Monday, October 31, 2022

Dance of Death

From "The Immortal Plena" by Antonio Martorell

     It's Monday, but I don't have a column in the paper today because the column I wrote, involving an unexpected mix of Judaism, Mexico and baked goods, is also keyed to the Day of the Dead, Dia de Muertos, which begins tomorrow (The holiday really should be called "Days of the Dead" since it continues Wednesday, two days, but it's not my holiday, so I shouldn't nitpick). 
      Speaking of which, my editors,  in that earnest, direct manner that comes from continually creating a mass market product intended to be readily grasped by the distracted general public, thought it should run tomorrow, on the actual beginning of the holiday.
     Okay, it was my idea, but they embraced it. Teamwork.
     Solving their problem created one for me, what should go here instead. Luckily. I have something to share with you. Tomorrow's column required me to drive to East Garfield Park last Thursday, and on my way home I took Kedzie north and spied an improbable melange of turrets and gables, a brick structure with a reddish brown tile roof. I pulled into the parking lot of the building — originally a stable, and then the office of Jens Jensen, who designed Humboldt Park.
     Now, I don't want to suggest that I'd never seen the building before, or had no idea it existed. That would be crazy, and, more important, would go against my brand as the all-seeing-eye, the omniopticon of Chicago. Particularly if you skipped around the structure as a child and knew about it intimately for your entire life and hold in lip-curled contempt anyone who has been pinballing around the city for 40 years yet somehow didn't know it was there until last Thursday. Really, to admit that would be to risk a taunting note from Lee Bey, assuming he cared enough about what I know or don't know about Chicago architecture to do that, which, spoiler alert, he doesn't. 
     So yes, certainly, I have much experience with the building, so much that it took on a weight and mass of its own and sank into my subconscious, unretrievable, so that seeing it again struck me as a fresh discovery, as did the fact that it holds the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture.
     Having ballyhooed the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen, it seemed only fair that I go in and see what the Puerto Ricans have going.   
     There I met Elias Carmona-Rivera, the manager of visitor experience, who greatly enhanced my experience visiting by leaping up and showing me the museum: one the ground floor, "The Immortal Plena," a show of the colorfully morbid celebration of the danse macabre by artist Antonio Martorell, which seems very apt to share today, it being Halloween.
     And upstairs, "Nostalgia for My Island," works of artists in America celebrating their homeland.
     As we walked, I showed off the fact that I actually know something about the Puerto Rican community — that it really was the first ethnic group to immigrate to the United States entirely by air. That the great majority of Puerto Rican immigrants came to Chicago from small villages, so had the triple challenge of adjusting to a new country, a foreign language, and the challenges of city life. As with every immigrant group that ever came to Chicago, their more-established countrymen alternated between helping them and ripping them off.
     This I know thanks to my new book, "Every Goddamn Day," which, among its wonders, spotlights the enormous growth of the Puerto Rican community in the 1950s. In 1950, there were 255 Puerto Ricans living in Chicago. By 1960, there were 32,371. 
     Funny, when Amazon rated my book as the No. 1 best-seller in immigration history, I thought, "Huh? How so?" But now that I think of it, related to not only Puerto Ricans, but Jews, Germans, Poles, Mexicans, Japanese, Chinese ... quite a long list ... I do go into details about a number of immigrant groups. I guess I just thought of it as Chicago history, not immigrant history. The two are inseparable. 
     The day I feature related to Puerto Ricans is June 20, 1966 when, after a riot on the near northwest side that awoke greater Chicagoans to their presence, the Daily News decided to focus on a single, anonymous Puerto Rican immigrant, "Jose Cruz," to see what his life was like. The unrest also prompted the newspaper to run an editorial on its front page, in Spanish. Puerto Ricans must not be strangers in our midst,” it said, translated. “Their culture — the oldest in the Western hemisphere — and their language — revered in world literature — must become part of the life in Chicago. This cannot be done by violence.”
     Much better to do it with institutions such as the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, and I was pleased to see a school group attentively listening to a guide while I was there. The Martorell show runs through the end of December, and is a spooky delight. The museum is open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m.  to 5 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is free.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Dinner in Texas


     The Uber app gives you several helpful pieces of information to facilitate your rendezvous with their driver: the driver's first name, the make, model and color of the vehicle they're arriving in, and a little map showing your ride, a little grain of rice, working its way toward you. A good thing, since one data point can lead you astray. 
     For instance, I was in Dallas Friday night to report on a story, standing expectantly in front of the  Sheraton Arlington Hotel, waiting for a black Chevy Silverado pickup. I checked the map, but also looked around at my Texan surroundings — the snapping Lone Star State flag, and guests coming and going, many wearing Bears regalia. 
     Odd, I thought, thickly. These Texans sure seem to like the Bears. It was only later, after noticing many, many more men in Bears regalia, that it dawned on me that the team is playing the Cowboys nearby on Sunday, and these were not transplants publically yearning for home, but current Chicagoans in town for the game. For a moment I wished I had known, perhaps I might even have stayed over an extra day to go to the game, since. I was there anyway. Then realized I never consider going at home, so why do so here?
     A big black Chevy Silverado pulled up to the curb, and I took a step forward and ducked my head to try to peer through the heavily smoked windows to check my driver. It was a heavily tricked-out truck, with some kind of neon in the wheel wells. But the passenger side had someone in it — not typical for Uber — and I hesitated, consulting the map on my phone. My Silverado was stil four minutes away. I stepped back. Thank you, multiple data points.
     At the appointed moment, another enormous black Silverado pulled up. Fancy wheels, four doors. A special "Texas Edition." It was so impressive I asked my driver if I could take a picture. He said go ahead. I stepped back to take the shot, realized it was so huge I wasn't far enough a way to frame it, stepped back so more, and still it defied complete capture. I gave up, went to get into the back seat, but suddenly that seemed regal, and I asked to ride in the front. He said go right ahead and I climbed aboard.
     One of the great things about Uber, in addition to it smoothly working in Chicago, Dallas, Rome or Santiago and its app's ample information dump, is the tendency of drivers to talk with the passenger, a dynamic I appreciate almost as much as being transported from Point A to Point B. I learned quite a bit about Jeremy, a young man with a shaved head and heavily tattooed arms: he was a cook, his wife worked in the front end of the same restaurant he did, his boy was in college, he had a friend who'd wrecked his life through drink. Riding in a pick-up truck in Dallas seemed an unexpected and welcome bit of authentic Texas, as if, to get to my room, the Sheraton had led me through the halls astride a steer. 
     The restaurant, by the way, was Roots Southern Table, in Farmers Branch, picked by my sister, who lives in Plano. The food, eye-crossingly wonderful. We started with southern greens — baby turnips, potlikker, smoked pork — and cast iron cornbread, which came drizzled with Steen's syrup and a little dish of sweet potato butter that arrived covered with a tiny glass dome filled with smoke, which the waiter dramatically lifted away, a bit of molecular gastronomy theater straight out of Alinea. (A moment captured last year by a photographer for the New York Times, which likened the dish to "a warm embrace" and included the restaurant in its list of 50 best new restaurants in the country.)  I'm not a food critic, so can't really describe my jerk lamb chops other than they were spicy and wonderful, as was the Hoppin' John served alongside. The room was airy, square and large. It's rare that a server's error works to a diner's favor, but we ordered the orange juice cake — how could you not? — and I was three bites into a splendid German chocolate cake when my sister observed that this wasn't what we ordered. Left to my own devices, I probably wouldn't have noticed something amiss until hours later, if ever. I suggested we just eat what we got, but that seemed timid, and we were curious as to what orange juice cake could possibly be, so notified the waiter, who said he misentered the order. I pushed the cake aside, and was a little disappointed when he whisked it away—I was hoping he'd urge us to enjoy it. Just as well. It was replaced with a jumbo rectangle, sitting in orange sauce, with a benediction of whipped cream. It was superlative, but we just couldn't finish it.  You know you've been well-fed when you can't finish half a slice of truly delicious cake.


Saturday, October 29, 2022

Northshore Notes: Smoothed by Tides

     When Caren turns her essays in, if there is an opening quote, it isn't separated from the text. I add the italics and indentation. So this week, when I read "I want to age like sea glass," I immediately stopped, awed, and thought, "Whoa Caren! You've upped your game!" Then I saw that it wasn't her writing, but a poet she had uncovered. And I realized, for the first time, thank you Caren, that while finding poetry isn't the same as writing it, it is in the same realm, both generous acts of bringing wonder to the wonderless. Enjoy.

By Caren Jeskey 

I want to age like sea glass.
Smoothed by tides, not broken.
I want the currents of life to toss me around, shake me up and leave me feeling washed clean.
I want my hard edges to soften as the years pass — made not weak but supple.
I want to ride the waves, go with the flow, feel the impact of the surging tides rolling in and out.
                —Bernadette Noll
     Sky Tonight is an app (some of you might already have) that illuminates the stories of bright and dim lights in the sky, and those you cannot see at all. It turns your phone into a telescope and reveals an intricate pattern of celestial entities.
     My 9 year old niece was over last Saturday. The day turned into an unseasonably warm October night. She adeptly set up a tripod telescope on the front lawn. One of those perfect moments with the love of a child, soon-to-be-gone autumn grass, and the wonders of the universe just fodder for exploration. Getting ahead of myself — I needed extensive tutoring to get through astronomy class at DePaul — I excitedly said “Look! That’s Venus!” pointing to the brightest star in the west. My niece took my phone and said “nope.” It was another entity that started with a V that was too small for my eyes to make out. Perhaps I need a bigger phone.
     This was my first experience with the app that I had downloaded just that evening, and it opened up a new world. The next morning I awoke before dawn and took a peek at my new toy. It showed the sun just below the horizon in the east. It was a warm day, thus it was easy to get motivated to bike over to the lake for the sunrise. 
     I arrived at the Kenilworth beach overlook as the sun was resting on the lip of the lake to the southeast, a Halloween-orange orb. Waves lapped loudly over the concrete and sand below, and drew me down the stairs. You know you’re a Chicagoan when you arch your face towards the sun as it rises. You know you’re partly Texan when you look for the shade. With enough sun damage on my face to last a lifetime, I took off my boots and socks, and made my way to the water's edge, stopping at the one shady spot on the beach, next to the pier.
     A tiny, bright green object twinkled and brought me closer to the pebbles. Eureka! Sea glass city. First I picked up only what I saw at ground level, and where the waves met the sand and created a catchment area rife with these little gems. I found myself sitting down on the cool damp beach to get a closer look at the treasures, and dug a hole with my hands until I reached water. I filled my fanny pack with smooth pebbles and glass with a plan to make gifts this year. Little clear glass vessels I'll buy at the best store ever, filled with treasures and shipped shore to shore to friends and family. (I'm cancelling Amazon as of November. Time to get back to basics).
     I found the biggest pieces of glass I’d yet discovered in the Midwest, modest in comparison to what friends find on beaches near their tropical island homes. Still, I was more than pleased. A fellow traveler walked towards me, and I kept my head down. The only two people on the beach. I figured she was enjoying solitude as much as I was, and did not want to disturb her. Alas, as she came closer I glanced up and our eyes met, and she said hello. We chatted a bit. She bent down, picked up a rock, and handed it to me.
     It was filled with crystals. A geode. I’d been down there for an hour and a half, and had not found anything as amazing, even though I was trying. She said I can keep it.
     I found myself sitting on the water's edge until ten a.m. I got up, walked barefoot in the water, and let the texture of the sand and rocks, and the cold laps invigorate me. I remembered that I had somewhere to be so headed back to the terrace. I grabbed my boots and sat at a picnic table, wiping the sand from between my toes with a sock.
     I’d also found a giant piece of unfinished lake glass. It still clearly held the shape of a bottle and was not yet as round and smooth as it would be if I threw it back into the lake for the sand and water to polish it further. A man and his son were nearby and I showed it to them. “Cool!” The boy said, and dashed off to find his own treasures. I said to the dad “a friend of mine on an island in the Bahamas would tell me to throw it back.” This friend is the king of sea glass and has spots where he harvests these natural gifts and makes whimsical faces, menorahs, and other sculptures with their shapes and colors. The dad said “which island?” I said Eleuthera. His mouth dropped open. “My wife has owned land there for 23 years. I’ve never been.”
     The combination of this synchronistic experience and the app that’s been teaching me of lesser known constellations like Serpens Caput and Corona Borealis just above us as we sit here in this moment has me feeling pleasantly plugged into life as it is, now. If that were not enough to help me feel connected, I decided to see what poets have to say about sea glass. The first thing that popped up was Bernadette Noll's poem above. You see, she was a favorite neighbor of mine in Texas where I was living in a 288' tiny house until last May. In fact, she also made the two flute bags on a shelf just above me on my desk, as a sweet gift.
    As our guy Carl Jung says, "synchronicity is an ever present reality for those who have eyes to see," and I am sure digging it.

Friday, October 28, 2022

Watching Ye crash and burn

     Hey Diddy! Rabbi Neil here. I know you’re in the studio, laying down your next megahit. A thought: People are soooo tired of hearing songs about chillin’ in the VIP room with a bottle of Cristal. Why not make that table bottle Manischewitz instead? They really have some very drinkable vintages nowadays. Or, better, a nice Dr. Brown’s cream soda. Show the home team a little love. I know that the Sanhedrin would be grateful, and you’d find a little something extra in next month’s envelope ...

     Two things about bigotry that don’t get said nearly often enough:
     First, it’s a kind of stupidity. A low, dank and nauseating sub-cellar of ignorance. The world just doesn’t work the way haters seem to think it does. Assuming their bile is sincere, and not just empty words that bad people throw at others, lashing out instinctively.
     The kerfuffle over Kanye West — whoops, “Ye,” he changed his name and might want to consider doing so again — quickly devolved into an exercise in accounting, keeping track of how badly his antisemitic spew hurt his sprawling business empire. Which meant that not enough consideration was given to his original offending remarks, such as the suggestion that rival singer, producer and lifestyle tycoon Sean “Diddy” Combs is somehow “controlled” by the Jews, followed by Ye’s threat to go “DEATHCON 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE.”
     What does that second part even mean? The funny thing — funny sad, not funny funny — is that Ye probably meant “DEFCON,” a state of military readiness, and it was just an illiterate gaffe. An unfortunate slip, since wishing death on people, particularly Jews, tends to catch attention in our mass shooting age. The worst antisemitic massacre in American history, 11 worshippers slaughtered in a synagogue in Pittsburgh, happened in 2018.
     We need to notice, because our political climate, at home and globally, increasingly takes its cue from antisemitism’s embrace of utter lies, from the blood libel to the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” to this, which showed up in my email inbox Monday:
     “All INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES in America and Europe, now know that the disastrous [WTC 911] attack was planned and realized by the American CIA and Mossad with the help of the Zionist world, to place the blame on Arab countries and to persuade the Western powers to intervene in Iraq and Afghanistan ...”
     That reasoning is the exact same logic that Alex Jones used to declare Sandy Hook was fake — you don’t like the result, in Sandy Hook’s case another stark example of the need for America to do better dealing with guns. So you pretend that result was someone’s intentional goal all along, as part of a plot. It’s like blaming ice cream for causing hot summer days.

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Thursday, October 27, 2022

Exploding Kittens


     Here's a conundrum: I love playing games, but hate learning how to play new ones. Why is that? Set in my ways maybe. Affection for the games I already know. It's almost unfaithful, to turn my back on the stack of old, beloved friends downstairs and commit myself to something new. 
     In early October, my oldest boy and his girlfriend — who met at NYU's game club — came to town. I hoped maybe we would play Settlers of Catan, my current go-to game of choice. You gather resources, build settlements, work your way up to cities, which is a lot more fun than it sounds.      
     To limber up, my son and I played a few rounds of Cathedral; we have a gorgeous wooden set permanently stationed on our coffee table (a set that my Ohio friends, Jim and Laura, gave us for our wedding. I don't know which is more extraordinary. That a wedding gift should remain on our coffee table for 32 years. Or that friend would know us well enough to give us a game as a wedding present).
      Cathedral is simplicity itself — you surround space with a variety of wooden wall pieces. Then it's yours. The person who claims the most space wins. A game doesn't take five minutes. Quickness is a real value in games. Nobody has time to sprawl on the floor for four hours playing Risk anymore.
    I suggested Settlers, but going for the board, the kids stumbled upon Citadels, a game that a young cousin had given us as a thank-you present when she stayed over the summer. I hadn't opened the box. Because it's a new game. That I don't know how to play.
     "This is fun," my son's girlfriend announced, tearing off the cellophane. Citadels involves eight characters and a variety of realms and gold coins. As she explained the rules, my eyes glazed over, and I looked imploringly at my wife, who stared beseechingly back. None of this was making sense. Had we so entered the vale of years that now we couldn't learn a new game? Baffled the words washed over it. I felt terrible. The directions flowed around me like strangers brushing by in a crowd. This must be how stupid people feel all the time.
     Luckily, we decided to just play it, always the best way to learn a game. Slowly understanding dawned, and by the end of the first try, the strategy of what we were doing — using the variety of qualities the characters had to thwart your opponents, round by round, while gathering seven realms — began to seem comprehensible, then doable, then fun.
     But did mastering Citadels mean that we would then be playing Citadels? It did not. No sooner had we played a game or two, then the young couple came back from Walgreens with another new game, Exploding Kittens.
    I have to pause to marvel at that. I would never, ever buy a new game — it's hard enough to play the old ones. We've got stacks downstairs, plus more in big plastic tubs in the basement. Later, when I quizzed them about what had drawn them to Exploding Kittens— buzz from friends? Online reviews? — they said they hadn't heard of it. It just seemed fun.
     I credit the great name. Who isn't intrigued by that? A little digging showed that Exploding Kittens is actually quite famous as the most popular start-up, ever, on Kickstarter, the crowd-sourcing website, when it debuted. When the game was first presented in 2015, by co-creator Elan Lee, Shane Small, and Matthew Inman, creator of the comic website The Oatmeal, it blew past its $10,000 fundraising goal in its first eight minutes, and $100,000 in an hour. In 30 days raised over $8.7 million from more than 200,000 followers.  And the success rolls on. Netflix is planning an animated Exploding Kittens cartoon show next year.
     The creators explained the game this way:
     "Exploding Kittens is a highly strategic kitty-powered version of Russian Roulette. Players take turns drawing cards until someone draws an exploding kitten and loses the game. The deck is made up of cards that let you avoid exploding by peeking at cards before you draw, forcing your opponent to draw multiple cards, or shuffling the deck."
     Exploding Kittens is one of those new breed of games that overcomes new game reluctance with humor — exploding kittens — and simplicity. The deck has 56 cards. The exploding kitten cards are moved, as are the defuse cards that spare you from exploding. The cards are shuffled and dealt out, eight to a player. Each player gets also gets a defuse card, and then the kittens and the rest of the defuse cards are returned to the deck and it gets reshuffled.
     I'm confusing you already. The other cards give certain useful powers (I liked the "Nope" card, which stops the action dictates by whatever cards someone else plays). Not only did I get it immediately, but it was instantly addictive. We played at least half a dozen games.
     On Wednesday I drove the couple to the airport.
     "So..." I said, disingenuously. "Did you remember to take Exploding Kittens with you?"
     "No," my son's girlfriend said. "We left that behind as a gift, for hosting us."
     I glowed. Now all we have to do is find somebody to play with. It's more fun with a crowd. Now that I think of it, a few neighbors are coming over for dinner Sunday. I wonder how they'll react when I tell them we're having Exploding Kittens for dessert. 


Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Decades later, she meets the rescuer she never knew she had

     Three ordinary people, connected by two moments almost 30 years apart, one terrifying, one sweet. Plus a yellowed 2015 news clipping. And a story with an unexpected moral.
     The first person is Tony Namrod, owner of a Subway restaurant. The second is Suzanne Stone, Amway representative. And the third, the connection bringing them together, is Tom Mahoney, American Legion Post 791 Commander, who missed the first, awful moment, that very cold early January morning in 1993.
     Stone had dropped off Amway associates in Elgin, and was driving home.
    “During the day, you work,” she explained last week. “So when you’re building an Amway business, it’s at night.”
     But she never made it home, not that night, or for many days to come. Her car skidded on black ice and slammed into a building at Devon and Nagle.
     It was 4 a.m.
     She doesn’t remember anything after that. The story will have to be picked up by Namrod, then 22, coming home after the late shift at IBC Bakers in Schiller Park.
     “I stopped for a light at Devon and Nagle,” he said. That’s when he noticed the car smashed against the building. He remembers thinking: “Something’s wrong. It looks like a fresh accident.”

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Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Flashback 1994: Catalog a Big Order At Oriental Institute

Not a closet at the OI, but "Untitled,"
by Jannis Kounellis, at the Hirshhorn.  
     I talked to the interim curator of OI—as the erstwhile Oriental Institute styles itself now that its original name is considered to contain a slur—on Monday, arranging a visit next month when I'm in the neighborhood for a book publishing luncheon.
     I tried to cast my mind back to when I last was there. Turns out it was before I was a columnist, though this brief article has a column-like feel to it.

     Karen Wilson's basement is in chaos. Open boxes everywhere. Pots and jars lying around, some of them shattered in fragments. People scurry here and there, and then, of course, there are all those mummified bodies and human bones.
     Wilson, needless to say, is not your average harried homeowner, but curator of the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute, that world-famous repository of ancient Middle Eastern relics, now in the midst of a yearlong house cleaning in advance of a $10.1 million overhaul of its Hyde Park museum headquarters.
     The task is enormous — about 80,000 cataloged objects are stored in the basement, with thousands more not yet entered into the institute's computerized system. All of them have to be packed up and moved so workers can begin construction of a new storage wing, including installation of state-of-the-art climate control to keep Chicago's mercurial weather from inflicting further harm on the priceless artifacts.
     "A lot of objects suffered more since they came to Chicago than during the thousands of years they were buried in the sand in the Middle East," said Wilson. "Inside any building in Chicago there can be dramatic changes in relative humidity — from 100 percent in the summer to 5 percent in the winter. The objects absorb moisture, then give it off."
     Moisture migration breaks down the artifacts, as evidenced by the white rime of salt drawn to the surface on unwrapped mummies, of which there are several. To slow the process, the mummies are kept in a refrigerated room, along with other organic materials. The plan is to keep the room cooled during reconstruction, but if that proves impossible, a creative solution will have to be found.
     "We've thought of using fur vaults," said Wilson.
     Registrar Ray Tindel is in charge of keeping track of the artifacts, which range in size from the tiniest shards to a column base that weighs five tons. He says relics being dropped is not a problem — staffers handle them with scrupulous care. But sometimes they fall apart on their own.
     "Suddenly, a pot goes kaflump," said Tindel. "That is one of the things that causes the greatest heartbreak."
     Despite the value of the treasures, theft is not a problem.
     "You have to have a trusted staff," Wilson said.
     One of those staff members is rewrapping pots. Third-year archeology student Robyn Casson, 20, takes object number 36.1.27, a red clay jar from Hierakonpolis in southern Egypt, matches it with a pair of computerized labels. One label goes on the little plastic bag the object goes in, the other on the outside of the bubble wrap that she pulls from a wide roll and swaddles the artifact in to protect it on its journey around the building.
     Despite the repetitious nature of the work, Oriental Institute staffers say it does not get tiresome. Assistant curator Emily Teeter displays a narrow bottomed flared beaker, burnished red with black glaze.
     "The collection is absolutely incredible," she says, gingerly holding the 6,000-year-old ceramic. "We handle this stuff every day, but still, several times a day, you come across an object and you have to say: `Look at this!' "
     —Originally published in the Sun-Times, September 27, 1994

Monday, October 24, 2022

Do you know who James Corden is?


     Maybe I’m just nearing my snug harbor and rationalizing a lifetime of obscurity. But despite being inclined to view fame favorably, to wistfully suspect that a little larger portion of attention would have been nice, when I see what kind of jerk those served a few portions of smoking hot success tend to become, I realize that I’m better off having nursed my little cup of tepid local awareness and been fairly satisfied.
     I’ve known men — no names, please! — who no sooner got that Pulitzer Prize, or National Magazine Award, or whatever, than they became world-class assholes, unfit to be around. Not that they have much interest in hanging with a nobody like myself, not after the spotlight touches them. And the ironic thing is, while notoriety hurries off, the prickishness it brings seems to stick around.
     I was reminded of this watching James Corden, comic actor and TV host, bathed in public purgatory last week over his don’t-you-know-who-I-am? arrogance at Balthazar, a French bistro in New York City.
     The public relations fiasco proceeded in orderly stages. Last Monday, restaurateur Keith McNally went on Instagram to dub Corden “the most abusive customer to my Balthazar servers since the restaurant opened 25 years ago.” He cited two incidents where Corden berated staff over supposed lapses. McNally banned “this tiny Cretin of a man” from his restaurant.
     Next, the star “apologized profusely” and was duly forgiven. Then over the weekend, the third act: Corden, in a tone-deaf interview with The New York Times, firmly reestablished that he is, was, and no doubt always will be, an entitled bully, so insulated by fame and wealth that he just doesn’t realize he’s running the risk of being forever known as That Brit Who’s Mean to Waiters.
     “I haven’t done anything wrong on any level,” Corden whined, clawing back his apology, before lecturing to the Times about what is and isn’t worthy of its attention. “It’s beneath you,” he said of what has been dubbed “the messiest feud of the year” by BuzzFeed. “It’s certainly beneath your publication.”

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Sunday, October 23, 2022

The Medill School of ...


     Saturday was a rare gorgeous, summery day toward the end of October. We headed to Evanston to take our out-of-town guests to Blind Faith Cafe for lunch, then a walk up the lakefront, watching the boaters drag their catamarans onto land. Approaching the campus of Northwestern University up Sheridan Road from the south, we came to a solid and familiar red  brick building.
     "That's Fisk Hall, or was, when I went to school," I began, correcting myself, an essential quality in journalism. Looked closer at the building. Now named for a McCormick, in deference to the waves of Trib money crashing over the school. "The Medill School of Journalism," I continued, then realized that too had been changed. Now the "Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications," a name instantly despised and ridiculed by alumni, and not just for the missing ampersand before the final buzz phrase that must have had currency at one point, "Integrated Marketing Communications." What even is that? A racially mixed group of marketing communicators? A well-coordinated PR campaign, so some other noble idea rendered in an awkward phrase, a bad idea come to life, maintained for the very Tribunish notion that bad ideas are to be neither admitted nor corrected.
     Not that the current name came to me — who could easily remember that mouthful? And the sign was no help. I looked, but a solid hedge neatly obscured the offending language from passersby. I laughed out loud to see it. You'd like to think it was intentional, but that would have shown far more dash and creativity than a stodgy old shop like NU would be capable of. Just another inadvertent error easier to ignore than remedy. 

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Northshore Notes: Ending on a Koan

"Freedom of Speech" by Norman Rockwell.

     Myself, I have no trouble sleeping. It's staying awake that's the challenge. Still, listening to the rolling syllables of the good-night voice that our Northshore bureau chief Caren Jeskey links to today, I almost wished I had difficulty, just so I would have a reason to try drifting off listening to his rich brogue. 
 One of the joys of Caren's work is that she cracks open a door on a heretofore unconsidered realm of life, and I'm a little embarrassed to admit, in 40 years of column-writing, I don't think I've for one moment ever considered people's voices.

By Caren Jeskey

   “He lived at a little distance from his body, regarding his own acts with doubtful side-glances. He had an odd autobiographical habit which led him to compose in his mind from time to time a short sentence about himself…”
                                                              — James Joyce, Dubliners
     “There are only two cities in Ireland. Cork and Dublin. Corkonians dislike Dubliners, and vice versa. Cork is better, of course. It’s like Texas and Florida in the States.” 
     A benefit of internet life has been finding friends from across the pond (also the name of a music show I discovered on Sun Radio in Austin). This week it was hours with Irelanders and others with enchanting accents, one of whom made the declaration above. Give me the Scottish brogue of this kind person, who puts me to sleep each night, an accent that also still exists in North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
     Could be dangerous, falling in love with a voice— (I know that from experience). I can sit back and just listen to their anecdotes and have had the best laugh of the year in one of these gatherings. A self-conscious verbose member ended his musings with utter confusion, so declared that he'd end on a koan and muted himself.
    A friend in Reykjavik (who was excited that "Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga" is one of my favorite recent movies) has a voice in the íslensku máli. I'd listen to her read a phone book (a compliment I borrowed from an audience member after the compelling conversation between Neil and Dilla recently. No surprise that others find “listening to Icelandic is a form of time travel," and I'm looking forward to my friend speaking to me in her native tongue so I can sit back and feel the brain changes that come with soothing, novel sounds.
     This group and I have a good craic a few times a week, swapping our recovering Catholic stories and such. A retired gentleman flashed back to his laddie days in a small UK town. “There was food on the table when the nun came that was not there when she wasn’t coming. She’d only come every four years.” There was tension in the house before and during her visit, as his mother flew into a cleaning frenzy to make it presentable enough. He felt relieved that the nun only made it (as a missionary) quadrennially and no more. He recalls the towering figure in a crisp white habit casting a shadow over his sinful self. 
     During her last visit he hid between his bed and the wall to avoid her, since he had not been keeping up with his confessional obligations. She died three days later. His eyes teared up as he shared this. “She was trying to say goodbye to me.” Attachment to others— even those we fear— is a funny thing, often with subconscious roots.
     I am out of practice with real people. I saw my first client in two and half years in person, and now I'm scared to do it again (with record flu numbers predicted this season, compounded by the expected COVID winter surge coming up). That's why I was excited to get all dressed up for a benefit on Saturday for the Firehouse Art Center. Safe outings before it’s time to hibernate. When my brother offered to buy me two tickets my first reaction was panic. I have nothing to wear to a gala. Luckily, my Godmother (from my childhood Catholic days) Vilma and her kind daughter Linette became my fairies. They lent me the bedazzled evening dress Vilma wore to her 80th birthday celebration in her country of origin, before the pandemic stole our freedom. Back then, we all flew to Panama City, Panama, and celebrated with her for days. It was a privilege and honor to wear the dress I remember from a special time. I felt she was with me. She also lent me a white-hooded fur jacket. I hoped PETA would not spot me, and lavished in the warmth of this regal frock during the chilly Chicago gala night.
     As if to say "it's time," I had another occasion to mingle with a crowd at an exciting event this past Monday.Hair still blown out (professionally) from Saturday's party, (a style I cannot duplicate on my own), I adorned a pair of leggings and a sweater with Vilma's white jacket, happily getting a little more wear out of it before returning it. Who knew getting dressed up, after years in comfy clothes, could be such fun? I parked on Lincoln Park West and Fullerton, and made the windy walk to none other than RJ Grunts for Neil Steinberg's book party. (You can catch him in Evanston coming up in November). The scene was as much Park Avenue as you can imagine- with the down home vibe of Sweet Home Chicago.
     “When the short days of winter came, dusk fell before we had well eaten our dinners. When we met in the street the houses had grown sombre. The space of sky above us was the colour of ever-changing violet and towards it the lamps of the street lifted their feeble lanterns. The cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed. Our shouts echoed in the silent street.”
               ― James Joyce, Dubliners

Friday, October 21, 2022

‘Jumping off a cliff to feel the breeze’

     I’m too out of touch to know if Facebook is truly defunct, or just feels that way. An enormous virtual senior facility where aging Boomers show off our lunches and post wildly unflattering pictures of themselves in hospital beds. Not life, but a pallid imitation, a faint echo of the real thing, that red hot dynamo humming somewhere else, far, far away.
     Yet I toss my column up on Facebook every morning, and check the “Memories” section, which sometimes reminds me of things I’d rather forget.
     ”So let’s review, shall we?” I posted on Oct. 16, 2016. “Donald Trump refuses to accept the basic mechanism of our democracy, the orderly transition of power after an election, citing imaginary voter fraud. ... Yet millions are voting for him. I just don’t get it.”
     A plea, obviously. Facebook must have had more pep six years ago: 172 comments followed, many eerily current.
     “Q: Which is more important to Donald Trump: the stability and legitimacy of our electoral process and the orderly operation of our government, or his own oversized, yet fragile, ego?” asked Dave Magdziarz. “A: It’s his very own damn “TRUMP” ® brand ego.”
     In case you forgot: anticipating defeat, Trump was casting doubt on the validity of voting.
     “This election is a sham and a travesty. We are not a democracy” Trump tweeted after Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney in the 2012 election.. “We can’t let this happen. We should march on Washington and stop this travesty.”
     Now, with the 2022 midterms approaching, and the baldly hypocritical formula (Legit if I win, bogus if I lose) is back. As is his man-the-ramparts rhetoric.

To continue reading, click here.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Flashback 2011: The world is coming to an end! (again)


Created by Dall-E artificial intelligence.
     A favorite story in my new book, "Every Goddamn Day," is about a 1950s Oak Park doomsday cult that every Chicagoan should know about, just because it's so unexpected and wonderful. Plus a reminder that our current era does not have a monopoly on crazy. I realized I never posted my original column about it, and it's not online, until now. Enjoy.

     The world is supposed to end, again, this time on May 21, 2011, according to a California sect led by 89-year-old Harold Camping, who uses "a mathematical system he created to interpret prophecies hidden in the Bible."
     My first thought was that the world is already ending, supposedly, on Dec. 21, 2012, according to the Mayan calendar, and it makes sense to wait until one doomsday passes to start ballyhooing another — two looming at the same time is like putting out the Christmas merchandise before Halloween is over.
     The second thought is that journalism is slipping — in truth it slipped long ago. I saw this latest doomsday in a Time magazine online "NewsFeed" titled "Judgment Day: Will May 21, 2011 Be The End of the World?"
     Mmmm . . . that’s a toughie. News reporter Megan Gibson did not put the story in context of the periodic false predictions of the world’s end going back centuries. She didn’t even mention the Mayans. No, she juxtaposed it with another story in the headlines, claiming, "This prediction is pretty eerie in light of the mysterious animal deaths in Arkansas."
     It is? The media always deadpans this kind of report, because we believe faith deserves respect, no matter what that faith is about, or maybe the reader is expected to get the joke.
     It is Time’s helpfully serving up the animal die-off as evidence of the apocalypse that bothers me — anybody who knows squat about birds or fish knows they occasionally die in huge numbers for murky reasons.
     I turned for comfort, again, to When Prophecy Fails, the classic psychological study of a doomsday cult led by an Oak Park housewife named Dorothy Martin, who in late 1954 predicted that the nation would be destroyed by floods while she and fellow true believers were whisked to paradise by flying saucers.
     Researchers secretly joined her cult, hoping to test their theory of cognitive dissonance: that a zealot, "presented with evidence unequivocal and undeniable" that his belief is wrong, nevertheless "frequently emerge, not only unshaken, but even more convinced of the truth of his beliefs than even before."
     Unlike what passes for journalism today, the book recounts the rich history of America’s doomsday fixation, and the ridicule it once received ("What! — not gone up yet?" people mockingly inquired of earthbound Millerites in the 1840s. "Aren’t you going up soon? — Wife didn’t go up and leave you behind to burn, did she?")
     Though frankly, viewing Mrs. Martin and her devotees moved me, not to scorn, but to pity. They are so credulous, so purely naive.
     Well, not all. My favorite person in the book is Mr. Martin who, as his wife is preparing to greet the flying saucers, is described as: "A man of infinite patience, gentleness, and tolerance amounting almost to self-abasement, he never believed that his wife could communicate with other worlds, yet he never actively opposed her activities or sought to dissuade her . . . He simply went about his ordinary duties in the distributing company where he was a traffic manager, and did not allow the unusual events in his home to disturb in the slightest his daily routine."
    An inspiration for all husbands.
     The appointed hour — midnight — approached. A dozen true believers waited in Mrs. Martin’s living room on South Cuyler. The lapdog media watched, reporters phoning in, TV trucks outside. The male believers ripped the zippers out of their trousers, the women removed their underwire brassieres, because metal, Mrs. Martin insisted, would burn up on the spaceship. Her husband went to bed hours earlier and was sleeping peacefully.
     "The last ten minutes were tense ones for the group in the living room. They had nothing to do but sit and wait, their coats in their laps."
     Midnight. 1 a.m. 2 a.m. 3 a.m. The saucers, need I say, did not come.
     A few were disillusioned. "The others, however, were neither willing to accept the disillusionment nor tranquil about the failure of the escort to appear at midnight."
     They only needed proper perspective.
     At 4:45 a.m. Mrs. Martin "once more summoned everyone to the living room, announcing that she had just received a message which she read aloud." The end of the world had been avoided, it seems, by the strength of their faith. "Not since the beginning of time upon this Earth has there been such a force of Good and light as now floods this room," she read.
     "This message was received with enthusiasm by the group," the researchers noted. "It was an adequate, even an elegant, explanation. . . . The cataclysm had been called off. The little group, sitting all night long, had spread so much light that God had saved the world from destruction."
     This news was "released immediately to the newspapers."
     In the next day’s Tribune: "WORLD SPARED FOR TIME, SAY DOOM PROPHETS." There’s an evergreen headline that will come in handy come this spring.
              —Originally published in the Sun-Times, Jan. 6, 2011 

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Gone to the pig races

     You shouldn’t be able to find yourself at a pig race unexpectedly. Not in a major metropolitan area like Chicago. Pig racing seems something a person should see coming, a long way off. It shouldn’t come as a surprise.
     But when Sunday morning dawned, I had no idea that a few hours later I’d be cheering trotters tearing around a track. All I knew was, my older son and his girlfriend had come to town, and as Manhattan sophisticates finding themselves in the Midwest, naturally wanted to visit a pumpkin patch. Ever the amiable host, I plugged “pumpkin patch” into my phone, and the closest green dot was Richardson Adventure Farm, 45 minutes away. That seemed doable.
     Had you asked me, during the drive, what I expected, I would have imaged some kind of large roadside stand, with many pumpkins, set out on pallets. There would be a faux rustic building of some sort, offering apple butter and corn husk dolls and a cafe, where we would repair to celebrate our new pumpkin with hot cider and cinnamon donuts.
     Just trying to park at Richardson told me that image was woefully inadequate — hundreds of cars and pick-ups arrayed across a field, with mobs working their way toward an admission booth that hearkened to the Bristol Renaissance Faire, if not Disney World. We waited in line. The clerk informed me admission is $24 for adults, but my wife and I, being over 60, we could slip in for only $18 apiece.
     I was confused. We were paying $84 for the opportunity to buy a pumpkin? There were pumpkins for sale at Sunset Foods. My initial instinct — flee — was impossible, given the presence of the couple who had just flown in from New York. “I thought I was coming to a pumpkin patch...” I muttered, handing over my credit card.
     “Oh, we’re much more than that,” chuckled the clerk, and we joined a whirling commotion. Richardson’s claims to have the world’s largest corn maze, and soon we were tramping among the dried 7-foot-high stalks. I marveled at how quickly we shifted from trying to navigate around what seemed the entire population of Waukegan, to being utterly alone, listening to the wind rattle the dry stalks. We spent maybe 45-minutes traversing the maze — they give you a map, and checkpoints where you can punch a number on the map, giving the experience more of a scavenger hunt progression of small successes than the usual “How do I get out of this thing?” maze frustration.

To continue reading, click here.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

That ship has flown


    Cat-sitting duties took us into the city Saturday, and before we checked on Casper and Boo, we slid over to Taqueria Chignon, 2243 N. Western Avenue. We heard it was good, and indeed it was, spicy, substantial. I got a pair of cornmeal tacos, pictured above, of squash and duck, along with a well-crafted horchata, and was impressed.
     The cats seemed well, their food plentiful, happy to see us after their unaccustomed solitude. We petted and cooed at them, and while I was there I took a paternal look around the apartment of the young owner. It seemed he was down to his last few sheets of toilet paper and, trying to be a full-service cat guardian, I headed over to Walgreen's to stock up. One less thing to do upon his return.
     I couldn't recall ever heading to the store just for toilet paper, and wondered if they would give me an enormous bag for the enormous brick that TP comes in nowadays. Or whether I would just bear the assemblage away in both hands, which could be seen as awkward, even embarrassing. 
     This is a bit of foreshadowing; it turns out engineers were already on the job.
     After I paid — $10.99 for nine mega rolls — the cashier slapped a little handle onto the package. I'd never seen one before, and it struck me as clever. A lot less waste than a bag, and with a certain shimmer of newness around it. Of course, my purchase was not hidden, and I could see someone being reluctant to advertise their purchase, and all the alimentary activities suggested thereby. But given how frank toilet paper TV commercial have become, with obese cartoon bears practically ululating over how clean and fresh they feel, what a true pleasure defecation has become, thanks to whatever brand of toilet paper they're hawking, well, I imagine that ship has flown long ago, to mix metaphors.

Monday, October 17, 2022

‘A bridge to something greater’

Attendees at a Sabbath dinner to mark the end of the first Chicago Sukkah Design Festival cover their eyes during the lighting of candles Friday night.

     Mrs. Chris Brown, a lady of a certain age and that age is private, thank you very much, insists the honorific must be used before her name: “Mrs. Brown.”
     “Everyone in North Lawndale knows me as ‘Mrs. Brown,’” she said, forcefully enough that, while I did make a stab at explaining the rigidities of newspaper style, for today it seems both prudent and polite that the rule book be set aside in recognition of a force greater than itself.
     Mrs. Brown, elegant in a bright red jacket, butterfly pin and pink cancer awareness ribbon, came up to Chicago from Mississippi by way of St. Louis in the 1960s. She remembers contract buying, redlining and the way Blacks were jammed into tightly constricted areas where they were forced to occupy substandard apartments at jacked-up rents.
     “Coming from the South, I got an apartment of my own,” Mrs. Brown tells a group of about 30 gathered for Sabbath dinner Friday night at the Stone Temple Baptist Church on West Douglas Boulevard.
     “If I told you what that apartment looked like, nobody in this room would believe me. It was in a six-unit building, an apartment designed for one family that was cut apart for multiple families. Our apartment was two rooms of that unit, the back part, which was a kitchen and a little bitty bedroom. ... Filthy. Dirty, dirty, dirty. I mean, dirt like outside, that took me weeks to really clean. Got it clean. Got a job. Started to work. Went on from there.”
     Including her current work to improve North Lawndale.
     ”Our goal now is to get homes where people can live with dignity and pride,” she said.

To continue reading, click here.

Mrs. Chris Brown, right, resident of North Lawndale, talks about the racism that led to the long-term housing problems seen to this day in the community. Looking on is Jenny Merritt, community engagement manager of the Night Ministry.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Flashback 2004: "Single life is fine till about 30, then normal people marry"

In this 1449 work by Petrus Christus, a betrothed couple buy their wedding
ring from a goldsmith who, judging from his grim glance, must be single.

     Facebook let's you "tag" someone — inform a person being talked that their ears should be burning — and I was tagged regarding Mary Wisniewski's fine review of my newly-published book in NewCity. I of course read the comments, which included this: 
     I love Steinberg! One of the best Chicago writers around, except when he wrote, "Married people are better [than single folks]." I countered with, "So my drug addicted, abusive dad was better than Mother Theresa just because he was married and she wasn't?" Sorry....had to throw that in, because as a single person who hasn't even gotten a parking ticket in 7 years (and that one was thrown out) it still bugs me. Otherwise, NS is top of the line and I'll def put this book on my buy list.

     An excellent point. Though leaving me curious about the original column, written in reaction to Richard Roeper lauding the joys of bachelorhood.  I think reposting it is appropriate, particularly since Rich's birthday is Monday. Also, note the date: 2004. I was about to get a master class in just how much marriage can make you a better person, whether you like it or not. Just as Rich was no doubt influenced by his extraordinary singlehood, so I was biased by my exceptional wife, who points out that what I meant to say is not "Married people are better" but "It's better to be married." Exactly right, as usual.

     Once I had a friend who had never tasted shellfish. Not a shrimp, not a crab leg, not a lobster. Not once. Never. This seemed very strange and more than a little sad, and I asked him why. His answer was odder still.
     "My mother is very allergic to shellfish," he said. "She might have passed the allergy along to me." But he didn't know. "You're not certain?" I asked. "You don't know. Maybe you're not." True enough, he said, but he didn't want to take the risk.
     I never quite got over his revelation. Now and then I'd say, out of the blue, "C'mon — let's go over to Northwestern Memorial right now — we'll split a shrimp cocktail in the emergency room lobby. If you start to go into shock, we'll be right there. One shrimp. They're great. You don't know what you're missing." 
     He always refused.
     I thought of him this week, reading the responses of single people to Richard Roeper's column on the joys of bachelorhood. Their point, simply stated, is that they're happy being single, so why should married people try to pressure them into marriage?
     The short answer is: Because they don't know what they're missing. Being married is better. Forget the studies about living longer and healthier. Married people are more plugged into life, their shoulders are to the struggle of moving civilization. Single people keep the cosmetic surgery industry alive and that's about it.
     Of course single people are happy. I'd have been happy staying in kindergarten. But life requires you to move on, and those dragging their feet shouldn't try to transform it into a virtue.
     How do single people know they wouldn't like marriage? It's as if I lived my entire life completely within the limits of Cook County and refused to leave. Yes, Cook County's great, and yes, I could be happy. But if I start claiming there is nothing good beyond the border, nobody would buy that.
     Sign and the millions are yours
     I've been single, and if I criticize it, at least I was there, though not to suggest my bachelorhood and Richard Roeper's are in any way comparable. Which is another thing. Rich, God bless him, is not exactly Everyman in this area. His touting bachelorhood is like Michael Jordan lecturing a high school class on basketball as a career. Works for him, sure, but he's the exception that proves the rule.
     Rich excepted, most singles are leaning against the bar, sighing, waiting for somebody — anybody — to happen by. The social swirl is a fallacy, at least after age 30 or so, when all the normal people get married. But like all fallacies — like the I'm-Crashing-Through-the-Jungle-in-My-Big-SUV delusion — people cling to it.
     Thus the pressure from married friends. We are not, as the single people writing Rich seem to suggest, the malicious band of sideshow deformities in Tod Browning's "Freaks," keen to pull the unmarried into our nightmare as we chant, "You are one of us."
     Rather, in our eyes, we are trying to help our single friends salvage what's left of their lives before the years pass, irretrievable. Single people are cowards and it pains us to see them strut around in their narrow boxes, declaring them the whole wide world. Occasionally, you want to open the door and offer them shrimp.
     There is no Miss Perfect
     It takes guts to scrap all the pipe dreams of perfection and commit yourself to an actual person in the living world. Marriage is good because — and single people just can't get their arms around this — you are not the best person there ever was. Marriage binds you to someone else and puts you under their influence. As the years go by, you drift in their direction, as by a gravitational pull.
     Usually that's a good thing. Sure, I know people who marry an idiot and over time grow idiotic. But that's the risk you take, and marriage — like life — is all about risk vs. reward. Single people are willing to risk an evening of their lives and, sometimes, are rewarded with a great evening. Married people risk their entire lives, and while things do go spectacularly wrong, they tend to go right and either way they are actually building something real, which is more than single people can say.
     Married people are better. I can't imagine the monster I'd have become if I didn't have my sainted wife pulling me in the opposite direction. Left to their own devices, people do not change, they only become more so, concentrating themselves as the years go by. That's why so many old people, deprived of their mates, reduce down into these bitter, vinegary distillates of their former selves.
     A few of the singles tossed around the old chestnut that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. Well, yeah, and 100 percent of lives end in death. What's the point? I've been married for 13 years, and if, a couple of years from now, my wife leaves me because she has finally had enough of my obnoxious habits, I'll still be glad that we were married.
     On any given day, singlehood might look better — more fun, more free. But then, buying a flat screen TV is, in the short run, more fun than opening a 401(k). Then the years clock by, and the married people reap the rewards, while the single people buy cats and tell themselves they haven't missed anything. But they have.
         —Originally published in the Sun-Times,  Jan. 23, 2004 

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Northshore Notes: Simplicity

     A good story not only takes you somewhere but teaches you something. I not only enjoyed accompanying Northshore bureau chief Caren Jeskey on her ramble today, but appreciated learning about the existence of Purple. And soon so will you.

By Caren Jeskey

     Fresh out of grad school I took a temporary job, working for a small company called Archeus, an Employee Assistance Program, also known as an EAP.  A place to call when an employee is caught doing things they should not do on the internet and needs “counseling.” Many employers offer this service.
     Granted, this was 20 years ago, when folks didn’t realize that nothing you do online is private. EAPs are also the places to call when you need grief support, marital help, or when the stresses of life get to be too much. We’d counsel folks over the phone, or in satellite offices peppered around the Loop.
     The owner of the company was an elegant man, Reverend Sterling Minturn. I met him twice. Once at the office, and once at a martini lunch at a private club on Michigan Avenue. It was when I was working for Archeus that I experienced the coolest synchronistic experience of my life, which I wrote about in EGD back in April of 2020. 
     During that time I was also working for a corporate wellness program. They sent me out to Burr Ridge, to the Mars chocolate factory where I offered “Lunch & Learn” programs. I’d teach swing shift workers how to decompress with simple breathing and stretching practices. They’d send me home with coolers of dry ice and Dove ice cream bars. A win-win. 
     M&M’S® has recently introduced their newest member, Purple. She was “designed to represent acceptance and inclusivity” and “is known for her earnest self-expression. Keen self-awareness, authenticity and confidence are the driving forces behind Purple’s charm and quirky nature.” 
     Why not? I appreciate the rah-rah of a simple, old-timey pleasure these days. Bring on the Cracker Jack man with sailor hat and bell-bottoms. I was going to say Aunt Jemima, but remembered that her sweet mamie role has been rightfully retired.
     Flashing back to the past, I drove by Mars on my way to an appointment in Burr Ridge yesterday. I always take back roads and enjoyed a 75 minute, leisurely Friday afternoon drive out out to the southwest suburbs.
     I remembered an allergic reaction to super hot sauce at Heaven on Seven in nearby Naperville. They have glass droppers placed in childproof medicine bottles tucked away on a high shelf, and I was silly enough to ask to try them. The waiter cautioned me, suggesting one drop only. Being the high-roller I was, I had three. My neck immediately turned red and itchy, and my date and the waitstaff contemplated calling 911. I talked them out of it. “I’m fine!” I said. I was too embarrassed to admit I might need help. In the middle of that night I woke up to try to put out the mitts of fire that were my hands. I held them under cold water, but not before rubbing my swollen eyes, causing them to burn. Capsaicin poisoning. Being young and foolhardy, I slept it off.
     Yesterday, I knew that driving west into the country would yield great benefits. Road trips always do.
     Clumps of thick forests appeared between fields of tall prairie grasses. After my appointment I asked a local where I might find something pretty to look at. He directed me to Graue Mill. I was not sure what I’d find.
     I parked and found myself in the thick of fall foliage. 
Old trees surrounded a placid body of water, which I later learned is part of the Salt Creek Watershed. I marveled at the constant beauty of nature and gave a nod to good old Illinois. This land is our land. I walked a half mile or so on a nicely paved path as the dusk settled in. I wanted to keep going, but it was getting dark. I asked a couple if the path wound around the lake. They said “no,” and that I’d best be heading back the way I came. A young boy, 12 or so, came walking up with a fishing pole. He said “I’m going that way. My grandma is picking me up.” The couple encouraged me. "He knows where he's going!" The boy and I wound around the lake and he regaled me with stories of hunting deer with his uncles, and of the 48 inch fish he’d caught a few weeks back. “It was taller than me!” He showed me a picture to prove it. He also showed me the fake minnow bait on his fishing pole and explained that an internal hook was only activated if the bait was firmly snapped back. I’m not a hunter or fisher, nor a vegetarian, so this mini lesson was fun. Hats off to those who catch my food for me.
     His grandma started honking her horn in the distance, so he called her on his phone. “I’m 60 seconds away,” he lied. He stopped and tried to catch a quick fish from the water’s edge. I told him he’d better hurry to his grandma, who was probably worried. He asked me my name and I told him. He ran towards his grandma’s car and called over his shoulder "it was nice to meet you Caren! I’ll be back here Sunday.” I told him I’d try to make it back too.
     A Huck Finn day was had by all.

     “Stars and shadows ain’t good to see by.” Mark Twain, 1885