For the last few days, I’ve been working my way through Detroit – a book, not the actual city.
Its subtitle is: An American autotpsy. So, as you can see, it’s about the death of one of America’s great cities.
The author’s a newsman named Charlie LeDuff who, among other things, has a jazzy style, a profound sense of irony and an inability to do well with authority.
In short, a real Third City kind of guy!
Raised in a working-class family on the outskirts of Detroit, he doesn’t approach his subject with a sense of superiority. No, he openly admits he and his family are as fucked up as anyone else in his hell-hole of a home town.
That honesty, in my opinion, gives him the green light to rip into everyone who played a role in Detroit’s decline. A long list of miscreants that includes various mayors, councilmen, police chiefs and titans of industry, whose idiocy and greed helped destroy the auto and banking industries.
This is one of the more revealing moments in the book…
It has to do with the former mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, and a stripper named Tamara “Strawberry” Greene, who “died in a hail of bullets in a drive-by shooting, slumped over her steering wheel, her eye-glasses broken, the car still in drive, creeping down the street.”
According to Charlie, “Kilpatrick had denied in a court of law that he had fired the police department’s chief of internal affairs because he was getting too close to an alleged sex party at the mayor’s mansion — where rumor had it that a stripper named ‘Strawberry’ was beaten silly with a high heel by the mayor’s wife.”
Take a bow, Mr. LeDuff…
Then again, Kilpatrick had also denied in court that “he had an adulterous affair with his chief of staff.” Only to have text messages reveal her offer to suck his…
Well, let’s not repeat those text messages, as this is a family blogging site.
Suffice it to say, Kilpatrick’s denials don’t have a whole lot of credibility.
To find out if Kilpatrick had anything to do with Strawberry’s murder, Charlie turns to the veteran homicide cop, who investigated the case.
They meet in a coffee shop where, over oatmeal and cigarettes — a breakfast of champions, if ever there was one – the cop tells Charlie: “You’re dealing with some bad people here. From the mayor on down. This whole town is just a worm infested shit pile.”
One of the greatest lines — ever!
After digging through the cop’s file, Charlie concludes that “though the mayor was a liar and a cheater,” he wasn’t ”a murderer — at least not in the case of Strawberry.”
After he writes a column essentially clearing Kilpatrick of having anything to do with Strawberry’s murder, Charlie finds the following “two-word assessment of my world view” anonymously left on his answering machine…
On so many levels, that about sums it all up.
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Guys, I like school. This pessimistic creative writer who couldn’t wait to graduate college and never have to look at another text book is really and truly enjoying school. I actually want to do the readings, I get excited for class, and, wait a minute, I feel compelled to participate in classroom discussions.
Is this what being in a functional relationship feels like?
Now I don’t want to come off as though I don’t enjoy learning. Anyone who consistently reads my posts knows how much I enjoy making mistakes and learning from them. And then making that mistake over and over until really my only choice is to learn from it, for real.
Cough cough drunk texting cough cough.
School for me has never been something I’ve felt, prior to this point, compelled to jump into. Sure, my creative writing workshops and some other courses were incredible and interesting, but for the most part I’ve always enjoyed learning things in a less formal fashion. It makes me wonder if I’m too much of a control freak to let other people teach me things, but that’s another blog altogether.
What’s different this time? Why am I suddenly interested in reading the full chapters rather than brushing over the words and ingesting only the titles of paragraphs? Am I mature now?
I hope the answer to all three of those questions is that yes, I have actually made a leap into adulthood. I am also praying that this excitement isn’t simply my body running on adrenaline and then in two weeks I’ll be all “lol jk nvm bye DePaul”.
That being said, I think running on adrenaline would mean that I would hop out of bed in the morning, which is certainly not the case for me. Most mornings consist of me sobbing at my alarm to stop going off and the dog staring at me like, “Get up you lazy asshole I have to pee.”
There is one aspect of this whole grad school thing that I am already not looking forward to, however, and that’s my having to take the “Test of Academic Proficiency” in November. This is a test that all those looking to go into the field of teaching children have to take, because if you’re gonna attempt to teach them shit you should know shit. Unfortunately for me, the creators of this test remembered that young kids need to know math and science and other topics useless to a former English major who grew up in the City of Chicago. This means I will have to relearn everything about biology, chemistry, physics and all those god damn math equations I’ve been trying to erase with alcohol for the past three years.
Can a girl get a calculator?
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For the weekend, Cap and I decide to eat, drink and be merry.
We take our wives with us — cause what the hell. Why should we have all the fun?
Start off at a Columbian steak house on the north side. Order ourselves heaping platters of chicken and steak. Cause that’s how we roll!
The food arrives. Cap takes a bite.
“Delicious,” he says.
Then he calls for the waitress.
“Do you have any A1?” he asks.
She thinks: You dumb muthafucka, this is a Columbian restaurant.
She says: “Sorry, no.”
When she leaves a debate breaks out: Has Cap insulted the restaurant?
I shattered this wine glass, and…
The wives say yes. I say no. Cause the boys have got to stick together!
I celebrate the deliciousness of the moment by drinking a glass of red wine. Then I drink another. And then another. I’m starting to lose count.
Confession time: I can’t really hold my liquor.
I raise my glass and announce the time has come to make a toast…
“To great friends!”
We all clink glasses. Then I slam down my glass, like it’s a thick beer stein.
Only it’s not a thick beer stein. It’s a wine glass. Which shatters when I slam it on the table.
The waitress returns.
I say: “I’m so sorry.”
She says: “That’s okay.”
She thinks: This one’s even dumber than the other one.
I stagger out of the restaurant and into the car. Deb, Cap’s wife, does the driving. Cause Cap and I want to sit in the back and watch Fast and Furious 6 on the car CD player.
And Cap asked for A1…
We drive south to the Promontory club in Hyde Park, arriving just in time to see Maceo Parker.
Let’s hear it for Maceo, everybody!
By the way, Maceo’s bass player is the great Rodney Skeet Curtis, who used to play with George Clinton.
Let’s hear it for George Clinton!
At the end, we’re on our feet, cheering for the encore.
But, I don’t think we’re gonna get it.
Cause the guitar player’s got his jacket on and he’s walking through the club, heading for the door.
As he walks by, I reach out my hand: “Great show,” I say.
“Thanks,” he says.
“Hey, man,” he says. “Got a cigarette?”
I think: Dang, man, you should be playing an encore not bumming a smoke.
Thankfully, I keep the thought to myself.
Great night. Hope I didn’t make too big a fool out of myself.
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Frankie “the Suit,” The Third City’s Chief Financial Officer, called for a meeting of the editorial board at our plush Michigan Avenue offices to discuss matters of the utmost importance. The main item on the agenda was figuring out a way to cover our asses.
Frankie opened the meeting by saying, “Boys, sooner or later somebody is going to sue us. It’s inevitable. We’re up to 47 daily readers now and I guarantee that one of those ignorant, ungrateful bastards is eventually going to drag us into court.”
Benny Jay got a worried look on his face. “Jeez, why would anybody want to sue us?”
“This is America,” Frankie said. “Anybody can sue anybody at any time, for any reason.”
“Damn,” Benny said. “That’s not right. There ought to be a law against that.”
Frankie shook his head in disgust. “You’re a real dumbass, Benny. For your information, it’s mostly lawyers that make the laws in this country. And like any smart businessmen, they tend to make laws that favor their own interests. Just consider yourself lucky that Congress isn’t filled with doctors. Otherwise, there’d be a statute on the books requiring all Americans to have major surgery every six months. They might even…”
I was getting impatient. I had plans for the evening. “Can you hurry up and get to the point. There’s a 2-for-1 happy-hour special starting pretty soon at Swillagain’s. I don’t want to miss it.”
Frankie glared at me. He had a bad temper and didn’t like to be interrupted. It was a volatile and possibly dangerous moment. It wouldn’t be the first time one of our board meetings ended in a vicious brawl or a knife fight.
I saw Benny reaching into his pocket for the can of pepper spray he always brings to the meetings, and, for a brief moment, I regretted leaving my pistol at home.
But the tension quickly passed. Frankie took several deep breaths, had a drink from the half-pint he keeps in his pocket, and continued.
“Boys, the bottom line is, we have to protect ourselves and our personal assets from people who take offense at our blogs. We’ve got to incorporate.
Benny was puzzled. “It seems like things are going pretty good. Why rock the boat?”
“Benny, you’re a fucking idiot! Have you heard a word I’ve said? Milo has insulted everybody from the Pope to Prince Charles. He wrote that the great economist, Joseph Stiglitz, is nothing more than a failed bookie from Gary, Indiana. He called Alfred Nobel, who just happens to be Sweden’s national hero, a low-life cocksucker. He’s slandered Mayor Rahm, insulted our last several Presidents and called Hillary Clinton an ugly old whore. Mark my words, we’re going to get sued. It’s just a matter of time. They’ll come after everything we have, our homes, our cars, Milo’s porn collection, everything.”
Benny nodded in understanding. “You’re saying that if we incorporate nobody can come after our personal assets?”
“That’s right, dumbass. They can only come after our corporate assets.”
“The Third City doesn’t have any corporate assets.”
“My point, exactly.”
Frankie moved on to the next item on the agenda, something about the proper way to handle calls from collection agencies, but I had stopped paying attention. My mind was still on the matter of incorporation. Despite my initial reservations about incorporating, the idea started to make sense to me.
The Third City is, after all, a venerable and beloved institution. People rely on us for news, information and spiritual guidance. It would be a terrible shame if we had to shut down operations just because someone like Joe Stiglitz sued us for calling him a failed bookie, or Donald Trump dragged us into court for saying he was a greedy, ego-ridden bastard with the worst haircut since Larry Fine.
There were other considerations that started making sense to me, too. For example, if The Third City ever made a lot of money we could be like other major corporations and screw the government and the American people by not paying our fair share of taxes. If times got tough, we could outsource our blog writing to India and the Philippine Islands and get tax breaks for doing it.
There were all sorts of scenarios running through my mind. I realized that there were an unlimited number of ways to use the shield of incorporation to take unfair advantage of the government, the American public and The Third City’s faithful readers.
Corporate laws seem to have been written specifically for the benefit of thieves, scammers, con artists, Harvard Business School graduates and other seedy types. I’d be a fool not to jump on the cake train and avail myself of a loophole or two.
I was thinking about the tax benefits of establishing an offshore bank account when my reverie was interrupted by a bitter argument between Frankie and Benny Jay. I wasn’t clear on the details, but the argument seemed to be about a five dollar bill missing from the petty cash drawer, Benny’s two-hour lunches at Popeye’s Chicken, and the 1969 Chicago Cubs.
The argument grew louder and more heated. I took advantage of the uproar to slip out of the door. I was at the end of the hall waiting for the elevator when I heard angry shouts, breaking glass and loud thumps coming from our office.
Fortunately, the elevator arrived just as the first hint of pepper spray came drifting down the hallway.
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In honor of something or other, The Third City’s reposting this fabulous hit from the past…
Riding my bike into Evanston on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, when a text comes in from my younger daughter, asking: “Who sings the song, Used ta be my Girl?”
Catches me off guard. I know that song. It’s one of my favorites from the `70s. But I can’t remember the singer. And I don’t have a smart phone, so I can’t check the Internet.
So I call Cap, the captain of my bowling team. The man knows more about `70s R & B than any man or woman since the late, great Richard Pegue.
But Cap’s not in.
Now it’s driving me crazy. Who sings that song!!!!
I’m not proud of what happens next.
I decide to ask passing strangers. But in order to avoid wasting time asking people who — from the look of things — would not know the answer, I….
Oh, this is hard to admit….
I engage in racial profiling!
Generational profiling, too.
Oh, please, don’t hold this against me. And don’t tell anyone that I did it!
I pass a 20-something black guy. Right race, wrong age. So I don’t ask him.
I pass a 50-something white guy. Right age, wrong race. Now, if the song were by Led Zeppelin…
Finally, I get so guilt ridden that I decide to ask the next person I see, regardless of race or age.
“Do you know who sings Used ta Be My Girl?” I ask a 30-something-year-old Asian American woman.
“Sorry,” she says. “I don’t know that song.”
Then I see a person of the perfect demographic! A 50-something-year-old black woman.
“Excuse me,” I say. “Do you know who sings Used ta Be My Girl?”
“You mean, My Girl?” she asks.
“No, I’m talking about Used ta Be My Girl.”
Then I start singing — right there on the sidewalk just outside the cemetery on Chicago Avenue.
“`Ask me how I know, and I’ll tell you so — she used ta be my girl….’”
I’m really getting into it, snapping my fingers and everything.
“Oh, I know that song,” she says.
Which is a miracle considering how I sing it.
“Is it Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes?” I ask. “With Teddy Pendergrass.”
“No, it’s not Teddy,” she says. “I think it’s the Dramatics.”
“No, they sang, In the Rain,” I say.
“Just because they sing In the Rain doesn’t mean they didn’t sing Used ta Be My Girl.”
“Is it the Stylistics?” she asks.
“No, it’s definitely not the Stylistics,” I say.
“Oh, I just can’t think of it,” she says. “This will bother me all afternoon.”
After she takes off, Cap calls back.
“Who sings, Used ta Be My Girl? I ask.
“That’s easy,” he says. “The O’Jays.”
“Oh, my God — that’s right. The O’Jays!”
“Yeah, man,” says Cap. “I love the O’Jays.”
I hang up and text my daughter: “It’s the O’Jays.”
Like I knew it all the time.
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-Hello! Hey! Jesus Christ, what does a guy gotta do to take a piss around here?
-Yes, sir. Sorry about that. Just a busy day in the ER. Can’t get around quick enough.
-Busy day my ass. I practically pissed my pants over here. This damn prostate, I gotta piss every five minutes. Help me out, will ya?
-No problem, sir. Let me grab a urinal and we’ll get you taken care of.
-Help me up here. I’m a little wobbly. Been on this damn cart for hours.
-I got you. Just grab the urinal and I’ll support you while you pee so you don’t fall.
-Jesus I gotta piss. You got me? I’m 80-years-old, don’t wanna fall and break a hip pissing.
-I got you, sir. Just go ahead and pee.
-Alright…. Alright…. Here we go.
-I got you, sir.
-You a sports guy?
-Yeah I am.
-How bout those Bears, huh?
-What is it with Cutler, huh? Two beautiful TDs and then he’s giving the ball away like it’s Christmas.
-And how about Conte?
-Conte? Conte? Don’t even get me started. Can’t the guy ever make a fucking tackle?
-I mean, he’s out there trying to play patty cake with a tank of a man and he gets stuffed, twice! You’re a safety for shit’s sake, you get paid to make the tough tackles. Get low, put a fucking shoulder in like a man.
-You remember the game against the Packers last year?
-You trying to give me a heart attack? Of course I remember that game. He’s a no good bum!
-I don’t like for anyone to lose there job, but I’m sure he’ll be gone next year.
-Hey, kid, you don’t do your job, you lose your job. That’s the way it is. He’s a pro, he knows what he has to do.
-I guess you’re right.
-I’m all done here. Take the urinal and help me back onto the cart.
-I got you, sir.
-Take it easy, huh? I’m old as shit.
-No problem. Here you go. Sorry again about the wait.
-You’re alright, kid. Now get back to work. Don’t be a bum like Conte.
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