Saving Grace

I don’t know what’s hotter, taking a short cut through an alley behind a bar and seeing an old girlfriend making another hot woman or seeing the two having breakfast at Golden Angel the next morning. I’ve been asking myself that for a couple of weeks, but it doesn’t have anything to do with what I’m writing about today.

As soon as I put the voice to the face, I knew there was going to be trouble, as I’ve seen the guy panhandling on the red line for at least the last fifteen years and anyone who regularly rides the northbound red line during evening rush hour knows who I’m talking about. Black guy, 30’s, about 5’ 7” and 140lbs, with a high-pitched voice that sounds exactly like Mort Goldman of Family Guy. He’s always been very polite, saying Please, Thank You and Excuse Me. It was his voice that grated everyone, and he knew it. He would talk and talk and talk, until four or five people would practically throw money at him, then he would move on to the next cab.

March to September, six months. That’s plenty of time to train for a marathon, learn html, take a photography class or even grow back eyebrows. Evidently, Squeaky has spent the last six months either locked inside a Gold’s Gym or Cook County Jail. The guy probably weighs in at 195 now, with the look of an NFL free safety and the attitude to go with it.

Well, anytime the train is moving and you hear the end doors open, you know its one of four people. 1. Panhandler 2. K-9 Cops 3. Guardian Angels 4. A dumbass. So I was standing by the side door and just happened to be looking toward the back of the train, when he walks in the end door and starts in with his pitch. But what made it so different this time is that it was now coming from a guy who could snap your neck.

His pitch goes something like this: “Hello Ladies and Gentlemen, my name is “Joe”. I am homeless, mentally disabled and have not eaten in three days. I am here to ask you for your help today. I hope that my asking for help does not offend anyone. I truly need your help today. Anything you give today will be greatly appreciated, whether it’s a dollar or a quarter”.

So, he finishes his initial pitch and is slowly moving forward, making sure to look each passenger in the eyes. Some people were easy marks, so he squares off on them and gets the money. Now, in the past, if the person was trying to look straight forward to avoid eye contact with him, he’d move on to the next row of seats. It’s a numbers game and he’s got all the time in the world, right? Wrong. He looks at this one guy, who’s acting like he’s reading the Trib, and yells out “I know you hear me Motherfucker!”

You could have heard a pin drop after that and with good reason. Everyone had either stopped whatever they were doing and stared at their laps or just stared at the “situation” and waited to see what happened next. Luckily, the guy wasn’t dumb enough to break out his wallet, for it would have disappeared faster than a jelly donut in front of Rush Limbaugh .

What happened next, after a long dramatic pause, will go down as one of the most surprising turnarounds in red line history.

Joe: Yo, sup man?

Guy: Yeah, I heard you.

Joe: Then why didn’t you answer me?

Guy: I didn’t answer because I was praying for you and I’m going to keep praying for you.

Ding, ding, ding! This one is over, he’s not getting up from that one folks!

“Joe” got off at the next stop (Wilson), and believe or not, “Guy” followed him off the train, I guess to pray with him, I dunno. Look for this in a movie somewhere down the line.

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Here, I’ll get that.

One Friday afternoon this summer when I was running around, a friend called and said that he found out a “Meetup” Dive Bar group was going to Keenan O’Reilly’s. Knowing where this particular group is going saves everyone else (men and women) a lot of time from bouncing from bar to bar. Hold on, before you get started, this doesn’t make us perverts or stalkers. This is no different than going to a particular bar because you already know it’s going to be chock-full of bikers, butches, milfs or sugar daddies.

Think about it, every dive bar already has its own in-house drunks and whores (men and women). But what makes it special when a tour group shows up, is that everyone in the group has an out-of-town attitude.

When I got the call, I was over at that kayak place on Irving and Narragansett. Me and my buddy Angel were starving, so we decided that before we started drinking, we’d better grab a meal. Benny suggested getting a steak down the street at Sabatino’s. Which, according to him, is a perfect place for that third date (or that first craigslist date).

So, fifteen minutes later, we’re walking up to the door and I spot an old girlfriend, Nicole, sitting at one of the patio tables. Now, every guy has that someone special that they let get away, and I don’t mean the type that frees herself from your basement and the police find running down your street naked, like my cousin Tommy had, but that someone that you think about when you listen to Three Times a Lady. Mine was Nicole.

Nicole is beautiful, intelligent and full of life, but I was too wrapped up in work a few years ago to truly appreciate her and there’s not a week that goes by without giving some serious thought to calling her. Unfortunately, I heard she was dating a Serb who was making a fortune in vending machines and we all know what that means. But, that didn’t stop me from going over just to say hi and check up on how she’s doing. To say she looked nervous to see me when I walked up would be an understatement, which surprised me because she’s always been known as very outgoing. Then I saw why when her boyfriend walked up. He looked like Commandant Goeth, in Schindler’s List.

She introduced us, and as we shook hands, his mouth said “It’s always nice to meet an old friend of Nicole’s”, but his eyes said “They came to our village and killed ten, so we went to their village and killed fifty”. I never wanted to walk away from anyone more in my life, even my ex-sister-in-law. This mother-fucker even scared Angel and that’s saying a lot considering that between him and the other men in his family they have 100+ years invested in the penal systems in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. So, we acted like we were going inside to get a table, but instead we walked right through the kitchen and out the back door, before we ended up in the trunk of a ’89 Caprice.

Needless to say, we lost our hunger and only wanted to drink the yellow streaks off our backs, so we headed straight to the liquor store, picked up a pint of Wild Turkey, then drove over to the bar, sat in the car and had a few pops. After about an hour or so we started feeling normal and Morry had just called to say some people from the Meetup group had arrived, so we locked up and ventured inside.

Normally our strategy in a case like this is to sit tight for one drink and scan the crowd for the weak or wounded. Then we split up and listen in on conversations, as it sometimes allows us to shore up any doubt or confusion. But the tourists were sort of quiet and the only things I could hear was some old ponytail insisting to his old lady that Stranglehold  had to be played at the wedding reception and an old bra-less regular starting a rumor that David Hasselhoff’s body had washed up on a beach somewhere.

I ended up joining in on a conversation between Benny and an old high school teacher of his and talked for about an hour and a half, before we realized that the place had just about filled up. That’s when I saw George talking to some broad that had to lean on the bar to keep from falling over. I wasn’t sure if she was a regular or part of the group, so I waltzed over to stick my nose in their business, and it turns out that she was part of the group and had interesting personality. Her right eye had a nervous twitch and she was trying to impress George with some magic tricks while standing at a forty-five degree angle. She must have impressed him, because he was doing his best to look like a high roller, as he propped her up on a bar stool and ordered her another drink and a bag of chips. I walked away sure that she was going to need someone to hold back her hair tonight.

By this time I was ready for another drink, and as I was standing at the bar near the door, I see Randy Seitz walk in. Randy is a living legend in the bar scene amongst men, a true Lorenzo Von Matterhorn. He’s worked his way up from selling extended warranties at Sears during high school to owning five small used cars lots and a couple of Laundromats. Laugh if you will, but if he clears $3K a month from each one, nice. Anyway, the guy can sell anything, anywhere, anytime. He could pick up your mom at your dads funeral. That said, he is the ultimate competitor, which means he doesn’t like to see anybody else win, and that my friends meant that our little excursion to Keenan O’Rielly’s was for naught.

Angel, Marty and I stood around near the rear corner of the bar with one of the regulars and “people watched”, as sissified as it sounds, for the next two hours. George joined us after he flamed out with the leaner. Evidently, the eye twitch thing was permanent and it freaked him out too much. In hindsight, he should have kept her leaning, because she fell off the stool just as we were leaving.

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Some of my readers have asked me about my Snowflake condition mentioned in a few of my posts and I thought it would be a good idea to share my experience and hope that by doing so I might help someone with the same condition.

I contracted what my Doctor calls Nimis Album Pueritus my senior year in high school, and since right after college I’ve had to take a variety of medications and/or avoid any contact with music with a heavy bass beat. I am a Snowflake, and for a Snowflake to be subjected to a heavy bass beat, is like a Tea Party member waking up in Jesse Jackson’s house. It’s something we can’t handle without lots of therapy. Generally, we experience bad gas and convulsions, but some of us may get away with just blood in our urine.

By the late 90’s I was taking a concoction (antivert/rizatriptan/clozapine) that, while it did greatly diminish the effects of most bass-based music, it had the effect on me of taking Quaaludes and Viagra at the same time. For years I was walking around blabbering, with a chubby, sort of like Ted Kennedy. However, this past spring I decided to cut out the prescriptions and go with some experimental ear pieces, specifically designed to monitor and alter sound waves. If they pick up, let’s say “Peace Treaty” by Kam, they instantly modulate the sound waves to make it sound like Lionel Richie’s “Dancing on the Ceiling”. Which sucks, but at least I can go to clubs and not have to worry about my chubby or drooling.

One of my buddies from St. Pat’s knows about my condition and has been a big help when we go to clubs. He makes it a point to be in close proximity on the dance floor, which allows me to mimic his moves, thus not having to guess on the real beat and not having to look like Chandler Bing.

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Wyglądasz stracił

Last month a friend of mine suggested that I try volunteer work as a means of penance. I figured what the hell, so I started looking into what might be a good fit for me.

I considered reading to the elderly, but I knew I would end up feeling sorry for those old timers being on lock down 24/7, would end up bringing them some Irish coffee, and of course, one of them would get drunk and stupid, and end up flattened by an Escalade on Sheridan.

Some thought was also given to one of those city beautification projects, like picking up trash along the Chicago River, but then I thought that with my luck, I would end up contracting Hepatitis from a broken bottle. My neighbor suggested that I help out the seniors with their vegetable gardens in Uptown, but she’s such a fuckin’ airhead that she was probably confusing vegetable gardens and vacant lots with two foot weeds.

In the end, I decided to let the volunteer organization decide for me and in their infinite wisdom they decided to send me all the way to Englewood to play games with nine year old’s on Saturday mornings.

I should have known this was a bad idea when they told me that everyone would be taking a bus together from HQ to the school. Evidently, it’s a hard place to find, or maybe there’s no parking, but I guess there was the possibility of losing one or two of the fifteen perky twenty-four year old white girls from Lincoln Park, inside Englewood, and the subsequent headlines would not boost morale for the next deep urban project. Personally, I’m never too worried about going to spotty areas because a lot of people assume that since I’m a big white guy, that I must be a cop and do whatever they can to look casual.

So, Saturday morning arrives, I head down to HQ and find out that I’m the only guy going down there except for the bus driver, who looks like he lives in the forest preserves. This is the guy to call next time you need that raccoon out of your attic or the cat out of a tree.

The bus ride consisted of me nodding off and the Trixies discussing what and who they did last night, and evidently, Barleycorn’s was the ideal place to find a one night stand. One was talking about her parents taking her furniture shopping, another discussed secretly having her engagement ring appraised for more than she thought it was worth, while another complained that her employer had gotten rid of the free breakfast bar.

Nothing but yap, yap, yap for forty minutes down Lake Shore Drive and the Kennedy. But, it all stopped once they looked up and realized that we were at the corner of 63rd and Ashland. Sadly, I’m sure two of them would have soiled their pants if they weren’t bulimic. The fear that gripped them was real and it was reminiscent of Steve Bartman realizing that he still had to get out of Wrigley Field alive.

I tried not to laugh when we pulled away from the stop sign and they thought for a few seconds that we had taken the wrong turn or something. But that hope was short lived when Festus announced we were almost there. I’m sure what they failed to realize was that it was 9:30 am and anyone who would give us a hard time had just went to bed a couple of hours ago and wouldn’t leave the crib again until 6 or 7 pm.

Anyway, we get there and we already have three cops standing outside drinking coffee (surprising, heh?), waiting to save the damsels should they become distressed, and all three cops were men, around 30 and eager to meet the damsels. Me? I couldn’t have been more invisible. I could have dropped to the ground, foamed at the mouth and flopped around enough to knock the wrinkles out of my shirt and the cops wouldn’t have noticed anything.

So, while the Trixies stayed outside and exchanged flirts with Chicago’s Finest, I went inside and was met by a few moms and maybe thirty kids, all of whom must have had a little cereal on top of their sugar for breakfast. Two boys had already grabbed some markers and gave each other tattoos, but I couldn’t tell if the tats were dragons or ugly people.  Plus, one little girl was throwing up in the trash can, which would’ve started the expected chain reaction if it wasn’t for the quick thinking mom who pulled the girl and the trash can out to the hallway in between barfs. The rest of the kids were doing their best to act like nine year olds, as they chased each other in circles and created a dust storm by beating the erasers, etc, etc. After a few seconds I wanted to call my mom and apologize for being such a rug rat myself.

The action stopped once the Trixies walked in, as all of the kids froze in place and wondered where all these white girls came from. And, to say it was a clash of cultures would be accurate, as the Trixies were left to wonder who or what a FUBU was and how it’s remarkable that so many these kids went to the South Pole for vacation. Ladies, welcome to the world outside of 60614. Samantha, Molly and Emily, meet Laquisha, Imani and Aaliyah.

The rest of the five hours were spent with arts and crafts, and sing-a-longs, none of which I was interested in or good at. I have to say that it was funny to watch the one second delay in communications between the Trixies and the kids, as each had to do a quick interpretation of each other. I think what baffled the kids the most was the persistent, condescending, half smile of the Trixies. Why can’t this bitch stop smiling? What is she up to? Don’t you have a street fair to go to?

After maybe an hour into it I had the bright idea of sneaking out to the bus, only to find out that Festus had locked it up and went somewhere to get coffee. Then I thought about faking an upset stomach and sitting on the john and surfing on my cell for a few hours, but then the thought of being the guy hanging out in a grade school’s restroom with a cell phone camera didn’t sound like a good idea, and I would have waved down a cab, but they haven’t seen one of those in Englewood since The Six Million Dollar Man was ranked #1.

The only thing I could do was either go back inside and bear it out, or walk down to the L. So, I thought I would give it another chance and went back inside where I saw one of those 180lb fifth graders every school has, sitting alone in the back looking very pissed. I had nothing else to do, so I went over, sat next to him and asked if he’d rather be outside playing. He looked at me like I was crazy and said that he’d rather be at home playing Madden ’11. Then he asked if I was a cop, and when I said no he asked if this was part of a court sentence. After I said no to that he surveyed the room, then looked at me like I was a fucking loser for getting up early on a Saturday morning to come all the way here for this bullshit. I instantly liked the kid.

We agreed that all either of us could do was to sit tight and hope that maybe one of the tattoo artists would pull the fire alarm. So, for the next four hours we sat there and talked about Madden ’11, the Bears, Navy Pier and how Pearl’s had the best ham in town.

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Natural Selection giving its best effort

I just got off the phone with my cousin Ed, a contractor, who lives in Lenoir City,TN. He’s a big Panthers fan, so we always find ways to trash talk each other, especially when our teams play each other. Ed’s got it pretty good with all the fresh air, clean water, mountains, beautiful wife and kids. The one exception is his son Jeff.

Jeff finally graduated high school after taking 1½ yrs off to recover from injuries sustained from two separate ATV accidents. The first time was when he tried to jump the creek using a homemade ramp and the second was five months later when he tried to jump the creek using a bigger and better homemade ramp. What made the second one even worse was that he had skipped school that day to practice jumping the creek before his friends came over after school. So, Einstein was laid out, his body as crooked as a politician, for six hours before his friends found him.

Despite the fact that Jeff is a bona fide moron, he is planning to attend “college” now that his doctors have cleared him not to wear his helmet anymore, except for when he drives. That said, I was hoping to hear that he’d be living in a dorm, so he wouldn’t have to drive. I say that because I know after a couple of weeks of wearing the helmet while driving, that little hillbilly will think he’s Richard Petty running moonshine, end up jumping the sidewalk and run over ten coeds.

When asked, Ed was quick to point out Jeff has narrowed his choices down to the Nashville Diesel Engine School and Florida College, which both sound like online schools (I have a hard time calling them colleges or universities).

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