Tuesday, January 5, 2021

You can't live my life; but you can wear my hat

Chillin' in a Cara cap in Chile.

     Okay, I admit it. I'm a cool guy. A big shot, big city, Chicago newspaper columnist for years and years kind of fellow. Marinated in success, yes, but still retaining a sharp-elbowed street cred that comes with real-life experience and bone-deep savvy. Grounded in hard-working, union card carrying, measure-it-twice craftsmanship, yet on a first-name basis with all sorts of famous folks. ("Oprah!" I once said, bumping into the TV host unexpectedly, "What are you doing here?")
     I don't normally say it. In fact, I've never said it. That's part of being cool. You don't have to say it. There's no need. Other people say it for you. "That Neil Steinberg..." they begin, not  having to finish the sentence, because everybody knows.
     But for the few who might not know, I suppose I should explain. Cool ... in what way?
     No! Cool should never be explained. Probably can't be explained. Leave 'em guessing. But if I had to say... Well okay. Partly the stuff I've done—worked my way across the Atlantic on a ship. Traveled the world from Kyoto to Klamath. Flown in a stunt biplane doing barrel rolls over Lake Michigan. And the Goodyear blimp. Been down the Deep Tunnel. Twice. Ever look up in wonder at the communications masts atop 875 North Michigan, formerly known as the John Hancock Building? I've climbed up there. Plus I know the new name of the building—you had no idea, right? That's part of being cool. Not only doing stuff, but knowing stuff. Beowulf's dad? Edgetheow? Australia? Wider than the moon. The former Hancock and the former Sears Tower were designed by the same guy, who was born in Puerto Rico, but is not Puerto Rican. Chew on that for a while.
     Knowing stuff makes a person stand out, particularly during our current carnival of idiocy. It helps a person to write books. Most would-be authors push and struggle and beg and wheedle for years and years and can't get their stuff published. Sad. Me, I simply wait, making a cathedral out of my fingers, listening to Mozart, watching the trees sway in the wind and nodding sagely. Eventually big publishing houses ring me up and say, "Neil, would you please write a book for us..." and I sigh, and roll my eyes and say, "Well ... okay ... if it'll help others...."
    I suppose more than experience, or knowledge, cool is an attitude. A general air of coolness, of authenticity that can't be faked. That's how I can live in Northbrook and yet be as Chicago as a Hegewisch bungalow. Being me is like being a bar of gold. The same no matter where you take it. It's gold here. It's gold there. In a garbage dump or the Taj Mahal. Still gold. 
     Part of it must be how I dress. Look at the photo above. That's me touring glaciers in Chile in 2018. While you were busy ... what? Yawning and scratching and wishing something would  happen? While you were doing that, I was poking around the Patagonian coast, among scientists and bon vivants, all for free, of course.
You want this, right?
     Notice the hat? Very cool, right? Here's a closer look. A great shade of blue, with a stylized C in a circle that looks like something the Cubs would design, were the Cubs cool, which they most definitely are not.
     You want it, right?
     Tough. You can't have it. It was a gift from Cara, which is an extraordinarily cool program that helps people who are homeless, jobless, recovering drug addicts, and ex-felons get back on their feet, find employment, and begin living productive, happy lives like the one that I live every goddamn day. I've written about them in the past, most recently about their Cleanslate program last year.
     Helping people is cool, though the reason I wear the hat is that it is also extraordinarily comfortable. 
     Plus I suppose there's a kind of anti-status that I would appreciate if, you know, I cared about such things. Which I don't. Because cool people don't have to. Status is to cool folk like water is to fish; it surrounds us, so we never notice it. Fish don't know they're wet. You can have your tired sports team logo or your generic polo player or what have you on your cap. I have a program that saves lives in Chicago.
     You can't get a hat like that. Because ... wait. What? A bulletin. That's part of being cool. You're kept up to the minute on everything that is important.
     Up to right now, you couldn't get a hat like that, unless you were me, which you're not. But it seems that Cara, generous souls that they are, has just now opened up an online store. The announcement was made Monday, and you're finding out on Tuesday, because you know a cool, connected person such as myself. Cara is selling merchandise whose profits support their important work, and allowing regular ordinary folks who are not living ultra cool newspaper columnist lives to outfit themselves in Cara products. Not only the hat. But sweatshirts. T-shirts. Coffee mugs.
     My first thought, when I was notified first thing about the creation of the store was that I mustn't breathe a word of it to anybody, lest I start seeing other, less cool people who are not myself wearing my way-cool Cara hat. But I'm bigger than that, so I renounce that fleeting, unworthy thought, and graciously guide you to the inner sanctum of coolness. You can access their on-line store here.
     Make no mistake, the hat will not make you completely cool—not Neil Steinberg cool. For that, you need an entire lifestyle such as mine, built up over decades and scrupulously maintained. But it will make you cooler. At least a little. I can promise you that.
     The only downside—for me, not you—is the hat is very inexpensive. Just $15. When it should have been $25 or $50 or $100, to keep the hoi polloi away. That's what I would have suggested, had they asked me, which they didn't. They probably felt intimidated, approaching a super cool guy like me. Which is a shame because, as cool as I am, as famous and successful and top rung, I'm really very down-to-earth, if I say so myself.

Rockin' a Cleanslate hat in Venice.


  1. For starters, I have to admit that I am nowhere near as cool as Neil Steinberg is, even though I got exactly an 18-year start on him. And I'm sure that Neil in his coolness has at least a passing acquaintance with Greek, so that he knows that the "the" in "the hoi polloi" is redundant, since "hoi polloi" means "the people" all by itself, just as there are places in England in which certain hills were named by the Celts, then renamed by the Romans, and finally by the Saxons and/or the Normans, giving the hill a name that translates to "Hill Hill Hill Hill." But Neil's coolness allows him to ignore this information that only a nerd would even think of mentioning or, God forbid, bragging about. Which reminds me, I'll have to hurry to be the first person on my block to show off my Cara cap.


  2. OMG what an awesome column. What a great way to kick off the new year. After all, you are the "King of Cool". I never doubted it for a second.

  3. Thank you for the spotlight of Cara Shop, Neil! You are very cool indeed. - Your friends at Cara

  4. In the 60's, Steve McQueen was Mister Cool. You might be cool, but not like him!

  5. Yes ! Yes you are.

    This from a guy whose never lived farther than 5 miles from where he was born and never traveled outside the US.

    One of my ex wives told me I only pretended to be cool. Cool people don't do that I guess.

    I am definitely not cool . Though I did meet oprah. I was laying under her desk and she and her associate stood above me discussing business. She looked down and said I hope we're not bothering you . Cracked me up.

  6. I may have been cool for only a day or two in my life, but I sprung for a cap (two to choose from, I chose yours) and a t-shirt. Which might raise my level of cool up a notch, but it might dilute your level of cool a bit.

  7. Mr S...you forgot Carbondale! When I read that you were also there for the 2017 "E-clipse" (as the natives called it), I knew that you were at least as cool as my wife and I. But it had to be a disappointment that you only saw a brief glimpse of totality, because of cloud cover (and storms) in the vicinity of the SIU football stadium, after spending so much to house your family in a dorm room.

    We had scoped out Giant City State Park the day before (and where we also had those great chicken dinners at the lodge...twice), so we knew where to go when the state troopers opened the entrances, shortly after sunrise. We were directly in the path of longest totality, and skies remained clear, although we were only ten miles south of town.

    We lucked out and saw the whole megillah. A partial eclipse, versus a total one, is like the difference between watching porn and doing the deed. Best two minutes of our lives...or at least very close to it. And we reserved our room a year in advance, to avoid the inflated eclipse prices. Saw people being turned away after begging for lodging, even whiler waving fistfuls of dollars.

    So does all that mishegoss make me cooler than you? Nope.

    We both worked at the Sun-Times, in different eras. You wrote features and obits and have a column. I was on the wire room crew. You're Hawkeye. I was Radar. So yeah, you're cooler. I take my Yiddish Cub hat off to you (It reads right to left and translates as "Cawbs").

    But the coolest of the cool are not only so cool that they know they're cool, they're also cool enough not to have to bother telling people they're cool. Why? Because...that would then make them un-cool. Or something like that.

    Keep cool and carry on.

  8. In a previous job I had the opportunity to hire some cool Cara workers. They didn’t talk about how cool they were.


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