Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Music to soothe a shaken city


"Dizzy," by Marc Klionsky (1988; National Portrait Gallery—Smithsonian Institute)

     Dizzy Gillespie cut a regal figure striding through O’Hare: his black and red fez like a crown, his green raincoat draped over his shoulders like a cape.
     It was 1988. Dizzy was coming in from Paris. My job was to meet him at the airport, fly down to Peoria together, interview the jazz legend and catch his performance that night. He didn’t bring anything so square as a change of clothes. Just an instrument case containing his famous angled horn. And a small satchel holding papers, vitamins and medicine for his diabetes.
     If the name is unfamiliar — time effaces the greatest fame — Dizzy Gillespie was the archetypal jazzman. His personal look — sunglasses, soul patch, beret — became the cliche of a bee-bop hipster.
     The musician had come quite a way — 4,300 miles, Paris to New York by supersonic Concorde, New York to Chicago by jet, now a prop plane to the city known as the place where anything daring won’t play. He was 71 years old. He’d been blowing his horn for half a century. Why go to all this trouble for another gig?
     “I want to play all the time,” he replied. “You have trouble if you lay off. There’s an old saying among classical jazz guys: “If I don’t play one day, I know it. If I don’t play two days, my compatriots know it. If I don’t play three days, the whole world knows it.”
     “You have trouble if you lay off.” Something to bear in mind as the Chicago Jazz Festival takes place this weekend at full strength for the first time in three years — last year was a one-night showcase. I imagine more than a few people have a little trouble with the notion of heading to downtown Chicago simply for great, free jazz. Perhaps out of practice by the COVID lull, perhaps given pause by violence that has spilled out of the areas of the city where Chicago has accustomed itself, shamefully, to allowing violence to perennially persist.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Happiness is a warm Tesla

     As a rule, I try not to mess with another man's fantasy. But accidents happen. Monday's column on the challenges of providing a national grid of electric vehicle charging stations struck me as fairly straightforward: an entrepreneur heading an EV charging station company hoping to demonstrate how difficult his competitors could be to use.
     This struck a certain element of readers as criticism of electric cars in general:
     "ARGH! yet another article on why we can't go to electric vehicles," begins David M. "Range! charging! yada yada. I've have been driving Tesla cars since 2011. Owned the 2nd Tesla Model S in Illinois and 117th overall. I've done over 15,000 miles of road trips including Chicago to S. California. Never any charging problems. Yes, the Tesla supercharging network is far superior and other networks seem to have issues keeping their charging stations in operation."
     Need I point out that nothing in my column even vaguely suggested "we can't go to electric vehicles."
      It felt odd to look out the window and see Tesla owners with pitchforks.
      "Inoperative chargers, range anxiety. — not relevant to the overwhelming majority of EV drivers unless you own the old Nissan Leaf," writes Lewis C. "My experience driving twice across the U.S. from California to Connecticut was a joy. No apps, no credit cards, fully operational charging stations. Tesla tells me when and where to charge, preconditions my battery for optimal charging, and almost always directs me within a tenth of a mile from the highway exit either at a shopping center or hotel/ motel parking lot. I never waited for a charging station and rather enjoyed the 20-25 minute interlude to use a restroom or get a bite to eat. A Navigator? 19 POUNDS of CO2 into the atmosphere for every gallon burned by your car/truck. Yikes!"
     That last line made me realize It had inadvertently put my hand into the cage of zealous environmentalists—whom I completely support, by the way, minus the sarcasm. I didn't summon the Navigator, which I admit is a Beast — I just got in. I own the sin.
      I would never suggest that owners of Telsas channel the lip-curled contempt of company icon Elon Musk. But there was a certain tone.
     "Yes, if you are trying to charge that ridiculous Porsche EV it is very difficult," writes L.J.H. "It's not an accurate or typical portrayal, tho. Almost 70% of EVs are Teslas and (surely 70% of road charging, or more) it is a seamless, convenient and pleasant experience. Normally, the car tells you where to go and when, but there are so many options! "
     Seventy percent is the actual figure of Tesla EV market share, which surprised me, as did some Tesla owners practically willing all the other manufacturers out of existence.
     "Neil.. you well document why TESLA is 99% of the electric car market," writes Sheldon H.
"None of the problems you highlight exist if you own a Tesla. I've had one since 2016 . Thousands of Tesla chargers now everywhere..... super easy...but like so many other Tesla people that can do it, I put a 220 line in my garage and overnight I'm back to 190 miles (much more than I need for the day). On a trip a convenient Tesla charger in route gets
me charged to 280 miles in about a half hour. The start ups like your interviewee (and FORD, GM) are years behind the established conveniences of TESLA."
     One reader, Tom K., does raise a question I wish I thought of: why aren't gas stations installing EV stations?
     "Do not recreate the wheel," he writes. "We got all the gas stations. Every gas station should start putting in two or three electric charger pumps. I will buy an EV when I could go to the gas station and spend the same amount of time filling up my electricity in my car as I spent filling up my gas in my car. Until then it’s gas gas gas."
    I'd be tempted to say the reason is they don't want to promote the competition. But if they charged EV cars, electric vehicles would be their customers, not the competition. I suppose the honest answer to why gas stations don't install EV charging stations is the same reason newspapers didn't create Craigslist. Large companies, like ships, just can't change direction that fast. Or at all.
     As often happens, I got it from both sides: electric vehicle fans (well, Tesla fans) and those who don't see the point of promoting electric vehicles at all.
     "My question is this . Why are we spending taxpayer money to help EV manufacturers sell cars ?" asks Russ G. "Shouldn’t they help provide the power source ? Did taxpayers pay for gas stations after Henry Ford and others invented the automobile? I don’t think so and Tesla and all the rest should be in the forefront of providing the power source for their products !"
     And yes, I wrote him back that taxpayers might not have paid for gas stations, but they sure as heck paid for highways.
     Enough. No mas. For the record, not that there is a record, I'm all for electric cars, and might even buy one next time I buy a car. And as I like to say, I'm only responsible for what I write, not for what you imagine I wrote. 

Monday, August 29, 2022

You clean your own windshield, too

Hooman Shahidi in front of the Porsche Taycan. 

     We were somewhere around Mount Pleasant on the edge of Racine when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like...
     OK, there were no drugs, beyond caffeine in the coffee — I had to mention them to pay homage to the opening of Hunter S. Thompson’s epic road adventure, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”
     We certainly were on a road trip, to Milwaukee for lunch. In a somewhat boss ride: a 2022 Porsche Taycan electric sports car, part of a revolution taking place on America’s roads. Merrily blasting north on 94 at ... ah ... umm, yes, the customary speed. 
     Over 600,000 electric vehicles were sold last year. California just announced they are banning the sale of gasoline-powered cars after 2035, perhaps sounding the death knell for the internal combustion engine that reigned for a century.
     Yet electric vehicles all share the same drawback.
     “They’re no good if you can’t plug them in and they’re no good if you can’t find [charging stations] and they’re no good if they’re creating all these barriers to actually charge your vehicle,” said Hooman Shahidi, co-founder and president of EVPassport, riding shotgun beside me.
     The federal government will pour $5 billion into EV charging stations over the next five years, with $148 million of that slated for Illinois.
     EVPassport is one of the smaller players in the scramble to provide those stations. The California company is not yet two years old, with 1,500 chargers in 23 states and Canada.
     “We’re hoping to get 10,000 chargers 12 months from now,” said Shahidi.
     There are only about 6,000 fast-charging public EV charging stations in the U.S., according to MIT Technology Review, plus 48,000 slower charging stations. A third the number of gas stations. Since EV stations generally have no attendants, they are more susceptible to breakage and vandalism. A recent study of EV stations around San Francisco found more than a quarter out of service at any given time.
     Those that do work are not always easy to operate — that was the point of our trip. Shahidi wanted to demonstrate how bothersome his competitors are.

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Sunday, August 28, 2022

A recovery at the end of the world.

      I'm fortunate to have written for some of the best magazines ever published: Rolling Stone, Esquire, Sports Illustrated, the New York Times Sunday Magazine, Forbes. 
     How did that happen? Sometimes I approached them, more often they reached out to me. Either way, that kind of work has dried up as publishing slid into the same slough enveloping newspapers.
     That's one reason I was particularly thrilled when the Rotary Magazine, published in Evanston, asked me to write something about recovery for their September issue. I haven't revisited that topic in a while, and it was interesting to bring more recent experience to bear. 
     A savvy freelancer keys his writing to his audience, and I saw that Rotary focuses on its truly global scope — 1.4 million members belong to 33,000 clubs across 200 countries. Quite a built-in readership base for a magazine, and I was impressed by their  operation, and particularly delighted by Andrea Ucini's gorgeous artwork, as you'll see when you jump to their web site. Though there's nothing like seeing it across two pages in the magazine. The good news is there is life in publishing yet, and in this particular tiny corner of it.

      You don’t have to go looking for booze, it will find you wherever you are, even at the end of the world. Or make that, “The End of the World,” part of the official slogan of Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city on Earth.
      The Royal Canadian Geographical Society had invited me to travel aboard its polar, ice-class cruise ship for two weeks as it traveled the coast of Chile, getting up close and personal with glaciers. Of course I’d been reluctant: Glaciers? Big walls of ice? Lectures by scientists? For two weeks? Won’t that get old?
     But the trip was free, and I figured: Go, see what it’s about.
     So a flight to South America, a few days in Buenos Aires. Then a 1,900-mile hop south to the tip of the continent, where the RCGS Resolute was moored, waiting.
     I had just been shown to my stateroom and was exploring, pulling open drawers and peering behind cabinet doors. Behind one was a well-stocked minibar: rocks glasses, little bottles of Jack Daniels lined up, soldiers ready for duty.
     “Oh,” I thought, quickly closing the door. “I’ll have to ask the purser to take that out.”
      I’m a recovering alcoholic. And yes, I had considered, before agreeing to the trip, the risks of taking a cruise for a fortnight. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson’s pithy description — “Being in a ship is being in a jail, with the chance of being drowned” — being on a cruise is like being locked in a bar with the chance of relapse. But I decided to risk it. “I’ll not drink there the same way I don’t drink here,” I assured my wife.
      When reformed drinkers tell their stories, they usually begin at rock bottom, after maybe a parting glimpse of the debased routine of an addict, just to set the scene. Then bam, the crisis, some disaster, an accident, a crime, a shipwreck of confusion and shame, then the slow swim toward the light, lungs bursting, time running out. The meetings, confessions, coffee.
      But everyone tells that part. I’ve told that story myself, many times — of how I was arrested on a domestic battery charge for striking my wife after a bout of heavy drinking and placed on leave from my job at the Chicago Sun-Times. I remember sitting, squirming at a luncheon at Rotary/One in Chicago as I was introduced to talk about Drunkard, the recovery memoir I had written. The Rotarian’s words made me sound like Satan. Head bowed, I slowly strolled to the podium, frantically trying to think of a way to crawl out of the hole he had dug for me.
     When that book was published, a politico pal raised an eyebrow and summed it up this way, half puzzled, half amused: “You’re telling on yourself.”
     You betcha. Candor is key in recovery because addiction depends upon continual lying, to yourself and everyone else. You can’t fix a problem you won’t even acknowledge. By telling the worst, you also show that you are willing to be honest.
     But deceit is a persistent pest; it can be hard to keep out. Even when spilling the beans about your life-changing screwups, there is deception of a different sort. The lie of misdirection. Recovery begins in drama, typically, but drama is not the essence of long-term recovery. Routine is.
     The long haul involves struggling to change your perceptions, change your ideas of behavior, of what life is about. Going into recovery is trading one thing — your adored substance — for everything else, except that addiction has so skewed your judgment, you’re not sure that’s a good deal.
     You have to reset your mind, recalibrate your values. That takes time, practice. I remember sitting in rehab, half asking, half demanding, “How will I ever go to France?” Sincerely wondering, baffled. What would be the point? Without red wine? Cognac? Champagne? Aperitifs in little cafés? You might as well stay home.
     You have to drink. Drinking is the joy of life. Particularly when you travel. Particularly in France. Good luck finding a tourism advertisement that doesn’t show the happy gray-haired couple clinking glasses. I saw a cruise ad that showed a tiny ship crossing the gelid surface of a martini, as if drink were the journey, the destination, the ocean itself. For many, it is.
     Then our oldest son spent a semester studying economics at the Sorbonne. (“In French!” I would tell my friends, putting an extra Ohio twang into the pronunciation. “In Frehnnnnnnch!”) We had to go see him. How often do you get the chance? 
     We stayed near the Pantheon and busied ourselves plunging down into the catacombs, through the Louvre, up the Eiffel Tower. Near it, a lovely restaurant my son had found, Astrance. A single sigh for my sparkling water instead of cabernet. But the meal was fantastic, the service so crisp and professional.
     On the downside, no wine. On the upside, maybe the boy wouldn’t have excelled the way he had in a broken household with a drunk dad. My wife certainly wouldn’t be there. At one point our son took a photo. We were positively glowing. We looked young, happy.

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Saturday, August 27, 2022

River North Notes: Chicken

     Today's Saturday essay by North Shore Bureau Chief Caren Jeskey needs no introduction. Except I suppose this: enjoy.

     By Caren Jeskey

     Thank goodness for NPR. Tasty tidbits of information are almost constantly funneled into my voraciously hungry ears, nearly commercial free, thanks to public radio. KUTX out of Austin keeps me attuned to some of the greatest music of all time, old and new. That’s where I found the stunning voices of Alex Maas of the Black Angels, Heartless Bastards' Erika Wennerstrom, and the croons of a distant relative of Davey, Charly Crockett

     I relied on Click and Clack the Tappet Brothers to keep me company on many a cold Saturday morning when Car Talk was airing, even though I did not own a car. The Magliozzi brothers’ schtick was hilarious, brilliant, and comforting with their simple joie de vivre. When I got a car, I had countless driveway moments— when I could not turn the radio off since 1A or The Moth wasn’t over over yet. (That was before I had Bluetooth earpods; now I can take the shows with me wherever I go).   
     It must have been a soundbite on WBEZ or KUT where I learned that chickens were not always used as human food. Lore has it that they were revered, kept as indoor pals, and considered to have supernatural powers. Fossilized chicken bones reveal that some of our feathered friends received ancient medical interventions that set broken bones, and humans were buried with their two winged friends. Apparently the birds were a conduit to a desirable afterlife. It wasn’t until A.D. 43 when Romans made it to England that the growing British population realized that these prolific pets were rotund and tasty, and the masses needed food. Enter chicken and dumplings.
     I was an apple pie American kid and chicken was a dinner time staple growing up. Shaken and baked, roasted, shredded for taco night, or fried and served with incidental greens and buttered honey biscuits.
     As kids we couldn’t get enough visits to the Lincoln Park Zoo to watch their smooth white eggs crack open, gooey dinosaur bodies turning into fluffy yellow fur balls before our eyes.
     That’s why, in the early '70’s, when my sister and I were offered the choice of a baby chick or a baby duck to take home from Easter Brunch at the Hotel Continental, we chose the tiny relatives of Kentucky Fried.
     My Grandma Olive, who’d moved to Chicago at the age of 14 on her own, all the way from Wilmington Delaware, was a head cashier at this glorious hotel. We were her guests. My sister and I wore frilly dresses, white tights and black patent leather Mary Janes, and we each had a rabbit fur muff around our necks to nestle our chilly hands into. We felt very fancy. When we were sent home with baskets of plastic grass, chocolate eggs and live birds we were over the moon.
     Ah, simpler times. When my folks were young enough to do foolhardy, spontaneous things.
     This week I’ve been staying on Randolph near the lake, taking care of a friend’s little dog. On Tuesday I met colleagues at The Hampton Social for a light dinner. When we left, I walked one of them up the stairs to Michigan Avenue where we saw her bus, the 147, just closing its doors. I cheered her on as she ran towards it. The driver stopped and re-opened the door, and she hopped on. She gave me the thumbs up and off they went.
     Just then I noticed many police sirens just north of there. I briefly wondered what was happening, then thought better of it. It had been a long day full of a broken down car and a mean bus driver on the Western bus. Instead of helping me figure out my Ventra app, he said that I must be stupid to have an app that I don’t know how to use.
     I’d had enough stress, so I turned away from the sirens towards the stunning architecture. A far cry from my little rental home in Kenilworth Gardens. Eye candy galore.
     I passed the Hotel Intercontinental and flashed back to the days when my Grandma Olive was still with us. Being in the restaurant business, she knew everyone. We were treated like royalty on our birthdays in high-backed throne-like chairs at Kon Tiki Ports, housed in this building. A stately statue of Nathan Hale in front of the Tribune Tower commanded a second look; I wondered who he was, and if his statue would last.
     I crossed Michigan and came across a couple being photographed for their wedding, beaming without a care in the world. I looked over the railing towards the river and noticed the shape and structure of Trump’s building for the first time. In the past, I’d think “Rump” and turn away in disgust. This time I saw that the building itself is not hard on the eyes, albeit way too big. Looking east towards Jeanne Gang’s masterpiece my good sense returned. Nothing The Donald does is OK. Even though Trump Tower and Gang’s Vista Tower have a similar blue mirrored look, Trump’s building suddenly looked like a strip mall compared to Gang’s exquisite wavy towers.
     Heading south, the sound of some very good blues emated through speakers out of a one man band. I noticed the Nutella Cafe for the first time and wondered what that was all about. Then I noticed the long line and stopped wondering; maybe another time.
     I’ve been hearing deafening whirs and whizzes and backfires from cars late at night from my perch in a highrise on Randolph; likely versions of the street takeovers that Neil recently made mention of on his Facebook page. When reading the Sun Times story about these late night sideshows, I noticed the headline of another article where I learned a possible reason for the sirens of Tuesday evening. They were perhaps heading towards the horrible tragedy of a 36 year old man who had been stabbed to death on Ohio near Dearborn at the same time I was meandering around wondering if I should get some chocolate hazelnut dessert. As much as Chicago feels like home, sometimes I feel like the scared visitors from out of town who I used to think were being just plain silly.

Friday, August 26, 2022

The limitations of statues

     So I was thinking about Gotthold Ephraim Lessing this morning and wondered what you make of him.
     Are you an admirer? A critic?
     What? You’ve never heard of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing? No! Perhaps his 1748 play will ring a bell: Der Junge Gelehrten, or “The Young Scholar.”
     Still no? How can that be?! There’s a statue of him big as life in Washington Park. For almost a century.
     Point made? Good. Statues are vastly overrated as tributes, or mnemonic devices, or anything other than hunks of bronze that sit neglected in parks providing roosts for pigeons.
     Well, I suppose they’re also something for people to bicker about. Endlessly. With Columbus Day closing in, and Lori Lightfoot’s kick-the-can-down-the-road Chicago Monuments Project bouncing back into view after two years of tumbling forward — in brief: keep the three Columbus statues mothballed and ditch 10 more that reek of white supremacy — I would be in danger of having my pundit card revoked if I didn’t flip my palm toward the air and glibly opine.
     The 73-page report is nuanced. Summarizing it makes it sound more extreme than it actually is. When I first read news stories about about its findings, my takeaway was the commission managed the neat trick of finally making me sympathetic to keeping Columbus by suggesting that the bas-reliefs on the DuSable Bridge should go. Those are gorgeous and if they are a little History as Told By John Wayne, well, nobody said America is a tidy, fair place. The cowboys won, right?
     But the report doesn’t suggest the offending panels simply be jackhammered away for “their allegorical representation of the triumph of Western civilization.” There are landmark considerations and maybe a “powerful, non-physical and possibly periodic, deactivation or disruption of these works” would suffice, which I imagine involves giving $10,000 to a School of the Art Institute student to devise a light show strobing blood red flashes across the bas-reliefs while looped shrieks startle passing tourists.
     Why not? Times change and we change with them. We’ve been battering each other for so long over this literal deadweight from the past, I’m wondering if it isn’t time to try to get a little smarter about it.

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Thursday, August 25, 2022

Flashback 2011: Why go there when it's nice right here?

   I started packing up my office at the paper Wednesday, dragging boxes home to put in the basement next to the unopened boxes from the 2004 and 2017 moves. It's melancholy, challenging, work—nobody cares at all about this stuff, other than me, and sometimes not even me. This move also has an air to finality to it. I've had a newspaper office downtown for 22 years, and while I'll still have the right to sign up for an afternoon at a workstation at The Old Post Office or at Navy Pier, it won't be the same. 
      What to save?  Most writing is online, of course. But not everything about a column is written. For instance, the distinctive, fly-on-the-ceiling column bug at right, in color yet, caught my attention.
     Look at that guy, hands in pockets. Amused smirk. Bright red tie. Jesus, I've worn a tie once in the past three years, and that was to the wake of a friend. I used to wear a suit every day to the office, just in case I unexpectedly found myself in the mayor's office or at a ball at the Palmer House.
     I read the column. Usually, I'm struck by the sameness of the voice in the columns. I sound  the same now as when I was 17. But this column has more ... brio than I seem to manage lately. The work of a man who hasn't been staring into the hellmouth of Donald Trump and his carnival of demonic dupes for seven years. Or isn't 62.
     Reading it I began to wonder if I'm not a little ground down. Ironically, I went to the Lincoln Park Zoo this summer and had exactly the same reaction as 11 years ago: "Where are the animals?" 
     One aside in particular, "Maybe donors ate them," made me wonder if I've lost a step. I'm not sure I'd come up with that now. I hope so. And those who stroll out of Millennium Park during concerts are still shut out of the park by the Barney Fifes. They should issue wristbands or something. My parting entreaty related to that fell on deaf ears. 

     Grumpy? I suppose, in middle age, a certain grumpiness can set in. “Hey,” my wife will say, cheerily — too cheerily, as if trying to build a cheeriness momentum that will sweep me along — “want to get together with the Prattlers on Saturday night?”
     And I’ll think, “God no! Why on Earth would I want to do that?” Sometimes I don’t just think it, sometimes I actually say it, even though my wife then gets that pouty face and we end up going anyway, with me getting no credit for going willingly, since I really didn’t.
     To be honest, it isn’t that I’m against being places. That’s not the problem. A restaurant, a play, a concert. Even with others. All’s good.
     It’s going to these “places” that’s a bother. Getting in the car. Getting on the train. Having to show up at a certain spot at a certain time when I’m happy here, doing nothing.
     I see that attitude can be a drag, however, so I try to fight against my essential nature. There’s a glorious city of opportunity stretching in all directions. Let’s go! If we must.
     So yes, I’ll accompany the family to the Lincoln Park Zoo, as I did last week, even though most of the animals went missing the afternoon we spent there. Maybe donors ate them. Honestly, mobs of people were gazing at empty ponds and barren savannahs while the animals were off napping. Smart animals.
     The Lincoln Park Zoo, by the way, is not free. It’s free if you walk there. If you drive a car, it’s $35 to park your car. Thirty-five dollars. I spent $35 to gaze at trampled down grass where exotic animals sometimes loiter.
     Not a word of complaint. I’m trying not to be that guy, trying not to be Mr. Complaint.
     Or Wednesday. I was working at home. My wife had another cheery idea: “Hey,” she said. “Let’s go to Grant Park for the concert.”
     My inner reaction was the standard, “Why would you possibly want to do that!?”
     “If you want to,” I squeaked, then checked the weather, hoping for rain. Clear skies.
     It was the passive aggressiveness of “If you want to” that made me just shut up and go.
     So now we’re on a blanket, 6 p.m., eating our picnic. I’m happy, because I’m not going anywhere. I’m already here. Grant Park is beautiful. The Gehry Bandshell, beautiful. Happy folk are all around snarfing up supper.
     Is my wife content? Of course not. We just got here and she wants to go somewhere else, to get coffee. More precisely, she wants me to fetch a complex coffee concoction involving steamed milk and shots of hazelnut. My face must have gone slack listening to her precise instructions, because she said, “I’ll get it,” and flounced off with my older son. Now I am truly happy, lying on a blanket, reading Seneca, undisturbed. This is working out fine.
     They are gone a long time. I get a phone call. It’s her, with panic in her voice. They’ve closed the park; I have to come claim her.
     It’s a challenge, hopping from one green patch to another, trying not to step on legs, blankets, bottles of chardonnay, babies. Eventually I come upon a scene like when they close off New York City in “I Am Legend.” On one side of the barricades, a mob of indignant would-be picnickers, trying to get in. On my side, a crush of people such as myself, summoned via cell phone. In between, two security guys — a tubby man in a black shirt and a uniformed rent-a-cop — insisting we get in line to identify our people on the other side.
     Apparently, the lawn has reached its limit — I certainly believe that, it’s mobbed — so in order to get in, you have to be claimed by someone inside, which makes no sense. If it’s packed beyond safe capacity, then what does it matter if you are returning or not?
     My wife and son are in front. After 20 minutes, I move six feet to the front of the line, point them out, and we hop to our blanket.
     This is the funny part, the 15-year-old, who up to that point has been bored, torpid, listless — those with teens add your own adjectives — languid, blase, becomes excited, his eyes sparkling. “That was like ‘Schindler’s List!’ ” he says. “But without the danger.”
     Now, there are a lot of objections to a statement like that, but I didn’t make any them. We were back on our blanket, the concert was beginning — show tunes, as it turned out. I admired my wife’s selective description. “A concert,” she said. I expected Mahler, not some pap from “The Lion King.” Of course, had she been candid, I never would have gone. But now that I was there, I was happy. To be honest, I could have happily stayed the night on the blanket. I’d be there now. But the show ended and we had a train to catch, so we gathered our things and headed home.
     Oh, and Millennium Park folk: Figure out a better crowd-control system, because someday you’re going to have a knot of geriatric WFMT listeners trampled to death, and you won’t be able to say you weren’t warned.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

TV stardom is just the beginning

Michael V. Epps

     Which is harder: acting in a television show or playing video games professionally?
     Michael V. Epps thinks about that one.
     “I want to say acting,” he replies. “Playing a game, you make your own schedule. Acting, you have to know your script, and you have to be ready to work a full day.”
     Epps stars in the multigenerational ensemble drama “The Chi”; its season finale is on Showtime Sunday, Sept. 4.
     Production doesn’t start up again until January. In the meantime, Epps is building a following on Twitch, the video livestreaming platform where viewers pay to watch top gamers do battle. That workday varies when it comes to hours spent on the consol
     “I try to get one, two, or three,” says Epps, 16, who prefers Call of Duty and NBA 2K. “More than that. An hour goes by real quick.”
     His other project is Crown Me Clothing, a fashion line of black T-shirts and colorful hoodies.
     “We want to uplift people,” he said. “The motto is ‘Claim your royalty.’ We want people to strive for greatness.”
     If you’re wondering why you’re reading about a teenage actor, gamer and budding fashion tycoon — not my usual subject matter — that’s easy: His publicist asked, and I thought, “Why not?”
     I haven’t watched enough of “The Chi” to categorize it confidently: I’d call it a fast-paced Black soap opera set on the South Side. Epps plays Jake Taylor, whose gangbanger older brother is killed in a drive-by shooting.

To continue reading, click here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Cri de coeur

     School begins this week, in Chicago and surrounding suburbs. Kids battered by years of COVID lockdown and terrifying periodic slaughters — my colleagues Sophie Sherry and Ashlee Rezin had a heart-tugging front page story on Highland Park parents and kids facing the traditional back-to-school excitement with fear — packed off to classrooms while their parents argue over what they should be taught.
     My neighbor, who has an energetic brood of kids and a tendency to express her frustrations on chalk in the sidewalk in front of her bright blue house, left this message a few days ago: "Go back to school NOW. I'm so tired."
     I saw it and thought, "Now there's a cri de coeur."
     French for "cry of the heart," I'm not sure why the sentiment works better in French, but it does. "Passionate outcry' just isn't the same. My "World Dictionary of Foreign Expressions" calls it "A profound utterance of anguish."
     To me it implies a certain flayed candor. No hedging, no soft-pedalling, the soul's very vibration. Most mothers feel this sort of thing; few announce it on the sidewalk.
     There is a poem of that name, "Cri de Coeur" by C. Dale Young. Nothing to write home about, with a single line worth chewing: "Sleeping god in an age of plagues." Take a look and argue if you like. "Age of Plagues" is available for a title for anyone writing about our current day.
     As it happens, I passed my chalk-wielding neighbor the next night, setting up a lawn display wishing her oldest, a 19-year-old daughter, a happy birthday. We talked a bit, and I almost said, "If you want heartache, wait until they leave and the echoes die down and the horizon is a flat line without hope of a smokestack."
     But that seemed an even more dire message and, besides, she'll find out soon enough.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Talk about getting rid of the gray

     When I try to explain to Americans who Lisa LaFlamme is, I usually say she’s the Katie Couric of Canada: a trusted television anchor on screens across the country.
     Such shorthand is necessary because you could be the Queen of Canada and still entirely unknown to 99.99% of people in the United States.
     Before last week, the subject of LaFlamme arose in my circle because she is also the significant other of this paper’s former editor and my current friend, Michael Cooke, a perennial topic of conversation in the way that only a certain kind of brash Brit can be.
     LaFlamme posted a heartfelt video on Twitter last Monday, announcing that the anchor chair had been yanked out from under her by CTV News’ parent company, Bell Media.
     “I was blindsided,” she said. “And am still shocked and saddened by Bell Media’s decision.”
     Viewers naturally suspect she was let go because she let her hair go gray during the COVID-19 pandemic.
     Couric, despite being a serious journalist, was often dismissed as merely perky. So LaFlamme, though doggedly covering the biggest international news stories, was also a woman atop a male-dominated industry, so not always treated seriously. Her decision to stop dying her hair made national headlines in Canada.
     Headlines like “The silver lining to letting our grey hairs flourish during the pandemic,” — parroting the Brits, they call gray “grey” up there — over an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail reaching a conclusion that obviously eluded CTV top brass: “Ms. LaFlamme could have easily sprayed her roots with a shot of Magic Root Cover Up ... but instead decided to let her grey flag fly, and in doing so she somehow earned even more of my trust and respect. So is grey the new honesty?”
     Not at CTV. Speaking of honesty, I was initially inclined not to write about LaFlamme — going to bat for a pal’s partner is not exactly Journalism 101. But the Washington Post thought this important enough to weigh in Friday:
     “The abrupt dismissal of one of the country’s most prominent television journalists — she has led Canada’s most watched nightly newscast since 2011, and this year won the Canadian Screen Award for best national news anchor — has drawn both a backlash and a national conversation about sexism and age discrimination in the media.”

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Sunday, August 21, 2022

Flashback 1990: `Working poor'? It's a state of mind

     Reacting to anything Darren Bailey says is probably pointless. He's a downstate dope spraying his ignorance around in the mistaken belief that doing so might get him elected governor. Barring tragedy, he won't even be a political footnote.
     And yet he flails. One tactic that goes over big in his world is slurring Chicago, since insulting Black people directly is no longer fashionable, even in his milieu. So he uses code; a combination of racism AND cowardice. Though those two qualities are really just two sides of the same coin.
     When Bailey called Chicago "a hellhole" twice at the Illinois State Fair, my former colleague Monica Eng, now at Axios, asked him if people living in Chicago also believe they live in a hellhole, and he replied "Actually, I believe they do. Because it's unsafe."
     He believes. He doesn't know because he hasn't asked them, and hasn't asked them because he's barely set foot in Chicago. He believes that to be the case because he is a practitioner of the classic Fox News mind-reading trick, whereby bigots try to give a sheen to their loathsome thoughts by projecting them upon others. I would bet that for every Chicagoan who thinks they live in a hellhole, there are 50 who think Bailey is an idiot, or would, if they'd ever heard of him.
     Common sense — the common sense that Bailey so obviously lacks — tells us that most people anywhere, no matter their condition, do not consider themselves to be living in misery, never mind a hellhole. They have pride in their homes, modest though they might be. Troubled though they might be.
     This reminded me of a story over 30 years ago when one of the geniuses at City Council declared alderfolks like herself to be the "working poor." Editor Alan Henry's eyes lit up with that sort of glee that has become rare in newspapers nowadays. He gave me an assignment that was more like whittling a splintery pointed stick to shove up the politician's backside, a task that I understood immediately and executed with pleasure, hurrying to her ward, finding the most abject residents I could, people literally grovelling in the mire, collecting aluminum cans, and asking them: "Do you consider yourself poor?" 

"We are the working poor."
          — Marlene Carter, $40,000-a-year alderman of the 15th Ward, arguing last week that aldermanic salaries should be raised to $65,000

     On bleak, garbage-strewn streets of Marlene Carter's 15th Ward, the real working poor are too proud to call themselves that.
     Marvin McKinley, pushing a shopping cart filled with a broken bike frame, a spool of garden hose, crushed cans and assorted castoffs, doesn't think of himself as poor.
     "I'm middle class. Middle class," said McKinley, 34, savoring the words. McKinley estimates he earns $8,000 a year selling scrap. "Aluminum. Copper. Anything you can make a dollar off."
     Willie Lee Lewis, a father of 12 who earns $7 an hour raking up sludge and trash in an empty drive-in movie parking lot, doesn't see himself as poor, either.
     Nor does he think Ald. Carter deserves a 62 percent raise.
     "I never see her around here yet," he said, gazing into the distance. "You want a raise, you should be around here. I've been here 10 years, I haven't seen her yet."
     "The only time I see her is on television," said Willie Luckett, 74, standing in the doorway of his daughter's store, waiting patiently for 63rd Street to offer up a customer.
     Far from being "poor," — the U.S. Commerce Department poverty line for a family of four was $11,611 in 1987 — Carter has an income approximately double that of the average Chicago family.
     According to 1979 census statistics, the median income for a typical Chicago household was $18,776. The newest census data, observers agree, will show a slight increase to approximately $20,000.
     In 1979, aldermanic salaries went from $17,500 to $22,500.
     Since then, they have almost doubled, while Chicago's median family income increased by less than 10 percent.
     The Public Works Department reports median family income in some wards is as low as $7,325. The median in the South Side 15th Ward is $18,391 — less than a third of the proposed $65,000 aldermanic salary.
     Even the richest families — those in the 13th, 18th, 19th, 23rd, 41st and 43rd wards — earned a median income of between $25,000 and $30,000, a full $10,000 less than Carter earns as alderman.
     Or, in other words, the $25,000 raise the aldermen are requesting is equal to the total average pay of families in the wealthiest wards.
     As a rule, those closer to Carter's salary level tend to be more understanding of some aldermen's desire for more money.
     John Pawlikowski, owner of Fat Johnnie's hot dog stand, 7242 S. Western, sympathizes with Carter.
     "Who can live on $40,000 a year?" asked Pawlikowski, who supports a raise for Carter. "She does a good job. This place was loaded with hookers."
     "I see no need why there couldn't be some kind of increase in income," said Phillip Whorton, 61, a contractor overseeing tuckpointing on the New Zion Grove Mission Baptist Church, 64th and Wolcott. "Though 62 percent is a little high."
     Other residents are adamantly opposed to the size of the proposed increase.
     "I'm against that," said Bob Anderson, selling fruit off the back of a truck at 63rd and Yale. "That's a big jump. Everybody's entitled to a raise, but I don't think they are entitled to that much."
     "They don't need no raise, they need to give somebody a job," said McKinley, angrily, searching the side of the road for scrap. "A man needs an eight-hour-a-day job."
     Chicago Association of Commerce and Industry President Samuel Mitchell reflected the view of most business and civic group leaders when he said aldermen must first agree to give up any outside incomes and jobs before they can "seriously call for a pay increase."
     Officials of the Chicago Civic Federation said aldermen should also agree to curb City Council spending before considering any kind of wage increase.
     The opposition expressed by residents of the 15th Ward is mirrored across the city. A WBBM-Channel 2 News telephone poll found a resounding 96.6 percent of Chicagoans opposed a pay increase.
     One of them is Roger Eugene, 41, who stooped to pick aluminum cans out of the mud covering a vacant lot in the 15th Ward.
     "I sell the aluminum at 59th and Bell," said Eugene, who gets about 50 cents a pound. "On a good day, I get 13, 14 pounds — never less than eight."
     Eugene, a disabled Vietnam vet whose rent is $150 a month, begs to differ with Ald. Carter on her vision of herself.
     "Oh no," he said. "That ain't poor."

Saturday, August 20, 2022

North Shore Notes: Fallen angel

Stevenson Memorial by Abbott Handerson Thayer (Smithsonian)

      When actress Anne Heche was declared dead Aug. 11, nearly a week after crashing her car into a house in a fiery wreck, my reaction was to note her age, 53, note mine, 62, and mutter a silence prayer for the nine years, and counting, that sobriety gave to me. Because if I didn't give up drinking at 45, that could have easily been me. Not a particularly profound thought, nor one I'd ever share here. I try not to ring that bell too often. Which is why I'm glad that North Shore Bureau Chief Caren Jeskey rings it loud and clear in her report today. 

By Caren Jeskey

“I wasn’t born with it either. I had to learn to be crazy.”
         —Anne Heche
     If you’ve seen Anne Heche on stage or screen, chances are you were transfixed — a wan, elfish creature with talent and wit. Like Kathryn Hahn and Parker Posey, Heche had an alluring, mercurial quality that made it hard to look away.
     Somehow I’d missed the melee between Heche’s angels and demons, until now.
     Her life was an uphill battle starting with abuse by her father in a household where the truth was not allowed to be spoken. She was an extreme nail biter, and in her memoir — that’s now selling for upwards of $500 — she wonders “why people didn’t look beyond the spotted bloody clumps” of her fingers “to think there was something hidden there, perhaps family secrets, perhaps pain.” Maybe they did, but they did not know what to say.
     It’s terrifying to think of how such pain, unhealed, can turn into fire and brimstone right here on earth, in sunny southern California. 
     In a guest appearance on the Adam Carolla Show in October of last year it was clear that Anne was in trouble. She was skin and bones, jittery and slurring. She poured disorganized words forth with pressured, impassioned speech that was hard to follow.
     In May of this year as a guest on a show called Women of Impact, she was just barely holding it together. Host Lisa Bilyeu lavished praise on Heche. “You sit here an Emmy winner with your own podcast looking like you love life.” 
     “I do,” Anne unconvincingly replied with a smile and vacant eyes. She went on to charm her host with a Hollywood mask. She offered words of false or maybe hopeful wisdom, as though her waking nightmares were a thing of the past.
     Over the years Heche spoke of her alter ego, “the half sister of Jesus Christ. I created another entity that was from Heaven. Celestia is the reason I believe I survived. She was the consistent love that allowed me to know that I could get to the other side of my abuse.” Probably disassociation. We now know that Celestia’s powers only went so far. They may have comforted Heche, but they did not provide her with the real help she needed.
     On Daily Blast Live, the hosts said what a lot of people were thinking. I cringed as I watched it, knowing that more stigma is the last thing we need. Host Al Jackson casually mentioned “I stopped drinking. I am doing yoga,” just before he addressed their expert guest, Dr. Drew Pinsky. Jackson insinuated a problem of his own with alcohol, then moved right on to analyzing another’s life.
     This is what we do. True self awareness — really sitting with and being completely honest about who we are — is a lot harder to bear than focusing on others’ deficits and failings. This is the root of stigma. Not seeing that we are all human and we all need help in one way or another. It’s not us and them. It’s just us.
     Jackson continues: “I am glad you are bringing up mental illness. It’s a buzz word in our society now. Anne Heche said since 2001 she’s been dealing with mental health issues. We are all sympathetic to mental health issues until it affects you. Until somebody with mental health issues comes plowing into your front yard or my front yard.” Then it’s “I don’t care about your mental health issues. My kids are playing in my yard. How do we as a society show empathy for this but also not forgive it?”
     This is a timely place to say that I have driven drunk. I know “good” people who have, and who still do. I see it all the time. “I’m fine,” they say. I said. It takes a lot less then one realizes to be an unsafe driver.
     If we are going to make society safer from people who are living in addiction and mental illness, we need to see and care about people, not see others as illnesses to be avoided. Or we can try to hide, but it’s getting harder. “They” might be us, and if not, they are just one or two degrees removed.
     Per Zeinab Hijazi, the senior mental health technical advisor at UNICEF: “One in seven kids under 19 years old experiences some kind of mental health disorder around the world. Mental health [issues] remain stigmatized and underfunded in almost every country, rich or poor. Even before the pandemic, far too many children were burdened under the weight of unaddressed mental health issues, including that one in four children live with a parent who has a mental health condition, and that really half of all mental health conditions start by age 14 and three‑quarters by age 25. But most cases, while treatable, go undetected and untreated.”
     Just assume that you know nothing about mental illness. Even as a psychotherapist with decades of experience I have more to learn than will be even remotely possible in this lifetime. Did you know, for example, that “a growing number of psychiatrists maintain that, as a presumed disease entity, as an identifiable state, schizophrenia simply does not ‘exist?'"
   Did you know that there are support groups for people who hear voices? Where they are allowed to be themselves and are not shunned or locked up? It’s okay to say “I don’t know” and to be curious rather than assume we know what others are going through. We are not the judge and jury when it comes to Anne Heche, or anyone else. We cannot know what it was like to walk in her shoes. It is not lost on me that she traumatized a woman, nearly killed her and her pets, destroyed a home, and nearly harmed others on that fateful day. Her actions were horrible. The extreme problem with her brain, booze and drugs was peppered all over the internet. Why were we not more equipped to notice? And to get in there and help before it was too late? 
     One way to de-stigmatize so-called mental illness is to learn more. Learn as much as you can and start with yourself, your family, your friends, and your community.
“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.”
                  ― Clarissa Pinkola Estés


Friday, August 19, 2022

Tom Coffey, who helped Washington win, wield power, dies at 77

     There's a first time for everything. I knew Tom Coffey, slightly, from Steve Neal's epic Friday afternoon luncheons at Gene & Georgetti, back in the day. He was among a cast of Chicago stalwarts that included Wayne Whalen, Jay Doherty and Michael Cooke. After Tom fell ill in July, he made overtures, wondering whether I might write his obituary. It did not seem a request that could be decently refused, particularly considering his role in city history.

     When too many white Chicagoans were turning against Harold Washington because of the color of his skin, Tom Coffey became a key supporter, working to elect Chicago’s first Black mayor because of the content of his character.
     Mr. Coffey eventually quit as a partner at Kirkland & Ellis and moved to the city to become Washington’s chief of intergovernmental affairs and one of the inner troika of trusted advisers running the mayor’s first administration. 
Tom Coffey
     He died Wednesday at his home in Hinsdale, surrounded by family. He was 77.
     “Tom, from his youngest days growing up, had a sense of social justice, a sense of commitment shown by his service in the Marine Corps,” said high school friend and Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin. “When you combine the tenacity of a Marine and the moral leadership of a social activist, you end up with a committed person like Tom Coffey. He was focused on getting to what was right.”
     Mr. Coffey went on to found Haymarket Public Strategies, a political consulting and government lobbying firm whose clients ranged from future U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun to future President Joe Biden.
     “It is easy to see why Mayor Washington has so much confidence in you,” Biden wrote to him in 1986.

     Thomas Patrick Coffey was born Sept. 11, 1944, the first child of John and Billie Coffey. His father was an official in the city’s economic development commission. Growing up in St. Thomas More Parish, 85th and Western, he graduated from Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary.
     In 1966, he earned an English degree from Loras College, a Catholic, liberal arts school in Dubuque, Iowa. At Loras, he met Mary Alice Butler of Oak Park. They married in 1968.
     Mr. Coffey studied law at DePaul University, getting his law degree in 1968, a year many Americans were concentrating on avoiding the draft. Instead, he enlisted in the Marines, serving as a JAG lawyer stationed in Okinawa.

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Thursday, August 18, 2022

"Das Boot"

     I can't speak of how young people view new movies when they come out on streaming video.
     Maybe it's a huge honking deal. You'd have to ask them.
And I'm not one of those who mistake their youth for some kind of golden age.
     But scarcity and value are related in direct proportion.
     Before cable you could catch movies in the theater, and there was an excitement to the moment. Otherwise, you'd have to wait until they came to television, chopped up and larded with commercials, years later. 
    That said, seeing movies in a theater wasn't always very difficult. When "The Sting" came out in 1973, it played in the movie house in Berea for a year.
     One of the big movie events of my college years was "Das Boot," the German submarine movie that came out in the United States 1982, directed by Wolfgang Petersen, who died this week.
     Two things stand out — and you know a movie is good when anything stands out, never mind 40 years later. 
     First, because I saw both the original in German, with English subtitles, and also the dubbed English version, I was struck by how much more dramatic German is. "Jungs! Lasst uns in die U-Boot jetzt gehen!" just sounds a lot more dramatic than the English translation: "Hey guy, let's go into the submarine now."
     Second was a scene I've repeatedly referred to over the years, when trying to illustrate the old adage "Necessity is the mother of invention." The U-boat is sitting on the ocean floor, unable to surface because the pumps that would blow the water out of their ballast tanks were damaged by depth charge blasts. A sailor is under the floorboards, working on the pumps. His face appears at a hatch opening in the walkway. "We need some No. 6 wire!" he says, or words to that effect. There is no No. 6 wire, he is told. "If there's no No. 6 wire, then we're all dead," he replies. What follows is a panicked scene where the crew fans out over the ship, searching, ending with someone busting open a radio receiver and uncoiling the necessary wire from inside. 
     Sometimes you need to be inspired to bust the radio open. Or as Dr. Johnson once quipped, the knowledge that a man is to be hanged in a fortnight concentrates the mind wonderfully. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Gacy and Trump: the surprise connection

"The Farce is Over," by Honore Daumier (Metropolitan Museum of Art).

     John Wayne Gacy sued Des Plaines and its police department. For harassment. For illegally searching his home in unincorporated Norwood Park. For insisting on following him around, prying into his affairs, undermining his reputation as a pillar of the community with their relentless questions, implying some kind of link between him and missing young men.
     His lawyer filed the suit on Dec. 19, 1978, seeking $750,000. Two days later, bodies were discovered in a crawlspace in Gacy’s home.
     Consider the chutzpah of the criminal. Their minds are skewed, warped. They have already deceived themselves into believing they have the right to do evil, to rob, to kill, to rape, to satisfy themselves while hurting others. They also are skilled at fooling their victims, tricking them, luring them into ruin. And so certain criminals believe, not without reason, they can deceive you, too. Because they are so much smarter, in their own minds.
     Part of the contempt that allows a person to do evil is an unshakable sense of superiority. Gacy claimed self-defense. As the bodies piled up, he confessed. Later, he insisted he didn’t do it. This shape-shifting dynamic — squinting, evaluating any current situation and then trying to squirm out of it — is the grease sociopaths skid through life on. Or try to. The baldness is shocking.
     When the FBI executed a search warrant at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate on Aug. 8, the range of excuses immediately offered by the former president and his army of enablers almost exhausts the range of human imagination. These are just mementos. No, the papers were overlooked briefings, brought home by our hardworking chief executive. No, the classified documents weren’t classified, because he said so. No, it was all a plot. No, the papers were planted. And on and on.
     The brio is breathtaking.
     I know we’re not supposed to be surprised at this point. But any decent person almost has to be surprised. There is a baseline assumption of truth, rationality, that holds back law-abiding citizens, causing us to lag many steps beyond those who leap ahead, unhindered by any pang of conscience or shred of humanity.
     That’s why we still remember Gacy after nearly half a century. We know killers exist. We know Gacy was a killer. But the specifics of his crimes are still shocking. He raped and tortured and killed 33 young men and boys. We don’t want to live in a world where that’s ordinary, accepted, forgettable.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2022

A new stain on my reputation

     No one has ever asked me what I plan to do in retirement. But if anybody ever does, I have a ready answer: work on the house. A 115-year-old farm house that wasn't constructed all that well in the first place is constantly in need of repair, and as the years go by, I try to do some of the work myself. 
     It's very satisfying. And cheaper. And often better 
     For instance. The house has an unusually large deck in back — originally there was a free-standing 16-foot pool in back, that the deck connected to, and my wife insisted the pool be removed, lest the boys drown themselves.  We had a handyman square it off. You could land a helicopter on it.
     A few years after, I hired a neighbor who had a house painting company to stain it. He charged a lot and his crew splashed stain on the siding. A decade and a half went by. Whatever protective qualities the stain might have ever had broke down. The deck grew grimy, dark, mildewed, almost slimey. For the past three or four years, I'd greet the summer with, "I should treat that deck before it rots." This summer I resolved to actually do it, and — this is key — borrowed a power washer from a friend (Thank you Sandi!)
     Power-washing the deck was an epiphany. Layers of mold and black grime blasted away with a sweep of the gun, returning the wood to a near pristine state. I can say without hesitation that nothing I wrote this summer was half as satisfying as powerwashing that deck. And nobody complained.
     Then I sanded it. A sane man would have bought a large circular sander, or even rented a floor sander. But I already had a six-inch reciprocating hand sander, and the deck does have all sorts of posts and rails and steps and such. So I crawled over the deck, sanding it with this ridiculously small tool. Which allowed me to sand it really well, and pound in the nails that were up, and find zen-like escape from the various nightmarish situations percolating on a national and personal level. It took days.
     "And to think I almost paid somebody to do this," I thought, astounded that I got to do it for free.      
Good stuff.
     Finding the right color stain was the most difficult part. We started out thinking blue, for some reason, probably insanity, but went through three or four shades, which didn't seem right, then three or four browns, until I was guided to Ready Seal pecan, with help from Rick at J.C. Licht, who probably just wanted my wife and me to stop coming by for more samples and get on with it. It went on easily, without streaking. Rich and slightly red. 
      I rolled it on, doing details with a brush. At first I thought I'd need three gallons; I ended up using eight. Toward the end of the third week —in my spare time, on nice days—the job neared completion. The other day, I bought new hardware and replaced the rusty hinges and latches on the gate. The thing is like new.
     That's it. No flight of poetry, no message beyond DYI: do it yourself. If I can, anybody can. I plan to take a short break, then start in on painting the trim in the entrance hall. God knows the hall needs it.

It looks best after a rain.

Monday, August 15, 2022

‘We draw you in with beauty’

     Humanity’s first home was a garden. And while biblical Eden is no longer available to stroll through, alas, the Chicago Botanic Garden is very much with us.
     I’ve visited hundreds of times — the place kept my wife and me sane during COVID. While encouraging people to visit isn’t in our selfish interest — crowds — going at least once certainly is in yours.
     Particularly now. This summer the garden is celebrating its 50th anniversary, showing off 10 large commissioned outdoor artworks, and the second half of August might be an ideal time to explore a place I often describe as “heaven-like.” (“Edenic” just doesn’t quite roll off the tongue.)
     Half the size of New York’s Central Park — 385 acres — the Chicago Botanic Garden isn’t actually in Chicago, but Glencoe, immediately east of the Edens Expressway between Lake Cook and Dundee Roads. 
Chicago Daily News
Jan. 27, 1965.
     Visitors are led through the wide range of natural habitats, from formal English walled garden to wildflower-bedecked prairie, from a carefully-cultivated Japanese island garden, complete with teahouse, to a woodland walk under towering oaks where only the blazed trail lets you know you’re not in virgin forest.
     There are vegetable gardens and groves of birches, water lilies and desert cacti. I’ve seen deer, otters and, on one memorable occasion, a hooded merganser duck. One of the joys is shifting in scale and perspective, lifting your gaze from close-up examination of a gorgeous lily to peer across the lagoon at a bridge in the distance, flanked by weeping willows.
     The place is so big, we recently spent an hour there walking and never went inside, merely circled the perimeter.
     One of the more astounding aspects of the Botanic Garden is, no matter how often times we visit, and we often go three times a week, it’s always fresh, new, interesting, because of the changing light at different times of day, the seasons of the year, plants waxing and waning, annual shows — orchids, jack-o-lanterns, a light show at Christmas. My wife and I visit in February when it’s 20 degrees, as the garden is beautiful in snow.

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