Street Smart Chicago

Dime Stories: Mr. Mayor, Step Down

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

The harpy eagle, the largest eagle in the Americas, lives high above the jungle canopy in Central and South America, at the top of the food chain. Centuries ago the Incas and the Mayans worshiped these birds. They can pretty much eat whatever they want. It doesn’t matter if you are a sloth, a howler monkey, a small deer or a dog. Once a harpy sees you, God forgot you.

In the city of Chicago, we lost 450-plus people to gunfire in 2015. Politicians, real estate developers and cops are pretty much at the top of the food chain. As evidenced this year, the cops can pretty much kill whoever they want and the politicians will rationalize it and provide cover. It is a city of killers. But unlike the harpy eagle, the city devours its own.

It must be empowering to be so confident that no amount of vitriol and discouragement can blunt the luster of one’s bright self image. Our mayor seems to be one of those cock-eyed optimists who thought the people standing out in front of his house were there to welcome him home from Cuba. It brings to mind a kid happily wading through a barn full of horse-shit thinking,”All of this horse pucky!?! There MUST be a Pony in here somewhere!!!”

It is either this or the wee one is impossibly tone-deaf, which isn’t likely. He’s never drawn a dumb breath in his life, unlike his predecessor, whose lips moved when he read the comics. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: One Week in Chicago

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The Father and the filmmaker

The Father and the filmmaker

By Tony Fitzpatrick

For the past week I’ve watched footage from the Paris attacks on the various news outlets. Some are respectful and measured, some are tantamount to the pornography of grief. There seems to be an unquenchable appetite for war among some of the news agencies that are charged with covering these awful events. I cannot any longer watch Fox for even the most innocuous news; it seems no issue is too small to politicize. Okay, Fox is an obvious choice, but even CNN and the local news is not immune to this need to shade the events in a way that shapes opinion, breeds bigotry and seeks to entreat suspicion of anyone of the Islamic faith.

Paris is a pretty straightforward story. ISIS committed atrocities and slaughtered upwards of 130 people. It was predatory, bestial and almost impossible to fathom—if you’re sane. Almost immediately the pundits and “experts” claimed to not be surprised and that it was only a matter of “when” and not “if.” Bobbing heads blabbing the same vile rhetoric we heard when they were ginning up the appetite for warfare after the 9/11 tragedy, complete with the loop after loop of the bloody aftermath.

So what did Paris do? They maintained their humanity. They vowed to take more refugees in the face of their serious civic wounding. They affirmed the premium that they place on civility. We could learn much from Paris. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Some Thoughts From the Set of “Chi-Raq”

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By Tony Fitzpatrick

As of this writing, 2,631 people have been shot in the City of Chicago this year, 389 of them killed since January 1. Over this weekend, eight people were shot dead, and forty-five were wounded. According to Hey Jackass, someone is shot every two-hours-and-fifty-one minutes, and someone is murdered every seventeen hours since January 1.

These grim statistics make me wish that our political leaders were as upset about the unsparing mayhem as they are about the title of a movie.

In the interest of not pretending to be unbiased I should mention that I am in this film; and that when Spike Lee hired me he remarked that the best reason to make this film was to help save lives. I believed him then, and I believe him now—and mark my words, the proof will be the film itself. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: The Best Living Former Sun-Timesman, Dave Hoekstra, Writes A New Chapter

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3-26-07 Staff mug of Dave Hoekstra. photo by Jean Lachat/Sun-Times

Dave Hoekstra/Photo: Jean Lachat/Sun-Times

By Tony Fitzpatrick

In his new book, “The People’s Place: Soul Food Restaurants and Reminiscences from the Civil Rights Era to Today,” former Sun-Times man Dave Hoekstra relates the histories of soul-food eateries in America and also winds up relaying a shadow history of the civil rights era. It is a fascinating read in that, from Ben’s Chili Bowl—the iconic Washington D.C. joint that boasts President Obama’s favorite chili dog to Dooky Chase’s in New Orleans, where Obama was scolded for adding hot sauce to his gumbo—all of the players of that tidal change in American History are present. From Martin Luther King to Malcolm X these restaurants served also as community centers in which the climate of change began to take shape.

If you were lucky enough to check out Hoekstra’s book on supper clubs, “The Supper Club Book, Cougars and Snappers and Loons (Oh My),” you have a little idea of what you are in for—Hoekstra chronicles the odd and almost always Midwestern histories of supper clubs, where you get a relish tray before your prime rib or pot-roast dinner. These places were all the rage in fifties and sixties small-town Midwestern America and hey! who doesn’t like a good relish tray or a deviled egg?

It is our good fortune that Hoekstra decided to take the forced buy-out from the Sun-Times. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Win It for Mr. Cub!

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By Tony Fitzpatrick

As I write this, the Cubs have gone down two games to nothing to the hated Mets.

I surprised a great many of my diehard Sox fan friends by wishing the Cubs well in the playoffs. “Traitor”! they squealed, “turncoat,” they inveighed, Blah Blah Blah.

I honestly couldn’t find it in my heart to hate on this team; they play the game the way the game ought to be played. And as much as I love my White Sox, it was a good deal more fun watching the Cubs this year because they honestly looked like they were at play, rather than grinding it out at work. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Memories of a Caddy

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

When he was in his thirties, my friend Vince Solano could hit a golf ball 300 yards. He was thick, had huge arms and the strength of a weightlifter. Now, thirty-five years later, he is trim, much slimmer and still loves to golf.

I’ve known him since I was twelve years old and possibly the worst caddy in the history of golf. Oh, I knew my yardages and carried the bag well enough–often two bags–and I actually had a great deal of acuity reading greens; planes made sense to me because I drew a lot and this helped. I just didn’t give a fuck about golf.

I liked caddying because it was cash money, right now; because golfers told dirty jokes, bitched about their bosses, wives, kids and politics and, in a very real way, exposed the secret life most men live. On the golf course, guys didn’t have to keep their guard up or be polite. They could gamble with abandon, drink, swear and, in four-hour increments, be free men. They could walk out in nature without their phones ringing or their bosses carving on their dicks. It was a place to shut out the noise. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Bluejays and Rahm Emanuel’s September Surprise

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

In early folklore, blue jays were thought to be hand-servants of the devil because of their noisy and boisterous nature. I remember them as a pleasant and mysterious part of childhood. The mystery being that I would see them everyday for a while (a week or so) and then they would disappear for six months until I’d almost forget about them and then they’d be back. I was always wondering where the fuck they went. They were the Houdinis of the natural world.

In high school, I had a job cutting grass in Queen of Heaven Cemetery during the summers. The place was full of pine trees and thus, blue jays. In fact, if you want to see a lot of birds, go to any cemetery. It is a relatively safe place for them. As accidental bird sanctuaries, they are a safe place to nest and enjoy relative safety from humans cutting down trees and shooting birds.

I kind of liked that job. I worked with lots of guys from Mexico and in the middle of the afternoon, one of them would hop the fence and go buy six-packs and dirty magazines. We’d hide our mowers and drink beer in the bushes and smoke cigarettes and take naps. It was great. Learned all of the dirty words in Spanish I could think of and met people from another part of the world who were nothing like me, except that we wanted the same things; to work outside and to be left the fuck alone. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: A Bird for Jesus of Montreal

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks in Montreal working on a TV show. I’ve never been here before but in certain parts of the city and the subway, I’d gotten this odd feeling of déjà vu… and then I figured it out—this city is featured to full and beautiful advantage in Denys Arcand’s luminous “Jesus of Montreal.” It is the story of an actor, played with beautiful subtlety by Lothaire Bluteau, who decides to perform a play about Jesus’ last days on earth. The show becomes a hit, much to the chagrin of the Roman Catholic church in Montreal. They confuse his passion and his invention for blasphemy.

His character “Daniel” eventually collapses on the Metro platform after ascending the escalator—and as a result of negligence he is brain dead and his organs harvested to give several other people new lives. It may sound heavy-handed but it’s not—it is directed with a poetry and a benevolence that transcends the weighty metaphors. Simply put, it is a movie about human kindness, and how the least among us must sometimes bear an unfair and arduous burden of humanness. I love this movie. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: In Montreal, Thinking of New Orleans

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

It’s an unusual experience applying for a work permit in another country. It makes one feel some empathy for those who have to go through this process in the U.S. I’m in Montreal, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. It is an old city with amazing stone architecture, and old Montreal reminds one of Paris with its narrow brick streets and bistros.

I’m working on a TV show and I had to get a work permit at the airport. You do so by going through immigration. I made the mistake of getting all of my luggage before going to the immigration office so all of my luggage—I travel a bit heavy—sat outside the office while I waited for my work permit to be approved. I was paranoid someone would just roll the stuff away. Evidently this doesn’t happen in Montreal. The very polite kid in the immigration office said “there are no worries, this—luggage theft—has never happened here.” I was incredulous. If this were Chicago or New York or any other large American city, my luggage would have been on its second owner by the time I went through the ninety-minute process. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Canaan Land

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

In Timothy Egan’s “The Worst Hard Time,” the Dust Bowl tragedy of the thirties is chronicled in painstaking and heartbreaking detail. The “Okies” that Steinbeck later brought to life in “The Grapes of Wrath” are stranded in farms that have been blighted by drought and dust storms that turn noon into midnight. This, combined with The Great Depression, sends hundreds upon thousands of teenagers to the road and the rails to itinerant and uncertain fates and entombing sadness.  Walker Evans’ photographs are a testament to the fates of our grandparents’ generation in America.

My parents were children of the Great Depression and my mother still remembers it viscerally. In our house, it was unheard of to waste food—even the slop some of my sisters cooked. My parents often cautioned us that there were starving people in the world. As kids, we thought it was just an effort to get us to eat our meatloaf. Read the rest of this entry »