Benny Jay: A Most Wanted Man

September 2nd, 2014

As the film critic for The Third City, I saw A Most Wanted Man, the latest movie to be based on a spy novel by John le Carré.

Here’s the good news. Not only did I like the movie, but I understood it!

I contrast, I didn’t remotely understand in anyway the last movie to be based on a spy novel by le Carré. That would be Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

In a vain attempt to understand what was going on in Tinker Tailor, I saw it twice. I was set to watch it a third time, when my wife counseled me — “It’s okay, just let it go.”

For me, the big obstacle in Tinker Tailor was that the actors spoke in British accents. What with them being Brits and all. So on top of a bewildering plot, I only understood about a third of what they were saying.

Plus, all the actors looked a like. So I had a hard telling anyone apart. All in all, a recipe for disaster.

I’m tempted to credit my understanding of Most Wanted to a regimen of good living that’s revived my aging brain cells.

In fact, if I treated my ability to understand movies the way Mayor Rahm treats the mildest fluctuations in the test scores of Chicago public school students, I’d rate myself an astounding success!

Sorry, didn’t mean to get all political.


Rest in peace, Mr. Hoffman…


But to be accurate, I think the real reason I understood Most Wanted is that the directors used a bunch of American actors who pretended they were Germans by speaking English with a slight — very slight — German accent. So we could all just sort of pretend that everyone’s speaking German.

Good decision, fellas.

The great Philip Seymour Hoffman is brilliant as the chief spy who, among other things, chain smokes cigarettes and walks around with his big belly hanging out, speaking with an accent that’s vaguely similar to Henry Kissinger’s.

After the movie, I pestered my wife to ask me trivia questions about the movie. Just to demonstrate how much I understood it.

I think we can all imagine how annoying that must have been for her.

Anyway, great movie! I urge each and every one of you to run, run, run and see it.

And if by chance you have questions about what is going on, you can always reach me right here at TTC.

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Letter From Milo: Scared Shitless

September 1st, 2014

About a month ago, I went to the Jesse Brown V.A. Hospital to see my physician, Dr. Frankie “Disco” Lopez, and hit him up for some new meds, preferably industrial-strength opiates. Dr. Frankie is a notoriously easy touch when it comes to handing out pain-killers. But just to be on the safe side, I Googled some exotic diseases and their symptoms to help make my case.

When I walked into Dr. Frankie’s office, he said, “Dude, we’ve got to make it quick. I’m meeting a nurse from ER for a nooner at the Diplomat Motel and I don’t want to keep her waiting. How are you feeling?”

“Not too good. I’m pretty sure I’ve got a case of Pontocerebellar Hypoplasia and I need something for the pain.”

“No problem. I’ll prescribe some shit that’ll make you feel real good. Hey, you’re a smoker aren’t you?”


“How long have you been smoking?”

“I started when I was three, about the same time I started drinking.”

“It’s time you had a chest X-ray. I’ll set it up.”

Two days later, as I was out on my back porch, enjoying a cigarette with my morning whiskey, I got a call from Dr. Frankie. “Dude,” he said, “I’ve got your X-ray in front of me and it looks like you’ve got a spot on the lower right lobe of your lung.”

“Ah, fuck!”

“I’m going to order a CAT scan so we can get a better look.”

“Doc, should I be worried?”

“If it was me, I’d be shaking in my boots and crying for my mama.”

I’m not the kind of guy that rattles easily. Anyone that reads my blogs knows that I’m a badass, tougher than concrete, meaner than a snake, as fearless as an Acapulco cliff diver. I’ve stared death in the face more often than a mortician. I’ve survived growing up on the mean streets of Gary, Indiana, a war in Southeast Asia, 30 years of marriage, the Bush administration, and a career in the advertising business.

That said, the possibility that I might have lung cancer scared the shit out of me.

After giving it some thought, I decided to keep the information to myself. I didn’t tell anyone, not even the lovely Mrs. Milo. I figured the situation would upset her worse than it upset me. I knew she’d be angry with me for not telling her, but I didn’t want my wife to worry until I knew that there was definitely something to worry about.

I had to wait three weeks for the CAT scan and, trust me, it was a very long three weeks. Everything slowed down. The days dragged by. I felt like I had a ball and chain attached to my leg. My thinking was scattered and murky. The words biopsy, major surgery, chemotherapy, and painful lingering death were never far from my mind.

My wife sensed there was a problem. Every few days she’d give me an odd look and ask, “Milo, are you okay?”

“Sure, babe, I’m fine. Everything’s peachy. Why do you ask?”

“Well, you’re acting weird. I’ve seen you staring off into space and muttering to yourself. Plus, you’re drinking more than usual.”

“Heh, heh, you’re probably just imagining things.”

There were a dozen other miserable-looking fuckers hanging around in the waiting room of the Radiology Department when I arrived for my CAT scan. And all of us were there for the same reason. Doctors had found something in our bodies that required further investigation. We were all hoping for the best.

Later that day, a few hours after the CAT scan, I was in my back yard, enjoying a cigarette with my afternoon whiskey, when the phone rang. It was Dr. Frankie. “Dude,” he said, “it was a false alarm. Other than a touch of emphysema, your lungs are clear.”

“Doc, that’s great news.”

“Well, I’ve got to call a couple of other guys who won’t be as happy to hear from me.”

That night, at supper, I told my wife the story. As I suspected, she didn’t take it well. “Oh, you’re such an asshole! I’m your wife! We’re partners! How could you keep that from me for three weeks?”

“Honey, it wasn’t easy.”

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Benny Jay: Labor Day Blues

August 31st, 2014

The first job I ever had was packing ice cream in an ice-cream factory in Evanston, Illinois.

It was in 1971.

I’d stand in the back room of a factory, packing ice cream into 16-ounce containers, which would get sold at the local grocery stores.

There were four other ice-cream packing teenagers in that back room. It wasn’t so bad when Eb — this super old guy — ran the show. He let us listen to the rock `n roll radio stations.

But it was a different story when Dan took over. That old sour puss kept the radio tuned to WGN.  My memory is that it didn’t play anything except Paul Harvey, farm reports and boring phone calls from suburban housewives with screechy voices.

Anyway, they started me off at $1.65 an hour and promised that after three or four months they’d give me a raise.

But when raise time came, the big boss had bad news. The country was fighting a mighty war against inflation. As part of that epic battle, President Richard Nixon had ordered a freeze on wages and price hikes.


Nixon Reacting to News of His Nomination

Blame it on President Nixon


So as much as they wanted to give me that raise — and he really, really wanted to do that — he couldn’t. President’s orders, and everything.

I haven’t liked President Nixon ever since.

As far as I can tell, I was one of the first casualties in President Nixon’s war against inflation.

They ought to erect a statue in my honor.

Happy Labor Day, everybody!


Rolando: A Red Line Conversation (Which Way is This Train Really Going, Man?)

August 30th, 2014

I like riding Chicago’s CTA trains, especially the “L”. Been doing it all my life. There’s something about  rocking back and forth on a set of old rickety train tracks at speeds of up to 50 mph that’s kind of fun.

It sure as hell gets me pumped. And let’s not forget the characters you come across when you ride the train system.

A few nights ago I decided to ride the Red Line to this thing I had to do.

I’m sitting on the platform at the Granville stop listening to some music to pass the time.

Train rolls up, I get on and find a seat.

At the next stop the doors open and this old, scruffy looking white guy walks in and sits down on the seat next to me.

I scoot over to give him some space and keep on listening to my music, when I hear a muffled: “Hey, man.”

I pop my right earbud out and turn to him and say: “What?”

“Hey, man,”  he says as he pulls out a joint from his coat pocket. “You wanna hit this?”

“No, I’m good, bro,” I say. “Besides, I’m pretty sure you can’t smoke on the train.”

“What the fuck? When did that start?”

“Well weed? Probably since forever, but tobacco, probably a couple decades.”

“That’s bull shit, man,” he says as he shoves the joint back in his pocket.

I pop my earbud back into my ear and keep on listening to my music.

A few minutes go by and the old, scruffy white man keeps quiet.

Then, again, a muffled: “Hey, man.”

“What?” I say as I pop the earbud back out.

“You ever wonder what direction this train is heading in?”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“I mean, it can be conducted from both sides, so, are we headed forwards or backwards, man?”

“We’re headed south. That’s where we’re headed. And if we were headed the other way, we’d be going north.”

“Shit, man. That’s crazy.”

“It’s not crazy. You can go north, south, east or west on these trains. Forwards or backwards is irrelevant.”

“That’s some crazy shit, man. Did you go to college or something? You’re a smart dude.”

“Yes, but that has nothing to do with it….”

Frustrated, I pop my earbud back in and try to ignore the guy as best I could, hoping that he wouldn’t bother me again.

After a few more stops: “Hey, man.”

“Bro, what the fuck?” I snap as I pop my earbud out for the last time.

“Whoa, whoa, man. I don’t like your negative energy. I’m just going to have to find my self another seat in this car where the vibes aren’t so dark. I just wanted to see if you wanted to hit this joint.”

“I told you no and that you can’t smoke on the train.”

“Well here I thought you were a really cool dude with your “north and south” talk but it turns out you’re a douche.”

He gets up, walks to the other side of the train where he begins the same routine with another passenger.

“Hey, man….”

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Randolph Street: Chichi B&W

August 29th, 2014


Kids–Chichicastenango, Guatemala






Barber Shop–Chichicastenango






Brick Road–Chichicastenango


All photos © Jon Randolph



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Benny Jay: Mice Science

August 28th, 2014

As the science correspondent for The Third City, I’m now going to write about the latest scientific discovery regarding mice.

I’m not sure why I, of all people, would be covering science. Probably cause I can’t force anyone else around here to do it — you try getting people to write about science at the wages we pay.

For the record, I’m probably not the best guy to write about science, as my science career came to a screeching halt over 40 years ago when I nearly flunked high school chemistry. A psychological trauma I still haven’t recovered from.

In any event, I learned about the mice research from an article in today’s New York Times, headlined: “Using Light Technique, Scientists Find Dimmer Switch for Memories in Mice.”

I would have never read the story, if my wife hadn’t noticed the headline and said: “A ha!  I told you we should dim the lights.”

Something you should know about me and my wife…

For the last several months, we’ve been bickering about how bright to keep the kitchen lights during supper.

My wife likes to dim them, on the grounds that it’s more romantic.

I, on the other hand, like to see what I’m eating. Plus, I occasionally like to sneak read magazines that are on the kitchen table.

But that’s off the record — don’t tell my wife.


You can learn a lot about science from these guys…



Anyway, I read the NYT article only to discover that it has nothing — absolutely nothing — to do with dimming the kitchen lights at dinner.

Instead, what these scientists did is — they zapped the shit out of some male mice they had trapped in a cage.

Then they allowed some female mice to enter the cage. I can only guess what the male and female mouse did in that cage cause the article doesn’t say.

But my guess is that they did a little dance, made a little love and got down tonight. To quote the eminent neurologist, K.C. Casey, of the Sunshine Band.

The scientists then concluded that the good memories of frolicking with female mice eradicated the bad memory of getting shocked.

In other words, sex is good.

Dang, man, I could have told you that — without the mice!

The scientists wrote up their report and published it in Nature,  under the headline: “Bidirectional switch of the valence associated with a hippocampal contextual memory engram.”

This is just a suggestion, but, hey, Nature – you might want to find yourself some snappier headline writers.

Now that I think about it — there’s always the possibility that I got all of this wrong.

After all, I am the guy who nearly flunked high school chemistry.

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