We’re a one car household with three drivers in the family. My wife, the lovely Mrs. Milo, monopolizes the car. She’s a realtor and a Pilates instructor, and she’s always running off to show properties or teach classes.
When my wife is not using the car, my youngest daughter has dibs on it. She’s a student at a local university. She needs the car for the same reasons that all young kids need cars, reasons that I’d rather not know about.
The only time I really need the car is when I want to visit my 89-year-old, Alzheimer’s afflicted mother at her assisted living facility in Munster, Indiana, about an hour’s drive from our home in Ravenswood.
I don’t see my mother as often as I’d like. The only times I can visit her are on weekends, but weekends are also the times when my wife needs the car most. Negotiations for use of the car can be tricky.
This past Saturday, I said, “Honey, is there any chance I can use the car today? I haven’t seen Mom in a while and I’m starting to feel guilty about it.”
The lovely Mrs. Milo whipped out her appointment book. “This morning is out. I’m teaching at nine and ten. Then I’ve got two showings in Lincoln Square and one in Wicker Park.”
“How about this afternoon?”
“I’ve got another showing at two, then, I teach again at three.”
“Wait, wait, I can ride my bike to my three o’clock so you can have the car for three hours, from 2:30 to 5:30. But you have to be back by 5:30 because I’ve got two more showings at six and seven.”
“Great! An hour to drive there, an hour with Mom, and an hour to drive back.”
My wife got home at 2:30 and I was on the road a couple of minutes later. Traffic was light and I pulled into the assisted living facility’s parking lot, on schedule, a little less than an hour later.
Visiting my mother is always a bittersweet experience. I love spending time with her, but hate seeing the damage that Alzheimer’s has done. She had once been a strong, independent and intelligent woman. Now, she is a frail, addled, bewildered and unpredictable old lady. I never know how she’ll react when she sees me.
Mom didn’t answer her door when I knocked, and she didn’t answer her phone when I called from my cell. I went to the front desk and asked the attendant if she knew of my mother’s whereabouts. I was informed that she was in the recreation room, playing Bingo.
Mom was sitting at a card table with three other ladies, concentrating on her Bingo card, when I tapped on her shoulder. She looked up at me with a puzzled expression, then, broke into a smile when recognition set in.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“I just came to visit you.”
“That’s nice, but I’m playing Bingo now. Come back when the game is over.”
“Sure, Mom, no problem.”
I asked the lady running the Bingo game how much longer the game would last. She said, “We just started. It’ll be a couple of hours.”
I hung around for about five minutes, watching my mother play Bingo. Then I went out to the parking lot, got in the car, and drove back to Chicago.
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People get married for all sorts of reasons. They marry for love and for money. Some marry because they want to and others marry because they have to. Some marriages are arranged and some marriages are deranged. Some unions last forever and some are doomed from the start.
In my opinion, the best thing about being married is that if things don’t work out, you can always try again. There are no limits on how often a person can walk down the aisle. The institution of marriage comes with a lifetime supply of mulligans.
Holy matrimony, of course, is not for everyone. There are people (and I’m referring to males of the species) who are simply incapable of withstanding the rigors of marriage.
Some men are so set in their doggish ways, so unwilling to give away even the slightest bit of independence, or answer to anyone for their behavior, that matrimony is simply not an option for them. They live by their own rules and schedules, and answer to their own consciences. They want an unencumbered life, completely free of commitment or compromise.
Having a wife complicates matters for the independent minded. In general, wives tend to disapprove of low-life activities of any sort. And they’re damned unreasonable about the whole fidelity issue.
I have a dear friend, who I’ll call Bruce Diksas, to spare him undue embarrassment, who has never married and doesn’t plan to get married anytime soon. He lives on his own terms, enjoying a rigorous lifestyle that most wives wouldn’t tolerate. I once asked Bruce if he had ever thought about getting married.
“I briefly considered asking 4th Ward Alice to marry me.”
“I remember her. You two were together for a couple of years. What happened?”
“It was just one of those things. I was getting ready to have my usual breakfast. I rolled a joint, popped a beer and got the cold pizza out of the fridge, when she said, ‘Are you sure you wouldn’t care for some granola and soy milk?’”
“I couldn’t believe she said that to me.”
“Swear to God, just when you think you know somebody…”
While there are lots of men who have never gone to the trouble of getting married, there are many others who are plainly unsuitable for matrimony, yet they keep getting married, over and over again. They are as unfit for marriage as any boozing, drug-abusing, whore mongering career bachelor, but that doesn’t stop them from marching down the aisle whenever they can convince some poor woman to join them in wedded bliss.
I asked a friend, an old hell raiser named Rodney, who had been married four or five times, why he didn’t just give up on marriage and live in sin, or make some other satisfactory arrangements.
“I’m Catholic. I was schooled by nuns. I’ve got a lot of guilt in me. I don’t want to add to my bad karma by living in sin.”
“That’s a bullshit excuse. Catholics aren’t supposed to get divorced, either.”
“Heh, heh, I’ve given that a lot of thought. There’s a very fine line there. You see, technically, I never divorced any of my wives. They divorced me. So, I figure that gives me some wiggle room.”
I was having a few drinks and discussing the subject the other day with another old friend, named Carl, who has been through three very successful marriages. But since his last divorce, nearly two years ago, he had given up hope that he would ever experience marital bliss again.
“I’m just an old fuck now,” he lamented. “I doubt any woman in her right mind would have anything to do with me.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I assured him. “There are plenty of crazy women out there. I’m sure you’ll find one soon.”
“I hope so. I like being married. I’m just not very good at it.”
“That’s an understatement. I’m curious, what possessed you to get married in the first place?”
“I couldn’t help myself. My first wife had great tits.”
“What about the second wife?”
“She could suck the cork out of a wine bottle.”
“And the third one?”
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The Crown Point Detention Home, in Northwest Indiana, was the first stop on the road to reform school for adolescent Hoosier miscreants.
Every Friday afternoon, buses and vans, hauling young criminals from Lake County jails, would deliver their cargo of underage car thieves, burglars, shoplifters, druggies, armed robbers, rapists and the murderously inclined to “The Point,” which was what the Detention Home was generally called.
There were 50 to 60 kids at a time in residence at The Point. Sometimes there would be a preponderance of black guys from the mean streets of Gary. Other times Latinos from Hammond and East Chicago would be in the majority. And there were times when the inmate population would consist mainly of tough white boys from the factory towns and outlying semi-rural communities like Lowell, Black Oak and Hebron.
The average stay at The Point was 10 days to three weeks. During that time the teenaged inmates would be evaluated by the Detention Home’s staff in a number of areas, including intelligence, socialization, reactions to stress, aggression levels and violent tendencies. The staff’s evaluations would determine which type of reform school and what level of security would be most appropriate for the juvenile offender.
Sometimes, though, for reasons unknown, the staff would recommend that a young man be given another chance and the lucky kid would be unconditionally released or set free on terms of probation.
A high school friend, who I’ll call Nicky, had the misfortune of spending 18 days in the Crown Point Detention Home. Nicky was an odd but somewhat interesting guy, a bad boy, roguish yet likable. He was a tough kid, who grew up in difficult circumstances and hung out with a bad crowd. But he was also bright and had a good sense of humor. He liked to read, too. He always had a paperback book sticking out of his back pocket.
Nicky was sent to The Point because he got caught riding shotgun in a stolen car, which he did not know was stolen. He was 15 years old when he was sent to The Point.
When Nicky arrived at The Point, the majority of inmates were black. Nicky was a tough kid but even he would admit that the sight of all those rugged looking black guys, many of them two or three years older than he was, scared him. Things got worse when Nicky saw a guy he recognized, a wiry Puerto Rican kid named Rico, who was a member of a Gary street gang called “The Mystics.” The Mystics and Nicky’s friends didn’t get along.
Nicky and Rico stared for a while, giving each other cold looks. Had they met on the street there probably would have been trouble. Then, for no apparent reason, a barrier seemed to fall and the mood changed. They nodded at each other in recognition and broke into sheepish grins. When Rico approached, Nicky noticed that his face was bruised, scratched and swollen.
“What happened, man? You look like you’ve been in a fight.”
“The black dudes have been fucking with me. I’ve got nobody to back me up.”
“How long have you been here?”
“How often have you had to fight?”
Nicky and Rico spent most of the day together, talking about things they had done and friends and enemies they had in common. They sat together at lunch and dinner. They played checkers in the dayroom. Although nothing had been said and no deals made, they had come to an understanding.
That night, when three black guys approached Rico, who was the only Latino in the dormitory, and the fight started, Nicky dove in, punching the guy that sucker-punched Rico. More black guys joined in, the odds were ridiculous, but the important thing was that Nicky and Rico fought back. Not fighting, being passive or showing fear, might attract even more unwelcome forms of attention.
Fortunately, the fights never lasted more than a minute. The racket always drew the attention of the counselors, which is what the guards were called, and they broke up the battles pretty quickly. Still, Nicky and Rico took a pretty good beating, but they also inflicted some pain. When the counselors rushed into the dormitory to break up this particular fight, it seemed that none of the combatants were sorry to see the melee end.
During the day, the inmates were left to their own devices. They could play handball, watch TV, play cards or board games, or do nothing at all. Rico liked to watch TV. Nicky liked to read. Some old lady had donated her library to The Point, so there was a pretty good selection of reading material.
Nicky was dreading the coming night. He didn’t want to take another beating, but there was no no way to avoid it, no place to hide. He took comfort in the fact that he wasn’t alone. Nicky found a quiet corner and was reading a book, when one of the counselors, a guy called Mr. Toby, who was a grad student at St. Joseph’s College, approached him.
“What are you reading?”
“Lust for Life, by Irving Stone.”
“What’s it about?”
“A couple of painters from France.”
“Did you get to the part where the guy cuts his own ear off?”
“Yeah, that was a couple of chapters ago.”
That night, a couple of black guys approached Nicky. Harsh words were exchanged, threats were made and the fight was on. Nicky was quickly overwhelmed, but Rico jumped in and took some of the pressure off Nicky. They were taking a beating, but were still on their feet and fighting when someone yelled that the counselors were coming and the brawl broke up.
The next day Nicky was in his corner, reading a Jack London novel, when Mr. Toby walked up to him.
“Looks like you’ve been in a fight.”
“I didn’t have much choice.”
Mr. Toby nodded in understanding. “What are you reading?”
“The Sea Wolf.”
“That’s a pretty good book. I read it a couple of years ago. Did you already finish that book about Van Gogh?”
“Yeah, I read pretty fast.”
“That’s a good skill to have.”
That night and the night after, the black guys left Nicky and Rico alone. The day after that, most of the blacks were shipped off to Indiana’s downstate reformatories. They were replaced by equal numbers of Latinos and whites. The new arrivals battled for dominance as ferociously as the blacks had done, but the Latinos never troubled Nicky. Rico was covering his back.
A couple of weeks later, Nicky was summoned to the Superintendent’s office, where he was released to the custody of a probation officer. As he was walking to the probation officer’s car, Nicky saw Rico watching him from the other side of a razor-wired fence. Nicky started walking toward Rico, but the probation officer stopped him
“Where do you think you’re going?”
“I want to say goodbye to my friend.”
“You’re officially on probation now. You’re not allowed to associate with criminals. Get in the car.”
For a brief moment Nicky thought about disobeying the probation officer, but realized that nothing good would come of it. The only thing he could do was wave goodbye to his friend. Rico seemed to understand Nicky’s situation. He waved goodbye also, then made a fist, thumped his chest twice and pointed his finger at Nicky.
On the ride back to Gary, the probation officer said, “You’re a lucky kid.”
“One of the counselors took a liking to you. Said you were a smart kid, liked to read books. Never caused any problems. He said you deserved another chance. If it wasn’t for him you’d be working for the government right now, learning the fine arts of manufacturing license plates and sewing canvas bags.”
“That was nice of him.”
“Personally, I don’t give a shit about books. The only thing I care about is that you show up at my office in the courthouse building every Saturday at 10 in the morning, for the next six months. You got that?”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
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I’ve been through some tough times, but this past week has been particularly shitty. On Monday, all 27 of my credit cards were rejected at the liquor store. A couple of days later, I got the rotten news that my application to distribute medical marijuana was, once again, denied.
Then on Saturday night, the two chicks I picked up at Swillagain’s Saloon mugged me in the parking lot of the Diplomat Motel and stole my one-hitter, Phi Beta Kappa Key, and Ventra Pass.
The only reason I mention these unfortunate incidents is to explain why I wasn’t able to come up with a new blog this week. I’ve just been too depressed to write anything.
That said, I’m contractually obligated to post a blog every Monday, so I’ve resorted to the traditional hung-over columnist’s trick of posting letters from readers, adding snappy replies, and calling it a column.
Thankfully, The Third City’s devoted fans are an elite group, wealthy, educated, and knowledgeable. In fact, most are MENSA members, and the ones who aren’t members claim they are on their resumes.
Here, then, are a few letters from our illustrious readers:
Hey, Milo! I’m new in town and was wondering if you could recommend a place where a guy could hang out and meet some nice chicks?
I suggest you avoid Swillagain’s Saloon.
Dude, what’s your opinion on the Ukraine versus Russia situation?
I’m taking Russia and giving the points.
I demand that you stop making fun of my dear friend, Mrs. Shimkus, on your blog site. As a Jewish lady of a certain age, I am especially offended by those stupid ads for the Jewish-American Swingers Club, featuring Mrs. Shimkus as the Gang Bang Gal of the Week. I have known Mrs. Shimkus for more than 60 years and she is a kind, caring and generous human being. She deserves better than having her reputation ruined by your sleazy blog. You people are disgusting.
I forwarded your letter to my colleague, Benny Jay, who handles complaints from disgruntled Jewish readers. I mainly deal with pissed-off Eastern Europeans and the occasional quarrelsome Irishman. Rolando does his best to calm down irate Latino readers. No Blaise handles complaints from tall young men with good job prospects. John Randolph can’t be bothered. And, of course, Jim Siergey tries to reason with outraged cartoonists. Thanks for your interest in The Third City.
Dear Milo: This is your friend, Sven, from the Fabulous Swedish Penis Enlargement Company. I am most upset to hear of your unfortunate accident with our latest model of penis enhancement merchandise, the Seattle Slew Ultra Deluxe 3.0. We have had many complaints about this product ever since Bain Capital acquired our company and outsourced production to Asia. After much investigation we have discovered that the problem is not with manufacturing, but with the instruction manual. The Pakistani copywriter mistakenly wrote that the device should be strapped to the left leg instead of the right. And it was supposed to be a two-pound dangling weight, not a 40-pound one. We sincerely apologize for any problems this may have caused and hope that you are recovering nicely and will soon be back to enjoying your usual strenuous sexual activities.
Sven, thanks for your concern and the prompt response. My doctor says there’s an excellent chance there won’t be any lasting damage. Once the limp goes away and the testicular swelling subsides, I should be as good as new. Don’t forget to send me the new brochure when the 2015 models are ready.
Man, I’ve been reading about the problems you’ve been having with your cat, Otis, and I feel your pain. He sounds like a rotten fucker. Let me know if you need a hand getting rid of him. I’ll be glad to help.
Thanks for the offer, but I’ve figured out a way to settle his hash once and for all. Next Saturday, I’m taking Otis to an event at the dog park on the lakefront. It’s Pit Bull Appreciation Day.
Hey, Milo, I’ve seen photos of you on the internet and you are an extremely handsome man for someone of your advanced years. How do you manage to maintain your good looks?
Milo! Will you quit screwing around with that stupid blog and give me a hand. I need some help with the yard work. I want to get the garden ready for winter. You’ve been down in the basement sitting in front of the computer all morning. I can hear you muttering and cussing down there. I know for a fact that you’ve been drinking. And you’re probably sneaking out to the garage to smoke reefer. I need your help now. I mean it!
In our continuing efforts to improve service to The Third City’s loyal readers, we have recently upgraded our phone system. Here are the new extensions.
* Press 1 if you are serving a subpoena.
* Press 2 for paternity suits and cease-and-desist orders.
* Press 3 if requesting DNA samples.
* Press 4 for Nickel Bag Bernie’s cell phone number.
* Press 5 for directions to Madame LaFarge’s Whorehouse.
* Press 6 to contribute to The Third City’s Widows & Orphans Fund.
* Press 0 if you wish to be on hold forever.
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Gary, Indiana, in the middle to late 1960s, had a sizeable Jewish population. Like a lot of other families in town, including mine, many of the Jewish families were post-WW2 immigrants.
As is the case with most immigrant groups, Gary’s Jewish community was hard-working and industrious, their lives centered around traditional values like family, faith, education and a belief in a better future. Some did pretty well for themselves.
For example, there was a kid who went to my high school named Joey Stiglitz who was pretty good with numbers. Like any Gary kid with a knack for math, I’m sure Joey aspired to be a bookie. When that career choice fizzled, young Joey Stiglitz tried his luck in the field of Economics and eventually won a Nobel Prize.
I don’t want to give readers the wrong impression about Gary’s Jews. Not all of them were pillars of the community. They had their quota of drunkards, druggies, whoremongers, thieves, gangsters, bookies, murderers, tough guys and rotten bastards. Some of them, I’m proud to say, were very good friends of mine.
The Greene brothers, Stu and Ducky, were young thugs with bright futures as unlicensed pharmaceutical distributors. Another friend, Sonny Feigenbaum, spent more time in reform school than in high school. And, for all I know, my old poolroom companion, Josh Litvak, may still be serving out his life sentence for shooting two guys who he mistakenly thought were screwing his wife. Josh was always the jealous type.
That said, the most feared Jew in Gary was a man who made other dangerous men tremble in fear. His reputation as a hard, unforgiving, vengeful badass was legendary. He was a mean, vindictive, cold-blooded, pitiless son-of-a-bitch with a long history of dealing with crime, violence and bloodshed.
His name was Judge Richard Kaplan and he ruled the Gary City Courthouse with an iron hand.
Although Judge Kaplan’s given name was Richard, he was known throughout the City as Judge Max Kaplan because he always handed down maximum sentences. Miscreants who appeared before Judge Kaplan always expected the worst and they were rarely disappointed. He believed everyone was guilty until proven innocent — and he refused to believe that anyone was completely innocent.
As far as I know, only one person ever got the better of Judge Kaplan – and that person was me. Here’s how it happened.
I was 18 years old and going nowhere. I had dropped out of college after one semester and was hanging around Gary, trying to figure out what to do with my life. One night I ran into some friends, went out drinking, got into a wild brawl, got maced by the police and ended up in jail. The charges were illegal possession of alcohol, public intoxication, creating a public disturbance, assault and battery and resisting arrest, although, to this day, I believe the last charge was a bum rap.
When I was released on bail the next morning, I was given some paperwork informing me of my upcoming court date, which was just a few weeks away. The presiding judge was going to be “the Honorable Richard Kaplan.” My goose was cooked. I was a goner, as doomed as it was possible for a young man to be. To make matters worse, I had a couple previous run-ins with the law, and I was fairly certain that Judge Kaplan would hold that against me.
That evening, I was hanging out in Stu and Ducky Greene’s basement with a few other guys, drinking beer and listening to the brothers’ collection of mostly shoplifted 45s.
“You are fucked, man,” Ducky said, sadly. “You’re looking at 90, maybe 120 days in Crown Point.”
”That’s if Judge Max lets you off easy,” Stu Greene added. “If he’s in a bad mood it could be worse. It’s a good thing you’re not Jewish.”
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“Because he’s extra tough on his own kind. He sent Sonny Feigenbaum to Plainfield for a year just for stealing a few cars. Said he was a disgrace to his family and his people.”
Dickie Kaiser, another friend who had an unpleasant experience with the City’s justice system, spoke up. “Too bad you’re not in the military. That’s Judge Max’s only soft spot. He takes it easy on soldiers. He’s an ex-Marine Captain, fought in World War Two.”
The next morning I went down to 7th and Broadway, walked into the Navy Recruiter’s office, and said, “I want to join up.” I spent several hours filling out paperwork. The only thing I had to do to officially be in the Navy was sign on the dotted line. But, I hesitated to sign. “Do you mind if I take these papers home and show them to my mom and dad?” I asked.
“You’re 18 years old. You don’t need your parents’ permission.”
“I know. But I’d like to show them anyway. I’ll be back tomorrow. I promise.”
The next morning I went down to the Courthouse, explained my situation to a secretary and asked to see Judge Kaplan in his chambers. After a two hour wait I was ushered into Judge Kaplan’s office.
“Tell me what you want and make it quick,” the Judge said, not even bothering to look at me.
The last place on earth I wanted to be was in a courthouse, talking to Judge Kaplan. I was nervous as hell, scared actually, but somehow I got through my poorly rehearsed pack of lies. I told the Judge that I was terribly sorry for any trouble I had caused. I explained that my inexcusable behavior was due to immaturity and the influence of bad companions. I said that I had given my situation a lot of thought and realized that by joining the Navy I would get away from bad influences and be in a disciplined situation where I would have the opportunity to become a responsible member of society.
Judge Kaplan quickly glanced at the Navy paperwork I laid on his desk, then looked at me for the first time. “I dislike young punks and criminals because they usually grow up to be old punks and criminals,” he said. “Had your case gone to court, it wouldn’t have turned out well for you. But I have a feeling that you’re a sincere young man. Your decision to join the military is a wise one, especially with our nation at war. I’m going to dismiss this case. Good luck in the Navy, son. Just remember, be on your best behavior. If you get in trouble, I can assure you that the officers who sit on military tribunals are not as good natured as I am. Now, get the hell out of my chambers.”
As soon as I left the Courthouse, I went back to the Navy Recruiter and handed him the paperwork. “I’m sorry,” I said, “But I changed my mind. I think I’m going to study for the priesthood instead.”
There was a strut in my walk when I left the Recruiters’ office. I was pretty proud of myself. I had gone into the lion’s den and come out without a scratch. I had outwitted the dreaded Judge Kaplan. I had gotten the best of the toughest Jew in town.
My euphoria was short-lived, however. A month later I received my draft notice. And a few months after that I was in Vietnam.
Many years later, when Judge Kaplan died, an old Gary friend sent me a copy of the judge’s obituary. When I read it I noticed that Judge Max had served on the Lake County, Indiana Draft Board, which meant that he had a say-so about which local boys were eligible for the draft.
Was it just a coincidence that I got drafted so soon after pulling a fast one on the judge?
I couldn’t help but smile when I realized that maybe, just maybe, the tough old bastard had the last laugh after all.
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Frankie “the Suit,” The Third City’s Chief Financial Officer, called for a meeting of the editorial board at our plush Michigan Avenue offices to discuss matters of the utmost importance. The main item on the agenda was figuring out a way to cover our asses.
Frankie opened the meeting by saying, “Boys, sooner or later somebody is going to sue us. It’s inevitable. We’re up to 47 daily readers now and I guarantee that one of those ignorant, ungrateful bastards is eventually going to drag us into court.”
Benny Jay got a worried look on his face. “Jeez, why would anybody want to sue us?”
“This is America,” Frankie said. “Anybody can sue anybody at any time, for any reason.”
“Damn,” Benny said. “That’s not right. There ought to be a law against that.”
Frankie shook his head in disgust. “You’re a real dumbass, Benny. For your information, it’s mostly lawyers that make the laws in this country. And like any smart businessmen, they tend to make laws that favor their own interests. Just consider yourself lucky that Congress isn’t filled with doctors. Otherwise, there’d be a statute on the books requiring all Americans to have major surgery every six months. They might even…”
I was getting impatient. I had plans for the evening. “Can you hurry up and get to the point. There’s a 2-for-1 happy-hour special starting pretty soon at Swillagain’s. I don’t want to miss it.”
Frankie glared at me. He had a bad temper and didn’t like to be interrupted. It was a volatile and possibly dangerous moment. It wouldn’t be the first time one of our board meetings ended in a vicious brawl or a knife fight.
I saw Benny reaching into his pocket for the can of pepper spray he always brings to the meetings, and, for a brief moment, I regretted leaving my pistol at home.
But the tension quickly passed. Frankie took several deep breaths, had a drink from the half-pint he keeps in his pocket, and continued.
“Boys, the bottom line is, we have to protect ourselves and our personal assets from people who take offense at our blogs. We’ve got to incorporate.
Benny was puzzled. “It seems like things are going pretty good. Why rock the boat?”
“Benny, you’re a fucking idiot! Have you heard a word I’ve said? Milo has insulted everybody from the Pope to Prince Charles. He wrote that the great economist, Joseph Stiglitz, is nothing more than a failed bookie from Gary, Indiana. He called Alfred Nobel, who just happens to be Sweden’s national hero, a low-life cocksucker. He’s slandered Mayor Rahm, insulted our last several Presidents and called Hillary Clinton an ugly old whore. Mark my words, we’re going to get sued. It’s just a matter of time. They’ll come after everything we have, our homes, our cars, Milo’s porn collection, everything.”
Benny nodded in understanding. “You’re saying that if we incorporate nobody can come after our personal assets?”
“That’s right, dumbass. They can only come after our corporate assets.”
“The Third City doesn’t have any corporate assets.”
“My point, exactly.”
Frankie moved on to the next item on the agenda, something about the proper way to handle calls from collection agencies, but I had stopped paying attention. My mind was still on the matter of incorporation. Despite my initial reservations about incorporating, the idea started to make sense to me.
The Third City is, after all, a venerable and beloved institution. People rely on us for news, information and spiritual guidance. It would be a terrible shame if we had to shut down operations just because someone like Joe Stiglitz sued us for calling him a failed bookie, or Donald Trump dragged us into court for saying he was a greedy, ego-ridden bastard with the worst haircut since Larry Fine.
There were other considerations that started making sense to me, too. For example, if The Third City ever made a lot of money we could be like other major corporations and screw the government and the American people by not paying our fair share of taxes. If times got tough, we could outsource our blog writing to India and the Philippine Islands and get tax breaks for doing it.
There were all sorts of scenarios running through my mind. I realized that there were an unlimited number of ways to use the shield of incorporation to take unfair advantage of the government, the American public and The Third City’s faithful readers.
Corporate laws seem to have been written specifically for the benefit of thieves, scammers, con artists, Harvard Business School graduates and other seedy types. I’d be a fool not to jump on the cake train and avail myself of a loophole or two.
I was thinking about the tax benefits of establishing an offshore bank account when my reverie was interrupted by a bitter argument between Frankie and Benny Jay. I wasn’t clear on the details, but the argument seemed to be about a five dollar bill missing from the petty cash drawer, Benny’s two-hour lunches at Popeye’s Chicken, and the 1969 Chicago Cubs.
The argument grew louder and more heated. I took advantage of the uproar to slip out of the door. I was at the end of the hall waiting for the elevator when I heard angry shouts, breaking glass and loud thumps coming from our office.
Fortunately, the elevator arrived just as the first hint of pepper spray came drifting down the hallway.
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I grew up in Gary, Indiana, a blue collar town that venerated its sports heroes. Gary produced more than its share of professional football, basketball and baseball players, but the athletes we admired most were professional boxers.
One of Gary’s own, Tony Zale, was once the Middleweight Champion of the World. His battles with Rocky Graziano were legendary. When Tony retired from the ring, he bought a bowling alley in Gary. My dad would sometimes take me there. I’d bowl and play the pinball machines, he’d drink.
Tony was in poor health by the time I was old enough to patronize his business. He had taken too many punches over too many years. His relatives ran the bowling alley, but sometimes the great man would come around and shake a few hands. Even though I never had the pleasure of shaking Tony Zale’s hand, I considered it an honor just to be in the same room with him.
In the early 1960s, I became a huge fan of a young heavyweight from Louisville, Kentucky, named Cassius Clay. Not only was he handsome, charismatic, and a brilliant fighter, he was also articulate, witty, and brash. Being something of a loudmouth and wiseass myself, I especially admired his cockiness and irreverence.
At the time, I had a neighbor, a kid I went to school with, named Jerry, who hated Cassius Clay. The funny thing was that Jerry hated Clay for the exact same reasons I liked him.
“I wouldn’t even call him a fighter,” Jerry said, contemptuously. “He’s a dancer. He won’t stand up and slug it out like a real boxer. All he does is run around the ring and throw jabs.”
“He must be doing something right. He hasn’t lost a fight yet.”
“Plus, he’s got a big mouth. He’s always talking, bragging, telling the world how great he is and how pretty he is. And I can’t stand those dumbass poems he comes up with. I wish he’d be more like Floyd Patterson and just shut the fuck up.”
“Floyd Patterson is boring.”
“Yeah, well at least he’s a gentleman.
Jerry’s hatred of Cassius Clay reached new heights when the Champ joined the Nation of Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. He couldn’t believe that the Heavyweight Champion of the World would join a fringe religious cult that hated white people. Jerry was so incensed that he refused to call the Champ by his adopted name, referring to him as “Clay” when he mentioned him at all.
“Do you know what Black Muslims call white people? They call us ‘devils.’ Do you think any white people are going to pay to watch him fight? No fucking way. That dumbass just ruined his career. In a year, nobody will even remember his name.”
Jerry and I usually made bets on Ali’s fights. It wasn’t much, maybe a dollar or two, but I always won, because Jerry bet against Ali every time. It didn’t matter who the other fighter was, Jerry was sure that Ali was finally going to get his long-deserved comeuppance.
“Cleveland Williams is going to kick that chump’s ass.”
“You just watch. Ernie Terrell is going to knock him out in six rounds.”
“Take my word for it, Jerry Quarry is going to annihilate him.”
The happiest day of Jerry’s life was when Ali was stripped of his title, in 1967, because he refused induction into the U.S. Army. The Champ opposed the war in Vietnam and paid a heavy price for his beliefs. He wasn’t allowed to fight for four years, the prime time of his boxing life.
Jerry called me one afternoon in October of 1980. It was the first time I’d heard from him in years. As soon as I recognized his voice I knew why he called. Muhammad Ali was coming out of retirement to fight Larry Holmes, the reigning Heavyweight Champion of the World.
Jerry didn’t waste time with small talk. “Your boy’s finally going to get the beating he so richly deserves.”
As much as I hated to admit it, I thought Jerry was right. I had a bad feeling about this fight. Ali was old and over the hill. Like Tony Zale, he had taken too many punches over too many years. Besides, fighters who come out of retirement rarely do well. My gut told me he didn’t stand a chance.
But even in retirement, Muhammad Ali was still the biggest name in boxing. Calling him a legend in his own time would be an understatement. His drawing power was so great that he was paid eight million dollars for the fight. Holmes, the Champ, was paid two million.
“I’ve got fifty bucks on Holmes,” Jerry said.
“What are you trying to do, get even after all these years?”
“Are you going to take the bet or not?”
I didn’t want to take the bet. I was sure it was a waste of money. But I couldn’t tell Jerry that. And, after all, I was still a huge fan of Muhammad Ali.
“Okay,” I said, “I’ll take the bet.”
It was painful to watch, but the fight went pretty much like I figured it would. Holmes took control early and easily won every round. I kept waiting for the old Ali to show up, the peerless boxer with the punishing jabs, the lightning-quick hooks, and the deadly right hand. But Ali just didn’t have it. He looked slow, clumsy and confused, and his punches lacked power. But he still had a champion’s heart. Even after taking a terrible beating, he was still on his feet at the end of the 10th round, when his trainer, Angelo Dundee mercifully stopped the fight.
The phone rang a couple of minutes after the fight. I was sure it was Jerry calling to gloat, to revel in the great Muhammad Ali’s humiliation.
I didn’t want to hear it. I just let the phone ring.
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