Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Summer in the (Windy) City

Back from Chicago for my daughter Annie’s graduation from Northwestern. It’s been a busy final week for her – a prom, rehearsals, changing her major one last time. And a hectic one for us. Usually when my wife and I travel we don’t also include my son, father, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, and seven-year-old niece-in-law.

The eight of us arrived on four different flights at four different times. Each flight was late, rides were missed, and thus began five days of what I like to call “the Chinese Ringtone Torture Test”. My wife’s cellphone died so all calls went through me. I was Heidi Fleiss during Superbowl weekend.

Our hotel in Evanston, normally at $115 a night charged $335 a night for graduation weekend. I heard some disgruntled guests saying they’d never stay there again but I’m sure the hotel’s position was “So what? It’s graduation. You’re never coming back anyway. So shut up. Check out time is eleven.” Actually the staff was quite lovely (as is everyone in Chicago – it gets a little creepy) and they did provide Q-tips in the room, which they usually don’t, so I for one did not feel remotely ripped off.

Evanston was packed for the festivities. The panhandler in front of CVS pharmacy snarled, “I can’t wait til you people get out of here! No one from out of town gives me a dime!”

Restaurants loved it though. Even Ruby Tuesday’s was taking reservations.

The good weather season in Chicago is June 21st so we timed it pretty well. When the sun is out and people aren’t collapsing from the heat and humidity a favorite activity is street fairs, coating every building with a smoky layer of grease. Wasn’t able to get to any this go-round but the one I really wanted to see was the Caribbean Jerkfest. In LA we have the Hollywood Jerkfest, but it’s normally just called “the entertainment industry”.

Of course it did rain during the outdoor graduation ceremony. I think it was God’s way of punishing Northwestern for no longer calling themselves “the Fighting Methodists” (they really once did).

They should go back to it. Maybe they’d get to a bowl better than Alamo or Citrus. And instead of Willie the Wildcat their mascot could be someone in a Tallulah Bankhead costume with ninja sticks.

Not to get too wrapped up in tradition but this was the 150th time Northwestern graduate candidates filed in, all in cap and purple gown, all on cellphones. A few with iPods. Only one or two with a Wii.

Annie looked gorgeous. I honestly didn’t think this day would ever come. I never really believed I’d see my daughter spend two hours in a football stadium.

I always go through the program and look for interesting names I might be able to use in future scripts. Expect the heroine of my next film to be called Aunyaporn Amornpongchai and her leading man to be Sergiy Sergiyovych Komirenko.

According to the Fur Information Council of America (the real FICA), Chicagoland fur coat owners should store them in vaults set between 40-50 degrees to protect their precious pelts in the summer. If you ask me, they should toss those owners into the vaults. Get Petagonia jackets! Leave the animals alone!

The L-Series was played this weekend. Thanks to interleague play, the crosstown Cubs and White Sox met for a grudge match. Other bitter rivalries this weekend included Florida at Oakland, Arizona at Minnesota, and the war of all wars – Texas at Washington.

Of the two local managers, the Cubs’ Lou Pinella has Tasmanian Devil-like tantrums, rips up bases, hurls them across the field and he’s the sane one. With White Sox skipper Ozzie Guillan you get the meltdowns, profane rants on live television, and recently he refused to apologize for the display of inflatable female dolls that were in the team’s clubhouse in Toronto. You have to love and admire this man.

The Cubs swept the Sox. Those lovable bleacher bums poured out of Wrigley cheering, and reveling, and pissing on every homeowner’s lawn.

We helped pack up Annie’s apartment. She shared it with two other classmates so there was a lot of sorting. “Annie, which of these empty gin bottles is yours?” It’s amazing how many pirate decorations you can accumulate in only four years. I’m not sure whether new students are moving in next year or they’re just condemning the building.

Al Capone is still more popular in Chicago than Sammy Sosa.

There were actually two convocations – the main one on Friday where we all had to suffer through Mayor Daley’s rehashed campaign speech. (Did he really think kids would be inspired by how much Chicago will profit if they get the Olympics in 2016? Come on Northwestern. Richard Daley is the best you could do? Jesus! Even Ali G. gets better guests.)

And then on Saturday the actual diplomas were handed out. To save money and avoid getting a second speaker I hear the university is considering just text messaging them in the future.

Sunday was a delightful mix of sunshine and hail.

I’ve loved going to Chicago these last four years. There are a lot of things I’m going to miss including ribs, the people, Wrigley, Rush Street on warm nights, the Jack Brickhouse statue, Gino’s, the view from Sears (the tower not the Auto Center on Cicero Ave.), Bob Hartley’s apartment building, Ed Farmer, the National Asian-American Sports Hall of Fame, Frank Lloyd Wright, egg salad recalls, Le Peep’s, whatever Marshall Field’s is called these days, Gene & Georgetti’s, Lyle Dean, Lakeshore Drive, the Pat & Ron show, Dixie Kitchen, Bill Kurtis, everyone talking like Joan Cusack, cab driver Robert who learned to speak English by watching MAJOR DAD, Flat Top, the International Museum of Surgical Sciences, Roger Ebert in the Sun-Times, the panhandler in front of CVS, the Purple Line to the Red Line, John Records Landecker, and finally -- just hangin’ with my BFF Oprah.

Go Fighting Meths!


Anonymous said...

Is John Records Landecker back on the air in Chicago? He was soo cool. In the early 70s, when I was in high school in Rockford, I spent many happy nights listening to him on WLS. I still occasionally chant "Don't be nervous, don't be rocky, you're our teenage guest disc jockey now" and "Boogie check, boogie check,ooh,ahhh "
Larry Lujack in the mornings & JRL @ night. Radio Heaven.

Anonymous said...

I've been calling the local Whittier College teams the 'Fighting Quaker Poets' for years. I had no idea that Northwestern had set the precedent.


Anonymous said...

Geeez. I remember John Landecker from his days at WIBG in Philadelphia. Radio jocks never die, they just go to some oldies station and re-live their youth.

My second favorite Pardon the Interruption host, Michael Wilbon is a proud Northwestern grad--your daughter is in good company.

Dodgers lost to the White Sox--I hate inter-league play.

Stormy said...

Ken, you of all people should know that the Texas @ Washington series marked the first time the second franchise known as the Senators returned to the Nation's Capital. My first major league experience was a twi-night doubleheader between the Rangers and the O's at Memorial Stadium back in '77 or so. A couple of guys paraded around the RF stands with a banner saying "Welcome Back Sens."

Anonymous said...

It's "Daley", Ken.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Yay Annie!

At least you went to a challenging school. Ken and I went to UCLA 'cause it was easy to spell...

Be Boss!

...and Congratulations from all of us in Blogland...

Anonymous said...

This weekend is the "Battle of the Beltways" match-up between the Nats and the O's.

Battle of the Beltways. That's correct.

How long did it take for MLB's marketing department to pass on to the interns the chore of coming up with a compelling and catching name for the series?

Anonymous said...

Spell it Daly, and you might be buried under the new Olympic Stadium (to be built by the mayor's corrupt buddies whether we "win" the Olympics or not).

As a Chicagoan, all I can say is....Ed Farmer? Really?

Anonymous said...

Some stuff you missed out on: The Fireside's thin crust pizza & ribs, and The Wishbone's corn muffins. Nice homage to my favorite city, Ken. Congrats to your daughter, too! We'd be living in Evanston right now if it weren't for the crazy-high taxes due to the freeloading university. We chose the town where the movie Groundhog Day was filmed instead.

Anonymous said...

ya ever go to Potbelly's? get the Wreck sandwich. I get it with everything except peppers.

you'll pee your pants it's so good.

Mary Stella said...

$335 a night for graduation weekend. . . and they did provide Q-tips in the room, which they usually don’t, so I for one did not feel remotely ripped off.

Ken, send me $200 bucks and I will supply you with enough Q-tips to swab yourself to ecstasy for the rest of your life.

$150 if you don't mind the generic Walgreens variety.

adam ___________________ said...

Ken Levine posting about Chicago and the Cubs. Perfection. It's all downhille from here... :)

The Fighting Methodists? Really? Wow. I'm definitely using that from now on -- and maybe enjoying my own NU memories more now in retrospect b/c of it. Maybe it'll lessen the pain of student loan payments and the bizarre amount of people in LA who've never even HEARD of it.

Round two of the crosstown series this weekend. Check in to see Guillen chew on sunflower seeds in a park that apparently smells like spring flowers.

Anonymous said...

John Landecker shows up on WLS on holidays like Memorial Day when the regulars take off. He's also been on other stations in Chicago. His daughter Amy is an actress.

Dana King said...

I've lived all over the eastern half of the country and noplace is nicer in the summer than Chicago. Makes the winters worth it. That and the Italian beef sandwiches at Portillo's.

Anonymous said...


What is dis? Are yoo disrespectin' my family or sumtin'?

C'mon -- dis is America! You don't like my speech at your daughter's graduation, you gotta make it personal against my family? Whadda I gotta do, take off my pants?

The Curmudgeon said...

I like Ed Farmer, too, but though his roots are here in Chicago, he's more a neighbor of yours, isn't he Mr. Levine?

Unknown said...

For some reason, Chicago seems to be where I have had 8 of the top 10 breakfasts of my life. Maybe they are just especially good the morning after a 4am 'last call'.

Anonymous said...

Congrats to your daughter! This was such an awesome post. It's very cool to read about graduation from a father's perspective. And.... you still made it hilarious. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I miss Billy Goat Tavern. It's my favorite bar of all time. No matter who you are, you always feel like a 1960s newspaper reporter when eating or drinking there.

Chicago is still run by the Daleys? Good Lord! Why does that town love to be run by crooks?

Anonymous said...

Namedropper. And so how many were going to St. Ives? Never ever lose that askew view – especially when it comes at the end.

FYI, I think the Bryn Mawr teams are now known as the Owls, but at one time they were the Bryn Mawr Martyrs (and apparently not just after a losing season). Vassar has the Brewers because the school was founded with beer money - and yet our daughter’s sweatshirt proudly proclaims, “Vassar Football, undefeated since 1861.” There is at least one HS football team in the Dallas area called the Steers –apparently as a steer-oid alternative they just castrate the front line?

Daley just squeaked by as grad speaker with those votes from dead people in Ward 14. Several years ago, when SMU announced their graduation speaker was going to be Marion Wright Edleman (education and civil rights pioneer, founder of Children’s Defense Fund, MacArthur genius grant, first African American woman to practice law, 65 honorary degrees), a considerable number of seniors announced that, unless the invitation were withdrawn, they intended to boycott the ceremony. Edleman not being prestigious enough – since they had never heard of her.

Incidentally, having been familiar with AfterMash, that Cubs crowd actually was yelling, "Boo, boo, boo." :) Sorry that's all I got.

Anonymous said...

Sox beat the Dodgers--God, I love this inter-league play....

Landecker-best night jock I ever heard. (Never had the pleasure of hearing Beaver Cleaver in his hey day)

Last I heard, Landecker and Turi Ryder do some fill in on talk stations around the country.

n8vnyer said...

As long as spelling is an issue, the founder of the Children's Defense Fund is Marian Wright Edelman. And isn't SMU the future home of the junior Bush Library?

Anonymous said...

To continue the baseball metaphor, that would be strike two on the U. Would have spellchecked Edelman, but didn't want to risk the balk. :)

Now add these to complete six or more arcane degrees of Kevin Pork Rind: About the time one of our kids was looking at schools, Edelman’s son Joshua was assistant headmaster of Milton Academy on Center St. in Milton, MA, which ends at Adams St. – birthplace of George H.W. Bush (eventually to captain the Yale baseball team).

The house abuts Forbes Rd. and Forbes Wharf, home of Francis Blackwell Forbes (great grandfather of John Forbes Kerry) whose interest in botany (specifically the poppy) derived from amassing the family wealth as a seagoing merchant in the China Opium trade. On the other hand, G.W. Bush who may be getting his own library, in his youth, was rumored to have experimented with another mind-altering white powder.

It apparently gets more incestuous the farther back you go from Skull and Bones. No wonder they’re all ultimately related to Churchill and Queen Elizabeth

Annie said...

Congrats, Annie! But New York still has better pizza.

Anonymous said...


Please stop calling referring to Evanston as "Chicago". It is NOT Chicago. It is an overpriced, unnavigable, yuppie-infested SUBURB crawling with trust fund collegia and aging hipster douchebags which just happens to sit on the northern border of the REAL Chicago.

Evanston is no more Chicago than Skokie, Oak Park, Joliet or Cleveland so stop trying to make those people feel cool by osmosis. Cool doesn't work that way.

Oh yeah, and baseball is stupid, too.

*kicking sand at you*

Anonymous said...

buck, someday someone will publish "The Collected Posts of A. Buck Short," and it will have more annotations than a volume of Shakespeare. If it weren't a biological impossibility, I might think you're the love child of Dennis Miller and Cliff Clavin. Great stuff, but I hope there won't be a test.

So who did SMU get to sub for Edelman? Li'l Kim? Maybe someone who was on The Real World?

VP81955 said...

JC said...
This weekend is the "Battle of the Beltways" match-up between the Nats and the O's.

Battle of the Beltways. That's correct.

How long did it take for MLB's marketing department to pass on to the interns the chore of coming up with a compelling and catching name for the series?

I'd prefer the "Parkway Series" myself (a la the Angels-Dodgers "Freeway Series"), in honor of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway that links the two cities.

But I'll be at Nats Park Friday and Sunday to see if the woebegone Nats -- whose ineptness on the field is equaled only by their in-game marketing (check the comments at the Washington Post's "Grounds Crew" blog for proof) -- can somehow conquer the evil Cuban Pete (Angelos) and his minions.

And Ken, I realize you probably don't go on road trips for your Dodger show (well, maybe you went to Anaheim last month), but it'd be fun to see you here in D.C.in late August when the Blue comes to call. It's a lovely, fan-friendly park, sort of along the lines of Citizens Bank in Philly, except you see the Capitol from the top deck instead of the Center City skyline.

And as for Chicago -- I love the place, but I still miss the old Comiskey. That park was rundown, to be sure, but it had character, with rabid, real fans, not the North Side frat boy poseurs. As Nancy Faust would play, "Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey, goodbye."

Mike Barer said...

We Mariner fans would love to get Lou Piniella back. We wouldn't mind Guillen managing our team either.
Then again, we wish we had 2 baseball teams.

Anonymous said...

I skipped the big NU ceremony in favor of attending my smaller ceremony the next day, and our speakers were Kofi Annan and Tony Randall. My husband still hasn't forgiven me for this oversight.

Did you ever make it to Merle's in your four years visiting? Because it's the best barbecue north of the South side.