Saturday, April 30, 2022

Wilmette Notes: Best Worst

From "Spring Awakening" on stage at the Porchlight Theater until June 2.

 
    One cost of COVID's hidden costs is all the theater we've missed. A loss I barely considered until I read today's report from Wilmette Bureau Chief Caren Jeskey:

By Caren Jeskey

     Germany, 1890. The usual societal dilemma, feed the rich or feed the poor, was at hand. Chancellor Leo von Caprivi was not popular with the elite, as he sought to also address laborers' rights. A sheltered girl, a student of a cruelly authoritarian institution of higher learning, had just turned 14. She begged her mother to tell her the truth about where babies come from. Her sister had just had a second child. The girl, Wendla, could wait no longer. Her mother relented and sat down in a sturdy high backed wooden chair. Wendla hurried to sit on the floor at her mother’s feet, laid her head in her mother’s lap and looked off into the distance, waiting. Mother’s face was panic stricken. She had no idea what to say. She finally covered the girl’s face with her apron — oh the shame of it! — and launched in.
     “For a woman to bear a child, she must… in her own personal way, she must… love her husband. Love him, as she can love only him. Only him… she must love— with her whole… heart. There. Now you know everything.”  
     And that’s all she got.
     I watched this scene unfold in a front row seat on opening night at the Porchlight Theatre this past Thursday. I was the fortunate recipient of a +1 ticket from a dear friend who's more important than I. When Wendla stood up and sang to us, desperately trying to figure out what the heck her mother had just said, time stood still in that way that only live theater can do. Being in close proximity to humans emoting strongly, rather than looking at pixelated actors on a screen, is an intimate affair. More so now. I felt exposed and awkward about eye contact, seeing as we were so close. I felt vulnerable and did not stifle sobs when a young character committed suicide. It was all so tragically relevant.
     Some of you know that I am describing "Spring Awakening," Frank Wedekind’s first major play, that he wrote in Germany with a backdrop of social unrest and mores based on repression, control and delusion, rather than any semblance of the realities of human behavior and sexuality. Welcome to 2022 America.
     Now that Wendla understood she was to love a man in her own special way, and her budding curiosity and hormones longed to know more, she soon thereafter had her first tryst with a young man from her school (that was of course segregated by assumed gender). She had no idea what was about to happen, but his kisses and expert cajoling led her to become more and more relaxed, and then submit. Earlier we heard him speak to a friend about the art of charming a woman from the point of saying no to saying yes. You can call that what you will.
     When repression reigns supreme, terrible things happen.
     Wendla did not know that what she and the boy had done is how babies are made, since no one ever told her. She was forced to have an abortion, and died. As we creep back to the dark ages around the right to choose, the play was apropos. Humans have always, and apparently will always, fail at nurturing others on an epically large level.
     The good news today is that on a much smaller level, we can find ourselves at a quality performance with expert musicianship and a well trained and talented cast on a cool Spring night. You and I will likely not be forced to an untimely death with a dangerous medical procedure to avoid shame. I feel ever so grateful to have been born with opportunity.
     I delightfully found myself sitting next to an actor and Jeff Awards judge who pointed out that the room was full of writers. So this is where the cool kids hang out. I like it and I will be back for more.
     “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” — Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
     It is, has always been, and perhaps will always be.

Friday, April 29, 2022

‘I don’t give up’


     Most graduates from the City Colleges of Chicago don’t participate in the traditional cap-and-gown ceremony. Only 1,424 students from the seven colleges — Harold Washington, Harry S. Truman, Kennedy-King, Olive-Harvey, Malcolm X, Richard J. Daley and Wilbur Wright — will walk across the stage at Wintrust Arena this Sunday for a handshake and a diploma cover. More than 2,000 graduates will pass on the opportunity.
     Why?
     Jobs. Family obligations. Too busy.
     But Maria G. Delgado will be there.
     “It’s important for me to go to the ceremony because it brings closure,” she said. “Closing a chapter but beginning a new one. Closing a cycle.”
Maria Delgado
     A long cycle: 28 years. Delgado started taking classes at Wright College in 1994 when she was 19.
     Now she is 47.
     “I grew up in Wicker Park, then moved to Humboldt Park,” she said. “It was a very bad area back then, lots of shooting, lots of people dying. I’m surprised that we made it out.”
     She was born in Mexico’s most violent city, Zamora, Michoacán. Her mother was 14. Her parents, Trinidad and Virginia Montejano, fled to the United States when Delgado was a child. They stressed the importance of education, and are another reason she is going to commencement on Sunday.
     “It honors my parents,” she said. “A way to thank them for everything they did, a way of paying them back.”
     Which some might say she’s already done. After Delgado began college, her parents grew ill. She tried taking classes while being their caregiver, but it became too much. Her mom needed a pacemaker; her dad, a liver transplant. Delgado started having panic attacks.
     “I just couldn’t do it anymore,” she said. “Once they told me she had three- to six-month life expectancy, I couldn’t retain anything. I withdrew from my classes.”
     Her mother died in 2008; her father died in 2015. But by then Delgado had her own difficulties. She struggled with mental illness.

To continue reading, click here.


Thursday, April 28, 2022

Flashback 1987: Satisfying sweet toothes — Brach & Sons works hard to meet demand

Photo for the Sun-Times by Rich Hein.
   Talking about candy at Ferrara made me think about this visit to Brach, 35 years ago, when the sprawling factory was going 24 hours a day on the West Side. The writing is a little clunky; I was 26, and still a freelancer. But of enough historical interest to merit sharing. I should point out that Rich Hein, who took the photos—in black and white!—is now the Sun-Times photo editor, and I appreciate him giving permission for me to reproduce them.  

     Valentine's Day is still more than two weeks away, but at E. J. Brach & Sons, the holiday already has passed.
     Despite the red, white and pink mints, small candy valentines and foil-wrapped chocolate hearts displayed in covered glass jars in the lobby of the Brach Kinzie Avenue plant, the Valentine's candy has almost all been made and is on the way to stores. Inside the plant, it's Easter.
     Thousands of "speckled eggs" — oversized malted milk balls, covered in chocolate and a white candy coating — sit in huge bins, waiting to be boxed. On a long table, women wearing hairnets and white gloves arrange soft white strips of marshmallow fluff, preparing them for the transformation into marshmallow rabbits.
     Candy is an important part of our lives — the sweet reward that soothes a woe or heightens a pleasure; timeless, in the sense that the candy enjoyed in youth is available, unchanged, in old age.
     A candy factory is an odd mix of the fantastic and the practical. Candy, in glorious overabundance, flows in rivers, collects in pools and lakes, cascades out of machines. But to satisfy the world's sweet tooth, a candy factory must be modern and efficient. There are no elves at Brach. Room after room of chuffing, whining machines spit out tens of thousands of candies. To the newcomer, the churning machinery is staggering.
     "When I first got here, I couldn't figure out where all this candy was going," said Phyllis Osmocki, a 33-year Brach employee. "And this was on just one (conveyor) belt — there were all the other belts, and all the other departments. Who eats all this?"
  
Photo by Rich Hein
   According to statistics, just about everybody. The per capita consumption of chocolate is more than 11 pounds per person, or over $4.8 billion worth of chocolate a year.
     And chocolate is only one type of candy made by Brach. The Kinzie Avenue plant can simultaneously produce 11 different types of candy — hard candies, chocolate-coated nuts, decorated mints. The largest manufacturer of candy worldwide, Brach produces more than 1 million pounds of candy a day, creating some 200 distinct varieties.
     To produce all this candy, Brach employs 4,100 people, from managers and salesmen to production people. The plant runs 24 hours a day, Sunday night through Friday night. At any time, a considerable number of production lines are not running, but are being cleaned, or refitted to run a different sort of candy.
   Eddie Stokes operates a $6.5 million Baker Perkins machine that turns out 2,000 pounds of hard candy an hour. "My job function is starting the batch up, cooking it to 300 degrees, pulling the water moisture out of the candy to give it the clear look," he said. "There are six Baker Perkins machines at Brach, and I know how to operate each and every one of them."
Photo by Rich Hein
   The machines are monstrous, perhaps 200 feet long, taking the candy from a steaming cauldron of hot syrup to the cooled, wrapped, finished product. Along the route are a maze of gauges and hissing pneumatic lines, and pumping control rods and twirling wheels, all carefully monitored by the operators.
     While most of the candy is made by machines, there is one type of candy that demands direct human involvement. Despite advanced technology, no machine has been made that can place a pretty red heart in the center of a hard mint, so that type of decorated candy is made by hand, on one floor of the plant.
     There are no white-gloved women here, but burly men in hairnets who handle the corn syrup candy, referred to as "glass" because of its transparency. It is roughly the color and consistency of petroleum jelly when it comes out of the huge, loud pressure cookers at one side of the room, which infuse the air with the smell of hot peppermint.
     The large discs of candy — some weighing up to 100 pounds — are carried to cooling tables. When they are cool enough to handle, but still warm, they are worked by hand. It is tough, strenuous work, and the workers press hard on the discs with metal bars, kneading and folding the glass, working in various flavorings and colorings. The discs — some now brightly colored in hot pinks, deep roses and electric greens — are tugged into long shapes and placed on a machine resembling a giant taffy puller, which further kneads and works them.
Photo by Rich Hein
     The long strips of various colors are formed into a pattern — in this case a rose — and the tube of candy, called a "rope," is fed into a machine that reduces it in size, with plenty of human pushing and coaxing, spinning the rope thinner and thinner. It goes in a foot thick, and comes out about an inch in diameter. As the rope gets smaller, the design gets proportionally smaller. At the end, when the rope is sliced in segments, each quarter-sized mint encases a perfect rose.
     In addition to production, Brach runs a research and development lab, experimenting with new candies and adjusting recipes of old favorites.
     Thus, in the corporate offices, which otherwise would look like any large company, small plastic bags of candy corn, malted milk balls or jelly beans, can be found clipped to memos, waiting for attention atop "in" baskets. There also is a faint smell, sometimes like marshmallows, sometimes like mints, permeating the corporate offices.
     Explained Robert Allen, vice president of operations at Brach: "Just because you've been making a candy for 50 years doesn't mean you can't improve it."
         —originally published in the Sun-Times, Jan. 29, 1987

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Sweet and multi-sensorial

Greg Guidotti at Ferrara headquarters in the Old Post Office. 


     For all the decades I’ve been driving through the Old Post Office, particularly during the five years I lived in Oak Park, I’d never actually been inside the sprawling deco complex, not beyond a quick 30-second dash into the lobby to mail my taxes.
     That changed Friday, and I found myself sitting in the sixth floor funhouse splendor of the Ferrara Candy Company headquarters. That itself is an amazing development. There is no way I could ever get inside, say, Wrigley headquarters. Not through any imaginable process that didn’t involve me swimming ashore at Goose Island, shedding my wetsuit, scaling a wall, knocking out a guard, then shimmying through the ventilation system.
     But Ferrara invited me. And as soon as I settled in a conference room, I could see why. They’ve invented a new type of candy.
     “The hot product right now is Nerds Gummy Clusters,” said Greg Guidotti, chief marketing officer at Ferrara, standing before a conference table piled with bags of candy. “You can open it. Give it a look, and try it.”
     He didn’t have to ask twice. I tore open a small bag, suppressed my first thought — “They kinda look like candy coronavirus spheres” — as indecorous, and popped one in my mouth.
     “Essentially it’s classic Nerds wrapped around a gummy deposit,” said Guidotti.
     I wish I could buy bags of Guidotti’s enthusiasm — a seasoned marketing pro, who spent time at Kraft and sold Duracell in Asia — to munch throughout the day. Or better yet, send packages to the PR sorts that I generally have to try to wheedle information from, who narrow their gaze and worry, in a chill voice that sounds like it’s coming from the woman in “American Gothic” — “You want more information about our product? Why would you want that?” It’s such an unexpected joy, to meet somebody who is actually good at what he does.

To continue reading, click here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Freedom to express any lie you want



     We’re at a point in America’s slide toward the bottom where everything has become a code, often signaling the exact opposite of what is being claimed.
     Those who talk about “right to life” of course are really referring to their own imagined right to impose their fundamentalist religion and moral strictures, through law, on people who don’t share them. The true goal being to somehow drag our country back toward the Eden they fancy existed in the 1950s, when women who had sex for reasons other than procreation could be branded as sluts who must bear the fruit of their folly, or risk their lives with back alley butchers and end up in the sepsis ward of Cook County Hospital. We’re well on our way.
     Or when Donald Trump talks about “voter fraud” he is trying to facilitate a fraud of his own, pushing to undercut fair elections while promoting unfair contests skewed in his favor, since those who might vote against him are limited by a variety of disingenuous roadblocks and barriers.
     “Free speech” is now the equivalent of being free from the consequences of your malicious, deceptive, and toxic ramblings, the First Amendment a shield to hide behind. Thus Elon Musk, the richest man in the world, on Monday reached a deal to buy Twitter, the dynamic social media platform, with the express intention of removing the guardrails that led to the ejection of those who, for instance, traffic in anti-vaccine fantasy, or engage in the kind of bullying and harassment Musk relishes.
     It’s like the worst nuisance on the beach buying a private swim club so he can freely kick sand in weaklings’ faces.

To continue reading, click here.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Is ‘flu’ really hurting ‘birds?’


     The cardinals are out in force this year. Every day a pair or two peck at my backyard feeder, joined by all sorts of warblers and finches, swallows and blue jays. I love watching birds. They add joy to life.
     So when the Illinois Department of Natural Resources suggested residents take down their bird feeders and clean them with bleach to combat an outbreak of highly-contagious avian flu, I thought: “Wait a second! What about MY rights? You mean some government agency is going to tell me what I can do in my own backyard? Based on what? Where is the science? How are we to know that this isn’t the work of Big Bleach, the Clorox people trying to get us to start emptying bottles into buckets, willy-nilly?”
     I decided to do my own research. There are questions whether birds even exist at all. ”Are Birds Actually Government-Issued Drones?” asks a 2018 headline on the Audubon Society web site no less. Look at the story yourself; I’m not making this up. There is a “Birds Aren’t Real” movement. If we can’t be 100 percent certain that birds themselves exist, how can anyone discuss the supposed ailments that these supposed “birds” supposedly have?
     Kidding. I took my feeder down immediately, cleaned it with bleachy water, as instructed, then used the mixture to wipe down the cast iron hook and squirrel defense system.
     Why? Because a person who appreciates birds enough to feed them should not unwittingly cause their deaths. And as smart a guy as I fancy myself to be, I’m not the sole arbitrator of everything. State natural resource experts know more about birds than I do.
     The whole “trust-knowledge” mindset that runs against the chunk of the population who reacted to COVID-19 by covering their ears and making gargling noises or declaring what they want has to be right, since they want it. Wah.
     The attitude infused a column on vaccinations that ran in the Chicago Reader last November.

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Sunday, April 24, 2022

Moment de vérité

 
 
   Sunday is Election Day in France. The polls are open. Why should anybody not living in France notice or care? The short answer is, who France elects president today is considered an indication of, well, to put it bluntly, Just How Fucked The World Is. 
     I'm tempted to put my chips on "Very," but will be optimistic and opt for, "Kinda."
     Yes, Marine Le Pen, daughter of National Front founder and all-round holocaust-denying racist asshat Jean-Marie Le Pen, isn't expected to win. But then, neither was Brexit or Donald Trump. 
     Yet win they did.
     The Economist, which has a good nose for these things, titled a recent article about the election, "Don't Panic," noting that incumbent Emmanuel Macron did better in the April 10 run-off than he did the first time, back in 2017. While still comparing the election to a game of Russian roulette. Yes, if things go wrong, they go very wrong. But odds are you'll be okay.
     Cold comfort.
     The bad news, to me, is, even if Macron is re-elected—and the French have only given their president a second term twice over the past half century—that a proto-fascist like Le Pen who is literally a paid lackey of Vladimir Putin can draw whatever support she ends up getting—say 47 percent—is testimony to how far right nationalism has gone after being given a quick scrub. Le Pen changed the name of her father's National Front to "National Rally" and re-directed her rhetoric to basic economic issues while delivering her contempt sotto voce. Maybe a new party will brand itself the "Not Cs" and take off in Germany. 
     In a sense she already won, by her showing in the run-off: 23 percent of the vote, compared to Macron's 28 percent. When they faced each other in the 2017 election (when I happened to be in Paris, and photographed these campaign posters) Macron took 66 percent of the vote. He won't come close to that this time.  The world is embracing strongmen who promise a return to our imagined past. I wish I could explain why.
      This isn't to suggest that France being led by Le Pen out of the sphere of the United States and NATO would be bad merely as an augury for the American elections of this November and 2024. It would be bad, period, for a Europe trying to contain the bloody territorial ambitions of Russia, which is already telegraphing that once it finishes chewing up Ukrainian territory it might decide to take a few bites out of Moldova. A vote for Le Pen is clearly a vote for Putin, but just as American evangelicals started loving Putin when he began quashing gays, so French right wingers now a kindred spirit when they see one.  
    I don't want to get too far out over my skis trying to analyze today's election. France isn't just America with big puffy scarves. It's a place where some votes are cast in on paper ballots tucked within gorgeous light blue envelopes, like fine stationery. Macron is unpopular for being aloof and out-of-touch—though I thought being aloof was part of the job description of the president of France, noted more for their barely concealed mistresses and for polishing the soles of their shoes.  But in case you haven't been following it, news of some sort will be hitting this afternoon. I'm hoping that it'll be the anticipated long exhale of relief. But if it's another stomach-churning disaster, well, we should be almost used to that by now.

 

      

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Wilmette Notes: Wee Tim'rous Beastie

Netuske of a Mouse (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

     In 1980, I lived above the Sherman Snack Shop in Evanston in an apartment dingy in the way only undergraduates can create. One evening I was watching our small portable black and white television when a mouse scurried past. I was on my feet and out the door so quick I neither put my shoes on nor took my key. The door locked behind me. That memory slumbered for decades until Caren Jeskey's essay today prodded it from its lair. I'm sure it'll raise murine memories in you too. Enjoy.


By Caren Jeskey


     A glass was knocked over in the kitchen very late the other night, clattering onto the counter top. The problem is I was home alone, and not in the kitchen. Instinct kicked in and I dashed into the dark room and flipped on the light. A tiny gray flash of fur flew across the counter at warp speed, and skillfully curved its little body around a sharp corner before it disappeared behind the stove. 
     It was too late to do anything about it so I went to sleep. I wore a skull cap and a huge silk eye mask, and wrapped the sheet around my head for protection. Still, I had nightmares of little mousey sniffing at my nostrils. I did not get much sleep that night.
    For such little guys, mice and other rodents possess an incredible ability to torment and otherwise engage the attention of humans. 
     The Three Blind Mice were a metaphor—betcha didn't know that—for 
Protestant loyalists accused of plotting against Queen Mary, called blind as an insult by their rivalrous religious persecutors, almost demanding kindly farmer’s wives resort to bloody violence with carving knives.
     In her 793rd poem, our isolated and astute Emily Dickinson pays homage to the power of these creatures. “Grief is a Mouse—And chooses Wainscot in the Breast For His Shy House.” They are hard to see, easily hidden, but can capture our hearts. Or freeze them, during night terrors, as we imagine them clawing our eyes out.    
     Poet Robert Browning shared a tale of woe from A.D. 1284 when their big cousins, the rat, overran the town of Hamelin Germany. The Pied Piper showed up to lead the dirty vermin to their deaths by drowning when they followed his hypnotic flute music to their demise in the local river. When Mr. Piper returned to the town for his exterminator’s fee, the mayor refused to hand it over. Mr. Piper retaliated by luring 130 local children into the mountains, never to be seen again. Pesky rats causing trouble once again.
     They also inspire pity and affection, most famously:
Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
Wi’ murd’ring pattle …
      — "To a Mouse" by Robert Burns (1785)
 
    This poet was also a farmer, and apparently unearthed a mouse family’s den while tilling his soil. He finds himself feeling badly, contemplating the unfortunate plight of these nervous little beasts.
     For my little problem, I decided to go the humane route. A friend lent me a metal mouse motel, which I baited with crunchy organic peanut butter from Trader Joe’s. Trap set, pest control arranged to come out in the morning, I went to sleep. Didn’t sleep well again.
     When I woke up the next day I peeked into the clear plastic top of the mouse house and saw a tail. Then another, and then one more. Three mice huddled together, taking a nap or maybe frozen in fear. I shuddered and ran out of the kitchen and around the house a bit, shaking off the heebie jeebies.
      Wesley the mouse guy arrived. He plugged up holes behind the stove and around the perimeter of the house with copper wool. Before he left, I asked him to walk with me to a hiking trail a couple blocks away to let la petit ménagerie loose. He kindly said he’d do it himself, and off he went. When Wesley got back he let me know that one of the three had refused to run free. It was hiding in the tunneled part of the trap and would not budge.
   I had a couple hours free before an early dinner date, and I had an idea. I placed the mousetrap into a paper shopping bag and walked over to the fire department.
     I put the trap down, wide open (hoping he’d run off) in a patch of grass, crossed the parking lot full of giant pick up trucks, and headed to the patio. I passed a picnic table and big gas grill, imagined the fatigued firefighters enjoying a well earned meal, and gave the station door a few loud knocks. 
     A tall, slim, balding firefighter pulled a curtain back and peeked out of the glass door. I smiled. He opened up. “Hi. I have a mouse stuck in a trap and I need help getting it out.” He looked surprised. “So you came to the fire department?” I explained the situation, and that I don’t know many people in the area yet. It was sounding a little silly to me even, but he stepped out to help. His name badge read "Tom."
     We approached the trap and Tom peered inside. The mouse’s long tail stuck out from one end of the tunnel, his teenie paws and nose peeking out the other side. It took a good ten minutes of prodding and pulling before our little friend was finally pried out. Mice are strong and agile, and he did not let go easily. I think we hurt his paw a bit because he limped a little, but once released he took just a moment to get his bearings. When he realized he was free he scampered away into the bushes.
     I thanked Tom, made a mental note to drop off some cookies and a thank you note and headed home, hoping not to have a repeat performance. Tom would have a story to tell.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Rotary aids Ukrainian refugees

John Hewko

     Ukraine is a democracy based on a constitution.
     The parts not brutally invaded and cruelly occupied by Russia, that is. The Ukrainian constitution was written in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union. And if John Hewko needs to refer to it, he can check his personal copy. Not many people keep the Ukrainian constitution at home — but then, Hewko helped get it written.
     “My parents came to the United States after the Second World War,” he said. “My father in 1949, my mother in 1947. I grew up in a Ukrainian-American community in Detroit, and then Ohio.”
     Hewko became a lawyer, went to work at Baker McKenzie, which sent him to open their office in Moscow in 1989. He grew up speaking Ukrainian, so it was a natural for him to head to Ukraine with the rush of Western expertise helping get that fledgling nation off on the right foot.
     “I took a leave of absence from the firm, moved to Ukraine in the spring of ’91, working as an adviser to parliament, overseeing this group of Western experts,” he said. “We put together the first working group drafting the Ukrainian constitution. We brought in Western constitutional experts, holed up in a hotel room for five days and hammered out the first draft.”
     Hewko is again in a position to help his parents’ homeland, as general secretary and CEO of Rotary International, the 1.4-million-member service organization based in Evanston.
     My experiences at Rotary meetings created the impression of an organization whose primary purpose is to attend luncheons, exchange business cards, and endure speeches. Hewko disabused me of this view right away.
     “The more I’ve worked at Rotary, the more I’m in awe of what Rotarians do all over the world,” he said, citing their work to eradicate polio.

To continue reading, click here.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Never mind.


 
   I hate technology sometimes.
   Hate, hate, hate.
   Even the simplest things...
   So last week a new reader in Washington, D.C. asked if he could receive notifications of new Every Goddamn Day posts by email. 
   I had tried setting that up a few months ago, under the tutelage of Chicago Public Square's Charlie Meyerson. Tried to figure this out through some kind of website. But it was beyond my skill set.
    Now, pressed anew, I dove into the settings section of Blogger and, lo and behold, there was a place where I could plug in emails to send post notifications. 
    So I plugged my email in. It seemed to work. 
    Not wanting to get beyond my skis, or ballyhoo a flawed system, I then put a small notice on the page, inviting emails. Those worked too. I waited a few days to see if the thing vanished, as sometimes happened. No, it seemed to work.
     Confident that I had a solution, I posted an invitation Thursday morning. Emails started to come in. I plugged them into the section in settings. Until the above notice appeared. Surprise!
    Ten? Why 10? Why not a thousand? So as not to jam the Internet? I have 50,000 photos in iPhoto up in the Cloud. And I only get to email the blog to 10 people? A joke, right?
    Anyway, I just pulled the post down—the second time in nine years that I've had to. No point in inviting people send me emails if I can't then send them the blog. I'm not giving up, yet. I'll continue to try to figure out how to solve this. But this is why I generally avoid the technological aspect of blogging. It's hard enough just to write the shit.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Drawing fun out of a hat

Joshua Messado performs with his namesake rings at the Chicago Magic Lounge.


     When the Chicago Shakespeare Theater opened on Navy Pier in 1999, I used to say it was worth going just to sit in a seat there — the fact that they also put on a show was an added bonus.
     I had that same sense of being somewhere special just entering the Chicago Magic Lounge, 5050 N. Clark St., on a recent Saturday night. You almost have to. The establishment is hidden behind a fake laundromat, complete with spinning dryers. Guests aren’t fooled per se — it’s all too pristine to be an actual laundromat. But you know something extraordinary is afoot, a feeling magnified by the black-walled bar to the left and a pristine little lobby decorated with museum-quality magic memorabilia to the right. This feels like someplace you’d find at Disney World instead of a North Clark Street cabaret. Not a raw cinder block in sight.
     “Somebody put a lot of money into this,” I said to my wife. That somebody was Don Clark and his partners, who opened the Lounge in 2018. Clark invited us to stop by, and while two years of COVID-19 hunkering has gotten us out of the habit of regularly going places and doing things, the Magic Lounge seemed worth risking a visit.
     It is. The room had a boisterous party atmosphere before a single card was turned over.
     That night’s show, like Gaul, can be divided into three parts. First, roving magicians performed close-in magic at various tables, engaging in friendly banter and showing off well-executed card tricks.
     Second, the main show, consisting of two acts, opener Jimmy Rock and headliner Paige Thompson.
     Both presented routines built around finding the chosen card and assembling a number that then appears in an unexpected place. Rock is an actual Florida cop who does magic. ”It’s never fun to encounter a police officer,” said Rock, accurately enough. Thompson’s act involved people in the hinterland thinking a woman with purple hair doing magic has to be a witch. While her twist of dancing upon cards blindfolded to find the right one was different, it didn’t rise to what I consider high-caliber magic. Both were competent. Maybe a few cocktails would have helped.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Strange Worlds

 

"Strange Worlds" by Todros Geller (Art Institute of Chicago)

      Ukraine is never far from mind, as Russia redoubles its attack, hurling armies and missiles at the besieged nation, the second largest in Europe. I keep waiting for the world to shrug and look away—it's what the world does best. But we're still watching, horror-struck.
     At the same moment, we're also rediscovering the depth of our Ukrainian heritage here in Chicago, sometimes hidden in plain sight: "Oh wait, Ukrainian Village. Right..."
     Sometimes just hidden. I offer this little noticed oil in the possession of the Art Institute, "Strange Worlds," a 1928 oil painting by Todros Geller, a Ukrainian-born Jew.
     The news vendor stares boldly at the viewer, red-eyed, gaunt, intense, tight-lipped. He's a man who has seen much, endured much, to get to his perch at a newstand jammed under an 'L' girder. In the background, the faceless pedestrians swirl past. If you look closely at the newspapers he's offering, they're a blend of nationalities and politics, crying for attention .
Geller was not only involved in art, but politics, religion, education—he taught both art and Hebrew.
     Born in Ukraine in 1889, when it was still part of Russia, Geller recalled scarcely thinking of himself as Jewish, until the 1905 pogroms forced that understanding upon him. His family fled the next year, first to Montreal—where he met and became a proud friend of, "Red Queen" Emma Goldman—then Chicago, in 1918, where he studied at the School of the Art Institute.
     Geller was often quoted or featured in the Daily News, whose comprehensive coverage of the Chicago art scene is heartbreaking to contemplate today.
     "Todros Geller, who has been painting and studying in Europe and Palestine this summer has resumed his classes at the Jewish People's Institute," the paper noted in 1927. "Elementary and advanced classes in figure and cast drawing, modeling, pottery, etchings, wood block
cutting and printing are offered."

     During that trip he met with Marc Chagall in Paris—Geller was interested in what constituted "Jewish art," though it seems fairly plain nowadays. Later, the WPA sent him to the Southwest, where he did a series of sensitive portraits of Native-Americans.
     His "Black Venus," a woodblock print of a nude cabaret dancer, was the talk of an unjuried 1932 show, scandalizing what the Daily News called "certain nervous nellies who had no business being where they were." That might have included the Tribune critic, who declared the work, "most startling."
   In 1937, a Daily News reporter asked Geller how he squared the Biblical prohibitions against depicting the natural world with his career as an artist. 
     "Well you know," he replied, with a smile, and, the paper noted, no trace of an accent, "what happens when a law is passed against something that everybody wants to do." 
     "Strange Worlds" was taken as the title of a show of Geller's work that the Spertus Museum put on in 2018—you can see a brief WTTW segment on the artist and his work here. 
     Spertus holds many of the oils, woodblock prints, and sketchbooks of Geller, which is fitting, because he worked, unsuccessfully, toward creating a museum of Jewish art in the 1930s. In that era, Jews were sort of the officially-designated cultural outsiders, a role of The Other now filled by different groups. It made me wonder if there is still the sort of contemporary Jewish artistic community that Geller represented, or was it wiped away by the one-two punch of World War II and assimilation?

      



Monday, April 18, 2022

Are we going to war with Russia?

Metropolitan Museum of Art

 “In Russian-occupied Kherson, satellite imagery that showed the digging of hundreds of fresh grave plots held haunting symbolism of the fate of civilians there.” — News item

     That about sums it up, doesn’t it? A humanity so advanced that we can detect and count 6-by-3-foot graves from outer space. But at the same time, a species so degraded that we’re also doing the random killing that requires the graves. Quite a range of behavior to wrap our heads around on the Monday after Easter.
     And I shouldn’t even address how the same news organization, The Washington Post, that can share such important news is also able, in doing so, to disgorge a phrase like “held haunting symbolism of the fate of civilians there.”
     Symbolism? A grave isn’t a symbol of their fate, it is their fate. (Let’s re-write that sentence into something less passive, shall we? “Satellite imagery showed hundreds of freshly-dug graves in Russian-occupied Kherson, an ominous indication of the fate of civilians there.” More accurate and four words shorter.)
     Having plucked out “haunting,” we can save that word to apply to the Russian demand that the United States stop supplying weapons to Ukraine. And even then, it’s premature. We’re not “haunted” yet by the formal diplomatic note — how 19th century of them! — the Russians sent last week warning the United States to stop giving the Ukrainians the weapons they are using to kick their ass. Not haunted, only worried.
     That Russian demand seems the most salient fact in the whole churning, confusing awful horror of the war in recent weeks. What to make of it?
     Empty threat? Given the ease with which Russians lie, we can take some reassurance that if they are saying they’re going to do some vague unwelcome thing — ”unpredictable consequences” is the term they actually brandished — there’s a good chance they won’t do anything.
     Or is it the sort of justification the Russians like to float prior to their awful acts? A kind of prior authorization they seem to think takes the sting out of unprovoked evil. Their thinking is: We can randomly kill thousands of civilians in the country next door if we first claim we’re liberating them from Nazis and they aren’t a real country anyway.
     Is the United States heading toward war? It seems a very real possibility. Some arms convoy in Poland will be hit, and the gears of general conflagration will start to turn. It’ll all seem inevitable, afterward. Then we can be haunted aplenty.

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Sunday, April 17, 2022

Happy Easter, etc.


             "Happy Easter" by Urban Janke 
               (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

  
   For many years my column ran on Sundays, which means I have plenty of old Easter columns I can share, and thus avoiding the necessity of thinking of something new.     
     The column below does more than indulge my double Seder-stuffed torpor. It is from when the column filled a page, and the opening nod to Easter leads to a reflection on gay marriage that could be ripped from the headlines, applied to transgender teens. A considerable cross-section of Christians just aren't happy unless they're kicking somebody weaker, a neat inversion of their supposed faith that would be funny if it weren't so tragic. Speaking of which, the last part is evidence I was mocking Donald Trump seven years before our nation decided to make him president. For all the good it did.


OPENING SHOT . . .

     Happy Easter! After I wrote the item below, it struck me, "Oh. Right. Sunday is Easter. People are going to think this a deliberate anti-religious rant penned intentionally to blaspheme the most important holiday in Christendom, and it's not."
     To be honest, I never thought of Easter. The holiday isn't on my radar because I don't celebrate Easter. No eggs. No bunnies. No fancy hats. Nothing. For me, and people like me, it's just another Sunday.
     That might be a simple point, but I think it's one worth making because so many act as if their religion is the only belief in the world. That's natural, I suppose — if you think you possess the universal truth as set down by the Lord God Almighty, it can seem insulting to suggest that your truth might somehow be comparable to these grubby belief systems and overgrown cults that have the nerve to also exist, and manifest themselves in that uncomfortable period before their believers all die and go to hell.
     Frankly, just that recognition — there are other people living here, inexplicably permitted by God to exist and cling to their heresies — is a start, and enough for a fine spring Sunday. We've made progress; maybe even a breakthrough, and we'll work on accepting those other people as equal human beings in future sessions.

WEDDING BELL BLUES

     Opposing gay marriage is Bible-based bigotry. There's no other way to justify denying homosexuals the basic human rights non-gays enjoy.
     The argument that gays somehow undermine the sanctity of marriage is unsupported by any actual evidence. The divorce rate doesn't climb in nations where gays are allowed to wed. There is no data that suggest that gays make unfit parents or are bad neighbors.
     The sole objection to gay marriage is that God doesn't approve, and because gays are a small enough part of the population, they can be stepped on (God doesn't like fornicators, either, supposedly, but they're allowed to wed because there are so many).
     The whole wrecking-marriage argument really falls apart when we ask what other groups also undermine marriage — do murderers? No, society allows murderers to marry — even marry each other, in prison, if they like — without ruining marriage in some ineffable fashion.
     The very old? We find marriage among the elderly sweet — nobody starts talking about the ability to reproduce when grandma remarries the way they raise "nature" as an objection against gay unions.
     Atheists? Fine. Liberals. Ditto. No, these arguments were especially concocted for use against gays, and realizing that, it's hard to understand how they were given credence for so long in a supposedly free society.
     Habit, I guess.
     This subject arises because last week Vermont became the first state in the union whose legislature legalized gay marriage, as opposed to the dodge of civil unions being considered in Illinois. Allowing gays to have civil unions but not marriage is a step in the right direction but also a sop to bigots.
     Hiding behind civil unions is as if, in 1965, the nation didn't pass the Voting Rights Act because too many Southern racists felt the sanctity of the ballot box is corrupted if blacks use it. So instead we passed the "Registering Elective Choice Act," which allowed African Americans to participate in elections though not technically "vote."
     The only thing that keeps this subject from being thoroughly depressing is the certainty that someday we will get beyond it, the way they have in places like Spain (Spain!) where gay marriage is legal. Someday this will be just another inexplicable historic American prejudice, like hatred of the Irish. As with Tipperary, it's a long way to go, but we'll get there someday.

SPEAK SOFTLY . . .

     It was before 6 a.m. Wednesday when the e-mails began to arrive regarding my item on the inadequacy of the Trump Tower spire.
     "Every single woman will have this same response," wrote a prominent female Chicagoan whose identity I will take to the grave. "That's because over the years we have learned that the most bombastic guys are always hiding a 'dinky!!' "
     Thus the day went, with women insisting that my item on the little stick atop Trump Tower was some kind of clever commentary on the Donald's anatomy, or lack of which.
     I can't say this aspect didn't occur to me, fleetingly — while I was mentioning Trump's "mustard seed of a soul" I considered speculating upon a different kind of diminution.
     But this is a family paper, and I figured, "Don't go there." That was it, truly — those detecting a subtle dig are reading too much into it. I've only met Donald Trump once, and though completely unimpressed, I don't hold him in greater contempt than does any other thinking American.
     I didn't expect readers — men and women — to revel in what one called "the Freudian implications" of the spire expose.
     "I'm not buying it," wrote David Schmittgens. "I think this is your transparent way of getting back at The Donald. Don't deny it. I think what you are really saying is, 'Trump has a . . .' "
     Well, enough of that. And probably enough of this subject. I'm sorry I raised, umm, I'm sorry I brought it up — whoops — let's just forget the whole thing. Freud never actually said, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar," but I'll say it: Sometimes a spire is just a spire.

      —Originally published in the Sun-Times, April 12, 2009

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Wilmette Notes: Curiosities


     When Caren Jeskey first started sharing her perspective with us from the wilds of Texas, I savored her blending of physical and inner worlds as she wandered Austin, the meshing of her own thoughts with the unusual people she encountered. I worried her return home to to the greater Chicago metroplex would dampen her spirit, but that didn't happen. Today's Saturday report finds her in top form:

By Caren Jeskey

     The Loch Ness of Lake Michigan emerged from the water on a secluded strip of the beach near Plaza del Lago. I’d been hiding out, collecting sea glass and smooth stones that the recent mini-icebergs had pushed into the sand for us to find. I decided Loch Ness man was weird, so I decided not to make eye contact. (Because I’m not weird at all). 
     He was covered from head to toe in waterproof rubber gear. He clutched a long handle attached to a circular, beeping robot that had been helping him find treasures in the bottom of the sea. I’m not sure why I thought he was so strange. My brother John was once obsessed with his metal detector and often went on excursions that unearthed jewelry, aged coins, and bottle caps. Before him, my Grandpa Carl did the same.
     That’s probably also where John got his love for structural engineering and tinkering — his Grandpa. Carl worked for the railroad. He could take a broken radio apart, fix it, and put it back together in perfectly working order. I did not inherit this gift.
     I know this because I once had a little TV with a built-in VHS player that I bought for 80 bucks at Sears on Lawrence, and carried home on the bus. A videotape I’d borrowed from the Harold Washington Library, Sky Above Mud Beneath — a 1961 movie that is a must watch — was thoroughly stuck in the machine. I decided, “well, I’m Carl’s granddaughter. I’ve got this.” A couple dozen tiny screws later, I’d gotten the tape out in one piece and I set off to put the contraption back together. This was the days of flip phones, and if I’d been smarter I’d have snapped photos along the way, but I was overly confident. There would be no getting it back together again. The poor TV, guts hanging out, was banished to the alley. I placed it on top of the cans, hoping someone who knew what to do might find it.
     As a teen, my brother John — 8 years my senior — had intricate maps of fast rail systems around the world taped to his bedroom wall. He’d mail off requests, and tubes from far away places like Japan would arrive on our Rogers Park doorstep. Since then, John has helped build an apartment building on Sheridan Road, a tunnel through a mountain for bikers in Northern California, and the Los Angeles subway system.
     On my recent beach day, I busied myself in finding my own treasures. When it was time to head back home, rocks weighing down my backpack, I climbed up a mountain of sand and giant chunks of concrete toward Sheridan Road. I could have trekked back to the legitimate exit point at Elmwood Dunes, but I am a fan of shortcuts.
     When I got back up to street level, I saw a place where someone had broken off the top of a wooden fence. I climbed over it to land in a very nice little park, kids and nannies and moms and dads enjoying the day. I spread my bounty out on the top of a recycling bin to admire it, take some photos, and decide what I’d keep and what I’d leave behind. As I was contemplating my rocks, Loch Ness appeared. He apparently knows the short cut too.
     He looked over and asked “‘did you find anything good?’ I commented, ‘just a little bit of glass, and some stones.’ ‘Nice,’ he said. ‘How about you?’ He smiled and said ‘I found a gold ring.’” I wondered if he’d post fliers around the neighborhood to try to return the ring to its rightful owner.
     The next night I was invited to a high school friend’s house for dinner. I have not seen this person since my 40th birthday, when he took me to Alinea as a last minute guest when a family member of his had to cancel.
     I was excited. Bruce was a sweetheart in high school. Cool, creative, warm, and funny. It turns out that we are practically neighbors now, and when he found out he invited me by. I packed up my backpack with a sturdy piece of rock I’d found at the beach. I thought that he and his husband could use it as a soap dish. I packed up other treats to share, and headed out on my bike.
      When I arrived we hugged, and the energy was great. With less than 200 students in our whole high school I feel close to almost everyone, even if we have not stayed in close touch. We were a part of a small tribe for a while in our formative years, and old North Shore Country Day School friends somehow feel like home to me.
     When I pulled out the rock and handed it to Bruce in his kitchen, he looked at it oddly. “This is concrete.” I said “Oh. I wasn’t sure. I thought it would be nice to add to your garden or to use as a soap dish.” He looked at it again, and I think he said “yeah, I’ll put it outside.” Suddenly we both started cracking up. My host gift was a piece of broken concrete. Thank goodness I’d also brought cheese.

Friday, April 15, 2022

Gasoline isn’t all that’s gone up

     Good news! The newsstand price of the Chicago Sun-Times went up a dollar on Monday, to $2.
     Good news?
     Yes, counterintuitively.
     First, because you’re reading about it here, in my column. I didn’t discuss addressing the increase with anyone. That’s the kind of place we are. Lean. Not a lot of meetings or hand-holding. Hit the beach, fan out, start digging.
     Second, while price increases are generally unremarked upon, the hope being that they’ll go unnoticed, news shouldn’t be ignored. Just say it. I should have done so Monday — sorry about the delay. Honestly, I had a price-increase column ready to go. (And this is the daily paper we’re talking about; Sunday is unchanged.) But it seemed ... I don’t know ... kinda inside-baseball. We went up a dollar, big whoop. So did cookies. Not the most complicated intellectual concept to challenge you with. I ran something else Monday.
     That afternoon, I received this email from a reader:
     I buy the Sun-Times every day from the neighborhood 7-11 store, and I don’t begrudge the 100% price increase, but I think it should be at least mentioned in the paper. Did I miss the announcement? Seems to me the last price increase was covered not only in the Sun-Times, but on local TV as well, no? Still a bargain, and glad to support, just seems odd if no one mentioned it.
     Not a deluge. Not two. One email from one reader. But you know what? He was right. And one person being right is enough or should be.
     We should mention the change because I happened to be in Ohio the day the Cleveland Plain Dealer cut home delivery to three days a week. “A reimagined Plain Dealer,” was the headline. “And a new digitally focused company to serve the changing needs of Northeast Ohio.” Oh please. Those changing needs apparently did not include receiving a newspaper four days out of seven.
     But then, more than halving home delivery was only one cut in the death of a thousand cuts. Reductions tend to aggregate. The dreaded death spiral. The Sun-Times is in whatever the opposite of a death spiral is. A life arc, maybe.

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Thursday, April 14, 2022

Flashback 2001: Remembering Bill Newman

     The fate of the newspaperman is obscurity followed by oblivion. A vague and sporadic public awareness while he or she is alive, among a handful, maybe, then utter evaporation. As if we never were. The one or two who escape this doom—Mike Royko comes to mind—serve only as confirmation of the general truth, and a gentle sort of mockery. 
     Thus it was pleasing to see Sun-Times editorial board member and architecture columnist Lee Bey mention M.W. Newman in his Common/Edge interview. Newman was an exquisite writer tackling many important issues with a style that can only be described as beautiful, even poetic. 
     A style in marked contrast to the man himself, whom I remember as dour and unapproachable, hunched over his desk at a far corner of the newsroom. I don't know if we ever spoke, but he inspired me: I sometimes thought, "If Bill Newman could strip naked to write about a nudist colony in 1953, I can do..." whatever task I was girding my loins to do for a story. I also wrote his obit, below.

M.W. Newman
     Bill Newman noticed things.
     He noticed how the hands of the judge trembled as he read Richard Speck's death sentence. He detected a certain swagger in city rats, dubbing them "surly." He saw the agony in Lee Harvey Oswald's face as Jack Ruby shot him — Mr. Newman couldn't help it; he was standing 10 feet away.
     M.W. Newman, 84, who died Wednesday at his home in Chicago, didn't have the high profile enjoyed by many columnists and critics of his day. But he was the epitome of excellence in daily journalism for two generations of newspaper reporters, first at the Chicago Daily News, then at the Sun-Times, blending probing, in-depth reporting with a lyrical, lovely, heartfelt writing style. 
     Morton William Newman was born in New York. His father was Myron Newman; his younger brother, Edwin, was the well-known NBC News correspondent. Mr. Newman spent 33 years at the Daily News, joining the paper as a copyreader in 1945.
       He moved to the rewrite desk, then became a roving reporter, a job he never really left. He wrote the famous Daily News front page farewell headline, "So Long, Chicago," when it folded on March 4, 1978.  He continued at the Sun-Times from 1978 until 1994. At the Daily News, he wrote at least a dozen important series and exposes that had a significant impact on the city, state and nation, from chronicling the Chicago crime syndicate to detailing, with great sympathy, the problems of the elderly. In 1959, he ripped the lid off "The Panic Peddlers," real estate dealers who played upon racial fears, blockbusting neighborhoods so they could make money.
     In 1965, he was perhaps the first reporter to capture the poverty, violence and despair of the three-year-old Robert Taylor Homes with "Chicago's $70 Million Ghetto," a jarring piece that had national reverberations.
     "Their lives are wasted. — both by themselves and by society — as though it didn't matter," he wrote. "They're second-class citizens living in a second-class world, and they know it, and hate it."
     He wrote the main story of Chicago's response to the blizzard of 1967, noting how the Loop was left "amazingly washed and refreshed, free of its usual overload of gasoline exhaust and industrial fumes."
     Later that year, he introduced a killer tornado this way: "Death came dancing and skipping, whistling and screaming, strangely still one second and whooshing and bouncing the next."
     For a man at the top of his form and profession, he was notoriously dour--"gloomy" is how he was most often described.
     "He was an idealist," said former colleague Ray Coffey, "in a world that only rarely lived up to high ideals."
     Mr. Newman also enjoyed a lighter touch. Sent to an Indiana nudist colony in 1953, he surprised his bosses by stripping down to a discreetly held guitar and writing about it. In 1958, he wrote a story about the night air in Chicago.
     "There's a cidery stirring in the November air," it began. The piece wasn't just about the air, though. It was about poverty and wealth and happiness and despair. Tuxedoed swells skipped up the steps of fancy hotels while, "on N. Wells an old lady clings to a fence, crying feebly, 'Help, help.' She is lost in a daze and has forgotten her own name. A couple hurrying to a restaurant stop, find her name in her purse and take her gently home. She lives in a beaten-up boarding house, in a room smaller than their bedroom closet. 'Stay with me,' she cries in her loneliness."
     Bill Newman met his wife, Nancy, after the Daily News merged its business operations with the Sun-Times in 1958. They married in 1962.
     A single well-picked M.W. Newman adjective once evoked a storm of reaction in Downstate Robinson. Visiting the small town to report on actress Joan Crawford opening a Pepsi bottling plant there in 1962, Mr. Newman drew howls of protest when, in a generally flattering portrait, he called Robinson "drowsy."
     He became the Daily News' book editor in 1971; two years later, he headed up its prestigious Panorama magazine.
     He was a noted architecture critic with a national reputation and edited Inland Architect magazine from 1969 to 1980.
     In 1964, Mr. Newman won the Marshall Field Award for the outstanding editorial contribution to the Daily News, the honor noting that his "deceptively easygoing writing style masks the tenacious and thorough pursuit of fact that marks all his reporting."
     In 1994, he was the first journalist to receive the Community Media Workshop's Studs Terkel Award, in recognition of journalistic excellence.
     Survivors include his wife; sister, Evelyn Lee; brother, Edwin; nephew, David Lee, and a niece, Fran Lee Cadeky.
     A memorial will be announced at a later time.
                        —Originally published in Sun-Times, Oct. 26, 2001

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Loop Flood dampens world’s view of Chicago

J.J. Madia in 2017

 
     Chicago is a city marked by disaster. Maybe even defined by it. Not only did the modern metropolis arise out of the ashes of the 1871 fire, but it then assembled a chain of terrible tragedies, such as the Iroquois Theatre fire in 1903 and the Eastland capsizing in 1915, the former the most lethal building fire in U.S. history (unless you consider 9/11 just a building fire, and I don’t), the latter among the deadliest maritime disasters ever.
     There’s more. The Our Lady of the Angels School Fire. The first major aviation disaster in U.S. history was in Chicago, the Wingfoot Express, a hydrogen-filled Goodyear blimp that exploded over the Loop in 1919, crashing through the skylight of a bank building, killing 13 people.
     Chicagoans tend to overlook them. To me, the 1992 Loop Flood, which occurred 30 years ago today, barely counts among the disasters mentioned above. A flood where not only nobody got hurt, but most people never saw floodwaters. How big of a deal could it be? 
     Yet it is of global interest. Four years back, a British film crew from Discovery Channel UK came to town to shoot a Loop Flood episode for the first season of their very Britishly titled program, “Massive Engineering Mistakes.” The producers had read my 25th-anniversary story online. Would I mind talking to their cameras about the flood? Maybe down in the very freight tunnels under downtown? Well ....
     On one hand, hours would be spent to benefit someone other than myself. Who’d ever know I was on British TV? Yet there is a siren allure to being on TV anywhere. Appearing on TV means something. It is significant, and British TV, double significant. They’re all so refined, the Brits.
     True, I’d have to be at City Hall at 8:30 a.m. But heck, why not? Change of pace.
     So I’m there, waiting by the bronze “CITY HALL” sign, bright-eyed, expectant. I get a text from the producer. Traffic. Running late. That happens! No worries! I slide over to Petra’s for a cup of coffee.

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