After months of rigorous analysis, I came to the conclusion that no one in Brooklyn gives a shit about the Nets.
Even though they’re a basketball team that plays in Brooklyn.
I know this is a peculiar conclusion for someone in Chicago to reach. But I base it on having spent the better part of one night, wandering the streets of Brooklyn, looking for anyone who even remotely cared about the team.
Don’t ask–it’s a long story.
The best I could come up with was a counter worker at a Starbucks in Manhattan who told me he had a cousin in Jersey who liked the Nets.
Fast forward to the other day…
I’m standing in the lobby of a hotel in Chicago, chatting with a man I’ll call Peter Goodman, who tells me that a.) he lives in Brooklyn, b.) he’s a Nets fan and c.) he’s a Nets season ticketholder.
Not sure how this topic arose. Most likely part of my ceaseless search to find people with whom I can talk about basketball.
Lionel–far left–was on the great Trailblazers team…
When Peter broke that news, I demanded that he prove it. There and then I gave him one of my famous trivia contests, which, in this case, went like this…
“Where do the Nets play?”
“The Barclay Center…”
“Who was the first act to play the Barclay Center?”
“Who coaches the Nets?”
“Who’s their center?”
“Who’s his twin brother?”
“What college did they attend?”
Peter & the Nets negotiate their deal…
I could have gone on. But the guy with us–call him David Sirota–looked like he was falling asleep from boredom. Some people are clearly not basketball junkies.
I immediately decided to post this correction about Nets fans in Brooklyn. As accuracy is a prime objective here at The Third City.
Then Peter told me about a deal he recently cut with the Nets front office in which he agreed to renew his season ticket plan in exchange for two $3,000 seats in the front row for a game.
“You didn’t?” I said.
To prove his point, he whipped out his cell phone and showed me a picture of the aforementioned $3,000 tickets. And a picture of Coach Hollins taken from his seats–so I could see how close he was to the action. Plus, a picture of his son.
That pix of his son really wasn’t relevant to our narrative, but you know how it goes once you start showing off cell-phone pictures.
Needless to say I was very impressed with his cunning negotiating skills.
Don’t tell Peter, but we’re thinking of hiring him as publisher.
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I’m sitting in a Starbucks, helping Kimberly write her college-entrance essay, and like so many other high school seniors, she doesn’t know where to start.
We’re supposed to write about a setback we’ve suffered, she says.
Okay, what setbacks have you suffered?
Hmm, well, got cut from the badminton team my sophomore year….
Okay, tell me about it….
And so she does….
I was never very good at sports. I thought I’d give badminton a try.
I made the freshman team — everybody does. There are no cuts….
So be it….
I liked it. I liked the girls on the team, the camaraderie, the spirit, the games, the uniforms. I liked having something to do after school. I even went to badminton camp over the summer. I tried out for the sophomore team….
How did you do?
Good. They had us play each other. I won more than I lost. I was definitely good enough to make the team….
On the day of the cuts, the head sophomore coach — Coach Jannie –starts in about how much I’ve improved and how well I’ve done and I’m thinking I’m in. But then…
She cut you?
I don’t even remember how she put it. But I was in tears. I went home, put my badminton racket away and I haven’t taken it out since….
Nothing, really. Except….
Well, I’d see this girl — Frannie — going to practice. I never understood how she made the team. She hadn’t played as a freshman. Badminton wasn’t even her best sport. She’s a really good field hockey player….
So one day I’m talking to a friend and I say, `I can’t understand how Frannie made the team.’ And my friend says, `you don’t know?’ And I say, `know what?’ And she tells me Frannie had been busted for drinking and as a punishment the school makes athletes lose — I don’t know — a few weeks of eligibility….
You mean, they have to sit out?
Yes, sit out. So, Coach Jannie is also the varsity field hockey coach. And Frannie is one of her best players. And so….
Oh, my God. It’s starting to dawn on me…..
To save Frannie a full season of eligibility in field hockey, Coach Jannie put her on the badminton team….
And that meant kicking you off?
Wow! That conniving, duplicitous, two timing little….
I lean closer and lower my voice like — I don’t know — the coach can hear us: Are you sure? Do you know for certain?
Not for certain. But having sat out her drinking suspension during badminton, Frannie got to play a full season of field hockey. And she never went out for badminton again, so you draw your conclusion….
Anyway, it turns out okay. Kimberly writes a great essay about not personalizing rejection — how more often than not the setbacks we suffer are out of our control.
As for old Coach Jannie. What a fucking loser — sold her soul for a few games of high school field hockey. I can’t imagine there are many who gave up more for less….
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When we were kids, we didn’t really know the parents of our friends.
It’s more like they were these formidable figures, looming in the background–like the adults in Peanuts.
So it was with Arthur Erickson, a man I never called anything but Mr. Erickson.
He was the father of David Erickson, one of my best junior high friends. A kid we usually called Erickyma.
Can’t remember why we called him that, though I’m sure we thought it was really clever at the time.
As I remember, Mr. Erickson was a quiet and lanky. A sample–and rare–conversation between the two of us probably went like this…
Mr. Erickson: Hello, Benny.
Benny: Ugh, hi…
As you can see, witty repartee with parents wasn’t really my thing.
The Ericksons lived on the second floor of a two-flat near the lake. We called it “Erickson’s crib.” I spent many afternoons hanging there.
Mr. Erickson was the display manager at Marshall Field’s department store. So obviously he was very artistic.
You could tell he was artistic just by looking at his house. It was very neat and orderly and filled with his paintings, sculpture and drawings.
One day while snooping around–as kids will do–I came upon a book of pictures of naked people.
It may have been the first time I’ve ever seen such a thing. In a book, anyway.
Naked boys playing leapfrog. Naked men running. Naked women walking up stairs. All kinds of naked people doing all kinds of different things–while naked.
I don’t think I can emphasize the naked part of this enough.
The photos were by Eadweard Muybridge, who was probably every bit as weird as his name suggests.
I’ve since learned that Muybridge was a seminal photographer of the 19th century, who’s had a profound influences on many artists, including, obviously, Mr. Erickson.
But back then all I knew is–dang, this shit is weird. Though that didn’t stop me from sneaking a look at that book every chance I had. But don’t tell Erickson.
Arthur Erickson’s memorial program…
Mr. Erickson died last month–complications from a stroke. He was 89-years-old.
By the end of his life, he’d moved out of that nice two-flat by the lake and was living in an assisted living place.
Two weeks ago, they had a memorial service for him.
In their eulogies, David and his sister, Janet, briefly told the story of a man I hardly knew. For instance…
He graduated from Sullivan High School. Home of the Tigers. Which is appropriate, since Mr. Erickson loved animals of all sorts, especially big cats. He loved painting them, too.
In the `40s, he got drafted and sent off to Europe.
When he returned from the war, he met Marian Miller, a woman I came to know as Mrs. Erickson.
Sample conversation between me and Mrs. Erickson–oh, you can imagine how that went.
For their honeymoon, Mr. & Mrs. Erickson crossed the country. Visited the Grand Canyon, drove up the coast of California to San Francisco.
They were living the Bohemian life of two artists in Chicago. Then came the kids and that two-flat by the lake.
He was, they said, a bit of a mystic.
“He loved dogs,” Janet said. “He said you could look into a dog’s eyes and see the eyes of god. Not the god of racism and war. But the god you can see in the eyes of a dog.”
I wish I knew him when I was old to appreciate who he was.
So, I get this call from Julie Mueller, who runs an outfit called CHIRP Radio.
Well, she doesn’t really run it. Shawn Campbell does. More like Julie’s a volunteer who helps them raise money.
But don’t bother me with specifics. I’m an artist–I can’t worry about details.
It’s a web-based radio station–right here in Chicago–that’s raising money with a fundraiser that requires various locals to go before a live audience at Martyrs, the music club, and read a story.
“Will you be a reader at our April 15th event?” she ask.
I say: “Oh, okay–if you want.”
I think: Are you fuckin’ kidding me! At last, my chance to be a star!
I hang up the phone and tell my wife: “I had a farm in Africa!”
“What?” says my wife.
“That’s me doing Meryl Streep–from Out of Africa–in preparation for my stage debut.”
“Oh, my god–how will I survive this?”
“From now on you will refer to me as Sir Benny Jay. As though I’ve been knighted–like Sir Laurence Olivier. Who I get to call Larry.”
“That’s not going to happen.”
David McMillin plays in a rock band called Fort Frances…
In preparation, I attend a rehearsal at the super-cool Wicker Park apartment of Jenn Sodini, who’s emceeing the show.
There I’m joined by my fellow superstars–Bobby Evers and David McMillin–who will also be on stage.
I run through my soliquy–about the first lie that I ever told. Jenn is overwhelmed.
“I feel as though I’ve just seen Spaulding Gray reading Swimming to Cambodia at Jonathan Demme’s loft in Soho,” she says.
Well, she doesn’t actually say that. But I wouldn’t be surprised if she were thinking it.
I instruct Julie that there must be a bucket of red M & Ms in the green room on the night of the show. But only red ones. In honor of the Bulls.
“That’s so not going to happen,” Julie says.
And Bente Engelstoft is a very funny comic…
And then–a week later–it’s my big moment.
After Sondra Morin, Alison Flowers and Bobby finish their bits, to the stage I strut, fully confident and in total command. And I turn to face the audience and–oh, my God!
I see those faces looking at me in expectation and I forget everything I was going to say.
I’m like Jackie Gleason in that episode of The Honeymooners where he’s on a quiz show and he can’t recognize the opening lines of Swanee River.
Thank goodness, I have my script. I place it on the podium. I don’t use it, but it’s reassuring to know it’s there–just in case.
I wonder if Al Pacino’s ever tried this.
Afterward, I stumble to my seat and laugh my ass off as Bente Engelstoft, David McMillin and Sean Flannery bring down the house.
Especially, Sean Flannery.
Folks, let me tell you–that Flannery is hilarious!
His bit about falling off a roof after a Huey Lewis & the News concert is the funniest thing I’ve heard since Don Rickles at the Sammy Davis Jr. roast.
When CHIRP posts it, I’ll let you know.
Afterward, Julie, gracious as always, tells me I did a great job.
Instantly, I forgive her for not having the M&Ms in the green room.
Thank you, CHIRP radio and Martyrs.
And with that Sir Benny Jay will retire from the stage.
Until the next time.
I’m telling you–I think I caught the bug…
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Heading south to Greektown, when my youngest daughter breaks the news….
“You have bad breath,” she tells me.
Not sure what prompted her to drop the bombshell at this particular time. No matter, I must deal with it.
“Is this true?” I ask my wife.
“Not always,” she says.
Well, that’s hardly reassuring.
“Did you plan this?” I ask.
“Huh?” asks my daughter.
“Is this an intervention?”
“Oh, my God — you planned to have a family intervention to tell me I have bad breath.”
“We did not plan a family intervention,” says my wife.
“Don’t be defensive,” says my daughter.
“I’m not defensive,” I say.
“Yes, you are,” says my daughter.
“No, I’m not.”
“Just bring a mint with you….”
“Yeah, you used to carry mints with you,” says my wife. “Why did you stop doing that?”
Then they worry that they’ve gone too far. So they start telling me what a great guy I am. As in — great guy, despite the bad breath.
“Do I have bad breath all the time?” I ask.
“No, just once in awhile,” says my daughter.
I have this flash. Have I had bad breath in public places where it could come back to haunt me?
“When was the last time I had bad breath?” I ask.
“I can’t remember,” says my wife.
“Yes, you can,” I say.
“Okay — when we saw Flight.”
That’s the movie in which Denzel Washington plays this super cool airplane pilot who has lots of problems — excessive drinking, drug taking, womanizing — but not bad breath.
“But you didn’t tell me,” I say.
“I don’t always tell you.”
“You mean — you let me walk around with bad breath!”
It hits me that I’ve probably had bad breath while standing in front of people I was trying to impress only they didn’t tell me cause it wasn’t the politically correct thing to do.
I recall sitting next to a friend — Michelle — in a gym and she handed me a Tic Tac that she happened to have in her pocket. Obviously, she was sending me a subtle message. How could I not see it at the time?
Fast forward several hours….
I’m lying on the couch reading a book. The dog comes by. Sniffs in my general direction and then lays down besides me.
Suddenly, I’m aware of a horrendous odor. I check my shoes to see if I stepped in shit.
Nope. It’s the dog.
“Damn, Nicky,” I say. “You need a Tic Tac.”
It’s reassuring to know that my breath is not as bad as the dog’s.
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I have a confession to make…
I am a Cubs fan!
I’ve been one since the `60s, when my family moved from Rhode Island to Evanston, the suburb just north of Chicago.
I keep my Cubs fandom a secret. So you might say I’m a closet Cubs fan.
I keep it a secret cause I don’t like want people to think I’m the kind of chump who roots for the same lousy team wretched year after wretched year after wretched year.
So you might also say that I’m a self-hating Cubs fan.
Also, I resent the Cubs owners, who mock our loyalty by doing cheap things, like sending Kris Bryant, the sensational young slugger, to the minors to save a few bucks by delaying his free agency for another year.
Jorge Soler crushed that fastball…
And then tell us that there sending him to the minors because he needs more seasoning.
And I really can’t stand it when someone tells me one thing, when I know it’s the other and–wait!
This was supposed to be about how much I love the Cubs.
So last night, I’m at the bowling alley and I’m watching the Cubs/Reds game with Cap and Danny. And, I mean, I’m really watching it–as though I cared about what happened.
And when Jorge Soler belted that 0-2 fastball over the fence for the 8th inning, game-tying, two-run homer, I stood and cheered.
And when Arismendy Alcantara slapped that 10th inning, bases-loaded single to score Soler and give the Cubs a 7-6 extra-inning victory, I broke into my rendition of Go, Cubs, Go.
Which goes like this…
“Go, Cubs, go, go Cubs go–hey, Chicago, what do you say, the Cubs are gonna win today!”
To which Tony with a T said: “Wait a minute–that’s the Bull song.”
Here’s the proof…
A word about Tony with a T.
As you all know, he’s a native of Cleveland on loan to Chicago and, as such, the only thing he knows about Go, Cubs, Go is that he often hears me sing it as an ode to the Bulls.
In which case it goes…
“Go, Bulls, go…”
Sometimes I sing it as an ode to my dog. As in–”Go, Nicky, go…”
As you can see, I’m very creative when it comes to adapting a song that was actually written by the great Steve Goodman. Speaking of lifelong Cubs fans.
Anyway, I woke this morning to discover that, with last night’s win, the Cubs were in first place.
In fact, Cap–another lifelong Cubs fan–sent me an image of the standings, which I’m including here.
It’s a wonderful day in Chicago.
The Cubs are in first place!
It may not last forever, so let’s enjoy it while we can.
In honor of the two lovely young ladies I bumped into last night on Lincoln Avenue, I’m officially jumping on the Blackhawks bandwagon–just in time for this year’s playoffs!
I used to be a fervent Blackhawks fan in large part because I worshipped the ice on which Bobby Hull, their greatest star, skated.
This was long ago in the era before disco was king.
But then the Blackhawks threw the great Bobby Hull out of town by low balling him in contract negotiations. What a bunch of cheapskates, pun intended!
And I swore to never, ever root for the Blackhawks again!
I stayed true to that vow even though, by chance, I once had a phone conversation with the great Bobby Hull himself.
And he pleaded: “Benny, let it go.”
Alas, I can’t let it go–until last night when I see those two women in their Blackhawks jerseys, hats and sweatshirts, getting out of a cab.
“Did the Hawks win?” I asked.
“No, they lost to the Avalanche.”
I could see the disappointment on their faces, as they launched into their tale of woe…
The Hawks were opening the playoffs on Wednesday against Nashville. But they were playing so poorly as of late that it was far from certain they’d make it out of round one.
Out of sympathy to these ladies, I uttered four words I never imagined would come from my mouth…
“They need Kaner back.”
Kaner would be Pat Kane, the high-scoring winger, who’s beloved by all Hawks fans in part because of his impish charm and barely concealed lust for champagne, limousines and naughty women.
I know about Kane because I’m surrounded by Hawks fans who worship him, including a certain plumber who, believe it or not, shares the same name.
That’s right–there are at least two Pat Kanes in Chicago. And I know one of them!
“Don’t worry,” I told those women, “this will be the Hawks year.”
“You think?” they asked.
“Yes, I do. You can book it.”
And off they happily went to a nearby bar, where, no doubt they were hoping to bump into the aforementioned Mr. Kane.
Hawks player, that is–not the plumber.
Will I stay true to my word and remain on the bandwagon?
It’s hard to say. By the time I made it home I could feel my apathy growing.
I’m telling you–the Blackhawks never should have let Bobby Hull get away.
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