Saturday afternoon was rainy, but showers were supposed to hold off for a few hours in mid-afternoon, so my wife and I decided to head over to the Glenwood Avenue Art Fest in Rogers Park because, well, we always go.
Why? Well, there's food and music and young couples with kids in strollers and kids with their faces painted like cats, plus hipsters leading real dogs, and unfortunate tattoos and green hair. Lots of booths selling local craft beer, and booths selling food, and crafts that range from the well-wrought and desirable to the artless and pitiable. The crowd is old and young, thin and fat, black and white, male and female and the entire spectrum in between.
Besides, my brother-in-law, Alan Goldberg, a longtime community fixture, cooked up the thing, 18 years ago, and if you can't support your family by attending a summer fair once a year, well then, you've got problems, buddy.
There are also booths for community groups and politicians, and those can be interesting and even lead to stories.
"Maybe we'll bump into Kelly Cassidy," I said as we approached, to my wife, of the state representative from the district, who has a notable cameo in my Chicago book and is in the headlines for her good works in Springfield.
First we met the new alderwoman for the 49th ward, Maria Hadden, who body-checked Joe Moore out of office after 28 years. A staffer pointed her out, and I introduced myself. She turned and fled like I was radioactive.
Then as I predicted, we saw Kelly, outside her booth.
"Have you met my wife?" she asked.
"The other Kelly?" I seemed to recall a spouse also named Kelly, but I was behind the times.
|State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, left, |
with her wife Candace Gingrich
"Her brother is Newt Gingrich," Cassidy explained, as we shook hands.
"The man who ruined the United States," I said, as if stating a simple fact. Which I was. It was Gingrich, Speaker of the House during the Clinton years in the late 1990s, who weaponized the Republicans Party, teaching them to marshal the English language against reality—it doesn't matter what truth is as long as you could attach a bad, or good, name to it and repeat that name often enough—and treat their opponents not as the other side of the political spectrum, but as traitors. It would probably have happened anyway, but Gingrich was the Sampson toppling the pillars of our body politic, then, fawning over Trump now in a way that would make Chris Christie blush.
My wife tactfully wondered about their family reunions.
"We're not a family that gathers a lot," said Gingrich, whose brother Newt is 23 years older than herself. I allowed that most families run the gamut.
"I have relatives who are Trump supporters," I said, not adding, "distant relatives whom I haven't spoken to for years and would never want to speak to again."
I wondered how the couple met.
"The story is ridiculous," said Cassidy, who met her future spouse through her past one. "When Newt became Speaker she said, 'I know his sister...'"
Cassidy asked her if she would come to Chicago to speak at events.
"I'd never been to Chicago," began Gingrich, who lived in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
This was in the mid-1990s.
"And you were blown away by its incredibleness?" I wondered.
"What I was blown away by was her," said Gingrich.
But they were both in relationships, so they remained friends, going to Cubs games. But that changed.
We didn't talk too long—I knew Kelly was there to meet constituents, not jawbone with me. So Edie and I wandered the fair, saw family, hung out, contemplated ceramics. I had an excellent gyros, she had an excellent chicken and avocado salad arepa. We both shared a cup of complicated cocoa gelato from Black Dog. I worried I hadn't quizzed Gingrich thoroughly—she was really a classic American type: the gay relative of a conservative political asshat. Dick Cheney's daughter, Alan Keyes' daughter, now Gingrich's sister, and I'm sure there are more. I should have pressed her on her notorious brother, who did so much to set the ball of our current political decline rolling briskly downhill.
|Bailey, a half-sharpei, half bulldog.|
But on the way out, I noticed the pair, sharing a meal at Kelly's booth, now deserted of staffers. We swung by, and I observed that usually it was the other way around: the politician leaves, the staffers stick around.
They laughed. I decided to ask one last question and then let them be. Sentient America is dealing with a daunting problem, I began: how to cope with a frightening, reactionary man who is not going away anytime soon. Having Gingrich as a brother her entire life required her to cope with a similar burden. Any tips for people trying to get by?
"Breathe," said Gingrich. "Breathing is always a good thing."
She observed that you''ll go crazy if you throw yourself at forces beyond your control, at problems you can't fix, at least can't fix right now.
"It's the little things we all have control over," Gingrich said.
It is no coincidence, she observed, that liberals are trying to fight pollution during the environmental regulation-shredding Trump administration by limiting use of plastic drinking straws, a small step in combatting global pollution. Go ahead; there's no shame in that.
"There is so much more you could be doing, yes," she said. "But you are doing something."
Quietly file at the bars of our predicament while saving our strength for better days.
"You can't control all the bad stuff, but you can control some," she said.
That makes sense.
The festival's last day is Sunday, Aug 18 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The gyros are expensive—$10—but worth it.