Benny Jay: Life’s Mysteries

August 30th, 2016

On the last night of my recent vacation, I’m walking down an aisle in Glen’s–a grocery store way up north in Michigan–when I spot a treasure all but hidden on the shelf.

Actually, it’s not called Glen’s anymore. They changed the name years ago. But everyone I know still calls it Glen’s. Some habits are hard to break.

The treasure on the shelf is Mister Mustard–the tangiest, hottest, most delicious mustard in the world.

They used to sell Mister Mustard at grocery stores all over Chicago. But then they stopped. Not sure why. No stocker I ask gives me a straight answer. I suspect a conspiracy. Though why there’d be a conspiracy regarding Mister Mustard I can’t say.

It’s hard to adequately convey the sheer deliciousness of Mister Mustard. Put it this way–I’ve never met anyone who, having tried Mr. Mustard, wanted another brand.

It makes me wonder–if so many people like Mr. Mustard, why don’t more stores stock it?

mistermustardThe great Mister Mustard…

 

In this matter, it’s like white wine. Have you ever noticed that eight out of ten people will, when asked, choose red over white wine.

And yet so many people bring white wine to a BYOB dinner party.

Why this is so I cannot say. Alas, I won’t live long enough to solve all the mysteries of life.

“Look,” I tell my daughters. “They got Mister Mustard!”

“Get me one,” says the daughter, who lives in L.A..

“Me, too,” says the daughter, who lives in NYC.

Apparently, they don’t have Mister Mustard in any major city in America.

I wind up scooping up every jar on the shelf. To the checkout line we go.

“Looks like someone really likes Mister Mustard,” the cashier says.

I detect a wry sense of humor.

“Are you a fan?” I ask.

“Never tried it,” she says.

“Oh, my God–you have to try some…”

“Okay…”

“I can open a jar right now…”

“Maybe another time…”

“By the way, why is Glen’s the only store in America that still sells Mr. Mustard?”

She shrugs, smiles and resists the temptation to tell me–it’s not called Glen’s anymore.

“Just another one of life’s mysteries,” I say.

See you next year, Glen’s–if only to stock up on more Mister Mustard.

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Benny Jay: Colin Takes His Stand

August 28th, 2016

With news breaking that Colin Kaepernick, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, refuses to stand for the National Anthem, I was take back in time to the late 1970s.

Up in the nosebleed section of the old Chicago Stadium–where we gathered to watch the Bulls–I’d be one of the few people standing for the anthem.

Kaepernick says he has a principled reason for sitting while his teammates stand in line, as custom dictates: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.”

I’m not sure Bulls fans back in the day had so noble a reason. There were so few of us up there–maybe they didn’t realize the anthem was playing.

As long as I’m reminiscing…

Back in the `70s, I had a friend named Clarence–aka, the Den–who stay seated for the anthem.

I’m not sure he had a particular reason. It was more like he was contrarian–if everyone went right, he’d go left.

In those days, I went to a bunch of White Sox games with Clarence and Jon Seidman–may he rest in peace.

As Jon stood for the anthem, he’d look at Den and say, “The old knee’s acting up again, huh, Clarence?”

Just in case any of the more patriotic fans sitting nearby took offense.

colinkaepernicksits

Colin sits…

 

Moving forward in time, I have another friend, Randy, who refuses to join in when the crowd cheers the veteran, who takes the field to be honored, as happens routinely these days at sporting events.

Randy says the government’s using vets to get the rest of us to fall in line for the imperialistic wars we shouldn’t be waging in the first place.

This is also a theme in Ben Fountain’s great anti-war novel–Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Can’t wit for the Ang Lee movie, by the way.

Randy makes a helluva point.

On the other, its commendable that anyone would put his or her life on the line for the principle of defending our country. So I always stand and cheer.

As patriotic anthems go, the Star Spangled Banner is not my favorite. I prefer America The Beautiful or This Land Is Your Land.

But there have been several sensational renditions over the years–Jose Felciano’s, Aretha Franklin’s and Jimi Hendrix’s.

Richard Pegue–the great Chicago disc jockey–began his Saturday night dusties show by playing Marvin Gaye’s version, my personal favorite.

I don’t think Clarence, Randy or Colin Kaepernick would object to that.

Anyway, my attitude about Kaepernick is if he doesn’t want to stand, more power to him. Last I looked, it was still a free country.

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Benny Jay: Divvy Dash

August 26th, 2016

On a lovely night in June, I set off on my bike, heading home along the lakefront from Millennium Park.

I’d been at an outdoor concert–Eddie Palmieri and his Salsa Orchestra–that may have been the greatest outdoor concert I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen a bunch.

The sounds of that orchestra are still resonating through my brain, giving me a little extra oomph, as I cross Lake Shore Drive and head north along the bike path.

I feel like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape, racing my motorcycle over barbed wire fences. The breeze is lovely. It’s like I’ve sliced 30 years off of my age.

But as I approach Oak Street Beach, from behind me I hear a stern and commanding voice: “On your left!”

It’s what faster cyclists say to slower cyclists as they come up from behind them. As the rider approaches, I say: “Take it, big feller.”

And then what do I see?

A fat guy on a Divvy!

Are you kidding me! Passed on the left by a Divvy?

stevemcqueenlesmans

In my mind, I’m Steve McQueen…

In case you don’t know–Divvy’s are the rental bikes. They’re squat and heavy. They don’t move fast. Utilitarian is the word that comes to mind.

You can’t really pretend you’re Steve McQueen if you’re on a Divvy. Man, Steve McQueen wouldn’t be caught dead on a Divvy.

The guy whizzes by, like he’s the baddass. And I’m like–it’s on!

So I dig a little deeper and peddle a little harder. I can tell he feels me coming at him. Cause he digs harder.

In my mind, I’m still Steve McQueen. Only it’s a different movie–Les Mans–and I’m in a Porsche 917 whipping around a race course.

As we approach Fullerton, I draw closer.

“On your left,” I say.

And with that I fly right by him–like he’s standing still. As I disappear into the night, I raise my right arm to signal that I am the champion. Just like Steve McQueen!

I’m feeling pretty good until just south of Belmont I hear: “On the left!”

It’s a younger woman on–yes–a Divvy.

As she races past me, I think about giving chase. But fuck it. That’s as much racing action as this old man can take for the night.

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Benny Jay: Another Country

August 23rd, 2016

With lots of free time on my hands, I spent the better of my recent vacation reading Another Country, James Baldwin’s classic novel about blacks & whites in New York City during the late 1950s.

What can I say? Great book! The man’s a genius. Though it was written over 50 years ago, Baldwin’s way ahead of his time as he tells a tale of men and women–gay and straight–struggling to overcome the demons that divide us.

It’s wise and insightful. I recommend it to one and all.

Plus, it’s got some steamy sex scenes.

Ultimately, it’s sort of uplifting. At least Baldwin’s characters are trying to bridge the racial gap.

That said–Baldwin made one mistake.

It came when one character calls another a “cock sucker”.

As all Third City readers know, that’s a misspelling. It’s just one word.

At least according to Milo, who knows a thing or two about this stuff from his days as an outstanding young scholar at Horace Mann high school in Gary, Indiana.

jamesbaldwinEven the great James Baldwin occasionally makes a mistake…

 

Over the years, Milo’s dutifully waged a holy, one-man crusade to get people to correctly spell this word. Along with dipshit, fuckface, numbnuts, shithead, dumbass, and motherfucker–all one word. Not two!

Off the top of my head, I recall Milo correcting misspellings by No Blaise, Frank Coconate, Rolando and other Third City contributors.

I guess we can now add the great James Baldwin to that long and illustrious list.

Anyway, I broke the news to Milo, as soon as I got home.

“Hey, Milo, have you ever read Another Country?”

“Yes, I have, Benny–it’s a magnificent book.”

“Yes, well, I’m sad to say he made a misspelling.”

“Shit, Benny, don’t tell me Baldwin spelled motherfucker as two words!”

“No, he got that right. But he fucked up with cocksucker.”

“Two words?”

“Afraid so.”

“Jesus Christ, man–you’d think a great writer like James Baldwin would know better.”

He paused as if the disappointment were more than he could bear.

“Well, Milo,” I said. “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

“You’re right, Benny. Horace Mann had a rigorous 9th grade spelling curriculum. Besides, look on the bright side. How many other authors managed to get motherfucker and cocksucker in the same book? Not enough, my man, not enough.”

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Benny Jay: Back To The Shithole

August 21st, 2016

I spent the last week of my life flaked out on a beach in paradise–or as close to paradise as my broke ass can afford.

As the days went by, the sun wore me down, melting my harsh protective exterior, until I became a marshmellow. Just one round ball of peace, love and understanding.

Then I returned to civilization…

Waking Sunday morning to read my first newspaper in a week, I came face to face with the following paragraph in an essay by a columnist named Mona Charen, chastising Donald Trump for not doing a better job of winning over the immigrant vote.

“If there is one minority group that ought to lean Republican, it’s Asians. They have very low illegitimacy rate, little divorce, high levels of small business ownership, are highly educated, hard-working and self sufficient. Yet they cast more than 75 percent of their votes for Obama over Mitt Romney.”

Oh, lord, people, why did I leave the beach?

I mean, seriously–how an you have an honest and enlightening discussion with Republicans about the state of humanity when they’re writing such drivel.

I mean, I mean–the underlying assumption in this paragraph is that there are some inherent virtues about being Republican. But if you’re not Republican you’re shiftless, lazy, ignorant and burdensome.

 

watervalesunset

Take me back to paradise…

 

Take the marriage issue…

The current big three in GOP politics–Trump, Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich–have each been married three times.

At age 70, Trump’s 32 years older than Melania, his current wife, who’s only seven years older than Donald, Jr., his oldest son.

Thank God for Viagra–huh, Donnie?

Giuliani announced his intentions to separate his second wife at a press conference before he actually told his wife he wanted to divorce her.

Class act, Rudy.

And Gingrich divorced his first wife when she had cancer, cheated on his second wife with a congressional staffer, and then blamed his infidelities on his dedication to his country…

“There’s no question at times in my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate.”

In other words, you’d have to be willfully ignorant to suggest that this collection of sleazy philanderers represents the virtues of healthy matrimony.

Forget it, man. I’m exhausted. Just take me back to the beach. I’m too frail for the hypocrisies of modern civilization.

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Benny Jay: Goin’ Fishin’

August 11th, 2016

As part of my duties to keep my partners informed of everything I’m up to, I tell Milo about my big plans to take a break.

I’m beat up, worn out and on the brink of break down.  Gonna go north–far from this madness to re-charge my run-down batteries.  Yes, sir, that’s what I’m gonna do…

Soon as I finish, Milo tells me about his friend who did 22 years of hard time on a prison farm in Mississippi. They made him pick cotton in the hot sun all day long–didn’t even let him wear gloves to protect his fingers.

Pause.

Well, don’t I feel like the big wimp, complaining about my easy existence while this guy’s picking cotton in the broiling sun?

Just goes to show you–as bad as I may have it, someone, somewhere has got it worse.  It’s always good to have a little perspective on life.

IMG_1221

Gonna be jumpin’ for joy on a beach…

 

That said, I’m not giving up my vacation time just cause Milo’s friend did 22 years of hard time.

Oh, no, I’m gonna lie on a sand dune and watch the clouds meander across the blue sky. And then when I get hungry, I’m gonna get up and make a cheese sandwich–slather it with Mr. Mustard.

Man, I love Mr. Mustard!

When I come home, I’ll be like a marshmallow–all soggy and soft.  People in Chicago will be going one-hundred miles per hour, and I’ll be going ten.  I’ll be the slow car in the fast lane. It’ll take me at least a week to catch up to speed.

And then I’ll start dashing until I can dash no more and I need to take a break.

Like I said, every battery needs a re-charge when it’s running low. That’s just how it goes. No need to apologize. Even in that prison farm, they got Sundays off.

See ya’ soon…

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Benny Jay: Just Call Him Bob Clinton

August 9th, 2016

So I’m talking to my old pal, Bob, and the conversation turns to running tracks.

This frequently happens with Bob, a high school track coach and the foremost authority on running in Chicago.

Or, so he thinks.

“Hey, Bob,” I ask, “is the running track at Lakeview high school the same distance as the one at Kenwood?”

“There is no track at Lakeview,” he says.

Now, folks, immediately I face a dilemma to which I know many of you can relate…

What to do when someone says something you know is false?

Should I a.) simply ignore the falsehood? b.) politely point out his error? Or c.) go for the jugular?

Oh, friends, I’m not totally proud of what follows. I pounce.

But I play it cool–got to lure him in slowly. So I say…

“Look, Bob, I know you’re an expert on running and everything, but I think you’re wrong about that track at Lakeview.”

He goes for the bait.

“Benny, I’m right–there is no track there.”

To prove his point, he recites an impressively learned history of track `n field at Lakeview. I’ll give him this–Bob knows his shit.

When he’s done, I make my move.

“Tell you what, Bob. How about we make a friendly little wager for lunch? If there is no track, I’ll pick up the bill. But if there is, you pick up the bill.”

“You’re on.”

lakeviewrunningtrackHey, Bob–sure looks like a running track…

 

Then he starts trash talking, telling me how much he likes sushi.

I tell him how much I like steak.

I sense panic, like he’s worried he might be picking up the tab at a fancy steakhouse.

“Well, it’s not a rubberized surface,” he says. “And it’s not regulation sized. And the track team doesn’t practice there.”

And so on…

“Listen,” I say. “I didn’t say anything about the track’s surface, size or who practices on it. I simply said it exists. Don’t go all Bill Clinton on me.”

That’s an allusion to the former president who has a propensity for dodging the truth with creative evasions.

“You know, Bob,” I say, “I think your new nickname is gonna be Clinton.”

With that I hop on my bike and ride to Lakeview, where the first thing I see is a kid on the football team running around the track that Bob said didn’t exist.

“Excuse me,” I say to the kid. “But what is this thing you’re running on?”

He looks at me like I’m nuts and says, “It’s a running track.”

“Thank you,” I say.

Up walks the football coach.

“Can I help you?” he asks.

“Yes–what’s this thing called?”

He gives me a suspicious look–like it’s a trick question.

“It’s a 200-meter concrete running track,” he says.

“Thanks, coach. Have a great practice.”

You know, Bob, I’ve changed my mind about that steak. I’m thinking lobster would be better.

Man, I can taste it already.

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