Street Smart Chicago

Daunting Bird Day: Heartsick for the Holidays

Essays & Commentary, Holidays No Comments »
The Answer?

The Answer?/Photo: Keith Allison

By John Wilmes

It’s snowing in Chicago, our first one this year. The air is gray, the trees are wet and white and their limbs are flowing. I’m at home in the afternoon, flopping on a futon—heartsick, “writer,” bored, lazy, “existentialist”—watching entire NBA games from 2001, on YouTube. Perhaps there are better uses of time.

I’d been using most of my time the past few weeks to do excessive counts of vain push-ups, of vain pull-ups, and to miscalculate strategies to reign supreme in the abyss of online dating.

I’d be one of the Midwest’s premier cyber egotists, splaying the various limbs of my social-sexual “game” to maximum shine. I’d carry my bold new chest to O’Hare on the week of Thanksgiving, and breed curiosity in the flying hearts of America’s urbane not-so-youth. Their taut bodies would shiver, their pearls of eyes would blink ceaselessly as they buckled in for the clouds.

My father’s brother, a genuine turd king, would lean in respect toward me over the turkey. I’d hold a leg of the bird in each hand, and clobber him with either if he spoke out of turn. Read the rest of this entry »

Deck the Hell: Why Ornament?

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ornamentBy Dana Norris

My family owns way too many goddamn Christmas ornaments and every year my mother buys more. She goes to Hallmark, walks up and down every aisle, peers at the delicate dangling sculptures, and picks one ornament for each of her three children that is supposed to represent our accomplishments for that year. Let’s see—Ben’s breaking his lease, so Santa Claus playing a saxophone?  A snowman swimming in a mug of hot chocolate and, improbably, not melting? The SS Enterprise with a wreath on it?

When I was twelve years old, my mother gave me an ornament of two mice in red pajamas and striped hats, sitting by a fire, stringing comically large popcorn onto a comically large needle and thread. She got me this ornament because I had a best friend. But as we children aged the tradition continued. What does a twenty-two-year-old accomplish in a year that can be expressed in ornament form? Hallmark doesn’t make a “You left your purse at the bar and went to a house party but that one hot guy from the bar was at the house party too and he brought you your purse and then you made out with him” ornament. Read the rest of this entry »

Bad Santa: An Unforgettable Employment Claus

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Santa

Our author in his disguise

By Eric Lutz

A couple years ago, I took a job working with kids to supplement my lavish freelance income. When I applied, I was under the impression my duties would be to provide after-school homework help to elementary age kids. But what it actually consisted of was playing basketball with a bunch of eight-year-olds and teaching them the importance of not hitting each other in the face with their hats. It was awesome.

On my first day at the school, my new boss pulled me aside: they needed someone to play Santa at their upcoming “Breakfast with Santa” event, and she was wondering if I’d be up for the job. Breakfast with Santa, I would later learn, consisted of kids taking turns sitting on my lap, telling me what they want for Christmas and eating cereal while their parents snapped pictures.

Now, Santa and I share very few characteristics, physically or personality-wise. We’re white guys who love cookies and are generally pretty pleasant, but I think that’s about where the similarities end.

Santa Claus: old, fat and jolly. Eric Lutz: young, thin and jolly for—at best—a sum forty-five minutes in the last year. Read the rest of this entry »

The Black Friday Brawl: The Importance of Owning Poo-Chi

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Poo-ChiBy Amber Peckham

In the year 2000, when I was thirteen, my mother seemed to give up on trying to surprise me with Christmas gifts. I was now allowed to choose all my presents, even stand in line with Mom while the bar codes buzzed over the checkout laser, watching as she forked over the family’s hard-earned cash for a new Playstation game or a stack of books six deep that I couldn’t wait to dig into.

Mom forced me to go to Walmart with her on Black Friday that year. She claimed it would be good bonding time for us, but really, she needed a second soldier on the field of retail battle, and my dad was too tired to tag along. For us to get all the best deals, we would have to split up. Mom would head toward the clothing side of the store to grapple for flannel pajamas, socks, and jeans, while I would be deployed to the toy section. I was a slight girl, with mousy brown hair to my waist, unassuming and small. It would be easy for me to fight the crowds, and rabid adults would be less likely to grapple with a child. The two of us would reconnoiter in electronics, where the gem I had chosen to cap off my Christmas crown waited in the video game case as my reward—Final Fantasy IX.

This particular year, there was one toy which outshone all the others, one present my little sister Antonia had talked about day and night since the commercials began airing on Nickelodeon months before. This holy grail of holiday satisfaction was known as Poo-Chi.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Santa Fe Locomotive: For the Love of a Grandfather

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800px-Santa_Fe_98By Naomi Huffman

My grandfather’s hands were large, his knuckles knobbed like branches, his palms calloused from years spent on my family’s farm in Blackford County, Indiana, and from working the line at the Delco Battery plant in Muncie. But he handled the pieces of his Lionel model train with ease, lifting the cars from their plastic casing one by one, connecting the couplers end to end with the sort of precision mastered only with practice and care.

There was a Santa Fe locomotive, silver and shiny, with lights that flashed as it whistled, with red and orange stripes painted down either side. There were cargo cars: yellow, blue, brown. Some had plastic windows, or tiny handles on doors the size of my child thumb. The wheels were small as dimes. My favorite car was the caboose, painted red of course, with a tiny black gate at the rear.

The train came out of its box just once a year, at Christmas, when gifts were piled around the tree set up in my grandparents’ living room. As my grandfather built tunnels with the boxes for the train to run through and tinkered with the speed settings on the transformer, my grandmother worried the tinsel on the tree, and turned the ornaments so they faced just so, and wondered aloud if the star atop it all was crooked. All the fanfare, all the fuss, it was all for us, their grandchildren. Read the rest of this entry »

Cinematic Giving: How to Have Christmas Just Like in the Movies

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MiracleBy Helen Kaplow

The unforgettable hat, the shining toy train, the pair of ice skates—thanks to cinematic magic, these items have come to represent Christmas joy itself. But don’t just watch them on TV, bring them home for the holidays.

Miracle on 34th Street

A perennial holiday favorite since this film’s debut in 1947, no one has ever played Santa Claus more convincingly than Edmund Gwenn. And it’s a movie filled with the exciting clamor of Christmas shopping and our yearning for just the right gifts.

Kris Kringle: What do you want for Christmas, Peter?
Peter: A fire engine, just like the big ones only smaller, that has a real hose that squirts real water. I won’t do it in the house, only in the backyard. I promise.
Harried Mother: Psst! Psst! Macy’s ain’t got any. Nobody’s got any.
Kris Kringle: Well, Peter, I can tell you’re a good boy. You’ll get your fire engine.

If in Chicago, Kringle would head to Chicago Fire and Cop Shop. A family-owned store on the Southwest Side run by a retired fire fighter and police officer, they sell a big line of fire-and-police-related gifts, including T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, Christmas ornaments and toy police cars and fire trucks. 4038 West 111th, Oak Lawn, (708)425-2884, chicagofireandcopshop.comRead the rest of this entry »

When the Aspidistra Was Flying: Home, Among the Bookshelves, For the Holiday

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By Vincent Francone

Thanksgiving, 1996. The Aspidistra Bookshop was open 364 days a year. If it wasn’t Christmas, the store wasn’t going to close. My family refused to believe this. Who would stay open on Thanksgiving?

I explained to my mother that I would not be coming home that year, that even though the trip was short—just an hour or so from Lakeview to the southwest suburbs—I had to open and close the store.

“Who’s going to buy books on Thanksgiving?”

Not a bad question. I didn’t expect many people to wander in, though few surely would, mostly the oddballs who fit right in among the dusty books and empty beer bottles that littered the shop. They haunted Clark Street drinking endless cups of coffee at McDonald’s and trading conspiracy theories before coming to our store to make my day a bit more surreal. They asked me questions like: “Do you know who really discovered  Halley’s Comet?” But they never bought anything. Read the rest of this entry »

Thoughts That Count: Five Cards that Celebrate Christmas in Chicago from Chicago

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CTA Holiday Card

This season, bypass the Hallmark card aisle and spread some holiday cheer by representing Chicago and its artists with these five city-centric Christmas cards. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Pedaling Fine Gifts

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Holidays, Transit 1 Comment »
The Malört water bottle. Photo: Tim de la Motte

The Malört water bottle/Photo: Tim de la Motte

By John Greenfield

The holidays are all about consumption, but the nice thing about giving a sustainable transportation-oriented present is you’re encouraging the recipient to use less resources, by walking, biking or using transit when possible, instead of driving. Most of the following gift ideas are also locally produced and available at independent stores, which means a minimum of fuel was expended in transporting them, and by spending money at a mom-and-pop instead of a big-box you’ll be promoting pedestrian-friendly retail. Unfortunately, one present you can’t give right now is a glitch-free Ventra card.

However, you can promote one of Chicago’s more successful transpo initiatives by giving the gift of Divvy. The bike-share system will be operating all winter long, so if you buy your loved ones twenty-four-hour passes ($7) or yearly memberships ($75), they’ll be able to hop on one of the baby-blue cycles right away. Passes and memberships entitle the holder to an unlimited number of thirty-minute trips, so they’re perfect for short trips and errands, plus “last mile” rides from transit to one’s final destination. DivvyBikes.com; email Gifts@DivvyBikes.com to purchase gift certificates. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: A Holiday Express Gift Guide

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Holidays, Transit No Comments »

By John Greenfield_MG_9912

A true Chicago sustainable transportation blackbelt is never late, unless it’s the CTA’s fault. But if you’re running a little behind in your winter gift shopping, here are a few last-minute ideas for the walking, biking and transit enthusiasts in your life. Most of these nifty items are locally made and available at independent stores, which means a minimum of gasoline was burned getting the products to market, and by purchasing them you’ll be supporting the local economy. Plus, these presents will encourage your friends’ and family members’ healthy commuting habits. Can’t get much more politically correct than that. Read the rest of this entry »