Letter From Milo: Good Grooming

April 23rd, 2018

I was having a pleasant conversation with my sweet, gray-haired mother when she stopped in mid-sentence, stared at me for a moment, and said, “When are you going to get rid of that ugly thing on your chin?”

“What? You mean my goatee?”

“Oh, is that what you call it? Looks more like a hamster attached itself to your face.”

“Mom, that’s kind of harsh. I’ve been told that the goatee makes me look distinguished. My daughters, your own grandchildren, like it. They say it’s cool.”

“Well, they’re lying to you. That nasty thing makes you look like a mangy old goat. It probably smells bad, too. Why don’t you do the world a favor and shave it off?”

“Damn, Mom, I bet you don’t talk to your daughter like that.”

“Your sister is a mean, spiteful bitch. She hasn’t spoken to me since I told her she was getting fat.”

There was a time, when I was a young man, when facial hair was very popular. I remember a group photo that was taken in Sterch’s tavern in the mid-1970s. Every guy in the picture, including me, was bearded or had some sort of facial growth. We looked like the House of David baseball team, or characters in a Matthew Brady Civil War photo.

The variety of whiskers in the photo was impressive. There were full beards, droopy Pancho Villa moustaches, Van Dykes, modified goatees, bushy sideburns that Isaac Asimov would have envied, something that vaguely resembled the traditional Amish beard, and a few follicular arrangements that defied description. Most of the guys had pretty long hair, too.

I had a full beard when I met the future lovely Mrs. Milo. At first, she didn’t seem to mind the beard, but after a few months she began complaining that it smelled like smoke. So, rather than quit smoking, I shaved off the beard, which I thought solved the problem neatly.

I stayed clean shaven for many years. I paid no attention to the beard styles that regularly popped up and quickly faded away. I had no interest in cultivating the scruffy Miami Vice look or sporting a grungy soul patch. And I thought manicured mutton chops looked ridiculous.

I didn’t give any thought to facial hair again until about three years ago, when I was hired as Society, Lifestyle and Religion columnist, here at The Third City. To be completely honest, I don’t know why they hired me in the first place. The only qualifications I had were an honorable discharge from the Army, a reference from a prominent bartender and a good reefer connection. I didn’t even look the part. I looked more like a gandy dancer than a columnist.

I felt like a complete fraud. If it wasn’t for the chicks and the money, I would have walked away from the job after a couple of weeks.

That’s when I decided to grow a goatee. A well-groomed goatee can make an insignificant person seem important, a stupid person seem smart, and a nebbish seem hip. It can cover a multitude of personal and intellectual failings, and it does wonders for a weak chin.

There’s nothing like stroking your goatee and gazing thoughtfully into the distance to make people believe you’re thinking great thoughts. The chin hair didn’t actually make me a better writer, it just made me look like a better writer.

The goatee probably saved my blogging career. That’s why I felt so bad when my mother told me that it looked like shit. I have always considered myself an exceptionally handsome man. If anything, I thought the goatee enhanced my striking good looks. But my mother had put doubt in my mind. Maybe I was wrong about the facial hair.

I went into the bathroom and stared into the mirror. Perhaps the goatee did make me look older. There were more gray whiskers on my chin than dark ones. And maybe it did look ragged around the edges. I had to be more careful about my grooming. I stared into the mirror for a long time. The longer I looked, the more I feared my mother was right in her assessment.

And then I shaved the damn thing off.

A few hours later, my wife and daughter returned from a shopping trip. When my daughter saw my clean shaven face, she shrieked, “Dad! Why did you shave the goatee? It looked really good on you. It was cool.”

My wife chimed in. “Why did you do it? It made you look sort of distinguished.”

“I was talking to Mom and she said it made me look old and ugly. She said it smelled bad, too.”

“You know I love your mother, but she has terrible eyesight and Alzheimer’s Disease. She’s liable to say anything. Half the time she doesn’t even remember my name.”

“Well,” I said, rubbing my hairless chin thoughtfully and gazing off into the distance, “maybe I was a bit hasty.”

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Benny Jay: Late To The Party

April 23rd, 2018

I admit I was late to the James Gandolfini bandwagon.

The great actor was dead for at least several weeks before I jumped aboard. As I’d never watched The Sopranos when it was the rage of the nation.

This was the summer of 2013, when my wife and I saw Enough Said–one of the last movies he made.

Great romantic comedy, by the way. It’s got a lot to say about the rivalries women have with each other.

Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, who’s become one of my favorite directors.

Anyway, Gandolfini’s character commanded my attention. And I said to my wife…

“We should probably out The Sopranos. At least rent a disc from Netflix — just to see what all the talk’s about.”

“Why not,” said my wife.

“We’ll only watch one disc,” I said.

Well, one turned into two and then three and so on and so forth until that show consumed my home movie watching life.

Eventually, over six months had passed and I’d watched every episode.

But even then I wasn’t through with Gandolfini. To really appreciate his work, I realized I had to see his movies. So I organized my own James Gandolfini Film Festival–right in my own living room!


Gandolfini was great in The Drop…


I watched three Gandolfini movies in a row: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Romance & Cigarettes and Cinema Verite.

It was sort of disappointing. Wonderstone really wasn’t a Gandolfini movie at all. More like a lame Steve Carrell comedy in which Gandolfini had a bit part.

And Romance & Cigarettes was this truly bizarre musical featuring actors who can’t sing. Like Mr. Gandolfini.

Cinema Verite was OK, but nothing to write home about. All in all, the Gandolfini film festival was sort of a bust. Good thing I was the only one who watched it.

Of course, that didn’t stop me from rushing out to see The Drop, just as soon as it opened.

That’s apparently the last Gandolfini movie to come out. But I thought that’s what they said about Enough Said. So, you never know.

I got to the theater early and watched as one guy after another walked in, dragging his wife or girlfriend. That’s when I realized there are lots of guys my age who have this thing for Gandolfini.

Not sure why. Maybe its cause hes’s a schlumpy-looking guy who still gets the chicks.

By the way, The Drop was sensational.

I plan to watch it again–when it comes to the Red Box.

And so my James Gandolfini Film Festival continues.

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Randolph Street: Tres Fotos

April 20th, 2018

1DSCF3016Storefront–Buenos Aires


2DSCF4190Chinese Gatos–Bariloche


3DSCF3339Dessert–El Bolson


All photos © Jon Randolph


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Benny Jay: Bike Man

April 19th, 2018

When I ride my bike, I have a habit of furiously waving cars through the intersection, as though I’m saying–“You go first, but hurry up!”

This happened the other day at the intersection of Elmwood and Oakton in Evanston, as a car waited for me to cross before making a left turn.

“No,” I said. “You go. Hurry up. I don’t have all day.”

When I got home I discovered that the driver (whose face I couldn’t see) was, of all people, Cap, one of my best friends in the world.

“I’m always looking for an old guy on his bike with a funny looking white helmet,” he told me. “Then I saw you.”

Okay, let’s get a few things straight…

Number one, my helmet’s not funny looking. Okay, maybe it’s a little funny looking. But once upon a time I thought it was cool. Obviously, styles have changed.


When I look into the mirror, this is what I see…


Number two–I’m not old. Okay, maybe a little. But who’s Cap to talk? He’s only three years younger.

The real problem is when I look into the mirror, I see a young Paul Newman looking back. Everyone else sees Rodney Dangerfield.

In Cap’s case, when he looks into the mirror, he sees a young Denzel Washington. Everyone else sees Redd Foxx.

I was thinking about this while walking to the grocery store with a granny cart. Years ago I wouldn’t have been caught dead with a granny cart. Obviously, those grocery bags are heavier than they used to be.

I was trying to look cool as I rolled that granny cart down the sidewalk. But even Denzel and Paul Newman would have a hard time looking cool with a granny cart.

To make matters worse, I had a senior citizen moment in the store, forgetting where I’d put my granny cart. I was following some other guy who was pushing a granny cart. I was about to say–“excuse me, sir, but you may have the wrong granny cart”–when I realized I’d left mine by the cheese counter.

Anyway, just to show there are no hard feelings about Cap calling me old, I want you to know we’re going to see The Magnificent Seven–the remake, in which Denzel plays the Yul Brynner character.

Don’t worry, Cap–I promise to leave the bike helmet and granny cart at home.

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Benny Jay: I Love Broadway

April 17th, 2018

This bit’s from the July 17th show. If you want to hear it, click right here


We’re calling this all is stage door Johnny Monday and here’s why…

So my wife and I are in New York City a couple of years ago and she says…

Laura as wife: Let see a Broadway show!

And I say….

Dennis as me: Yes!

Something you don’t know about me. I love Broadway shows. On the outside I may be a mild mannered talk show host. But on the inside, I wanna be—Ethel Merman!!

Laura, singing: There’s no business like show business there’s no business I know…

Anyway, we wind up seeing Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Hilarious show. It’s got a great cast, including Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Pierce. My wife and I like it so much we decide to join the 50 or so people hanging around the stage doors waiting for the stars to emerge from the dressing rooms. That’s right—we’re stage door Johnnies. First out is Shalita Grant, who plays the maid. Great young actress. Remember that name.

Dennis as me: Hey, Shalita, good job!

She smiles and says…

Laura: Thanks.

Then I think–good job? I gotta come up with something wittier than that. Next is Billy Magnussen who plays the hunky young actor. My wife says…

Laura as my wife: He’s even better looking in person than he is on stage.

You know, hanging around a stage door will turn any woman into a snarling cougar. Then, out comes Kristine Nielsen, who’s this absolutely, positively sensational comic actress. Right up there with Carol Burnett. I’m trying to tell her how much I love her performance. But I can’t get the words out. So I wind up burbling.

Dennis as me: Ugh, uhm, ugh, habbida habbida habbida your sensational.

She smiles as if to say…

Laura: The crazies are out tonight.

Then comes Sigourney! Like, you know, we’re on a first name basis. And I say the first thing that pops into my brain.

Dennis as me: Oh, my god, Sigouney–I loved you in Ghostbusters.

Oh, my god, how lame.

All that’s left is David Hyde Pierce, who used to play Niles, in the sitcom Frasier. By now I’m chatting with Patricia, who turns out to be a teacher from Chicago in town to visit Unique, a college friend, who lives in Brooklyn. Did you get all of that? Well, you’d better—cause it’s on the test. And Patricia says.

Laura as Patricia: I love Frazier.

Dennis as me: Uh-huh.

Laura: I used to watch it with my dad.

Dennis: Really?

Laura: And my favorite character was Niles.

Dennis: Yeah.

Laura: And now all I want is a picture with David Hyde Pierce. Is that too much to ask?

At that moment, out steps David Hyde pierce.

Dennis as me: Gut check time, Patricia.

Give her credit. Man, she stepped out of the crowd. Went up to Pierce as Unique moved in with her cell-phone. And — snap!

In an instant, Pierce has disappeared into the night. But Patricia got her picture.

Dennis as me: Great picture, Patricia.

Laura as Patricia: I love David Hyde Pierce.

Just another perfect night for state door Johnnies.

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Letter From Milo: Paranoia Strikes Deep

April 16th, 2018

Recently, the lovely Mrs. Milo asked me what I would like to have done with my remains in the unlikely event that I should someday die.

“Jesus! That’s a hell of thing to ask a guy before he’s even had a chance to enjoy his morning whiskey and cigarette.”

“I’m serious, honey. Responsible adults have to make these kinds of decisions.”

“This is a thoroughly disagreeable conversation, but I suppose you’re right. What are my options?”

“Cremation or burial.”

“Neither of those choices appeals to me. I was thinking mummification would be the way to go.”

“I doubt we can afford that.”

“God damn it, if it’s a matter of money, just put me in a plastic bag and leave me out in the alley on Tuesday morning. The Department of Streets and Sanitation will take care of everything. It won’t cost a cent.”

There are actually many other ways of disposing of corpses than just burial or cremation. Bodies can be buried at sea, dissolved by caustic chemicals, donated to science, exposed to the elements, frozen in liquid nitrogen, sold to private collectors, or left in the trunks of cars parked at Midway Airport.

My personal favorite carcass disposal method is the eco-friendly practice of ritual cannibalism, which is generally frowned upon in the USA, but still highly popular in many parts of Eastern Europe..

Normally I wouldn’t have hesitated in gleefully pointing out my wife’s ignorance of less traditional burial customs, but I didn’t want to antagonize her. She has been in a nasty mood the last few months and I didn’t want to start another argument.

The sad truth is that we haven’t been getting along as well as I’d like. She finds fault with me on a daily basis. It seems that anything I do or say pisses her off. I hate to use a cliché, but I have been walking on egg shells.

Then, the other day, as I was enjoying some red wine and reefer, a disturbing thought occurred to me. Why was the lovely Mrs. Milo so interested in figuring out a way to dispose of my earthly remains? What was going on in that pretty head of hers? Was there something I needed to know?

I decided to keep a close eye on her, just in case. Soon, I noticed that she was exhibiting strange patterns of behavior. For one thing, she was spending much more time than usual watching movies on the Lifetime and Oxygen channels. She also started reading self-help books, like Accidents Rarely Happen By Accident, and Women Are From Venus, Men Are Rat Bastards. She also bought a new cookbook called Unusual Italian Recipes, by Lucy Borgia.

I realized I was probably being foolish. Still, a guy can’t be too careful. I decided to call my sister, a refined, accomplished woman, and get her advice.

“Hey, Sis, it’s your only brother.”

“What the fuck do you want? If you’re calling to borrow money you can just forget about it.”

“I just need some advice.”

“Make it quick. I haven’t got all day.”

When I explained what was on my mind, my sister said, “You’re an idiot,” and hung up the phone.

That night I wandered into the kitchen as my wife was making dinner. I didn’t recognize what she was preparing, so I asked, “What’s cooking?”

“Something different. I’m sure you’ll like it.”

“It’s got an interesting aroma. I don’t recognize some of the spices you’re adding.”

“Trust me, it’s to die for. I got it from a new Italian cookbook.”

When we sat down at the table my wife dove right in. She’s always had a good appetite. After a moment, she gave me an odd look and said, “Why did you do that?”

“Do what?”

“I just saw you give the cat some food from your plate. You’ve never done that before.”

“Heh, heh, I don’t know what got into me.”

“Well, aren’t you going to eat?”

“Oh, yeah. I’m just letting it cool off.”

A bit later, she said, “What are you waiting for?”

“I think I’ll have another glass of wine,” I said, keeping a close eye on the cat. “Then, I’ll eat.”

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