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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About a month ago, I went to the Jesse Brown V.A. Hospital to see my physician, Dr. Frankie “Disco” Lopez, and hit him up for some new meds, preferably industrial-strength opiates. Dr. Frankie is a notoriously easy touch when it comes to handing out pain-killers. But just to be on the safe side, I Googled some exotic diseases and their symptoms to help make my case.
When I walked into Dr. Frankie’s office, he said, “Dude, we’ve got to make it quick. I’m meeting a nurse from ER for a nooner at the Diplomat Motel and I don’t want to keep her waiting. How are you feeling?”
“Not too good. I’m pretty sure I’ve got a case of Pontocerebellar Hypoplasia and I need something for the pain.”
“No problem. I’ll prescribe some shit that’ll make you feel real good. Hey, you’re a smoker aren’t you?”
“How long have you been smoking?”
“I started when I was three, about the same time I started drinking.”
“It’s time you had a chest X-ray. I’ll set it up.”
Two days later, as I was out on my back porch, enjoying a cigarette with my morning whiskey, I got a call from Dr. Frankie. “Dude,” he said, “I’ve got your X-ray in front of me and it looks like you’ve got a spot on the lower right lobe of your lung.”
“I’m going to order a CAT scan so we can get a better look.”
“Doc, should I be worried?”
“If it was me, I’d be shaking in my boots and crying for my mama.”
I’m not the kind of guy that rattles easily. Anyone that reads my blogs knows that I’m a badass, tougher than concrete, meaner than a snake, as fearless as an Acapulco cliff diver. I’ve stared death in the face more often than a mortician. I’ve survived growing up on the mean streets of Gary, Indiana, a war in Southeast Asia, 30 years of marriage, the Bush administration, and a career in the advertising business.
That said, the possibility that I might have lung cancer scared the shit out of me.
After giving it some thought, I decided to keep the information to myself. I didn’t tell anyone, not even the lovely Mrs. Milo. I figured the situation would upset her worse than it upset me. I knew she’d be angry with me for not telling her, but I didn’t want my wife to worry until I knew that there was definitely something to worry about.
I had to wait three weeks for the CAT scan and, trust me, it was a very long three weeks. Everything slowed down. The days dragged by. I felt like I had a ball and chain attached to my leg. My thinking was scattered and murky. The words biopsy, major surgery, chemotherapy, and painful lingering death were never far from my mind.
My wife sensed there was a problem. Every few days she’d give me an odd look and ask, “Milo, are you okay?”
“Sure, babe, I’m fine. Everything’s peachy. Why do you ask?”
“Well, you’re acting weird. I’ve seen you staring off into space and muttering to yourself. Plus, you’re drinking more than usual.”
“Heh, heh, you’re probably just imagining things.”
There were a dozen other miserable-looking fuckers hanging around in the waiting room of the Radiology Department when I arrived for my CAT scan. And all of us were there for the same reason. Doctors had found something in our bodies that required further investigation. We were all hoping for the best.
Later that day, a few hours after the CAT scan, I was in my back yard, enjoying a cigarette with my afternoon whiskey, when the phone rang. It was Dr. Frankie. “Dude,” he said, “it was a false alarm. Other than a touch of emphysema, your lungs are clear.”
“Doc, that’s great news.”
“Well, I’ve got to call a couple of other guys who won’t be as happy to hear from me.”
That night, at supper, I told my wife the story. As I suspected, she didn’t take it well. “Oh, you’re such an asshole! I’m your wife! We’re partners! How could you keep that from me for three weeks?”
“Honey, it wasn’t easy.”
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I’ve suffered the torments of Hell ever since Otis, a flea-ridden, rotten bastard of an alley cat, weaseled his way into my household. The mangy fucker may have conned my wife and daughters into believing he would be some sort of respectable house pet, but I knew better. I’m an old hand. I’ve been around the block more often than the postman.
From the moment I saw him, I knew Otis was up to no good. And it didn’t take long for him to reveal his true nature.
Otis is a vicious, cold-blooded killer, a merciless bully who preys on smaller and weaker creatures. Shortly after he moved in, I started finding the mangled carcasses of mice, bunny rabbits and songbirds in my back yard. Otis slaughtered the local fauna efficiently and indiscriminately.
The lovely Mrs. Milo ignored me when I complained about the cat. “That fucking cat is disgusting. I just found another dead bunny rabbit in the back yard.”
“If you would stop letting the cat out in the morning, these things wouldn’t happen.”
“I don’t let him out. He sneaks out.”
My wife looked me squarely in the eye and, in a menacing tone of voice, said, “Your daughters and I adore Otis. There’ll be hell to pay if anything happens to the cat. Do we understand each other?”
Despite my wife’s dire threat, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out a way to get rid of the cat without suspicion falling on me. I’ve come close to settling the cat’s hash a few times, but something always went wrong. Then, a couple of weeks ago, fate intervened, in the form of Fifi, an angora cat that was recently acquired by Mrs. Shimkus, who lives across the street.
Now, I’m no expert on feline beauty, but I have to admit that Fifi looked pretty good. Mrs. Shimkus had tarted her up quite nicely, plaiting ribbons in her long, silky fur and putting a glittery collar around her neck. Fifi spent her days sitting in Mrs. Shimkus’ bay window, preening and stretching provocatively. And when she occasionally licked herself, all of the neighborhood tomcats went wild.
Otis was no exception. He became obsessed with Fifi. He ignored his food and rarely slept. He even lost interest in torturing and killing helpless little creatures. All he did was stare longingly out of the window at Mrs. Shimkus’ house, where the alluring Fifi waited, so close, yet impossibly far away.
You see, there was an insurmountable problem. Otis had a rival for Fifi’s affections, a big brute of a tomcat named Barney, who outweighed Otis by 10 pounds. Barney had been terrorizing the neighborhood for years and was widely regarded as the toughest, meanest alley cat on the North Side. He, too, was infatuated by Fifi and staked out a spot on Mrs. Shimkus’ front lawn, chasing away any other cat that came sniffing around.
When Otis went over to call on the lovely Fifi, I figured there was a good chance that Barney would kill him. But, to my disappointment, Barney just gave Otis a good beating and sent him slinking home to lick his wounds.
Otis began behaving strangely after that incident. One morning I noticed that he seemed unduly interested in my gun cabinet, where I keep my collection of pistols and automatic assault rifles. The next day I saw him in the garage, gazing intently at my car. When I let him out of the house, he just stayed on the front porch for hours, staring malevolently at Barney who was still encamped in Mrs. Shimkus’ front yard.
Otis was up to something but I couldn’t figure out what he had in mind. He was a stubborn, vengeful cat and I knew that the mauling he had taken from Barney was eating away at him. I hoped he was planning on doing something stupid, and possibly suicidal, like confronting Barney again.
But I had underestimated Otis. He is old school shrewd, calculating and ruthless. He had been raised on the mean streets of this town and he would settle things the Chicago way.
A couple of days later when I went out to my front porch to enjoy a cigarette with my morning whiskey, I noticed that Barney was nowhere in sight. He had disappeared.
Later that afternoon I saw that Otis had taken up Barney’s spot on Mrs. Shimkus’ front lawn. He had brought along a dead mouse and some catnip as presents for Fifi. Apparently he and Fifi hit it off, because I didn’t see Otis again for several days.
About a week later I read a short article in the Tribune about a dead cat that had been found in the trunk of a car that was parked out by Midway Airport. The article said the cat had been executed “gangland style.” I was pretty sure it was Barney.
The police said they had no suspects but were interviewing several “felines of interest.”
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In the mid-70s, I shared an apartment in Wicker Park with a couple of dear friends, who I’ll call Wayne and Bruce, to spare them undue embarrassment. It was a funky three-bedroom place on Evergreen Street, a few doors down from the Serbian Brothers Help Club, and across the street from the place where Nelson Algren lived for many years.
One night, the three of us were partying on Lincoln Avenue, hitting all of our favorite joints, Sterch’s, the Farthings, Oxfords, and the Wise Fools Pub. We were having a high old time, drinking, smoking a little weed, listening to music, and hanging out with friends.
At one of the taverns, Wayne began talking to a girl. I didn’t pay much attention because Wayne talked to people all the time. You couldn’t shut him up. He would talk to anybody, about any subject, for any length of time. He was a world class bullshitter, a windbag of epic proportions. He was an expert on everything and nothing. His preposterous, long-winded rants rarely made sense, but they had great amusement value.
When the three of us left the smoky, dimly-lit tavern, heading for another smoky, dimly-lit tavern, the girl that Wayne was talking to tagged along. Once we were out on the street, I was able to get a good look at the girl and was surprised, shocked actually, to see that her nose was badly broken, mashed nearly flat. It must have happened recently because there were still bruises on her cheeks and under her eyes.
The girl stayed close to us for the rest of the night. She seemed to be in a daze and looked scared and needy. When she wasn’t clinging to Wayne, she was standing near Bruce, or following me around.
I bought her a drink and tried to talk to her, but she didn’t have much to say, and I didn’t want to ask about her nose. When she did speak, she kept her eyes lowered, not making eye contact.
Later that evening, while Bruce and I were in the alley behind Sterch’s, smoking a joint, I said, “What do you think happened to the chick? Car accident?”
“I doubt it. I figure some asshole beat her up.”
“Well, there are a lot of rotten fuckers in the world.”
“It’s a shame. I bet she was real good looking before her nose got fucked up. She’s got a nice body on her.”
“Yeah, real nice ass.”
“I wonder why she’s hanging out with yahoos like us.”
“I don’t know. Maybe she feels safe around us.”
“Jesus, I find that kind of insulting.”
“Yeah, she doesn’t know us that well.”
We called it a night about three in the morning, got in the car and drove back to Wicker Park. Without anything being said, the girl hopped in the car and came with us.
We stayed up for another hour, drinking, smoking, listening to music and more of Wayne’s off-the-wall ravings. When we began drifting off, the girl asked if she could spend the night on the couch. We said it would be no problem and provided her with a pillow and blanket.
I had trouble falling asleep after crawling into bed. After all, I was a young man, in my prime, and there was a young woman in the next room. I briefly considered going out to the couch and lying down with the girl with the broken nose.
I was sure she wouldn’t turn me down. She might have even appreciated a little affection. But then a troubling thought occurred to me – what if she said “yes” only because she was afraid to say “no.”
On the other hand, there was the possibility that she might be offended if nobody made a pass at her. Maybe she’d think that her disfigurement was more than any man could handle.
I didn’t know what to do, so I did nothing. Besides, Wayne and Bruce were both randy fuckers and I figured one of them would take a shot at her. But neither of them made the effort.
The next morning, after taking a shower, the girl smiled at us and said, “I have to go now, but thanks, guys, for everything.”
“Where are you going?” Bruce asked.
“I have to be somewhere.”
“Just take care of yourself,” I said.
“I will,” she replied, and then she left.
We never saw her again.
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