Tag: Chicago

Day 797: ‘Twas A Good Time For The Great Taste

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I read a story last week – an actual news story, written and published by actual news people who weren’t pranking their employers – that our world is entering into an actual clown shortage. There are people (mostly people who run clown schools, I imagine) who are worried about this. Perhaps this is predictable fall-out from an age entranced by online distractions and hand-held toys that ooze a non-stop viscous goo of entertainment and fun. Maybe Stephen King is to blame for sticking a clown in the fictional sewers and frightening a generation of readers.

Maybe, like disco dancing and earthquake movies, clowns are merely part of an entertainment cycle that swells and wanes with the syncopated breath of a culture. My daughter was creeped out by clowns, as were many of her young friends. Gone are the days when Clarabell, Bozo, and Flunkie the Clown would tickle funny bones on TV. There’s no street-cred in clowning anymore.

But we’ve still got Ronald. Oh Ronald, that trans-fat-peddling scamp who was born in McDonaldland and has a permanent address in our hearts (probably near the blockage). He still pops up to remind kids that healthy food isn’t as much fun as McNuggets, even though his cronies have mostly been driven into advertising obscurity. Perhaps that’s for the best.

FirstRonald

This photo pops up in various Buzzfeed retro-galleries – it’s the first incarnation of Ronald McDonald, prior to the crafted look that presently echoes the McBrand. Underneath all of that make-up is a man named Willard Scott. You probably know Willard as the one-time weatherman who still shows up on The Today Show to wish centenarians a happy birthday. Maybe you remember him from hosting the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade broadcast on NBC for ten years. Maybe you have no idea who I’m talking about. That’s okay too. Read more…

Day 794: London, 1858 – Awash In A Fecal Funk

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It was only a matter of time before this illustrious project, which had launched itself with such promise and potential, devolved into a dignity-free river of steaming poo. We can blame the natural progression of time and the tenuous maturity of an overgrown teenager at the keyboard’s helm, or perhaps we can simply point our accusing finger in the general direction of England. For it is to London that Ms. Wiki, our guide to the absurd, has taken us. To the unfortunate brown smear upon the city’s great history. To the Great Stink.

I’m certain that every city in existence prior to the advent of the sanitation practices we now take for granted has gone through some caca crisis. As a species, we had not yet been introduced to the germs and bacteria that lug diseases on their slimy backs to deposit in our innards. No one had perfected the sewage process until relatively recently in history, and no doubt the very stank of any 19th-century burg would grind our modern olfactories into dust.

In fact, given the state of personal hygiene, laundry and civic sanitation back then, I imagine our world as being in a perpetual state of putrid. This is never addressed in historical dramas or time-travel movies, but that’s missing an opportunity. I don’t think we could handle it. Just imagine parking your DeLorean in the heart of London during the Great Stink of 1858.

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In the early 1800’s, Londoners received their drinking water either from shallow wells, from the Thames river or from one of its tributaries. There were no water treatment plants, so you’d simply have to block out the knowledge that the stuff you’d be gulping down with lunch was from the same water source in which drunken folks would urinate. You know there’s pee in there – you probably added some of your own last weekend after a few too many pints at the ol’ Hog ‘n Sputum. When you were sober, your human waste would usually get dumped into an underground cesspit. Read more…

Day 789: No Pain, No Game

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By their very nature, kids are insane.

In grade school my friends and I magnified the potentially face-smushing violence of dodgeball into something we called murderball. In junior high, a number of us gave each other bear hugs to induce unconsciousness (though, to my credit, I knew well enough to hold out for the good drugs later on). In high school we drove like half-crazed grouse, wildly swirling upon ice and packed snow, riding precariously on one another’s car hoods or running boards in a scraggly zoo parking lot that we dubbed “Beggars’ Canyon.” Somehow we all survived to adulthood.

Thanks to a healthy brew of curiosity, consequence-blindness and morbid creativity, kids will find a way to dance as close to the brink of serious injury whenever possible. If they can, they’ll devise a means of elevating their precarious attempts at leisure into a competitive sport. That’s when the blood really starts to flow.

Most kids know better than to mess about with Russian Roulette or other such gun-related idiocy. But knives? Knives are awesome. Hence the invention of Mumblety-peg.

MumbletyPeg

Mumblety-peg is the game for kids who feel that toes are the surplus extras of the human body. Players stand with their feet roughly shoulder-width apart. Each throws a pocket knife hard at the ground so that its blade embeds in the earth. The object is to be the one whose knife lands closer to your own foot. The loser must shamefully admit that they lack the knife-hurling skills, or perhaps the manly machismo of their opponent. If you actually stick your own foot, you win by default. But at a cost. Read more…

Day 784: Show Me That Smile Again

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Lately I have found myself falling back in love with All In The Family. The jokes are still funny, the characters still compelling, and it’s the only show from the 70’s that can still be called ‘edgy’ by today’s standards. I wanted to do a piece about the show, but rather than delve into a history of the show’s production or spin a bullet-list of trivia (which I’ve already done for The Golden Girls), I decided I’d focus on the song.

You know, that song. The one where Jean Stapleton – whom I have recently decided is the funniest woman ever to appear on TV – hits that high note that can make your sofa cushions cringe. The song that Family Guy homage-ifies with their opening number.

TV Theme songs may seem like a fluffy topic, but they are certainly worthy of a couple hours-worth of finger-punching my keyboard. The lyric-laden theme song is a dying art form, yet these tunes are woven with the fabric of my slothful youth. Some became hits or were hits already – I’m not going to dig into the roots of John Sebastian’s “Welcome Back” or Al Jarreau’s “Moonlighting” here. But each of these songs was written and performed by somebody, and those somebodies had a story.

AllInTheFamily

“Those Were The Days” was penned by the team of Lee Adams and Charles Strouse, the guys responsible for the Broadway hit, Bye Bye Birdie. There were a few versions of the performance recorded throughout the series’ run, and astute listeners can pick out Stapleton’s second-verse screech becoming more comically punched as the song evolved. Read more…

Day 762: Cuing Up The Fetid – Worst Music Part 3

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It’s time once again to clear the room of friends, family and suspicious strangers by cranking up the worst of the worst. You know, the most urethra-scrapingly awful thing about these terrible songs is the fact that they have each achieved a grotesque level of popularity. People who toil for eight, sometimes sixteen hours in a day, who often pay only the minimum payment on their Visa bill and who have likely contemplated buying the store-brand mayonnaise in order to save a little extra money for lottery tickets have nevertheless flushed some of that precious cash down the crusty-sewage-lined pipes of the recording industry to own these.

And we know these songs are awful – we all do. I’m not talking about stuff like Chicago’s “You’re The Inspiration”, which is more harmlessly schmaltzy than outright offensive, or “Ice Ice Baby”, which grew exponentially more ridiculous until Vanilla Ice turned Amish and the tune shifted into ironic-nostalgia country.

No, these are the inexcusables. I’m pulling off of Blender magazine’s “50 Worst Songs Ever” list, one which I’m loathe to trust, due to its inclusion of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sounds of Silence”, Huey Lewis’s “Heart of Rock & Roll” and The Beatles’ “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” But despite these grievous errors, the list makes a few points. It also puts Starship’s “We Built This City” at #1, so kudos for that one.

AchyBreakyHeart

Number two on the list is inarguably more insipid, more soul-draining than Starship’s 1987 trudge through knee-deep fetid hoopla. Yes, I’m talking about Billy Ray Cyrus’s biggest single, a song so astoundingly wretched it is now considered to be an attempted mass murder in three states if someone tries to perform this as a karaoke number. “Achy Breaky Heart” is the song whose video introduced the 90’s fad of line dancing to popular culture. Remember when people used to make fun of the Ramones because their songs only contained three chords? This one features just two: A and E major. Read more…

Day 735: Real Winners Come From Harlem

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When I was eight years old, my dad took me to watch the Harlem Globetrotters play. I don’t remember much of the game (I suspect they won), but I’ll never forget the lesson they taught me about comedy: nothing is too sacred to become fodder for a laugh. Athletes pour their sweat and souls into mastering their craft, they face each game with grit, determination and a professional intensity, yet here are a lanky bunch of goof-offs, mopping the floor with the hapless Washington Generals and having a great time.

One can find a sort of nihilism in this, I suppose. A victory for class-clowndom, or an existential detachment from the rites of traditional consequentialism. To my eight-year-old eyes, it was none of this – it was pure fun.

The Globetrotters exist within a strange bubble of competitive sport: their primary focus is to provide entertainment, but they must also perform with the precision of a perpetually competitive unit. There is no famous equivalent in any other major sport, suggesting that basketball alone lends itself to physical antics and slapstickish showboatery. Or maybe no one feels they can pull it off with the deft sense of showmanship that the Globetrotters exude.

OldGlobetrotters

It may surprise you to know that the headquarters for the Harlem Globetrotters is located in Phoenix, Arizona. This is not a case of an owner retiring to a warmer climate; the team has actually never been based out of Harlem. They were launched in 1927 in Hinckley, Illinois, and spent most of their early years centered around the greater Chicago area. So why slap the word ‘Harlem’ in the team’s name?

Simple. It’s exotic. Read more…

Day 734: Cranking Up the Craptastic – Worst Music Part 2

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Whenever I’m feeling a little too happy, a little too comfortable within the overstuffed throw-pillows of our culture, I like to remind myself how easy it is to unzip those cushions and catch a whiff of the rancid stuffing inside. We may pride ourselves on our Breaking Bads, our Blue Jasmines, and our Elvis Costello & The Roots records, but this is the same twisted species that also spews out crap-heaps of TLC shows, a nonstop cavalcade of Madea movies, and… well, these musical offerings.

I have devoted 19 of my 733 days to exploring the crowd-roasted excrement that has squeezed through the virtual anus of our corporate culture-makers, only to be (usually) swallowed up by the masses in some deluded mass-hysterical case of collective scatophagia. Maybe I’m trying to understand why we persist in the dank shadow of quality. Why do we support drivel and detritus when the crests of artistic brilliance have showered us with so many more palatable alternatives?

There are questions of taste, and subjective preference should always be approached with a cautious and respectful gait. But then there’s crap. Pure crap. So much pure and loathsome crap.

CheekyGirls

Some artists can get away with songs that serve no other purpose than to introduce themselves. Bo Diddley’s “Bo Diddley” is a great tune with a magnetic rhythm. “(Theme From) The Monkees” was literally the theme song to the band’s TV show. But 80% of “Cheeky Song (Touch My Bum)” by the Cheeky Girls involves the two lines: “We are the cheeky girls” and “You are the cheeky boys.” Seriously, those lines are repeated about sixty times. We get it. It’s a pun. Read more…

Day 716: Football With A Future – The 1920 Teams

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As football fans, we can all feel the hot breath of impending playoffs breathing upon our collective neck, as tonight two more teams – the Detroit Lions and Baltimore Ravens – struggle to overcome their mid-season screw-ups for the opportunity to suit up in January. I’ll spare everyone my predictions of the outcome, or my analysis of who I feel has the most favorable outlook for a Super Bowl run, and instead do what I do best: have a look at some history.

The National Football League will be turning 100 at the end of this decade, an event that will no doubt be heralded with throwback uniforms, extensive retrospectives, and yet another season of the Cleveland Browns finishing in the basement.

Mostly, the league will be taking stock of where it has been, and how it has evolved over its first century. I’m going to beat them by seven years.

There were fifteen teams in the 1920 American Professional Football Association (APFA), which was renamed the NFL two years later. Here’s a look at where they all went.

MuncieFlyers

The Muncie Flyers finished at the bottom of the league with an impressive 0-1 record. After being thrashed 45-0 by the Rock Island Independents, they couldn’t get another league game scheduled. After an 0-2 record the following year, the club scooted off to the minor leagues.

ColumbusPanhandles

The Columbus Panhandles played in the league’s first game, falling to the Dayton Triangles 14-0. The team went 2-6-2 in 1920, and after three unimpressive years they changed their name to the Columbus Tigers. The best they ever finished was eighth, and after unleashing a formidable stink with their sub-par play, the team gave up after the 1926 season. Read more…

Day 708: Beware The Deadly Hypotenuse

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As a life-long cynic and devoted doubter of lore and mystery, I find myself always checking the sleeves of an unexplained tale, searching for my card anywhere but inside the deck. I don’t poke under my bed for ghouls, nor do I hold my breath as I drive past a cemetery for fear of angering the dead. I don’t even try to restore my family’s good mojo by saying “bless you” when they sneeze. I find the whole thing a little weird.

The photos of the Loch Ness Monster are grainy and doctored, and that film footage of Bigfoot is nothing more than a guy in a cheap Wookiee costume. David Copperfield used perspective and mirrors to send the Statue of Liberty into a temporary void, and rapping one’s knuckles on a wooden table will do nothing to summon a fortuitous sway of luck.

Nevertheless, when a mystery pops up with no easy solution, I find my heart doing a little flap, brush and shuffle, and my interest simmers to a healthy shade of piqued. I marveled at the recent David Blaine TV special, not because I believe the man possesses otherworldly powers (though if ever a case could be made for someone, it’d be him), but because I still embrace the visceral squoosh of the unknown.

So despite my doubt-encrusted heart, I still find my pulse tip-tapping a little quicker when I read about mysteries like the Michigan Triangle.

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Dangling like a limp and uninterested phallus off the side of the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan is known for being cold, huge and deep. One wouldn’t think there were many connections between Bermuda and frigid Green Bay, but their common bond is a three-sided cloud of mystery and disappearance. Actually, the Michigan Triangle begins in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, just south of Green Bay, and connects with Ludington and Benton Harbor on the Michigan side. Read more…

Day 691: The Downstairs Park

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On a day such as this, when the mercury has given up its climb and packed its full breadth of ooze down below -10 degrees, I feel I should find something to appreciate in this woefully frigid city.

For the few months of the year that allow it, we are privileged to enjoy a serene swath of river valley, as well as a smattering of beautifully-landscaped parks. This means that in over a century of urban development, there have been some scraps of real estate that our councillors have opted not to fill with strip malls and cul-de-sacs. Other cities have been forced to act more creatively, to extract its green space from the bones of its history.

Rail trails are a popular solution – snatching up miles of abandoned track and converting them into miles of cycling, jogging, and someday (hopefully) hoverboarding fun. New York and Paris have vaulted the rail trail concept to include abandoned elevated tracks. Now New York is ready to take things in the next logical direction: straight down.

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The story of the next phase of the city’s “outdoor” recreation begins here, on a strip of 10th Avenue once known as Death Avenue. The railroads had hired men on horseback – the ‘West Side Cowboys,’ which sounds like the name of a male strip club – to ride in front of the street-level trains to warn people to get the hell out of the way. Still, it was a mess. To clean things up, from 1929 through 1934 New York built a 13-mile elevated railway. It was designed to cut through the middle of city blocks, even running through taller buildings when necessary. Read more…