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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For the past few days I’ve been up way past midnight reading Citizen Vince, a novel by Jess Walter.
Great book. I urge everyone to read it.
It tells the story of Vince Camden, a small-time hood from New York City, who winds up with a new identity in the federal witness protection program, working at a donut shop in Spokane, Washington.
One day a mobster from his past comes into his life and the plot takes off from there.
But the thing that makes the book so special — what distinguishes it from all the other tough-guy novels I routinely read — is its recurring riff on politics.
It takes place on the eve of the 1980 presidential election — Jimmy Carter v. Ronald Reagan.
Obsessed with the race, largely because he’s determined to vote for the first in his life, Vince struggles with an existential question: Does my vote matter, if I’m one of 200 or so million people casting one?
Wish I had an answer to that one.
I voted for Jimmy Carter….
Or as Walter writes: “Here is Vince Camden, overwhelmed by his own significance and by the weight of so many choices, undone by this miracle of being and by all these strands connected in the thread of some simple thought: Which of these stupid fucks are you supposed to vote for?”
Oh, Vince — I can relate.
He’s like a pilgrim, searching for enlightenment, asking people who they’re voting for and why?
He gets some interesting responses, like this one from Tic, his colleague at the donut shop….
“I don’t vote, Mr. Vince. That’s what they want — register your ass. So when the shit comes down, they just go to their master list and bang! First thing next morning, you got a fuckin’ hominig device in your teeth.”
He has a classic exchange with a woman named Shirley Stafford, who’s going door-to-door for John Anderson’s third party campaign.
But I should have voted for third-party candidate Barry Commoner….
“`Anderson’s at what, ten percent, four days before the election? I just don’t get why you’re still out here, doing this.’”
“`John Anderson has a chance to poll the highest percentage of any third-party candidate since….’”
“`But he can’t win.’”
“She shifts uncomfortably and slides her lips over the big teeth. `Well, no. But John Anderson believes….’”
“`Look, I’m not talking about that guy. I’m talking about you. Why go door-to-door trying to drum up support for some guy with no chance?’”
Unfortunately, Shirley has no immediate answer. But later she returns, having thought about his question, to tell Vince….
“`I know you’re right; this time we won’t win. But if we can get ten percent, maybe the next outsider will get twenty. And maybe one day twenty years from now, we’ll have more than those two corporate choices.’”
Alas, it’s been over 30 years since that election and we’re pretty much stuck on the same old ”two corporate choices.”
Next election, though — maybe then.
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I watch the Bulls/New Orleans game at the bowling alley.
It’s tough watching Bulls games at the bowling alley because Bob — the owner – is a hockey fan who hates the Bulls almost as much as he loves the Blackhawks.
That’s something people in Chicago don’t want to discuss. But many hockey fans hate basketball and are delighting in the Bulls’ recent misery.
Of which there’s been an abundance since Derrick Rose blew out his knee.
So from the moment I walk through the door, Bob has something to say. Like….
“Hey, Benny — how’s Derrick’s knee?”
Which I ignore.
“Hey, Benny, how’s your fuckin’ Bulls?”
Which I also ignore.
“Fuck the Bulls!”
Ignore that, too.
I’m hoping some of the guys in the bar might come to my defense. But most Chicagoans — fickle fucks that they are — have long since jumped off the Bulls bandwagon since Derrick blew out his knee.
I will now name all the Chicagoans who remain Bulls fans.
Ugh, let’s see — there’s me, Milo, Norm, Cap. Ugh….
Well, you get the point.
Hold it! Bob’s got something to say.
“Hey, Benny, great fuckin’ free throw shooting!”
He’s referring to the fact that Mike Dunleavy, who’s supposed to be a great shooter, just missed a free throw that would have sealed the victory.
For the record, I did not want the Bulls to sign Mike Dunleavy.
I wanted them to re-sign lil’ Nate Robinson.
But did they listen to me?
“Oh, no — that’s tough, Benny.”
He’s alluding to the fact that Jrue Holiday hit a three-point basket to send the game into overtime.
“Aw, too bad.”
I’m trying to think of something really witty to say in return. But at the moment, I can’t.
I sort of miss Brian Scalabrine….
As one overtime blends into another, Bob’s having a field day.
“Hey, Benny — how come Boozer’s not playing?”
“Hey, Benny, how’s Noah?”
“Hey, Benny, where’s Rose?”
“Hey, Benny, how’s your vagina?”
Hmm. That’s a particularly tough, almost existential, question to answer because I do not, in fact, have a vagina. You know, what with me not being a woman and all. Not that I have anything against vaginas. In fact, some of my best friends have them.
Bob loves talking about vaginas. It’s a Blackhawks-fan thing. Normal human beings would not understand.
The game comes down to one last three-point shot by Kirk Hinrich in the third overtime.
It looks good….
Bulls lose — again.
“Hey, Benny,” says Bob. “I didn’t see the final score. Did the Bulls lose?”
Not knowing what else to say, I say…
“Fuck the Blackhawks!”
I know — it’s not nearly as good as “how’s your vagina?”
But it’s a start.
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I’m sitting in a Mexican restaurant, enjoying a Margarita — talk about life in the fast lane — when the text comes in from a friend.
“You’ve been hacked! Your computer’s sending me spam email.”
I text back that I’m nowhere near a computer. Then I return to my margarita.
Only to have another text and another and another come rushing in. Obviously, the fucker’s sending shit to every address on my list.
Well, there’s nothing I can do. So….
Bartender, another round of margaritas!
When I get home I can’t fix the problem cause I can’t change my password cause I can’t remember the answer to the security question which was set up years ago to keep hackers from hacking into my system.
Let’s pause to appreciate this irony….
Fast forward about 12 hours. I’m on the phone with a guy who’s name is Raul. At least, I think that’s what he calls himself.
From his accent, I assume he’s working at a call center in India. For the record, I have nothing against call center operators in India. In fact, they’ve saved my ass more than once.
Raul’s English is really bad. Though, in his defense, it’s way better than my Hindi. Once again, the American’s the dumbest guy in the room.
I know we’re in for a long conversation when he’s having trouble establishing my first name.
Me: It’s Ben.
Me: No, Ben. B-e-n.
Raul: Is that D as in David?
Me: No, B — as in boy.
Raul: I’m sorry, sir, but what was that again?
Raul: Your name is Boy?
You know what — I think ol’ Raul is just fucking with me.
Anyway, once we get over the Ben part of the problem, we hit another wall as I try to communicate my mother’s maiden name. Apparently, that’s the key to unlocking everything having to do with my computer existence.
Raul: Is that V as in viceroy?
Me: No, D as in domino.
Raul: Domino? I’m sorry, sir, I do not know that word.
The challenge’s not just figuring out words that start with the same letter in whatever word I’m trying to spell. But to select words that a man with a limited English vocabulary already knows.
Damn! It’s only ten in the morning and I need another margarita!
Mercifully, we communicate whatever we need to communicate in order to fix my service. Once again — thank you, Raul.
I go on line to find a gazillion emails telling me: “Hey, man, did you know you were hacked?”
No shit, Sherlock!
There were also a few along the lines of: “Hey, fucker — stop sending me this bullshit.”
Then there were automatic replies, like: “I’ll be away for two weeks. In the meantime, contact Shirley, my assistant.”
Sometimes I think we were better off without these computers.
With Thanksgiving here, the time’s come to give a special Third City thank you to just a few of the many who’ve done so much for us this year.
So without further ado, thanks to….
Nickle Bag Bernie, one of our valued advertisers, for keeping the editorial staff happy at all times. See you in the parking lot, Bernie.
Madame LeFarge’s Whorehouse, another valued advertiser, for the group rates.
Swami Sam, the Skokie Yoga King — Sam doesn’t do much for us, but he’s done wonders for the ladies.
Dr. Frankie “Disco” Lopez, our primary physician, for making sure we never run low on our meds.
Dr. Matt Farmer and El Dragon, our esteemed attorneys, for squashing all those cease-and-desist orders and keeping us out of jail. By the way, the good news is that Milo’s DNA test came out negative!
The Lovely Mrs. Milo for refraining to hire a hit man to get rid of her loving but somewhat erratic husband.
The Triple A Bail Bond Company of Gary for bailing Milo out of jail after that Labor Day escapade with Mrs. Shimkus in Skokie.
Mr. Shimkus for dropping the charges.
Elmore Stiglitz & Sons — Gary, Indiana’s most reliable bookies — for the easy-payment plan. Our next check’s in the mail!
The Corporate Factory Farms of America for the two-headed, 20-pound Cornish Hen. Can’t wait to pop it in the oven!
The Chicago Bulls and Bears and Cubs and Sox for winning all those championships last year….
Oh, forget that one.
As always we’re thankful for the great Pam Grier!
Denzel Washington for being the next Paul Newman.
Paul Newman for being the first Paul Newman.
Our sensational crew of superstar writers, photogs, computer geniuses, podcasters, and actors who give it all to The Third City.
And, finally, our loyal readers — all 109 of you, or 110, when Milo’s sister is sober enough to navigate a keyboard. Thanks for reading and don’t forget to make your checks out to cash!
Peace, thy most precious gift.
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My backpack got stolen when I was in Argentina — though I’m not in any way blaming the Argentines.
It was my fault!
I was in an outdoor café drinking copious amounts of red, red wine, and I walked off without my backpack.
That red, red wine will kill you – every time!
When I returned a little later, my backpack was gone — along with everything in it. Glasses included.
Why were my glasses in the backpack? I’m near sighted. So I don’t need them when doing things like drinking copious amounts of red, red wine.
But I do need them while walking down the street — otherwise everything beyond 20 feet is a blur.
So, yes, I did go to Argentina. Though, technically, you could argue I didn’t see anything.
My wife took to calling me Mr. Magoo — affectionately, of course.
The great Mr. Magoo!
Anyway, one day we’re at the long and winding San Telmo street market, walking past vendors peddling jewelry, leather goods, paintings — you name it.
And what do I see? A table piled high with glasses, though not mine.
The vendor’s this lumpy dude with crazy grey hair that’s shooting out all over the place — looks like a fat Albert Einstein. Plus, he reeks of booze, like he’s been hitting that red, red wine since the sunrise.
He speaks pretty good English. Keeps calling me “my man.” Says he used to live in New York City and drank coffee at some café on 72nd street. Says he used to see Frank Sinatra at that café.
As he talks, I’m going through his pile of glasses, trying them on, looking to see if any one fits my needs.
I take pair of owl rim lady’s glasses. Looks like something Sophia Loren used to wear. I try them on and — oh, my god! It’s a miracle — I can see! It’s virtually the same prescription of my old glasses.
Thus begins the wheeling and dealing….
“How much?” I ask.
“These are good glasses, my man.”
“So how much?”
“They come from Miami.”
“100 pesos, my man.”
I do the quick math — it’s roughly $10.
“Hold on,” I say.
The glasses looked these….
I run off to get my wife, who’s watching street dancers dancing a tango.
“My man,” says the vendor, when I return.
I try on the glasses.
“No way,” says my wife.
“But I can see!” I say.
“I don’t care — you’re not wearing those glasses under any circumstances!”
She walks back to her tango.
I look in my wallet. I have five American dollars.
“I’ll give you $5 for these glasses,” I say to the vendor.
“No way, my man — they’re from Miami.”
Yeah, right — the back of a truck named Miami.
That ends that. Unable to strike a deal, I walk away, burry eyed.
I relentlessly guilt trip my wife into agreeing to help me get glasses as soon as we return to Chicago.
Sure enough, hours after our plane lands it’s off we dash to the eyeglasses store where I buy two pairs. One regular and the other shades.
That’s right, prescription shades! I’m too cool, baby.
All’s well that ends well.
While the Bulls played the Trailblazers on Friday night, I was watching an old episode of the Sopranos — okay, so, I’m not exactly living in the fast lane these days.
After the episode ended, I went to the computer to see if the Bulls had won and that’s how I learned that Derrick Rose, the star player on my most beloved team, had ripped up his knee — again!!!
Then and there I went through a super-abbreviated version of the five stages of grief….
Denial: Maybe it’s a only a sprain.
Anger:Fuck that fucking knee!
Bargaining: If only he hadn’t been on the court at that moment!
Depression: Why me?
Acceptance: More playing time for Marquis Teague.
(Editor’s Note: Marquis Teague is the Bulls’ seldom-used back up point guard whose claim to fame is that he used to have one of the best porn star mustaches in the NBA.)
Actually, Marquis shaved the mustache….
I wake up on Saturday with a bolt of hope. What if it was all a bad dream and Derrick didn’t really hurt his knee at all?
Down the stairs I race to the front steps where my beloved Sun Times awaits me — as always. Alas, the headline reads: Rose injures knee.
Noooo!!!! And so I go through the five stages of grief all over again.
Later that I day I visit my parents, where I break the news to my 80-something year-old mother….
“Ma, I know he just got over his last knee injury, but Derrick Rose has injured his other knee.”
“Barry Rose?” she asks.
Something you should know about my mom — she’s a little hard of hearing.
“No, ma — Derrick Rose.”
“The best player on the Bulls.”
“Are they the football team or the basketball team?”
You know, I’m starting to think that there’s something to be said for going through life not giving a shit about sports.
Oh, for the glory days!
On the ride home, I get an update from Milo, who happens to be the Health and Science editor of this blog.
“Benny, I was at this Mexican restaurant getting carryout….”
“And they got a TV in the bar….”
“And I saw on the crawl that Rose ripped his meniscus….”
“What’s the meniscus?”
“I don’t know — some fucking thing in your knee.”
As you can see, we only have the best and the brightest medical experts at The Third City.
More good news!!!
Over dinner, my friend Jeannie — a 50-something-year-old lawyer– tells me that years ago she too ripped her meniscus.
But the doc sewed it up and she was back to normal in no time.
Yeah! Whee! Whoo!
Hey, maybe the Bulls can sign up Jeannie and let her run the point. She can’t do any worse than Marquis Teague.
Oh, no — I feel another five stages of grief coming on.