All photos © Jon Randolph 2016
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On a lovely night in June, I set off on my bike, heading home along the lakefront from Millennium Park.
I’d been at an outdoor concert–Eddie Palmieri and his Salsa Orchestra–that may have been the greatest outdoor concert I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen a bunch.
The sounds of that orchestra are still resonating through my brain, giving me a little extra oomph, as I cross Lake Shore Drive and head north along the bike path.
I feel like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape, racing my motorcycle over barbed wire fences. The breeze is lovely. It’s like I’ve sliced 30 years off of my age.
But as I approach Oak Street Beach, from behind me I hear a stern and commanding voice: “On your left!”
It’s what faster cyclists say to slower cyclists as they come up from behind them. As the rider approaches, I say: “Take it, big feller.”
And then what do I see?
A fat guy on a Divvy!
Are you kidding me! Passed on the left by a Divvy?
In my mind, I’m Steve McQueen…
In case you don’t know–Divvy’s are the rental bikes. They’re squat and heavy. They don’t move fast. Utilitarian is the word that comes to mind.
You can’t really pretend you’re Steve McQueen if you’re on a Divvy. Man, Steve McQueen wouldn’t be caught dead on a Divvy.
The guy whizzes by, like he’s the baddass. And I’m like–it’s on!
So I dig a little deeper and peddle a little harder. I can tell he feels me coming at him. Cause he digs harder.
In my mind, I’m still Steve McQueen. Only it’s a different movie–Les Mans–and I’m in a Porsche 917 whipping around a race course.
As we approach Fullerton, I draw closer.
“On your left,” I say.
And with that I fly right by him–like he’s standing still. As I disappear into the night, I raise my right arm to signal that I am the champion. Just like Steve McQueen!
I’m feeling pretty good until just south of Belmont I hear: “On the left!”
It’s a younger woman on–yes–a Divvy.
As she races past me, I think about giving chase. But fuck it. That’s as much racing action as this old man can take for the night.
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Just got back from six day stint in California. It was a vacation and it was wonderful. Spent six days in a sunny haze of eating so many different kinds of food, drinking all kinds of drinks, playing with Hannah’s dogs, and frolicking on a gorgeous Santa Barbara beach.
I sat at the bus stop yesterday waiting for the shuttle to take me to LAX on the verge of tears. Were the last six days a dream? They certainly were. Why do I have to wake up from the dream that is being in California with my best friend!? Adulthood, that’s why.
On the plane home I couldn’t sleep 1) because I am too large of a person for any airplane seat ever, and 2) because I was sitting next to a child whose parent saw nothing wrong with her playing a game on a cell phone at full volume without headphones in as she loudly talked about how much she wanted bbq and violently kicked the seat in front of her.
Instead of sleeping, my brain decided to think about all the things I hadn’t yet gotten done in the reality I was returning to.
These haunting things include:
Finishing my resume which I’ve basically spent the last three months revising and somehow am still not finished with.
Finishing uploading everything to the CPS Quality Pool that will eventually lead to me getting hired. To my credit, I’m waiting on someone to return a letter of rec that I need to upload in order to keep it movin.
I’m going out of town again this weekend and am in no way prepared. Though I did buy a new bathing suit top, so, half way there.
My room is just a big ol’ mess.
The desk in the basement has become a literal pile of my crap rather than anywhere that any work can be done. That’s nothing new though, I’m still convinced that my best work is done in my bed where I can fall asleep whenever I want. Two birds, one bed.
I of course remedied my anxiety about all the above stuff by staying in bed til I had to babysit at 3:15. Now, here I am writing a blog as I babysit like the multi-tasker that I am.
Even better, I’ve kept the kids occupied by allowing them to literally draw all over me with markers. One of them may have even glued something to my body.
This is my reality now.
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A week or two ago, I buy a Burt Bacharach compilation CD at a used-book store in Evanston. I’ve been listening to it ever since.
It’s got all the great Bacharach songs by the singers who made them famous. Baby It’s You by the Shirelles. Dionne Warwick’s I’ll Never Fall in Love Again, Do You Know the Way to San Jose and my all-time, all-time: Walk on By.
Plus, it’s got Dusty Springfield’s The Look of Love. No offense to Adele, but Dusty’s been doing that blue-eyed British soul thing since like forever!
Whatever you do, please don’t tell Eric about any of this. He’s this press aide who can’t stand pop music.
One time we got into a rip-roaring debate that went like this….
Eric: Joe Strummer’s a genius.
Me: Who’s Joe Strummer?
Oh, don’t act like you’ve heard of him either, people.
He’s the singer/songwriter for the Clash, one of the bands that was popular back in the late 1970s when I was listening to the Bee Gees.
Thus, continued our great debate….
Eric: The Bee Gees are shit!
Me: People will be singing Bee Gee songs long after everyone’s forgotten Joe Strummer.
And to prove my point, I sang Night Fever. Only I got the words wrong. Damn!
Anyway, every now and then, just to really annoy him, I’ll send Eric an email along the lines of: “Barry Manilow’s way better than Joe Strummer.”
If you really want to get Eric going, extol the virtues of Barry Manilow.
Back to Burt….
At first my wife rolled her eyes at the CD. Like: Oh, my God — these songs are ancient.
Then I noticed the CD would be in the CD player after she left the car — as in, she’d been listening.
And then one day she broke down and texted me a confession: “I love the Burt Bacharach CD.”
Folks, there are few things in life better than receiving a you-are-right-and-I-am-wrong text from your wife.
And, then – well, you had to see this to believe it.
We’re in the car. Me, my wife, our older daughter and one of her friends.
And I’ve got Burt Bacharach playing cause I’ve always got Burt Bacharach playing. And it’s on Jackie DeShannon’s What the World Needs Now.
They get to the part where Jackie goes: “Lord, we don’t need another meadow — there are corn fields and wheat fields enough to grow.”
And then she sings: “There are sunbeams and moonbeams enough to shine, oh, listen, lord, if you want to know.”
And as she builds to the crescendo, I crank up the volume and go: “Come on, everybody — sing with Jackie!”
And I’ll be damned — they’re all singing! Every single one. “What the world needs now — is love, sweet love, it’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.”
As a matter of fact, I’ll bet you’re singing it at this very moment.
So come on, everyone: “What the world needs now, is love, sweet love, no not just for some, but for everyone….”
I think even Eric joined in.
In the late 1970′s and early 80′s I had a little problem with cocaine. I wasn’t the only one. In my social circle the drug seemed to be everywhere. At the parties and gatherings I attended there were more runny noses than in a classroom of first graders during cold and flu season.
At the time there was a lot of misinformation being spread about cocaine. It wasn’t addictive (bullshit). It was great for your sex life (occasionally). It was as harmless as reefer (what a crock of shit). The truth of the matter is that cocaine ruined lives and killed people. And when some genius figured out how to distill the essence of cocaine and turn it into crack, well, you’ve read the papers.
My coke connection was a guy I’ll call Gary. He had been a pot dealer for years before adding coke to his inventory. He had an apartment about half a block from Wrigley Field, and I used to spend a lot of time there, getting high, listening to Gary’s extensive record collection and chatting with his clients when they stopped by to pick up an ounce or two of weed.
I met a lot of characters at Gary’s place. He had been around a long time and had collected an interesting customer base. A lot of theater people and musicians were regulars, as were a contingent of Lincoln Avenue hippies and barflies left over from the 60′s.
The only thing that changed when Gary started dealing coke was that he began making more money. He still liked having people around and was very generous with his product. There were always joints available and a few lines of white powder and a rolled-and-taped hundred dollar bill on a small mirror he kept on his coffee table.
One of Gary’s customers was a guy named Walt, who tended bar at popular local jazz club. I happened to be at Gary’s one day when Walt called and said he was going to stop by. When Gary got off the phone, he was as excited as I’d ever seen him.
“Man, oh, man. Guess who’s dropping by?”
“I heard. It’s Walt, right?”
“Yeah, guess who he’s bring with him.”
“Dexter fucking Gordon.”
“The saxophone player?”
“One of the greatest ever. The fucking guy’s a legend. Fuck, man. Dexter Gordon.”
It just so happened that I had read about Dexter Gordon in the Tribune that morning. He was making his first American tour in 30 years. Like many American jazz men, Dexter had been an expatriate for much of his career. The expatriates left the country for many reasons – racism, greater financial opportunities, drug problems. Sadly, in Dexter’s case, it was drugs. America’s drug laws were brutal in the 40′s and 50′s, when Dexter was in his prime. Instead of treatment, addicts were locked up for years, doing hard time just for having “marks,” which are the scars left by hypodermic needles. For a better idea of the drug hysteria of the time, read “Straight Life,” the biography of another brilliant saxophone player, the great Art Pepper.
Dexter Gordon was an impressive looking man. He must have been in his late 50′s or early 60′s, but looked younger. He was about 6’5″ tall, a light-complected black man with freckles and closely cropped red hair. He looked a bit like the photos I’d seen of Malcolm X. When he spoke, his voice had a growl like Louis Armstrong.
Dexter was warm, open and talkative. We discussed all sorts of things, the upcoming Chicago Jazz Fest, baseball (he was a Mets) fan), a recording date he was planning, his performance that evening. He spent about three hours with us. I don’t recall everything we talked about, but I do remember that Dexter snorted about two grams of coke.
The man was snorting coke as quickly as Gary could dish it out, and, as I mentioned, Gary was generous with his drugs. I did my share but couldn’t keep up with Dexter. He wasn’t a Hoover, he was a Black and Decker Industrial Strength Wet/Dry Vac. Even Gary was impressed by the amount of coke Dexter was putting away.
It was a pleasant afternoon, one I’ll never forget. When it came time for Dexter to leave, he thanked Gary profusely for his hospitality and invited us to his show. He said he’d leave comps with the bartender.
Due to extenuating circumstances, I didn’t make it to the show, but I made it a point to read the Tribune the next morning to see if there was a review of Dexter’s show. There was indeed a review. I don’t remember the exact wording of the review but it went something like this.
“I am in awe of Dexter Gordon. His career, once derailed by drug addiction, is back on the fast track. The show he put on last night was one of the best I’ve ever seen. Now that Dexter has put his drug problems behind him, his playing is better than ever,”
It did my heart good to read that Dexter Gordon had given up drugs and straightened out his life. Good saxophone players are hard to find.
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This being Pride Day, I make my way east for the celebration–cause everybody’s gay on Pride Day!
Only I don’t go to the official Pride Day Parade.
Nah. Too many people for me.
Hey, man, just cause you’re gay on Pride Day doesn’t mean you want to hang with thousands of people. Many of whom are shit faced.
Instead, I go to Montrose Hill, where the pre-parade Pride Day celebrators are celebrating.
On the south side of the hill, a bunch of celebrants are listening to Pipe It Up by the Migos. Sample lyrics…
Pipe it up, pipe it up, pipe it up, pipe it up
I walk in the club just to pipe it up
I stand on this stage and I pipe it up
Get a regular ho tell her pipe it up
Go buy a bando then I pipe it up…
Doesn’t sound like something you’d hear on the jukebox at the Stonewall Inn back in the summer of 1969, where so much of this started. Obviously, things have changed.
The millennials who’re playing Pipe It Up welcome me to their party. Even snap a picture with me. Just to show that on Pride Day, even the old guys are part of the celebration.
On the other side of the hill, a group of Pride celebrators have got a big grill fired up and are preparing to cook a slab of ribs about as thick as a mountain.
They look to be in their 40s. On their boom box, they’re playing the Temptations. Sample lyrics…
When it’s cold outside I’ve got the month of May…
Gives me a chance to indulge in a little Pride Day generational debate.
Which lyrics to you prefer? The Migos?
Pipe it up, pipe it up, pipe it up
I walk in the club just to pipe it up
She was a basic bitch til I piped her up…
Or Smokey Robinson (well, he wrote My Girl).
I’ve got so much honey, the bees envy me.
I’ve got a sweeter song than the birds in the trees…
C’mon, I think even most of you Pride Day millennials have to go with Smokey.
It really doesn’t matter. Cause, like I said, no matter if you dig Smokey or the Migos–everybody’s gay on Pride Day!
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