The Corner.


friend of god
Eventually I knew that I would have to deal with my theatre jones during this restaurant thing. Well, the theatre demon finally made his presence undeniable felt on Monday. I was pulled in two directions on the corner.

FREAKS was having their tech rehearsal on Monday. They have a huge cast for the little MethaDome space, 25 people. It is an adaptation of the old movie FREAKS, and there is already quite a buzz about it. Kelly the director, formerly of SWEETBACK Productions, until she was convinced to form a board of directors who proceeded to kick her out as their first official action (after her huge success with The Birds), was frazzled, and the rest of the cast were obviously in one hell of a tech. After the dinner shift I went up to the office to sort out the numbers of the night, and I heard the tired and frantic goings on in the theatre, and I felt the pangs. I heard the raised voices, the sharp calls of "Hold!", and I just wanted to be a part of it. I tried and tried to decipher the waitrons numbers, but couldn't keep my mind focused on the job at hand. I could see that the show was in that painful part of the process and that there was a lot of exasperration, and I wanted to be a part of it. I got it controlled, finished what I had to do and then everything was fine. It was not a suprise. I have been going from one show to another for quite a long time, and I am not doing a show for at least a year because of the restaurant. This was my decision, and I made it knowing full well that that yearning, that void would cause me discomfort, whenever it creeps up on me and reminds me of who I actually am. It has been 15 years since I haven't had a show to at least look forward to, even if it was 6 months away. It is not a bad thing, just an adjustment. It was quite interesting, then, to listen to the rest of tech from an entirely objective POV. It was, let's say a learning experience.

Later, talking to Kelly, I found out that she chose The MethaDome against the advice of many people. They said that the space was too small, which it is. She said no, FREAKS must be done in Uptown. It is all about mental illness. We laughed about how her cast can do some serious character study while standing in front pulling on a smoke and watching the Alley Crew. The fact that she went out of her way to come to The Corner to do her show makes me excited, makes me look forward to this opening.

I hope this show is a huge hit for their sake. I haven't really cared one way or another with the other shows we've had. I have tried to keep myself out of the theatre and it's goings on. And mostly it has been Improv and Sketch. No offense, but the work put into those shows in not comparable to what these folks have gone through to mount this beast. I hope it's a huge hit. I hope we get our asses handed to us because too many people want to come see it. I hope they all eat steak.


friend of god
Life goes on 'round the corner.

I haven't written bout the corner in a long time. I will have to admit that it just started wearing on me, and I just didn't feel like reliving the daily grind on my little computer keyboard. Every day, it's something. I stopped reporting from the corner at the Open Mike. Hell, stopped going to the Open Mike the last couple of weeks. Kinda started to dread the corner. On a hot day, with the alley crew out and about just trying to find some shade, drinking their natural light, talking at the top of their lungs, always pissed off, usually at someone who is not there.

We all know each other now. They can't find so much shade on our side of the steet. Seems somebody came and cut down some of those shade providing branches. They still come, and sit on thier milk crates, thier broken chairs, and talk and laugh and yell, and spit. And when the police make them move along, we wait, about 15 minutes, and then Carlos and I go out and get those broken chairs, and really break them. Smash the living shit out of them. Make them unusable. Then we take the milk crates and put them in the basement, and at then end of the night drop them off in some other neighborhood, like Rogers Park, where they will be put to good use. Waste not want not, I always say.

The regulars are always around, but they got the message, and they don't congregate the way they used to on our side of the block. Maybe that is just wishful thinking on my part. But the block has changed.

We have a new gospel church at the end of the block. It was nearly 100 degrees today, and they were full, and singing, and dancing, and sweating, in their sunday best. The block has changed.

Some girl walked by and saw Frankie J's and started in on the horrors of gentrification. Yeah. That's what's killing Uptown. Gentrification. Gentrification is still 3 years away, at least. They've pushed back the opening of the 97 condo unit until '04, due to lack of funds. Uptown has been a neighborhood on the verge of turning around for 50 years. Turning a neighborhood around takes a lot of money. Turning a neighborhood like Uptown around takes triple that amount. Our economy is in the dumperoo, and nothing has been built yet. I will believe it when I sit down inside the Uptown Theatre and see a show. We argued with this woman, who I will not call a ditzy knee jerk liberal broad, until I could not take it anymore. Then she compared Uptown to Wicker Park.

I then had to explain to here the history of Uptown, and the history of Wicker Park, which was an immigrants neighborhood full of working class people, and is at it's economic, cultural, and prestige peak right now, by todays standards. By todays standards, it has never been better. Uptown, however, needs years and millions of dollars and new memories and lots more neon flashing bulb signs and movie stars and musicians wandering and big shows, rock shows and theatre, and limo's and shit before it can even compare itself to what it once was. Uptown is like Babe Ruth riddled with cancer just before he died. The unwashed and crazy, the drunken and the somewhat slightly dazed have no claim to here, they came here from somewhere else and pushed out the old neighborhood, so eventually, eventually, they gonna get pushed out too. But this is Uptown. This is not Wicker Park, or Rogers Park, or Lincoln Park, or Ravenswood. Let those yuppie fucks come in, let them bring their Range Rovers. Concrete and steel, that's Uptown. You want nature? We got the lake and the cemetary and that is it. We don't try to fool ourselves into believing we live with nature. This is Uptown. This is the city. So let gentrification come, let's see them, whadda they got. They can't turn this into a suburb, so they won't stay. They may make it economically impossible for me to live here, but what the hell. Shit happens. People much cooler than me will take my place. And I will always be allowed back. Thank god for the Green Mill.

We had a party the other day for Sandra Reed. Maybe she will be our next Alderman. Who knows?

I have become so urban that I am at least slightly uncomfortable at all times and I am cool with that.
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friend of god
Sometimes life is funny.

Spent two hours this morning in front of the Wilson El, with a petition to get a referendum on the ballot to lift the 'dry' status from our corner of Uptown and allow us to apply for a liquor license. We got a few signatures. We will be out there every day this week.

First signature? Beverly Whitewing. She said up front she just wanted a free cup of coffee. Got four more signatures from the Alley Crew. Funny, in the early morning light of day, they are just people, people in the neighborhood. Registered voters.


friend of god
I have gotten a whole new perspective on this neighborhood in the past three days, sitting out in front of the Wilson El. By this morning, I think I may have used up my effectiveness, because I recognized 70% of the faces that walked on past, and didn't get a signature.

Just 8 months ago, I was one of those faces, running late, hoping to catch the next train, sprinting the last block because I see the train approaching. So many people just don't even want to look around them in the morning. I could barely make eye contact with half these people. They are off to their own private little hell, and using these brief unsupervised last moments of the day to, well, to do whatever. Go over a fight they had with their significant other, relive a party they attended, dread the coming day, anticipate the coming evening. . . I was one of those folks. I remember the sense of relief upon getting on the train, no matter how late I was. The moment those doors closed, I would relax, for whatever time it took to get to work was out of my control. I had done all that I could, and for a few precious moments in my bullshit temp job day, I was free to read or think or not think. My father used to talk about his commute into San Francisco, and how he relished that 45 minute drive, as a way to collect his head, as a form of meditation. Just another one of those little things that technology (cell phones) is slowly eroding from our daily existance. Most people I know who commute these days start their workday from the moment they turn the key in their ignition.

The neighborhood was a buzz this morning. I find it fascinating that the alley crew are out and about before 8 in the morning. I should watch myself as I sit in judgement, me, the guy who can rarely get out of bed before noon. And they are pleasant, nice, talkative, and sober.

Funny. 6 months ago I was a card carrying bleeding heart liberal. I don't know what I am today.

Some young white cat came up to me yesterday, and asked what the petition was for. I told him and he was dissappointed.
"I thought it might be a petition to get these homeless people out of the nieghborhood." he said.

Oh, yeah, he would be happy to sign that. A petition to rid the nieghborhood of homeless people?! Wow. That's a lot more ambitious than a little petition to let us sell wine. Just sign your name and poof, they disappear, and your hands remain clean.

I went by Azusa's to get the morning paper, and they were locked tight. That's not good. We need Azusa's in the nieghborhood. I need Azusa's. Hope they did not get in trouble again.


friend of god
The sky is gray and the air is thick and warm, and the whole crew is currently lounging about on the corner. That's cool, for now. It's 1 in the afternoon, and I won't even think about making the folks scatter till the clock starts pushing four. They are all out, Beverly, Jerry, Fish, Bart, Pat, all of them.

Last night I was in a horrible mood, until, Mark, one of the servers, saw one of the crew heading back behind out building. He and Mike went back there with a wine bucket filled with water. There this woman was, in full squat, ready to release the floodgates, when we came upon her.

"What the fuck are you doing?" "You're disgusting!" "Get away from here, this ain't your toilet!"

She started cursing right back, "I'll kick your motherfucking ass, goddamn I'll pee wherever the shit I wanna pee, stupid white cracker motherfuck. . . ."

Her tirade trailed off when Mark produced the bucket of water. She quickly pulled up her pants and got the hell away, without a drop spilled, from her or us.

Word is getting around the crew. You pee behind Frankie J's, your risk getting doused.

All of a sudden, my horrible mood was lifted, and I spent the next few hours with the hint of a smile on my face.


friend of god
Just when I though I knew my 'hood.

I have spent the last couple of days canvassing Uptown, collecting signatures for our Vote Wet petition. 656 registered voters. That's my neighborhood . That's the 38th precinct of the 46th ward in Uptown, Chicago, Ill. I wandered up and down Kenmore and Leland, Sheridan and Broadway, Wilson and Montrose, searching for registered voters. I would say that 90% of the registered voters I actually spoke with signed the petition. One lady said she could not because it was against her religion. She said she would come in to the restaurant for a steak though.

There were so many houses and buildings that I just could not get into. Flashback to ten years ago, when this was a literal war zone. I was also suprised at how many registered voters live at addresses that do not exist. So that's how you stay in power Alderman Schiller.

I have found that a bunch of the alley crew are registered voters, and am now hell bent on getting every one of them to sign the petition.


friend of god
The signatures have been collected, the petition is in the hands of the city officials, there is nothing more to be done than to wait.

A few things that I learned over the past 3 weeks.

656 registered voters in the 38th precinct of the 46th ward, my hood, Uptown. 155 of those voters are registered as living at The Salvation Army, or Sally as we like to call it around here. Sally never has more than 40 people in it at one time. Ain't nobody in there between 9 and 7 every day. They would not let me in. we tried to send Fish in as an agent of Frankie J, but that didn't work so well, he got harrassed and called a brown noser. I guess we have built up some resentment from the homeless population for calling the cops when they sit in front of the restaurant drinking Natural Light. Such is life. 55 registered voters with the address of the Currency Exchange. Schiller has been hard at work.

The Burger King at Wilson and Sheridan is Goiter Central of America.

I believe that mental illness may be a contagious infectious disease. Every day of the maybe ten days I went out, door to door, in my neighborhood, I screwed my courage to the sticking post, and I put on my most pleasant face, and I used only my most pleasant fundraising/politician/do-gooder voice, and I tried to muster up all the love for humanity and my fellow man that I had left. In return, I was spit at, yelled at, had my clipboard violently wrenched from my hands, I was insulted and harassed, I was circled by the homeless, nearly chased by an irate group near a soup kitchen, and along the way met quite a few wonderful pleasant people who were honestly concerned with the health and viability of this, the greatest neighborhood in the city of Chicago that nobody knows about. But every day, at the end of the day, returning to the restaurant spent, beat from the heat and humidity, I was sure that I had lost a bit more of my sanity, had gone further off balance, was measurably crazier than I was when I began the day. 3 weeks later, and I know that I have been effected in ways I cannot describe.

And right there, in front of me, around me, all over my neighborhood, I see the zombies and the junkies and the spectre's and the ghouls and the ghosts, and as I live paycheck to paycheck I know that there but for the grace of God go I. There is no separation between them and myself. The separation is a construct of my own mind, a tool I use to fool myself into believing that I am indeed sane, a functioning member of society and not one of 'them'. It is a lie.

Yesterday, I had to leave the hood. I had completed the petition, my last 5 hours yesterday humping the thing around town, and I had to leave. I needed out of the jungle, I needed to go to a park. I needed to see how other people lived. I went to Lincoln Square, and I almost cried. So clean, so nice, folks walking the street, not yelling at each other or cursing, but pleasant clean people, those people who 6 months ago I would have hated and blamed for the downfall of the independant coffee house and the lack of parking. Yesterday, however, I saw them, and I missed them, and I missed their world. It is not my world anymore.

My world is Uptown.


friend of god
Wow, it has been almost a year since my last entry. Almost a year. I haven't paid that much attention to the corner over the course of the past year. It's significance dropped off considerably just over a week after my last entry. I am still here, a block away, but I notice less, I focus less on the comings and goings of the likes of Fish and Bart. On a hot day last week, I was walking home from the Wilson El, and I saw the full contingent out on the street. It gave me pause. I realized that the 2003 corner is no different from the 2002 corner. It is not cleaner, not nicer, not any more welcoming. And the alley crew are all still there, all of them. And they are still drinking Natural light in cans. Nothing's changed. Except for me. My life, my world, my attitude, has been taken apart, put back together, blown apart, pieces scattered, and once again re-assembled. The final product may look the same, but thinks, feels, and looks at the world in an entirely different way. I look back at those days last year, and it feels like that person, me, no longer exists.

I barely know how to describe the last year. I will try.

The signatures were collected for the petition, and the petition was submitted on time. Just under the wire, but with enough signatures, if they didn't throw out more than a few. You never know what the city is gonna do. An enormous weight was seemingly lifted from my shoulders. I looked forward with a certian anxiousness the coming weeks, until we would learn whether or not the petition was certified. Then, on August 16th, I was unceremoniously fired from Frankie J's.

I am not sure what to say about that. The reasons for my being fired, the ones that were given to me, were different from the stories I heard second hand. The reasons I was given, to my face, were personal. Regardless, I collected my things that day and walked a block and a half home. A lot has been said in the past year about my firing, and some actually written, differing stories, different spins. I can honestly say that none of that, positive or negative, has been authored by me. I know the truth, and those that were there know the truth. That is not a small number of people, so, as they say, the truth is out there.

It was a shock to the system, truly. In the immediate aftermath of that, I did not know what to do. I had been planning on going to Marin for my brothers wedding in Sept, so, I quickly decided to pack up my things and get the fuck out. I turned a one week trip into a six week one. I needed to get away, away from that corner, from my hood. In the time I worked there, I had consciously moved away from acting and being truly involved in the theatre world here in Chicago. That seemed necessary at the time. In the light of my getting canned, I couldn't seem to find that resolve to restart that path, and I no longer felt connected to that world, so I could not rely on their support. My friends, all wonderful, had drifted a bit as well, as I had holed myself up at the restaurant most all of the time over the previous 8 months. I was always busy, so after a time, they just stopped calling. They did come out of the woodwork upon hearing of my occupational demise. I was bent outta shape, outta my head, out of sorts, all of those. All I knew was that I was out, on the outs, and needed to get the fuck out, one way or another.

On the personal level, well, what can I say? You remember the old adage, never go into business with your friends? Well, I should have heeded that. At first, I could not comprehend what was going on. Then, I mourned the death of a friendship that I had thought an important and close one. Then, as a little time went by, and as I recovered some of my sanity while riding my bike through the hills of Marin, and spending time with my real friends, those with whom I have years of joint experience and thoughts in common, I began to realize the reality of what I had lost, and what I had not.

I had lost a job. A job, well, that I knew in my heart was not the job for me. A job that I took for a variety of reasons, including to help a friend, and to collect a regular paycheck (after years of working for tips), but never a job I took because I really wanted. So, my intentions were good, but I abandoned myself and put somebody elses dream before mine. That was not a wise choice.

I had also lost. . . uh. . . .nothing. The friendship that I had believed in was non existant. It was an illusion, a construct, its center could not hold. Without even going into the issue of whether or not I should have been Manager, and without addressing my performance in said role, the manner in which this all went down was concrete proof that the friendship that brought me on board was a mirage that dissappeared into the August heat. It lacked any sense of propriety, professionalism, and civility. So, I did not mourn that for long. I chastised myself for allowing myself to duped, for being a sucker, for getting taken, but that was about it. I was angry with myself for a while, because I treasure friendship above nearly all else, and have never lost a friend. So, either this is the first, or we were never friends to begin with, and then how could I not have identified that? These are all subjects to be dealt with somewhere else. I have not seen or talked to Frank, other than once in passing on the sidewalk, since that day.

(As a side note, the petition was certified, and I hear through the grapevine that the referendum was put on the ballot, but due to some wording, did not pass. I was long gone by that time.)

I returned for Marin, shipped out my bike, and had a truly glorious 6 weeks. I rode 20 miles a day, got my brother and one of my best buddies married, (not to each other) and attempted to make sense of my world. I also smoked some much of the kind california green. I returned once during that time to audition for Steppenwolf and Frank Galati. My agent told me I had to. I didn't mind. Actually I was thrilled. It was the first time I had to take a vacation from my vacation.

I returned finally in October and was ready to take on the world. I had been writing, and with my friends Ned and Piotr, we decided to make a movie. So, Ned and I immediately set out to write a full length screenplay, from which we would fashion a 15 minute short that we planned to shoot in April of 03. I put together a string of odd jobs that kept me one step ahead of the wolves and creditors. I was painting interiors, and did a few live industrials (spent a week in Houston in November. I flew in to George Bush International Airport and realized that it was going to be a week of me keeping my mouth shut, which I did.) and one Voice Over Demo. I wanted to get into a show, it had been a long time and I truly felt the itch. I felt good. I was excited. Thanksgiving was past, and Christmas was approaching. I had lost one girlfriend but immediately found another (actually in the same night, something that has never happened to me before), and the movie project had me eager to tackle each new day.

On December 12th, while on the internet, I got an instant message from my newly married middle brother Geoff. It was three words. "Mom is sick."

I was back in Marin by the 15th. My mother had cancer. Colo-rectal cancer. A stage four tumor. She needed emergency surgery because there was fear she had a perferated colon. They gave her a colostomy bag. The surgeon said that it did not have to be terminal. I went straight from the Oakland Airport to the hospital. When we finally got to our house, late that night, it seemed a spooky household that was half decorated for the upcoming holidays. Boxes were out, stockings were hung. The tree was up, and a few lonely balls hung from it's branches. My parents were in the midst of decorating the house when this discovery was made, and everything changed that moment. The holiday was on hold and the process became calcified.

Every day of the next two weeks was spent in the hospital. 12 hours a day. My mother battled infection and two more invasive surgical procedures. Christmas in the hospital. She gave me a great pair of shoes. I spent the days in the room, and the nights with my father, trying to keep him from falling apart. Watching movies and drinking the occasional scotch to help us sleep. Quickly flipping by any ER rerun. Noticing a scene in a movie set in a hospital, a mother lay in a bed, and I thought to myself, that's not right, she looks too good, where are the tubes? Where is the bleating and beeping machinery? I cooked and I cleaned and I went to the hospital. When my father would finally go to bed I would go outside and smoke a cigarette, and stare at the blanket of stars that is hidden from the Chicago sky.
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friend of god
On NY eve, my mother left the hospital and went to a rehab hospital. She needed to gain some weight and strength, and learn about her newly acquired stomach feeding tube and colostomy bag. She hated it so much. It was horrible.

She came home on the 10th. She was home. It was joyous and terrifying. I did not miss the hospital. At home, there were feedings, and regiments that needed attention. There were doctors that came to the house, and counselors. There was chemotherapy and radiation. And Mom was a trooper. A fighter. I was sure that she would beat it. But, oh my god how she hated it.

On January 17th, my Mom was short of breath, and spent the day in bed. Her leg hurt, and by early evening had gone pale and was cool to the touch and she was in agony. We called 911. An ambulance came and took her to the hospital. The surgeon said that she had a blood clot, and that it was relatively common, but dangerous, and it was a good thing we got her in there. She had her fourth invasive surgical procedure in 5 weeks. She came through it fine. She went to the ICU for recovery.

My Mother passed away on January 20th, 2003. She died of a mixture of complications from surgery and the cumulitive effects of Radiation and Chemo. She was truly the kindest, most loving people I have ever known. She liked people, and people loved her. One of the best things I had about being me was my Mother. I had the kind of Mom every other kid liked. She was funny and smart. I miss her so much, every day. We talked on the phone 4 or 5 times a week, about politics, theatre, anything everything and sometimes nothing at all.
I spent another month in Marin, trying in vain to help my Father adjust to his new life, one that he did not want, and was not ready for. 45 years together, and he was scared of life without her. I was too.

I returned to Chicago in March, and immediately became immersed in the film, Schlager. I was co-writer, one of three producers, and an actor. It was an insane project. The details were overwhelming, and I am not much of a detail person, but the continuing escalation of the size of this project forced me to become a detail person, and did not allow me to focus on my life, my loss, and in some ways did not allow me to grieve. Although, at every roadblock or victory in the path leading up to filming, I wanted to call my Mom and tell her about it.

We shot the movie in May, in 9 days, on High Definition. We had an entirely SAG cast, had gotten a waiver, had John's Place doing our craft foods, gotten the OK from all our locations, and even managed to sign Ray Wild up, who was himself pitched in a grave battle with life threatening cancer.

June and July slid on by, not without some serious unidentified depression on my part. I did not want to leave the house, answer the phone, shave, get out of bed. Induced, I thought, by economy. Friends have said no, it is part of the process, the process of loss, and it is not over yet. By the way, may I say again how much I love my friends? How they were there for me in the winter, and how they keep me afloat today, particularly on those days when I want to see or hear from no one. They do not allow that for long. The Jews, I hear, mourn for a year. That seems very appropriate now. One must deal with the first of everything. Birthdays, holidays, etc.

And here we are back to August. And again, I go from painting a house, to a VO gig for Jim Beam, from this job to that. The corner seems so far away from me now. I do not miss it in the least. My contact with the corner these days is just to navigate it. I still recognize all the faces, but they no longer recognize me, and for that I am thankful. The man that they knew, the one that threw water on them and was concerned with their milling about and peeing in the alley, the one that called the cops and eagerly awaited the day that they left for good, that man is gone. I walk through the corner, on my way to somewhere else, and I do not miss them, or it, or any of it. It sometimes feels so unreal, considering how wrapped up in all of it I was. But, then I realize that unfortunately it is all very very real.

So, I guess, what I am trying to say is, there is nothing happening on the corner, and in reality, there never has been.

My mothers last words to me were, "Call your agent." I miss her so much.




friend of god
Another year gone by, and it all seems the same, only now the faces are a little different. I thought I put this to bed, but for some reason I feel the need to report that The Corner remains as it always has. Resistent to change.

I work at home now, so I see the folks on The Corner more often. I do have to say, from where I stood 3 years ago, I would have thought the place would have changed more than it has. It really hasn't changed that much at all. Borders opened at Lawrence and Broadway. But, really, that's it. The alley crew if anything have increased in number.

I was walking home the other day, walking down broadway from the Wilson El, heading towards Montrose. I walked by a crowd of folks sitting on the east side of the street in the late afternoon sun. They were drinking Natural Light in cans. After 6 years in this neighborhood or so, however the fuck long I have lived here, you would figure that I just wouldn't pay attention. And, for the most part I don't. As I approached, I recognized one of the guys. 4 years ago this guy was a kid, hanging around with Fish and the bunch, barely in his teens. Now, he is an adult. Then I notice his crew. They are all surprisingly familiar, although I have never seen them before. They look like the other folks in the alley crew. Similiar faces, bone structure, coloring. Like, I don't know, just like they were related. But, they were younger. All in there teens. Just sitting on the sidewalk, drinking natural light. The next generation.

As I passed, I heard one girl, maybe sixteen, who looks like everyone else in the alley without the years of hard-wear, say to someone, but no one in particular,

"I was out here for 8, 12 hours yesterday. Ain't nothin happening here. I been here all day today. Ain't nothing happenin. When's Tito coming back, he's got smokes."
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friend of god
So, I am back on the corner. I am so torn, dredging this thing up out of its tomb, but, I am. At least for now. Kinda like when you start smoking again, after going weeks or months or years without smoking, you have one, you have two, and then, you buy a pack. Your back.

Thing is, yesterday I took a walk, I had to edit a document, and I had to get out of my house, so, I walked up Broadway onto Wilson, went to Starbucks, spent about an hour, then went to Shake Rattle and Read at Lawrence and Broadway. From there, I walked south on Broadway, to Jewel, and then home. I walked over a good portion of Uptown. And, I haven't done a lot of that over the past three years. It's the el, my bike, cabs and other peoples cars. Anyhow, so, I saw a lot.

It was a bright and beautiful day, so most folks were out. It has been a cool cool summer, in some ways it feels like a mild fall, and this was our first genuinely nice day in some time. Through the door I could see that Azuzas Liquours was filled with people, here at 7 pm on a Saturday.
Before I got to Aldi, I had seen Pat, Fish, and Bart. Fish was riding a bike and Bart was pushing his buggy, which was about half filled with the various pieces of his life and other detritous. Pat was talking to somone at the bus stop. They are all the same as always. Haven't seen Jerry in years.
The corner of Wilson and Broadway was a hive of activity. People selling ears of corn, standing around, smoking, walking by, lounging by, running by, eyes darting about, shouts, whoops, hollers, just loads of movement, teeming with an unkept humanity.

I had intended to walk up to Lawrence and Broadway and go to the Starbucks at the in the base of the old Uptown Bank. Stare out the window at the Uptown Theatre. But as I stood on that corner, I looked down wilson, and I thought, I never go down wilson. Wilson has a Starbucks. So, I turned left, and just started walking. The fact that I have two Starbucks to choose from is proof that this neighborhood is changing. Actually, three, if you count the Starbucks Coffee counter thing in Jewel now as well.

As I walk towards coffee, I walk by where the Wooden Nickel once stood. I think it was called the Wooden Nickle. It was just west of the train tracks, right next to the SRO hotel. I didn't see the sign for the SRO, but I think it is still there. Anyhow, the Wooden Nickle was a notorious place, the kinda place that gave Uptown that lowdown nasty reputation that it has clung to lo many many years. There were bullets lodged in the walls. There was a constant funk of old smoke, beer, sweat, and desperation. I went there once, years before I moved to the neighborhood, and it was one of those places where I could never shake the feeling of being a target, a potential victim of some sort of drug crazed accidental mixture of wrong time wrong place and opportunity. It closed a few years ago, just after I moved here. As I walk up to the place where it used to be, there are four or five folks congregated out in front, smoking, talking, pleasant enough on this fine Friday evening. It was like, even though the Nickel was gone, this location is a reflexive gathering place.

Once I pass the first block by the train, and get to the Fire House, the old neighborhood, the physical reminder of the past 30 years, disappears. The next few blocks, up to Clark, are littered with new construction, new shops, condo's, and, my destination, a Starbucks.

After my coffee, once I had finished my work, I decided to go on up to Shake Rattle and Read. This is one of those great bookstores, where you can get old paperbacks and old issues of Playboys and Popular Mechanic. It is located one door south of the Uptown Theatre, two doors north of The Green Mill. Unfortunately, when I got there the place was closed. When Borders was rumored to be moving into town, some folks trying to fight the evils of gentrification tried using this store as reason to keep em out. They said that Borders would put his little independant bookstore out of business. This got had some juice behind it until the owner of Shake Rattle and Read, who has been there for more than twenty years, showed up at some meeting and said, hey, I want Borders to come. The more the merrier. Whatever it takes. He said he was sure Borders would not take away his customers, in fact, he would benefit from the overflow, the traffic.

So, I went to Borders. I do love the fact that they turned the old Goldblatts building, a beautiful turn of the century corner building, into something else, instead of just obliterating it. You know, Goldblatts at the corner of Broadway and Lawrence was the first department store ever? Anyhow, they could have torn it down and that would have been a shame, and they didn't, so, good for them. I bought Curtis Mayfield's Greatest Hits, and Alligator Records Genuine Houserockin Music V, with the likes of Tinsley Ellis and Kenny Neal.

I left borders, looked north for second, at the Green Mill and the Uptown theatre. Right next to the Green Mill is a new gay sports bar. Crew. I kinda think you shouldn't have a bar next to the Green Mill, but, whatever. I looked at that block and thought about when the Annoyance moves into their new digs and if they were to ever actually restore the Uptown Theatre, one of the greatest movie palaces ever built. Thought about this corner on a Saturday night somenight in the imagined future. Patricia Barber is doing a set at the Mill, something grand is happening at the Uptown, Bassprov at the Annoyance, Cheap Trick and Billy Corrigan at the Aragon Brawlroom, and some Hip Hop crap at the Riveria. Limo's. A spotlight or two. Then I think about a 90 years ago, when that is what it was like on this corner.

Then I turn north and head home, into the present day reality. I walk past The Uptown Snack shop. I pass by some lowdown hair salon. Two men come out, both are wearing clothes that are a bit too small for them, and kinda grubby, and they are wearing sunglasses, and smiling widely at each other, speaking very jovially in what I am guessing is African. Their hair was perfect.

This little stretch here is pretty much untouched, from the train tracks south to Montrose on Broadway, has so far defied any and every attempt of gentrification. You have the Army Surplus, my favorite bike shop Urban Bikes, Elm Wig Supply, Family Dollar. Right out in front of Family Dollar was the Night Ministry bus, big old white schoolbus. There were lots and lots of folks milling about the bus. My guess is they were giving out food. The desperation on this little stretch of city block is always palpable. The there is the Aldi foodstore. The restaurant I used to work at across the street. And hey, look at that, where Sam used to have his Maxwell Street Polish Shop, they are opening a brand new Pizza Place. Awesome.

Maybe things are changing.
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friend of god
So, they finished the building on the corner of Montrose and Broadway, the 98 condo's. And it is the pain in my ass that I expected it to be.

First of all, the door to the parking garage goes comes out on Montrose right at the stoplight, causing more headaches for the already congested intersection.

Secondly, the people who have been moving in. I hate them. I dislike the way that they look, the way they talk, the way the look around at their new neighborhood with disdain, the cars they drive (and every fucking one of them drives a car, fucking suburbanites!), and most everything about them. They are of that just recently out of college making their first property purchase with help from mom and dad kinda folks, as far as I can tell. I don't see too many seasoned city dwellers living in there. I do think that Azusa's like them, however.

Speaking of my favorite liquor store, I went over there the other day, and I saw a group of urban youths milling around the front door. Before I went in, I heard one yell something, and all 6 of them grab something off the shelves and flee. They nearly knocked me over, literally. As I stood cursing on the sidwalk, five of them ran north, and the sixth and tallest of the youths stood just outside the door, arms raised, taunting Tony, saying "Come on out here, I don't got nothing, come on, I did'nt take nuthin." The then ran after his buddies.


friend of god
Yesterday, after a day of sitting at this evil box combing over the crime of 1993, I decided I need to get out of the house. I have to make a conscious choice to leave these days, and have taken to just walking around my hood smoking. Oh yes, I am smoking again. I am not happy about it, but, I am once again a smoker.

I headed north once again. I did not know necessarily why, but, I did. There were all sorts of people on the corner, but I didn't see any of the alley crew. On the east side of broadway, there was a group of women, in folding chairs, wearing those african print dresses, braiding each others hair. They were right in front of Diana African Restaurant. They were speaking to each other in a foriegn language that I would guess, was african. They seemed so pleasant, smiling, happy, talking to each other. Such a difference from the crew, when they are sitting on the street. Further north, in front of the Carribean CD store, the owner was on the sidewalk, talking to the Vietnamese man who runs the resale shop next door. Across the street at the Tattoo Factory, three of the tattooists where out in front catching a smoke on this muggy late summer evening. I saw the new guy from across the street. I knew he was the new guy, cuz he had a big half page ad in the reader two weeks ago, announcing that he was coming to the Factory to be the new piercing guy. His picture in the paper did justice the heavy metal he has imbedded decoratively about his face. His face glinted in the fading sunlight.

I walked past the Sally, and was puzzled by the lack of any crew representitives, but I soldiered on. Once I got to the corner of Wilson and Broadway, as always, the corner was a hive of frenetic activity. People selling socks by the bundle, bumming smokes off of me, arguing. I noticed the variety all of a sudden. Black, brown, tan, red, white, yellow, olive, there were all there. I saw a family of middle eastern descent crossing the street towards me. They only stood out because they were all nicely dressed. Not formal or anything, but nice, kempt, at least for the corner of Wilson and Broadway. I noticed then that they had an air about them, a demeanor, they were particulary lacking in that cloud of desperation that seems to hang about the residents here. And they were all wearing sandals of some sort. The youngest, a boy of about 7, purposefully flapped his flip-flop sandals down the street. For some reason, that made me happy.

I decided to go up for the Green Mill for a early evening beer. When I got there, there were about 7 people at the bar near the door, and they were talking about Chicago sports, watching the Sox game on the TV over the door. I sat a couple of seats away from the group and drank my beer in the deeply shadowed room. The Old Style I drank was quickly covered with a heavy level of condensation, telling me that it really was quite humid. After about ten minutes, someone said that they would not want to see a Cubs Sox world series, because the city would burn down. At this point, I had to enter the conversation. I told them that only the North Side would burn down. And only if the Cubs won. If the Cubs won that series, I said, the entire south side would rise up and march into the North side and kick its ass. What was left would be burned to the ground by drunken suburban yahoo Cubs fans thinking they were celebrating.

Not that we are going to have to worry about that possibility for some time, if ever. I finished my beer, and headed on home. Sometimes, I love my neighborhood.
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friend of god
It can be a different place 'round here at night.

I just went to get a snack. I needed a snack, you know, the munchy kinda snack. I didn't work today, well, not really, did a little straightening up, put some files in some boxes, cuz I was tripping over them, but not really work. A day away from the crime. Yippee.

Didn't do anything with it, really. I had planned to go see Collateral. I don't like Tom Cruise, but I want to see it. I do hear he does a good job. I like Michael Mann, however. I like his movies, a lot. Thief is up there, perhaps in my own personal top ten movies of all time. I mean, James Caan and Willie Nelson? Anyhow, I was gonna go see that movie, but, I didn't.

I spent my day farting around. Made a salad. Avoided the RNC on tv and radio, although I did check in online a few times. Got a little baked. Then the sun went down and it was time for whiskey. Cubs win. Will Maddux win 15 again? I don't know.

Then came the hunger, and my need to get some food. So, I went to the corner. As I was up to the door, thinking of potato chips, Pat and a couple folks I didn't recognize were walking out. Their eyes were bleary, and they had an air of accomplishment about them. Pat had in her hands two forty ounce bottles of malt liquor, and she walked like a woman on top of the world. The other two folks danced around her like they were going to Disneyland and she had the tickets. As they walked out, three folks walking south on Montrose hollered at them. I stopped to finish my smoke. A tall black man, young, I had never seen him before either, wearing a blue t-shirt under a white tank top, baseball cap, backwards, and baggy shorts, came walking to Pat, and bent his lanky frame to put his face into hers. The other two kept walking. I don't know what was said, but Pat roared, and yanked her bottles, putting as much distance between the liquor and the lanky newcomer as possible. Her lacky's followed the bottles as though it were the bouncing ball.

This newcomber stood up straight and feigned a recoil, as though he'd been insulted, and then looked around. He thought, for just a moment, then he walked out into the middle of Broadway, arms raise, hollering something, something I didn't hear. As cars slowed down for the red light at the intersection, he hollered at them, pointing at drivers and passengers, posing menacingly. Then, he pounded on the back of a red ford escort.

Things like that, in the Improv world, they used to call that heightening.

The car stopped, and two folks got out. A guy got out of the front seat, angry, and a woman out of the passenger, trying to talk the angry guy back into the car. I stood there on the corner, wondering what I was about to witness. Could be anything, you never know. I was far enough away, safe enough, it was like watching tv, only, it was real.

Mr. Escort yelled, and swore, and then as our friend, the newcomer took one menacing step towards him, he got in his car and slammed the door. At that moment, about three horns blared, and then the woman got in, and they drove away, the newcomer raised his arms above his head, still standing in the middle of the street, with the traffic whizzing by.

"I don't give a fuck about nobody!" the newcomer hollered, at the top of his lungs.

"What did you say?!!" I heard in response. Only, the response was louder, more like a roar than a holler, and I looked across the street, and at the opposite bus stop, I see a man, I would say he's an old man, not dottering, but, not young. A grey haired black man, sitting at the bus stop. He had two shopping bags, and was wearing some kind of sport coat. He had been there this whole time, but there had been no reason to notice him. He said it again, exactly the same, only this time, as he did, he slowly stood up.

"What did you say?!"

Now, even Pat was paying attention.

"I didn't say dick!" the newcomer hollered.

The two men stood there, for a moment, staring at each other, one in the street, one at the bus stop. Not moving. Then the old man took one step off the curb, toward the man in the street.

And the man in the street, literally ran away.


friend of god
Well, it looks as though change will come, finally, and the corner that I know and love, and know and hate, is coming to an end, sometime in the forseeable future.

I heard recently that the building where now resides Azusa's Liquors and the Tattoo Factory is going to be torn down, and that lot, along with the old CTA yard behind it is going to be turned into a Target and a movie theatre. The Tattoo Factory is going to move, probably in September, into the site of the Spanish bookstore, once door north of Frankie J's. The liquor store is moving directly across the street into the former home of the church, probably around the same time.

However, the building they are leaving is not going to be torn down and construction will not begin on the corner for at least a year. Therefore, there will be at least six months were the corner is completely abandoned and empty, giving the Alley Crew on last gasp, free reign for one last time, before Uptown and the Corner change forever.

In other news, Fish, I hear, has entered rehab. The owner of the Tattoo Factory said they sent him a carton of smokes when they heard. I wish him well. I have always liked Fish.


friend of god
Well, it looks like the rumors are true. As I walked to Jewel to buy a six pack on this, the first summer-like day of the year here in Chicago (80+ and humid), I saw some painters painting the outside of what was, until recently, a Chinese takeout place, just west of the corner on Montrose, on the south side of the street. I asked what was moving in, and they told me Mr. Salsa, which currently resides directly across Montrose, in the soon to be demolished building. And right next door to the future home of Mr. Salsa, someone is opening a bar, in the place which years ago was Heinz Liquors. Now, Heinz was a packaged goods/tap room kinda place. When you bought your beer on the packaged goods side, you did so through a plexiglass window, depending on the time of night. The taproom side was the kind of place populated with the aged, deeply lined winston smoking monuments to an era gone buy. And loads of video poker machines. I still see the owner in the hood, wandering around the corner. I am sure that the new place will be shiny and clean, with no beer under $4. Still, I cannot complain. I will not mind having a bar 2 minutes from my front door. Will not mind at all.

Soon, it will all change. I have waited so long for this change, wanted it, dreaded it, yet never really beleived in it, although I knew it was inevitable. And here it comes, and I feel, wistful, and sad. What is it I am sad for? Aldi? Acres of prime Chicago property allowed to lay fallow for 10 years? Or perhaps I am sad for my own youth, for as this corner dies, and is reborn, I am reminded of my own age and my own mortality. I don't know, but today, I feel wistful for a past I never knew, yet do not want to let go of.
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friend of god
How I love summer in the city. Rode my bike into work this morning, this beautiful morning. The lakefront was bright and warm and deserted as I pedaled my way downtown, deserted other than the homeless sleeping on the benches dotting the 8 mile path. Boy, what a glorious morning.

The corner has been pretty stable lately. Always a buzz of activity when the weather is right. There was a flyer on my door the other day about a neighborhood meeting to discuss the new tavern going into the former home of Hienz Liquors. That, for some reason, put me at ease. I mean, I want the tavern, but it just seemed it was all happening so fast, so easy. And, let us not forget that I am the guy who canvassed this neighborhood with a petition years ago, fighting to get a liquor license. So, to hear that the folks round here are concerned about a new bar moving in is almost refreshing. Makes me realize that this is still the same place it always has been, at least for today. I mean, you oughtta see the folks that live in that building that is going to house the new tavern. Nothing wrong with them, per se, but they are just the kind of folks who would not sign my petition, and until recently, that building, on the corner of Montrose and Kenmore, the kind of folks that, well, how do you say, that sit on the stoop drinking their Natural Light and smoking generic smokes. Not the alley crew kind of folks, because they do have homes, but, well, it has long been the kind of place where someone will stand on the street and holler up to sixth floor.

"Dionne! Dionne!"
"What kind you want?"
"Passion fruit. Or night train."

I do not mean to imply that there has ever once been a problem with these folks. It just seems a little incongrous for a new tavern to go in to the first floor.

There is a big dumpster on Broadway as the Spanish Bookstore clears itself out and prepares for its new life as The Tattoo Factory.

And, word on the street is that Frankie J's is closing. Got that word from Frank himself. Now, personally, I don't believe it. Hung on for too long to shut his doors now. But, time will tell. It would be a shame for him to shut down just before this neighborhood made the turn he was waiting for. For all that passed between us lo those many years ago, I am surprised to learn that I will be sad if that place shuts its doors. Interesting things you learn about yourself as you get older. I guess it is difficult for me to really honestly wish ill upon someone. Whoda thunk it? I was so convinced I was a bastard.


friend of god
And the change slowly moves on.

Azuza's has officially moved across the street. The new place is much roomier than the old.

The folks hanging at The Corner, at the spot where Azuza's stood as a beacon of alcoholism for all these years, have tripled it the two days since they left. As I expected. No one is there to chase them on their way. When the Tattoo Factory goes, they will have absolute reign over that entire abandoned block.

The last gasp of the old Corner.