Randolph Street: My Kind of Town

October 24th, 2014

Jon’s still goofing around somewhere in Argentina, so here are a few of our recent favorites…

 

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Wrigley at night…

 

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One way or another…

 

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A Chicago fisherman…

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Benny Jay: The Empty Screen

October 23rd, 2014

There’s a scene midway through Michael Cuesta’s great thriller–Kill the Messenger–that sort of sums up the reality of my existence.

This action-packed flick tells the tale of Gary Webb, a crusading investigative reporter, who paid a very high price for exposing some pretty grimy secrets about the shitty things our government is capable of doing.

It’s well worth watching, if only for Jeremy Renner’s sensational performance as Webb. So, naturally, it’s only on about four screens in Chicago.

Apparently, they still want these things to remain a secret.

The connection to my existence most definitely does not come when Renner’s whipping around town in his super-cool British sports car, sneaking into a Mexican prison by paying off a guard or doing other swashbuckling things that I’ve never done in over 30 years of journalism. And am not likely to be doing anytime soon. Though I am working on getting that sports car.

No, it comes when he’s ready to write his story, having completed his investigation. He enters his office, turns on his computer, stares at the screen and has this brief moment of terror where he realizes: Holy shit, I gotta fill up this empty screen!

It’s a dreaded moment of panic that’s probably confronted every writer from Shakespeare to Mickey Spillane. Minus the computer, of course.

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Gary Webb

 

I believe Stephen King wrote a whole book about it–The Shining–which Stanley Kubrick turned into a pretty good movie.

Not to equate myself with Shakespeare, Spillane or Stephen King, but this moment confronts me every day. It’s confronting me right now, as a matter fact. It’s like you have to peel back your skull, scavenge around your brain and find something useful you can yank out and use superfast–before it disappears.

For some writers–like Roger Ebert–this is not a problem.

For other guys, it’s an ordeal.

This empty screen confrontation is, I believe, that make-or-break moment when thousands of people realize they’re never going to be a writer. Sort of like first year bio makes thousands of college freshmen realize they’re never going to be a doctor.

A realization that–for me–came with third grade earth science. That shit was hard, man.

If you can believe the movie, Gary Webb had a ritual to get him through the moment. He put on some rock `n roll–preferably, The Clash–did stretches, breathed deeply and took the plunge.

The good news is that he finished his story and filled the screen.

The bad news is that the story he finished pretty much finished him.

Anyway you look at it, there’s got be an easier way to get that sports car.

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No Blaise: Sentence Struggles

October 22nd, 2014

I bet you’re all sick of hearing about my obstacles of becoming a functioning graduate school. Unfortunately, if this is the case, you’re going to have to find something else to do with this Wednesday afternoon cause it’s hard out here for a pimp (26 year old white girl).

That being said, you’re already reading so why stop now? Misery loves company.

My first paper of graduate school is due today and while writing it last night, procrastinators unite, I realized just how hard it is for me to put a real sentence together. Sure, I write for this blog every Wednesday and occasionally there are full sentences, but the divide between snarky blog posts and graduate school papers that have to be written with your entire brain on and put into APA format, is quite large.

Step number one was wrapping my head around APA format for citing the paper, which I can say with 50% certainty I did not do correctly. Step two was not considering the creation of a title page a victory and worthy of an hour long break. Step three was stopping binge eating gummy beards. Step four was writing at least one sentence that made sense.

This paper was a shorter “reflection” paper which meant I got to add some thoughts of my own, which we all know I love to do. This meant I was almost able to convince myself I’d be able to write it today at work, but thankfully a little bit of me is an adult and vetoed that idea.

I decided that I was going to use the “word vomit, then edit” writing technique. I happened to leave out the self-edit part of this process and pretty much just word vomited onto three pages, and then a reference page, and sent it to Anika at about 12:30 last night.

I am waiting for her to look at it and send me a response with something along the lines of, “Did you have a stroke while writing this?”

Luckily, this lovely little paper has gotten my brain all nice and warmed up for the research paper I am going to be writing this weekend while out of town.

Rather than sacrifice my social life, I’ve decided to attempt to both have friends and be a good student. So far, this has meant drinking wine on Friday nights and getting up at 7am on Saturdays to do work before dog obedience class, and more often than not falling asleep sitting up while trying to do work on a couch at work as the boys sleep.

I may be going about grad school the wrong way..

 

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Benny Jay: Ali & Frazier by William Greaves

October 21st, 2014

A few months back, I read an obituary about William Greaves, a filmaker who died at the age of 87.

Of all his movies, the one that caught my eye was Ali, the Fighter. As the title suggests, it’s a documentary about the great Muhammad Ali.

Naturally, I had to order it up on Netflix.

What a treasure. If there are any fight fans out there, I urge you to watch it.

The film’s as much a tribute to Joe Frazier–Ali’s greatest fight foe–as it is to Ali.

This goes back to the early 1970s, right after Ali had been banned from boxing for refusing to be inducted into the Army.

He was trying to win back his heavyweight title, which Frazier had “won,” during the time Ali had been in boxing exile. So to speak.

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William Greaves with Steve Buscemi…

 

On March 8, 1971, they met at Madison Square Garden–two undefeated heavyweight champs–for what was billed as the Fight of the Century.

In the first half of the documentary, we see a lot of Ali, hilariously talking shit about Frazier.

Who just isn’t witty enough to keep up.

But once we get to the fight–which takes up about 45 minutes–well, let’s just say Joe Frazier puts on a world-class athletic performance.

I mean, the man was relentless–from the opening bell to the closing–15 rounds later.

Trying to use his longer reach, Ali launched one booming blow after another. And still, Frazier advanced.

He hit Ali again and again and again with brutal blows to the chest, neck and head.

How Ali sustained this beating–much less, went on to fight for another ten years–I’ll never know.

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It was a brutal fight…

 

Greaves not only captures the violence of the fight, but draws back at crucial moments to show the audience. Mostly white people, including all sorts of celebrities: Frank Sinatra, Burt Lancaster, Woody Allen, etc.

So the film’s also about rich white people watching two black guys beat the living shit out of each other.

You might call it a parable about, oh–everything.

At the climatic moment in the final round, Frazier stunned Ali with a vicious left hook. Knocked him to the ground. Give Ali credit for getting up to finish the fight.

For the record, Frazier won this bout. But Ali won their next two.

The power of Frazier’s left hook stayed with me long after the movie had ended. I was still thinking about it a day or two later when I bumped into my neighbor, Sam the firefighter.

One of the wisest men I know.

Of course, I told Sam all about the fight. And how horrible it is that Ali and Frazier pretty much had their brains beaten out.

And Sam said–look on the bright side. Those epic bouts gave Ali a platform to crusade against war and racism.

I guess he took what he got and made the best of it. Just like Joe Frazier and William Greaves.

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Letter From Milo: Yo, Mama

October 20th, 2014

We’re a one car household with three drivers in the family. My wife, the lovely Mrs. Milo, monopolizes the car. She’s a realtor and a Pilates instructor, and she’s always running off to show properties or teach classes.

When my wife is not using the car, my youngest daughter has dibs on it. She’s a student at a local university. She needs the car for the same reasons that all young kids need cars, reasons that I’d rather not know about.

The only time I really need the car is when I want to visit my 89-year-old, Alzheimer’s afflicted mother at her assisted living facility in Munster, Indiana, about an hour’s drive from our home in Ravenswood.

I don’t see my mother as often as I’d like. The only times I can visit her are on weekends, but weekends are also the times when my wife needs the car most. Negotiations for use of the car can be tricky.

This past Saturday, I said, “Honey, is there any chance I can use the car today? I haven’t seen Mom in a while and I’m starting to feel guilty about it.”

The lovely Mrs. Milo whipped out her appointment book. “This morning is out. I’m teaching at nine and ten. Then I’ve got two showings in Lincoln Square and one in Wicker Park.”

“How about this afternoon?”

“I’ve got another showing at two, then, I teach again at three.”

“Ah, shit.”

“Wait, wait, I can ride my bike to my three o’clock so you can have the car for three hours, from 2:30 to 5:30. But you have to be back by 5:30 because I’ve got two more showings at six and seven.”

“Great! An hour to drive there, an hour with Mom, and an hour to drive back.”

My wife got home at 2:30 and I was on the road a couple of minutes later. Traffic was light and I pulled into the assisted living facility’s parking lot, on schedule, a little less than an hour later.

Visiting my mother is always a bittersweet experience. I love spending time with her, but hate seeing the damage that Alzheimer’s has done. She had once been a strong, independent and intelligent woman. Now, she is a frail, addled, bewildered and unpredictable old lady. I never know how she’ll react when she sees me.

Mom didn’t answer her door when I knocked, and she didn’t answer her phone when I called from my cell. I went to the front desk and asked the attendant if she knew of my mother’s whereabouts. I was informed that she was in the recreation room, playing Bingo.

Mom was sitting at a card table with three other ladies, concentrating on her Bingo card, when I tapped on her shoulder. She looked up at me with a puzzled expression, then, broke into a smile when recognition set in.

“What are you doing here?” she asked.

“I just came to visit you.”

“That’s nice, but I’m playing Bingo now. Come back when the game is over.”

“Sure, Mom, no problem.”

I asked the lady running the Bingo game how much longer the game would last. She said, “We just started. It’ll be a couple of hours.”

I hung around for about five minutes, watching my mother play Bingo. Then I went out to the parking lot, got in the car, and drove back to Chicago.

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