It’s Sunday morning, which means I’m reading Rolando — only in The Third City!
Rolando’s our Saturday blogger, and his stuff about working in an emergency room and growing up Puerto Rican in Chicago is some of the darkest, funniest shit around. If you don’t know about him — you should!
Anyway, I’m reading his post — Narcs Bowling Forty Ounces – about the time two asshole narcs were hassling him and his friends. And I come to the following line…
“`You mother fuckers are out here drinking in the middle of the night, looking to get shot by some other assholes,’ the tall narc said.”
Immediately, I get on the horn.
“Hey, Milo,” I say.
That would be Milo – as in my intrepid partner in this blogging enterprise.
Something you should know about us. I’m a terrible speller and he’s a great one. I’m not sure why that is — it just is.
And if there’s one thing that Milo’s taught me about spelling it is this — motherfucker is one word!
Now, back to our conversation…
Me `n Milo discussing linguistics…
“Did you read Rolando yesterday?” I ask.
“You mean, the one about the narcs? Yeah, that’s some funny shit.”
“I know, but did you catch the spelling error?”
“What spelling error?”
“The one where he spelled motherfucker as two words.”
“Damn, Benny. How many times do I gotta tell you — motherfucker is one word.”
You know, like I made the mistake. Instead of pointing it out to him.
I switch topics.
“Milo, why is motherfucker spelled as one word?”
“Ah, Benny — that’s one of the great linguistic questions of our time.”
“And the answer?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, what the fuck good are you?”
“The thing is – most obscenities are one word.”
“Think about it. Dipshit, fuckface, numbnuts, shithead, dumbass — all one word.”
I pause to consider the enormity of what I don’t know.
“Is an obscenity ever two words?” I ask.
“Not that I know of. Oh, occasionally, they’ll hyphenate some bullshit. Like son-of-a-bitch. But other than that — one word.”
I pause to consider the enormity of Milo’s brilliance.
“Hey, Milo, while we’re at it — what does numbnuts even mean?”
“How the fuck should I know. For that matter, what does dipshit mean?”
“Milo, if you don’t know, who does?”
“Benny, if you’re looking for linguistic guidance, I can’t help you. I’m just a barely literate motherfucker from Gary, Indiana.”
“Can I quote you?”
“Yeah, but if you do, make sure you spell it as one word.”
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As The Third City’s theater critic–hey, somebody’s got to do the job–I finally got around to seeing the absolutely sensational production of Two Train’s Running at the Goodman Theater.
There’s a billion reasons to see it, not the least of which is that the characters speak as though they were free-verse poets.
I think we can all agree–August Wilson is a play-writing genius!
Another reason to see it is that it brings Chester Gregory back to the Chicago stage. He’s what theater geeks call a triple threat–the man can sing, dance and act.
Years ago, Chester played the lead role in the Jackie Wilson show at the Black Ensemble Theater, a show I saw…
Actually, I saw it so many times that I lost count of how many times I saw it.
There’s that opening moment when het hits the stage like a bolt of electricity–in his shimmering yellow jacket–and sings: “Baby, tell me once again, uh-huh: Am I the man?”
Those elderly ladies from the church groups bused in for the Sunday matinee were screaming like teeny boppers.
Hell, I might have been screaming like a teeny bopper. But don’t let that get around.
A few years back, Chester moved on to fame and fortune in New York City, playing big roles in such Broadway hits as Hairspray, Dream Girls and Sister Act.
So it’s a big deal that he’s come home to play in the Goodman production.
Talking about Chester gives me an excuse to tell one of my favorite anecdotes–that goes back more than ten years, to when my youngest daughter was in sixth grade.
I was chatting with Dane, one of her grammar-school classmates, who’d just moved to Chicago from Gary, Indiana.
Incapable of having a conversation without turning it into a trivia contest, I asked…
“For ten trivia points, who’s the most famous person to come out of Gary?”
I figured he’d say Michael Jackson.
Instead, he gave it a quick thought and said: “Chester Gregory!”
Folks, I just about fell out of my chair.
I didn’t know if I was more shocked that he didn’t say Michael Jackson or that he knew about Chester, who was then just making his name in Chicago.
Dane went on to explain that, back in Gary, he had attended the Emerson School for Visual and Performing Arts, Chester’s alma mater.
And at Emerson–Chester, not Michael Jackson, was the man!
So don’t get it twisted.
In any event, make sure you see the show, everybody.
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For most of my life, I’ve walked around like a shlub, super cool to no one. One step removed from being a bagman. Stylistically speaking…
Then one day a few years ago, my wife said: “The hell with this!”
And she bought me a pair of supercool sunglasses. And ever since–well, let’s just say my life has changed. As I was the coolest guy around, sunglass speaking.
Or, so I thought until…
I was at this press conference, when a guy named Michael came up to me.
He wanted to tell me something about politics.
What he was saying made lots of sense, but I was having trouble concentrating because all I was thinking was…
Damn, this guy’s got the world’s supercoolest sunglasses!
I mean, way cooler than mine.
The had these teal-colored rims and orange bands. And it was that two-tone color combination that knocked me out. Finally, I could contain myself no more.
“Excuse me,” I said. “But has anyone ever told you that you’ve got the world’s supercoolest sunglasses?”
He sort of sighed and said: “Yes, a lot of people like these sunglasses.”
Then he said…
“But I’m sick of that cause I want to be known for my brilliant ideas. Not my supercool sunglasses.”
To which I said: “Well, if you want to be known for something other than your supercool sunglasses, you shouldn’t wear supercool sunglasses!”
Actually, neither of us said anything remotely like that. Probably thought it, though.
Instead we went back to talking politics, when up walked Maya, one of Michael’s friends.
And here’s the thing about Maya. Her sunglasses were even supercooler than Michael’s.
Well, maybe not supercooler, but definitely as cool.
Suddenly, I went from having the supercoolest sunglasses to having the third supercoolest sunglasses.
In fact, if sunglass coolness were like March Madness, I’d have been eliminated in the early rounds. And Michael and Maya would have advanced to the Final Four.
If they had a March Madness for supercool sunglasses.
The lesson to be learned is that no matter how supercool you think you may be, you can bet that there’s probably someone, somewhere who’s even supercooler.
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Readers have been begging us to rerun this blast from the not-so-distant past…
For the last few days, I can’t stop talking about the strange story of Wally and Gertie.
My wife told it to me. She heard it from her sister. Not sure who her sister heard it from. So don’t ask.
Wally’s 86. Gertie’s 82. They live in senior citizen apartment in — oh, I don’t know where they live. Stop asking stupid questions.
One day Gertie told Wally: “I gotta go to the store.”
And Wally said: “Okay, honey.”
But halfway to the store, Gertie realized she’d forgotten something. So she turned around and drove home. All together, she’s gone ten, maybe fifteen minutes.
When she walked into the apartment, what did she find?
Her husband in bed shtupping some chick!
Okay, the lady’s not really a chick — more like an 80-something year old hottie from an old-age home.
I mean, I’ve seen Wally and trust me — only a horny old lady would want to shtup him.
Shtupping is the Yiddish word for screwing. I figured I’d drop a little Yiddish on you on account of the Jewish New Year being just around the corner.
L’shana tova, everybody!
I’m not sure what happened next. But I hope it involved Gertie whacking Wally — and his little hottie — over the head with a shoe.
In any regards, as soon as I tell that story to anyone that’s all they want to talk about.
And we all know why. It’s cause we’re amazed that Wally — that two-timing weasel — can still get it up after 87 years.
It reminds me of the case of George Dunne, the former Cook County Board president.
Way back in the late 1980s, the papers busted George for having some kind of sex triangle with two lesbians who worked for the county.
At the time, George was pushing 80.
The local reformers wanted everyone to be outraged cause the women were county patronage employees.
But all anyone wanted to talk about was how George, the old buzzard, still had lead in his pencil.
Also, as I recall, people loved the lesbian angle.
The affair certainly didn’t damage George’s reputation. When he died, they named a county golf course after him.
Hold the putter jokes!
Upon consideration, I’d have to say George’s feat was more impressive than Wally’s.
George was doing his thing in the days before Viagra.
Wally, on the other hand…
Put it this way — I bet his performance was Viagra enhanced.
Plus, George was single. So he wasn’t two-timing his wife, like Wally, that low-life piece of shit.
I’m hoping Gertie gets herself a good divorce lawyer and sues the pants off of Wally — which he should have kept on in the first place.
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I woke up this morning and saw the following headline in the New York Times: “The `70s are back in fashion. Again.”
And I was like–tell me something I don’t know.
As far as I’m concerned, the `70s never fell out of fashion. I’d say I was loving the `70s long before it became fashionable, except it was already fashionable when I was loving the `70s.
Which was back in the `70s.
In particular, the article was talking about the re-emergence of `70s clothing styles–”belled sleeves, flared pants, belted suede and wildly patterned caftans.”
I don’t know about all that–as I’ve pretty much been wearing a variation of the same jeans, T-shirts and sneakers since roughly 1973.
A great year, if ever there was one.
My problem–as the youngsters like to point out–is that I haven’t moved on from the `70s. Especially when it comes to music.
Just be thankful for Mr. DeVaughn and…
Why just last night I was listening to Stevie Wonder’s I Was Made to Love Her.
Okay, that’s not really the `70s, as it came out in the `60s. But at some point all those years just come together.
A week doesn’t pass when I’m not listening to Work to Do by the Isley Brothers from their 1972 record Brother, Brother, Brother. The greatest `70s album–ever!
Well, second greatest to the Isley’s 3 + 3, which came out in `73.
Make that third greatest, after Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, which came out in `74.
No, fourth greatest, after Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly, which came out in `72…
No, fifth greatest after Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On, which came out in `73…
No, sixth greatest after Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life, which came out in…
Oh, you get the idea.
This is the year I come out of my cave and listen to new music–I swear!
When I’m not listening to great `70s music, I’m watching great `70s movies.
Like the Jack Nicholson Holy Trinity of The Last Detail, Chinatown, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
I will now do my imitation of Nicholson from The Last Detail…
“I hate this detail. I hate this fucking chickenshit detail!”
Trust me, it sounds a lot better when Jack does it.
Let’s pause to pay tribute to the greatest single song of the `70s–William DeVaughn’s Be Thankful for What You’ve Got.
All together now…
“Diamond in the back, sunroof top
Diggin’ the scene with a gangsta lean…
Straight up `70s!
Let’s not forget the great basketball of the `70s. In fact, my screen-saver picture is a group shot of four Bulls, circa 1974: Chet Walker, Bob Love, Jerry Sloan and Norm Van Lier.
I love `em all, even if they did lose that heartbreak playoff series to the Lakers in `73.
Thinking of `70s things I’ll never forget.
What can I say? You can take the boy out of the `70s, but you can’t take the `70s out of the boy.
With March Madness upon us, the time has come for me to make my great predictions and fill out my brackets.
That’s why I’m sitting at the bowling alley bar with my dear friend Norm, a learned student of NCAA basketball.
In front of us rests a piece of paper with the brackets waiting to be filled in. It was given to us by Joe, who, when not bowling, is a high-school history teacher, a bartender and a learned student of just about everything.
Including, it turns out, running a March Madness bracket pool.
Like all great operations, Norm and I have a division of labor. Norm does the predicting and I get to hold the pencil.
Someone’s got to do it.
First up, Kentucky v. Hampton.
Even I know Kentucky’s one of the great powerhouses in the game.
“Mahorn went to Hampton,” I say.
“Who?” says Norm.
“Rick Mahorn. You know, who played for the Pistons back in the `80s.”
“I know who Mahorn is, but what the fuck does that got to do with this?”
“Ugh, nothing, actually…”
As you can see, Norm’s a tough taskmaster when it comes to filling out a bracket.
Methodically, we go through each game, eventually reaching Utah versus S.F. Austin.
“Is that Austin Peay?” asks Norm.
“I don’t know,” I say.
“I like Austin Peay.”
“But I don’t know if this is Austin Peay.”
“Well, fuck it, go with it anyway.”
Do we know our shit or what!
Even though he’s a Piston, I always liked Rick Mahorn…
On we go, making our way to Duke versus Gonzaga.
“I hate Duke,” I say.
“Yeah, but they’re pretty good,” says Norm.
“So should I go with Duke?”
Pause. Then he says: “Fuck those Dukie muthacukas!”
Now, that’s how you fill out a bracket, America!
Next to us sits Cap–captain of our bowling team.
“Are you still fillin’ out that bracket?” he asks.
“We’re taking our time because we want to be very scientific,” I say. “When we’re done, we’re gonna charge you to look at our predictions.”
“Yeah,” says Scotty the bartender. “So we can bet against the guys you pick.”
Ha, ha, ha–everybody’s got jokes.
At one point, Bob, the owner of the bowling alley, stops by to ask about my vagina.
As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t actually have a vagina. But that never stops Bob from asking about it.
Finally, we reach the finals: Kentucky versus Gonzaga.
“Kentucky,” says Norm.
And so I write it down.
“You spent all that time and you still came up with Kentucky?” says Cap. “I could have told you that 45 minutes ago.”
Haters–every single one.
They’ll be singing a different tune when we win the big prize–right Norm?
I’m on the phone, chatting with Ron–an old pal–when I happen to make a reference to The Magnificent Seven.
“They’re like the magnificent seven of Chicago politics.”
As soon as I say it, I feel compelled to explain the reference. Just in case…
“That’s a western from when I was kid, about seven gunslingers who ride to the rescue of some Mexican villagers,” I say.
“I know that,” he says.
Feeling devilish, I say…
“Oh, yeah–prove it. Name the actors who played the magnificent seven.”
Just looking at these guys and I can hear the theme song…
At this point, most guys would cheat and look it up on Google.
But Ron’s one of the only people I know who doesn’t have a smart phone or a home computer. So he couldn’t cheat, even if he wanted to.
To my amazement, Ron, still nimble-minded as he pushes into his sixties, starts rattling off the names.
And not just the obvious ones, like Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, and Charles Bronson.
But relatively obscure ones, like James Coburn and Robert Vaughn.
Hell, I’d forgotten Vaughn was in that flick. Apparently, I’ve stumbled upon one of the only men in Chicago who knows better more about The Magnificent Seven than I do.
However, after naming five actors, Ron hits the wall.
“There’s the two other guys–the kid and the old man.”
“Eli Wallach,” I say.
“Eli Wallach played the old man…”
“No, he didn’t. Wallach’s not in the magnificent seven…”
“What are you saying? Of course, he is.”
“Yes, he’s in the movie. But he’s not one of the seven. He played the bad guy.”
They called him the German James Dean…
So I look it up and, sure enough, Ron’s right.
Eli Wallach played Calvera, the evil Mexican bandit. Even though Wallach’s a Jewish guy from Brooklyn.
Apparently, Hollywood couldn’t find any Mexican actors to play the evil Mexican bandit, even though Mexico’s just down the road from Hollywood. More or less.
Well, you know how it goes. Once I start looking up this, I start looking up that. Next thing you know I’ve spent over fifteen minutes on the internet, reading stuff about The Magnificent Seven.
For instance, the role of the kid was played by Horst Werner Bucholz, who was born in Germany. They called him “the German James Dean.”
The old man was played by Brad Dexter–a Serbian-American whose birthname was Veljok Soso.
I wonder if Milo–our resident Third City expert on Serbia–knew that?
I also discovered that, of all the great stars from that movie, only one–Robert Vaughn–is still living.
Time marches on…