While Jon’s away on important business in South America, we’re publishing some of his greatest hits…
You talkin’ to me?
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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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While watching Sunday’s Bears game, I had a profound revelation!
I’ll get to that later.
First, let me tell you about the setting…
I was watching in a Lincoln Avenue bar that bills itself as a home-away-from home for displaced Atlantatonians, like my good friend Adrienne.
What up, Adrienne!
She roots for the Falcons cause she was raised in Atlanta. So we can’t hold it against her. Besides, it’s not like she’s rooting for the Packers.
A few months ago, Adrienne suggested we watch the Bears/Falcons game at this bar so I could see how the Falcon half lives.
At the time, it seemed like a good idea, but now I’m not so sure. For one thing, everyone’s decked out in Falcon red and black. I was going to wear my Bears T-shirt. Except I don’t have one.
I decided to bring my 1985 Bears Super Bowl coffee cup. Then I realized all the lettering had faded, so, really, what was the point?
Jared Allen looks like…
Instead, I grabbed my trusty Bulls baseball cap to at least represent something Chicago. But when I got to the bar, I discovered that, in my haste to leave my house, I’d grabbed the wrong hat.
The hat I was wearing had no logo at all. So when I made a big deal about putting it on, Adrienne and her friends politely smiled as if I were some lunatic drooling in the alley.
By the way, these Falcons fans are no joke. When the Falcons scored, some guy ran up the aisle of the bar, waving a Falcons flag.
Plus, another guy was wearing a T-shirt featuring Samuel Jackson’s character from Pulp Fiction, under the banner: Rise Up!
That’s the Falcons logo. Apparently, Jackson picked up an affinity for the Falcons during his days at Morehouse.
But don’t quote me on that–I’m just telling you what Adrienne told me. Though she should know.
The trumpeter–Joey `the Lips’ Fagan!
The climactic moment of the game came when Jared Allen, the Bears defensive end, sacked Matt Ryan, the Falcons QB. That’s when I had my revelation.
Ever since the Bears signed Allen as a free agent, I’d been looking at his picture and wondering: Who does he look like?
And right there in that Falcons bar on Lincoln Avenue, it hit me. He looks like Joey “the Lips” Fagan, the trumpeter from The Commitments. One of the great movies of the early `90s.
I was set to share this factoid with Adrienne and her friends, when I realized–they’re 20 somethings. They probably never saw The Commitments, much less heard of Joey” the Lips” Fagan.
Alas, some revelations cannot be shared, as great as they may be.
Good news–the Bears won!
Maybe next year, Adrienne.
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As a shout out to Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, who’s recuperating from an illness, we bring this blast from our glorious past…
Sunday, Sept. 9: Watching Bear highlights on the tube when word breaks: Teachers on strike!
Flash to press conference outside Merchandise Mart where negotiations have stalled. School board president David Vitale steps before the cameras. Dude’s been negotiating for days. Looks haggard, like he might pass out.
Next comes union President Karen Lewis and union VP Jesse Sharkey. Sharkey’s talking, says: “us teachers….”
“We teachers,” Lewis quietly corrects.
Once a teacher, always a teacher.
TV cuts to Mayor Rahm’s press conference. The mayor looks like he’s ready to rip someone’s lungs out. Vitale’s standing behind him, barely awake.
Rahm says he’s ready to send Vitale back into negotiations right now!
Obviously, that’s news to Vitale. His eyes flicker open. First time I’ve ever felt sorry for a school board president….
Monday: Utterly obsessed with the strike, I’m checking the Internet for updates every five minutes while fielding constant calls from my mother.
Mom: What’s the latest?
Me: Romney praised Rahm.
Me: Which one?
Have you noticed more people are swearing since Mayor Rahm made it fashionable?
Wednesday: Big news! Karen Lewis is Jewish! It’s been in the papers. I’m fielding calls from ecstatic Jews all over town. Hey, man, we’re open to anyone who wants to join.
Caller: You didn’t tell me Karen Lewis was Jewish!
Me: What — I’m supposed to send out announcements?
Caller: But she’s black?
Me: You never heard of Sammy Davis Jr?
Thursday: Desperately needing a break from the strike, I see Chinatown, playing on the big screen at a theater in Evanston.
Big mistake. The movie’s dark. The bad guy wins. Plus, the Roman Polanski character reminds me of Mayor Rahm.
Polanski plays this skinny, little hit man who’s always twitching. Works with Claude Mulvihill, the knuckle breaker for the crooked pols.
There’s this great scene where Mulvihill and Polanski corner Jack Nicholson out by a reservoir.
Nicholson says: “Hello, Claude. Where’d you get the midget?”
And Pulaski pulls out a knife and cuts Nicholson’s nose.
Wonder if Mayor Rahm carries a switchblade? Suddenly, fear for Karen Lewis.
Friday: Union/board negotiators settle on a deal. Strike may be over. I’m so happy I run out and eat Chinese. Scallops in Schezwan sauce. Actually, I probably would have had Chinese regardless — cause, man, that shit is good!
Sunday: Union delegates say they need more time to review the deal with their members. Noooo!! I’d already written one story and now I have tear it up and write another. It’s almost enough to make me a Republican.
Monday: Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest Jewish holidays of the year. Supposedly, Mayor Rahm’s taking a break from the strike to spend the day in prayer. I have this vision of him in a yarmulke and prayer shawl, pacing in the parking lot outside his synagogue, cell phone to his ear, cursing about Karen Lewis.
Tuesday: Having won just about everything they sought, union delegates approve the deal. Strike over! Yah, whoo, whee!
I run to Rush Street, get drunk and turn over cars. Just like I always do when the good guys win!!!!
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Jon is on the road in Argentina– the lucky bastard–so we’ll be running a few of his greatest hits…
This looks like hair, but it’s really Montrose Harbor…
This pretty much sums up the end of summer in Chicago…
Jon calls this hurry up and wait…
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I’m pleased to announce that after a medicore run — let’s face it, 2 Guns kinda sucked — Denzel’s back on his game!
I’m talking about his latest flick, The Equalizer, which I recently saw at the 400 Theater — right there on Sheridan Road.
Big shout out to the 400!
You may not know this, but I’m an aficionado of Denzel Washington movies, having seen most, if not all, and generally more than once.
In my opinion, Denzel’s the coolest movie star since Paul Newman. Who was right up there with Steve McQueen — talking about cool.
And while I’m on the subject, let me list the three coolest women movie stars of all time: Pam Grier, Pam Grier and Pam Grier.
Now back to The Equalizer…
Denzel plays some sort of retired secret agent man, who finds himself working in a Home Depot warehouse somewhere in Boston.
He’s easy to overlook cause he’s pleasant and polite and he’s always reading a book. Plus, he’s a little old and chunky.
Also, he wears the kind of nerdy shirts and slacks that I put on when I’m “dressing up.”
At which point, my kids say: “Dang, dad, you look nice.”
Translation: You finally took off that grungy, Bulls T-shirt…
For the first part of the movie, we get the nice Denzel. He does nice stuff like encouraging Ralphie, the overweight kid who works with him in the warehouse, to get in shape so he can pass his physical to become a security guard.
Think of his Coach Boone character from Remember the Titans, a movie I’ve seen – conservative estimate — 43 times.
No one does the Pips, like Denzel…
In The Equalizer, the nice Denzel even does an imitation of the Pips, dancing in the song Midnight Train to Georgia.
Here’s how it goes…
Step right, step left, twirl your arms, stick your left arm in the air and bring it down. Say: “Woo, woo!”
That Pip scene is worth the price of admission.
He turns into the badass Denzel after these evil Russian mobsters beat up this young prostitute he hangs out with at the diner, where he goes in the early hours of the morning to drink tea and read books.
So Denzel walks into the Russians’ lair, where they’re hanging around acting all evil and shit. And he says – ”I’ll give you $9,800 if you leave my friend alone.”
And the mobsters laugh at him and say, “fuck you.”
Which comes out like “fook you,” what with their cheesy Russian accents and all.
And I’m like — “oh, that’s not a good idea, fellas.”
Sure enough, Denzel gives them that Denzel look and then he — well, I won’t spoil the fun
Bottom line – don’t mess with Denzel!
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I’m in the Billy Goat Tavern with my new friend, Rick, talking about the good old days…
The waiter comes by and asks: “What’re you having?”
I look at Rick and say — “What are you drinking?”
“Vodka,” he says.
Hmm. I’ve never been much of a drinker. Here I am approaching the great and glorious age of 60, and I don’t believe I’ve ever consumed a vodka in my life.
Other than mixed with orange juice or something.
There and then I decide the time has come to do the things I’ve never done before. And so it is that I tell that waiter…
“I’ll have what he’s having!”
“A vodka?” asks the waiter.
“Yes,” I say.
“You sure?” says Rick.
“You can get a coke,” he says.
Like it says — wimp! — on my sweatshirt.
We were drinking — like Mike Royko and Studs…
“No, I’m good with the vodka.”
He drinks his vodka. I drink mine. He gets another. I tell the waiter, “Me, too.”
At some point, we wind up with a third.
Turns out Rick’s a great story teller — the man should write a book! He’s telling one fantastic tale after another about the glory days when he was barely in his twenties and he knew some of the all-time greats, like Mike Royko.
Speaking of prodigious drinkers.
I’m hanging on to each and every one of his words like its gospel. When it hits me. There’s this buzzing in my ears. And the room’s starting to spin. And — holy shit — I’m bombed!
I know I’m saying something, but I can’t be sure it’s making sense.
The great Chaka Khan…
As I recall, a friend of Rick’s stops by our table. He’s wearing a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt. Rick gives him shit about the peace-sign necklace he’s wearing.
He says he’s going to the Fleetwood Mac concert at the United Center.
And I say, “I like Landslide.”
Only I may have called it Avalanche.
Avalanche, landslide — what’s the difference?
I’m pretty sure I refrained from singing a verse, but I can’t be certain.
After a few hours, I’m heading home. I remember walking along State Street, stopping in at the Barnes & Noble book store near Division.
Over the loudspeaker, they’re playing Tell Me Something Good.
I say to the security guard –”I’ll give you ten trivia points, if you can tell me who sings this song.”
He’s thinking about it.
“I’ll give you a hint,” I say. “She went to Kenwood high school.”
“Oh, I know this,” he says.
“Nope,” I say. “It’s Chaka Khan.”
I’m singing the song as I head out the door.
I’m pretty sure I found my way home cause I woke up in my bed the next day still feeling the affects of those vodka.
From here on out, I’m leaving the drinking to the pros.