Benny Jay: Chino Wife

April 2nd, 2020

Sitting in the living room, late at night, listening to my wife singing the Dead and playing the guitar.

She’s been taking guitar lessons for the last few months and she’s getting pretty good.

She sings….

“Got a wife in China, baby, and one in Cherokee….”

“Chino,” I say.

She stops playing.

“What?”

“It’s Chino.”

“What’s Chino?”

“In the song. He’s got a wife in Chino.”

“So.”

“You said China. It’s not China. It’s Chino.”

“The paper says China.”

And she points to the lyrics sheet, which clear as day, says: “Got a wife in China….”

gratefuldead

Everybody loves the Grateful Dead!

So now it’s my word against the lyric sheet.

“That’s a typo.”

“I’m gonna say China.”

“It doesn’t make any sense. It’s a song by the Grateful Dead, they’re from California. Chino is a town in California. They wouldn’t have a wife in China.”

She gives me a look and sings….

“Got a wife China, one in Cherokee. The first one says she’s got my child, but it don’t look like me….”

Sigh.

It reminds me a conversation I had almost 50 years ago with my father over a Bob Dylan that goes….

“You got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend, when I was down, you just stood there grinning.”

One of the greatest songs ever written!

He said the song was named Positively 4th Street. But I insisted it was Positively 14h Street.

Not sure why I was so insistent. Probably my way of telling him that just cause he said something, didn’t make it true.

washingtonsquarepark

Washington Square Park — Positively, Greenwich Village!

So my father explained that it’s about people who live in Greenwich Village.

And that 4th Street — not 14th Street — is the heart of Greenwich Village.

And that Dylan’s singing about a special breed of back-stabbing Greenwich Village hypocrites.

Or people who are positively 4th Street — like the name says.

Thus igniting the following debate.

Me: It’s 14th Street.

Father: Benny, that makes no geographical sense.

Me: Yes, it does!

And so on….

Many years later, I was walking through New York City on a wonderfully gorgeous day and I found myself in Washington Square — in the heart of Greenwich Village!

And sure enough, the street sign said: 4th Street.

Holy shit — the old man had been right after all.

Right then and there I wrote him a post card, telling him all about it.

Here’s the thing….

When I got home to Chicago, he told me he didn’t even remember the conversation

Oh, well.

But back to Friend of the Devil….

My wife sings the song again. And when she gets to the critical line, she goes….

“Got a wife in China, and one in Cherokee….”

Just to let me know that just cause I say something doesn’t mean it’s true.

One day I’m gonna have to take her to California so she can see for herself.

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Benny Jay: Chicken

March 23rd, 2020

Get an email from Peter Fuller, a faithful reader, who wants to know….

“Mother fucker – where’s my money?”

Sorry, that’s Milo’s joke. Couldn’t resist….

What Peter really wants to know is this: “Where do you suggest I go for great fried chicken, oh, great chicken cognoscente?

Hmm, interesting question…

Here’s the thing. I love chicken.  I love it so much I could eat it every day. Matter of fact, I do eat it every day.

Well, almost.

Now, here’s the problem. I love chicken so much I’m not very discerning – unlike, let’s say, with clam chowder.

Most of which I won’t eat cause it’s too gluey.

I said it once, I’ll say it again – you can’t get a good cup of clam chowder in Chicago.

But I digress….

Yes, I love all chicken. Which leads to the following philosophical quandary: If I love all chicken, how can I know if it’s bad?

Ahhh — this question’s plagued great minds since ancient times.

In fact, just posing it has exhausted me. Hold on – gotta take a nap.

Just looking at it makes me hungry….

An hour later….

Feeling much better. Now where was I? Oh, yes – great chicken….

First – let me give a shout out to my mother and my sister — they make a mean barbecue chicken.

And my wife? Man, on Sunday she made a mustard chicken to die for.

But the best place to buy it?

Hmmm….

For a long time I was really into the fried chicken at the Popeye’s on Howard just east of Clark.

As you may recall, I went there the night the Bulls defeated the Pacers in game three of this year’s playoffs.

Worked up a big appetite watching the game at Cap’s house with the rest of my bowling buddies. Took a coupon from Cap’s brother J.R. and went straight on over.

J.R. kept the coupon in his car cause you never know when a coupon from Popeye’s is gonna come in handy.

By the way, Cap makes great fried chicken.

And the Young One, another guy on my bowling team, cooks a delicious grilled chicken.

Who would have thought one bowling team would have so many great cooks?

Ella Fitzgerald….

As you recall, the Young One cooked us grilled chicken during game four of last year’s Bulls/Atlanta series.

It was so good I wept when I ate it.

Then a bunch of chicks came over and the Young One had an orgy.

Well, I’m not certain about the orgy, but you never know with the Young One….

Here’s another surprise. Milo makes a good fried chicken. I know – it’s amazing what he can do for being a drunk.

His only drawback is he tends to use chicken legs.

I’m not a big chicken leg guy. It may be the only part of the chicken I don’t like.

In fact, when my wife and I eat out, I usually give her the chicken leg. Scores me points with her cause she thinks I’m being generous.

My little secret….

My old friend, Helena Appleton, made the best fried chicken I ever ate.

May she rest in peace….

One time years ago she made a big batch of it and took it to an Ella Fitzgerald concert in Grant Park.

We watched Ella Fitzgerald and ate Helena’s fried chicken.

Life doesn’t get much better than that….

Anyway, I haven’t been much help to Peter. So I call the best authority I know.

“Hey, Cap – Peter Fuller wants to know: Who makes the best fried chicken in Chicago?”

“I do….”

“Okay, but I’m not going to send him to your house….”

“Captain Hook’s Fish & Chicken, 1600 W. 13th Street.  Uncle Remus Chicken and Barbecue, 41411 W. Madison. J & J Fish and Chicken on 43rd and Harold’s – any Harold’s.”

There you have it – straight from the master.

When you go there, tell `em Benny Jay sent you.

And they’ll tell you, that’s all fine and well, but, where’s my money, moth….

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Benny Jay: Kirk The Brave

February 10th, 2020

Editor’s note: In memory of Kirk Douglas: 1916-2020…

In my ongoing attempt to see if the movies of my youth are as good as I remember, I recently re-watched Lonely Are the Brave.

A movie I remember loving very, very much.

It’s a western in which Kirk Douglas plays a relatively modern-day cowboy, who runs afoul of the law and winds up getting chased by cops–in cars, jeeps, and a helicopter-into the mountains of New Mexico.

True to his cowboy soul, Douglas shuns a car for a horse.

The good news is that the movie’s even better than I remember.

The bad news is–well, there is no bad news.

The script’s by Dalton Trumbo, the brilliant screenwriter who was blacklisted and sent to federal prison for being a member of the Communist Party.

It’s got a ton of great lines, like this one, delivered by Gena Rowlands to Douglas…

“Believe you me, if it didn’t take men to make babies I wouldn’t have anything to do with any of you!”

Sort of sums it all up, doesn’t it?

I didn’t realize this when I first saw the movie, but Douglas insisted Trumbo get full credit for writing the script–as opposed to having to used a pseudonym to conceal his identity.

Thus, they killed the blacklist.

You’re the man, Kirk!

yvonne-de-carlo

Yvonne de Carlo was a beautiful movie star…

Curiously, Walter Matthau plays the sheriff who chases after Douglas.

This is curious casting since Matthau’s a Jewish guy from the Lower East Side.

Kirk Douglas is also a Jewish guy from New York City. But at least he speaks with a twang and, in general, acts like a cowboy.

Matthau makes no attempt to act like anything other than what he is–a Jewish guy from the Lower East Side.

So you have one Jewish New Yorker chasing another Jewish New Yorker through the mountains of New Mexico. Is this a great country–or what?

I happened to mention this to Milo, my partner in this blogging empire.

He, in turn, told me a story from the late 1940s, when Matthau was a young and unknown acting student.

Matthau’s standing in the rain, waiting for a bus, when up pulls a limo and out of the window pops the head of Tony Curtis, speaking of Jewish actors from New York City.

Tony, who’d attended acting school with Matthau, calls out…

“Hey, Walter, I fucked Yvonne De Carlo.”

With that, the limo speeds off, leaving Matthau still very much in the rain.

I love hearing that story almost as much as Milo loves telling it.

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Benny Jay: Mr. Bryant

January 30th, 2020

This post originally ran in 2016, when Kobe Bryant retired…

 

After giving it much thought, I’ve decided to bestow upon Kobe Bryant the greatest honor I can give him–a spot in the Benny Jay non-Bulls Hall of Fame.

That’s different than the Benny Jay Bulls Hall of Fame–reserved for the likes of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Norm Van Lier. Especially, Norm Van Lier. I love you, Norm!

The non-Bulls Hall of Fame consists of dreaded opponents about whom I said, when their careers were over…

Man, I wish you’d played for my Bulls!

In short–the highest of praise.

The founding members of this illustrious club are, of course, the holy trinity of ballers from my grammar school years: Bill Russell, Connie Hawkins and Wilt Chamberlain. Especially Wilt Chamberlain.

natearchibald

Lil’ Nate Archibald could play!

That was followed by Hall of Famers from my high school days: Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Dave Cowens, Paul Silas and Nate Archibald. Especially, Nate Archibald. I always loved the little guards.

And onto my college years: Bill Walton, Maurice Lucas, Lionel Hollins, Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes, Rick Barry, and Dr. J. Especially, Dr. J. I revere him so much that, to this day, I order Crown Royal–when drinking shots–cause that’s the brand the Doctor endorses.

And into the `80s, 90s and 00s with Mo Cheeks, Moses Malone, Rickey Pierce, Terry Cummings, Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Charles Barkley, Larry Joe Bird, Magic Johnson, Reggie Miller, Shaq, Allen Iverson and Dennis Johnson. Especially, Dennis Johnson.

You know, some people say my game reminds them of Dennis Johnson’s.

Well, I may be the only one who says that, but still…

At this point, I realize some of you might be thinking–damn, man, you spend way too much time thinking about basketball.

To which I say…

You’re probably right. Now back to the list…

craighodges

The great Craig Hodges!

Some guys are enshrined in both of my halls of fame, having played for and against the Bulls. I’m talking about Chet Walker, Clifford Ray, Artis Gilmore, Charles Oakley, Nate Robinson, Doug Collins (he coached the Bulls), Ben Gordon, Jannero Pargo and Craig Hodges.

Especially, Craig Hodges. I love three-point shooters!

As for Kobe, I used to hate on him with unabashed abandon. In large part because he had the audacity to act as though he were as good, if not better, than Jordan.

In truth, he deserved to act that way. Cause, in truth, he comes as close to being as good as Jordan as any player I’ve seen.

So now that Kobe passed Jordan on the all-time list of scorers, I might as well officially enshrine him into my Hall of Fame.

Congratulations, Kobe–if this was your Bar Mitzvah, I’d give you a fountain pen.

But it’s not. So what I’ll do is this…

I’ll raise glass of Crown Royal–what else–in your honor.

 

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Benny Jay: Hold `em…

January 9th, 2020

I’m sitting at the bowling alley bar, mindlessly watching Portland play the Clippers, an NBA basketball game I care nothing about, when…

I’m approached by Benji, another bowler in the league.

“I have this app,” he explains. “I can place a bet on any game anywhere…”

“Okay…”

“You wanna bet the over/under on the halftime score?”

“How does that work?”

“Right now they’re saying both teams will score 112 in the first half…”

“You mean, their combined scores?

“Right. So, if you take the over, anything over 112 and you win…”

“So, if they score 113?”

“You win.”

“Hmm.”

“C’mon, just bet ten dollars.”

I think about it. On the one hand, I’m not much for gambling. On the other hand–what the fuck.

“I’m in,” I say.

And just like that everything changes. I feel a rush of adrenaline–like ten dollars never seemed so important.

kennyrogersthegamblerAs Kenny Rogers says…

“Hey, Benny,” a guy calls from across the bar. “Come have a drink.”

“Can’t talk,” I call out. “I got a fiduciary interest in the outcome of this game.”

A collective wow rises from the bar. It’s probably the first time fiduciary has ever been uttered in a bowling alley.

Let me tell you, it’s way different rooting for teams to score rather than win. For one thing, you don’t give a shit about defense. For another, you find yourself saying things you never imagined I’d say. Like.

“Dunk that fuckin’ ball, shithead.”

Yes, you swear more when there’s money on the line.

The shithead in question is Mason Plumlee, a big galoot from Duke.

Generally, I have an aversion for Dukies. But I find myself cheering for Plumlee like he’s a long lost son.

Ryan, another bowler, sits next to me. “Who ya got?” he asks.

“The over.”

Just saying that makes me feel like I’m Jimmy the Greek.

“What’s the over?”

“113.”

“Relax,” he says. “It’s in the bag.”

“You’re jinxin’ me, man…”

Sure enough–suddenly neither team can score.

With 1:20 left in the half, Plumlee hits a jumper to make it 58-54. Just one point to go. But…

Luc Mbah Moute–a really hard name to spell, by the way–shoots and misses. Then he shoots and misses again.

I pound the bar. I pull my hair. Several guys have gathered to watch my agony. Looks like I’m the evening entertainment.

Plumlee feeds a pass to Maurice Harkness who goes in for a layup and…

60-54. 114–one over 113. Fuckin aye, man. I’m rich!!!

Benji slips me a ten.

Immediately, I break into Kenny Rogers’s The Gambler. “You gotta know when to hold `em…”

Been singing it ever since.

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Benny Jay: Not To Be Quoted

December 22nd, 2019

I’m talking to a friend of a friend, who works for the state, about public education, when she says….

“Don’t quote me.”

I’m like — are you for real?

I point out to her that we’re in a noisy bar and it’s after midnight. We’re drinking a beer. I have no pencil, pen or paper anywhere near me. I’m not secretly taping our conversation. I can barely remember her name, much less what she’s saying.

“I couldn’t quote you, even if I wanted to — and I don’t want to!”

Then she says something like — well, you are a reporter.

You know, like reporters feel an irresistible urge to quote every Tom, Dick or Harry they meet.

Like if you’re having a beer with a surgeon. At some point he or she’ll just have an irresistible urge to take out your appendix.

She explains that years ago she had a bad experience when some reporter misquoted her.

Now it’s getting worse. Not only does she suspect I’ll quote her without her permission. But I’ll misquote her in the process.

Actually, in my dozens of years of quoting people, I’ve discovered that the biggest problem is not when you misquote them as when you accurately quote them. In short, when they say something incredibly stupid or powerfully truthful that it comes back to bite them in the ass.

Then they claim — “You misquoted me!”

Or, like Mayor Richard J. Daley’s press secretary once said: “Write what the mayor means, not what he says.”

Or something like that. I’m probably misquoting him.

Some people are so worried about being quoted that they refuse to say anything unless it’s off the record. My dear friend, Thor, even has off-the-record conversations with his wife.

Sample exchange….

Mrs. Thor: How was your day, dear?

Thor: Ah, it was okay. But that’s on background only.

In some cases, I can understand why people don’t want to be quoted. Especially teachers in Chicago, who are afraid that they’ll get summarily fired if they say something that offends the boss.

Not only that, but they worry that in the age of the cyberspace, their quotes will live forever. Thus hampering their chances to get future jobs.

In which case, I’m screwed just from all the stupid shit I’ve written on this blog. Good thing I’m too old to worry about it.

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Benny Jay: Vince The Citizen

December 4th, 2019

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.

jimmycarter

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.”

Okay, Tic.

He has a classic exchange with a woman named Shirley Stafford, who’s going door-to-door for John Anderson’s third party campaign.

barrycommoner

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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