My irregular musings on city life, politics, baseball, roller derby, and whatever happens to be getting my goat today.

Friday, December 30, 2005

a saur taste

It was my grandfather's favorite restaurant. Whenever he was in town for Steelworker stuff he would make sure to stop in for some good old German food like his momma used to cook on the farm. My father would eat lunch there when he worked in the Loop in the '70s. And my wife chose to eat there for her birthday last summer. And now, it seems, the Berghoff - proud owner of Illinois Liquor License Number 1 - will close at the end of February. It appears that the business has actually been doing quite well, but that the third-generation owners of the bar and restaurant, established in 1898 as a way to promote Herman Joseph Berghoff's locally brewed beer, are retiring. And their daughter, Carlyn Berghoff, doesn't want to run the restaurant, preferring instead to focus on her catering business and open some sort of trendy bar in the space.

Yuck. I wish they could have been persuaded to sell the business, a Chicago institution, to someone who would keep it open. It's hard to explain the value of the restaurant to out of towners - the building is one of the last post-fire commercial structures and a neighborhood dominatied by Modernist skyscrapers interspersed with a few remaining Guilded Age masterpieces. It's one of the first things that comes to mind when someone mentions the Loop, and has been for about five generations now. They still make their own German style lagers, as well as a damn fine homemade bourbon - what's going to happen to the bourbon? Even the cheap stuff takes ten years to make, imagine all that whisky, sitting in the basement for four, eight, ten years - what will happen to it now? The horror.

Anyway, the family is saying they plan to use the dining room as a banquet hall for private functions, along with the trendy bar. They can afford this because they own the building outright - but certainly the plot of land in the heart of downtown is worth a pretty penny in this market. I'm sure it will come down within the decade. The irony is, the Loop is experiencing a renaissance of sorts, as old-school office buildings are converted to condominiums, and new condo towers go up. What used to be the region's depopulated business core is once again becoming a densely populated neighborhood. People have been flocking to be downtown so they can be steps away from institutions like Marshall Field's and the Berghoff - instititions that will have disappeared in the time between the new residents dropping their down payments and their move-in dates. I, for one, would feel ripped off.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

save us

I've been wondering about Iran and this Mahdi character for about a week now. What sort of messiah wants you to build him his own special railroad? I ask around.

Krishna doesn't know. He's out in the fields, trying to pick up a couple of cowgirls again. He's not interested in trains, he doesn't want to miss the countryside on his journeys.. "Country girls are the best," he adds. I ask him if he's been to Carol's Pub the country bar in Uptown. He has. He said he's dipped in that well a few times already. "It's rough going if you're always running into exes," he says. I mention the band on Friday is known for its Elvis covers, though, so he says he might come along.

Buddha doesn't know. "I think I'm just gonna stay here, so I don't need a train," he says, reclining at the base of a Bodhi tree. "Need is an illusion anyway." Buddha's never had to fight traffic. If he did, he might have a little more appreciation for public transit. "I don't commute," he says. "It's the same there as it is here."

Jesus is bringing flowers to his mother, who is still hanging out with the bums under the overpass. "A train to Tehran?" Jesus is skeptical. "I thought he was going to use taht money to help the poor." I explain about the ripple effects of big infrastructure projects, but he seems unconvinced. He's not really sold on the bar, either, but tells me to page him if Krisha comes along.

Since I don't have any connections with the Mahdi himself, I go to the closest thing I have to a source. Since he named his private army after the guy, I figure he must know something. I find Moqtada al Sadr in a cinderblock house near Kut, in southern Iraq. Few people know this about him, but he's a big Nirvana fan. When I find him he's listening to "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle" while reassembling an AK-47. I notice that while it's a plain and sparsely furnished little hut, he hase one of those cool Bose speakers hooked up to his iPod.

"Oh great, another American," he says by way of greeting. "You'd best get up off my land, boy," he adds. I explain my question about the Mahdi. "Fuck you," he replies conversationally. I ask him whether the Mahdi would want a rail line constructed to ferry him to Tehran from the holy well place. He adjusts something on the gun with a screwdriver. "That whole well story is just a folk tale," he says, finally. "Why would he come to Iran, anyway? He would come here, where his people are." I point out that there are far more Shi'ites in Iran than in Iraq. Moqtada puts his cheek to the gun and stares down the barrel for a moment. He frowns and shakes his head. "Mohammad was an Arab, like me," he says. "He was my ancestor," he adds. The Mahdi is also a descendent of Mohammad. He will come here." He starts to adjust the sights again, then lays the gun down. "Fuck Iran," he adds, judiciously. So he feels closer to Sunni Baathists like Saddam, because they are Arab, than to Persian Shi'ites? "Fuck Saddam." Of course.

"The Mahdi will come to Iraq," he repeats. "We are his people. That's why fucking Saddam always feared us." I look back over my notes. "Fuck America. Fuck Iran. Fuck Saddam," I read back to him. "I notice a pattern developing." Finally he looks up at me. "Yeah. What part of 'Get the hell up off my land' do you not understand? Do you know what the problem with Iraq is?" I am tempted to show him a mirror, but prudence takes the better part of valor. "Foreigners," he says, finally.

He goes back to adjusting the gun sights. The next song starts up. It's "All Apologies." After a minute, he looks down the barrel again, and looks satisfied. He opens a drawer, pulls out a clip, and rams it home. Then he looks up at me again.

"Why are you still here?" he asks.

I have no earthly idea.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

ear bugs

For Christmas this year, Trope dragged me into the digital age by giving me a tiny little Samsung digital audio player, the kind that clips to your belt and people think it's a cell phone. Up until now, I didn't understand what the big deal was with these things - "BFD, I had a Walkman in the 80s, too," I said. Well, part of the deal is being able to carry around enough hours of music to blot out the chattering of your co-workers and the cacauphony of the gym without being forced to listen to the same tape over and over. But an added gift of music portability is bringing the music front and center again - this is the first time I've actually listened to these recordings rather than had them blaring in the background while I did other things around the house.

The principal thing I've discovered is that some of these songs have lyrics. Take the Soviettes, my favorite Minneapolis punk band. Who knew the they had redeeming social value to go with the aggression and the tatoos?

Check it out:
There's a Banana in My Ear

He said "they hate us for our freedom."
He said "there'll soon be less to hate."
You said "keep your voices low."
You said "always trust the state.
Keep your money in the market,
Educate the nation's youth.
The papers wouldn't print what isn't true."

And so filters become layered
And so nothing can get through
And so all you hear are whispers
'Bout the bullshit that we pull.
No one will name those to blame for 100 red hot years,
Since no one can listen no one hears.

Guess that's why the college kids
Would rather tune out than sit in.
Guess so, whatever, I don't know,
It's easier to join than win.

How can it fucking matter, when no one knows what's true?
No one can be blamed for what no one never knew.
Cover up your tracks,
Wash your hands free from their blood,
No one knows they hate us for what we've done.

I guess they really are leftists. That's so hot.

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You can download a couple tunes from their new album, which I don't have for some reason, here. And put them right on your little music thingy, and take them with you on the subway. Maybe progress isn't so bad after all.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

never grow old

In the late 80's my grandmother took me with her to see her mother in a nursing home in small town Western Illinois. This was around the time of my big high school relationship (all of 9 months) and my experiment with born again Christianity - I'm guessing it was roughly 1987. The place was bleak, institutional painted cinderblock. I remember my great grandmother slumped over the table in a common room, crying, and my grandmother, not really the nurturing type, not knowing what to do with her. Grandma Eva never did learn my name - she referred to me as "D," after my father, and when I corrected her she'd wave me off and say, "I know where you come from, anyway" - but on that day she didn't know me from Adam. She'd always been the life of the party - she was running around with a boyfriend and a sporty red car well into her 80s, and was a fixture at family events like weddings and funerals, fortified by a couple Rob Roys (if you're local, the place to get this drink in Chicago is definitely the Green Mill - up, with a twist). She started offering me beer at the ripe old age of ten - probably confusing me with my father already. Buy by 1987 she divided her time between staring off into space, and crying, near as I could tell.

After the awkward visit, my grandmother turned to me on the way out and made me promise: "If I ever get like that, just shoot me." A steelworker's wife who made a name for herself in local Republican politics and had counted Don Rumsfeld as a friend back when he was a lowly Congressman, she was known to joke about firearms in much the way I am, but this was no deadpan - what she'd seen scared her more than death and Big Government put together.

Christmas eve, I went with my father to visit her at the nursing facility where he moved her six weeks or so ago. The walls were not painted cinderblock, in fact they were decorated with a tasteful border. Pictures of her loved ones, were arranged around the room, including my wedding pictures and some endearingly goofy shots of my late grandfather. At least these places look nicer these days; I'm sure the saunas and the juice bar will be installed by the time the Baby Boomers start checking in. But the low moan of chaos was still there in the background, and the incessent beeping of the patient alarms added a new level of hell for those of us without hearing aids to turn down.

Mostly my father talked and she nodded compliantly, asking a few confused questions here and there. Her hard edges are mostly worn smooth by now, except for occasional glaring moments of clarity.

"Elwood's just in town for the day, but he wanted to make sure he got to see you," my father exaggerated.

"Well, what do you think?" she asked, in one of those lucid moments when her personality still comes through the dementia. "Do you like what you see?" My father kept right on talking. The worst part is, he's starting to get like everyone else and talk about her as if she's not there. On this day he started to talk about people coming in to monitor her bowel movements, with her sitting right there - to some extend I think he find's the situation darkly funny, but she seemed mortified and I cringed on her behalf.

I hope she doesn't remember. She's forgotten a lot, and I hope one of the things she's forgotten is my promise. I don't even own a gun, and wouldn't have the balls to shoot her anyway. But the weight of all she's lost weighs me down in that place. And the worst part of it is the way people talk about you like you weren't there, they way we talk about our cats. My grandmother held on to her dignity and pride when her father walked out during the Depression and she was left raising her younger siblings at the age of twelve, and I don't think she wants to live without them now.

It's not getting old itself that scares me, it's the thought of being treated like I'm not a person anymore.

Friday, December 23, 2005

An Agnostic Looks at Christmas

Elwood Grobnik: There was a Chrismas sing a long deal at work last week. Not that anyone sang along. But the choir from Roberto Clemente High sang, they were pretty good. This guy Ray played guitar and sang a piece he wrote about Mary and her baby . . .
Harvey: Sounds like bullshit to me.
EG: Now, it was good. He sounds like Eddie Vedder when he gets going.
Inner Queen: Yay?
EG: So parts of it were cool. That was one. But then this . . . person . . . goes up and reads this poem. It was called "the night before Jesus came" and was all about how Jesus comes back and the narrator hadn't been "saved" and doesn't get to go with him.
IQ: Presumably to the tune of "Twas the Night Before Christmas."
HR: Dude, 1-800-ACLU-SUE!
EG: I was offended, man, but I gotta eat too.
HR: Sure, but there's a wrongness there. I know there's another Unitarian in that office, and at least one Muslim - the "Jesus or die" poem, that's not what you'd call inclusive. And isn't that a government office?
EG: I suppose. But I don't want to get into it. They're already screaming about the War on Christmas. And that's not even what I'm talking about. Ray was singing about the glory of God, and I have no problem with that. It's the proselytizing I have a problem with.
IQ: Anyway it's just sad all these people clinging to their delusions for safety, hinking somebody's going to save them in the end.
VOICE: You Don't Know He's Not Coming
IQ: And you don't know he is coming, so we're even.
HR: I know the book is bullshit. I know people wrote it, and made it up, and there's no such thing as prophecy.
EG: But you don't know
HR: He's not . . .
VOICE: Something's Coming.
EG: Something's always coming.
HR: Well, sure. You always expect tomorrow to be the same as today, but it never is.
Buddha Nature: really? i hadn't noticed
Dog: Arf!
EG: That's not quite what I mean!
HR: Isn't it?
Voice: You Don't Know He's Not Coming.
HR: Who's not coming? What's coming? The books are all bullshit.
EG: Granted. Nobody knows. But something's coming. The situation is untenable.
Buddha Nature: the situation is transient
EG: It demands change!
Giblets: Giblets demands change! cough it up! Give him your money NOOOW!
HR: It is changing. You just don't like how.
Buddha Nature: really, i hadn't noticed
Voice: Something's Coming
HR: You don't know that!
EG: I say we wait.
HR: But you don't know anyone's coming!
EG: What's the alternative?

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Johnny .316 and other passages

I hate this week. The darkest day of the year yesterday, the always stressful Christmas season, and did I mention Johnny Damon is a Yankee now? Now that's a dark day. WWJDD? Play for the Romans for 54 million pieces of silver, apparently.

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Jesus Shaves

I have very little intellingent to say about the world right now, mostly because I've slept all of 12 hours since Sunday, spent a day and a half being violently ill, haven't worked out all week, and I'm still not done with Christmas crap yet. Bah fucking humbug! I'd put the rest of my gifts in brown paper bags and staple them shut, if I had any brown paper bags.

From what little I've picked up from the outside world:

* They're not going to rebuild New Orleans. Not for the people who used to live there, anyway. I hear they are talking about resettling neighborhoods one by one, starting with the high and dry districts by the river. There is concern that if they rebuilt the housing all at once, there would be "blight" because not everyone will come back and some buildings will stand empty. In other words, they don't want too much available housing because it will drive down property values to where poor people might afford them. So "gentrification" becomes a prerequisite for rebuilding. In addition, federal loans for rebuilding are being handled through the Small Business Administration and only handed out to people who meet stringent creditworthiness requirements. As a result, nearly all loans are going to well to do districts. Again, the poor and working class need not apply.

* President Bush ordered the NSA to spy on people in the United States without a warrant starting in 2002. Apparently they started with a relatively small list of people associated with suspected terrorists and then went out to 12 degrees of separation, which would be, what, a third of the country? [Hi, NSA guys, how ya doin' out there? You must be busy, faced with the thankless task of defending us all from our liberty! You must feel you don't get much credit for all the work you do. You know why that is? Because you suck! Now back off and mind your own business.] This practice is clearly in violation of Federal law. It is also unconstitutional:

' Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. '

I believe this is an impeachable offense.

* The senate had an emergency spine transplant and refused to renew the Patriot Act without adding significant oversight, partly as a response to the President's illegal spying program. Bush caved in and allowed the act to be extendeded for just a month while new safeguards are considered.

* Our unesteemed chief executive also gave in and agreed to sign a ban on torture. The guy is becoming downright progressive in his old age, isn't he?

* Oil drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve was again defeated at the last minute.

And now for the bad news. They had an election in Iraq. I know what you're going to say, "wait, isn't that good news?" No, it isn't. Because the parties in power have used the last year to get their militia people in to all the key jobs - literal "political footsoldiers," sort of like Chicago-style ward organizations with AK-47s. They have been able to produce an electoral victory for themselves even though many people are quite disenchanted with them. Not only that, but their opponents are already crying foul and accusing them of cheating.

This would be bad under any circumstances. But the parties in power in this case are fundamentalist religious Shiites allied with Iran. And Iran recently had elections of its own, which were enough to give pause to even the most ardent supporters of democracy. There were actually a couple candidates for which a sane person might vote: reformer Mustapha Moin, for one, or former President Akbar Rafsanjani, an old revolutionary who nevertheless would like improved relations with the West. But no, the rabble chose to elect the profoundly ignorant former mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a lay fundie who is slowly rolling back the hard won social freedoms of the last decade. He's a go it alone hardliner internationally and a social rightie at home. Sound familiar? Actually he makes Bush look like a brain trust. He believes the world is going to end in the next couple years and wants to build a special railroad line to carry the Messiah to Tehran from the site of the well out of which he will appear. Apparently this Messiah will need nuclear weapons for some reason. And, oh yeah, we're spending our soldiers' lives and hundreds of billions of dollars to put his buddies in power next door in Iraq, where they're running secret prisons and torturing people and forming death squads and assassinating journalists who criticize them. Hoo-Rah.

Well, I got new for Rapture-seekers here, there and everywhere to brighten up the holiday season:

He ain't comin'. Time to make other plans.

The world's going to keep spinning for a while yet, whether you're on board or not. The Middle East is not going to suddenly transform into a land of peace and democracy just because a bunch of Marines charge in there and start waving the flag around. Homosexuality and abortion are not going to go away just because you ban them - we don't care that you think they're icky, we didn't ask, because we don't respect your opinion. Oil prices are going to keep going up no matter who you invade, because there's just not that much oil left. And the Messiah? He got a better offer from the Yankees.

Monday, December 12, 2005

a theory of actual reality part 2

As I've said before, it is becoming apparent that the muddle-headed postmodernism that afflicts our public intellectuals has crippled their ability to resist the full scale onslaught against reason and the Enlightenment being carried out by boneheaded mouth-breathers and the corporate elite that exploits them. What is needed instead is some kind of worldview grounded in a respect for the central importance of Actual Reality.

For the latest round in this intellectual boxing match, we are proud to bring you Harold Pintner vs. Harold Pintner. From his recent Nobel Prize acceptance speech:
Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.

As every single person here knows, the justification for the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein possessed a highly dangerous body of weapons of mass destruction, some of which could be fired in 45 minutes, bringing about appalling devastation. We were assured that was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq had a relationship with Al Quaeda and shared responsibility for the atrocity in New York of September 11th 2001. We were assured that this was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq threatened the security of the world. We were assured it was true. It was not true.

The truth is something entirely different. The truth is to do with how the United States understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it.

But before I come back to the present I would like to look at the recent past, by which I mean United States foreign policy since the end of the Second World War. I believe it is obligatory upon us to subject this period to at least some kind of even limited scrutiny, which is all that time will allow here.

Everyone knows what happened in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe during the post-war period: the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of independent thought. All this has been fully documented and verified.

But my contention here is that the US crimes in the same period have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognised as crimes at all. I believe this must be addressed and that the truth has considerable bearing on where the world stands now. Although constrained, to a certain extent, by the existence of the Soviet Union, the United States' actions throughout the world made it clear that it had concluded it had carte blanche to do what it liked.

Direct invasion of a sovereign state has never in fact been America's favoured method. In the main, it has preferred what it has described as 'low intensity conflict'. Low intensity conflict means that thousands of people die but slower than if you dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It means that you infect the heart of the country, that you establish a malignant growth and watch the gangrene bloom. When the populace has been subdued – or beaten to death – the same thing – and your own friends, the military and the great corporations, sit comfortably in power, you go before the camera and say that democracy has prevailed. This was a commonplace in US foreign policy in the years to which I refer.

The tragedy of Nicaragua was a highly significant case. I choose to offer it here as a potent example of America's view of its role in the world, both then and now.

I was present at a meeting at the US embassy in London in the late 1980s.

The United States Congress was about to decide whether to give more money to the Contras in their campaign against the state of Nicaragua. I was a member of a delegation speaking on behalf of Nicaragua but the most important member of this delegation was a Father John Metcalf. The leader of the US body was Raymond Seitz (then number two to the ambassador, later ambassador himself). Father Metcalf said: 'Sir, I am in charge of a parish in the north of Nicaragua. My parishioners built a school, a health centre, a cultural centre. We have lived in peace. A few months ago a Contra force attacked the parish. They destroyed everything: the school, the health centre, the cultural centre. They raped nurses and teachers, slaughtered doctors, in the most brutal manner. They behaved like savages. Please demand that the US government withdraw its support from this shocking terrorist activity.'

Raymond Seitz had a very good reputation as a rational, responsible and highly sophisticated man. He was greatly respected in diplomatic circles. He listened, paused and then spoke with some gravity. 'Father,' he said, 'let me tell you something. In war, innocent people always suffer.' There was a frozen silence. We stared at him. He did not flinch.

Innocent people, indeed, always suffer.

Finally somebody said: 'But in this case “innocent people” were the victims of a gruesome atrocity subsidised by your government, one among many. If Congress allows the Contras more money further atrocities of this kind will take place. Is this not the case? Is your government not therefore guilty of supporting acts of murder and destruction upon the citizens of a sovereign state?'

Seitz was imperturbable. 'I don't agree that the facts as presented support your assertions,' he said.

As we were leaving the Embassy a US aide told me that he enjoyed my plays. I did not reply.

I should remind you that at the time President Reagan made the following statement: 'The Contras are the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers.'

I wholeheartedly endorse his newfound appreciation for the value of the truth, and his concerns about what he calls "the tapestry of lies" that surrounds us. But even Pintner admits he hasn't always been it's biggest champion. He starts his speech with these words:
In 1958 I wrote the following:

'There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.'

I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?
So he has come to the conclusion that in order to make a convincing political case, he needs to abandon the reality-defying principles of his art. A political program, like a house, needs to be built on a concrete foundation. I hold out hope that this may turn out to be a watershed moment in a larger movement in which people come to realize that the tools of literary criticism are not, in fact, the most appropriate tools for analyzing culture, society, and life in general, a movement that leads the practitioners of that esoteric art to retreat to their Ivory Tower, where they will never be heard from by people with jobs again.

Unfortunately, Pintner then procedes to play a little fast and loose with the facts himself. He claims that "At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by American bombs and missiles before the Iraq insurgency began," for example. The truth is bad enough without resorting to eggageration to make your political point. If we are going to be the "reality-based community," we need to stick to facts we know are true, rather than grasping at any statement that appears to support us and harm our enemies. Sadly, sloppy argument and faulty reasoning are just as common as egaggerated numbers. If we can't make a case agains Bush with the plain truth, there's gotta be something wrong with us.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Empty Bottle Test

"Cigarettes and whiskey and wild, wild women. They'll drive you crazy. They'll drive you insane" - 50th Ward Alderman Bernie Stone

I guess they've had their last meeting in those legendary "smoke-filled back rooms." Yesterday, accompanied by a public display of laughter and bawdy song, Chicago City Council finally passed a ban on smoking in most public places. While many of us have waited a long, long time for such an ordinance, we're going to have to wait longer still for it to take effect.

Disappointingly, the legislation as passed does not pass the "Empty Bottle" test, embodied in the statement:

"If the city passed a smoking ban, I'd be able to hop down to the Empty Bottle and watch a jazz, alternative, or punk band without my eyes turning read and my jacket smelling so bad I can't wear it again for a week." In spite of the fact that the bar is scarcely a mile from our house and features some of the best music in the city, we rarely go there, because of air quality issues. It just frankly stinks in there, and my wife won't go unless, of course, her friend's band is playing (like they will be this Saturday night, the 10th). So I don't want to hear about smokers' rights, or how a ban will drive people away from local businesses. It didn't hurt business in New York. In fact, it's probably helped, because it's such a pleasant and non-foul-smelling experience to go to a bar there. Every time I visit I'm amazed by how far you can see in those places, how clean everything is, and how it almost completely fails to stink.

Alas, Chicago's "ban" as passed allows smoking in bars and restaruants with bars in them until July 1, 2008, at which time Chicago, rather than being one of the first cities to have such a law, will almost certainly be one of the last. Furthermore, individual bars will be exempt from the restriction if they can devise "air filtration or purification devices" that "render the exposure to secondhand smoke" in the bar or tavern "equivalent to exposure to secondhand smoke in the ambient outdoor air surrounding the establishment." Of course, no such technology exists at this point, but it does leave open the possibility that the city will eventually come up with some bogus air quality standards that undermine the law altogether. And that, my friends, will stink.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Demolition of the Week: El Rincon Community Clinic

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I haven't been keeping up with the demolition watch, obviously. This feature, and to some extent this blog, started with a conversation in a neighbor's apartment over a game of Go. The idea was that someone should keep a record of all the architecturally good but everyday neighborhood buildings that are being destroyed on a weekly basis in the city of Chicago. While cities like New York value their architectural heritage and painstakingly preserve it, to the extent of painstakingly preserving the facades of old buildings when new ones are built behind them. In Chicago such a thing would only be attempted after a protracted fight with preservationists - early morning demolitions without even a permit are the norm, and go on all the time, unquestioned.

Everyone at the gathering lamented this state of affairs, and an architect who was present suggested the old neighborhood buildings should be documented somewhere. Someone else (not me) suggested a newsletter with a "Demolition of the Week" feature. This was perhaps 10 days before the 2004 election, and I was already planning to start this blog, so I just incorporated the feature.

But in recent months, the destruction has been so widespread that I've basically given up. By the time I notice a new demolition, there's nothing left to photograph but a big hole in the ground. This happens so often that the actual population of the neighborhood has probably declined significantly, as house after house has become a construction site in an orgy of speculative development. Developers have no consideration for the neighorhood that was here before, instead they are explointing every loophole they can find to allow demolition of the existing working class housing in order to build half million dollar condos for the wealthy. For those of you who are out of town and haven't been here to see the hood, I'm sorry you missed it. It had character. My only consolation is that the real estate market is bound to crash soon, as there are clearly not enough buyers for all of these astronomically priced homes. People here just don't make that kind of cash - the median income in Illinois is actually falling these days.

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The building I've picked out for this week must seem an odd choice. The commercial building at 1874 N Milwaukee is not exactly an architectural gem. In fact, it's sort or ugly and the building that used to flank it have already been destroyed. other than the charming little detail (above) over the door, it doesn't have that much to recommend it.

Actually, I won't miss the building at all. But I think it's representative of the changes taking place throughout the Near West Side. The building coming down currently houses the El Rincon Community Clinic, a methadone clinic serving the Latino population. This explains the poor quality of my photograph here - it's fairly awkward trying to snap pictures of a methadone clinic on a Thursday afternoon in late autumn. You have to be careful not to get any clients in the picture, and even so, everyone glares at you for invading their privacy. Sort of a creepy corner right now, which is kind of a shame because it's right across the street from the best little Costa Rican restaurant ever.

The new building goin up on the property and the surrounding vacant land won't be so sketchy. In fact, it's supposed to the new wave of environmentally friendly architecture. In addition to insulation and advanced water recycling including one gallon toilets filled with used shower water, the building's appliances will be powered by photovoltaic cells, meaning no gas and electric bills. In fact, CK Developers claims it may be possible for the building to sell electricity to Com Ed. The price for these low-impact living quarters? A bit less than half a million each.

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Artist's Rendering of the proposed green condos.

Developing this kind of technology sounds like it's all to the good, in fact it's a greenie's wet dream. But who's going to move into these units? Certainly not the colorful, artistic and pansexual crew who made up the old Wicker Park/Bucktown area and earned it the nickname of "Chicago's Greenwich Village." Not aspiring actors, not painters, not photographers, not Puerto Rican laborers, not octogenarian Polish grandmothers, and certainly not the patrons of the methadone clinic. Which might be great from a developer or investor perspective; "Woo hoo! Rising property values!" But where are people of the non-rising income values supposed to live?