Letter From Milo: Gin Mill

May 19th, 2019

It’s terribly sad when a person loses the place he loves above all others. It’s even worse when a large number of people suffer the same loss.

Right now, there is a group of lost souls on Chicago’s North Side who are walking around with dazed expressions, a little frightened and a bit confused, like homeless people pushing shopping carts in the middle of a cold snap.

The reason these people are in such a sad state is that their favorite tavern, their home away from home, is shutting its doors. Now, this may not seem like much of a loss to most of you, but to people of a certain time, place and mindset the closing of this particular tavern is nothing less than a catastrophe.

This tavern, which I’ll call Swilligan’s, had been around since the early 1970s. It wasn’t much to look at, just a narrow room with a few booths tucked against one wall and perhaps a dozen stools leaning against the bar. To be honest about it, the joint was shabby. The only money the owner ever put into decorating was about 20 bucks a year for new Roach Motels — at least he claimed they were new.

Swilligan’s was located on Lincoln Avenue and it attracted a diverse and eclectic crowd. The regulars included artists, writers, musicans, gamblers, and for a short time, a touring banjo player/clog dancer. Most of the clientele, however, were regular Jills and Joes — carpenters, electricians, factory workers, cab drivers, nurses and teachers, as well as the infrequently employed and the chronically unemployable.

Oddly enough, despite Swilligan’s being a hole-in-the-wall, it attracted the occasional celebrity. Mike Royko would stop in once in a while. Bill Veeck came by to drink beer and talk baseball. The great Hunter Thompson made an appearance whenever he passed though town. The late folksinger, Fred Holstein, tended bar there when money or gigs were scarce.

It must also be admitted that a few drug dealers frequented the place. You could always purchase a little weed or something to fix your nose, if so inclined. The main attraction, however, was alcohol. Most of the regulars were heavy drinkers. In fact, I will go so far as to say that a few of them were world class drinkers. I could put it away pretty well myself in my heyday, until my health began to fail and my knees gave out, but I was always amazed at the amount of booze that some of the boys could handle — on a daily basis.

As I mentioned earlier, most of the customers were regular guys and gals, people who simply enjoyed the tavern life. For some of the regulars it was the only life they knew. For them, Swilligan’s functioned as a living room. It was where they relaxed, met friends, watched TV and entertained. A few even used the place as a mail drop or telephone answering service.

I haven’t spent much time in Swilligan’s in 10 or 15 years. For one thing, my wife never liked the place.

“How come you don’t like Swilligan’s?”

“It’s dirty, it stinks, it filled with low-lifes and losers and every time you go there you get fucked up.”

“So, what’s the problem?”

Whenever I run into an acquaintance from my Swilligan’s days and the subject of the bar’s closing comes up, there is always a palpable sense of sadness in the conversation. It’s as if the loss goes deeper than I could ever imagine. For Swilligan’s regulars, an era has passed, a way of life has gone and won’t be coming back. It’s time to move on. The problem is, where do they move to? How can they recreate what they once had? The short answer is, they can’t.

Dave Van Ronk, the New York City folksinger who passed away a while ago, captured the poignancy of a tavern habitue’s loss perfectly in his wonderful song “Last Call” from his album entitled “Songs for Aging Children.”

And so we’ve had another night
of poetry and poses
and each man knows he’ll be alone
when the sacred gin mill closes.

Sic transit gloria

Leave a comment

Randolph Street: All In One

May 17th, 2019

IMG_6182

Back Alley–Chicago

 

2_MG_1351

Metro–Paris

 

3IMG_2849-1

Addison Street–Chicago

 

4_MG_1546

Three Arms–Paris

 

5IMG_2952

Health Club–Chicago

 

Architectural Malpractice

6IMG_6199

All In One

 

All photos © Jon Randolph

jonrandolph.com

Leave a comment

Letter From Milo: Bad Judgement

May 12th, 2019

1. I’ve got a friend, let’s call him Joe to spare him any embarrassment, who made it pretty big out in Hollywood. Joe struggled for years before finally finding his niche. He worked as a script reader, tried his hand at acting and failed miserably as a writer before achieving success as a producer.

By way of explanation for you clueless, pathetic losers who aren’t privy to the inside Hollywood shit like I am, the title of “producer” is meaningless. Being a producer is like being a Kentucky Colonel. It’s as much a joke as it is a genuine honorific.

A person doesn’t have to produce anything to be a producer. The only criteria for being a producer is having the audacity to declare yourself one. There must be tens of thousands of people, probably more, calling themselves producers, but only a small fraction of those people have ever actually produced a movie or TV show.

My friend, Joe, is one of the lucky ones. He actually produces films. This is a story about the first film he produced. Against all odds, he ran across a good script, found two bankable actors willing to do it, and rounded up the financing for production.

When it came time to discuss his compensation, the money men offered Joe a flat fee or a piece of the action, whichever he preferred. Now, Joe is no country boy. He is a Chicagoan, born and bred. He understands that making movies is a crapshoot. He also understands that Hollywood bookkeeping is an art form, every bit as creative as writing, painting or musical composition.

Joe opted for a flat fee.

As luck would have it, the movie turned out to be a huge hit, making several hundred million dollars. Had Joe taken a piece of the action, his payday would have been 15 times larger.

The movie did so well that the money men decided to make a sequel. They figured it was a can’t-miss proposition. So did Joe. This time he took a piece of the action. Of course, the sequel turned out to be a huge flop, making about 20 bucks worldwide. Joe claims he didn’t even make expenses.

“The only good thing that came out of it,” Joe explained, “is that now I’m able to produce more movies. You see, making two movies and having one of them be a big hit is an astounding track record in the film business. Now all I have to do is figure out how to make some fucking money.”

2. I have a good friend, let’s call him Bruce Diksas to spare him any embarrassment, who was hanging out in the Pacific Northwest around 1980. He had followed a woman to Seattle in the hope of keeping a romance alive. The woman had enrolled in graduate school and spent most of her days in class or studying, so, Bruce found himself with a lot of time on his hands. And, like any ambitious, industrious, hard-working young man, Bruce decided to spend his free time in one of Seattle’s many legal poker rooms.

Now, Bruce is a pretty good poker player, but, like all of us who enjoy the game, he thinks he’s much better than he really is. He usually lost more than he won. Despite his bad luck, Bruce enjoyed his time at the tables, Playing poker all day was a very pleasant way to pass the time.

One of the main topics of conversation at the tables was a small business located in a storefront across the street from the card room. It seemed that the business was a source of local pride. It was growing rapidly and would soon be going public. A few of the players at the tables discussed the pros and cons of investing in the company, buying a few shares to help out the local boys.

Out of curiosity, Bruce stepped outside to check out the storefront. He was thinking about sinking a few hundred dollars into the company, just for the hell of it. As soon as he saw its name on the storefront window, however, Bruce, knew that the company had no chance of success. It was a stupid name. It made no sense. Shouldn’t a company’s name say what it does? Shouldn’t it at least be catchy, something that sticks in the mind? Why even have a company if you can’t give it a decent name? Any company with a name like that was doomed to failure. He’d be better off investing in lottery tickets.

The company’s name was “Microsoft.”

“I still say it’s a stupid name,” Bruce says to me years later.

“A lot of those internet companies have dumb names,” I reply. “Look at Yahoo or Google.”

Pouring himself another drink, Bruce says, “You’ll notice I didn’t buy any shares in those companies, either.”

3. I’ve got another friend, let’s call him Milo to spare him any embarrassment, who, in the mid 1970s, lived in a coach house on Burling Street just south of Armitage. The neighborhood, in those pre-gentrification days, was still very rough, gang-infested, with run-down buildings everywhere. Milo shared the place with his friends Bruce Diksas and Wayne Gray, and they split the 80 dollars a month rent.

Granted, 80 dollars a month was not a lot of money, even in the 1970s. Still, it was not always easy coming up with the 27 dollars apiece every month. None of the boys worked regularly and what money they scraped up was usually earmarked for drugs and alcohol, and occasionally a greasy hot dog at the Doggie Diner on Armitage.

The property was owned by a retired bartender named John, and he didn’t mind if the boys were late with the rent once in a while. Milo, Bruce and Wayne were a scruffy, eccentric and endlessly entertaining trio, more Stooges than Musketeers. The old barkeep enjoyed their company, joining the boys for backyard cookouts and drinkfests. One of the boys even talked John into smoking his first joint, which, to the old man’s surprise, he enjoyed immensely.

Sadly, John’s health began to fail. He couldn’t take care of the property anymore. Just walking up and down the stairs had become a chore. It was time, he decided, to sell the property and move into the Polish Eagle Nursing Home in Marquette Park.

John offered the property to Milo for $32,000. Think about it. A two-flat with a coach house in the DePaul/Lincoln Park neighborhood for a little over $30,000. Even though he had no money, Milo could have easily purchased the place. As a military veteran he could have taken advantage of the G.I. Bill and bought the property with no money down.

After giving it a little thought, Milo decided NOT to buy the place. When someone asked him why he chose not to buy, Milo haughtily replied, “I’m not into property, man.”

Those five words have haunted Milo for years. The property that he refused to buy for roughly 30K, is now worth in excess of one million dollars.

Sometimes, when Milo tells the story of his lost real estate opportunity, someone will ask, “If you weren’t into property, what exactly were you into?”

Milo always ruefully replies, “At the time, I was into stupidity.”

Leave a comment

Randolph Street: Farnsworth 2

May 10th, 2019

1DSCF5605Farnsworth House–Plano, Illinois

 

Currently, the Farnsworth property is having only minor flooding.

 

2DSCF5631Overlooking the Fox River

 

3DSCF5639Kitchen

 

4DSCF5624Living Room

 

All photos © Jon Randolph

jonrandolph.com

Leave a comment

Randolph Street: Three Places

May 3rd, 2019

1DSCF5787Diner Grill–1635 W. Irving Park 

 

2DSCF5741Traffic Cones–931 N. Ogden

 

3DSCF5763Plastic Chair–1220 W. LeMoyne

 

All photos © Jon Randolph

jonrandolph.com

Leave a comment

Letter From Milo: TV Daze

April 30th, 2019

I’ve been watching a lot of TV during my recovery from surgery. Normally, I would spend more time reading than watching the tube, but my favorite reading position, sitting up with my feet on the coffee table and a glass of wine in my hand, is a bit uncomfortable right now. So, I’m spending a lot of time stretched out on the couch with the remote control in easy reach.

I don’t care for regular television programming — the sitcoms or all the dramas with initials for titles, like CSI, NCIS, SVU, etc. I find them manipulative, formulaic and boring. I don’t even watch the network news anymore. Like many people these days, I get the news from the internet, although I still enjoy reading newspapers on a regular basis.

I also refuse to watch reality programs, MTV, screeching political talking heads, talent shows like American Idol, or anything else that instantly lowers my IQ. Years of self-abuse have left me dangerously low on gray matter. I need to preserve what little sense I’ve got left.

The only television programs I watch anymore are cooking shows, the Discovery, History, Travel and Animal Planet channels, and sports, especially my beloved Bulls. I’ll admit a sneaking fondness for David Letterman, but I suspect it’s probably a matter of one curmudgeon admiring another.

Staring at a TV for days at a time while whacked out on industrial strength pain killers is an experience everyone should have. Watching hyenas pull down a zebra on the Animal Planet, enjoying Nostradamus predict the end of the world on the History Channel, or relishing a heavy-set woman prepare Southern-style pot roast on the Food Network, all while stoned on the finest meds that medical science can offer, is a wonderful way to pass the time. I highly recommend it.

The only problem with being extremely wasted while watching a stew of history, cooking, science, animal documentaries and sports, is that the mind can’t properly process all of that information. It often becomes a confusing jumble of images and sound that sometimes makes no sense.

For example, I have a distinct memory of watching an Italian cooking show hosted by Benito Mussolini. I recall an ancient sage, either Archimedes or Plato, predicting that the Bulls would win the NBA Championship in 2012, unless, of course, the Mayans are correct and the world ends in that fateful year. I also seem to remember watching Leonard Nemoy solemnly explaining that the pyramids were actually transmitting towers built by aliens so that ancient Egyptians could tune in to both AM and FM radio.

Unfortunately, not everyone in my household has the same taste in television programming as I do. For example, one of my daughters has the habit of walking into the TV room, grabbing the remote. plopping down on the couch next to me and abruptly switching the channel.

“Hey, what are you doing?”

“I wanna see what’s on MTV.”

“But I was watching Hitler getting ready to invade Poland.”

“Dad, that’s like beyond boring.”

Or, my wife will walk into the room, wrench the remote from my clammy grip and change the channel.

“Hey, what are you doing?”

“I wanna see who got voted off of Dancing with the Stars.”

“Damn it, Sharon, the fat lady was just about to deglaze the pan and add the root vegetables.”

Or, my other daughter will come in and, without asking permission, switch channels on me.

“Hey, what are you doing?”

“I wanna see the Gossip Girls.”

“Sweetie, the Bulls are in the middle of a huge comeback.”

“Dad, they’re losing by 26 points.”

“Yeah, but there’s almost a minute left in the game.”

“Dad, you’re a pathetic loser.”

Oh, well, I guess it’s time for another pain pill.

Note:

My good friend, the artist Michael Realmuto, finally has some of his watercolors up on the Third City Site. His paintings of iconic Chicago landmarks are not to be missed. Best of all, prints of his work are available for purchase, in many different formats. I highly recommend his holiday greeting cards.

Just click on the Sights & Sounds button on the menu bar and you’ll find the link to his website.

Leave a comment
« Click here for Older Entries |
    • Archives