical heart as well, though I try not to think of it—a place reserved for cheap, fast, alternatingly repulsive-and-attractive food.
     But Burger King? The first one I remember is on Orrington Avenue in Evanston across from what was then the Northwestern Apartments. Eating there was a sign that I had absolutely nowhere else to eat. And the odd thing is, I’ve always believed that Burger King burgers, flame-broiled on toasted buns, taste better than McDonald’s predigested mash of a burger. No matter. I still prefer McDonald’s, the way you love your mother and not the more fun and more interesting neighbor lady down the street.
     Love is a funny thing.
     So had the news Tuesday been that Burger King was going out of business, except for sincere sorrow at the loss of jobs; I’d be indifferent. Ta-ta, BK Lounge.
     But instead the news is that BK is buying Tim Hortons, the Canadian doughnut chain, and while we barely note it in passing here, north of the border it is a huge deal.
“Why not just cancel hockey while we’re at it?” The Globe and Mail editorialized.
     The name Tim Hortons might not resonate with you if you’ve never been to Canada. (Although, really, never? It’s a five-hour drive. Go. They have the metric system and different colored money and everything).
     The word people tend to use over and over to describe Tim Hortons is “beloved”
     “Extremely beloved,” said Robyn Doolittle,  star reporter at the Globe and Mail and author of “Crazy Town,” a new best-seller chronicling her city’s doughnut-larded mayor, Rob Ford. “It’s as much a part of our culture as hockey is and we do love our hockey.  It’s such a ritual part of life, especially small town life. You drop you kid off at hockey and grab your Tim Hortons.”
     Tim Hortons was founded in 1964 by a famed Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman named - wait for it—Tim Horton. It has 4,000 stores, and a staggering 8 out of 10 cups of coffee sold in Canada are sold there.
     The BK news echoed across Canada.
     "It's a huge deal," Doolittle said, "front page of the paper, the lead story on the national news."
      But what is it about the place? The United States has its own big chain, Dunkin' Donuts. It's not part of our national identity. A Tim Hortons doughnut is practically on the Canadian flag next to the maple leaf. Why?
     "We talk about it," Doolittle said. "We're conscious of how odd it is. We ask, 'What is up with Tim Hortons?' The best I can come up with is its consistency."
     "It's kind of mysterious," said Patricia Cormack, a sociology professor at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia. "I've been trying to figure this out for 10 years."
     She cites "quite aggressive marketing."
     "They have this very confident positioning of themselves," she said. "It's more than just hockey, but collectivism, statism—Canadian values. They're very unpretentious, even though we're very pretentious about our unpretentiousness."
     Of course, whether the chain's popularity says more about Tim Hortons or more about Canada is an open question. My family sought refuge there from time to time during our trips across the country, and I couldn't decide if we went there because the doughnuts were good or simply because we were in Canada and had to do something to pass the time.
     Given Canadians are prone to crises of the soul over anything involving the United States (the Globe and Mail editorial suggested the government block the sale), I imagine that an American company buying their national icon might be a source of some angst. Though perhaps not so much, since the plan seems to be for Burger King to shift its headquarters north, for tax purposes. So Canada is not so much losing a doughnut chain as gaining a burger giant.
     Or to put it another way: Iconic Canadian beer company Molson's has been headquartered in Colorado since its 2005 merger with Coors. They still drink the stuff up north. And lest we be too smug—an American trait for sure—our red-white-and-blue national beer brand, Budweiser? For the past five years owned by InBev, a Belgian brewer.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Experience is the teacher of all things

     "Experience is the teacher of all things," Julius Caesar wrote, in his Commentary on the Civil Wars.
     That's obvious, of course. But sometimes, particularly amongst us brainy folk, it can come as a rude little surprise. We expect to learn things from books, to pick up new facts in conversation, but there's something a little head-slapping about life taking you by the hand and showing you the best way to do a thing through the process of you doing it wrong first. You feel a little thick, like you should have known.
      We were on vacation, traveling through the South a few weeks back, accompanied by Kitty, our adorable little dog. Every morning she gets a packetful of this gloppy dog food. At home, I peel back the foil, grab a spoon from the cutlery drawer, scoop the food into her bowl with the spoon, then deposit the spoon in the sink for cleaning.
      But in a dim morning motel room, there was no spoon handy, so I improvised and used the foil lid as a scoop. Necessity is the mother of invention, to trot out another old saying. 
    Worked perfectly. I was congratulating myself on this device, avoiding the necessity of dirtying a spoon, when I noticed, the next day, that I could do it even more easily --just overturn the container over the bowl, and it fell out neatly. Ah....take one dirty spoon off the list of daily tasks.
     I told this little story to a houseguest Monday morning, to pass the time while feeding Kitty in the new, more efficient fashion, marveling at how this being-alive-in-the-world thing holds lessons, even for sharp cookie such as myself. 
    Later that morning, doing the dishes, the little squirt pump for dishwashing soap went dry, as if to drive the point home, though I didn't realize it, at first.
    I lifted the pump out, expecting a narrow cylindrical reservoir to come with it. But up came only the thin plastic tube that went into the reservoir.
     Did I mention my wife is still in California, and I'm having to manage at tasks that don't necessarily fall into my realm of responsibility?
     "Under the sink!" I thought, briskly, opening a cabinet, reaching down, finding it, unscrewing the plastic soap cylinder, removing it, then filling it quite easily with blue dishwashing soap.
      Only now I had to put it back.
      Finding a hole under the sink to screw the top of a filled soap container was not as easy as finding the in-place cylinder had been. In fact, I had to balance a flashlight atop the hole, where the pump went, in order to find it and the bottle up under it, trying first through the reaching in and pushing stuff aside method, then removing the various bins and soap containers under the sink, crawling halfway in, and eventually line the reservoir up with the hole—it glowed an eerie blue— to screw it back in place.
     Did I mention spillage was involved, during the general flailing? It was.
     Also during this sweaty, awkward, messy process, which took maybe five minutes, on my back, my upper body and one arm jammed under the sink, I had this thought: "Remove the push pump. Pour the soap directly into the container, through the hole where the pump goes, leaving the cylinder in place."
      Ahhh... Of course. A whole lot easier that way.
     "Experience is the teacher of all things."

Monday, August 25, 2014

Is Chicago ready for a Great Fire Festival?

     When I first heard that Chicago was creating a funky new folk festival where citizens are asked to ritually burn challenges they hope to overcome, in the form of some grand aquatic celebration of our revitalization after the Great Chicago Fire, I was intrigued. But with the event five weeks away, and few people I know aware of it, well, I'm beginning to have my doubts.

     For a guy who never believed in God, not for a second, not even as a child, I sure am a fan of ritual. I will place two fingers upon the mezuzah on our doorpost and then kiss them, for luck. I put my hands upon my oldest son’s head and blessed him, in Hebrew, before he set out for college in California on Saturday. I’ve always envied the Catholic sign of the cross gesture as being a very useful, nearly perfect gesture to solemnize any moment that calls for it.
     Many people nowadays tend to be flexible when it comes to ritual.
     “Shouldn’t we have some kind of ceremony to mark his leaving?” I said to my wife, busily packing for the boy this week.
Framework for buildings to be burned at festival
     “We’re having Lou Malnati’s,” she replied, an answer I savored for its purity of spirit.
     Which is a long way of saying that I was fertile ground when the city cooked up the idea of a new symbolic civic holiday, “The Great Chicago Fire Festival,” set to debut on the Chicago River Oct. 4 (an auspicious date already, it being Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. I asked one of the publicists ballyhooing the Fire Festival how that happened and she said the date was set years ago, as if Yom Kippur were randomly set each year and determining when it falls in future years is an obvious impossibility).
     Since I doubt I’ll attend the event itself, I slid by Redmoon’s cavernous headquarters at in Pilsen Thursday for an open house and tour of the “Grand Spectacle” preparations.     
     Redmoon is a former puppet company now morphed into producing street parties, corporate blow-outs and birthday bashes for billionaires. It won a $250,000 arts grant last year to put on a party which, in Rahm Emanuel’s words, will mark “the creation of a new large-scale cultural festival that attracts global attention and highlights our city’s cultural assets and heritage.”
     The preview had a hasty, shambolic quality that made me wonder if they’ll pull it off.
     “This is by far the largest thing we’ve ever done,” said Jim Lasko, executive artistic director, said. “We’re cooperating with everyone from the EPA to the Coast Guard, the fire department, police department, mayor’s office, Chicago public school system …”
     What to expect? Think a parade on water. Think floating floats. Think 22 giant buoys of flame bobbing on the river. Think three enormous Victorian homes on barges, burning spectacularly mid-river, after kayaking couriers collect letters of sins to efface or challenges overcome from spectators and convey them to the doomed structures.
    I’m not a fan of fence sitting, but I’m uncertain about all this. On one hand, what’s not to love? Venetian Night was wonderful, with its procession of lighted boats, and this might be a 21st century Venetian Night, with Cirque du Soleil-style massive mechanical whimsy coupled with flame, on the water.
    On the other hand, the thing exudes a certain New Age nuttiness that might not resonate with this especially difficult moment in the life of Chicago. The mayor’s office seems to be drawing away a bit from its baby, since throwing spiritual aquatic flame circuses for those seeking rebirth is not exactly the image Rahm wants to convey.
     “We’re interested in reminding people what it means to work with your hands,” said Frank Maugeri, Redmoon’s producing artistic director. I almost piped up: “A good chunk of the city doesn’t need reminding.”
     Redmoon has cannily — or, to be generous, sincerely — gone into the neighborhoods and quizzed Chicago’s gorgeous racial and ethnic stew about what they would overcome or celebrate, and are going to festoon the riverfront with huge photos of regular folk, silent emissaries from parts of Chicago who might not rush over to the river on a Saturday night to jot “Killings in my neighborhood” on a note to give a kayaking postman who’ll deliver it to be ritualistically burned aboard a purple townhouse.
     “It is an art project, about bringing voice and platform to some of the lesser heard people in the city, that is about celebrating the city, celebrating our spirit of grit and resilience, our capacity to renew and revitalize and change our own story,” Lasko said.
     Bravo. I can imagine it a disaster, with flaming barges drifting off and jamming under bridges, sparking a second Great Chicago Fire. I can also see it becoming a big, beloved fall Mardi Gras on water. I can’t speculate about the future without pointing out that I’m the guy who said a) cellphones were fad and b) “Who is going to haul out to Navy Pier for some tourist pleasure dome?”
      It is something I’d like to see, if I weren’t previously committed. Oh, and should it endure, which it might, Yom Kippur begins the evening of Sept. 22 in 2015, Oct. 11 in 2016. Jews like spectacle as much as anybody.

Postscript: The Fire Festival itself was a disappointing fizzle. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The REAL Chicago style: Eat your hot dog however you please

     Last week the Chicago Sun-Times, the newspaper where I have worked for 27 years, ran an editorial, on the fallout from an interview I published with former Park District Superintendent Ed Kelly. At end of the piece, he tees off on Rahm Emanuel, callling him, most woundingly, "not a Chicagoan." 
     I did pause before passing along that slur, given that it is hurled toward me from time to time, simply because I was born in Cleveland and live in the suburbs, which is so unfair. But I am not a social service, as I like to say, nor a monument to justice. I knew it would get people talking, so I let 'er rip.
     It did cause a ripple. Enough that my esteemed colleague Fran Spielman asked the mayor about it — he claimed it untrue, spooling out his bona fides as Congressman, his cop uncle, blah blah blah.  To be honest, the whole question is the kind of politics of exclusion that Chicagoans and non-Chicagoans alike have supposedly inched away from.
     On Wednesday, the Sun-Times ran a thoughtful editorial on who is a real Chicagoan? Well, thoughtful until it came to this: 
    On Facebook last month, a new meme popped up: “I’m so Chicago…” A typical completion of the sentence: “I’m so Chicago I did nuthin, saw nuthin, said nuthin, was nowhere.” And somebody, of course, offered the usual cliche that he was so Chicago he “never puts ketchup on a hotdog.’’ Then again, that’s true. Ketchup on a hot dog is wrong.
     Ahem. I like ketchup on my hot dog. To which, the guy who wrote the editorial sneered, "Yeah, but you're from Cleveland!" Maybe so, but I am also a graduate of Hot Dog University at Vienna Beef, which is as Chicago as it gets, and have the diploma to prove it. 
      Seven years ago, when the ketchup issue was last raised, I gave the matter a full exploration:

     One lunchtime, 40 years ago, in the small cafeteria at Fairwood School, I saw a fellow child fish a steaming hot dog out of his Thermos, which his mother had ingeniously filled with boiling water. He placed it into a waiting bun.
     Such complex luxury was, of course, beyond my mother, and I gazed at the steaming frank, the way a shivering ape would eye a group of toasty Neanderthals lazing around their fire. Despite being myself deprived, I passed the concept on to my wife, who sometimes varies the usual soups and ravioli with a hot frank.
     She was preparing just such a meal, last week, tucking in the wee packets of condiments.
     "Do you want ketchup for your hot dog?" my wife asked our younger boy.
     "Ketchup on hot dogs is a disgrace . . . to Chicago," he said, unexpectedly channeling the soul of the late Mike Royko. The boy and my wife smiled, turning to regard me with no small degree of mockery.
     "Dad isn't from Chicago," said the boy, 10. "So it doesn't apply to him."
     "Be nice to your father," my wife said. "He's lived here most of his life."
     Twenty-nine years, to be exact. Not that it matters. I'll always be an outlander.
     That's how Chicagoans are. Anything to push somebody outside the circle. Even scorning ketchup on hot dogs, a curious artifact started by Royko — as far as I can tell — and propagated by his imitators.
     What was his beef against ketchup? I delved into the archives. Royko cited three reasons — first, hot dogs weren't served with ketchup when he was growing up.
     Second, Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry character scorned ketchup on hot dogs. And third, and perhaps most importantly, ketchup on hot dogs is decadent, "another symptom of the general decline of standards in our society." Ketchup on hot dogs, Royko wrote, "is wrong because it is not right. Would you put whipped cream on a pizza? Would you put mayo on pancakes or salt on ice cream or pour milk on french fries? Remember, the Romans started putting ketchup on their hot dogs, and look what happened to their empire."

     Maybe we should all eat our hot dogs with ketchup. The Roman empire lasted 500 years. We should be so lucky.
I revisited the issue later in the month:
     It's a mystery that demands attention — why ketchup? We don't demonize people who, oh, put mayonnaise on bologna. Why care about this? How did it start?
     It was reading Bob Schwartz's fulsome praise of the Chicago dog [in his book, "Never Put Ketchup on a Hot Dog"] as "a banquet on a bun" that a plausible answer popped up. It is a theory, a thought experiment, but so was relativity, at first. I am confident I have solved the puzzle of ketchup and hot dogs.

     Think back to 1940s humor, to Bugs Bunny cartoons. What was the standard culinary joke? The rube goes to the fancy French restaurant and does what? He asks for ketchup, he slathers the fine French food with ketchup, shockingly, causing the enraged chef to emerge from the kitchen and chase him with a cleaver. You've seen it a thousand times. The no-ketchup-on-hot-dogs rule must be a variant of that, a winking half joke intended — once upon a time — to emphasize the quality of the dogs, to put them in the same league with haute cuisine, a bit of threadbare Vaudeville, perhaps intensified by the mustard-centric German culture that created sausages in the first place.
     People sincerely protesting the use of ketchup are playing the role of the irate French chef. That's got to be it. It's a joke, unmoored from its origins and now loose in the land.
     Remember that, next time you're sneering at someone — me, maybe — for putting ketchup on a hot dog. You're recycling an old joke, a bit of Euro-centric mockery that once tried to make us ashamed of our tastes.
     Sure, it is a small thing. But like the cracked windows theory of law enforcement, sometimes small things add up. Reject those who put ketchup on hot dogs and next you're rejecting nobodies who nobody sent or potential employees of the wrong color — also a true and genuine Chicago traditions. So you think that a real Chicagoan doesn't put ketchup on his hot dog? Well, buddy, my reply is that a real Chicagoan puts whatever he goddamn pleases on his hot dog without looking around to see what some kind of self-appointed taste maven thinks of it. Who would be so base as to diminish his own enjoyment by cravenly caving in to some local folk condiment preference? You can't kill an urban legend like the no-ketchup-on-hot-dogs canard. But that doesn't mean we can't fight against it. I ordered the hot dog above at the Gold Coast Dogs outlet hidden in Union Station.
    "With everything?" the guy behind the counter asked.
    "No," I said. "Just ketchup."
     He didn't blink. I ate the whole thing in about minute. It was delicious. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Saturday fun activity: Where IS this?

    We're all so enthralled with the electronic world that we forget it's still possible to turn your back on it, such as this venerable Chicago place of business, where all your credit cards and smart phone wallets are useless. They accept cash money, and that's it. Nor can you use a telephone to let them know you're coming. They don't care. You just show up, unannounced, and you wait—often quite a long time—to receive their goods and service. Then pay your cash money and leave, utterly satisfied.
      Where is this place? What manner of place is it, with its cheezy pine paneling and its brusque cash-only notice? A public business in Chicago. I'm making this an extra hard contest, because I have an extra cool prize: this official, full-size Chicago street sign for the Irv Kupcinet Bridge. It's been on the window ledge in my office since he died in 2003. His son Jerry graciously allowed me to take a memento from his office, and I took this sign. (I contacted Jerry, to see if he wants it, and he already has one).
     So guess where the sign above is, and the sign below is yours, with the stipulation that you show up at my office and pick it up. I'll even buy you a cup of coffee at our in-house Starbucks and shoot the breeze with you a bit before sending you on your way. If you win and don't want the sign, simply say so, and we'll throw the prize open to the first person to claim it. It's a lovely sign, but I'm cleaning my office, and I'm trying to pare back a bit. I'd like to see the sign get a good home. Where IS this?

Friday, August 22, 2014

"What kind of people do they think we are?"

     Talk about spanning the spectrum. I had a column all ready to go, about a ventriloquist museum in Kentucky. But that really needs a photo, and just in case there wasn't room, I thought I had better have a backup, so wrote this, and then decided we ought to run it, whether there was room for the puppet picture or not. 

     A few weeks after Japan’s attack on the United States caught our fleet napping at Pearl Harbor, killing 2,400 Americans on a sleepy Sunday morning, our reeling nation, which up to that point had been a grudging ally to beleaguered Great Britain, was paid a surprise visit.
     “What kind of people do they think we are?” Winston Churchill said to a joint session of Congress, of our attackers. “Is it possible that they do not realize that we shall never cease to persevere against them?”
     Of all the stirring phrases that Churchill uttered, that one question, for me, echoes most over the years: “What kind of people do they think we are?” It rang out on 9/11, and came to mind again this week when the brutal Islamic State entity that has occupied a third of Iraq and slain thousands posted a video of a black-clad terrorist standing beside the kneeling figure of James Foley, an American journalist. He was forced to mouth condemnations of America, demanding we halt our air strikes against the Islamic State forces. The video then shows his decapitated head resting on his body.
     And their thinking is .... that this brutality will cause America to stop fighting them?
     What kind of people do they think we are?
     Yes, sometimes we cut and run. Bill Clinton did after the Black Hawk Down deaths of 18 American Rangers in Somalia in 1993. Though in his defense, diving further into an African civil war was not a success strategy. Nor is sending our troops back to Iraq. “You break it, you bought it” might be a good policy for china shops, but it makes lousy foreign policy. We were right to withdraw. Pummelling the would-be caliphate from the air is the best of our bad options, and it must be working, or the Islamic State wouldn’t be demanding we stop.
     Speaking of which: The Islamic State is neither Islamic nor a state. The second point of the video was to attempt, as terrorists often do, to tie brutality with Islam
     “As a government you have been at the forefront of the aggression towards the Islamic State,” Foley’s murderer says. “You have plotted against us and gone far out of your way to find reasons to interfere in our affairs. Today, your military airforce is attacking us daily in Iraq. Your strikes have caused casualties amongst Muslims. You are no longer fighting an insurgency. We are an Islamic army and a state that has been accepted by a large number of Muslims worldwide.”
     Uh-huh. It’s a religious thing. Who believes that? Have Muslims worldwide been leaping to endorse the Islamic State? No. These terrorists believe it, and, ironically, the usual cast of American haters do, too, in an odd kind of international symbiosis.
     “They’ve been doing this for hundreds and hundreds of years. If you study the history of Islam, our ship captains were getting murdered,” host Andrea Tantaros said Wednesday on Fox. “This isn’t a surprise. You can’t solve it with a dialogue. You can’t solve it with a summit. You solve it with a bullet to the head. It’s the only thing these people understand. And all we’ve heard from this president is a case to heap praise on this religion, as if to appease them.”
     Notice how she, too, draws in faith? She was only speaking for countless Facebook philosophers explaining that this atrocity is the true face of Islam, ironically echoing the same bigotry that inspires the Islamic State, an obvious falsehood. There are 1.6 billion Muslims, a quarter of the world’s population. If the Islamic State actually represented the faith, as they claim, seconded by the Fox nation, then few of us would have heads.
     It is a half-sly technique of haters to point to the worst of a group and declare, “That’s who they are!” Thus xenophobes catalog crimes of Hispanic immigrants, anti-Semites tar Jews for some Israeli blunder.
     But not to fall into the same mistake: Most Americans have done a good job of keeping separate things separate, no thanks to Fox. Hating is actually the easy way. It’s harder to hold fast to what we know about the worth of all faiths and all peoples.
     Or as Churchill said in 1941: “You do your worst and we will do our best.”
     That’s a phrase to hold onto. What zealots of every stripe can’t understand is that we are as passionate about our beliefs as they are about theirs. We are as certain that we are right and, if I may, have the advantage of actually being right. Those who hate would infect the world with hatred; that’s what they want, what they understand. We have to remain true to our ideals and not abandon them when invited to do so by true evil.
     “I hate nobody except Hitler, and that is professional,” Churchill said. Another useful motto from the statesman: “Hate nobody.”

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Everything old is new again: Mason jars

     Nothing illustrates the dubiousness, if not disgust, that we automatically extend toward others, as opposed to the warm glow of affection that we lather over ourselves, quite like a bag lunch.
      There's something disreputable about somebody else's lunch, if not revolting. It can be in a crisp brown paper bag, the sandwich neatly prepared, tucked perfectly into a Baggie. There's still something off-putting, even sad, about it. We don't want to see it, never mind eat it. We avert our eyes as the lunchroom fridge swings open, avoiding the dismal vista of squishy sacks, odd Tupperware bowls containing murky piles of glop, and streaked wax-carton leftovers of our peers—containers we'd happily and gratefully dig into were they our own doing, but that we wince to glance at when they belong to others.
      At least I hope other people feel that way; maybe it's just me, being a priss. People do steal lunches at work, which boggles my mind, not only ethically, but gustatorily as well. It would be like picking somebody else's nose. 
      Or to be brief, if there's a thumbprint in your sandwich, it had better be of your thumb.
      Thus it is very rare that we see a coworker's lunch and marvel, as I did, about how beautiful it is, and then rush to snap its picture, as I did a few weeks back. It was ... well, no need to try to paint a picture in words here. I have the photograph:

     Isn't that gorgeous? I think it's the first lunch that didn't belong to me that I could describe as enticing. I'd eat it. I quizzed my co-worker—who, as so often happens with those employed by newspapers, did not want to be identified by the great publication that pays her salary ("Of course," I wanted to reply, but somehow resisted saying, "you wouldn't want to associate your REAL NAME with anything as controversial as having an ATTRACTIVE LUNCH!!! Now THERE's a profile in courage...")
     "Martha Stewart taught you that, right?" is what I actually said.
      Exuding the kind of humility that causes one to shy from the light — well, either that or exuding timidity— she said that no, she did not dream up the salad-in-a-jar, but was inspired by one of those how-to-live-splendidly life web sites. 
    She sent me a link to a page called "the kitchn" (vowels are so 2000, apparently) which claims that large glass Mason or Ball jars "have become ubiquitous across the blogosphere" and credits a woman identified only as "Kathy" at something called "Happy Healthy Life" with creating the layered jar salads on display (apparently living that happy, healthy life also demands that you don't link yourself publicly with your creations, which I suppose goes to explain why my life is the way it is. Maybe I should start a blog page called "Sad Sickly Life," so I have it up and running when I need it.  I just can't sympathize with someone who can't cop to creating a jar salad. I once signed my name to a column claiming that the mayor had gone insane). 
     Anyway, this was three weeks ago. Then I went on vacation. On Sunday, the New York Times, loping nearly a month behind "the kitchn", announced that millennials have "fetishized" the jars for the authenticity, which of course they all lack, as a "symbol of hipness." (Being the NYT, that could mean two web sites and four designers have gulled them into believing they representing some kind of global movement. The Gray Lady falls for that kind of thing frequently. At the least, they're guilty of exaggeration, using "fetishizing" when they really mean "liking" — I guess they got tired of calling every preference an "addiction.")
    Anyway, I use those round cheapie Glad containers, so as not to lug around a thick glass jar I would invariably break. And I lost out on my chance to scoop the Times by going on vacation, but wanted to share the idea with you, just in case you want to make your life more fabulous by using them. The trend is too much of a bother to last, and will go the route of all beautiful but cumbersome and expensive things. But it's worth trying once. And if anyone asks you, "Who made the lovely salad in the fridge?" you can just deny everything.   

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Cold, wet and unhip, but for a good cause

     Unlike some employees, I don’t get in trouble for dipping into Facebook at work. In fact, it’s part of my job, placing my thumb on the pulse, cupping my ear to listen for the buzz, as it were.
     So midafternoon Monday, my first day back at the office after a two-week vacation, I hop online, poke around and see what's trending and, oh look, I've been tagged in a video. Let's see what the video is: My older son and his pal Matthew, holding buckets, standing before the little fountain in downtown Northbrook, delivering a speech, in a sort of balled-fist, percussive manner not unlike those Monty Python characters with handkerchiefs knotted on their heads.
     “Thank you Jacob Levin and Jacob Kahn for nominating us for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge,” my son begins. They then nominate a half dozen people: several classmates; Matthew Whipple, director of the Glenbrook Academy of International Studies, their alma mater; plus Elena Kagan (a running gag at their former school; she was also nominated for Homecoming Queen, sending students searching the hallways to inform her of the honor until a teacher explained that Kagan is a Supreme Court justice).
     And me.
     “You have 24 hours to complete the challenge, or donate $100 to ALS research,” Matthew shouts, with a very WWF jab of the finger at the camera. They then fill their buckets with water, pour in a bag of ice and dump it over their heads.
     I was not, like most people apparently, already eye-rollingly aware of the ice bucket challenge, a kind of 2014 cross between chain letters and swallowing goldfish, where individuals are double-dog dared to either give money to fight the disease or dump a bucket of ice water on their heads.
     But I was on vacation, and as astounding as it sounds, I did not spend it trolling Facebook. A quick check in the morning, then off to whitewater raft the French Broad River or swim in the ocean or visit Monticello.
     The phenomenon has been building for about a month. As of Tuesday, the challenge has raised $23 million for the ALS Association, 10 times what it collected in the same period last year. The group battles, which can get lost in all this, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as “Lou Gehrig’s disease.” It’s a fatal, progressive neurological affliction where the neurons connecting your brain to your body deteriorate while your mind stays cruelly unaffected. You lose the ability to move, then to speak, then you suffocate to death, slowly. There is no cure, little treatment; scientists aren’t even certain of the cause.
     Maryilene Blondell, director of development for the ALS Association Greater Chicago Chapter, said the challenge began three weeks ago with Pete Frates, a former baseball captain at Boston College, who has ALS.
     “The rest is history,” she said.
     The challenge has drawn stars from Oprah Winfrey to Bill Gates, from Miley Cyrus to LeBron James. By the time I encountered it, the inevitable backlash had set in: People complained that ALS isn’t as big a problem as, say, Alzheimer’s or heart disease. True, it afflicts thousands, not millions, but it sure is significant if you or a loved one get it. Buzzfeed gathered dozens of inelegant ice bucket dunkings. Not an easy maneuver to conduct gracefully, as you’ll see if you look at the video of me doing it. One does tend to shout.
     Yes, the trend has peaked. My participation in it is proof of that. And yes, compassion fatigue sets in, especially online with its constant pleas and causes. Sure, I could just give the money and stay dry, technically meeting the challenge. But that’s chicken. My kid, who at 12 joined me in the Polar Plunge leaping into icy Lake Michigan, dumped icewater over his head. So can I. (Actually, I did it in Tuesday’s noon downpour, so I was soaked before lifting the bucket).
     As the paper’s former charities, foundations and private social services reporter, I am acutely aware of the contradictions of fundraising. People are human, and wedding the grim reality of illness and need to the fun of pranks and parties is an old trick to draw attention. This silly stuff is important. The old “Why not skip the gala and give all the money to charity?” bluff is naive and easily answered: “Because without the dinner, there would be no money to give.”
     I’m no paragon of virtue. I gave and dumped ice water over my head (it’s presented as either/or, but you do both) — not out of concern for research, but because my boy, who asks for so little, asked me to. I reiterated the challenge to Justice Kagan. She won’t do it, but wouldn’t it be cool if she did? Plus Karen Lewis, because people suggested her. And I called out my pal Eric Zorn, over at the Tribune, just because I like making him uncomfortable. You have 24 hours.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Ed Kelly: Still getting even at 90: Rahm "is not a Chicagoan"

     Edmund Kelly was born Aug. 19, 1924, and is one of the dwindling band of politicians from the Democratic machine era.
     He talks about everything from his beginnings at Seward Park, his friendship with Mayor Richard J. Daley, his relationship with Harold Washington and why he feels so sorry for Rahm Emanuel. He became acting superintendent of the Chicago Park District in 1972. When Washington fired him 14 years later, he said, “I don’t get mad; I get even.” Here, in a sense, he does: 

    Seward Park. That’s where I was born and raised. My dad was a salesman with Pabst. My mother was a housekeeper. I grew up at the park. Things were very tough. Very tough people. The Depression was ’30, ’32, ’33. The family had no money. I said to my brother once, “How come we moved so much?” He said, “Because we didn’t have the money to pay the rent.”
     He went to St. Phillip’s High School, where he was a guard on the basketball team and won All-City honors.

     My life was going to school and coming back and living in the park. I was in that park seven days a week.
     [We played] everything. Softball. Football. Every sport. Tumbling. Pingpong. Checkers. Then I’d go across the street and learn how to play dice. Not a choir boy at all. Down there it was survival of the fittest. 

     World War II found him a machine gunner in the Pacific.

     When the war broke out, I just turned 17. I didn’t finish high school until 1942. I joined the Marine Corps. I was the aerial gunner in a Helldiver. 
      Having survived the war in the Marshall Islands, he almost didn’t survive the peace because of a show of force delivered to the Chinese. 

     We thought we would be coming home like everybody else. Instead we got sent to Shanghai, assigned because the Nationalists were fighting  the Communists. We didn’t lose anybody in our squadron in the Pacific, but some general had the idea we were going to show the Red Chinese we had air strength. They had all the planes go over and circle the city; we were the last ones in. We were diving on the city, and unfortunately we got caught in an unbelievable snowstorm in the all mountains. We couldn’t operate the radar and were running low on fuel, trying to get back. We lost six of our planes out of 12. We could hear the planes hitting the mountains, the crashes: boom. boom.

     After the war, Kelly attended DePaul, played some professional basketball for the Oshkosh All-Stars, then did what people did back then — went to see his clout about a job.

     George Wells was the committeeman here. My aunt and uncle stood up for his wedding. I didn't know him. George was the one I went over to see. He called and got me sponsored for a job. When I became committeeman, that's who I replaced.

     He worked his way up the ladder in the park district, along the way influencing the lives of thousands of kids, including many who would become famous, from Gene Siskel to Harold Ramis to Wes Pavalon, one of the original owners of the Milwaukee Bucks.

     Wes Pavalon wanted me to be the general manager of the Bucks. Wes bought us a home up there, so that we could come there. I didn't tell anybody at the parks that we were going to go to Milwaukee. I got a call — I was superintendent at Lincoln Park — the mayor's office called. He got me on the phone and said, "I want you to come down, I want to see you." I thought, "What the hell does Mayor Daley want to see me about?" I go down to see the mayor, four o'clock in the afternoon. He says he wants me to run for ward committeeman, and I say, "Oh, Mr. Mayor, I'm not really interested in politics, I want to run sports, coaching and that." After two hours with old blue eyes I come home and my wife says "What did the mayor want?" and I say he wants me to run for ward committeeman because George Wells has cancer. My wife says, "You're going run for committeeman? Well what does that pay?" I says, "It doesn't pay." She says, "What do you mean it doesn't pay?"
     I didn't want to leave the parks. I really didn't want to leave the parks. I loved the sports and the coaching. I couldn't wait to go to work in the morning. I was so enthused. I'd see the kids and coaching. It was a labor of love.

     He rose in the ranks. In 1972, Mike Royko described Kelly as "the ward boss of the 47th, the man who hands out the jobs, and trots out the votes," in a column noting that not only was the executive secretary of the 47th Ward Regular Democratic Organization on the park district payroll, but so were two of Kelly's four children.

     Certainly. When I became superintendent, sure there was patronage. Absolutely. Certainly I helped kids. I have letters from kids, they were terrific workers.

     He managed Richard J. Daley's last campaign and was with him the day he died, Dec. 20, 1976.

     He started reminiscing about the kids, I'm thinking, "Jesus, maybe he's trying to tell me something he don't want to tell me . . ." He says, "C'mon out in the car." I really thought he wanted me to leave the parks and come over [to City Hall]. We were unbelievably close. So I get into the car and he tells Grady to roll the window up. He's sitting there he starts talking about his kids: "If anything ever happens, I don't want nobody to hurt my kids." And I said "Nobody is going to hurt your kids, not if I'm around."He says, "C'mon, take a ride, I got a 2 o'clock appointment." [He] did not tell me it was with the doctor. It was 10 after 1. I said "I can't." He said "why?" I said I have to get that $22 mil for Soldier Field. He said "You're going to get the money." I said, "I don't trust them." I left him.

     On Jane Byrne:

     She was after my ass. She gets elected, next morning she calls my house, my wife answers, she says, "Let me speak to that bum." So I get on the phone, and she says "Eddie, I'm going out to the coast, when I get back, I need you, I want you to stay close to me." I say, "You're the mayor, I'll do whatever you want me to do." The next thing I know she's going to fire me. It's in the paper.
     After, I talked to her. I said, "You crazy son of a bitch." Later she tells me what happened. They were drinking. They were pumping her up I was going to run against her. I had all the votes, killed her. Finally Eddie [Vrdolyak] told her, "Don't screw around with him, he can hurt you." I said, "Don't do this or I'll come out against you personally." She backed off and said put whoever you want in there. I wish I could have helped her, but she never called me. The last few years she trusted me more than anybody. It was a shame. The first two years she was really struggling. The last two years she started to really become a mayor.

     But he was accused of lavishing resources on parks in his community and shortchanging parks in black neighborhoods. There was a federal investigation, and Harold Washington fired him.

     I felt really bad, because I know the guy. Harold was pretty sharp. The two guys close to him were saying, "Kelly's against the blacks; Kelly's not done anything for the blacks." We won the suit before a black judge, George Leighton.
     I wasn't forced to any agreement with the government. We weren't forced. We won the suit. We beat them. Before a black judge.
     I put more black kids to work than he ever . . . I told him right to his face. Gene Sawyer wanted me to come back to the parks. He was a friend of mine. I said, "Gene, you'll get killed."
     Harold and I made up four days before he died. He came to slate-making. I was slate-making chairman for 32 years. He came in, gave a hell of a talk, as he got halfway out, he came back up on the platform, he came over said, "Eddie, we've got to be friends, we've got to get together." I said when you want to get together? He said "Monday morning." I said "I'll see you Monday morning." Monday morning never came. But we had made up.

     He grew uncharacteristically silent on the subject of Richard M. Daley but had some choice words about Rahm Emanuel.

     I feel sorry for Rahm, I really do. Rahm had no idea what he was getting into. Rahm's not a Chicago guy. He'll never be a Chicago guy. He's not a street guy. He's trying to be, but he's not. He's a suburbanite. He's not a Chicagoan, he really isn't. He's smart, very smart. I think what he inherited is going to continue on, he's going to find out more problems, money problems and things.