Street Smart Chicago

Dime Stories: Dick Tracy’s Chicago Crimestoppers

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

In the mid-sixties, the Sunday funnies were a portal to another world. They were really great then. My favorite strip was Dick Tracy, for all kinds of reasons. For one, it took place in Chicago and Tracy was square of jaw and heroic. He dealt out justice with a Calvinist zeal that was shockingly violent for a newspaper. It was also impeccably rendered. Whenever people ask me who my favorite artists are, Chester Gould is at the top of a very small list. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Guardian Peregrines at St. Mary’s

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

There is no faster animal on earth than a Peregrine falcon. They can drop at 200 miles per hour and have been clocked even faster. Often they hunt by turning themselves into a missile from great heights and hitting their prey with their breastbone. I saw this occur right outside of Daley Center once. I happened to be looking up just in time to see this explosion of pigeon feathers about a hundred feet up; like a flutter of paper in a mad house. The luckless pigeon fell to the  ground and the Peregrine landed a few moments later, spreading her wings over her kill and feasting. Daley Center was full of people who just knew to walk around the feeding raptor and stayed about ten feet away in all directions. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: The Saddest Music on Western Avenue

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

As any good car thief or auto parts thief can tell you, Western Avenue is home to the Midnight Auto, the night-and-day marketplace for hot cars and parts (now mostly just parts) in the city of Chicago. Western is also the longest continuous street in the city. It is not like Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles; one of those stretches of road that goes from the outhouse to the penthouse and back. Western pretty much goes from the outhouse to the dog house, not so many penthouses.

Until 1870, Western was the western border of the city limits. Western used to be home to Riverview, the much storied amusement park that was torn down in 1967 to make way for a police station. In its later years, Riverview had an unseemly reputation. It was full of beatniks, sailors and kids who were to become known as hippies. Older friends of mine tell me it was a good place to buy pot, and maybe the last place one could play Skee-Ball, a poor man’s version of bowling.

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Dime Stories: Donald Trump Versus the People, or Candy-Ass Takes His Ball and Goes Home

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1507888_10208266826845225_3897729117988074983_nBy Tony Fitzpatrick

When I first took this job I had no intention of ever writing about politics. I don’t like politicians and the ones I do, I can count on one hand and still have enough fingers to eat with. I find them to be grimy life-forms who will do and say anything to get elected and stay on the public tit for as long as they can before death or a jail sentence forcibly pries them off of it.

I thought I’d try to write something like “tales of Chicago,” a lighthearted look at life in our city.

Then Rahm Emanuel got elected and I no longer had the luxury of ignoring politics. His mayoralty has been an epic lesson in the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer and, on too many occasions, dead. This has been a sobering ice-cold reality in this city. Somehow our murder rate as of this writing is almost double what it was last year.

Almost twenty percent of our citizens live below the poverty line and unemployment among young black men between the ages of twenty and twenty-four is a whopping forty-seven percent according to a Great Cities Institute report. This is significantly higher than the national average, which is a still very high thirty-two percent.

That our schools are in shambles begs the question: Gee, maybe one thing has something to do with the other? Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Smelting in Chicago

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

At the end of March and in early April of every year the smelts of Lake Michigan decide to kill themselves. The little fish haul ass from the deeper parts of this treacherous lake, and head for the shore. On the way they spawn, which means they bust one more nut on their way off this mortal coil.

For a great many generations, working-class-immigrant Chicagoans were ready for them. Polish, Greek, Irish, Mexican, Ukrainian and Italians waited on Montrose Harbor and other docks lining the lake with fine-mesh smelt nets full of nylon loops in which the smelt would oblige the hungry immigrant by voluntarily hanging themselves.

Every April in Greektown there was a special “Smelt Plate” featuring a dozen or so of the slimy fuckers deep-fried and infused with garlic. There are people who swear by these; I watched Steve Earle gobble down a plate of these a decade ago and he was truly grateful. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Some Thoughts on 2666

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

Shortly before his death in 2003, Roberto Bolaño, the great Chilean novelist, mailed off the manuscript for “2666,” his sprawling, frustrating, multi-layered masterpiece about a world coming apart in many locations and time periods—all at the same time.

Central to this story–stories, actually–are the murders of women in the fictional Santa Teresa, which is actually Ciudad Juarez, across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. Authorities fear there may be as many as 5,000 unsolved murders of young women and admit that there are at least 1,200. The Mexican government blames the outlaw Narco-Mafia, as well as members of Los Rebeldes, a notorious Juarez street gang involved in drug and human trafficking. Police have also arrested itinerant workers and bus drivers known to drive the routes where some of the women’s bodies have been found, all to no avail. The murders continue as well as an eerie proliferation of corridos, or “murder ballads;” songs circulated about killings of unfaithful lovers, hookers and “bitches.” It is a horrifying phenomenon that has been going on since around 1993, with the indifference or incompetence of police forces too afraid of the gangs to adequately protect the young women, mostly from other parts of Mexico and Central America. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: I Feel Your Bern

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bernie-sanders-portrait-03

By Tony Fitzpatrick

Well the Iowa clown car has emptied and the good news is the only candidate who seems remotely presidential damn near ran the table. Two days ago, the pundits and talking heads on cable and network news were saying that if Bernie Sanders got twenty percent he’d be exceeding expectations. As usual the pundits have underestimated the appeal of Senator Sanders. I don’t understand why; considering the collection of dolts, dumbbells, dimwits and simpletons on the GOP side of the ballot, this should be a cakewalk if you are a sentient voter whose head does not glow in the dark. The Republicans elevated the truly loathsome Ted Cruz to the top of their ticket, though he didn’t beat Donald Trump by much—it seems the evangelical voters liked Cruz more. The real horse to watch in that race is Marco Rubio, who stealthily crept into third place in the derby of mental defectives. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: The Avenue of American Stories

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Jan and Brian Hieggelke (with their daughter Erica) show their new publication to Mayor Harold Washington at the South Loop Street Fair, 1986/Photo: Robb Perea

Jan and Brian Hieggelke (with their daughter Erica) show their new publication to Mayor Harold Washington at the South Loop Street Fair, 1986/Photo: Robb Perea

By Tony Fitzpatrick

Chicago is never more beautiful or dangerous than it is at night.

The workman-like, bustling, endless hustle of daylight becomes a fleet and sleek animal at night. Dressed in lights and stars, come-hither reds, yellows and greens—the dirty carpet sky leans back and reveals a skyline of glittering skyscrapers like gangsters dressed in diamonds. It whispers,”We’re bigger than you” and, “There are more of us than there are of you” and still, “We’ve already won.”

On occasion, I ride the Chicago Avenue bus from downtown to Damen and this ride is always a miracle of languages and sights if not smells. The CTA buses lurch along like tired old mutts ambling from one skinny tree to the next. At night you can see the five stars lit up in neon from the new bar with the old-style signage as well as the endless taco joints and pink horse of Alcala’s Western Wear. This is my favorite street in Chicago, one where you are as likely to hear Polish and Ukrainian as you do English. It is a street about business—small business—nail joints, drugstores, tattoo parlors and cut-rate furniture. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »