#968: White Babies

August 17th, 2018 § permalink

I want to wait until after my kid’s born to post this.

As I write this, it’s early-mid August. My wife and I are in the “any day now, any moment now” phase. She’s sprinting like a madwoman, running every errand, cleaning every surface, complaining all the while that she’s being lazy and lumpy. She’s like that. Good enough is never enough. I admire that in her.

But since we don’t know the moment she’ll get a pain and I’ll get a call, I don’t want to schedule this story yet. I don’t want to look back on the moment of my daughter or son’s birth and have it be the day I posted a story about the hate sign dangling lazily in the first neighborhood my child will know. » Read the rest of this entry «

#967: The Legend of Boots Merullo

August 15th, 2018 § permalink

Everyone has a favorite athlete and then their “favorite.”

The “favorite” is the top athlete they like and can admit to liking. The socially acceptable one. The one you can show off to your friends and take home to momma.

But everyone has a shameful, secret, actual favorite. Like a scandal-plagued athlete who you can’t admit still inspires you most, or one who became a joke but you still can’t get out of your head. Lance Armstrong. Tiger Woods. Pre-North Korea Dennis Rodman.

My ”favorite” is Ryne Sandberg. But my actual, secret favorite is the immortal Lennie Merullo, who had a secret darker than blood doping, the ladies or whatever the hell happened to Dennis Rodman because that dictatorship stuff just went off the rails.

Lennie Merullo, my hero, was a really lousy baseball player.
» Read the rest of this entry «

#966: The Indoor Border

August 13th, 2018 § permalink

Through a door past the elevators of a luxury suburban hotel, there are bone-white, bone-shaped drywall sculptures that run the length from floor to ceiling.

There’s a foyer dangling with massive paper airplanes.

There’s the “Artist Coat Room” through that door.

Walking through that door, you’re crossing from hotel to art gallery meeting space, from rooms with names like #381 to rooms with names like The Cassatt Ballroom and Warhol.

You also crossed from Rosemont to Chicago. And here’s the story of how Chicago’s city limits run through the middle of a hotel.  » Read the rest of this entry «

#965: Candyland

August 10th, 2018 § permalink

Overhead, Michael Jackson is starting with the man in the mirror.

It’s a Saturday morning in April. The day’s starting slow in the windowless warehouse on a frontage road alongside the highway. Only a few of the shoppers have ambled into the store. The homeless who gather to solicit loose change haven’t yet arrived, taking a slow jaunt in because the spring feels too nice to start their shift that early. The off-duty cops in Sox caps joke as they arrive for their own shifts working the door as a side hustle.

And Jackson plays overhead in the grocery store.

I’m gonna make a change,
For once I’m my life
It’s gonna feel real good,
Gonna make a difference
Gonna make it right » Read the rest of this entry «

#964: The Blip

August 8th, 2018 § permalink

On the Northwest Side, where winding cul de sacs hit the strip malls of Touhy Avenue and the subdivisions bear the name of the natural features they tore down to make the subdivisions, there’s a little blip of Chicago carved out of Niles, Illinois.

Here, look at it. 

There are no markers that say the blip is still Chicago. On the south side of the street and down a touch there’s a small sign that welcomes people to the North Edgebrook subneighborhood of Chicago’s Forest Glen, but on the north side of Touhy the blip is nondual from the suburbs. Same bleating, strip-mall commerce. Same constant assertion everything’s as folksy as Nana’s peach cobbler crumble.

There’s a massive bulwark of storage lockers there, and charming older homes I want to buy. It’s a single subdivision, about 600 feet side-to-side, 1,300 top-to-bottom. It’s Niles to the north, east and west, but it’s legally Chicago. There’s no reason it should be Chicago, or at least not a reason that doesn’t trace to a 1920s land boom and an empire of flowers, but we’ll get to that.

The man in the flip-flops has lived in the blip 25 years. » Read the rest of this entry «

#963: Nobody Gets Around Johnny Twist

August 6th, 2018 § permalink

I paid him the money, so I feel OK going ahead with the story.

A few months back I knocked on the door of a storefront on Cottage Grove, but not any storefront. THAT storefront. The one with the handpainted signs offering blues CDs, afrocentric books, King Tut and a once in a lifetime chance to meet the man himself, the one the only, the legend — Johnny Twist.

The door opened before I got my hand re-lowered. The man was there, asking for five dollars. » Read the rest of this entry «

#962: In Praise of Alleys

August 3rd, 2018 § permalink

Sometimes they’re ugly.

Sometimes they’re dirty.

Sometimes they’re actually streets and once in a while they’re made of wood.

But I sing the alley electric. » Read the rest of this entry «

#961: Halsted

August 1st, 2018 § permalink

By 65th and Halsted, by a tree-lined road that winds into Kennedy-King College, there’s a wooden cross about three, three-and-a-half feet tall.

It’s simple but sturdy. Screwed and nailed 2×4 but done by someone who has handled wood. The cross is freestanding, braced at the bottom by a four-way splay of board.

There’s a jigsawed heart about a foot radius screwed to the cross’ front. It was cut from particle board and spray painted the color of love and blood. The cross itself is untreated lumber. No paint, stain or other protections. The cross-top crackles from the elements.

Across the axis where spread the arms of Jesus, Spartacus and thousands of crucifixees no one cared to make movies about, someone wrote a name in as elegant a font as they could earn with Sharpie. Manuel Ramirez.

At 63rd, there’s another one. » Read the rest of this entry «

#960: The King of Quiet Moments

July 30th, 2018 § permalink

In my neighborhood, there’s a school for the French. Next to it is a French café owned by a French woman who smiles like a diamond sparkles and whose forearms drip and dangle with tattoos.  » Read the rest of this entry «

#959: I Am Chicago’s Newest TIF District

July 27th, 2018 § permalink

TIF districts, that bugaboo of municipal financing that leeches billions from our tax revenues, are in the news again.

I’ve written about TIF districts before, and my Chicago Corruption Walking Tour takes people to the Bloomingdale’s downtown to show how this program meant for blighted, impoverished areas gets turned into mayoral pet projects for the wealthy. Cook County Clerk David Orr recently unveiled his latest TIF report, showing that now one-third of city property tax revenue is poured into these discretionary slush funds.

One in four properties in Chicago is in a TIF district, declared by the city to be so blighted special measures are needed.

How easy is it to get declared TIF-eligible? According to a 2016 Iowa Law Review article “Is Tax Increment Financing Racist? Chicago’s Racially Disparate TIF Spending,” city employees tasked by Chicago City Hall with reviewing whether an area qualifies for a TIF district have never turned in an answer other than yes. Never. Not for the six TIF districts Harold Washington wanted looked at, the one Eugene Sawyer approved, the 163 in place by the time Richard M. Daley left office or the current 143 fewer-but-larger TIF districts under Rahm Emanuel.

There are standards of course, both to be determined “blighted” and eligible for TIF or a “conservation area” that’s not blighted but still eligible for TIF. The reviewers have 13 conditions to review. If they find five, an area is blighted. They only need three for a conservation area, but the TIF will be just as TIF-y. Conditions they look for include structures older than 35 years, an area constructed without a community plan and conditions of dilapidation or deterioration.

Over 35, no real plan, showing signs of age and wear? I could be a TIF district, I joked.

So I decided to see if I could, reviewing the 13 conditions city reviewers have to check through before they can report back to the mayor that any area in Chicago is A-OK, 100-percent TIF-worthy. » Read the rest of this entry «

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