Letter From Milo: A Soldier’s Comfort

May 29th, 2017

Memorial Day is a wonderful day for politicians. There are graves of fallen American soldiers scattered all over this country and the photo opportunities for Senators, Congressman and Governors are endless. No career political hack can resist the opportunity to wrap himself in the flag and be photographed at a soldier’s grave site on Memorial Day.

For other folks, the best thing about this holiday is that they don’t have to work on Monday. It’s an extra day away from the office or factory, another day free of the indignities that come with working for a living.

Memorial Day has an entirely different meaning for veterans, especially combat veterans. Military personnel who have been awarded the CIB (Combat Infantryman Badge), which is given to soldiers who have personally fought in ground combat operations, often have mixed feelings about a holiday that was created to honor the dead.

Chances are, if a person has a CIB, they’ve seen and done some terrible things. They have spent time in the Inferno. They have experienced true horror. And the absolute worst of those horrors was seeing friends die. The ghosts of Alpha Company still haunt my dreams.

Some combat veterans, including me, are uncomfortable with the overly sentimental veneration of America’s fallen soldiers. It’s too little, too late, and the sentiments are usually off the mark.

It makes me uneasy when I hear politicians exalt dead soldiers, or read editorials comparing them to saints, calling them God’s warriors, elevating them to the status of angels with assault rifles. The image of the American foot soldier as a noble warrior, different than all the cruel, heartless bastards that came before him, is a false one.

The truth is, the American foot soldier is a bad motherfucker, a dangerous, highly-trained, superbly armed, brutal and efficient killing machine.

A lot of the soldiers in my outfit were tough kids, urban and rural poor boys, before they went into the service. A few months in the jungles and paddies made them even tougher. Spending three weeks at a time on Search and Destroy missions, sleeping in muddy foxholes at night, waiting for the next bit of Hell to arrive, and wondering if your next breath will be your last, has a way of bringing out the beast in a man.

After three weeks in the bush we’d be sent to a relatively safe firebase to relax and unwind. Those seven days were spent trying to forget the terrors of the previous three weeks. We drank heavily, smoked copious amounts of weed, and visited the whores who set up storefronts near every American firebase.

The liquor and drugs helped us escape the grim reality of our lives. The intoxicants made it possible, for a short time, to forget some of the things we had seen and done.

The young whores made us feel human again. The act of love, the skin-to-skin contact, the primal connection between a man and woman, helped soften the rough edges of our memories.

True, these were coarse comforts, frowned upon by church, state and the general public, but they were all we had. A few drinks, a little weed, and a piece of ass made an intolerable existence somewhat bearable.

No, we weren’t knights in shining armor. I doubt we would have been welcomed in polite society. We were just common foot soldiers, flawed in so many ways. But we were young and valiant, and did the best we could.

Here are a few lines from a Rudyard Kipling poem called “Tommy,” about British soldiers. I believe it captures the ambivalence that some civilians have for the military, why dead soldiers are honored, and living ones not so much.

“An’ if sometimes our conduck ain’t all your fancy paints,

Why, single men in barracks don’t grow into plastic saints,

For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ ‘Chuck him out, the brute,’

But it’s ‘Savior of our country” when the guns begin to shoot.”

As I mentioned, I’m not a fan of Memorial Day. It brings back too many bitter memories. But I can understand how the holiday can be a comfort to people, especially those that have lost friends and loved ones in wars.

So, go ahead and celebrate Memorial Day any way you like. I’ll honor the occasion properly.

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Rolando: Rich People Food

May 27th, 2017

When we were younger we’d always hang out over at the Oglesby Monument which stands on a hill next to the North Pond, in a park just west of Diversy Harbor.

We liked the place because it was on a pond and it had a good view of the downtown skyline and when we did the things that teenagers do on warm summer nights, the reflection of the downtown skyline on the pond’s surface added a trippy, surreal element to the hangout.

There was also the added benefit of being up on a hill with a 360 degrees view of the surrounding area. It was almost always after park hours when we were up there and it helped that we could see the cops coming and scurry down the other side of the hill and out of the park.

I spent a lot of time on that hill, staring up into the evening skies, thinking about life, or just zoned out, not thinking about anything at all, feeling the city whirl around me.

There were other times where my mind would head down this weird path and I would become obsessed with this little restaurant at the base of the hill that overlooks the pond: North Pond.

It looked like a fancy joint from the outside, looked expensive, I don’t know what made me think that, maybe it was the lack of signage and that it was tucked away and hidden from the rest of the city.

It was like a secret, ‘A rich people secret,’ I would think. ‘The kind that only rich people can enjoy. And definitely didn’t want to share with my broke ass.’

I’d hike down the hill and peer into the restaurant’s windows, trying to take in as much as I could about the place.

‘I wonder what kind of food they serve in there? What do rich people eat?’

I knew Puerto Rican food. I knew there was Italian and Mexican and Chinese food. I wasn’t so sure about rich people food.

‘I’m going to eat here one day,’ I’d say to myself. ‘Probably not ever going to be rich people rich enough, but I’m going to eat here, somehow.’

“I’m going to eat there one day,” I’d say to my buddies as I hiked back up the hill.

“Yeah, and we’re going to be the kings of the world,” the smart asses would say.

Fast forward 17 years…

I never thought about the place again. Life happened. I grew up, had other food related experiences, travelled to other countries.

About a month ago the wife and I are in the car and we pass the hill, the old hangout. And I mentioned in passing how as a kid I always swore I’d eat at the North Pond place one day.

Being the amazing and thoughtful woman that she is, a few weeks later, she surprised me for my 35th birthday with a dinner at the rich people spot.

It was a great experience. Of course because the food was amazing and fresh and something entirely different than what I am used to.

But also because of the memories it brought back of my late teens, those years where I spent so much time dreaming about many of the things that I have been able to experience in the nearly two decades that have passed since those times spent staring at the city’s nighttime sky or peering into those windows.

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Randolph Street: Waiting For Sonny

May 26th, 2017

 

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Waiting…

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Hidden bench…

 

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Night light…

 

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I got you, babe…

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Benny Jay: Racing Man

May 26th, 2017

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?

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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 forget it. That’s as much racing action as this old man can take for the night.

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Randolph Street: Take To The Highway

May 24th, 2017

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Baseball–Blue Grass, Iowa

 

These pictures were made from 1975 to 1982. Highway 61 ran from New Orleans to Thunder Bay–along the Mississippi up to St. Paul then along Lake Superior to Thunday Bay, Ontario, where it ended.

 

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Man & Dog–Vicksburg, Mississippi

 

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Trailer Boy–near Burlington, Iowa

 

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Porch–Blytheville, Arkansas

 

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Paper Hat–New Orleans, Louisiana

 

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Demolition–Thunder Bay, Ontario

 

All photos © Jon Randolph

jonrandolph.com

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Benny Jay: The Old Debate

May 23rd, 2017

I’m riding the Red Line as the clock nears midnight, when the great political debate erupts.

Actually, it’s not a debate so much as a monologue. A clearly inebriated man–staggering as the train rolls north from Roosevelt–feels compelled to bellow his political thoughts to the entire subway car.

Like all we want to do is listen.

“I’m feeling the Bern,” he proclaims. “I’m feeling the motherfucking Bern!”

I understand the sentiment. Lately, I’ve been feeling the Bern myself. Though I’m generally capable of containing my passions while riding in a subway car that’s surprisingly crowded so late at night.

He continues his discourse.

“You can’t trust Hillary Clinton. She couldn’t keep her man from getting a blow job in the White House. How’s she gonna run the country?”

I’m not sure about this. I’ve been known to gripe about the Clintons from time to time over the last 20 or so years. But in this case, I’m not sure one part of his analogy relates to the other.

From the other side of the train, a second voice erupts.

“Fuck that!”

It’s a scrawny man, who’s staggering down the aisle, a can of Red Bull in his hand. He looks like he’s had a drink or two, as well.

“Fuck these motherfuckers. Fuck `em all. I ain’t voting for none of `em!”

Ah, an anarchist.

“None of these motherfuckers putting any money in my pockets.”

No, more like a pragmatist.

berniehillarydebateThe Red Line debate was as good as Bernie v. Hillary…

 

Red Bull’s sentiments offend the first orator.

“Fuck that, man. You got to vote. It’s your motherfucking obligation, bitch!”

Well put! This guy should be teaching high school civics.

“Shit,” says Red Bull.

“Fuck that,” says the Bern man.

I’m telling you–Hamilton v. Jefferson’s got nothing on these guys.

Suddenly, a man to my left can contain himself no longer.

“I agree with the dude,” he says.

Apparently, a reference to Red Bull.

“Why vote–cause the Electoral College decides it,” he continues. “That’s how this shit works. No matter how you vote, the Electoral College decides it.”

It’s an interesting interpretation of the electoral process. I want to ask for a more detailed explication, but, unfortunately, we reach my stop.

Oh, well, it was an enlightening debate.

“Fuck these motherfuckers.” That pretty much sums up the electorate’s attitude these days.

I’m especially encouraged that there wasn’t a Trump voter in the bunch.

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