Monday, March 31, 2008

CTA stories: Throwdowns

For my first year in Chicago, my co-worker Darryl was in charge of getting my urban slang vocabulary up to speed. Not that he wanted the job, but as the only black employee at our advertising art studio, he was often forced into the role. There were some small rewards, like the time he laughed until he wept after I told him I thought "bootie" was another term for "foot." Yes, I thought that when KC and the Sunshine Band sang "shake your bootie, it's your duty," they were just doing a disco version of the Hokey-Pokey. In addition to getting the body parts vocab straightened out, Darryl introduced me to the term "throwdown," or, fight. Like most African American slang, the term has been appropriated by white youth culture, and now also means moshing/slam dancing. But in 1985, it meant a good old knock-down-drag-out.

I haven't seen a throwdown on CTA in more than a decade. Especially on the gentrified north side, the chance of seeing an all-out slugfest on a bus or train have dwindled to almost nothing. The last two I witnessed occurred fairly close to each other in early 90's: an all-girl melee on the North Avenue bus which left the floor littered with torn homework and hair extensions, and the Brown Line meat fight.

The latter happened on a warm day, as the southbound Ravenswood/Brown Line train made it's way out of the Armitage station. I was sitting in one of those sideways-facing seats near rear, headphones in, lost in my music. Suddenly, everyone else started bustling through the emergency exit door to the following car. I glanced to the front of the car, expecting to see a bumblebee, or even someone know, ordinary train-clearing stuff. Instead, there were two men punching and kicking the hell out of each other. I joined the line exiting the car.

By the time we pulled into the Sedgwick stop, we were all cowering in the other car while the fight continued. After a minute or two, one of the combatants pulled the emergency lever and forced the doors of his car open. He ran down the platform and toward the stairs, taking a sudden detour as a police officer bounded up and pursued him. The second guy, who had an anachronistic porn mustache, followed. A few moments later, he returned, looking wild-eyed. He stood outside our car, talking to a second cop. His neck was covered with bloody scratches, and in one hand, he held a raw steak. I'm not sure what cut, but it was a large one, maybe a Porterhouse.

After about a fifteen minute delay, the train continued on. We passed the first man, now face down on the platform and cuffed, surrounded by police. The role the steak played in the conflict is unclear.

photo by sparktography

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sunday Music: Early Lou Reed

In 1959, seventeen-year-old Lewis "Lou" Reed was sent to the Creedmore State Psychiatric Hospital for eight weeks of electroshock treatment. The treatments were intended to prevent mood swings and "homosexual" thoughts and behavior. Other than wiping his memory for several months, and (in his words) removing his ability to feel compassion, the treatments had little effect.

Reed was in a number of bands in his teens and twenties. After moving to New York in 1963, he became one of a stable of in-house song writers for Pickwick Records. When Reed wrote a "dance" song, his employers thought they had a novelty hit on their hands. The label allowed Reed to form a band, The Primitives, record a single and tour.

The Ostrich, which ostensibly is about the new dance, is a weird and droning take on the entire genre of novelty songs. Reed achieved the strange tonalities by tuning all the strings of his guitar to the same note. John Cale, who later formed The Velvet Underground with Reed, joins him on the recording. The last song, Cycle Annie* by The Beachnuts, is an even earlier Lou Reed recording--kind of sounds like a Velvet Underground/Beach Boys mashup. "Annie" in the song is (what else?) a little butch, and makes her man ride on back.

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*original link for Cycle Annie was taken down. You can listen to it on Realplayer (sorry) here. [Link]

Friday, March 28, 2008

This has nothing to do with Eliot Spitzer

Women For Sale trailer, c. 1960. NSFW...sorta.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Amusing Searches

bro sis stories

cute chemotherapy fanny packs

naked pictures of seven foot woman

nude people living together

secret ingredient in coke ginger?

stupid nurses vs doctors

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the bitch bus limousine

who are scott engels friends?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sunday Music: Les Desmoiselles de Rochefort

Happy Easter! Our musical selection is from that Easter egg-colored Francestravaganza, Les Desmoiselles de Rochefort, directed by Jacques Demy. The Young Girls of Rochefort featured the beautiful real-life sisters Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac. Dorléac, the brunette in this film, tragically died in a car accident shortly after filming. Her death cast a pall on the film's premier in 1967, and on subsequent ticket sales.

I have seen this movie a couple of times, and still had to refer to the Wikipedia article to remember the particulars of the plot. In fact, the story line hardly matters. The great Gene Kelly sings and dances, the Deneuve/Dorléac sisters appear in one designer outfit after another, and all the while, a chorus of mime-ishly attired dancers prance around and ride white bicycles in the background. Out-of-wedlock pregnancy, May/September romance, and an inebriated child all recieve nonchalant treatment.

The jazz-inflected score, by Michel Legrand, was nominated for the Academy Award. The clip below is Gene Kelly singing and dancing up a storm for the theme "Andy in Love." Note the outfits of the women passing Andy (Kelly) as he falls instantly in love with Solange (Dorléac).

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Weather Report

Gahh!! Once again, for about the kajillionth time this winter, the skies dumped a load of snow on our city. I shoveled the wet stuff as quickly as I could, pausing to reflect that I had a lot more energy than when I was on radiation. I talked to my sister-in-law yesterday, and she mentioned that I seemed to have dropped cancer as a topic in this blog. I have neglected to tie up the loose ends of my treatment, the more aggressive part of which ended a little over a month ago.

I had my first post-radiation appointment with the oncologist on February 14. While I was in the waiting room, I noticed a man sitting across from me. He wasn't a kid, but was obviously younger than me, dressed in business casual and checking the messages on his cell. Maybe he was waiting for an elderly parent? We kept casting glances at each other and finally struck up conversation about the complimentary beverages. "I didn't discover the coffee until my seventh chemo," I told him. "Oh, did you finish treatment? I'm just starting."

Brian had just been diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. He was taking a shower when he discovered a lump near his collar bone. "I guess we caught it early; it hasn't traveled below my pelvis." Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphocytes, or white blood cells, has a cure rate of over 90 percent. "It's the cancer you want to get..." he said, adding "...though I'm sick of hearing healthy people tell me that." Brian is only 38, and was just starting a second career when this hit. We exchanged cards, promising to keep in touch.

Dr. T., the resident working with my oncologist Dr. C., was the first to see me. I secretly hoped that Brian had the same oncology team, because her appearance would have brightened the mood of any heterosexual male. Dr. T. is HOT, as in Gray's Anatomy hot, and on Valentine's Day, she kicked it up a notch: wine-colored wrap dress, boots and fishnet stockings. "You look cute," she said to me, taking in my outfit. "So do YOU!" I answered. "Everyone has commented on my appearance today. They keep asking me if I'm going out tonight." Was she? "No. This is my only chance to look pretty today." And give male cancer patients heart-attacks.

Dr. C. came in after a few minutes. We discussed my post-radiation treatment. "I'm going to put you on Tamoxifen for a year," she said. She explained that since Tamoxifen was only effective at blocking the action of estrogen, most of which is produced by the ovaries, it wasn't ideal for post-menopausal cancer patients. "We'll test your hormone levels in a year to confirm that you're really in menopause." If confirmed, then I'll switch to an aromatase inhibitor, a drug which is believed to be more effective with menopausal women. "Tamoxifen increases your chance of developing cervical cancer, but the risk is very small. It most likely will increase the incidence of hot flashes. But, nobody has ever died of a hot flash." True, but I could kill someone while I'm having one.

So, I'm taking an anti-cancer drug, and will see the oncologist once every three months. In addition to physical check-ups, I need to order a mammogram for May, and also meet with my surgeon again. The rest of my body, neglected for a year, is overdue for a tune-up. I might as well get used to doctors' offices.

Friday, March 21, 2008


Tuesday night, we went to see our friends The Honeybees play at a burlesque show. New Burlesque, if you haven't caught that particular trend, is a melding of vintage pre-Playboy-era striptease aesthetic with sex-positive feminism and performance art. If that sounds all Camille Paglia-ish and academic, don't be put off. It's a blast to see women with real bodies (curvy) and attitude take it all off to jaunty rockabilly music. The current show, produced by Angela Eve's Twisted Tassel, has one more engagement at Chicago's temple to live nudenude girls, Admiral Theatre, then they move to a new venue. The photo above is Miss Holly Wouldn't, one of the performers at Tuesday's show. Her Naughty Librarian routine was the hit of the entire event. That must have been one dirty book she was reading.

When I first moved to Chicago, there were at least a dozen strip clubs in the city limits. Today, it's down to a handful. This is mostly due to a law prohibiting alcohol sales and nudity in the same venue. I've read somewhere that a majority of the old clubs were champagne joints, where the performers pressured customers to buy overpriced drinks. The Admiral circumvents the alcohol issue by having a $25 door, and charging anywhere from 10 to 75 bucks for more personalized dances at the customer's table or in a VIP room booth. Drinks, all non-alcoholic, are $5.

During intermission, the regular crew of dancers came out to entertain the crowd. They all seemed to be under 25, and all deeply bored. The girls gyrated languidly on poles sporting facial expressions which I suppose were meant to indicate sultriness. Their costumes (mostly cheap-looking lacy thongs) were a let-down too, especially after the sexy glamor of the burlesque show outfits.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sunday Music: Nature Boy

First of all, Happy St. Patrick's Day. In Chicago, this is a civic holiday of sorts, where Irish-Americans remind the rest of us that they could have us tarred and feathered, if they so wished. I'm of mostly German descent, so I take a dim view of ethnic pride. Oh well, dyeing the Chicago river green is sort of festive.

Our musical selection for this week is the theme of the 1948 film The Boy With Green Hair. The movie and the song, Nature Boy, are a trivia fest of epic proportions. The main character of the film, played by a very young Dean Stockwell, is a war orphan whose hair mysteriously turns green. He is ostracized by the people of his adoptive town, and flees into the forest, only to realize later that his bizarre hair color is an anti-war message. Or, at least that's what the synopsis in Wikipedia says. I haven't seen the movie, but it's going on my Netflix queue pronto, if only to see Dennis Hopper's creepy friend from Blue Velvet as a cute verdant-mopped tyke.

Nature Boy, performed by the sublime Nat King Cole, was written by eden ahbez, a man who was a hippie 20 years before the term had even been coined. I especially like the story that he camped out under the "L" on the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles. The haunting melody was swiped from a Yiddish-language song, Sveig Mein Hartz, by Herman Yablakoff. It's likely that Cole recognized the tune, but recorded the song anyway.

Public Service Announcement

Graduation Day, June 1981. L to R: Mom, 22-year-old knucklehead, Dad

The flurry of correspondence among my former art school classmates is heating up. I just had nice convo with my ex-sorta boyfriend, who reminded me of stories and people I haven't thought of in 25 years. The brain is a funny thing; how can something so profoundly forgotten suddenly be accessed? Now, I'm starting to dream about art school.

A call went out for old photos, and I found the above. If I remember correctly, I had terrible problems in 1981: A "C" in Design II (or was it III?), a guy had dumped me, and I had a pimple on my chin. Not to trivialize the angst of youth, but I can't help but make a comparison to my current situation. I've just survived eight months of cancer treatment. And, I'd give anything to hug my Dad again.

This is where the public service announcement comes in. My father died of metastasized prostate cancer. We just recently lost a friend to the same, at the young age of 57. Gentlemen, please go and get a checkup and a PSA test. I know a lot of men put off getting an examination because it's unpleasant, but prostate cancer is very insidious. If it isn't detected early, it can easily spread to other organs. Remind yourself that you're doing it for everyone who loves you.

Friday, March 14, 2008

TGINF: The Party

I'm totally punting this one today. Square America, a "gallery of vintage snapshots and vernacular photography," has a naughty photo set from a very wild party. Judging from the hair and (skimpy) clothing, this swingin' happening was sometime in the late sixties.

The Party

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Sunday Music: The Monks

Dressed in black, with heads shaved like medieval monks, the rock group The Monks may have seemed, at least to the general public, like a novelty act. Formed by U.S. servicemen stationed in Germany during the mid-60's, the group faced some limitations in their ability to look like actual rockers. Thus, the tonsures.

Musically, The Monks were far from a novelty act, and are still cited as early influences of both garage and punk. Dave Day, who played the banjo in the following clip, passed away from a heart attack in January, 2008. I assure you that you will never view the instrument as homespun or folky ever again...this is some aggressive banjo-playing.

The Monks live in Germany 1965, performing "Complication"

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Stop the Beardness

It's should be over. For God's sake, the New York Times said it was trendy in 2006, so why are we still seeing these crusty-looking beards on 25-year-olds? Tonight, while I was walking home, a man emerged from my alley holding what looked like a bunched-up plastic bag. He was wearing a hunter's cap with earflaps, wrinkled work pants, a flannel shirt, and had a long, matted beard. Another beard-core hipster, I thought to myself, and stared at him a little too long. "Hiyah sweetie, " he mumbled. He looked a little unsteady. I could then see that he had a Forty in the bag, and was probably closer to 50 than 25. Just an ordinary neighborhood drunk, unaware that he looked trendy.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Sunday Music: Love

While visiting the record store Dusty Groove recently, I bought a cd reissue of Love Forever Changes, by the 1960's group Love. Love is certainly not obscure, receiving almost universal critical praise. Their fusion of psychedelia and garage-band styles have been cited as influential by several other artists. Yet, they were never very popular in the U.S., perhaps because nobody knew now to market a racially mixed rock group with a black lead singer. Arthur Lee, the singer-songwriter who fronted the band, squabbled with his record company and made some bad decisions, such as taking a pass on Woodstock. Love's misfortunes continued as members dropped out and into drug addiction.

I was surprised to discover only one Love video on YouTube, an appearance on American Bandstand in 1966, where they performed their first and only hit written by someone else, Burt Bacharach's "Little Red Book." If you have time, listen to the lovely "She Comes in Colors", which was written by Arthur Lee well before the Rolling Stones' "She's Like a Rainbow."

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