Benny Jay: Ann Landers Moment

June 15th, 2021

Had one of those Ann Landers moments the other night, when I desperately needed someone to give me instantaneous advice to help me figure out an uncomfortable moment of uncertainty. I’ll set the scene. . .

We’re having a lovely night with old friends, watching basketball and eating pizza. At the end, one guy, heading for the door, turns to me and says, “Great seeing you.” Then he sticks out his hand as if to shake.

There and then I had a decision to make. Do I take the shake—or do I pass?

Confession time. . .One of my favorite parts of the pandemic—not that there was a lot of competition—was that it temporarily halted the ritual of shaking hands..

More confessions. . . 

I never liked the ritual of shaking hands. It’s because, oh, one last confession. . . 

I’m a bit of a germaphobe. A guy sticks out his hand and I wonder, Where has it been, and has he washed it since it’s been there?

It’s like that classic scene in Jackie Brown, the great Pam Grier movie. Where Max Cherry, the Robert Forster character, exits the bathroom to find Ordell Robbie, the Samuel L. Jackson character, sitting in his office.

Here’s how it reads in Quentin Tarantino’s script:

The bathroom door in Max’s office. We hear a toilet flush behind it. The door opens, and Max Cherry emerges, zipping up his pants, with a TV Guide in his hand. He looks up and stops dead. Ordell’s sitting oh-so-comfortably in the chair in front of Max’s desk.

Ordell: Unh. . . unh. . . unh. . . I didn’t hear you wash your hands.

I know I shouldn’t be associating with the psychopath in the movie, but in that scene, I knew exactly where Ordell was coming from. Even though he was, as I said, very much a psychopath.

Another example. . . 

Years ago. I’m walking Nicky, my dog. And we’re passing this babysitter and a five-year-old girl. And the girl’s got her finger in her nose. I mean—way up her nose.

And as Nicky and I approach, the kid takes her finger out of her nose and heads straight for my dog.

And the babysitter says something like, ”Oh, so sweet, can she pet your dog?”

Oh, folks, what to do? I didn’t want to be the mean old guy in the neighborhood. But I didn’t want that stuff from that girl’s nose on Nicky’s head.

So I told a little fib. I said, “Ugh, my dog’s not really that good with little kids.” And then I just hustled down the street.

Anyway, so what did I do when my friend extended his hand? I shook it. That’s what I did.

But then I dashed to the nearest sink to wash it. Next time, I’m going with the fist bump. Might as well take something good from the pandemic.

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Randolph Street: Picture Show

June 11th, 2021

1img014Restaurant–Keystone, South Dakota


2BLACKCOATSidewalk–New York


3img015aSalad BarChicago


All photos © Jon Randolph

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Benny Jay: Best Records of 1971

June 8th, 2021

First things first . . .

All credit goes to Mick Dumke, my former partner in crime here at the Reader. For as long as I can remember, Mick’s been telling me that 1971 was the greatest year for records—at least in the past century.

He fancies 1971 in part, I think, because that’s his birth year. Who knows—perhaps his birth had something to do with that great music. It’s one theory anyway.

Also, for as long as I can remember, Mick’s been saying we should do a show dedicated to the music of 1971, either on my podcast or on the Hideout stage.

And so, as I saw that everyone else was doing documentaries and writing stories about the music of ’71, I said—let’s get it on. (A great song from 1973. Which, by the way, may even be greater music-wise than 1971. Just throwing that out there for future debate.)

So we put together our lists. True to form, I was impulsive in my approach, rattling off the first albums that came to my mind.

In contrast, Mick was more scholarly. He made his list. Then he edited it. Then he edited it again. For all I know, he’s still editing it, even though we dropped our show this weekend.

My top three are Aretha Franklin’s Live at Fillmore West, the Allman Brothers’ At Fillmore East, and Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On.

Mick’s top three are the Rolling Stones’ Sticky FingersLed Zeppelin IV, and What’s Going On. To hear our full rundown, check out the show.

I had so much fun doing the show that I couldn’t stop after it was over. And I’ve been asking random people for their lists. And the top threes keep rolling in.

My oldest daughter: What’s Going On, Aretha Franklin’s Live at Fillmore West, and Carole King’s Tapestry.

And Courtney, my oldest daughter’s friend: Aretha’s “Spanish Harlem,” Bill Withers’s “Grandma’s Hands,” and Aretha’s “Rock Steady.” (Obviously, Courtney went with favorite singles, not albums, but it’s all good.)

And Dave, a millennial DJ: Serge Gainsbourg’s Histoire de Melody Nelson, Curtis Mayfield’s Roots, and What’s Going On.

And Stacy Davis Gates: Aretha’s Live at Fillmore West, the Isley Brothers’ Givin’ It Back, and What’s Going On.

And so on and so forth.

Curiously, no one mentioned Carpenters by the Carpenters, which made my extended list.

C’mon, everybody—”Hangin’ around, nothing to do but frown . . .

Man, I got a lot of grief for including the Carpenters. Rumor has it that Tim Tuten threatened to ban me from the Hideout for unspeakable acts of uncoolness.

Speaking of which, here are Tim Tuten’s top three: Sticky Fingers, Joni Mitchell’s Blue, and What’s Going On.

As you can see, the common denominator in these lists is What’s Going On. I’ve asked at least two dozen people for their list. And everyone includes Marvin’s masterpiece.

Here’s the funny thing. For all the people who say they love What’s Going On, not enough people are practicing its central theme.

You know—the part about “War is not the answer / For only love can conquer hate.”

I don’t want to get all grim. But every day brings more horrific news of shootings, bombings, beatings, rocket firings, fistfights, knifings, terror, random violence, and so on.

Any time we want to start living Marvin’s message as well as listening to it, it’s all right with me.

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Randolph Street: Three-Way

June 4th, 2021

1Three Figures3aThree-Way–Minneapolis


2IMG_3998Chicago Common


5county-jailCook County Jail


All photos © Jon Randolph

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Randolph Street: Night Hawks

May 28th, 2021

1white palaceI7White Palace–Chicago


2diner grillEDiner Grill–Chicago


3WRIGLEY-NIGHTNo Lights–Chicago


All photos © Jon Randolph

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Benny Jay: We Are The Champions!

May 25th, 2021

I want to apologize up front for the quality of this post. It may be a little disjointed. You see, I’m drunk.

First time I wrote anything while being drunk. So, it will be interesting to see how this works out.

Generally, I’m not the get-drunk type. More like the nurse-a-beer-all-night type. But this was a special occasion.

The reason I’m drunk is because tonight was the last night of the men’s Monday Night Bowling League at Timber Lanes,  and my team—Trouble—won the championship!

Yes, we’re named Trouble. And, yes, there’s no time for losers cause we are the champions. Of the world!

Or, at least, the Monday night bowling part of it.

First time Trouble’s ever won the championship. Actually, when a couple of our guys were on a different team they won a championship back in 2001. But I wasn’t on that team. Back then I was on Fioretti’s Five. Which is way more information about my bowling team than any of you requested.

We won the championship by beating Bob’s team—the Hawaiians. (More on Bob later.) After we won, people in the bowling alley started buying us shots.

I must have had three or four shots—honestly, who can remember?—of Dr. J. That’s not the real name. The real name is Crown Royal. But it features Dr. J in the commercials. So we call it Dr. J. It’s a basketball thing.

Scottie, the bartender, has been working at Timber Lanes for so long, he’ll say: “Hey, Benny J, want a Dr. J?”

It’s like Friends, where everybody knows your name. Oops, that was Cheers. Not Friends. I would not have made that mistake had I not consumed so many Dr. Js.

You know, winning the bowling championship is not unlike winning the Oscars. So I feel I should give a little acceptance speech. Here goes. . .

I’d like to thank my beloved teammates—Timmy, Tony with a T, Norm, and Cap. We did it, boys. We’re the champions!

Also, I want to thank Katie and Tim T. at the Hideout for sponsoring our team.

And, finally, I’d like to thank Bob.

That pretty much ends my speech. Oh, wait, I want to thank my wife. I don’t want to be like Ben Affleck at the Oscars when he didn’t thank Jennifer Garner.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking—why are you thanking Bob?

The answer is that Bob has an amazing talent for adding up numbers. He’s like a human calculator.

We thought our season was over after we lost our first game against Cobra Kai (yes, they’re named Cobra Kai). But Bob checked the score and discovered a mistake in the math. Instead of losing by seven pins, we wound up winning by four.

From there we went on to win two more games and eventually the championship. Meaning that for the first time in my life, I sorta know what Michael Jordan feels like. Heavy emphasis on sorta.

When I thanked Bob for his contribution to our championship, he said: “Anyone ever tell you, you got a great face for podcasting?”

As you can see, Bob’s not the most gracious of losers.

No time for losers cause we are the champions—of the world. . .

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