Street Smart Chicago

Life Is Beautiful: Teen Dream

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By David Alvarado

Click to enlarge.Life_is_comic_9

Sammy the Christmas Dog

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sammy snowAs a young couple, my wife and I moved out of the Roscoe Village neighborhood to Portage Park, a place where we could afford to buy a home. About a month after our housewarming, my wife was at her office Christmas party at Condon and Cook, a law firm near Dearborn and Chicago. On a whim, she wrote “Puppy” on the “Secret Santa” form in the office pool.

December 22, 1998 was a cold, dark, snowy afternoon. The office was about to close for the five-day Christmas break. My wife was sent out to file briefings at the Daley Center. When she returned she saw a shoebox in the hallway with a red ribbon around it. Inside it was a Yellow Labrador-Pit Bull mix. It was tiny, the size of a guinea pig. Apparently, one of the other secretaries had been told she could not keep a dog in her apartment.  I drove downtown to pick them up. I remember how the tiny puppy kept shaking in the little shoebox as we drove home on the Kennedy Expressway.  It kept trembling as we entered the house. It took a couple of days for him to get used to us, but by Christmas, 1998, he knew he had a home. Read the rest of this entry »

Holiday Works: The Raffia Wrapper

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Perhaps you’ve seen a gift wrapper work, a calm clerk who folds crisp paper around impossible shapes and binds them with striped string. Perfect, and caring, and warm. When they’re done, it looks like a gift.

There is another class of gift wrapper: the one who, in early November, finds a flat surface in the back room, shoves a menagerie of items into decorative baskets and boxes, and fumbles with scraps of ribbon until these collections of colorful objects look something like what one might call a gift.

I am this wrapper, and when I wrap a gift, I look like a cat tangled in a ball of yarn: confused and stuck, eyes wild and glowing, mouth slightly ajar. I find scraps of raffia in my apron for weeks to come. I develop a deep loathing for raffia.

Raffia is a dried-out, shredded-up palm frond that looks like a softer, wispier version of hay. You can wrap it around a jar full of anything, and it will somehow look perfectly rustic.

It has become so popular among crafters that you can now find imitation raffia—paper, rayon, plastic—in any color you wish. I have three spools: fluorescent green, red orange, and brassy “pearlized” (plastic).

It is this versatile ribbon that looped itself around my every other finger and pulled me into that state of mania that descends upon the retail workforce every November. It’s the state in which you grin and say “hello” to everyone you see, every time you see them. The state in which you forget to eat lunch, but you remember to eat the free candy in the break room, then you suffer dearly. The state in which you travel through time more quickly, and your short term memory all but disappears. The holiday spirit.

Visitors to my wrapping lair will find me staring at the tense intersection of two delicate strings of raffia. I pull one end, and one of two things happens: either I tighten a knot and collapse under a wave of relief, or I undo the taut interface of string, and watch the ribbon fall off the box in the same way my cardigan slumps into a wrinkled mass when I shrug it onto my couch at home and sigh.

The more strings of raffia I use, the fluffier it looks. I fold it over itself, and loop it around my fingers. This confuses my shoe-tying instinct, and I have to relearn the narrative of the shoelace bunny. I relearn it with extra string tied around my fingers—which is like tying my shoes in another dimension, while drunk.

A coworker sees me, grins, and asks me how it’s going. “Remember how I said I like wrapping presents?” I say, and I grimace. She takes the grimace as a smile, as retail workers have trained our grimaces to look like smiles. She smiles back at me, says “girly girl.” She hadn’t heard me swearing at the thing.

I bring the boxes to the shelf. I stand them up like they’re a choir. I re-fluff the raffia.

Boxes disappear over the next two months. Away they go, wrapped by one stranger and given to another. Away they go to a dinner party where you don’t know anyone, but you want to impress them—because you live in a big cold city and you need friends to keep you warm.

In January, I will unwrap the remaining boxes. I will place each item back on the shelf, and I will throw away a festive wad of raffia. (Abi Knopp)

Free Will Astrology: Week of December 3, 2015

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By Rob Brezsny

ARIES (March 21-April 19): “Charm is a way of getting the answer ‘yes’ without having asked any clear question,” wrote French author Albert Camus. I have rarely seen you better poised than you are now to embody and capitalize on this definition of “charm,” Aries. That’s good news, right? Well, mostly. But there are two caveats. First, wield your mojo as responsibly as you can. Infuse your bewitching allure with integrity. Second, be precise about what it is you want to achieve—even if you don’t come right out and tell everyone what it is. Resist the temptation to throw your charm around haphazardly. 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 »

Free Will Astrology: Week of November 26, 2015

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By Rob Brezsny

ARIES (March 21-April 19): “We are torn between nostalgia for the familiar and an urge for the foreign and strange,” wrote novelist Carson McCullers. “As often as not, we are homesick most for the places we have never known.” I’m guessing that these days you’re feeling that kind of homesickness, Aries. The people and places that usually comfort you don’t have their customary power. The experiences you typically seek out to strengthen your stability just aren’t having that effect. The proper response, in my opinion, is to go in quest of exotic and experimental stimuli. In ways you may not yet be able to imagine, they can provide the grounding you need. They will steady your nerves and bolster your courage. Read the rest of this entry »

Life Is Beautiful: Teen Dream

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By David Alvarado

Click to enlarge.Life_is_comic_8

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 »

Checkerboard City: Norway or the Highway?

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Madison Street, part of the Loop Link bus route, could be made car-free. Photo: John Greenfield

Maybe Madison Street, part of the Loop Link bus route, could be made car-free/Photo: John Greenfield

“I think we should look to countries like Denmark, and Sweden and Norway, and learn from what they’ve accomplished,” socialist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said recently. That statement surely gave the Republicans hives.

One area where U.S. cities like Chicago should definitely look to Scandinavia for inspiration is traffic management. Last month, the newly elected city council of Oslo, Norway, announced that it plans to make the central city free of private cars by 2019. It’s part of a plan to cut greenhouse emissions in half within five years, as compared to 1990 levels.

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Free Will Astrology: Week of November 19, 2015

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By Rob Brezsny

ARIES (March 21-April 19): defines the English word “balter” as follows: “to dance without particular skill or grace, but with extreme joy.” It’s related to the Danish term baltre, which means “to romp, tumble, roll, cavort.” I nominate this activity to be one of your ruling metaphors in the coming weeks. You have a mandate to explore the frontiers of amusement and bliss, but you have no mandate to be polite and polished as you do it. To generate optimal levels of righteous fun, your experiments may have to be more than a bit rowdy. Read the rest of this entry »