WBEZ | Rick Kogan essays http://www.wbez.org/tags/rick-kogan-essays Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Cardinal George and the house of 19 chimneys http://www.wbez.org/programs/afternoon-shift/2012-12-18/cardinal-george-and-house-19-chimneys-104453 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/RS2444_AP060406015168-cardinal george Charles Rex Arbogast-scr.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>I have never been invited to a party at the three story red-brick mansion that sits imposingly on North Avenue between State Parkway and Astor Street. This is the home of Cardinal Francis George.</p><p>This building, often called the &quot;House of 19 Chimneys,&quot; has been the official home of all of Chicago&#39;s Roman Catholic leaders (does it surprise you that there have been only eight?) since it was built in 1885. Their names: Archbishop Patrick A. Feehan, Archbishop James E. Quigley, Cardinals George Mundelein, Samuel Stritch, Albert Meyer, John Cody, Joseph Bernardin and, since 1997, Francis George.</p><p>At the time the mansion was erected it was one of the first homes in the Gold Coast neighborhood. Back then, Archbishop Feehan headed an Archdiocese in which most Catholics were immigrants struggling to find their way in a new nation and culture. In building such an impressive house amid the similarly impressive homes of the city&#39;s elite, Feehan was making a very public statement about the church&#39;s membership in Chicago&#39;s power structure.</p><p>More than a century later, however, the mansion has come to seem, to some people, including Cardinal George, who has taken a vow of poverty, as more than a bit too ostentatious.</p><p>&quot;How do you live in a way that appears simpler when living in that house?&quot; the cardinal said in 2002 when he suggested it should be sold. His advisers, though, dissuaded him, citing its historical significance.</p><p>City light bandleader Rich Daniels gets invited to many fine houses. He&#39;s usually in the company of many musicians, especially over the years he and his band have played at the cardinal&#39;s Christmas party.</p><p>Daniels says of the cardinal&rsquo;s house: &ldquo;Much like any other respected building in Chicago, you feel a sense of history all around you. This home was used by Franklin Roosevelt as a retreat while he was president, not to mention the fact that pope John Paul II stayed and prayed here on his Chicago visits. The home screams respect, dignity and history.&quot;</p><p>Over many years, saxophonist Daniels has filled this house (or at least some of its rooms) with music at Christmas time. There is no doubt that when he does so, he remembers growing up as the only child of Richard and Virginia Daniels in the Wrightwood neighborhood and attending St. Thomas More Catholic Church.</p><p>So, how is the cardinal&#39;s Christmas party?</p><p>&quot;Everyone, including the cardinal, could not have been nicer to us,&quot; Daniels says. &quot;It was terrific and packed with good-spirited guests. It&#39;s always a wonderful event. The cardinal personally greets all of the guests, about 250 people, and takes photos with them near his Christmas tree.&quot;</p><p>I ask him: anybody get drunk and act crazy?</p><p>There was no answer; leading me to the realization that part of being a big band leader is knowing when to be quiet.</p></p> Tue, 18 Dec 2012 15:08:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/programs/afternoon-shift/2012-12-18/cardinal-george-and-house-19-chimneys-104453 Innocence lost http://www.wbez.org/blog/videos/2012-12/innocence-lost-104419 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Newtown AP Mary Altaffer children.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>If you have been listening to the last hour on this radio station or have been tied to the news in any other way, you know why I feel sick and, with an eight year old daughter named Fiona, why I feel scared.</p><p>And so I retreat for a moment to an innocent time and I am a child and my world is free of death and terror. My friend`s father, Mr. Paraskevas, works at the Sheraton as a doorman and that allows us&mdash;a pack of kids from old town&mdash;the chance to use the hotel`s swimming pool.</p><p>This remains among my greatest memories&hellip;so innocent, taking the bus downtown, trunks and towels tucked under our arms; riding the elevators up to the pool room, embellished by a fountain and a massive dugout canoe; swimming and diving until we were too tired to swim anymore; spending our returned-bottles money on raisin toast and cokes at the coffee shop.</p><p>The 42-story hotel, now the Intercontinental, was built in 1929 as the Medinah Athletic Club. It once housed a miniature golf course, gymnasium, bowling alley, shooting range and boxing arena, but by the time it was taken over by Sheraton in 1947, the pool was all that remained of the athletic amenities. But it is a sight to see, as are other corners of the hotel. Perhaps that was what a man named Nicholas Wieme was exploring Wednesday night after he and a pal had dinner downstairs.</p><p>As most of you know, this trip ended tragically. Wieme slipped and fell into the building&rsquo;s smokestack and the heroic efforts of firefighters could not save his life and in the wake of his death we all learned that this young man was from a small town in Minnesota and that he was an aspiring comedian and actor&hellip;and that he was 23.</p><p>And then&hellip;I know I cannot escape death.</p><p>In Connecticut this morning, 26 people, 20 of them children, dead and we may never know why.</p><p>But we must be reminded of this, from John Donne:</p><p><em>No man is an island,<br />entire of itself.<br />Each is a piece of the continent,<br />a part of the main.<br />Each man&#39;s (child&rsquo;s) death diminishes me,<br />for i am involved in mankind.<br />Therefore, send not to know<br />for whom the bell tolls,<br />it tolls for thee. </em></p></p> Fri, 14 Dec 2012 14:06:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/videos/2012-12/innocence-lost-104419 Let it snow http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-12/let-it-snow-104350 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" height="309" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/flickr%20chad%20magira.jpg" style="float: left;" title="(Flickr/Chad Magiera)" width="414" /></div><p>It is the twelfth of December in the year 2020, and the little girl climbs onto her father&#39;s lap and asks, &quot;Daddy, did you ever see snow?&quot;</p><p>The father laughs.</p><p>&quot;Oh, yes, honey, there used to be lots of snow in Chicago,&quot; he says.</p><p>&quot;What happened?&quot; asks the little girl. &quot;When did it stop?&quot;</p><p>&quot;Well, that&#39;s a tough question to answer,&quot; says the father. &quot;But I&#39;ll try. Seems to me that in the 1990s the winters had started to get a little easier; they weren&#39;t as cold, there wasn&#39;t as much snow, the wind didn&#39;t howl as loudly, and the Santas who stood on street corners could sometimes be seen perspiring and drinking iced tea. More and more people started talking about these mild winters&mdash;but no one really did anything about them.</p><p>&ldquo;And so people in winter started playing golf and jogging and doing stuff in the lake, which used to freeze sometimes because it would get so cold. And people started going to places like Canada and the Swiss Alps, where they still had snow and where it was cold.&rdquo;</p><p>He pauses for a moment in reflection. &quot;In the old days winters used to be roaring indoor fires in things called fireplaces, snowball fights, skating on frozen ponds, sledding down hills covered in snow.&quot;</p><p>&quot;It sounds like the old-fashioned winters were sooooo fun,&quot; the little girl says.</p><p>&ldquo;A lot of it was. They used to make these real pretty sculptures out of ice at the Lincoln Park Zoo. But there were some bad things too, like cars that would be buried for a long time, no places to park, something called frostbite that would make fingers and noses and toes all numb. Sometimes schools would have to close because of the snow and cold.&quot;</p><p>&quot;Schools would be closed!&quot; says the girl.</p><p>&quot;So, Daddy, do you remember what snow looks like? Do you miss it? Do you miss the snow and the cold?&quot;</p><p>The father looks outside. The sun is shining brightly and all is green. He can see his wife and younger son putting out treats for Santa&mdash;a pitcher of lemonade and some chips and salsa&mdash;on a table that sits on the deck of the swimming pool, where some neighborhoods kids are splashing.</p><p>&quot;I do miss it a little. Snow was white and it was beautiful; and sometimes late at night, when the moon was out, it would sparkle on the trees and lawns like a million little stars that had fallen from the sky,&quot; he says, wrapping his arms around his daughter. &quot;And when the temperature would get low it could make you feel really alive and fresh and make you want to hug a pretty little girl really tight so she would never, ever get cold.&quot;</p></p> Wed, 12 Dec 2012 14:47:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-12/let-it-snow-104350 Rick Kogan Essay: The beat generation http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-12/rick-kogan-essay-beat-generation-104299 <p><p>In a couple of minutes, you&rsquo;ll hear about some bad cops&mdash;but first, the story of two beat cops.</p><p>There was, of course, the day that Jack was knocked to the pavement while chasing a man who had just robbed Walgreens. And one day, some years ago, Dom had to pull his gun while trying to catch a bank robber. But on most days the hardest thing Jack Haran and Dominic La Calamita had to do was explain the difference between the Water Tower and Water Tower Place.</p><p>They were cops. More specifically, they were beat cops; remnants of a more personal past, when police officers worked on foot.</p><p>The beat Jack and Dom patrolled was in the 18th District and roughly encompassed an area from Ohio Street south to the Michigan Avenue Bridge, from Rush Street East to Columbus Drive.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" height="308" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Michigan%20Avenue%20Bridge%20flickr.jpg" style="float: right;" title="(Flickr/genpi25)" width="466" /></div><p>This area includes not only a subterranean stretch of Lower Michigan, but the glittering, tourist-packed street above, home to such disparate operations as embassies, banks, consulates, hotels, retail stores and the Chicago Tribune.</p><p>When they began walking this small slice of the city in the 1970s, beat cops had all but vanished during a 1960s push for modernization by those who believed that officers driving in squad cars were more effective fighting crime than cops walking.</p><p>Jack and Dom sort of slipped through the cracks, along with a few others, becoming almost instant relics&mdash;foot soldiers in a war being fought with cars. They kept on walking, though, directing traffic and tourists and chasing the occasional&mdash;the very occasional&mdash;bad guy.<br />To most of the people who knew them, they were simply Dom and Jack, and to stand with them on Michigan Avenue for more than a few minutes was to understand the intimacy that their combined 40 years on the beat created.</p><p>They are more than passing acquaintances with hundreds of people who work and live on the beat. They are privy to office gossip, know what time people arrive at and leave work. They will tell you about the panhandler who owns a condominium, about the successful female architect who became a down-and-outer and about cabbies not to be trusted.</p><p>&quot;We may have a lot of people who we are friendly with down here,&quot; says La Calamita. &quot;But we are still police officers. We treat people the way we would like to be treated.&quot;</p><p>They both retired some time ago and Jack died in 2008, Dom died over the weekend.</p><p>But I remember them well. As a stiff wind whipped across the avenue this morning, I could almost see them walking along the sidewalk. Somewhere else in the city, cops were shooting guns and kicking in doors; busting drug dealers and collaring gang-bangers; driving around in familiar blue-and-white cruisers&hellip;serving and protecting.</p><p>But I could hear Dom saying: &ldquo;They don&#39;t make TV show about guys like us. We just do what we do. There&rsquo;s no glamour in that.&quot;</p><p>But there was honor. There was honor. &nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Mon, 10 Dec 2012 14:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-12/rick-kogan-essay-beat-generation-104299 Rick Kogan essay: Two men named 'Cap' and how Streeterville got its name http://www.wbez.org/news/rick-kogan-essay-two-men-named-cap-and-how-streeterville-got-its-name-104218 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F70135625?" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/tumblr_ma5tuutmXW1ryu5vzo1_1280.png" style="float: left; height: 280px; width: 280px;" title="View of the Hancock building from a Streeterville park. (Tricia Bobeda/WBEZ via Instagram)" />There are, by the count of cartographers and real estate developers, more than 200 neighborhoods in Chicago. And no matter how sad and downtrodden, how happy and swank, people live and work and love in all of them.</p><p>I have lived in the Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, New Town, DePaul, Boys Town, Hyde Park and now I live and work and love in Streeterville.</p><p>Unlike other neighborhoods with dull or obvious names &mdash; Fernwood, Edgewater, Grand Crossing, Greek Town &mdash; Streeterville&#39;s got a colorful pedigree, owing its name to a wild man and the woman he loved.</p><p>On Navy Pier there is a boat named for him and this morning a bunch of school kids were standing in front of it and listening to their teachers say, &ldquo;Cap Streeter? Well, he was a famous baseball player for the Chicago White Sox.&rdquo;</p><p>Well, that would be wrong.</p><p>Cap Streeter&rsquo;s real name was George Wellington Streeter and he did not play baseball and he was born near Flint, Michigan, in 1837.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/tumblr_mcgmxaAhWM1ryu5vzo1_1280.jpg" style="height: 300px; width: 300px; float: right;" title="An autumn view of Streeterville. (Tricia Bobeda/WBEZ via Instagram)" /></div>George Streeter was a boat captain and he was married to a woman named Ma.</div><p>Cap and Ma Streeter (her real name was Maria). And he was first called &quot;Cap&quot; when he maneuvered boats up and down the Mississippi. He moved from river to lake &mdash; and in 1886 his boat, The Reutan, hit a sand bar in Lake Michigan off what is now Superior Street&hellip;or so he claimed.</p><p>Cap and Ma, having nothing better to do, decided to stay put. In time, silt gathered around the boat and eventually connected it to the shore. Then the city began dumping stuff into the water to make land on which to build Lake Shore Drive.</p><p>This created 186 acres of new territory. Streeter claimed rights to this new land and was willing to defend it, a shotgun in one hand and a bottle of whiskey in the other.</p><p>This new neighborhood quickly filled with prostitutes, gamblers and drunks and they helped the Streeters fight the police department&#39;s many attempts to evict them.<br />Eventually the couple tired of the brawls and moved to Indiana, where Cap died in 1921.</p><p>The John Hancock building is, of course, named for the man who put the most flamboyant signature on the Declaration of Independence.</p><p>It sits in Streeterville, as do so many other fine buildings and restaurants and hotels and the place I live and I hope that some teacher somewhere is getting it right.</p><p>The teacher I saw and heard this morning was close. A man named Adrian &ldquo;Cap&rdquo; Anson did play for the White Stockings for a time. He was the first person to get 3,000 hits. He was also a man who refused to take the field if there were black players on the opposing team.</p><p>So Cap Streeter, drunk and crazy man, or Cap Anson, racist? I&rsquo;ll take Cap Streeter any day.</p></p> Wed, 05 Dec 2012 15:02:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/rick-kogan-essay-two-men-named-cap-and-how-streeterville-got-its-name-104218 Booze in the news http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-12/booze-news-104185 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Old%20Town%20Ale%20House%20flickr.jpg" style="float: right; width: 422px; height: 316px;" title="(Flickr/Jenni Konrad)" />The bars of Division Street: where a man named Vanecko hit a man name Koschman. And in a Northwest Side bar, a policeman named Abbate beat a bartender named Karolina Obrycka.</div><p>Sorrowful, both, but the city has a rich and lengthy tradition of booze and taverns. It can be traced to early settler Marc Beaubien, who would enliven his Sauganash Inn with fine fiddle-playing in the 1830s.&nbsp;Ever since, the tavern has functioned as an important social focal point, though few have been willing to admit &mdash; or understand &mdash; its significance as a culturally enriching agent.&nbsp;</p><p>In <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Drink-A-Social-History-America/dp/0786707437" target="_blank"><em>Drink: A Social History of America</em></a>, Andrew Barr writes about taverns in the early years of this century: &quot;In a saloon every man was equal. The saloon provided newspapers, billiards, card tables, bowling alleys, lavatories and washing facilities. It provided information and company.&quot;&nbsp;</p><p>Chicago was never thirstier than a few minutes before 4:32 p.m. on December 5, 1933, as thousands waited for the repeal of the 18th Amendment to end a drought that had lasted &mdash; but who was counting? &mdash; 13 years, 10 months and 19 days.</p><p>Though a number of neighborhood taverns &mdash; former speakeasies mostly &mdash; jumped the gun by a few hours, many of the large downtown drinking establishments kept packs of patrons waiting until the appointed legal minute. Huge crowds lined up five and six deep along the bars, and they had stamina, staying into the early morning hours.&nbsp;</p><p>The celebration was relatively sedate: Only 27 people were arrested for intoxication. The Congress Hotel, emptied 100 cases of champagne, 75 cases of whiskey, 75 cases of gin and 100 cases of wine. The Sherman House served more than 10,000 people at its three bars and grand ballroom. A number of older bartenders complained about the increase in female customers, one of them worrying that &quot;If the talk gets rough, we&#39;ll have to defend the ladies.&quot;</p><p>Flash forward a couple of decades and writer A.J. Liebling spent some time here and wrote a series of articles for the <em>New Yorke r</em>&mdash; later collected in <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Chicago-Second-City-J-Liebling/dp/0803280351/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1354653542&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=aj+the+second+city" target="_blank">book form</a> &mdash; that would become famous for giving the city its Second City moniker.&nbsp;</p><p>Liebling observed this: &quot;A thing about Chicago that impressed me from the hour I got there was the saloons. New York bars operate on the principle that you want a drink or you wouldn&#39;t be there. If you are civil and don&#39;t mind waiting, they will sell you one when they get around to it. Chicago bars assume that nobody likes liquor, and that to induce the customers to purchase even a minute quantity, they have to provide a show.&rdquo;</p><p>That&rsquo;s nice (and true) but I still prefer the observation by the great late piano bar man Buddy Charles when he told me late one night at The Acorn on Oak: &ldquo;What makes taverns and saloons work is that people are inherently eager for intimacy.&quot;</p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Tue, 04 Dec 2012 14:06:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-12/booze-news-104185 Talking turkeys http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-11/talking-turkeys-103939 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/turkey%20flickr.jpg" style="float: right; width: 438px; height: 287px;" title="(Flickr/OZinOH)" /></div><p>You all have Thanksgiving memories&mdash;but none of your memories go back to 1895.</p><p>On Thanksgiving Day that year the country&#39;s first official auto race took place. It was a 55-mile round-trip journey between the South Side and Evanston. Competing were four gasoline-powered cars and two that ran on electricity. The winners were brothers Charles and Frank Duryea in their &quot;buggynaut,&quot; a marvel that had three forward speeds. They won $2,000 (a lot of dough at the time) for covering the course in just under eight hours.</p><p>One of my memories is tied to North Avenue, near where I grew up in Old Town. There was for many years a live poultry place at North and Wells and that was where the alderman of the 43<sup>rd</sup> ward, the infamous Mathias &ldquo;Paddy&rdquo; Bauler, got the turkeys and ducks that he would dole out to people the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.</p><p>There are still live poultry stores in the city, a dozen or so, and the owners will tell you more people are interested in fresh birds.</p><p>Call me squeamish, but walking into Chicago Live Poultry on Lawrence Avenue. And seeing all sorts of animals&mdash;rabbits, pigeons, turkeys, geese, roosters, quail, guinea hens and chickens, lots of chickens&mdash;sitting in cages and unknowingly awaiting their inevitable place on someone&#39;s dinner table, was almost enough to instantly convert me to vegetarianism. I had entered this store because I had been attracted by its windows, which are covered with colorful paintings of animals, the sort of playful illustrations one might find in a children&#39;s book.&nbsp;</p><p>The store had been around for more than 25 years, according to Hibib Alshimary, who started working there as a young man and who is now one of the owners. This, of course, is the shop&#39;s busiest season. During this month Chicago Live Poultry prepares and sells some 50 turkeys a week.&nbsp;</p><p>The process by which this is accomplished is not for the fainthearted. But let&#39;s not be hypocritical: It is the same process employed, in a more mechanized and automated fashion, by such huge poultry companies as Tyson and Perdue. Which is the more gruesome?</p><p>I watched birds being beheaded, plucked and cleaned. He is not at all squeamish. But many people buying birds and rabbits did not want to have their names appear in the paper, lest they, as one customer put it, &quot;have people think that we are cruel or weird.&quot;&nbsp;</p><p>&quot;Does it bother me to kill the animals? No way,&quot; says Alshimary. &quot;This is a good, fast-growing business.&quot;&nbsp;</p><p>So good (the store sells about 450 chickens a week) that he opened another store.&nbsp;</p><p>&quot;People like because it is fresher,&quot; he says. &quot;The animals are raised without any chemicals. People who buy here tell their friends and many yuppies come now.&quot;&nbsp;</p><p>Wherever I am at Thanksgiving, there will probably be a turkey. And, memories of being in a poultry store nicely faded, I&#39;ll probably have some. I just hope it&#39;s one I haven&#39;t met.</p></p> Tue, 20 Nov 2012 14:24:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-11/talking-turkeys-103939 Iron Mike http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-11/iron-mike-103943 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Ditka%20flickr%20Danielhedrick.jpg" style="float: left; width: 360px; height: 480px;" title="(Flickr/Daniel Hedrick)" /></div><p>He does not seem made of flesh and blood. It is a summer day some years ago and I am looking at his head. Look&hellip;it is the color and shape of a gigantic tomato, the sort that wins prizes and &quot;wows&quot; at a county fair. Look at his hair: It is like one of those sleek bicycle helmets. And look how he walks, with a limp so pronounced that it hurts to watch him, as if his legs were made of wood.</p><p>He is Mike Ditka and he stands for something. He&#39;s got character. He&#39;s an American. He&#39;s loyal. He&#39;s hard-working. He&#39;s paid his dues. And he&#39;s unafraid of being himself.</p><p>That&#39;s why everybody wants a piece of him, to be near him. It&#39;s enough for a lot of people just to be near a picture of Ditka. He is no longer a sports figure&mdash;he has become an American icon.&nbsp;<br />And a Chicago phenomenon.&nbsp;</p><p>It has been many, many years since he has held a steady job in Chicago. He&#39;s nearly three decades removed from coaching the Bears to a Super Bowl victory. It has been longer still since he last donned a helmet and shoulder pads.&nbsp;But Ditka&#39;s popularity in Chicago is extraordinary.</p><p>On any given night or during Sunday afternoons during the football season, the largest gathering of what might be called Ditkaholics can be found at Mike Ditka&#39;s Restaurant at 100 E. Chestnut St.&nbsp;There isn&#39;t a night there that you won&#39;t hear someone say, &ldquo;Hey, he&#39;s upstairs. Ditka&#39;s here.&rdquo; You know he is out of town but you go upstairs anyway and there&#39;s some guy who looks just like Mike---the hair, the mustache, the cigar. After a while you start to think half the guys in Chicago look like Mike.&nbsp;</p><p>The place is packed with Ditka look-alikes or wannabes, perusing a menu filled with such items as Da Pork Chop, Kick-Ass Paddle Steak, Training Table Pot Roast and Smashed Potatoes. The prices end in .20, .63 and .89, corresponding to, respectively, Super Bowl XX, the year Ditka joined the Bears and his jersey number.</p><p>Ditka&#39;s image is everywhere. The restaurant&#39;s walls are covered with photos of him, as well as other sports stars. There is his caricature on the beer taps and mugs; on cigar bands and matchbooks; on the shirts and hats sold at a gift counter; on the dinner plates and the backs of bar stools.&nbsp;</p><p>The face is even stamped into every pat of butter.</p><p>Ditka&#39;s hard-working, fun-loving and crazy. What&#39;s not to love? He&#39;s genuine. Nothing he does is an act. There is always a cauldron boiling under the surface and it often erupts. This is a man with no hidden agenda. The agenda&#39;s right up there in your face.&nbsp;</p><p>Ditka was carved from the foothills of western Pennsylvania in the rough mill town of Aliquippa, north of Pittsburgh, escaping the steelworker&#39;s life and traveling a road that took him to all-America honors at the University of Pittsburgh; a Hall of Fame career as a tight end for the Bears, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys; and a coaching job for eight years in Dallas.&nbsp;</p><p>In 1982 he wrote a letter to his former coach and the owner of the Bears:&nbsp;<br />&quot;Dear Mr. Halas:&nbsp;<br />I want to come back. I am a Bear.&quot;</p><p>And so he did. And so will he ever be.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="http://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F68068309&amp;show_artwork=true" width="100%"></iframe></p></p> Mon, 19 Nov 2012 15:06:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-11/iron-mike-103943 Tis the season http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-11/tis-season-103926 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Michigan%20Avenue%20lights%20flickr.jpg" style="width: 388px; height: 388px; float: left;" title="" /></div><p>They are putting up the stands and the barricades today, making ready for the one million people, give or take, coming to watch tomorrow the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival parade make its way down Michigan Avenue.</p><p>Think back, way back and imagine the delight that must have been felt by the fur-clad gang huddled in some cave on the night that one of their buddies walked in holding a burning torch and said, more or less, &quot;Hey, everybody, look at this! I call it light.&quot;</p><p>So it has been ever since&mdash;light as the answer to the ancient need to dispel the fears that lurk in darkness and bring hopefulness into the bleakness that is winter. For centuries, light was used by various cultures and religions in their rites and festivals. Then Americans and their Christmas celebrations came along.</p><p>Before Thomas Edison invented the filament lamp in 1879; light meant fire and fire meant danger: Those who decorated their trees with candles risked a very incendiary Christmas. Though lights in many styles were being manufactured by the 1880s, they were so expensive as to be out of the reach of all but the wealthy. Even after that most dour of our presidents, Calvin Coolidge, turned on the lights of the first national Christmas tree on the South Lawn of the White House in 1923, few citizens took to decorating their homes, or even their trees, with lights.</p><p>But by the &#39;50s, with suburban homes and lawns providing plenty of room but also large areas of darkness, holiday lights began to appear on houses and yards in ever-growing numbers and ever more creative designs, soon to be embellished and sometimes overwhelmed by a sort of Christ-meets-Rudolph weirdness.</p><p>Most city folk lacked large canvases for their holiday handiwork, but that didn&#39;t stop designers Joe Kreis and George Silvestri. One day in 1959 they took strings of delicate little lights that Silvestri had discovered in Italy and put them on the branches of otherwise barren elm trees near the corner of Michigan and Erie.<br /><br />Michigan Avenue will tomorrow be ablaze with a million of those little lights, give or take. Some people complain that this sort of flashy bash is yet another example of the crass commercialization of the holidays. Others will tell you the more lights-and Disney characters-the merrier.</p><p>Though the most outlandish displays&mdash;and my-tree-is-brighter-than-your-tree competitiveness&mdash;add fuel to the arguments of those who deplore decorations as yet another example of the corruption of Christmas, most resist the call to excess.</p><p>We are no longer, most of us, living in caves, and so we know that winter eventually will move to spring, the darkness to dawn.</p><p>Let me ask you&hellip;isn&rsquo;t it wonderful to be driving and turn down a street you&rsquo;ve never been on before and then see a light, a decoration on a lawn or in a window.</p><p>What does it tell me?</p><p>It tells me that there is hope in the world.</p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 16 Nov 2012 15:26:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-11/tis-season-103926 Jim Agnew's legacy: 'Crime is my specialty' http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-11/jim-agnews-legacy-crime-my-specialty-103847 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/old%20town%20ale%20house.jpg" style="float: left; width: 362px; height: 272px;" title="(Flickr/Jenni Konrad)" /></div><p>You have never seen his name on the jackets of the many, many books he was essential in bringing to life.</p><p>Jim Agnew is the name and he was a lively character on the writers&rsquo; saloon circuit for many years until giving up booze nearly two decades ago. But he was ever one of the literary scene&rsquo;s unseen and unsung masters. He was a researcher and a great one, one of the last of a breed that disdained the ease (and unreliability) of the Internet to dig the old-fashioned way.</p><p>Mike Royko called him, simply, &ldquo;the best crime researcher in America.&rdquo;</p><p>Agnew died on last week and there is an obituary in the <em>Sun-Times</em> Wednesday.</p><p>In the wake of his death emerge all manner of memories and appreciations. I recall sitting with him at the bygone Riccardo&rsquo;s or O&rsquo;Rourke&rsquo;s, or the still-thriving Old Town Ale House, and listening to him tell me stories about having gotten to know one of the former cellmates of Nathan Leopold who, along with University of Chicago classmate Richard Loeb, killed 14-year-old Bobby Franks in 1924, in what would be called the &ldquo;crime of the century.&rdquo; He told me stories about his neighbor, the legendary con man Joseph &ldquo;Yellow Kid&rdquo; Weil.</p><p>Agnew was, during and after his drinking days, a companionable man; broad-faced and filled with lively patter. Had he been an actor he would have had steady work playing cops. But he could display a thin skin that made him almost Hemingway-esque in his ability to quickly shatter friendships.</p><p>Agnew was born in 1945, the son of Irish immigrants. He and his family, which also included brothers Pat and John, lived in Uptown, where his parents ran a rooming house which was the family home. He held a lot of jobs but his passion was of a dark sort.</p><p>&ldquo;Crime is my specialty,&rdquo; he would often say.</p><p>Chicagoan Bill Zehme, the author of such bestsellers as <em>The Way You Wear Your Hat</em>, about Frank Sinatra, and the biographies of Jay Leno, Regis Philbin and Andy Kaufman. Working now on the highly-anticipated, upcoming biography of Johnny Carson, Zehme says, &ldquo;I always saw him as a beautiful &lsquo;old-school&rsquo; cross between bloodhound and bulldog. I guess what he really was was a magical literary leprechaun who popped up in the lives of a fortunate band of author people that either knew not what to make of him or realized he had strange miraculous powers never to be taken lightly.&rdquo;</p><p>That &ldquo;band of author people&rdquo; Vincent Bugliosi (<em>Helter Skelter</em>) and Nick Pileggi (<em>Wiseguy </em>and<em> Casino</em>).</p><p>He operated his own delightful literary website, <a href="http://jimagnew.net/" target="_blank">jimagnew.net</a>. The site still lives and there you can get a better sense of this remarkable, even unique, man. Ever more comfortable in the background, he filled his site with quotes from writers he admired.</p><p>Among them you&rsquo;d discover this, which could be applied to the life of Jim Agnew, it comes from Raymond chandler, &ldquo;Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.&rdquo;</p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 14 Nov 2012 14:34:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-11/jim-agnews-legacy-crime-my-specialty-103847