Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year from Eagle Harbor, MI

About six hours before the big countdown ...

Just returned from an afternoon of fun in the snow. Up here in the U.P., we got about a foot of snow last night (most of it during our drive), so this morning we had to figure out to do with all the fresh white stuff. Our solution: Tie sleds to the back of a four-wheeler and slide around the state highway running through town. At one moment, as I was sliding off the road towards a tree, I thought to myself, "Well, this is a stupid way to die. A thirty-something-year-old guy, acting a fool along with a bunch of thirty-something-year-old fools."

Then again, it wouldn't be such a bad way to go. Or should I say, there really isn't one way that's better to go then another. Maybe smashing into a tree, actually having a good time, would beat a long, prolonged death in old age.

I was reminded of an article from yesterday's Trib about a guy who dropped dead after bowling a perfect 300 game. Reached perfection in the bowling alley and, minutes later, dropped dead of a heart attack. This brought on a discussion of what would be the way to go. After what perfect event would it be OK to die? To die happy?

Leave thoughts in the commments (if you're out there reading). I'd say the only answer that doesn't qualify is sex. Too cliched. So, what would it be? A hole in one on the golf course? Watching the Northern Lights? Or sledding at stupid speeds on a state highway, surrounded by a group of good friends?

I don't mean to say I'd like to die anytime soon. There are plenty of insane things I haven't done yet. But here's the goal for 2006: Live insanely every day. In case anything ever goes wrong, at least I could leave laughing.

Anyway, Happy New Year. Don't do anything I wouldn't do, but if you do, name it after me.

Stupid Foreigner, part 4: A Japanese New Year

Well, I'm somewhere in the U.P., about eight hours north of Chicago, enjoying the New Year's Eve by melting icebergs. As every Saturday, I bring to you a long piece I wrote while living in Japan several years ago. If you think partying in the States can be dangerous, wait 'til you read about the dangers of a Japanese New Year. I wrote this on January 4, 1999.

As you may know, Japan has a very low crime rate. Murders, rapes and muggings are very rare, at least by American standards. OK, I know that's not saying much. So let's just say that Japan has fewer shootings each year than a peaceful little state like Vermont, according to the international research organization FACT.

Young girls can be seen walking alone in the middle of the night in the seediest parts of the biggest of Japanese cities. Drunk salarymen pass out on sidewalks or at train stations with thousands of yen stuffed in their wallets, and they are left unmolested.

Still, I find this country to be as frightening as any low-income housing project in America. Because despite the fact that violent crime is almost non-existent, simple acts, like crossing the street or eating a snack, can prove hostile, even fatal.

Let's look at Japanese food. Most major Japanese holidays have their own special culinary delights. For the New Year, there's MOCHI. MOCHI is described as "rice cakes" but in fact it resembles a big white glob of gooey, uncooked dough. Yes, it looks delicious, but let me assure you, it's the opposite. (By the way, what is the opposite of "delicious"?) Not only that, but it's also very dangerous. Chewing and trying to swallow MOCHI is sort of like trying to eat the action figure Stretch Armstrong. Seriously.

For proof, consider this single sentence from today's Daily Yomuiri newspaper: "The Tokyo Fire Department issued repeated warnings that the rice cakes, a traditional New Year's treat, should be cut into small pieces before eating, but the nationwide death toll from choking on them still reached 10" in the first two days of the year. Last year, nine people in Tokyo alone died from MOCHI consumption.

It's a "treat" that kills! But you should see people slurp it down like there's no tomorrow. Gulp. Of course I tried some, and the gag reflex kicked in quicker than when I tried NATTO (fermented beans ... more on that some other time). And that's not the only aspect of the New Year celebration that should be considered dangerous to your health.

People ring in the New Year at a local Shinto shrine. They gather in front of the main shrine building and at the stroke of midnight everyone throws coins and prays for health and wealth. The problem is that many Japanese are kinda short, and throwing coins a long distance from the back of a massive crowd is a bit difficult anyway, so many many people are pelted by 100 yen coins. One girl right in front of me the other day was smacked by a heavy, metal bracelet, the kind with spikes and skulls worn by punk rockers worldwide. She reached down to pick it up and was almost trampled by the horde trying to retreat from the area. If you've ever been on a Tokyo subway during rush hour, you know what it's like to be shoved by a wave of humanity. This is worse.

This gathering at the shrine is actually pretty cool. Literally, especially for all the girls dressed in kimono. Kimono are very beautiful, colorful robes, but the material isn't very warm. And this year I learned what girls wear under them: Nothing.

That's right, nothing.

Anyway, I live in a "small" town of slightly less than half-a-million, so the main shrine wasn't as crowded as the one in Tokyo. Last year, during the first three days of the New Year, almost four million people visited Meiji Shrine in Tokyo. That sounds pretty impressive, but it really isn't. Not if you consider that Shinjuku train station in Tokyo has more than two million people pass through every day. Yes, there's plenty of pushing and shoving, but Japanese people are pretty patient and nobody is killed. Instead, they die when they step outside and try to cross the street.

Walking around Japan is dangerous because people here suffer from tunnel vision. Or they're never taught to look both ways at intersections. I could go on with my blatant stereotypes, but I'd rather give you an example.

A few months ago, there was a massive meteor shower, so of course tons of people flocked into the night to catch a glimpse of a falling star or two. Here's a sad fact: Before that night, almost every single Japanese person I asked said he or she had never seen a falling star. Why not? Well, because of pollution and clouds and the city lights that prevent you from seeing any stars on most nights, I suppose. But on that night, people were determined to see the stars. So much so, that some of them were killed.

One old man was run down by a truck. Supposedly, the driver was too busy scanning the night sky to see the guy crossing the road. There was also a three or four car pile-up begun in pretty much the same way. A few people died just by looking up. One girl was sitting on a bridge, bent backwards to get a better look, and fell off. Since many Japanese rivers are dry, she made a splash, but not into water. Another girl who survived somehow fell down a chimney while watching the stars.

For the New Year, lots of people go out to see the first sunrise of the year. I'm not sure how many victims there were this year.

Anyway ... I hope YOU had/have a safe and pleasant New Year celebration, wherever you were/are. Don't worry about me. I plan to stay indoors this year.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Road trippin' with our dear leaders

Heading off in a couple of hours to the upper reaches of Michigan to spend the New Year's weekend away from the gloom of the city. While I'm looking forward to spending time with friends and family, I'm not necessarily looking forward to the eight-hour drive. Road trips just are not as fun as they used to be. They used to be about the journey--taking pictures from the car every time the terrain changed, making pit stops for Sun Chips, stopping for group photos in front of roadside attractions and weird town names. Now, it's about the destination. I want to get there as soon as possible.

Thinking about some of the places I've been to or heard of, I decided to investigate the favorite roadtrip destinations of some of our politicians. According to the research organization FACT, when the job stress gets to them, our leaders like to go off to fawaway places with friendly faces. Can you match each politician with his or her favorite town?

And sorry about the extra space before the table ... still trying to figure out the HTML codes, but not right now, I have to pack!

1. Mayor Richard Michael DaleyA. Embarrass, WI
2. Edward Vrdolyak, former aldermanB. Carefree, AZ
3. Alderman Burton NatarusC. Nimrod, AR
4. Jane Byrne, former mayorD. Dinosaur, CO
5. County Board Pres. John H. Stroger, Jr.E. Ballstown, IN
6. Gov. Rod BlagojevichF. Slickpoo, ID
7. George H. Ryan, former governorG. Goodbys, FL
8. U.S. Rep. John Dennis HastertH. Burning Bush, GA
9. Sen. Barack Hussein Obama, JrI. Deadman's Corner, ME
10. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Cubs fanJ. Suckerville, ME
11. Bill Clinton, former preseidentK. Hairtown, NC
12. President George W. BushL. Horneytown, NC

Made it onto a Chicago Tribune blog, sort of

Check out Eric Zorn's blog, Change of Subject, for Bloggapalooza, a compilation of Chicago bloggers' year-in-review posts. I was all excited that he listed my list--there I am, on the big EZ's site--until I clicked on my name and was directed to a Schadenfreude best-of-2005 list. Oh well, I'll take that as a compliment, I guess, and hope for better luck next time.

Hopefully he'll correct the error, and I'll get one or two extra hits today. In the meantime, as I see the best that local bloggers have to offer, I have to humbly congratulate myself for easily having the best serious, political blog in the entire state. While everyone else is screwing around, talking about any random thing that comes to mind, I am not afraid to tackle the important issues that face Midwest residents every day in a dry, well-reasoned manner. In the year to come, please be assured that I will never waste your time on some trivial little problem of my own; instead, you can count on The Daley Show to continue delivering hard-hitting commentary on the state of the state. Peace!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Resolution #1 for 2006: Eat more octopus balls

Why is it that when someone says, "Hey, let's have Japanese tonight," what they really mean is they want sushi? Japan has an amazing variety of food, much of which is actually cooked. One of my favorites is takoyaki, which translates roughly to octopus balls. Usually sold by vendors at festivals, octopus balls are a fun and delicious treat (check out one of my favorite blogs for more info). Alas, most Japanese restaurants in Chicago do not deal with grilled goodness. So, I had to go out and buy a special takoyaki pan and learn to make the darn things myself. One of my many billion-dollar ideas is to open up a little restaurant called "Octopus Balls, Etc." In addition to takoyaki, I'd sell other yaki favorites: okonomiyaki, sukiyaki, yakisoba, yakiniku and yakitori. Sound intriguing? Then I invite you to come over to my place and try my balls. I guarantee you'll leave satisfied.

Uh-oh ... They've figured out my blogging formula

It's a little after 5 a.m., and I can't sleep. I'm bothered by something I heard on the news last night that linked sarcasm to anger. I won't be able to fall back asleep until I figure out what the hell they were talking about. A google search results in a link to the Boston University Faculty & Staff Assistance Office, which brings us this quick true/false ANGER quiz:

  • I am often irritable and cranky. (True!)
  • I am on guard to keep others from taking advantage of me. (True! Gotta keep my eye on that sneaky Daily Kos guy.)
  • I have angry outbursts. (True!)
  • I have been neglecting previously enjoyable activities. (True! Can't remember the last time I shoveled snow.)
  • I frequently argue with family. (True! Well, only when I talk to them.)
  • I often feel stressed and pressured, or in a rush. (True! How many more damn questions?!)
  • I often feel unfairly treated or disrespected. (True! No love.)
  • I think a lot about how to retaliate when I have been criticized. (True! Still thinking about how to get back at the high school teacher that gave me a B- in creative writing. He might be dead, but I WILL find his grave.)
  • It's hard for me to wait in my car while students are crossing the street and not paying attention to traffic. (True! Especially handicapped kids.)
  • People avoid me at work or at home. (True! True!)
  • Sometimes I have been so angry I have wanted to hit someone. (True! Well, I've wanted to hit them with some rude remark. Hit 'em hard.)
  • When I am not fighting with my (partner, family member), I am fighting with someone at work. (True! Preferred form of fighting: Sumo ... wearing the fat suit.)
  • When someone cuts me off in traffic, I am enraged. (True! But I usually get even. At least in my mind.)

    If you answered true to 3 or more statements, you may benefit from talking to someone about learning to manage your anger blog.

    OK, I can go back to sleep now.

  • Wednesday, December 28, 2005

    The Daley Show's Year in Review: We're #1!

    You can run, governor, but you can't hide from another Best of 2005 list!
    As 2005 draws to a close, it's time to reflect on all the things we didn't accomplish this year and try to learn from our mistakes. In case your mistake was missing any of my posts, I'd like to present what I consider the five most important events from the past year that I documented here on The Daley Show. This is my way of re-gifting some of my favorite moments of 2005, like that one Chicago Bears hard hat I got from Uncle Stan. Feel free to turn around and pass it on to someone you love. They'll thank you for it.

    My criteria for picking the top five:
  • These stories had a major impact on Chicagoans or generated some comments.
  • They were reported by the New York Times (or another major news source like this blog).
  • Whenever people not from around here heard about these events, they scratched their heads and wondered, "Is Chicago really the third largest city in this country and not some backwoods village?"

    OK, I realize that I've only been blogging for just over a month, but I think I've churned out enough crap insightful information in that time to fill up today's entire issue of the Red Streak. And the way I see it, if I didn't blog about it, or take pictures of it, then it didn't really happen.

    Number 5: The mayor sings a new Christmas classic.
    In a year where he faced all sorts of corruption scandals and hints of former friends running against him in the next election, Mayor Daley rarely turned up to say anything intelligent or interesting. Perhaps his greatest moment came when he visited a hospital and sang to the children. I rewrote the lyrics.

    Number 4: Chicago passes a smoking ban, then raises the cigarette tax.
    Yup, this year, smokers really got it up their cigarette butts. I wondered how fair it was to first ban the habit, then expect smokers to pick up the tab whenever there's a budget shortfall. I also re-lived a recent trip to Ireland to let everyone know what Chicago bars might be like when the city goes smokefree.

    Number 3: Chicago leads an areawide Campaign for Quiet.
    An Andersonville bakery/coffee shop made national headlines by asking kids to keep it down. Then, Evanston banned the use of leaf blowers. Are we a city of grumpy old people?

    Number 2: Is it or isn't it OK to save your parking spot in winter?
    Surprisingly, many people don't like our little tradition of digging out our cars, then saving the spot with some piece of furniture. When the city announced that these random items would be picked up and tossed, I wondered why they still hadn't towed a bunch of cars parked on a designated snow route.

    Number 1: White Sox win the World Series. Oh yeah, I think I jumped on the bandwagon early enough to call myself a fan. Below, fans and friends in the nosebleeds celebrate another A.J. homerun during that 14-2 playoff victory over Boston. And, yeah, they're gonna be even better next year, no matter what Hillary Clinton prefers.

    Return to the The Daley Show home.

  • Old man tells birds to make like a tree, they leave

    With all the recent news coverage of Chicago banning pigeon racing and Oprah's private jet hitting a bird (Tribune's online headline: Oprah OK after jet hits bird), I've been on the lookout for birds, so this Associated Press story caught my eye: Mystery birdman chases off towns' unwanted flocks.

    There's this 83-year-old bird-control specialist that somehow, secretly gets rid of troublesome birds in central Illinois towns such as Decatur, Bloomington, Springfield, and Joliet. He won't say how, but he can get rid of starlings, crows, and blackbirds without using guns, weapons, traps, lights, sounds, or smells.

    What's his secret? I don't know, but I'm willing to bet it's magic. Or at least what we might refer to as magic these days.

    The birdman reminds me of a character in Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits. In that novel, Old Pedro is able to do with his form of magic what modern man cannot with the latest advances: First, after a gringo chemist with knowledge and "an arsenal of tools" fails, Old Pedro is able to shoo off a plague of ants by simply asking them to leave. Later, when the main character, Esteban Trueba, is crushed in the rubble of his house following an earthquake, Old Pedro fixes the patron's broken bones with prayer and a healing touch.

    Allende shows that modern man has lost a connection with nature that our ancestors had. Technology, science, and medicine may help us live longer, but we don't necessarily live better. When the birdman of central Illinois eventually retires or dies, his form of magic will most likely disappear with him, as Old Pedro's did. We'll be left to invent new devices, to build a better mousetrap (or bird trap or ant trap), and to wonder why we can't control or even understand nature.

    In search of trees that please

    Ever since I lived in Ravenswood during the great Asian long-horned beetle invasion, I've learned to treasure trees. You don't know what you've got until it's gone, and this certainly proved true when the city had to chop down thousands of trees because of that pesky little insect. Entire city blocks were suddenly made wide open, vacant, ugly.

    I've just decided to set off on a search for the Greatest Tree of Chicago. Don't know what the criteria for the winner will be, but somehow the tree has to inspire awe. Here are the first two contenders:

    Tree # 1 This monster of a tree lives, of all places, in the alley behind my building. Looking up every time I take out the trash, I see these branches reaching heavenward, grasping for something. Just look at the way it towers over the surrounding garages and utility poles. Simply spectacular.

    In the Japanese religion of Shinto, believers see God (or a god) in every person, animal, and other life form. People try not to knock down trees when building their homes and businesses, and very old trees get propped up so that they don't topple over. This tree proves to me the possibility of a god.

    Tree #2 I don't pretend to know anything at all about trees. (In fact, I don't pretend to know anything about anything, but that's never stopped me from having opinions.) So I don't know how many trees like this exist, or even what kind of tree this is, but this one really stands out on Bryn Mawr, next to the Lake Shore Drive on-ramp. Trees get all the press in the spring when they're budding and in the autumn for the changing of the colors, but I think there's something especially majestic about them in winter.

    In photography, it's important to walk around your subject to find the best angle. This tree has a totally different personality depending on where you stand. It's the same tree, it hasn't changed, so that means that you, the observer, are the one that has become a little bit different with each viewing. In the span of a single minute, I see something completely different. I am someone completely different.

    A few years back, I remember reading about a guy (or department?) in New York charged with counting every single tree in the city. I think that would be a pretty cool job, getting to personally know something about every single one of these living things.

    Hey, Toronto: Careful what you wish for

    According to the "Official Web Site of the City of Toronto," there were 26 TV shows and movies shot in that Canadian city between 2000 and 2004 that represented various Illinois cities, mostly Chicago. Included on that list are John Q, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Mean Girls, and, believe it or not, Chicago.

    Canada has long promoted its glistening city of 3 million as being as beautiful and diverse as Chicago, without the crime or union wages. "We may not be Chicago," the marketers have said, "but we play it on TV."

    In recent years, though, leaders of Canada's largest city are learning that they can't just pretend. The city "that prides itself as one of the safest in North America" is slowly but surely becoming Chicago, most notably in the category of crime statistics. The homicide total this year stands at 78, including 52 inflicted by a firearm.

    "You just don't expect it in a Canadian city,'' Toronto Mayor David Miller said in a Sun-Times story today. Believe it, David Miller. And here's what you can expect as your city moves towards Chicago-style statistics:

    As of Tuesday morning, there were 444 homicides in Chicago this year, compared to 443 last year at the same time. In all, there were 448 murders in 2004.

    Fewer than 500 murders in a year here is seen as positive: "My feeling is we are still doing an outstanding job,'' said Deputy Police Supt. Charles Williams in another Sun-Times story, comparing this year with last. "It was good strategies at work ... [and] extremely hard work."

    While people in Toronto see every murder as "appalling" and "a tragic loss," we here in Chicago can only say: Wait 'til next year. You eventually get numb to the pain.

    Image of Toronto borrowed from

    Tuesday, December 27, 2005

    Weather report: What's cookin'?

    OK, judging by the smoke billowing up from my neighbor's grill, the temperature must have been in the 40s today. You just have to love it when someone sees the sun and melting snow after a month of frigid weather and uses it as an occasion to fire up the old Weber. It sure did smell good.

    Tomorrow, look for slightly colder weather, possible rain, and only a 25 percent chance of grilled pork chops.

    Introducing Forbidden Chicago: An AntiGuide to the City

    One of my many billion-dollar ideas that I never did anything with was what I was going to call Forbidden Chicago: An AntiGuide to the City (or should I say the AndyGuide ...). The idea was this: There are plenty of sources that travelers can turn to for information on where to go and what to do. But there's nothing out there telling them what to avoid. Whenever I travel with a handy Lonely Planet or Rough Guide in hand, the best advice I get is when locals or fellow travelers say, "Oh, you don't want to go there. It's too touristy/ expensive/ boring/ crowded. Go here instead." Usually they're right. Forbidden Chicago (or FC for short) would be just that: A place where locals tell others what sucks and/or what isn't in the guidebooks. Anyway, like so many of my ideas, I never got this one off the ground.

    Well, I'm never saying never to one of my ideas again. If it makes sense in the moment of inspiration, I'm trying it and seeing what happens. That said, today's rather lengthy entry is my inaugural attempt at FC. You'll need a one-day CTA pass for this one ...

    FC1 Start: Western and Howard

    NOTE: You can click on any of the pictures to enlarge them.

    Today's journey begins on the border of Evanston, where Asbury turns into Western Avenue. Today's journey is Western Avenue, the longest street in Chicago. Besides the longest, it is also one of the widest, with the most traffic, and possibly the most annoying drivers in the city. Even though it cuts the entire city neatly in half, Western ...
    a. has terrible bus service.
    b. has unsynchronized traffic lights.
    c. is unfit for cycling.
    d. is terrifying to cross as a pedestrian, even at crosswalks.
    e. has some stretches where drivers do 60, others where it takes 10 minutes to go one block and get through one intersection.

    In other words, with its seven lanes and scores of fast food dumps and CVS pharmacies, more than any other street in Chicago, Western resembles a typical road in a typical gridlocked suburb where the car is king. In fact, the street used to be the western border of the city. As the city built up around it, Western kept its suburban identity.

    Now ... you might think I'm about to say you should steer clear of Western. You should, but then again, if you did, you'd miss many places that make this city great. So, screw your courage to the sticking point, put on your cross trainers and get ready to dodge speeding cars as we sprint across the road, and we'll not fail to have a good time.

    FC1 Western Ave. Stop 1: Indian Boundary

    Just a few blocks into our journey, we already need a break from the road rage and fumes of Western Avenue. Just south of Touhy and a block west of Western is one of the prettiest neighborhood parks in the city, Indian Boundary Park. No ball fields, just lots of grass and trees on 13 acres that make you forget you're in the big city.

    I'm not sure how many city parks have a zoo, but at Indian Boundary, you can see a cow, a goat, and some llamas hanging out in their caged spaces. Just don't get too close because they do spit. The park also has a beautiful little lagoon, a giant wooden playground, and loads of space for brave families to enjoy the winter.

    Sometimes I think I'm an idiot, other times I know I am one. Whenever I visit this park, I know what I am. I had a chance to buy a condo overlooking this park, but instead bought the one I've been at for the past five years. This could have been my backyard.

    FC1 Western Ave. Stop 2: Hello suburbia

    Question: Do we really need so many banks in this town? It seems that, with the recent influx of Washington Mutual and First Comme, there are now more banks than taverns in this city. Could this be why we've had a record number of bank robberies this year? Let's ask Margot, the matron of mortgages.

    Margot: Well, dear, don't you want to buy one of those cute new construction condos going up on major streets like Western? Well, then, you need to find a friendly neighborhood banker and get yourself a teeny weeny loan ... before the interest rates go up, you know!

    Question: Do we really need a Harley Davidson dealership in the city? This is Chicago, where it's impossible to ride a motorcycle four months a year. And why doesn't Illinois have a mandatory helmet law? Let's ask Stan, the Streets and Sans answer man.

    Stan: Shut the fuck up! You interrupted my break for this? Get outta here!

    FC1 Western Ave. Stop 3: Warren Park

    Hey, next time it snows, we don't have to drive all the way to the U.P. just to go sledding. I constantly have to remind myself and others of this because nobody ever remembers Warren Park. Located between Pratt and Devon, this is the largest park on the northside and includes a nine-hole golf course, an ice rink, batting cages, a skateboarding park, and during the summer, a carnival where invariably someone gets shot.

    I love dogs that fetch. This little guy would run after the Frisbee and bark until it came down--didn't try to catch it, just barked, and when it fell to the ground, he picked it and raced it back to the owner. Back and forth, back and forth, if it wasn't so damn cold, I'd sit and watch these two for a while longer. Oh, and many dogs don't fetch. I had one in college that was afraid of anything thrown in his direction.

    I took this picture to prove to a friend that squirrels don't hibernate. This little rat with a cute tail had a group of friends that came running up to me thinking I was going to feed them. I ran, but they got one of my shoes.

    FC1 Western Ave. Stop 4: Devon Avenue

    This is the neighborhood where Indians and Pakistanis live in peace and harmony, united by capitalism. Most ethnic neighborhoods are an adventure for the casual driver, but Devon is especially infuriating. Turn signals, traffic lanes, and red lights apparently are all optional. A Pakistani teenager once told me that he learned to drive here. "If you can drive here, you can drive anywhere," he said. Seems to me most of the people around here are still learning. Anyway, there are some nice restaurants near this intersection, and if you ever need a live chicken or other animal, you know where to go.

    I don't know if you can make it out, but on the side of the building in the background is the remnant of the sign for the Nortown Theater. I remember going there as a kid. The neighborhood seemed like a different world to me back then, scary, foreign, weird. Well, I guess it still does. Someone told me the Jewel of India restaurant was going to be torn down and turned into a theater showing Bollywood movies. That would be cool. Right now you have to drive to the suburbs to see a good flick from India. But looking at this corner, I wonder why they couldn't convert the Nortown back into a theater.

    FC1 Western Ave. Stop 6: Rosehill Cemetery

    Anytime I find myself thinking I'm the least bit important, I head over to Rosehill, the largest cemetery in Chicago. Thousands of Chicagoans are buried here, many of whom were important or rich enough to get elaborate tombs or even mosoleums built in their honor. As I wander around the 350-acre property, reading the names on all those gravestones, I realize that I don't recognize a single one. (Well, that's not entirely true: Oscar Mayer, Montgomery Ward, and Richard Sears are interred here, though I've never spotted their graves. Also a guy named Charles Gates Dawes, but I'm sure that name doesn't ring a bell.) Here today, gone tomorrow, I guess. If I ever end up at Rosehill, I hope it's for the cremation services.

    FC1 Western Ave. Stop 5: Peterson Avenue

    This is the first intersection in the city that got the cameras to take pictures of people running red lights. It's weird to see people actually hitting the brakes as the light turns yellow. In the background you can see one of the many car dealerships on Western. I thought of shooting every dealership on the street, but I didn't have the memory space or time to do it. Maybe that'll be a future Forbidden Chicago entry, trying to buy a car in the city.

    FC1 Western Ave. Stop 7: Korean Barbecue

    Just north of Foster, this is one of the better Korean barbecue restaurants in Chicago. It's open 24 hours, but my best memory is getting kicked out at 3 a.m. one time. "We closing," the waitress for some reason politely informed our meek and quiet group.

    FC1 Western Ave. Stop 8: Lincoln Square

    Why is there a statue of Abraham Lincoln in the middle of the city? And what could he possibly be looking at?

    Oh ... it's Lincoln Square, one of the cutest stretches of any major street in Chicago. If only the city did this to more neighborhoods: For about two blocks, Lincoln is turned into a one-way street that's impossible to drive fast on. It's very pedestrian-friendly, very European. Off in the background you might see the sign for the Davis theater, which was almost turned into condos five years ago. And on a clear day, past that, you can see the Sears Tower.

    This is another neighborhood I remember from my youth as being quite scary. Now it's scary only if you're afraid of getting run over by a Lexus SUV.

    FC1 Western Ave. Stop 9: Thai me up

    Another one of my billion-dollar ideas at one point in life was to create a magazine/website called A Perfect Plate of Pad Thai. Yeah, I was looking for pad thai that would rival what I once ate in Bangkok, but really it was meant to be a metaphor for my endless quest for perfection. I never did find the perfect plate, but Opart Thai House, right under the Western Avenue Brown Line stop, is one of the better cheap Thai places in town. Damn good pad thai, and they actually accommodate if you ask to make it spicy.

    From the L stop, incidentally, you can see four Thai restaurants. This, I think, proves the vitality of Lincoln Square.

    FC1 Western Ave. Stop 10: Circus performers

    I have no idea what this place is, but it has always intrigued me. I wonder if they have a clown school. Maybe one of these days I'll find out.

    FC1 Western Ave. Stop 11: Welles Park

    Another mile, another awesome park. This one has an indoor pool, a cool gazebo, and a horseshoe pit. I was done photographing some of these things, just getting in my car, when I saw a certain head of hair bouncing my way. I quickly turned on my camera and snapped this shot of the most famous neighborhood resident, Gov. Rod Blagojevich. His security guard on the bike gave me a dirty look as they went past.

    Just about everyone in the neighborhood has a story of almost running Blago over as he jogs through the streets.

    Note: Click on picture to slightly enlarge. Click here to return to The Daley Show homepage.


    FC1 Western Ave. Stop 12: Bowling and bikinis

    Park your car just about anywhere on Western Avenue and you'll find a photo opportunity. On the day after Christmas, it's easy to find parking and traffic isn't so bad, so this whole expedition was quite enjoyable. This, for example, might look like a Japanese pachinko parlor, but really it's a 24-hour bowling alley.

    Across the street is Crabbby Kim's, a bar where the bartenders wear bikinis. The only time I ever went in there, the bikini-clad woman was sitting in a corner taking a cigarette break. Other than that it was a typical neighborhood dive. Not really a turn on.

    FC1 Western Ave. Stop 13: Hero's

    Ah, Hero's, home of really really great subs. I should know, I attended the factory high school in the background, Lane Tech. Lane is bigger than most Illinois towns, with 5,000 hooligans attending and spilling out into the streets for lunch. I spent quite a bit of time and money at Hero's, and I'm happy that it's still there.

    Lane will always be there. And Lane graduates will always be a weird bunch, with a strong sense of pride. Two weeks ago at our work Christmas party, I was talking to my boss, who also graduated from Lane (20 years before I did), and, at one point, here's what we did: We sang the Lane Tech fight song. I don't ever remember trying to learn the darned thing, but there it is, taking up valuable memory space on my brain's hard drive.

    FC1 Western Ave. Stop 14: Viaduct

    This is one of the smartest things a city planner ever designed: a bridge over the Belmont/Clybourn intersection, so that through-traffic can keep moving. I don't understand why we don't have more of these. In Quito, Ecuador, two summers ago, I noticed most major roads have through-lanes, although they go underground. Quito also has better public transportation, with different bus companies actually competing for customers. At times it's annoying to have the guy at the door yelling to passersby, but then it gets cool when the drivers literally race other buses to get to the next curb opening.

    Anyway, just west of this intersection is the former home of Riverview Park, which at the time was the largest amusement park inside a city. If that had been around when I was in high school, I bet I would've spent a lot less money at Hero's and the arcade up the street.

    FC1 Western Ave. Stop 15: Don't believe the hype

    They might not be the best burritos in town. (Those might be at Garcia's up the road in Lincoln Square.) The chips and salsa are good, but there are better. But I'll tell you what. At 2 a.m., as you're heading home full of cheap beer and cigarette smoke, there's no place better than Arturo's. It's bright, it's loud, and everything tastes amazing ... at 2 a.m. A friend once ventured in during the daytime and he hasn't been the same since. Still, everyone has a place like this, I'm sure: You crave it when you're away, you suggest it when you're back from wherever, and you wonder what you were thinking the next morning.

    Kitty corner from Arturo's is another Chicago institution: Margie's Candies. Seriously, they serve the worst ice cream I've ever had, downright generic. And no, the historic ambiance doesn't make up for it.

    FC1 Western Ave. Stop 16: Andrzej Grill

    As you head further south, you leave the yuppies behind and find old school Chicago. Just north of Augusta, Andrzej Grill is a Polish survivor. Once you notice it, though, you start noticing a lot of Polish flags hanging in the neighborhood, as well as the Old Style Zimne Piwo signs.

    FC1 Western Ave. Stop 17: Empty Bottle

    And so we come to the end of today's tour. To be honest, I'm not sure I've ever been any further south on Western. But, really, this is the perfect place to stop, the Empty Bottle. This is the best music venue in the city. I thought so even when Lounge Axe was around. The Bottle is roomier but still tiny, and consistently books the best up-and-coming acts. I remember the Flaming Lips show when Wayne walked over to the piano (that isn't there anymore) and played an acoustic version of that one bug-in-the-ear song, and the whole place was dead quiet until everyone started singing along to the chorus. Right there is probably my favorite music moment, which is why the Empty Bottle will remain my favorite. I don't really recognize most of the acts there these days, but that's OK. I can leave the Bottle to the younger, hipper people, and I'll join the oldsters at Schuba's.

    Monday, December 26, 2005

    Happy Holidays Cocktail Shrimp

    Wonder if they just don't know how to spell the Jewish holiday ...

    One-track mind

    Here's another "Awwwwwwww, poor you!" post for all you haters.

    Got up early, as always, and left my insignificant mark on the Chicago blogging world with two more attempts at brilliance and humor that will forever go unnoticed because very few people read this blog, even fewer during the holidays. No matter, one of these days I'll show all of you and go laughing all the way to the insane asylum.

    Usually I have a morning deadline. I get up early and have to write quickly before heading off to work. (This is my excuse for the shoddy writing.) Not today. With no need to worry about going to work for the next two weeks, I have no deadline, which means I get to sit around and feel sorry for myself before posting (and giving adp something to comment about). After posting, it was still dark and dreary out, so I decided to crash out for an hour or two. Ah ... winter vacation! Being able to go to sleep and wake up any damn time I feel like. (This is where I hope the three or four people who read this today will start feeling sorry for themselves. Ha.)

    Anyway, anyway, I just woke up a couple of minutes ago on the couch in my living room. As I opened my eyes, I actually thought my computer was glowing, and my first thought was, "Crap! It turned itself on. I need to post something!" Then I rolled over and realized it wasn't the computer but daylight that was streaming into the room. Oh, it's not the sunshine Tom Skilling promised. But it is a new day, time to head off and discover what's what in this (insert adjective of your choice) city.

    Tear down the home and build the dome

    Located at 3536 S Lowe Ave, just three blocks west of Comiskey Park, the former Richard J. Daley home is the ideal location for the mayor's proposed domed stadium. The new stadium would be used to enhance a bid for the 2016 Olympics as well as the home of a second Chicago NFL team. Daley, a big fan of the White Sox and not a huge fan of the Bears, could build the complex here to help revitalize the Bridgeport neighborhood where he grew up.

    Image borrowed from

    The Pole's Poll #3: The day after ...

    Did you get everything you wanted for Christmas?
    Oh yeah! Lots of items that will remain unopened, ready for re-gifting all year long.
    Sure! I now officially have more Sharper Image products than places to hide them.
    Sort of. Finally scored with that hottie from work, but woke up with a rash.
    Well, if Jewel allows me to exchange this fresh fruit basket for kitty litter, I’ll be good.
    Nope. Like George Bush, still searching for world peace … and WMDs.
    It doesn’t matter. The White Sox gave me everything I wanted this year.


    Free polls from

    Sunday, December 25, 2005

    Who can I blame in the Southwest crash?

    So far, three passengers are suing Southwest Airlines and the city over the Dec. 8 flight that overshot the runway at Midway Airport. The suits are all pretty much the same, contending Southwest was negligent in failing to properly assess the runway conditions and failing to divert to another airport, and alleging the city was negligent in running the airport.

    These passengers say they suffered physical injuries as well as fear and emotional distress as a result.

    I think it's time I found myself a good lawyer. Being someone who has always wanted to experience a thrilling but non-fatal plane crash, I am filled with jealousy. These passengers have a once-in-a-billion story, and they want money? Fifty years from now, I just know I'll be at some nursing home bingo event, with nothing to talk about, and the guy next to me will be wowing all the ladies: "Remember that time the plane skidded off the runway at Midway and had a traffic accident? Yup, I was on that plane." I am also distressed that the airlines will take corrective measures and never again attempt a landing on a short runway during a snowstorm, which means I'll never experience the thrill of crashing through a barrier and onto a city street. Honestly, every time I'm on a flight, I hope something exciting happens, that I get a good story in addition to the packet of pretzels. Let's face it, like most flights, life is pretty darned boring. You take off full of hopes and ambition, but when you finally arrive at your destination nothing really has changed.

    Here's my best plane story so far: In Poland a couple of years back, I was on a short flight from Warsaw to Katowice. After a lengthy delay at the airport, we finally took off. Ten minutes later, the pilot announced that due to some problem, we'd be returning to Warsaw. Two hours later, we took off again and made it to Katowice without incident. It was a twenty-minute flight.

    See? It's got a little irony, but my story doesn't measure up. That guy in the nursing home will bag all the babes with his story and I'll go bed with a bag of pretzels. This is why I've decided that if those passengers win anything, I'm suing them for past and future jealousy and because I have already suffered so much emotional distress.

    By the way, how bad does it suck to be Southwest right now? This is the first time the airline has had a fatal crash, and the only person to die wasn't even a paying customer. And, yeah, it sucks for the family of the six-year-old victim, who becomes another statistic that proves driving is more dangerous than flying.

    And finally, if you believe in God and fate and all that, this situation had karma written all over it, but failed to deliver. Wouldn't it have been so cool if the only person killed in the crash had been a robber fleeing the scene of the record-setting 216th Chicago bank heist this year? Or a crooked city official? Or the quarterback from the hated rival that just humiliated your team? But no, it was some innocent little kid. If I were his parents, I'd sue those passengers: If they hadn't bought those tickets, Southwest would never have flown, so really it's their fault.

    Image borrowed from

    Merry Christmas Crab Legs

    I couldn't have said it better myself ...

    Saturday, December 24, 2005

    Mission Accomplished

    Thank you. Thank you all very much.

    Admiral Kelly, Captain Card, friends and family, my fellow Americans, major shopping operations have ended. In the battle of Christmas, the United States and, more importantly, I have prevailed.

    And now I am engaged in securing and wrapping the presents.

    In this battle, we have fought for the cause of bargains and for peace at home. Our nation and our coalition are proud of this accomplishment, yet it is you, the consumers of the United States, who achieved it. Your courage, your willingness to face danger in the mall parking lots made this day possible.

    Operation Buy the Presents was carried out with a combination of precision and speed and boldness the enemy, Father Time, did not expect and the world had not seen before ...

    Now someone give me goddamned beer.

    Christmas Eve confession

    Forgive me, father, for I have sinned. It has been 17 years, 13 months, 32 days, and 28 hours since my last confession.

    My sins: In eight hours, I'm expected at my parents' place for Christmas Eve dinner, but I still haven't bought any presents. I don't know, I'm just not in the mood to buy presents. I did go to the malls twice this week, they weren't even all that crowded, but I just couldn't do it. Consumerism isn't in me. That holiday connection has eluded me. So, can I be forgiven for single-handedly allowing the American economy to flounder? George Bush once said that I can do my part in the War on Terror by shopping 'til I drop dead for this country. This was before he asked all those soldiers to go to Iraq and drop dead.

    Furthermore, I haven't sent out a single Christmas card this year. Oh, I wanted to, I planned to, I even promised to send some out. But I didn't. Can I maybe send out New Year's cards instead? I have all these 37-cent stamps that'll be worthless in a couple of days. I don't use them anymore now that I on-line pay all my bills.

    Why haven't I sent cards? Well, I seem a little stumped. Along with holiday greetings, all my friends are sending pictures of their babies these days. Yeah, so I've received all these pictures of pure happiness, other people's happiness, while I have very little to share with them. What am I supposed to do, take a picture of my computer and send that? I probably spend as much time on this damn thing as they do with their little ones. So, yeah, it's been that kind of year. Another one of those kinds of years.

    Can I be forgiven for turning into a grumpy old man? A grinch? Oh, another thing, father. If there's another thing, another sin, but I don't want to say it out loud, will I still be forgiven? That's not the way it works, is it? Oh well, maybe I'll come clean next year ...

    Stupid Foreigner, part 3: Got a job in Japan

    Only the loyalist, loneliest readers will be online today. If you are one of those souls, here's a Christmas gift from me to you: Another extra-long, recycled Stupid Foreigner piece from my time in Japan. A continuation of last week's entry on jobs in Japan, this one is from September 13, 1998. Enjoy. And save some egg nog for me.

    Whew ... I'm tired.

    I've just finished another long and busy and stressful week on the job. I occasionally receive very brief email messages from some of you saying you can't write more because you're too busy busting your asses at work or school. Which is fine, but maybe you don't appreciate how hard I work here in Japan. And how difficult it is to churn out page after page of senseless dribble every week. But I do it.

    Some of you may be wondering just what my job is. What exactly have I been doing this past year here in Japan? Well, since you asked, I'll tell you. My job, if I can summarize it in a few words, is to speak English.

    Yup. That's what I do, day in and day out. At least that was the most important requirement I had to fill before getting hired as an ENGLISH CONVERSATION TEACHER. I passed the test -- I'm a native English speaker (although that point may be debatable) -- and I was hired. Now, I show up to work for my eight hours a day, five days a week, and speak English to Japanese people of all ages and sexes.

    What's so difficult about that? I'm not really sure, but when I listen to so many of my Nova Intercultural Institute co-workers whining about the injustices they suffer at the hands of their employers and the difficulties they face in speaking to students and having the students talk back, I realize this must be a really difficult job. And believe me, a lot of my fellow "conversation teachers" find the time to complain. They complain if a student is added to their lesson at the last moment. They complain if one of their students is too shy to speak during a lesson (can you imagine, a shy Japanese person?). And they complain if the accommodation their company set them up with doesn't include a bed but rather a futon.

    Teachers, as a whole, are respected in Japan. (Just don't say that to the four or five junior high school teachers that have been stabbed to death by students this past year.) Students usually don't second-guess a teacher's ability or intentions. Call it trust if you want; I'll call it being gullible. What most students don't realize is that many of their English conversation teachers have no knowledge of teaching (some don't even speak English very well) and their only interest in Japanese culture is the currency they can take back home with them. Well, that, and the young ladies they can take back to the love hotel. To illustrate these points, I can tell you that in one year in Japan, I've met only three "teachers" with teaching credentials in their home countries. And now that the yen isn't as strong as it used to be, conversation schools are faced with a shortage of teachers. Yes, many of my colleagues are basically bums -- too lazy and talentless to find a job in their country, or just out of college and wanting to explore the world a little before getting a real job, or married to a Japanese girl and in need of a paycheck to hand over to her every month. Of course, there are some really good and talented teachers over here too, and if anyone I know in Japan is reading this, this is referring especially to you.

    But, this is supposed to be a little humorous, so I'll stop bitching now (maybe I just needed to vent after such a long and difficult work week). So, let me get back to my original point and present you with other "People Who Would Be Unemployed in the USA."

    I remember during my first week in Japan I was walking home one hot afternoon, hungover and tired. Besides having no names, Japanese streets have this remarkable quality of looking the same. So I was a little lost, a little confused. All of a sudden, I was thrown into a total panic. What sounded like an air-raid siren went off somewhere in the immediate vicinity. This was followed by a booming voice, calmly saying something that bounced off the surrounding hills and was totally incomprehensible to me. I listened for any words I might recognize, like "earthquake" or "tidal wave" or "take cover because North Korea is shooting long-range missiles at us" or something like that. Of course I couldn't understand a word of it, so I looked around to see how the locals were taking the news, fully prepared to follow them into the nearest bomb shelter. The thing about it was that nobody reacted to the voice. In fact, no one even appeared to be listening. So, I eventually made it home, sweating and wondering what the hell had just happened. Maybe this was the way Japan delivered the news to its people. Maybe it was just a test.

    Months passed and I heard the Big Brother voice from time to time but was never able to figure it out, and no fellow foreigner was able to understand it either. Finally, one day I was with a Japanese person when the alarm went off. "What's that?" I asked. "Oh, it's difficult to explain in English," was the reply (basically, this is the reply I get to most of my questions). "Try to explain," I insisted, trying not to sound afraid. Well, after a few minutes of searching for words, my Japanese friend was able to tell me that the message was about a lost old person.

    Apparently, Japanese cities use their mega-loud public address systems as a lost-and-found service. If your 101-year-old grandmother wanders off on her bicycle for more than 30 minutes, you report her missing and the giant voice describes what she was wearing and the name she answers to. If lost old people seems like a minor problem (as I first thought), you should realize that Japan now has more than 10,000 people 100 years old or older. That equals a lot of announcements.

    Japan, I think, has an affinity for loud voices. Because everywhere you go, you hear giant bullhorns put to use at top volume. There are the people who help locate missing grandparents, there are the loud ones at train stations, and there are giant vans from various political parties that boom out their latest plan on how to get out of the economic slump (one plan is to build bridges over rivers where there aren't even any roads). Perhaps the most annoying shouters are the ones found at supermarkets.

    If you think listening to Muzak is a pain, you should try shopping with people yelling at you. In some supermarkets, there are people who stand by the fish section and blast you with information on just how fresh the fish is, or how 50 yen per miligram is a good price. I'm not sure if it's a good price or not, because I can never figure out the metric system, but I am sure that these people scare the hell out of me. The selection of "food" in the fish department also scares me, but that's another story. I will tell you that I'll never consider a fish head a delicacy, no matter what the man with the bullhorn says.

    Supposedly Japanese people are clean. They talk about their nightly baths as if they were the only ones in the world to know what a bathtub is for. They invent machines to keep them squeaky clean, like the toilet that squirts water up their bums. And when you go to a restaurant or bar in this country, you are handed a towel (hot in the winter, cool in the summer) to wipe the germs off your grimy hands.

    But for some unexplained reason, Japanese people fall short in some cleanliness departments. First of all, those same restaurants and bars that give you a hot towel don't offer napkins to wipe off the natto from your chin. They also don't provide paper towels in their rest rooms (nor do those rooms have hot water). And when you are trying to figure out just what is in the little bowl the waiter dropped in front of you, you hear people all around you sniffling away because in Japan it's considered IMPOLITE to blow your nose.

    So, are the Japanese really clean people? Well, maybe, depending on your definition. But apparently to make up for the lack of napkins and paper towels, there is no shortage of pocket tissues. Wherever you go, you are confronted by people handing out little packets of tissues. "Good afternoon!" they happily chirp, give you a slight bow, and hand you a packet, or two if you're lucky. "Thank you very much!" they yell after you as you keep on walking, trying to find an empty pocket for your sixth packet of tissues in the last 20 minutes.

    The people distributing the tissues are usually very well dressed, much better than I am, even though I'm considered a respected professional. And they seem very happy to be standing on a street corner, or at the entrance to the train station, passing out pocket tissues. The tissues, in fact, are advertisements for various businesses, like phone sex lines or restaurants. (To be used for masturbation purposes or in place of napkins maybe?) But I can't read Japanese so it's a wasted effort on me.

    And I can't honestly say what Japanese people do with all the tissues. Not to blow their noses, but they do use them. One day I brought in five packets to work, and left them out for everyone's use. That day, I was the only teacher there, and there were two Japanese staff members. At the end of the day, I hadn't used one tissue, but all five packets were gone, and the empty packets were in the trash. I didn't ask the staff members if they had called the phone numbers on the packets.

    Well, those are some people who would be unemployed in America. Of course I'm included on the list, which is precisely why I'm writing to you from Japan. Briefly, I'll tell you about a few more unnecessary jobs:

    A Japanese rival of McDonald's hires people to holler "Good afternoon!" to you when you walk in the door. And when you leave, they rush to take the tray from your hands, so you wouldn't have to empty it into the trash can.

    Japan maybe has three self-service gas stations. All the other places employ at least six people to work at a time to fill your tank, wipe your windows and just stand around bowing. When you're set to go, one of them runs out into the street to stop traffic and lets you know when to go. The whole time screaming loudly.

    I'm sure I'll write about this at great length sometime. There are tons of hostess bars in every city that hire beautiful women to sit with men and pour drinks for them. These places cost at least $50 an hour, and are extremely popular. At some of these places, the women dress in various costumes, like the ever popular "school girl uniform."

    Well, that's it for this week. I gotta go because someone is shouting in my general direction. Maybe it's closing time. Or maybe she's just angry because I used one of those pocket tissues to blow my nose.

    Friday, December 23, 2005

    Ice, ice baby: Ask Stan, Da Streets and Sans Answer Man

    Q. With two short shopping days before Christmas, Michigan Avenue retailers are freaking out that shoppers will stay away because two women were hit by falling ice yesterday. Suburbanites, meanwhile, are wondering about the seasonal "Caution: Falling Ice" signs that are out again. What are we supposed to do with that information, they wonder, walk down the middle of the street and risk getting hit by a bike messenger? And what are the chances we'll get hit?

    A. Chances are greater that you'll get shot in da head by a stray bullet walkin' to da Jewels on New Year's. Does dat mean yer gonna stop lookin' for a cheap new-construction condo in da newest gentrifyin' area? Hell no! What yer gonna do is buy this here official Chicago hard hat and walk safely and proudly down any street in this fine city. C'mon, it ain't gonna be embarrassing or nothin'. It's just a precaution, like all them Chinese wearing little face masks during da SARS epidemic.

    Who will step up now that the Red Streak is gone?

    Today's the first day of the rest of your life. Unless, of course, if you were a Red Streak columnist, since you're out of a job today and you might as well commit suicide because nobody else in their right mind will ever hire you. Much has been made of the demise of the Sun-Times' version of the Red Eye, which is the Tribune's version of a fresh piece of dog shit on your front lawn that you accidentally step on as you walk to your car, with the smell lingering for the rest of the day wherever you go.

    To be quite honest, though, I don't mind the Red papers all that much. I actually like seeing people read, and I don't really care what they're reading. This probably has something to do with my day job, which is Professional Letter Designer. That's right, a group of highly trained English majors and I sit around an office all day and try to create the 27th letter in the English alphabet. It's not easy, and I'm not allowed to give you information on our status, but it is important to us that people keep reading, even if that reading material consists mostly of celebrity anecdotes and cleavage shots.

    While the Red Streak will be missed, there's always someone new to step up and capture the imagination and advertising money of the Chicago market. Go to any bar in any hipster neighborhood and you'll see plenty of free newspapers and magazines by the door. It was always my intention to start one of these newspapers, but I've always chickened out, mostly because I can't imagine anyone paying to advertise in a magazine written by me.

    To see how it's done, though, I turn to the "inaugural issue!" of the newest contender in the who-can-make-the-biggest-pile-of-trash-at-the-doorway wars: The Real Chicago. I picked up Volume 1, Issue 1 yesterday and read with interest the publisher's comments. "Trust me, it'll be different than the other periodicals out there," he writes. "For starters, it will be a publication that you'll actually want to read for its content instead of just flipping through ..."

    I'm curious, so I flip through the magazine that promises to uncover "the pulse of the city that so few of us really know very much about." Page 6 is devoted to the bar of the month. This month's bar? Kincade's, a Kansas frat boy hangout on Armitage with 45 plasma TVs. I learn that the Kincade's experience goes like this: "Never a shortage of waitresses, it seems, and they visit your table often."

    I'm impressed, and of course I wonder just who would advertise in a cutting-edge periodical such as this. Well, don't know how I missed this in my initial flip-through, but the full-page ad on page 2 is for none other than Kincade's. Wow, I guess I have a lot to learn about the real Chicago.

    Unprepared for the ACT

    Hats off to Chicagoist for busting the Chicago Pubic Schools ACT perparators for using Comic Sans font on test-prep materials. If I could eliminate one invention from the past 50 years, I'd get rid of that font. Yuck.

    Thursday, December 22, 2005

    Beer me, Chicago St. Louis!

    Last summer, while traveling around western Canada, I discovered yet another reason why Chicago is so much lamer than just about anywhere else. I made the discovery at the bar of the hostel I was staying at in Victoria, BC.

    "Do you have anything local?" I asked the bartender, pointing at three taps with unrecognizable labels.

    "All three of these are local," he replied. "Here, try this one." He poured me a pint and told me one of his favorite beer stories. The tiny microbrewery (name unimportant because I forgot it) was started a few years back by two friends with a passion for making beer and two credit cards. They maxed out the credit cards on equipment and ingredients, brewed some pretty darn good beer, and today sell enough to make a decent living. The other two beers at that bar had similar stories--small local companies distributing their craft beers to the regional market.

    This is what separates Chicago from the rest of the world. While just about every place I visit has several local beers doing decent business, we have very few microbreweries. And now, with Anheuser-Busch possibly looking into buying an ownership stake in Goose Island, it looks like we'll have zero true Chicago-based regional beers. Correct me if I'm wrong here, but I can't think of a single Chicago beer brand other than Goose Island that's sold at Osco or my corner liquor store, but there are plenty from California, Michigan, and the East Coast. Why is it that Chicagoans identify themselves with Miller or Budweiser products, and sometimes jokingly with Old Style?

    What we need is an entrepreneur with a dream and a credit card, someone willing to risk years of debt to pump out some quality beer. And what that brewer will need is customer support for a local product. Is that possible?

    I say of course it's possible, but what we really need is a good brand name. I've never loved the name Goose Island (because even though I get the reference, it still doesn't sound like Chicago to me). I've never been a huge fan of Honkers either, even though I do love their current seasonal beer, the dark and creamy Christmas ale. Anyway, I promise to love the beer if the company uses one of these names:

    * Big Shoulders/Big Bellies Beer

    * The Slats Grobnik Beer Company

    * Gentrified Neighborhood Beer

    * Reversed River Brewery

    * Patronage Special

    OK, maybe this is why I don't work in marketing, but can you do better?

    He should have known better

    CHICAGO (ap) A businessman from Massachusetts whose body was pulled from the Chicago River after he vanished two weeks earlier had drowned, authorities said Wednesday.

    "Obviously, this guy wasn't from around here," a police spokesperson said. "Chicagoans wouldn't be caught dead swimming in that river even in the summer."

    Today's pick to click: Test your Chicago smarts

    Crain's Chicago Business has a very funny end-of-2005 news quiz, which starts with this introduction: Every year has its heroes and its scoundrels — especially in Chicago, a town that drinks to them both. This is our chance (and yours) to poke a little fun at those who've stolen our money, violated our trust and made us proud. Each answer is worth one point. We'll leave the scoring up to you.

    I love it! Plus, I'm quite jealous of how witty the writer is and upset that it turns out that I really don't know all that much about Chicago (yes, I totally failed). The only problem I have with the quiz is that they leave the scoring up to the reader. Isn't that what my computer's for?

    Wednesday, December 21, 2005

    Ice cold milk and a zero-trans fat Oreo cookie ...

    The moment that health nuts everywhere have been waiting for will have to wait. Kraft Foods Inc. has declared that the healthier, zero trans fats Oreo will not be on store shelves just yet. First, we have to buy up the existing stocks of Oreos.

    The new U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulation, which is supposed to force foodmakers to list the amount of trans fat on food labels, goes into effect Jan. 1 but allows for the delay, according to the Chicago Tribune.

    "It's hard to say exactly when a zero trans Oreo will be in all stores," said David Tovar, Kraft's director of corporate affairs. "I can't tell you when Chicago stores will get a zero trans fat Oreo."

    In April 2004, Kraft unveiled a new, improved Reduced Fat Oreo, as well as new Golden Oreo Original and Golden Uh-Oh Oreo, all with zero grams of trans fat. But it continues to struggle with producing a new version of its mainstay Oreo cookie.

    In future years, the Northfield-based company will unveil more varieties for those of us looking for nutrition and wholesome goodness from "the world's favorite cookie" line: The Vitamin B12 Oreo, the Golden Shower Oreo, the Uh-Oh SpaghettiO Oreo, and the Extra Strength Tylenol Oreo are all in the works.

    I, for one, can't wait for all these new Oreos. I'll buy up bags and bags of them and almost immediately see the results: slimmer waistline, cleaner arteries, and whiter teeth. I'll be able to quit my gym membership. My workout will consist of curling cookies towards my mouth and running to the bathroom to vomit.

    Overheard cell phone conversations on the subway

    For the past several days, ever since the CTA announced that it has signed a multimillion dollar contract to bring cell phone service into the subway system, I've been trying to think of something funny to write about that decision. In my mind, the joke goes something like this: I'm on the Red Line heading south, having just left the Fullerton stop. As we descend into the tunnel, the guy sitting next to me continues his cell phone conversation. This person is super-pleased because now that there's service underground, the conversation can continue uninterrupted. However, here's where it's supposed to start getting funny: as soon as we go underground, he can't hear anything at all because the train is so damn loud. The planned punchline is this: What would this guy be shouting into the phone during the stretches between stops while the train is rumbling along?

    I've posed this question to several people, but the results are never funny. (The best response came from H2O, who suggested the guy next to me says quite loudly and clearly into his phone: "Detonate.") Still, the set-up is pretty good, I think. It's a commentary on the absurdity of providing a service that isn't really necessary, that will only serve to annoy everyone involved, from the people trying to hold the conversation to all the passengers being forced to listen to some guy yelling into his phone.

    I pondered this attempt at humor last night on the L, returning from the MCA where I had just seen a not-so-funny comedy event. Most of the jokes at the event, I felt, mirrored my own attempts at writing humor: Good situational set-up, but lame (or non-existent) punchline. As I pondered, I watched a couple in front of me. They were sitting in the face-to-face seats near the doors, across the aisle from each other. Instead of talking, or even communicating intelligently in some other manner, they spent the time making faces at each other: little smirks, rolls of the eyes, scrunching up of faces, that kind of stuff. I couldn't help but think: This is my least favorite part of a relationship ... when you are so bored and have so little to say to the other person that you end up saying nothing at all; instead, you while away the days pretending that you're sharing private little jokes. Then again, maybe they didn't feel comfortable speaking in public. Maybe they were just enjoying each other's company by trying to be goofy. Maybe they were deaf. I don't know about any of that, but these two spent a good 10 minutes facing each other without a single attempt at human communication.

    Another possibility is that these two have figured out what the CTA hasn't: That talking on the L is impossible. Even if they had been sitting side-by-side, trying to whisper sweet nothings into each other's ears, they wouldn't be able to hear. Even as the train rose up out of the tunnel, the clanging and screeching and grinding would require shouted I love you's and You make the goofiest of faces, my love's. This, in turn, made me wonder about those old, old L cars that had no air conditioning, but rather windows that opened. My first memory of the L, in fact, is sitting near an open window, watching sparks flash in the darkness of the tunnel, feeling the wind rush past my face, smelling that underground smell, and covering my ears from all that racket.

    Like so many other things in life, like so many forgotten or unheard conversations, those days are long gone.

    Winter memories: Back when I was a kid ...

    Growing up, winter was never my favorite time of year. First of all, there was always the school thing: summer equaled no school, winter equaled school. Add 'em together and you get: winter, yuck. Then, the darkness thing: summer meant sunshine 'til 8, winter meant sunset at 4. Again, winter, yuck.

    Although winter is the big loser in my memories, there are a few things I remember that made it an interesting and fun season. It was always possible to find a few friends to bundle up and cause some trouble--rain, snow, or darkness notwithstanding. Today I present to you some winter activities of my youth. None are all that special, I don't think, but I rarely see kids doing these things nowadays. In fact, as I walk around in the frigid Rogers Park air, I wonder, where are all the young people of Chicago? Do I live in a neighborhood of no children? And what would I, a supposedly responsible adult, think if I saw kids doing any of the following in the freshly fallen snow?

    Skitching: Technically, this is when a skateboarder grabs onto a moving vehicle and gets pulled. My friends and I used to skitch in winter by grabbing onto bumpers and getting pulled through the snowy streets without a skateboard, just our feet. We figured the drivers were so busy trying not to crash that they didn't even notice us. It's a wonder no one ever jumped out and shot us or even yelled at us, but maybe cars and people were different then. Still, I lost quite a few gloves on those chrome bumpers.

    Tackle football: It was never a big deal to find eight, ten, twelve guys and head over to a park for an afternoon of face-numbing, bone-chilling games. No one ever really got hurt, although a few times someone would paint the park red with a bloody nose. At some point after we started discovering girls, we'd invite them to play. I remember one time all my friends laughed because a particularly attractive female friend managed to tackle me. I now say what I never got a chance to say because you idiots were laughing so hard: I let her take me down!

    Ice rinks on basketball courts: We'd hang out at this small park across the alley from the house, and we got to know the park employees. Every winter we'd convince them to hose down the outdoor court to turn it into a miniature ice rink. That's where I learned to fall.

    Riding the L: The CTA used to have this thing called the Supertransfer, good all day on Sundays. Starting when I was 8 or 9, my friends and I would spend entire Sundays (of course after church, mom) riding around the city, exploring new and dangerous neighborhoods.

    Was I a hoodlum growing up? I didn't think so at the time. And that time wasn't really all that long ago. So, why do I feel like some old man reminiscing about the past?

    Tuesday, December 20, 2005

    Today's pick to click: The Literary Gangs of Chicago

    If you're downtown tonight at, say, 6:30, check out the Literary Gangs of Chicago at the MCA, featuring one of my favorites, Schadenfreude. If you have time, listen to some of their shows that appeared on WBEZ. The link to the archives is at left (scroll down). Also appearing will be Chicago Tribune columnist and blogger Eric Zorn and some other writers. Present in the audience will be a certain unnamed blogger looking for something or someone to make fun of.

    Color me unimpressed: GOP for governor

    Let's face it: The Illinois governor's mansion attracts some interesting, shady characters. From corruption scandals to gay-sex allegations, recent governors have given us plenty to talk about, little to think about, and even less to be proud of.

    The Daily Herald gives us a nice breakdown of the Republican candidates seeking to unseat Rod Blagojevich. I'll let you read the proper article and decide for yourself, but I am unimpressed with the field. You'd think the party could do better, especially knowing that Blago is not exactly Mr. Popularity right now.

    I've decided to rank the candidates in terms of entertainment value. If victorious, which Republican candidate will give us the most to laugh about in the coming years?

    NUMBER 1: Judy Baar Topinka

    Topinka and running mate DuPage County State's Atty. Joe Birkett will grab most of the headlines because of their name recognition and front-runner status. I put her at the top because she plays the accordian and she has this southwest suburb way of speaking. She's a fast-talker, feisty, and sounds like she's just smoked a carton of Marlboros. Plus, do you know how many (few) states have female governors right now? Six. This fact, I'm sure, will get Topinka some votes.

    NUMBER 2: Jim Oberweis

    Oberweis, no friend of illegal immigrants, entertained us with commercials of stadiums full of people who want to work at his ice cream parlors when he ran for the U.S. Senate seat last year. He's known for saying weird, random things, raising his entertainment quotient to near-Topinka levels. He might be running with a woman, Kathy Salvi (R-Mundelein), although it's hard to get facts on politicians on local news websites.

    NUMBER 3: Ron Gidwitz

    I think Giddy, as he's known in some circles, began running anti-Blagojevich ads three years ago. The commercials were positive and upbeat, except that they totally slammed Blago. Still, despite the money he's already spent, no one really knows much about him, except that he's not a career politician, unlike his running mate State Senator Steve Rauschenberger (R-Elgin). (NOTE: I think that's Giddy in the fur hat, but who knows, I stole the picture off some random blog.)

    NUMBER 4: Bill Brady

    I couldn't find an interesting photo of the guy anywhere. This can only mean one thing: He's hiding something, somewhere.