Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Daley Grind

Today is Election Day in Chicago. To say the least, I'm not enthused.

There are aldermanic elections in all 50 wards, but my alderman is running unopposed. Or at least I think so. (If there is opposition, I haven't heard about it.) There may also be a referendum or two to consider.

And then, there's the mayoral race. If you can even call it a race.

Richard M. Daley is going to win reelection. That's a foregone conclusion. His two opponents--Dorothy Brown, the current Cook County Circuit Court Clerk, and William "Dock" Walls, a former aide to the late Harold Washington--have done the best with the resources they've had (i.e., virtually no money). And the two potential candidates who actually had some cash and could have put up a better fight--U.S. Representatives Jesse Jackson Jr. and Luis Gutierrez--chose not to stay out of this fight. Only they know why. Maybe the new Democratic majority in Congress afforded them more opportunities. Maybe the poll numbers showed that though the various corruption scandals that continue to swirl like raw sewage around Daley's administration had wounded the mayor's reputation, they hadn't wounded him enough for an easy victory. Maybe they put their own best interests ahead of what would be best for the city as a whole.

And what would be best for the city as a whole would be to remove Richard M. Daley from office. For good.

It's not that Daley hasn't done good things in his 18 years as mayor (just short of the record set by his father, Richard J. Daley, who was mayor from 1955 until his death in 1976). Richard the Second has done plenty of good things for Chicago. He took over the public school system; granted, it's still not great, but it's in better shape than before he took it over. He's done a great deal to beautify the city. The public housing projects that had become vast stretches of institutionalized poverty are all but a memory. Navy Pier, the long-dormant stretch of concrete and brick jutting out into Lake Michigan like a middle finger, where dad and I used to spin-cast for perch when I was a kid, was revitalized under Daley's reign. Millennium Park has received much praise (locally, nationally and even internationally) and has become quite the tourist attraction. And basic services have run pretty smoothly (except, perhaps, for the Chicago Transit Authority, and even that's a more recent development).

Any good he has done, though, must be weighed against the bad. And, unfortunately, there's plenty of bad to be weighed.

He had the small lakefront airport, Meigs Field, demolished without bothering with public debate or even discussion. (In a move as cowardly as it was cunning, he had the runways destroyed late on a Sunday night, after the newscasts had all ended.) Millennium Park was years late and millions of dollars over budget, and the contract for the upscale restaurant in the park just happened to go to supporters from Daley's home ward.

That brings me back to the aforementioned scandals.

Numerous subordinates in the Daley administration have been accused, arrested and convicted for all sorts of hiring and contract-issuance irregularities. (I won't even bring up the drug-dealing in the Water Department--except, oops, I just did, didn't I?) Essentially, the impression has been created that only citizens with an "in" at City Hall can get a job, and those who do get a gig with the city don't have to work all that much (at least not at their city jobs; some went off to work at other jobs or sleep or do whatever while somebody else punched them in and/or out).

I know that impression isn't true. I know the city has many hardworking, honest individuals working for it. But the impression that jobs and contracts with the city were (and, for all we know, still are) for sale runs deep and far.

No one has yet accused Richard M. Daley himself of any wrongdoing. No one has said that he's guilty of any illegal activities. But an informed voter has to wonder: Given the mayor's carefully built reputation as a hands-on, involved administrator, how did he not see the corruption festering all around him? Or is the reality that he's really a hands-off, aloof manager who failed to notice what his direct subordinates were up to? Or, worst of all, did he see all the dealmaking and bribe-taking all over City Hall and turn a blind eye to it?

No matter which scenario in the above paragraph is true, the same conclusion can be reached: Richard M. Daley has fostered an environment in which corruption could not merely exist, but flourish, has irreparably breached the trust of the electorate of the City of Chicago, and no longer deserves to be its mayor.

Unfortunately, he's going to be reelected anyway. That doesn't mean I have to vote for him again.

I'll vote for one of his opponents. Or I'll vote for no one. One or the other.

And I suggest all of you who read this page and plan to vote tomorrow do the same, for a vote for Richard M. Daley is an acceptance of a perpetual atmosphere of corruption, unchecked greed and demonstrated lack of respect for the voters of the city he claims to love. I can't bring myself to vote again for someone who thinks so little of me as a voter, a citizen, a person.

I have more self-respect than that.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Oscar Hangover 2007

I never make it all the way through an Academy Awards telecast without becoming at the very least distracted, if not outright bored to the verge of coma.

So it was last night. The fashions, the production numbers and Ellen Degeneres just weren't enough to hold my interest and, about 45 minutes into the proceedings, I stopped caring and started channel-flipping.

I did, however, catch two of the moments I wanted to catch in the first place. I wanted to see the presentation of the Best Supporting Actor award, because I had picked an upset in that category--Alan Arkin instead of the heavily favored Eddie Murphy. And Arkin won. I found it charming that he set his Oscar on the stage beside him as he read his speech from a crumpled piece of paper. (I know I sure as hell would need a piece of paper, crumpled or otherwise, to keep my thoughts straight up there.)

Maybe the Academy decided that Arkin's long career should be honored. Or that Murphy's performance, while good, wasn't Oscar-worthy. Or maybe the bad karma Murphy had accumulated through bad movies (maybe some of the Oscar voters saw Norbit over the weekend?) and all the homophobic shit he slung back in his standup-comedy days bit him in the ass. Or maybe the fact that Sailor J loves Little Miss Sunshine so very much tipped the scales. (It also won for Best Original Screenplay, so she must be doubly happy.)

Whatever. I'm happy for Alan Arkin.

And I got to see Jennifer Hudson win Best Supporting Actress for Dreamgirls. I thought she deserved it and said so when I left the theatre with Sister Dee. (I think my exact words were, "Just give her the damn Oscar, already.") I'm glad the Academy agreed.

I had hoped Peter O'Toole would finally win an Oscar, but that didn't happen. Not that I begrudge Forest Whitaker--he's always been a solid actor, and it's great to see him the Academy give him some long-overdue recognition. But O'Toole is elderly and reportedly in ill health, he really should have won one by now, and, by all accounts, his performance in Venus was indeed Oscar-worthy; it wouldn't have been a pity award. Would have been nice, is all I'm saying. Maybe he'll get nominated again. And maybe he'll win. Stranger things happen every day in this world.

At least Martin Scorcese finally won for The Departed, just as I'd predicted, but I was sleepy and today was a workday, so I was long in bed by the time he asked, "Could you double-check the envelope?"

One of these years, I'll guess right in every single category. Until then? Five out of six ain't bad.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

"He Eats Alone"

Sunday morning. I'm not feeling my best. Feels like another cold coming on. No surprise. It's that time of year. Everybody's had it at least once. I work in a large office. I think we're time-sharing the same virus. "Whose turn is it this week?" Stress lowers resistance to disease, and work has been stressful of late. So...cough. Sneeze. Snurfle.

Still, I want to go out for breakfast. I don't usually go out for breakfast on Sunday. That's more of a Saturday thing, after an evening of V&Ts or pints of Guinness at Cardozo's. And I didn't go out Saturday night, except to Mom's house for meatloaf. (I know, I should stay away from Mom if I even suspect that I have a cold or the flu. But I've cancelled out on her so often because of my work schedule that I would have felt guilty for doing so again, especially on a weekend when work couldn't be blamed.)

I'm restless. Nothing in La Casa del Terror's well-stocked cupboards--soups, chili, peas, mac and cheese--immediately excites my tastebuds. So I armor up against the February freeze. I pull on the parka. Wrap my neck with a scarf. Slip on Dad's old leather mittens, which look and feel like welterweight boxing gloves. Head out into the cold.

About two blocks from La Casa, I find a adult-size green mitten lying on the ice on the corner. It's nice. And I tend to rescue such items. A single mitten, though? Even a nice one? Even I'm not that sentimental. So I leave it there...until I spot its companion half a block away, half-buried in the snow. I grab the left-hand mitten and go back for the right-hand one. They're nice. Maybe I'll use them. Someday. Not today. I slip them in the backpack and continue on my way.

The breakfast place closest to me is a cozy little storefront at a busy intersection. Seats no more than twenty, I'm sure. Sometimes, it's packed. Today it's not, though it's hardly empty either. There's a spot right next to the door where nobody likes to sit, especially on cold days like this. Nobody but me, that is. The cold isn't constant, and I'll be drinking hot coffee. I'll trade the mild discomfort for the opportunity to spread out my Sunday paper and relax for a few.

A young, sandy-haired waitress who appears to have multiple piercings (most removed during work hours) looks quizzically at my spot, which has four seats, and asks, "How many?"

Another, older waitress--the younger one's mom, I'm pretty sure--swings up behind her, coffee pot in hand, and corrects her daughter/co-worker. "No, he eats alone," she says, filling my cup with steaming black liquid.

I look over the menu. Settle on a ham-and-cheese omelet. Sip my coffee and gatefully take a refill from one of the owners. They're a middle-aged, Middle-Eastern couple. At least one of them is always there. Both of them are usually smiling. Both take turns apologizing for how cold my spot is. I don't mind, I say. The coffee keeps me warm, I say.

So I drink my coffee and look at my omelet like it's too beautiful to eat (because it is) and pull the Show section from the Sunday Sun-Times and try not to think about what the waitress pointed out to her daughter.

"He eats alone," she said.

And she's right, of course. I usually eat alone. Drink alone, too.

I didn't always feel comfortable doing that. And I don't always. Sometimes friends join me at dinner or Cardozo's or the Davis to catch the latest blockbuster. But that's not usually the case. Usually, I do whatever I do--eat, drink, shop, breathe--alone.

That's how it is when you haven't had sex in eons. Been in love in years. Or even kissed a girl in a while. (The last time I did kiss a woman, she said I was "a great kisser." So at least that's something. Not much, but something.)

Not that I've completely given up hope. My travel reading of late has been a book titled The Lowdown on Going Down, a guide for giving better oral sex to women written by a speech therapist. (You're never too old to learn--or, in this case, to learn how to do something better.) When I bought it at Virgin Megastore, the checkout clerk found it fascinating, and an alternachick clerk--short, cute, pierced, tattooed--who'd taken care of me in the recent past flipped through it while the first clerk rung me up. The alternachick nodded approvingly--"Eye contact, yes, very important...hmmm. Very good." She slipped the book into the translucent Virgin Megastore bag and handed the bag to me. "Have fun," she said with a smile. "I will," I replied, smiling even more and, I'm certain, blushing furiously.

Lately, I've even lit candles to St. Jude on behalf of my sex life. Not my love life--my sex life. Of course, I still want to fall in love again someday, preferably with a woman who wants to fall in love with me. But JB has said more than once (and less than 500 times) that I'm too damn young and attractive to be going without. And would I reject a one-night stand at this point? Or even a quickie? Hell to the no.

But not this Sunday. This Sunday, I'm sitting in a small storefront cafe, sipping coffee and tucking into the ham-and-cheese omelet (no matter how beautiful it is) and compare my Oscar picks with Roger Ebert's and find that we agree on some choices and disagree on others. I look out onto the bustling intersection and sip my coffee some more.

And, for now, I eat alone.

Monday, February 12, 2007


It's cold in Chicago tonight. Not just chilly. Not just frigid. Cold. The kind of cold that doesn't respect parkas or mittens or scarves of any size, shape, pattern or fabric. And it's been this cold for a couple of weeks.

I know. It's winter in Chicago. It's supposed to be cold. And it's far worse elsewhere, like in New York state, where they've had the same bitter cold, but with more than 100 inches of snow. Here, we have only couple of inches lingering on lawns--depressing, but not opressive--but not on streets, where there's more salt than snow; it is, after all, just weeks until the mayoral election.

In the spirit of the current weather, which the more competent forecasters predict will hold for at least another week, here are five short poems, three of which deal specifically with winter. The other two are more in line with Valentine's Day, but since February 14 usually leaves me shivering in a corner anyway, I've thrown them in anyway.


One: On the Way Back from Catsitting
Outside the Popeyes
at Broadway and Wilson
the nosferatus cross
the street at will,
pay no attention to
the lights, the colors,
the ranges of gray ice,
the presence of buses
or cabs or snowplows,
instead seeing nothing
but the color of the
traffic jam inside.

Two: Seen from the Brown Line
He's sipping a forty
at eight in the morning
in the alley out back of DePaul.
His hat's tilted sad,
but he's not even mad
he's nothing to do at all.

Three: Observation
after all
these years

i just now

how much a

resembles a
human heart

Four: Three Roses
There are three roses
in the vase on my table.
Only one is red.

Five: February
There are very few
days without clouds. But the sun
is still behind them.