Friday, July 20, 2012

Where I Won't Be Tonight

I definitely want to see The Dark Knight Rises, but I expect the crowds to be too huge for my claustrophobic ass to deal with, so I'll wait a week. Or two. Or five.

Where I'll Be Tonight

Tonight is the opening night of the 2012 Silent Summer Film Festival at the Portage Theater. This would ordinarily be more than enough cause for celebration--I love old movie theaters and I love silent films, what's not to like?--but with yesterday's announcement that Chicago Tabernacle had dropped its bid to buy the portage and turn it into a church, tonight should be a flippin' party.

Every Picture Tells a Story 7/20/12

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Breaking News

The Portage Theater has announced on their Facebook page that Chicago Tabernacle has officially withdrawn its bid to buy the theater and convert it into a house of worship.

I have two reactions to this news:

1. I would like to sincerely thank Chicago Tabernacle for withdrawing their bid. This move (or non-move, if you prefer) is the best decision for all involved, and there are many people who will be more than happy to help you find an alternate location. I hope that you find a site that best suits your needs--you will be an asset to any neighborhood lucky enough to have you.


Save the Portage!

As you may or may not have heard, the Portage Theater is threatened with extinction.

For those of you who haven't heard, here's the condensed version: The owner of the building that houses the Portage, several shops and apartments put it up for sale last year. The proposed buyer is Chicago Tabernacle, a church organization on the Northwest Side that wants to greatly expand the space for their congregation. Unfortunately, that would mean shutting down the Portage as a movie theater and removing the marquee. The Portage, as we know it, would be no more.

As you might imagine, this caused all sorts of alarms to ring for cinephiles, architecture buffs, business owners in the Six Corners district and the local alderman, John Arena. (Ald. Arena received hundreds of messages in opposition to the proposed change--and only one in favor.) There have been rallies at the theater and vocal shows of support for the theater at Zoning Board meetings. There is even a Facebook page dedicated to the cause.

In spite of all this vocal opposition and the presence of many viable options--lots of empty churches and plenty of buildings that could be converted for this worthy use--Chicago Tabernacle is pressing forward, trying to get the zoning change necessary to make the conversion. Why they would want to make such an unpopular move that would alienate the very neighbors and businesses they would like on their side--a move that would hurt a host of businesses and individuals in a very personal way and would wipe out a successful, popular business to boot--is well beyond me. They have the legal right to do so, however, so forward they go.

To voice my own opposition, I wrote the following letter to the chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals, Jonathan Swain, and mailed it this past Tuesday:

Dear Chairman Swain:

I am writing in opposition to Chicago Tabernacle's request to change the zoning status of the Portage Theater to allow the theater to be converted into a house of worship.

My opposition has nothing to do with Chicago Tabernacle's status as a religious organization. I live several blocks away from their current location (at the corner of Berteau and Troy) and have always regarded them as a good neighbor and a positive influence. Rather, my opposition has everything to do with the economic disaster this zoning change would rain down on the Six Corners business district—a district I visit frequently due to the presence of the Portage (especially during the annual Silent Summer Film Festival).

Had Chicago Tabernacle proposed this change a decade ago, when the Portage was sitting empty and abandoned, Portage Park and Six Corners business likely would have welcomed this proposal with open arms. However, that is no longer the case—the Portage is not empty and abandoned and has not been for quite some time. It is a entrepreneurial success story of which all of Chicago should be proud.

In neighborhoods across the North Side, movie houses act as economic magnets, drawing patrons not only to the theaters themselves, but to surrounding businesses: Bars, restaurants, grocery stores, clothing shops and book vendors. Ask the restaurant owners along Southport how they'd feel if the Music Box were to shut down. Ask the businesses surrounding the Logan how well they did when that theater closed down for renovations last year—and how happy they are now that it's open again. Ask the shop operators around Portage Park's own Patio, which reopened last year after closing in 2001, how much business has picked up in the last year. Ask the folks at the Daily Bar & Grill, Laurie's Planet of Sound and Essence of India how they'd feel if the four screens of the Davis suddenly went dark.

That last one isn't merely theoretical—it almost happened.

Just over a decade ago, the Davis was threatened with closure. The building's then-owner put it up for sale, and a developer wanted to buy the property, convert the apartments into condominiums and use the theater space for parking. The neighborhood spoke up loudly in opposition to this proposed zoning change—just as Portage Park is speaking up loudly now—and the developer, much to his credit, withdrew his bid for the building. Another buyer was found, and, all these years later, the Davis still thrills audiences with the latest Hollywood blockbusters while still drawing customers to many diverse businesses all over Lincoln Square.

The Portage does the same thing for Six Corners—it draws people from all over the city to experience not only its eclectic programming—from horror films and independent cinema to film noir classics and forgotten gems of the silent era—but to enjoy the restaurants and shops within short walking distance of this 90-plus-year-old institution.

As I noted above, the Portage Theater is an entrepreneurial success story. Please do not bring that story to an abrupt, premature end. Please don not deliver what would not only be an emotional blow to fans of classic cinema and architecture, but a very real, devastating blow to the businesses that currently surround the Portage and to any businesses planning to come to Six Corners and enhance what already is an exciting, vital business district.

Please do not grant Chicago Tabernacle's request to change the zoning status of the Portage Theater to allow the theater to be converted into a house of worship.

Thank you, Chairman Swain, for your time and consideration.

The next Zoning Board of Appeals meeting in tomorrow, July 20, at 2 p.m. in the City Council chambers. A decision may well be made regarding the future (or lack thereof) of this much-beloved movie house. I plan to be there.

Every Picture Tells a Story 7/19/12

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Vanishing Chicago: The Norridge

When I was a child--and I assure you that, at some point in the distant past, I was, in fact, a child--I grew up in a neighborhood that did not have a movie theater within short walking distance.

Had I grown up a couple of decades earlier--say, in the 1940s or 1950s--that would not have been the case, as most Chicago neighborhoods had at least one movie house nearby, and many had several scatter through their respective business districts. By the time I was of moviegoing age, though--in the mid-1970s--most neighborhood theaters had either closed, having been starved to death by their larger, shinier suburban cousins, or substantially deteriorated, like nearly all of the downtown venues. The neighborhood movie houses that remained were neither convenient nor desirable unless you happened to be near one anyway--like the Congress or the Logan, both a stone's throw from Grandma's house, but neither in great shape.

So if a group of kids from the neighborhood wanted to go see the latest summer blockbuster (back when summer blockbusters were a brand-new thing), we had a choice: submit ourselves to the decay and vermin in the Loop, or hop a bus in the opposite direction and visit a clean, fresh megaplex in one of the near-in suburbs.

More often than not, we headed away from downtown--riding the Grand Avenue bus to the end of the line and switching to the northbound Harlem Avenue route--and toward the Norridge.

The Norridge, named for the particular suburb in which it was situated, started out as a two-screen theater and later expanded to as many as 11 screens. It's where I saw Young Frankenstein in 1974 with Todd and his mom, where I also caught Jaws, Star Wars and other great, popular movies of the day--and other, not-so-great movies like Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Howard the Duck.

I once went there for a midnight showing of Heavy Metal and nearly started a riot. It was bitterly cold that night, with air temperatures well below zero and a stiff breeze slicing through all the kids shivering in the parking lot because the theater had yet to open its doors. "LET US IN, " I shouted, "IT'S FUCKING FREEZING OUT HERE!" Others in the sizable crowd took up the cry, and soon we weren't feeling particularly cold anymore--we had our rising rage to keep us warm. Wisely, the theater staff caught on very quickly and opened the doors

It wasn't just the theater itself that was the attraction, though. It was the trip to the suburbs, which, for a bunch of kids from the West Side, was like traveling to a foreign country without any need for a passport. It was truly a different world--cleaner, brighter, less menacing, more fun. A day out in Norridge was a vacation from what we knew (or what we didn't want to know).

As I got older, I went out to the Norridge less and less, especially after I moved close to Lincoln Square and had the Davis within short walking distance. I still head out to Norridge fairly regularly, though, if only to stop by Harlem Irving Plaza (HIP to you, sir) or the awesome Rolling Stones Records. One one of these trips a couple of years ago, I wandered up Harlem Avenue and took in a flicker at the Norridge (don't ask me which one, for I do not remember).

The Norridge looked more or less like I remembered--for better and worse. The carpeting, posters on the walls from the '80s and '90s and gentle slope of the screening rooms all kicked off warm fuzzies of nostalgia, but they all looked a bit worn and tired. It didn't look like AMC, the chain operating the theater in recent years, cared one way or the other about the place, doing little to keep it up or advertise that it even existed.

When I did see movies out there--from Drag Me to Hell to Green Lantern to Jonah Hex--the "crowds" were usually sparse. When I saw Post-Grad out there (what, I had a crush on Alexis Bledel), I was one of two people in a screening room that seated 400. The last movie I saw out there, Prometheus (misspelled on the marquee above), drew the largest crowd I'd seen there recently, and even that was only a few dozen.

It came as no surprise, then, when I found out this week that last Sunday, July 15, the Norridge closed its doors--apparently for good.

It's always possible that another, more dedicated theater chain could take over the Norridge and make something of it, but it's more likely that what's been rumored for years will finally come to pass--some big-box store will buy the land and knock the Norridge down--and more than a few of my fondest memories with it.

On the Way to Work This Morning...

When I walked out of La Casa del Terror this morning, it was raining--not much more than a brief shower, really, but given the Dust Bowl-like drought we find ourselves in, every drop is welcome. I couldn't help but feel envious, though, of the folks to the south and east of me, where thunderheads were mushrooming up and dropping water down on parched, needy soil.

On the Way Home from Work Last Night...

Every Picture Tells a Story 7/18/12

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Latest on Li'L O

As I've mentioned before, vet visits usually freak me out more than they do Olivia--though, to be sure, she's never happy with being stuck in a carrier (even if it's the nice one given to me by Superbadfriend), hauled to the Brown Line and snaked on down to the vet.

She seemed especially unhappy with the concept Friday morning. Maybe she was just feeling so much better that she didn't really want to be hauled/poked/prodded/punctured, but she growled when the vet came in and growled just as loud at me when one of the vet's assistants brought her back after getting her blood drawn. She was definitely extra salty (or, as my vet likes to say, "spicy"). Annoying as a snarling kitty can be, though, it's preferable to a lethargic kitty who lets the vet do whatever she wants without protest.

Trust me--that's not what Olivia was on Friday.

The vet wanted to send out the blood for testing at the lab, if only because that hadn't been done since Olivia's initial diagnosis, and told me she'd call me with results Saturday morning. And that she did--just after 8 a.m., for which she apologized immediately.

You know what, though? The vet can call me in the middle of the frickin' night if she wants to, as long as the news is this good. And boy, was it good.

Olivia's creatinine level went down again, from 4.4 to 3.1. (the high end of the normal range is 2.4, so we're almost there.) Her phosphorus remains squarely in the normal range, and her red blood cell count, which was severely low when she was diagnosed, is now slightly too high; we just have to back off on her anemia meds to once a week, and she should be just fine. Add in the fact that she gained another tenth of a pound (not much of a gain, to be sure, but up is better than down), and the news is pretty good all the way around.

So the vet doesn't need to see her for another six weeks--the longest stretch we've gone without a visit--and the vet congratulated me again for all the hard work I've done with Olivia.

Nonsense. It's Li'l O whose done the hardest work, eating (most of) the food I put down in front of her and rolling with all the pills and pricks and syringes of yucky fluid. She doesn't like any of it, but she knows, in the end, that it's all for her benefit.

Or at least that's what I get from the fact that, mere moments after suffering the indignity of being punctured or medicated, she jumps up on the couch next to me and rubs her small calico head against the palm of my hand. She knows I'm doing my best to help her stick around, and she's paying me back by, y'know, sticking around.

A fair deal, I'd say.

Saturday Night's Dinner

My friends Josep and Jen both recommended a new(ish) grocery store on Lawrence called Harvestime Foods. I hadn't had a chance to go there until this past Friday when, after Olivia's latest appointment with the vet (more on that in another entry), I did a bit of shopping. I was impressed with their cheese and meat selections, and I came out with these lovely sausages--Chorizo Riojano, or honest-to-goodness Spanish chorizo. Add in some smoked gruyere, roquefort, giardinera and whole wheat bread, and you've got a feast guaranteed to keep you from moving for a while.

Every Picture Tells a Story 7/16/12

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Wish Us Luck

Olivia goes for her checkup tomorrow morning.

You might think that I'm tempting fate by scheduling her latest appointment on Friday the 13th, especially since her initial diagnosis came down on the last Friday the 13th. And you may well be right. But her last appointment (on June 15) was great--gained weight, numbers dropped in bloodwork--and my hope is that she has at least held steady.

Still, whatever positive thoughts you care to throw my way for tomorrow would be much appreciated.

Every Picture Tells a Story 7/12/12

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

This Week's Travel Reading

I've mentioned before how much I love the series of novels about Parker, the single-minded "heister" created by Donald Westlake (under the pen name Richard Stark) and how I was introduced to the character through the adaptations by graphic novelist Darwyn Cooke.

Cooke's latest Parker adaptation, The Score, came out today. Guess what I'll be reading for the rest of the week?

On the Way Home Last Night...

Every Picture Tells a Story 7/11/12

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Where I'd Like to Be Tonight (But Can't Be)

Concert tickets are expensive these days--so much so that when I found that both the Beach Boys and Fiona Apple would be playing the magnificent Chicago Theatre in the near future, I knew I could attend one show or the other, but not both.

Since the Boys are all one side or the other of 70 and will likely never tour again (at least in its current "all living original members" configuration), I chose them. I would still dearly love to see Fiona Apple someday, preferably in a smaller venue where I could actually, y'know, see her. Unfortunately, given the increasing space between her albums (her previous effort, Extraordinary Machine came out seven years ago), it'll probably be at least a decade before I get the chance again.

Every Picture Tells a Story 7/10/12

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Every Picture Tells a Story 7/4/12

Uncle Sam wants have a happy and safe Fourth of July!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tuesday is Bring Your Colorful Arachnid and His Reptile Friend to Work Day

In honor of the opening of the first movie in the freshly rebooted Spider-Man franchise (after only 5 years? really? Then again, Spider-Man 3 really did suck), here are Mego Spidey and his scaly opponent, The Lizard.

When I was a kid, Mego Spidey was arguably my favorite toy--he was a nice representation of the character, and unlike other Mego figures, he didn't have any accessories to lose (belt, boots, gloves, etc.).

The Lizard, on the other hand, is kind of goofy--his outfit is nice (love the plush tail) and the scales on the hands and feet were unique to this figure--but the head sculpt kinda blows the notion that he's a vicious animal who wants to tear the web slinger limb from limb. I mean, dude is smiling, for crying out loud.

Every Picture Tells a Story 7/3/12