Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Autumn Allergies

               Both my seasonal affective disorder and my autumn allergies have kicked in during the last week. The change in my normally happy-go-lucky, devil-may-care persona has been transformed like the Mohave Desert after sunset. I need at least two extra naps a day, and this year, along with my other hay fever related symptoms, my left eye is constantly tearing like the drool coming from the corners of a Saint Bernard's mouth on a hot summers day. I need warmth and sunshine; when I anticipate winter it is like revisiting the scene of a horrible crime. I am a delicate aesthete, with an over-developed central nervous system, therefore, I am more effected by outside stimuli than the so called average person. It's especially difficult for someone as refined and sophisticated as myself having to  live in a community of "men" where most of my fellow "humans" are more zoological than human. With their prehistoric, submerged chromosomes the change of seasons has no effect. At times I envy these infantine, semi-human  creatures. 
             Over the years I have developed various techniques for coping with my myriad disorders. My favorite response to the obstacles life keeps tossing in my path is to throw myself onto my bed, bury my face in my pillow, and weep. I have perfected hysterical sobbing to the point where it gives me great comfort. Sometimes I'm able to regain my composure in a matter of minutes, although there are times when it takes hours before I'm able to crawl out from under my womb-like covers and face the cold, cruel world. 


            It was chilly this morning as I headed toward the bar. The temperature had dropped about twenty-degrees from last night. Street Jimmy said in spite of the nippy weather he slept outside behind Moody Bible on the loading dock. "I slept good. I hadda nice blanket. Nobody else slept there…"
           Both Jimmy and Fancypants are also displaying the effects of autumnal allergies. Fancypants was mostly sneezing. This is a cause for consternation because he's constantly on guard of sneezing himself into another violent bloody nose. He told me that he takes something called musinex, "It gets rid of the mucus. It doesn't make me tired or anything, you should try it."
           Jimmy not only sneezes a lot, but he coughs loudly, and makes a number of extravagant guttural noises that cause  Fancypants to cringe in horror. When Fancypants implored Jimmy to modify these frightening sounds, Jimmy looked up from his sweeping and replied without even a suggestion of thoughtful moderation, "I gots to breathe, don' I -- muthafucka!"
              "Can't you just blow your nose. Those noises are disgusting."
              With an air of unconcern Jimmy resumed his sweeping.
             The next time Jimmy sneezed Fancypants shrieked, "Jimmy, for gods sake, put your hand over you face, a huge glob of  snot just shot out of your nose…"
              Jimmy's denial, unmodified by the facts, was direct and to the point, "nothin' came outa my nose, Danny."
            Fancypants rushed to where Jimmy was sweeping and pointed at the offending glob of snot on the floor and said, "there it is…oh well, I haven't mopped yet."
              "Jimmy," I said, "c'mon, quit spraying your germs… here, take some napkins and use them."
              Jimmy took the napkins from my hand and wiped his nose. Five minutes later he was standing in the middle of the bar sleeping with his head against his broom. I told Fancypants to feed him. Tobin has been cooking various dishes for Jimmy. When I told him I wasn't sure if there was anymore food in the cooler because Tobin was out of town, Jimmy expressed disappointment, in fact it was more indignation than disappointment, "I'm hungry as hell an' tha food she made yesterday was damn good."
            Fortunately Fancypants looked in the beer cooler and found another container of whatever Tobin had made for Jimmy the previous day. After dumping half the contents of the hot sauce he had pilfered from across the street on the food, Jimmy ate with much satisfaction.
            Fancypants said he thought he'd go see the new Steve Jobs movie. "He was a genius."
           "Yeah, but I heard he was a real prick."
            "A lot of genius' are real pricks."
             "Yeah, I guess a lot of people think that's why I'm a real prick."
            Amidst the general laughter Jimmy looked up from his food and stared at us indifferently. 


             Charles called me last night. He said he wouldn't be able to give me a one on one computer sit down for two weeks because he's swamped at work. He said he finished the Marathon ahead of nine-thousand people. The thought of walking 26 miles tires me.


              Gracie just called. She said she loves her new job, Son In Law will be in town in a couple of weeks, and she wants to say hi to everyone.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Death Of Pheidippides And Other Amusing Anecdotes

              The Chicago Marathon took place yesterday. The Ale House is at the ten-mile mark and so every year we have an Elvis impersonator to liven things up for the runners and spectators. I rushed to get the bar ready before the first runners came by. It was a bit nippy out in the early morning shade. Street Jimmy commandeered a rickety folding chair and placed it on the sidewalk next to the curb. At first he seemed mildly interested in the Elvis impersonator who was attired in a black Elvis wig with sideburns, and a lovely white, gold brocaded jumpsuit. When the leaders sprinted by I told Jimmy that the Kenyan who won last year got caught blood doping. Jimmy's eyes were fixed on me, and he seemed to be having difficulty comprehending my words.
             "Wha' you mean?"
            "They took shit so they'd run faster."
              After thinking for a moment, he nodded and said, "oh."
              Jimmy is not an evil person in the true sense of the word.  He's not actively malevolent; self-gratification is the reason he bothers to get up in the morning. It is the driving force in his humble life. It is only when his pleasures are thwarted that he becomes irascible and anti-social. One of his pleasures is sleeping. Even with the loudspeaker blasting Elvis songs, and the throngs of marathon joggers cruising by, Jimmy quickly dozed off. I had to pull his ankles back up on the curb lest he trip one of the marathoners. His eyes opened slightly as I rearranged his legs, and before he fell back asleep he seemed slightly conscious of having been touched. 
             When Hawkeye came along he was with Mrs. Hawkeye and Mrs. Hawkeye's smoking hot seventy year old girlfriend, Theresa. According to Hawkeye, not only is Theresa smoking hot, she's a women of considerable means. One would think she'd be fascinated by someone as amazing as myself, but she doesn't seem to notice me whenever I'm in her presence. Hawkeye took a picture of Jimmy sleeping while the marathoners were running by. Perhaps he can post it on my blog. While I was talking to Hawkeye he pointed at a lame looking guy about thirty feet away holding a sign which said "The first marathoner died." The guy had a forced, rather deranged smile on his pinched face. I told Hawkeye I found the guy annoying and so I went over and asked him what the purpose of his sign was.
          His lips were no longer smiling; they were slightly apart and he was looking at me as one who had been wrongly accused of a serious crime. "What do you mean."
           "I mean are you criticizing the runners, or are you suggesting that they are going to die, I'm confused…"
           He spoke rapidly, "the first marathoner was Pheidippides, in five-hundred BC he ran from the Greek town of Marathon to Athens to announce that the Greeks had prevailed over the Persians. After telling the emperor the good news he collapsed and  died." His history lesson completed the forced smile reappeared on  his unpleasant looking face.
            "And that's supposed to be funny?"
            "Some of the runners smiled when they went by."
             "You know what I think?"
               "You're an asshole."
               Five minutes after I returned to where Hawkeye was standing, the eccentric asshole stuck his sign under his arm and walked in the direction of the Brown Line. While I was watching the runners, my cousin Erin trotted by. Erin is extremely attractive and was running with the better runners. She gave me a high five before she continued down North Avenue. Even though it was chilly and it's exhausting watching over forty-thousand runners trying to run twenty-six miles, I continued watching knowing that Charles would eventually be coming by. I became concerned when the really fat people, and the goofs in costumes had been coming by for almost an hour and still no Charles. At last, a short distance in front of the street cleaners, ambled Charles. His brow was knit, and there was a determination in his demeanor as he sashayed over to where I was standing and slapped my hand. Charles is tall, and he was wearing an oversized white T-shirt. At the rate he was moving darkness had to be a  concern. If his lovely wife On-A-Leash had come by earlier, she didn't say hi.
              I need to talk to Charles and so I hope now that the Marathon is over he'll give me a call sooner rather than later.


           Because the Bear game was at noon I thought I'd get a quick nap in on the padded bench before kickoff. I was dozing nicely when Tobin's Belgian attack dog started barking and woke me up.
            When all the doomsayers were proclaiming that the hapless Bears might not win a game this year I pointed out how bad some of the other NFL teams were. The Kansas City Chiefs are a perfect example of what I was talking about. Not only are they really bad, they have a moron coach. Andy Reid has failed wherever he's coached. It was a lousy game, but thanks to KC's ineptness, the Bears over-paid, dim-witted QB, Jay Cutler managed to lead the team to two late TD's and beat KC. 
            I then went home and had a  real nap. After I awoke I headed out the door for a late afternoon walk. It was a perfect fall afternoon and I walked along the lake for almost two hours before I headed back to the Ale House.
             The Cubbie fans are behaving like the naive children they are. Tonight their ace, Jake Arrieta is pitching. I would never admit to a Cub fan that I enjoy watching Arrieta pitch, but he does remind me a lot of how Bob Gibson dominated in his prime.  It was an exciting week, and I'm sure this week won't be dull, either. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Last Wednesday And Thrusday

                 Last Wednesday was going to be my first one-on-one day with Anthony. Unlike the time Anthony and his Layover TV crew came to the Ale House and set up their cameras and lights in less than half an hour, the Parts Unknown crew started bringing in equipment at eight in the morning. They spent a good three hours setting up the lights, and fine tuning where to put the cameras. Because of the light streaming in from the front windows it was decided to tape a bunch of my posters to the front windows, and then fill in the empty spaces with newspaper clippings. The posters I brought up from the basement mostly featured naked politicians, although there was one I did of the Zanies waitresses naked as well. I'm sure the kids coming home from school got a kick of our window decorations. 
              I talked to Anthony on camera for less than an hour while sitting at the bar before it was decided to go down to the basement and check out my art studio. I'd been messing around with ideas for a Vladimir Putin painting for a while and I wanted Anthony's thoughts on how to execute a proper tribute painting of the Russian megalomaniac. I told Anthony that I'd originally planned on doing a modern Katherine The Great update with a horse being lowered down from a  hoist onto a naked Putin's butt cheeks, however, there were size constraints; when I hang a painting of someone famous behind the bar, their face has to be recognizable. I don't have enough space to do anything big enough in a painting that complex; therefore Vladimir's psychotic face would be too small to be easily identified. I had previously executed two large drawings of Putin's face to work  from. My next thought was painting a naked Putin on a horse. This, however, would make him look macho even with a small dick. After messing around with various poses I did a detailed sketch of Putin wearing nothing but a tutu and toe shoes in a classic ballet pose. 
           Anthony liked the tutu pose so much that he took a picture of it with his phone camera and said he was seriously contemplating using it for the last remaining empty space on his heavily tattooed arms. Clearly he has no intention of taking Parts Unknown back to Russia. The last time he was there the dissident he interviewed for his show was gunned down in front of the Kremlin shortly after Anthony returned to the states. As it turned out we discussed a great deal more in my makeshift basement art studio. I think very little of what we discussed will make it past even the most liberal of CNN censors. 


          Thursday was to be the Greek Chorus day. A  group of characters were picked from my blog. After being interviewed by the producers, Mierka, Buzz Kill, Fireman Rick, Hawkeye, Rick Kogan, and Pub Crawl Liz were told to be at the bar at eleven a.m. The crew started putting up the cameras and adjusting the lights at eight sharp. I was warned ahead of time it was  going to be a long day and it was. The setup was supposed to be a typical bar scene. Hawkeye was to sit on his stool by the door working on a crossword puzzle. I was stationed at the corner bar stool where Anthony had interviewed me the previous day. Liz was going to sit at a table by the mural, Rick Kogan and Fireman Rick were sitting in the middle of the bar a  few stools apart, and Buzz Kill was at his familiar spot next to the TV. 
              It was fascinating watching them set up for each shot. These guys and gals  are real pros, and would not shoot until everything was absolutely perfect. Hawkeye went first. Sitting on his stool he expounded on his life as a journalist, a political functionary and last but not least, his tenure as the only Pulitzer Prize winning doorman in Chicago. After the interview he insisted he had not taken beta blockers. This was impressive, because when he's called upon to do public speaking he has a tendency to become nervous. Given the size of the audience that will be watching him on TV I would've thought he'd be more nervous, but he turned in a stellar performance. Fireman Rick was next. He was too far down the bar for me to hear, but the producers said he did a stellar job. Because things were progressing so slowly Rick Kogan had to get back to work. It's too bad  because Rick always has interesting things to say about Chicago. Liz was next. I thought she'd give her historical Pub Crawl business more of a plug, but she simply described growing up in Old Town and her interest in beers and the Chicago bar seen.
             Buzz Kill was at the far end of the bar so I couldn't hear him either. He told me he talked mostly about sports. The final interview was Mierka. I only heard a snatch of her interview when I went to the mens room. Mike, the head producer , told me later that she was terrific. Because each interview showed a different view of the bar the over all effect when viewed in its entirety will show the bar in all its grandeur. When Steve James did the documentary about Roger Ebert, Life Itself, he told me that visually the Ale House was his favorite setting. Mike said he couldn't have asked for better visuals.  They'd brought food from Corcoran's for lunch. At around six Anthony stopped by to say hi to the remaining Greek Choristers and his crew. Kim, who had bar-tended most of the morning and afternoon so Anya wouldn't have to spend an inordinate amount of time doing what would have amounted to an extra shift, asked Anthony to pose for a group picture. Butcovich also was there. Anthony hung around talking for a good two hours before he said he was going to have to find a good steak house. He'd worked out at a martial arts gym twice that day and was hungry. I had been sitting on the corner bar stool for over twelve hours by the time Anthony left. I have no idea how many beers I'd consumed, but the number was substantial. I was exhausted by the time I got home and went right to bed.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Valois and Topo Gigio

                Yesterday morning after I finished the bar I drove to Hyde Park. I was going to meet Anthony and his crew at Valois at ten-thirty. I'd suggested Valois, which is the famous Greek cafeteria on 53rd Street, for several reasons: Most people doing pieces on Chicago neglect the South Side. Yes, there are a lot of ugly parts of the South Side, but you could say that for the North Side, as well. I think the South Side, especially along the lake is the prettiest part of the city, and Hyde Park extending from Washington Park to Jackson Park, which includes the gothic towers of the University of Chicago, is my favorite area to walk. I've played a couple of thousand rounds of golf at Jackson park over the last forty years, so I know the area well.
            When Anthony asked me about Valois I told him not only was the food better than average, but it was extremely reasonable. Friday is my favorite Valois day because of the baked white fish. Anthony had the meatloaf. He said meatloaf is one of his favorite dishes in the entire world, and he finds it irresistible to pass up. Valois is usually about eighty-percent black, although because there is such a quick turnover of patrons, there are times when there are mostly white people dining. The two hours we were there was fairly typical for that time of the day on a Friday. We received a few curious stares, but for the most part nobody paid that much attention to us or the film crew.
             Seated at a table a few rows behind Anthony was a black man about my age with a maroon hat on. After he seated himself, he crossed his long spindly legs and took out a matching maroon handkerchief and began trifling with it elegantly. People watching in Valois is one of my favorite activities. Most of the old timers I used to know from the neighborhood are deceased. I don't know what the mortality rate among black people compared to white people is, but it has to be significant, at least on the South Side of Chicago. Anthony and I discussed politics Chicago style. I pointed out that whenever I saw Jesse Jackson Sr. in Valois nobody paid much attention to him. "Jesse is a phony, and Chicagoan's have very good phony-detectors. Jesse  is strictly a photo-op activist. He's got the long-term focus of your average fruit fly." When Barack, who lives just a couple of blocks from Valois, used to come in for breakfast he was an obscure state senator. Harold Washington was a different story. Our first black mayor was a larger than life character and took over the cafeteria whenever he made an appearance. 
            I couldn't finish all of my white fish. Since my myasthenia gravis I can't eat a lot at one time. Although I'm constantly hungry, I tend to snack often. I was also aware that I was going to be dining with Anthony and Buzz Kill at Topo Gigio that evening. I had planned on taking a walk over to 57th Street after we were done shooting but it was nippy out, and there was an unpleasant wind coming off the lake.

         It was five-thirty when I met Buzz Kill at the Ale House. After my nap I'd taken a brisk walk to try and work up an appetite. I love the food at Topo and I wanted to be able to do the tasty Italian cuisine justice. Buzz Kill swore he'd only had a couple of rum and cokes before I arrived. The idea behind the dinner was for me (a Sox fan) to debate Buzz Kill (a Cubs fan). If Buzz Kill was shitfaced it could get ugly. He seemed alert and ready to go when we walked over to Topo, which is just a half block from the Ale House. The restaurant is always packed on Fridays and last night was no exception. They had blocked off several tables for us and the film crew. As luck would have it the Inventor and the Defense Attorney happened to be sitting at an adjacent table. Once again I could feel the Defense Attorney undressing me with her eyes.
           Michael, the head producer, wanted me to remove my coat from my shoulders, but I was cold. It was chilly outside and I think they had the air conditioner on. Visually this might not look too good on TV. You can't miss Anthony when he walks into a room. Not only is he unusually tall, but he stands ram rod erect. Within a matter of minutes Anthony was grilling us on the differences between Cub fans and Sox fans. The differences were many and I have to give Buzz Kill his props -- he gave as good as he got. Ironically the first Cub-Cardinal playoff game was being played as we were speaking. As if defending the Cubs and their over a hundred years of losing wasn't difficult enough, Anthony duped Buzz Kill into defending deep dish pizza, or as Anthony described it, " a gooey, reddish soup concoction surrounded by crust." 
           It was a fun evening and I especially enjoyed my sea food soup and the scallops. Tom, one of the owners of Topo, asked me if it was okay to ask Anthony to pose for a picture. I said sure, Anthony refuses no one, and he must have posed ten times for pictures on his way out of the restaurant. I do one more segment with him before he leaves town next week.
          Buzz Kill was as elated as I've ever seen him as we walked back to the Ale House. He's a huge Anthony fan, and to do a sports segment with him was dream come true. I'd had about five beers and was about ready to leave for home when Ranalli came in. After "speed reading" Last Night At The Old Town Ale House yesterday afternoon (by speed reading, he meant looking through the book to find out how many times I mentioned him) he said he started seriously reading it last night when he couldn't fall asleep. He was effusive in his praise. Hardware Nick said he didn't like the linear style I employed, but admitted that he hadn't finished the book and was keeping an open mind. Ranalli was in excellent spirits and so I had another five beers with him before I called it a night.  Charles still hasn't responded to my inquiry concerning how the text sizes of my book were determined. I know he's running in the Marathon tomorrow, so when he runs by the bar at the ten mile mark he probably won't have time to stop and discuss it. I also owe him some money, but maybe I'll hold off on paying him when he's less likely to lose it while running through one of the hard scrabble Chicago neighborhoods along the marathon route.
         I will give a report on what Wednesday and Thursday were like tomorrow. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Anthony And The Genius - Part Two

              The reason I didn't have time to write my blog for the last couple of days is because I was busy hosting Anthony Bourdain and his Parts Unknown crew at the Ale House. A word of explanation: A little over a month ago I was contacted by Lucien, one of Anthony's producers, and informed that Anthony had not only decided to bring his popular TV show to Chicago, but wanted to make the Ale House and the Geriatric Genius its focal point. Although this news surprised me, it did not shock me. Anthony is not only a talented writer and a popular TV personality, he is also a very shrewd business man. Having discovered the Genius on his Layover show several years ago, he wisely reasoned that his new show would give him sufficient time  to delve more deeply into just what makes the Genius tick. One of the key elements of his TV show is the pursuit of novelty, and if there is a more novel bar in the US than the Ale House, I'm not aware of it.
            I hadn't talked to Anthony since our ill-fated book deal. The book had been completed, edited, the graphics arranged, and a publication date set. All I had to do was get a final approval from the lawyers at Harper Collins. Anthony and I share the same agent, and she assured me that although the lawyer I was going to be dealing with was a bit on the brusque side, she was fair and I could be frank with her. With ill-founded self-confidence I listened patiently to the lawyers harsh assessment of what she had just read. At least for awhile. She used the words libelous and defamatory frequently. It soon became clear that she hated not only me, but my amusing, take no prisoners account of the Ale House and its madcap, zany customers. Being a man of limited patience, I responded to her poorly thought-out, humorless criticisms in a rather brutish manner. Some might accuse me of an inability to judge wisely when my dander is up and I won't argue the point…I admitted to Anthony that in retrospect I could have used a  touch more finesse with the shrewish harridan lawyer. I did, however, suggest that perhaps I could have been prepped a little more thoroughly by our agent. 
            If Anthony was disappointed in my behavior during my  conversation with the Harper Collins lawyer and the ensuing collapse of our book deal, he has clearly forgiven me. Anthony is a man who holds grudges, so I couldn't have pissed him off too much. As luck would have it he has shown up in Chicago just a few days after my eagerly awaited Last Night At The Old Town Ale House is FINALLY being sold on Amazon. This was indeed fortuitous. 
              Tuesday some of the TV crew came in the bar after their plane landed to check out the bar and my basement art studio. Michael, the head producer, after looking around the bar and my magnificent paintings, smiled and said, "this bar is so Tony I can't  believe it."
              I will give a detailed report on what transpired at the Ale House earlier in the week as soon as I have sufficient time. Because he's finished with the Ale House I am now free to mention  he's in town. I'm going to do three more segments with Anthony away from the Ale House. This is certainly going to be fun, as I've already had some fascinating conversations with him. 
             Street Jimmy seemed pleased to be the first person to shake Anthony's hand Wednesday. Fancypants had a bloody nose and couldn't hang around to say hi. He said yesterday his nose started bleeding so badly after he left the bar a police car picked him up and drove him to Northwestern Hospital. "The cop was super nice. The nurse immediately took me in a room and shot a needle in my nose and it stopped the bleeding instantly. She also gave me some allergy pills and a prescription. Oh, and she gave me some anti-anxiety pills and told me not to take them until I got home. After I took them I felt great and I slept real good."

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

            I will not be writing a blog until Saturday. I have a good reason. Peace and love.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A Tense Morning At The Old Town Ale House

              Fancypants and I engaged in a heated argument about the changing of a lightbulb. Although he's terrified of heights, and won't go more than a couple of feet up a ladder, he insisted that I was wrong, and the fixture wasn't broken on a track light, and it was simply a matter of changing a burned out bulb. I explained to him in the simplest, most direct manner I could that Butcovich and I had determined it was broken. The idiot than climbed up on the window ledge precariously and tried to remove the light bulb. After removing it he unscrewed a lighted bulb. Of course it was hot and after  an incommodious, shrill yelp he tossed the hot bulb to me. This displeased me because it burned my delicate hands. The reason he unscrewed the working bulb was to show me that when he put it in the malfunctioning tract light, it would work. I told him I would not allow him to put it in the tract light without a ladder. More harsh words were exchanged. Tobin, who was cleaning shelves, and who was already in an odious mood, glared at the two of us with unforgiving, contemptuous eyes.
          Earlier I had falsely accused her Belgian attack dog of cracking a window. I thought I detected  a crack in the middle of some dog paw prints on the window. Tobin said in a dry hard voice, "there is no way my dog broke a window." This was not the young girl I met over thirty years ago with the frank and winning manners I had become so enamored of. Alas, her beauty, gaiety, and the delightful ring of her laughter are now but distant memories. It turned out that what I perceived to be a crack was from crinkled scotch tape.  It is impossible not to be aware of the general disenchantment she harbors for her ex-husband. There had not been an explosive quarrel, and yet it was clear that there was yet another mark made against me, and that one way or another some where down the line I was going to be made to pay.
            Fancypants conceded that the tract light fixture was indeed broken after I screwed the live bulb in. Fancypants' vanity is his strongest passion. When he's proven wrong he shrinks away like a chastened child. His eyes looked melancholy, although his lips wore a smile. It was a sickly smile.
          While this was transpiring Ravel was vomiting out of my radio. My hatred for Ravel grows weekly. Whenever I hear his music I am reminded of a dentists drill. 
          After Street Jimmy had been fed and Fancypants finished cleaning, I  curled up on the padded bench and took a much needed nap. The cleaning ladies come to the condo  the first Tuesday of every month and so I didn't want to go home.