Street Smart Chicago

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 »

Dime Stories: Dime Stories is a Book and I’m Going to Lollapalooza!

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

If anyone would have told me four years ago that I’d have lasted at this job for four years, I’d have not believed them. This is the longest I’ve ever held a job. I think because I don’t think of it as work is the secret of the longevity. I can think up and relay the craziest shit imaginable and I get paid for it. I wish Newcity had been around when I was fourteen or fifteen when I used to get knocked around by various religious orders in school for espousing these very thoughts.

Really, no shit, I used to get slapped silly for uttering the thoughts I get paid for sharing now. The Christian Brothers would play volleyball with your head if you uttered the language I’ve used in “Dime Stories.” They were nasty, unpleasant motherfuckers who I do not miss. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Steve Jesus, the Magic Lark and the Ghost of Jerry Garcia

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The Magic Lark 300By Tony Fitzpatrick

My pal Steve Jesus was in town for the weekend’s Grateful Dead end of days. He was happily sad at the prospect of a final Dead show. He was determined to experience the holy trinity of mind-altering Grateful Dead substances : X, acid and ‘shrooms, in that order. He also, thanks to Tinder, got to experience some slap and tickle twenty-first-century style. He hooked up with a lass who wasn’t looking for Mr. Right, but Mr. Right Now. Steve was happy to oblige. All in all, his weekend was sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Jerry Garcia would have been proud.

Steve is one of my oldest and best friends. Years ago, when I was on the radio, he was my producer. He has since gone on to work for a large tech outfit in San Francisco. He is a proud member of five or six dispensaries in San Fran and has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things cannabis.

There were all manner of Deadheads in town over the weekend and at first I thought they would be of the sixty-plus-year-old vintage. To my surprise there were plenty of kids who were not even alive before Jerry Garcia died. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: H is for Hawk—and Helen

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

Every once in a while a book sneaks up and surprises you. What fascinates me the most about Helen Macdonald’s exquisite “H is for Hawk” is what it is not. It is an intimate, fierce memoir of furious loss, falconry, as well as a meditation on the lonely legacy of Arthurian novelist T.H. White; it is also a love letter to the English countryside which she renders in lyrically brackish beauty when describing the winter “hawking.”

What it isn’t? It isn’t like anything I’ve ever read—and this is a good thing. It’s a serious book about how you negotiate life when tragedy and death blindside you and leave you alone in the world.

The book is written in a language so rich one must read it slowly to savor the story and its telling, which unfolds after the passing of Helen’s father—a news photographer, a watcher and a transcriber of the mysteries of planes that fly over. He casts an immense shadow over this story and his daughter’s grief is enormous.

She decides to lose herself in the training of a goshawk. An experienced falconer; she endeavors to tame and train the most contrary and fierce of hunting hawks. Even experienced falconers—good ones—approach the idea of flying goshawks with great pause. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: The Killing Ghost and Her Falling Stars

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

The more I read about owls, the more I realize how paranoid white people have always been. In Western culture, owls are almost always associated with witchcraft  or some other nefarious practice. Maybe it is the eyes; they’ve always weirded people out. The eyes that Athena found “burning with inner light” freaked out the civilized types.
I must admit, when I found the down-covered screech owl, I was intrigued because I thought owls were mysterious and weird. I was not a popular kid, an ill-tempered little fucker who didn’t have many friends; mostly art kids and the other weirdos like me who hung around the pet store and drew pictures. I was thirteen when I found him and my sister named him Oliver. That summer he ate his weight in cicadas and eventually mice. He was not a friendly pet, in fact not really a pet at all, but an orphan. He was a gray screech owl and when he shed his down and his plumage filled in he was a beautiful bird; odd in all of the ways that I myself was. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Brian Wilson’s Second Act

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Ghost Thank You (Nocturne) 100

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

About halfway through “Love and Mercy,” the Brian Wilson biopic, one realizes how Brian Wilson’s songs have never lost their currency. We still sing along to these happy tunes. Of all the music from the 1960s, only the Brian Wilson’s Beach Boys offer a safe harbor from the cynicism and tragedy of that troubled decade. Even forty-nine years later, “Pet Sounds” still stands as a transcendent recording that would influence a good measure of what came after—including the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Just listen to the layering of sounds; Wilson did it first. It is to the picture’s credit that this period in Brian Wilson’s life is rendered in sunshine and bold, vibrant colors. Brian has broken it wide open, even if he is the only one who understands this. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: The Scavengers

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

The great Charles Bowden passed away last year. He wrote a great many articles and books about the border, the one we share with Mexico. In the years since NAFTA passed there have been hundred upon hundreds of women murdered in and around Juarez–a great many of them maquiladora workers. A maquiladora is an assembly plant, or factory, that hires thousands of women and pays them stoop labor, shit wages to do piecework–sewing, circuit boards, and other close work that require small, deft hands.

A great many women from as far away as Central America flocked to the border for jobs. So NAFTA managed to impoverish two cultures. The women of the maquiladora plants and the American union worker, and some big American companies outsourced jobs here to avoid paying a living wage to union workers: Levi’s, Motorola, IBM, Black & Decker, GM, Cooper Tire, among others. Read the rest of this entry »