Sunday, December 18, 2022

The other Lori

Lori Cannon

     Saturday afternoon was a cold, bleak, gray day. Outside, in the streets of Chicago, that is. But all was warm and bright and colorful inside GroceryLand, 5543 North Broadway, when I stopped by to visit an old friend and conduct an unusual transaction.
     GroceryLand, run by Lori Cannon, is an Edgewater food pantry for people living with HIV. (And, sometimes, though you didn't get it from me, for people who don't have HIV, such as mothers of hungry families, but who are needy nonetheless. Lori is good at many things, but turning away those who she could help is not one of them. Particularly during COVID).  Lori knows that her clientele spends a lot of their time in drab, institutional settings, and wants her operation to be as homelike and festive as possible. There are two other locations on the South and West sides of Chicago.
     It had been several years since I last visited, and the place was even more warm and inviting than I remembered.
     Lori, who helped found Open Hand Chicago in 1988, produced an article mounted on foamcore that I had written in 1994 when the forerunner of GroceryLand opened. (I posted the article on EGD in 2019 to mark GroceryLand's 25th anniversary). Also in 2019, I wrote about Lori, when she received a Legacy Advocate Award.
     We've both been at our respective professions for a long time. We must really like it.
     She took me on a tour of the place. In one corner, a pile of stacked banker boxes. "Jon-Henri Damski's literary estate," she said, suggesting it should stored somewhere more secure than against the wall of a food pantry, no matter how nice. I suggested the Gerber/Hart Library & Archives and she made a face — apparently they are not up to her standards, which can be very high. My second suggestion was the Newberry Library, and she found that a better idea. I promised I would reach out to them Monday and see what I could do.  Damski was a longtime gay columnist, supposedly the first to use his real name, and while I've seen him referred to as "the gay Studs Terkel," I always thought of him as "Chicago's gay Socrates," since he was always crouching at the gates of Lakeview, disheveled but piercingly intelligent, challenging passersby with his unconventional views.
     GroceryLand's walls were festooned with work of Chicago artist and illustrator David Lee Csicsko. Years of posters for GroceryLand — how many food pantries have a strong graphic presence? — plus a whimsical oil painting of, I believe, Romulus and Remus and the she-wolf
     We talked a long time — Lori mentioned that Saturday was the birthday of our late mutual friend, Andrew Patner. She has an incredible memory for names and dates and places, for departed friends and clients, aldermen, mayors, governors, activists, a walking history of the past half century of Chicago gay life, and somebody should sit down with her and a tape recorder and get it all down. 
     Oh, the transaction, I almost forgot. Lori came to my book signing at Atlas Stationers with a big Ziploc bag of ruggaleh, because she's great. Baked herself, and perhaps the best I've ever eaten in my life. My wife, even more impressed, pleaded for the recipe so she could serve them at our Hanukkah party Sunday. Lori said there is no recipe — her mother Bluma taught her and the process just lives in her head — but she'd whip some up for us. We of course tried to dissuade her from going to the trouble; she has more important things to do. But as anyone who has ever tried to dissuade Lori Cannon from doing anything knows, that is not easily done. Impossible really. (A 1996 Reader profile referred to her as a "Demon of Mercy.") So we showed up with all the canned soup we could carry as a donation to GroceryLand, and she gifted us with a tremendous bounty of homemade ruggaleh. Kindred spirits helping, manus manum lavat, one hand washing the other, the Chicago way. Anyway, Hanukkah starts tonight, and I hope those who celebrate have a happy one. And those who don't celebrate it, well, you have the comfort of your own holiday coming in a week. And if you haven't done your holiday good deed yet, GroceryLand could use your cash and your high-quality packaged food items, particularly canned soups. 


  1. Hi Neil :) What is this ruggaleh? I've tried an internet search without much success.

    1. It's delicious:

  2. Try searching “rugalach.”

  3. I'm One of the Tribe. I grew up with the rugelach made by my grandmother. It is a filled baked confection originating in the Jewish communities of Poland. It is also popular in Israel, where it is found in most cafes and bakeries. Traditional rugelach are made in the form of a crescent by rolling a triangle of dough around a filling.

  4. Nice column. I reread your piece on the futility of forecasting events in today's Sun-Times and it brought to mind Christopher Isherwood's poetical treatment of the same point involving a hapless bird.
    "The Common Cormorant or shag
    Lay's eggs inside a paper bag.
    The reason you will see no doubt
    It is to keep the lightning out.
    But what these unobservant birds
    Have never noticed is that herds
    Of wandering bears may come with buns
    And steal the bags to hold the crumbs."

  5. I was sorry to read that Lori has a low regard for Gerber/Hart Library & Archives. They do an amazing job of preserving LGBTQ historical records.


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