Letter From Milo: Otis and the Beasts of the Field.

April 27th, 2015

I’m used to seeing wild things roaming around my neighborhood. I live about a half block from the Chicago River and the river is a magnet for wildlife. Raccoons, opossums, muskrats, skunks, turtles, rabbits, ducks and geese are common sights along the riverbanks and nearby streets and alleys. There’s even a beaver living under the Montrose Avenue bridge.

None of these creatures poses a threat to life or limb. At worst, they can be nuisances. However, not all the wildlife in the neighborhood is harmless. A few years ago a mountain lion was spotted in Roscoe Village, in frightening proximity to children. The police had no choice but to shoot the animal.

And, recently, several of my neighbors saw a coyote loping down the middle of Eastwood Avenue, at about six in the morning. For a few days, the coyote sighting was the talk of the neighborhood.

“Coyotes are everywhere now,” one of my neighbors told me. “They’re as common as squirrels. Lincoln Park is overrun with them and the suburbs are being terrorized by packs of coyotes.”

“Jesus! That’s frightening. I didn’t realize coyotes were such a threat to people.”

“Well, they’re not much of a threat to humans. But they’re a real danger to pets. They prey on small dogs and cats.”

“Wait a minute. Are you telling me that coyotes kill and eat cats?”

“Coyotes love to eat cats. They’ll snatch a cat right off someone’s porch.”

A little later, I was in my back yard, enjoying a cigarette with my morning whiskey and thinking about what my neighbor had said about coyotes. I felt bad for the dogs that were taken by coyotes, but I had no sympathy, at all, for the cats.

I have a cat, a big greasy fucker named Otis, and he’s made my life a living hell ever since he showed up at my back door and weaseled his way into my household. I rue the day my misguided wife and children ganged up on me and bullied me into keeping the cat.

From the moment the cat muscled his way into my home, I was determined to get rid of him. But I had to be careful. My wife and daughters had, for some inexplicable reason, grown very fond of the cat. They knew I despised the son of a bitch and would immediately blame me if something happened to him. It had to look like an accident. I had to appear blameless.

I had almost gotten rid of the cat a few times in the past, but my plans never worked out. My best opportunity came when I nearly sold Otis to my dear friend Mr. Choi, who owns a very popular home-style Korean restaurant on the North Side, but the deal fell through at the last minute. Needless to say, I was hugely disappointed.

But I’m a patient man. All good things come to those who wait. When I heard about coyotes running wild in the streets of Chicago, I knew that my time had come. After all, how could I possibly be blamed if a coyote happened to run off with the cat?

First, I had to do a little research. I learned that coyotes are nocturnal hunters, most active for five or six hours after the sun goes down. They are also scavengers, attracted by the odor of rotting, rancid meat. They thrive on the most disgusting, maggot-ridden slop imaginable. They can smell the foul stench of putrid, decaying meat from a mile away.

A couple of days later, my wife came home from work a bit later than usual. “I just saw the oddest thing,” she said.

“What’s that, dumpling?”

“There’s a couple of Big Macs, a Polish sausage and a burrito on the sidewalk in front of our house.”

“That is unusual.”

“By the way, where’s Otis?”

“I let him out.”

“It’s kind of late for the cat to be out, isn’t it?”

“He’s a fat ass. He needs the exercise.”

I quickly discovered that luring coyotes is not that easy. Apparently Big Macs, Polish sausage and burritos are not disgusting enough for them. But I’m not a quitter. I can’t even spell the word advircitie.

Every day, as the sun was going down, I’d let the cat out and plant my coyote bait. I tried everything – lutefisk, corn dogs, turducken, haggis, Vegemite, gefilte fish, Chicken McNuggets, s’mores, slabs of Velveeta, cans of Franco-American spaghetti, bags of barbeque flavored pork rinds, and a lot of food-like products made by Hormel – but nothing seemed to work.

Still, I didn’t get discouraged. I was determined to get rid of the cat. I knew that as long as I kept trying, as long as I kept setting out bait, one day a coyote would come along and settle Otis’ hash, once and for all.

A couple of days later, my wife approached me with a puzzled expression on her face. “There’s something weird going on around here,” she said.

“What’s that, precious?”

“Otis, two skunks and a raccoon are eating this big pile of food that somebody left on the sidewalk.”

“Ah, shit. This is fucking unbelievable.”

“Yeah, why would somebody dump 20 pounds of tuna noodle casserole on our sidewalk?”

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Benny Jay: Peter Cuts A Deal With The Nets!

April 26th, 2015

After months of rigorous analysis, I came to the conclusion that no one in Brooklyn gives a shit about the Nets.

Even though they’re a basketball team that plays in Brooklyn.

I know this is a peculiar conclusion for someone in Chicago to reach. But I base it on having spent the better part of one night, wandering the streets of Brooklyn, looking for anyone who even remotely cared about the team.

Don’t ask–it’s a long story.

The best I could come up with was a counter worker at a Starbucks in Manhattan who told me he had a cousin in Jersey who liked the Nets.

Fast forward to the other day…

I’m standing in the lobby of a hotel in Chicago, chatting with a man I’ll call Peter Goodman, who tells me that a.) he lives in Brooklyn, b.) he’s a Nets fan and c.) he’s a Nets season ticketholder.

Not sure how this topic arose. Most likely part of my ceaseless search to find people with whom I can talk about basketball.


Lionel–far left–was on the great Trailblazers team…


When Peter broke that news, I demanded that he prove it. There and then I gave him one of my famous trivia contests, which, in this case, went like this…

“Where do the Nets play?”

“The Barclay Center…”

“Who was the first act to play the Barclay Center?”

“Jay Z…”

“Who coaches the Nets?”

“Lionel Hollins…”

“Who’s their center?”

“Brook Lopez…”

“Who’s his twin brother?”

“Robin Lopez…”

“What college did they attend?”



Peter & the Nets negotiate their deal…


I could have gone on. But the guy with us–call him David Sirota–looked like he was falling asleep from boredom. Some people are clearly not basketball junkies.

I immediately decided to post this correction about Nets fans in Brooklyn. As accuracy is a prime objective here at The Third City.

Then Peter told me about a deal he recently cut with the Nets front office in which he agreed to renew his season ticket plan in exchange for two $3,000 seats in the front row for a game.

“You didn’t?” I said.

“I did.”

To prove his point, he whipped out his cell phone and showed me a picture of the aforementioned $3,000 tickets. And a picture of Coach Hollins taken from his seats–so I could see how close he was to the action. Plus, a picture of his son.

That pix of his son really wasn’t relevant to our narrative, but you know how it goes once you start showing off cell-phone pictures.

Needless to say I was very impressed with his cunning negotiating skills.

Don’t tell Peter, but we’re thinking of hiring him as publisher.

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Rolando: Nursing Home Tales–Doctor’s Orders

April 25th, 2015

-Hey, grandma.

-My Robbie boy, I didn’t know you were picking me up.

-Yeah, grandma. Dad said you needed a ride to your appointment.

-Oh, I’m so happy to see you, Robbie.

-Happy to see you, too.

-How’s school? You doing well?

-Yeah. It’s ok. I’m on break for the summer.

-That’s nice. You dating anyone special?

-Not really. I’m keeping my options open.

-Good boy. You’re too young to be settling down. Have your fun.

-How are things at the retirement home?

-Don’t call it that. You father likes to call it that. It’s a shit show. Not a home.

-I know you don’t want to be there but dad’s spending a lot of money to make sure you’re taken care of, grandma.

-Well it’s a waste if you ask me. The place is dingy, the food taste like shit and the staff is made up of a bunch of idiots.

-It can’t be that bad.

-Oh, but it is, Robbie. They almost killed Nancy the other day.

-Your roommate, Mrs. Schwartzman? That woman is never going to die.

-Well she almost did.

-How’d they do that?

-It was terrible. So she has trouble sleeping sometimes, so her doctor prescribed her a sleeping pill to help her sleep.


-Well she only sometimes has trouble sleeping, so she doesn’t always need the pill. But that idiot nurse, Marco, comes in every night with the pill. “Doctor’s orders meesus Schwartzman. Time to take your peel.” That Filipino asshole….

-Ok, that seems annoying…

-…Annoying? It’s idiotic. Sometimes he’ll wake her up to give her the pill. She’s already sleeping and still with the pill, Robbie.

- I know but if the doctor prescribed it to her, I don’t see how it could kill her.

-So, the other night here comes Marco with the stupid pill. Nancy tells him she doesn’t want it, she’s been sleeping just fine. And what does he say?

-Doctor’s orders?

-Right. So she takes the pill and goes to bed. In the morning Marco makes his rounds, waking the early risers up for breakfast. He comes into our room and wakes me, then, walks over to Nancy and gives her a shake.



-So what did he do?

-Marco starts screaming: “Oh my God meesus Schwartzman is dead! Somebody call 911! Queeckly!” And he starts doing chest compressions.


-I know. I sat there, horrified, thinking, ‘You Filipino son of a bitch. You killed Nancy.’ Then Nancy opens her eyes, sits up and starts screaming: “What are you doing to me?” She wasn’t dead. She was just knocked out cold from the sleeping pill.

-He didn’t check for a pulse or for breathing?

-I told you, they’re idiots.

-What did Marco do when she woke up?

-Of course he thought she was back from dead, he starts crying and screaming: “Oh meesus Schwartzman, you’re back. I saved you. Thank you God.”

-Yeah, we got to get you out of there, grandma.

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Randolph Street: Flashback

April 24th, 2015


Sonny & CherLip Sych Contest






Ronnie WooWoo–Wrigley Field



Star Eyes–Lip Sych Contest



Driver–Ashland Avenue


All photos © Jon Randolph







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Benny Jay: The Conniver

April 23rd, 2015

I’m sitting in a Starbucks, helping Kimberly write her college-entrance essay, and like so many other high school seniors, she doesn’t know where to start.

We’re supposed to write about a setback we’ve suffered, she says.

Okay, what setbacks have you suffered?

Hmm, well,  got cut from the badminton team my sophomore year….

Okay, tell me about it….

And so she does….

I was never very good at sports. I thought I’d give badminton a try.


I made the freshman team — everybody does. There are no cuts….

So be it….

I liked it. I liked the girls on the team, the camaraderie, the spirit, the games, the uniforms. I liked having something to do after school. I even went to badminton camp over the summer. I tried out for the sophomore team….

How did you do?

Good. They had us play each other. I won more than I lost. I was definitely good enough to make the team….


The coach was probably a mean girl back in high school!


On the day of the cuts, the head sophomore coach — Coach Jannie –starts in about how much I’ve improved and how well I’ve done and I’m thinking I’m in. But then…

She cut you?

I don’t even remember how she put it. But I was in tears.  I went home, put my badminton racket away and I haven’t taken it out since….


Nothing, really. Except….

Except what?

Well, I’d see this girl — Frannie — going to practice.  I never  understood how she made the team. She hadn’t played as a freshman. Badminton wasn’t even her best sport. She’s a really good field hockey player….


So one day I’m talking to a friend and I say, `I can’t understand how Frannie made the team.’ And my friend says, `you don’t know?’ And I say, `know what?’ And she tells me Frannie had been busted for drinking and as a punishment the school makes athletes lose — I don’t know — a few weeks of eligibility….

You mean, they have to sit out?

Yes, sit out. So, Coach Jannie is also the varsity field hockey coach. And Frannie is one of her best players. And so….

Oh, my God. It’s starting to dawn on me…..

To save Frannie a full season of eligibility in field hockey, Coach Jannie put her on the badminton team….

And that meant kicking you off?

She nods.

Wow! That conniving, duplicitous, two timing little….

She laughs….

I lean closer and lower my voice like — I don’t know — the coach can hear us: Are you sure? Do you know for certain?

Not for certain. But having sat out her drinking suspension during badminton, Frannie got to play a full season of field hockey. And she never went out for badminton again, so you draw your conclusion….

Anyway, it turns out okay. Kimberly writes a great essay about not personalizing rejection — how more often than not the setbacks we suffer are out of our control.

As for old Coach Jannie. What a fucking loser — sold her soul for a few games of high school field hockey. I can’t imagine there are many who gave up more for less….

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No Blaise: Getting Second Graded

April 22nd, 2015

Yesterday was the second day of my internship in second grade. It offered a whole new set of experiences.

Their school day went pretty much according to the schedule I saw last week. T he lessons got a little more difficult, and it turns out I am working at below a second grade math level because I had to ask the other student teacher for help with the help I was supposed to be providing. She then got a second grader to explain it to both of us.

My inability to write the expanded form of “749″ turned out to be the smallest blow to my ego that day.

I started the day with a kid coming up to me and asking, “Are you a girl?” and when I said, “Yessssss,” she looks at her friends and goes, “Told you!”

For the next hour, the threats to my gender identity settled down. Then as I’m walking around as they clean up lunch, a kid physically stops me to ask if I have a boyfriend.

“No, I don’t.”

“So, you have a girlfriend?”

“No, I don’t.”

Then the child looked at me like an older relative at Thanksgiving who got married at 22, and you’ve showed up alone for the 30th year in a row.

The class and I get along nicely for the rest of the day, had some fun with “reader theater”. We’re in the home stretch, science, the last class of the day. I sit next to the kid who asked me about my dating life, I want him to realize that even though I’m single I’m a great catch.

Halfway through the lesson, he looks at me and says, “What’s that?” pointing to my shoulder. I look and see that my bra strap is showing. “Oh, that’s my undershirt.” Not wanting to get into a discussion about underwear, specifically mine, today. He then lowers his voice and asks, “Are you wearing a bra?”



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