Chicago, Day 5: Lil Dy in The City

Since Dy was sick on Sunday, this was her only day in Chicago.

We first went to Sears Tower. They make you watch a movie about the history of it, which was okay, but we pretty much wanted to see the view and then split. The elevator takes you to the 103rd floor extremely quickly; I’m kind of glad it wasn’t a transparent elevator.

The middle of America is completely flat and boring.

We tried to visit the Board of Trade (see, we’re recreating Ferris Beuller’s Day Off?) but they don’t let you do that anymore. We found out later in the week that a cousin actually works there… so next time we have an “in.”

Diane got a speed tour of the Art Institute. We took a quick gander at American Gothic and a speed review of the collection highlights, including some Monet waterlillies. Dy doesn’t do real well with museums so we ran through in like a couple hours and then split.

Next up was the haunted post office – the Post Office in Engelwood on 63rd that is built on the site of the “murder castle” of H H Holmes. I recommend the excellent Rick Geary book on this… There were some bad vibes there, but nothing real noticeable.

Something that was noticeable was the complete lack of white people, or even of non-black people. It was like being in the Twilight Zone; it was the most completely segregated place I have ever seen.

We took a train to Little Italy, the stretch of Taylor east of the Polk station. We of course had to get our cannoli fix… we stopped in at several places for “dessert,” but no one had cannoli! Outrageous! It made us appreciate North Beach in SF a little more. We finally found the Scafuri Bakery, run by an awesomely cranky old Italian lady–

CUSTOMER: Uno cannolo, por favore!
LADY: Three?
LADY: Three.
CUSTOMER: No, One!!!
LADY: (makes face; who would order only one cannoli?!)

She hand-fills them when you order; it can’t be beat. We ended up taking our canoli to Conte Di Savoia for an espresso to go with it.

We took a bus to Italian Village back in the Loop; it’s a restaurant that has been there for 80 years and was a hang-out for Al Capone. The food was decent.

Chicago Resources:

Stuff we didn’t get to in Chicago:

  • Russian Tea Room in the Loop
  • Sweden shop – 3304 W Foster Ave, Spaulding Ave
  • Delillah’s on Lincoln and Diversey (Lincoln Park)
  • MUSIC BOX in Wrigleyville. It’s an independent movie theatre; Crispin Glover was there a week ago
  • a good vegetarian cafe/bar visit KUMA’s Humboldt Park/Logan Square
  • Great Costa Rican place called “Irazu”
  • KINZIE Chop house: Downtown “The Loop” (South Loop)
  • Rockabilly venue: try “California Clipper” on Augusta and CAlifornia
  • L’Appetito, 30 E Huron (Chicago/State Red)
  • The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir was playing while we were there (missed it!)

Chicago, Day 4: living Maxim and geekery

Commuted again around 8am. Gah! This time I got some Zelda in; I think I’m about halfway through.

First stop: Wao Bao. It’s a dimsum/fusion fast food place, and they have free wifi. I ended up writing a Yelp review from inside the restaurant. They had “breakfast bao” there, with scrambled egg inside, and your choice of mushroom or bacon or spicy sausage. They have tea and little pumpkin seed snacks and other little junkfood there; it’s like if McDonald’s sold dimsum. I liked it.

Right in the same mall is this hair salon for bankers, 316 Club Barber Spa. The counter staff are all hot young girls; there’s a full bar with a complimentary drink if you get a shave here. Everything is done in sexy indirect neon lighting, like a trendy bar. They specialize in straight razor shaves and you can watch sports or the stock market while you are serviced. Totally crazy. I almost did this but… we’re on a schedule here!

Walked to the north end of the Loop. Actually I don’t remember anything there so it can’t have been that great… so I took the El back to Wicker Park and walked down to Ukranian Village to visit the local “hip vinyl toys for grown-up kids” store, Rotofugi. It was a bit like KidRobot… but! On the way I ran into a little cafe, also with wifi, called Sweet Cakes– with yet more cupcakes, including a scary muffin called “the EGG!!” which has a hard boiled egg in the middle. Right next door is a tiny gallery called Glad Eye. At some point I went to yet another comic book place there, Vigilante, and picked up the new Alan Moore collection.

Later I made my way back to Ragstock and shopped for $15 tuxedoes. That night I went back to Downer’s Grove to take Dy out for dinner; we went to Emmet’s Alehouse, which is sort of a Gordon Biersch but not quite as California.

That was my last “solo” day in Chicago.

Chicago, Day 3: Lions, alien bean, kissing

Commuted to Union Station again and this time walked the correct direction. I now understand the secret of the Loop: transfers are free out of Jackson, and the lines on the El only go in one direction. If you want the other direction, cross the tracks to go to another line.

Today was a Field Museum day. As I was trying to describe to someone recently, even though the Field Museum is designed primarily for children, there are lots of esoteric things that make it interesting for adults… but only adults who study. Nonreading adults who are numbed to learning need not apply and should go back to their little boxes.

The Field Museum was constructed to house all the crap left over from the World’s Fair. That was over 100 years ago! It is a natural history museum, so there is a whole wing devoted to different families of plants that humans consume. Some were incredibly obscure, like different kinds of nuts I hadn’t heard of. That wing was totally empty- I was the only person there. The anthropology collection is pretty impressive, including some Native American artifacts donated by a multitude of tribes, some actually at the time of the World’s Fair. There is an operating spiritual lodge thingy complete with a holy area you can’t enter or you’ll profane the whole place.

One of my favorites: the recently-retitled “Man Eaters of Tsavo”! These are the stuffed skins of two pretty famous lions from Africa. The British were building a bridge and it was very very delayed… because these two lions were eating the workers. Two rogue males, they worked in tandem to lure people out and sometimes snatched them directly from their tents. The workers started to think they were supernatural evil spirits. These lions ended up killing over 140 people before the English got fed up and hunted them down. The Brit responsible for the bridge toured with their pelts and skulls, selling them to the Field Museum around the time of the World’s Fair. The story would later be made into the Michael Douglas / Val Kilmer movie The Ghost And the Darkness – Douglas’ character is fabricated, Kilmer’s is not.

The coolest exhibit on this junket: the Evolution exhibit. It may have been there to combat Creationists or something, but whatever, it was damn cool. They had a mini diorama with ediacarans in it, the pre-Cambrian predecessors of life on Earth, and that had me sold by itself. But! Just around the corner they had this 3-screen virtual aquarium filling the room, of a early Cambrian ocean.

This thing was so awesome. There was this grotesque 5-eyed Cthulhu thing swimming around, and a thing that looked like a walking schrub. I watched various school groups run through the exhibit and not even look up. Kinda sad, but I GOT MINE BITCHES SO GET ALONG AND KEEP BEING STUPID.

I walked through Millenium Park, past the big fountain you see in the beginning of Married: With Children. At the top of Millenium Park there is the very pretty BP Millenium Bridge (there’s nothing on the other side though) and the new music venue on the field. Nearby is the Lurie field, filled with exotic grasses (really! Those aren’t weeds!) and the highlight: the BIG ALIEN BEAN. Ooh baby. I could watch people walking towards and away from this thing all day. The weird way their reflections show up on the surface…

After this I went to the Chicago Cultural Center, where I saw some random local artworks and bought some art from the Art-O-Mat. They even have little customized tokens you use for it, $5 apiece.

I bought “Best Flower” by Amada Wallace, and “Baggage Claim” by Adriane Herman. “Best Flower” is a wood block with a nice acrylic flower painted on it, packaged in a box made from old maps. “Baggage Claim” is a set of 3 temporary tattoos with pictures of luggage on them. The box is made to look like a cigarrette package, and includes a tiny facsimile of Herman’s MFA degree.

Took the Red Line up to the Water Tower area– damn the Red Line is slow. I could be wrong but I think a bus is a jillion times faster. A JILLION I say! Right there is the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). They had a “Rock N Roll” art exhibit, which was mostly forgettable. There was a stack of posters you could take that said WHAT WOULD NIEL YOUNG DO? and a room whose floor was tiled in naked LPs, that you had to walk on to traverse the room. That was painful.

Speaking of painful, they had a film by the all-dead members of The Spirit Girls, who I’m pretty sure are all guys wearing mannequin masks. They are supposedly a band, all of whose members died in an accident. But they play on!!

One thing that was cool in the Rock exhibit was Rirkrit Tiravanija’s Untitled 1996 which is a fully-functioning recording studio. Bands can book time in it and record. I think everyone in Chicago should do that.

There was this thing from Chris Burden called The Other Vietnam Memorial. It’s a giant metal structure with hinged walls anchored on a single central pole. Each wall is an enormous copper surface, precision-etched with names. Vietnamese names, three million of them. These would be the “other” casualties of the Vietnam War. The walls are hinged to evoke an endless book (and hence circular), and looks high-tech and industrial like a piece of war machinery. The museum provides some white gloves so you can touch it without tarnishing the surface.

Mechanical PigReally cool disturbing work: Paul McCarthy’s Mechanical Pig. It’s an animatronic pig, sleeping. All her inner workings are exposed; you can see all the servos whispering and moving… It’s very realistic but slightly Disneyfied; kind of like a life-sized Babe. Also creepy: she has human female genitals, including a line of breasts for teats. Her skin is more a pasty human than porcine.

So I’m wandering around the gallery and there in the middle of one of the balconies is this young couple totally making out. Whoops, I think, and keep walking- except they are moving very slowly and deliberately. The curators look jaded and aren’t even watching them. So I realize they are a performance art piece. I watched them; it was nice, they were both pretty fit (I’m thinking they are dancers) and they have a smooth movement and routine. What is funny is that even though they are obviously a “piece” it feels invasive to stand in the same room as them, so no one stays on the balcony. Everyone watches, or pretends not to watch, from the adjoining room, or from the other balcony across the hall. After a while I got bored and left.

This turns out to actually have been Kiss by Tino Sehgal. After a curator explained it to me I went back to watch it again… they really need a placard for this piece. One of the points of it is, the dancers go through this routine where they hit several (six I think?) famous kiss images from various sculptures and paintings, including the ones by Michaelangelo and Rodin. It’s a loop that lasts roughly eight minutes; at the end of it they are in a different end of the room, in one of the three points of a T. Also, after a loop, they swap gender roles in the poses. so you’d watch them through six iterations, that is most of an hour, and you’ll see them from every angle, and in both roles.

Anyway at some point I saw a nun and a fairly uptight woman who looked related to her enter the MOCA. I knew they would get to the balcony with the dancers… so I followed them, slowly. I staked out a good vantage point and waited for about ten minutes. And I wasn’t disappointed. The Nun gets there and I think freezes. Her minder flips out and demands to know from a curator type what this is?! They tell her about it, and she seems disappointed the dancers are not about to get kicked out of the building. Then she and the nun bustle away. The gaurds snicker.

Shopping! Notables in the MOCA store: Josh Jakus bags (I thought these looked familiar; it’s because they are made in Oakland!), a goofy bamboo sushi mat placemat where every rod is wrapped in glued magazine pages, and a little porcelain egg where you break open one end and water the soil inside, and a little plant sprouts. My question is why not use a real egg shell and make it yourself? Archaelogists from the future are going to find these porcelain eggshells and wonder that too.

Stopped by the Hershey store and got a hot chocolate. And went to the Luna gallery and saw some Ethiopian art. Then back on the Red Line to get to…

The Damen Station. I intended to get back to Wicker Park. But whoops- Chicago stations don’t have unique names. They are named for the street they are on. So there is more than one Damen Station. I ended up way the hell south where locals didn’t even know where Division Street was. I ended up walking a long long way, and then taking a bus…

I stopped in at a divey bar, Rainbo Club, and played some pinball. Then kept walking and bussing and got some dinner at Ear Wax. This place was so completely San Francisco, I mentioned that already but check this out: sitting next to me were these two cute little lesbians, both like 19, who were interviewing each other for roomates, and they had met using Craigslist. And instead of asking things like “who pays for utilities” or “what time do you go to bed” they were asking things like “do you watch the Bears” and “is your girlfriend nice?” See, I could be at home!

I’m not sure but I think it was on this day I stumbled around Oz Park and took a photo of the tin woodsman. Somewhere around there is a cupcake place with a pretty lame excuse for a Red Velvet cake cupcake. The ones from Bewitching Elegance are about a thousand times better.

Tomorrow: my final day of exploration

Chicago, Day 2: Art and Boxing

Picasso's Dy’s class starts at 9, so she has to be there close to 8am (?!). She dropped me off at the Main Street station in Downer’s Grove. There’s an express that goes striaght to Union Station in the Loop, and the last one is around 8, so maybe it’s a good thing my wife is psychotic…

Downer’s Grove is a quaint town. Much nicer than the pointless boring sprawl of Darien, there’s a little avenue with shops and cafes. There must be a college nearby, because in the coffee shops (notably the local “Caribou Coffee”) there are a ton of students studying and checking each other out.

The coffee stand in the train station was definitely a commuter stop. The tough-looking butch woman was brisk and efficient, and their espresso machine has been broken for weeks; it’s a business tuned to specific things like drip coffee and minimal interaction.

In a spare moment I asked

BRAIN: is the Chocolate Monkey espresso drink was made with real monkey?
COFFEE LADY: I sure hope not?
BRAIN: Oh, are you a vegetarian?
COFFEE LADY: No, I just like monkeys.

Just outside Union Station (there is a Cinnabon inside! Woot or something) I quickly looked at the map. The station is just outside The Loop, the downtown area and financial district, and one must cross the canal to get there. I looked down Adams in both directions and saw a break in one direction, so I walked that way.

After about ten blocks of Greek restaurants, I realized I had chosen poorly. I did get to walk by the orphanarium though; “Mercy House” is the beneficiary of some big boxing match coming up. Boxing is big here I think. I like the name “Mercy House,” it sounds like a S&M shop.

There is a shuttered candy factory here. However I smell chocolate. So maybe it just moved? The locals didn’t seem to know where it was, nor have ever wondered where the smell was coming from…

Finally got back to the Loop. Even though it’s been more than ten years, some stuff is coming back to me. My favorite “el” station is Quincy, because it has a little shelter, entirely done in wood. It looks the most “period” of the stations, like you could take it to the World’s Fair.

There are way too many Dunkin’ Donuts around Chicago. Also, there are basically no bathrooms in these fast food places here. Makes me appreciate California more; especially with a bladder full of crappy train station coffee. No bathrooms in the Barnes and Noble cafe either. There’s a college behind B&N, but you need a student ID to get into the bathroom. You know, I can’t remember what I did… maybe I peed in the street and blacked it out.

Finally I got to my intended destination – The Art Institute. I had tried to go here with my family in the early 1990s; my mother was always taking us to art museums. We were in a hotel in The Loop and getting ready to go, when the lights went out. I think I was in the shower. After about twenty seconds, the lights came back on. How odd! As we were getting finished getting dressed, the lights went out again. A knock came on the door, and apparently the entire hotel was down and the guests to be evacuated. We and every other guest in the hotel walked eleven floors down the stairwell in the dark with bellboys holding flashlights.

When we got to the street, it was complete mayhem; I really enjoyed it. The streets were jammed with cars and confused people, the entire Loop was without power. Every person from every building was on the street trying to escape. Mounted police rode by, columns of cops in riot gear marched around. Businessmen in suits stood on the street, surrounded by a lot of non-portable computers, attempting to pile them all into cabs. Since all the power was out, many thought there would soon be looting, and thus the protective attitude towards the computers…

Chicago has an underground tunnel system, used in the olden days to for example transport goods from the docks to restaurant kitchens in the Loop. When the city was wired for electricity, the cables were run in those tunnels. Some of the tunnels run fairly close to the canal… A worker had messed up and smashed something heavy into a wall of the canal, flooding the tunnels. Thus to avoid frying the city they shut all the power down. “The Loop Flood.”

So the point of this: The Art Institute is in The Loop. So it was closed, and I didn’t get to see it for fifteen years. But! Today was the day, so I got in.

The Art Institute is pretty awesome. Nighthawks was not there… turns out they had loaned it to another museum. American Gothic was there, as well as Picasso’s The Old Guitarist. Something kind of freaky about that painting- if you look at it at an angle you can see the image of a woman which must have been a previous painting.

Richard Misrach “On the Beach” was there- it’s a lot of very large photographs of ocean and/or beach, with tiny people figures in them. The blurb called it “post Apocalyptic” which seemed odd. Maybe the insignificance of the people in the frame? The only thing “post Apocalyptic” and water reminds me of is if global warming kicked in and the entire earth was covered in tropical ocean, like in “Waterworld.”

Dali’s Invention of Monsters was there, and was awesome. Seeing Dali’s work in person is definitely worth it; the paintings have a depth which you don’t get on a screen or in a print.

10th century Iranian bowlI saw “Perpetual Glory: Medieval Islamic Ceramics from the Harvey B. Plotnick Collection,” and my favorites were the ones where you can’t quite make out the motif is actually something written in Arabic. White bowls with a black irregular ring in the center… look closely and you’ll see the knots painted into it are the distinguishing marks for letters. 10th century.

Also notable on this visit: a small ukiyo-e gallery, and a “tactile exhibit” where you can feel the sculptures. You don’t really get to know a sculture unless you can feel it… the little nuances like the furrows of a brow, or a tensed muscle next to a nose.

After the Art Instititute I walked down State… police began shutting down the street. After my previous experience in The Loop I was prepared for another disaster and was filled with a sense of deja vu. I walked into Blick Art Materials and asked –

BRAIN: Hey there. Do you know what’s going on outside?
BRAIN: Well… what is it then.
ART STUDENT: Oh. Yeah, they’re shutting down the street.

And that is why America is doomed. Anyway it turned out there was a parade about to start for the World Boxing Championships.

I went to Atwood’s Cafe, a restaurant named for the architect, and had a lamb burger and a Bloody Mary. I sat next to two middle-aged women who talked like Fran Drescher and who apparently work in the carpet business.

By the time I was done the parade was in effect. I watched what I imagine were Turkish-Americans waving a giant flag and stepped into Macy’s.

This Macy’s was once Marshall Field’s. They serve afternoon tea on the 7th floor, and also still have the venerable Frango candy at the top floor. Frango isn’t very good, for the record… in the industry most of their pieces are called “whips,” which are basically flavored trans-fat covered in substandard chocolate. I obviously don’t recommend it.

In the basement of Macy’s was this odd “Flea Market” where they were selling random garage-sale crap. For example old fishing poles, suits of armor, lawn bowling balls, sets of dominos… you get the picture.

So that was Monday.

Chicago, Day 1: Darien

Dy and I are in the Chicago area for a week. She’s here for work– she’s taking a class with Collette Peters, honing her cake decorating skills for use at her deluxe cake business, Bewitching Elegance. In the meantime I will be on vacay, exploring the Windy City by myself.

We got in yesterday and the idea was to chill out Saturday and then hit downtown today. But! Lil’ Dy has been coming down with something, so we went to bed at like 5pm. I hung out with her, hoping she’d get better in time to get a nice dinner, but it didn’t happen. Our hotel is the utlra-cheap Super 8 in Darien, IL. Darien, for the record, is a bland midwest suburb hell. So I drove into Chicago for a few hours myself.

I made a beeline to Wicker Park and Quimby’s, the comic book shop. Since Chicago is Chris Ware’s stomping grounds, it’s not a surprise the sign logo has his character Quimbies on it… what is kind of weird is the name match is a coincidence that Ware sort of endorsed after the fact. There was a wacky reading there by a Cuban Lesbian Zine author, from what I could put together. It was pretty hip and alternative.

I walked down the street to the other comic book store, Brainstorm. That was more superhero-based.

I took a quick look at the local used record store, Wreckless, and cut through the alley in back of Earwax, which was a very San Francisco kind of place. Example: they had a Jerk Chicken sandwich which you could order with Seitan. SATAN!!! The graffitti in the alley was cool.

Quick grabbed a Napoleon at Sweet Thang which had a 5-layer topsy-turvy dummy cake in the window. Then I drove home to the fashionable Super 8. I could have picked up a macrobiotic sandwich at uhmmm… damn what was the name of that place? But noooo…

Upon my return Dy scoffed at my marvelling at the dummy cake. ha! Then we went to The Patio for some ribs. So much for eating healthy.

Tomorrow I’m commuting.

I live!

After a hiatus of a couple years, I have returned.

I Kill Spies has a 5 year history… which was recently wiped clean by Brazillian hackers. Keep your eyes open for the return of those entries…

Since I haven’t written about my insane adventures for quite a while, my posts might be extra long as I remember them and write them down.