An Old Man’s Voice

Part of the reason I wanted to write last week’s piece about my grandmother’s death was so that it would properly frame this piece.

My grandfather recently found his voice. The death of my grandmother has for better or for worse caused my grandfather to speak to me. This is a fairly new occurrence in my life. In fact, I am certain that the word count of this post is higher than number of words he has said to me to date. It’s not that he was a hard man, or a particularly mean man, at least not to me. He was just a quiet man, and I suspect he wasn’t that comfortable around kids. Trouble is if you don’t take the time to talk to kids, to get to know them, you still wont know them when they are adults. The discomfort you feel in a house full of children will not be dissolved when those children grow up, rather that discomfort will only change to the discomfort you feel in a house full of strangers. Maybe that’s not how it used to be. Maybe in his day kids were seen and not heard, and because of this they were, for all intents and purposes, interchangeable. Whatever the reason, Grandpa never really spoke to me.  Least ways not until I had grown up a bit.

In his defense he was not absentee. Quite the contrary actually. He was always present, silently looming in the background as grandma gave me cookies or played with me at the park, he was just not always vocal. I loved him, because that is what you do in my family. you love the other people in your family. And I knew he loved me because once he stood on the rickety old railing on my porch to retrieve the glider that I had accidentally thrown on the roof. He silently risked life and limb for me, and that was good enough for me, goddammit!

When I was 12 I guess he decided that I was self-actualized enough to speak to, so one morning, just like that, he did. I remember staying the night at their house and I waking up earlier than usual. Not having anything to keep my in bed I wandered into the living room to see if anything was going on, and found that grandma was still asleep but grandpa was up, about and making coffee. When he saw that I was awake he said good morning and I think he offered me coffee (although I might just be making that part up).  And then in an unprecedented moment of familial bonding he asked if I wanted to play a game of cards. IT BLEW MY MIND! He told me he would teach me a new game called 21, or black jack. This was a great honor for me. I was gonna learn a real adult game. I think before this my the only card games I had learned were ‘war’ and ‘go fish.’  He taught me the rules and gave me some quarters to bet with, and he told me that anything he didn’t win back at the end of the game I could keep for myself! It was too cool for my little brain to handle. Me and Grandpa playing cards. Me and Grandpa gambling. Me and Grandpa being men. Me and Grandpa with our quarters against the world! To this day that was the most pleasant and singular interaction I have had with him by himself.

All these years later he is still the same stoic patriarch he was then. He is slipping a little in his old age, but he is still the same man I knew. Only, after the death of his wife he has found his voice. My family backed him into a corner by refusing to let him be so now he has to talk to us. Each time we go over he speaks a little more. He bitches about bills more, though my father pays them. He tells jokes more, even when he has trouble remembering the punch line. He asks me about work, and Chicago, and my superhero of a girlfriend, and then he has follow-up questions! Hell he even chats up the ladies more… which I guess is a good thing considering before he was married to my grandmother but still. The man has a personality I have never met before, a voice I have never heard. And I got to say after all these years it is really nice to meet him.

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When the Dead Talk… kinda?

Recently, I had the displeasure of watching my grandmother die. To tell you the truth she probably would not have liked that fact. I am sure if she could have had her way she would have passed behind closed doors. She was a proud woman, of what I am not sure, but she was very much into keeping up appearances and let me tell you, nothing knocks down the walls of pretense like death. It’s the only certainty we will ever know, the great equalizer for the human race.   Her passing was a strange thing, and in the time leading up to it I was not sure how I would react. I tried so hard to find the appropriate emotion to feel through the whole process. I knew it was going to happen, but when it did I still felt taken entirely unawares. Some time ago she had a been diagnosed with s chronic illness and for years she has been dying. Unfortunately she was very much aware of that fact, and made us all aware of it as often as she could. I honestly believe that for the last 4 years she convinced herself that every morning she wasn’t gonna make it to lunch. Far be it my place to judge this, there will be a time when I am next on the chopping block and perhaps I too will fixate on the question of “Will I make it to lunch today?” but honestly I think it is simply too much work/stress to ponder that question during my morning Cheerios every day.

For 4 years she was certain that she wouldn’t make it to Christmas. That was 4 Christmas’ ago. She was so afraid to go, that she talked about it incessantly, and just like the story goes, she cried wolf emotionally so many times when the big one came it caught me a bit off guard. So like I said I couldn’t find the appropriate emotion. Don’t get me wrong, I was sadder than I have ever been before in my life. One day my mom said she was going into the hospital because she fell. The next day my mom told me she was in a lot of pain. And on the third day my mom informed me she wasn’t going to come home. I was stunned. I mean I never thought she would live for ever, but then again when you trip over an automan you don’t expect it to be life threatening. I spent most of that night walking through the autumn night crying sporadically on the street. I am sure I freaked out a good number of passers-bye but to be honest I don’t remember most of it. The next day while I was at work I broke down again. I couldn’t hold myself together and my head swam a bit. I am not sure how but the next thing I knew I was staring up at the open sky crying. I was lying in the field adjacent to my office building bawling my eyes out. For about fifteen minutes i sat there not feeling much of anything except pain. Which was really all I could do, I certainly couldn’t go back into my office to incoherently answer phones, and get my snotty tears all over file sheets. So I sat out in a field openly crying. As I sat out there I noticed that the kids playing soccer had gotten a little farther away from my side of the field. Despite myself I smiled a bit, I must have looked like a freak, but I was happy the kids were giving me the space I need, pretending not to notice me so that we could all safe face.

The day I heard the words, “She is probably not coming back home, the doctors give her less than a week.” I took my car to the mechanics to get safety checked. The next morning I sped the 267 miles back to my home town. The whole time one thought kept circling around in my head. ‘I need to get there before she decides to leave, I need to tell her she always did right by me.’  When I got there grandma was still alive but she was not herself anymore. My grandmother had been replaced by a sleeping person whose personal agenda involved sleeping through pain and starving to death. She was alive, but not cognizant. I felt like I had failed. I spent a lot of time over the next three days, looking at her, staring into her open mouth as she took labored breath, and, I ashamed to say, wondering when the appropriate time was to go home. It’s not that I did not want to be with her. It’s not that I was scared to be there in the end. It was that I knew with all conviction that I had gotten there too late. I almost felt I did not deserve to be there. I just wanted to go to a place where I wasn’t sad anymore.

Everyone tells me she knew I had made it, that she was aware of me even though she could not answer. And when she opened her eyes for just a minute I took the opportunity to speak to her. She tried so hard to focus her eyes. She tried so hard to say something to me; her mouth moved, but nothing came out. And I will always remember it that she did know I was there, because remembering it any other way is too painful. She wasn’t ever gonna wake up again, and I needed her to know I had gotten there to support her.

She was never going to a lot of things again: She wasn’t going to feign interest in my hobbies ever again. She wasn’t going to meet her great-grand-children. She wasn’t going to find out who her father was. She was never going to learn to drive a car. She was never going to eat food again, or drink water. She was never going to have another conversation with me. I don’t even remember what our last conversation was, and I think that is the part that hurts the most. I cannot remember the last thing I said to this woman.

We had Thanksgiving just a few days after she passed, and then a month later we had Christmas. Everyone told me that Holidays without her would be weird. They weren’t. The holidays were just excuses to see the rest of the family. Which was a good thing in my book. By the time Christmas rolled around I was pretty much fine. I told myself that this is just a fact and that we must keep living life regardless of how unfair this whole life thing is. I guess it’s getting to be that time of my life. My mentors are beginning to one by one die off, and my peers are beginning one by one to get married and have kids. This doesn’t bother me, but it does make me question my own choices, on a daily basis. I wonder if I should be doing something more.

Several weeks went by after her passing and for all outward appearances I was fine. But then the dreams started. They would always be the same, I would dream that I was on my way to dinner with my parents maybe out to a restaurant in my home town, maybe to some place entirely fictitious. Last week I wandered into a strange mix of a Steak and Shake and a  Chuck E Cheese and as I find their table I am stopped dead in my tracks. There sitting off to one side is my grandmother. She always looks really relaxed and kind of bored with the whole situation. Her expression is almost always a “too cool for school can’t be bothered with the events of the living” kinda thing. She is sitting there just as sassy as can be, without her oxygen, dressed in a tasteful, slightly feminine, pants suite combination. And no matter what my reaction (sometimes I run over and shower her in hugs and kisses, and sometimes I just shrug and say hello like it is the most normal thing in the world) she always asks me the same kind of mundane questions. “How is living in Chicago? How are you and KT doing? Do you think you will be coming to visit soon? I hear it is dangerous on the south side of Chicago, you need to be careful.” I answer these questions as best I can, but before I get the chance to ask her anything the food comes, or the she has to leave, or I wake up. And in the morning I find myself regretting I did not get to ask her anything. I did not get to ask her about the other side. I did not get to ask her is she knew I was there in the end. I did not get to ask her if she was scared or sad or calm, or at peace. Soon these regrets pass though, because I remember that I did in fact get to say “I love you,” and that is perhaps all that matters.

I am not a big fan of interpreting dreams, and I don’t believe in any sort of afterlife. I am not comforted by religion, or spirituality. And I can’t bring myself to believe that I was actually speaking to my grandmother, and not just my own sleeping mind. But I can say that I am happy to see her when she visits me in my dreams. I am happy that she is not fading, that I am continuing to remember her strong and vivacious, if a little overtly sassy. It is the only thing I can give her at this point. The only afterlife or immortality any of us will ever receive. What we leave on this earth are reasons to be remembered, influences given to others simply because they knew us. In that respect she is still here. Proof of that is that every so often my grandmother comes to hang out and shoot the breeze with my subconscious mind. And she never seems disappointed that I showed up a little late.

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Philosophers and Retail: The College Myth

A few weeks ago, I was walking home from work when I met a young gentleman I went to college with. He was a philosophy minor I had met and traded philosophical blows with when I was majoring in that department. I asked him what he was doing nowadays, he shrugged and gave me a sad little sigh. “You know,” he said, “retail.” He seemed so embarrassed, so sad that he could not tell me he was working some exciting job,  making over $100,000 a year.  I remember feeling that way for a little while after I graduated, and it got me thinking.

For as long as I can remember I was told I would go to college. Don’t get me wrong, my parents always said I could do whatever I wanted, but they were of the opinion, that  it just so happened that going to college was the way to get there. They told me I would go to a university somewhere, study something, and at the end of my tenure at school I would have figured out what I wanted to do with my life. Not only that but I would have gained the skill set necessary to do it. This I have since learned is a myth.

At four years old I stood outside my Kindergarten class room, waiting for the bell to ring. I remember thinking “Today I start school. Today I am going to grow up. No more silliness for me, no more laughing for no reason. No more games all the time, sometimes I would have to work.” I sat outside the classroom thinking there would be no time to laugh anymore.  I felt I should use my last moments of freedom to their fullest so I kept trying to remember how to laugh. You ever try to make yourself laugh without having anything funny happen? It is damned difficult.  I tried thinking about something funny, forcing out my laughter. “HAH!” I yelled defiantly. Not the best guffaw but it would have to do.

I sat there feeling the precious seconds tick away, perhaps if I couldn’t make myself laugh then I would do a silly dance…kids do that right? I remember thinking, “This was going to be my last silly dance,” kind of oblivious to the fact that I had never actually done a silly dance before so it was also my first silly dance. All of my dance moves until that point in my life had been very serious. What irony! I was giving up being a kid, without actually ever having been a kid, because kids do silly dances! This thought dawned on me and I almost cried. Man, this kindergarten thing was a total sham. Once I passed through that door I wasn’t going to be allowed to dance silly any longer. I was going to be in school, I was going to have to behave, obey the rules, learn to be an adult. I was going have to do this because I was going to college.

All these years later I laugh at myself because I am still dancing.

To tell you the truth, it wasn’t until college that I realized my treatment had not been special. I, just like everyone else, had been told I would go to college. I had been told, that going there would ensure a good job, a great life, personal growth, and emotional stability.  I got away lucky in many ways. My parents told me I was going to go to college sure, but I met people who had been told what their career path would be since they were in diapers. Parents had literally said, “You, Amy, will be a doctor and make enough money to support us in our old age.”

After college I found something out that was rather disheartening. College doesn’t guarantee diddly squat. I went in, a wrote a lot of papers, drank a lot of energy drinks, became a more learned than the average person on one  particular subject, and then I graduated. During that time I acquired quite a few skills that had nothing to do with my degree. I learned to multitask, I learned to drink alcohol, shortly after I learned to actually enjoy alcohol, and I learned to stay up all night and then go to work the next day. Sadly, I also learned how to be afraid of the first letter of my name and I learned how to genuinely care about what the older privileged white males, that make up the majority of the academic circle, thought about me and my educational performance.

And through all that I kept telling myself it was for a reason. But what did I gain that made me employable? What did I accomplish that secured my future, while single-handedly amassed astronomical amounts of debt? Not a thing, that’s what. Every job I have ever held was due to the fact that I knew someone in the company, that I was charismatic if completely untrained, or that I looked and spoke better than the other guys. Nothing about my education actually opened the door to the jobs I have held, and I am willing to bet there are hundreds, if not thousands, of other LSA majors who are finding out the same thing.

It must be stated that I was an LSA major and can’t speak for other schools. Who knows, engineers or nursing students may have an entirely different experience.

I suppose it is also true, that going to college opened possible avenues of employment for me that never would have otherwise been available. Just like going to Peru would have opened new opportunities as well. It is true that I would probably not be sitting here in my office had I not gone to college. Without having been to college and made the life choices that brought me here I would probably be teaching kung fu at the family martial arts school. Or perhaps I would be the manager at my previous job at the tearoom/coffee shop. Or maybe I would have been the administrator at some other office. In any event my current situation can hardly be traced to the fact that I studied Metaethical Philosophy at the University of Michigan.

You see there is a simple truth about my generation, that we are kind of a joke. Many of us were in a way hoodwinked into thinking that college was the way to success, and in turn the way to happiness. We bit hook, line, and sinker into the college myth. What is the myth you say? Simply put, it goes thusly:

Going to college will more or less get you a job. You will decide what you want to do with your life and you will major in doing that thing. And while you may not write books as an English major, or write philosophy as an ethical philosopher you will be able to get a job above entry-level somewhere.

I would like to take a few minutes to point out that this is in fact a myth. There are two reason in particular as to why this cannot be true.

The first, is something that I like to call collegiate user error. That is we went to college for the single purpose of getting a better job.  Many of us looked at college as if it were something other than an institution of learning. We looked at it as some kind of leveling up achievement.

Dave got college degree + 2 to job worth. Dave used resume, it was super effective.

The goal was not learning something, but rather achieving a status symbol. This status symbol, we believed, would open all of those until-that-moment-invisible closed doors of fiscal stability. When no doors opened we were confused.

The second problem  of the college myth is so damn many of us go to college, that college is the new high school. It used to be that graduating from high school would be enough to get a decent paying job. But with all we college graduates flooding the market high school grads are pretty much are S.O.L. In this day and age dropping out of your masters program will give you just enough credibility to become an assistant manager at a fast food chain.

Don’t get me wrong ‘University’ is still a place of intellectually elite, and driven individuals who have more in common with Einstein than with me. And they will be the top 10 percentile of university graduates. But the rest of us 90-percent-ers really look about the same to any old office employer. Nothing we did really makes us stand out from the rest of the herd at least not for us who did not decide to go into academia.

Many of us had no interest in being the top of the class, we could get A’s and B’s without working all that hard and as long as we were not planning on going to grad school it wouldn’t really matter. We were still banking on the notion that we would end up with a job anyway. You see, my generation is that of the lackadaisical paper writer, that of the bored office administrator. We mumble lines and fudge details because that is what college taught us. We are a generation with one hand pressed to our ears, instead of one hand pressed down to a page. And after college we sit in coffee shops and drink our great plans away as easily as we do our non-fat sugar-free vanilla chai-tea lattes. We just kind of wait for that job. And because of this you buy your clothing from art history majors. You get handed a latte in the morning by a German-deconstructionist philosopher. You buy donuts from an independent bakery run by a multi-degreed linguist and a feminist history major. We are a generation of overqualified waitresses and underpaid barista’s.

This is the part where most people complain that college is a sham, a joke that is retold by every generation without ever getting a laugh. That there really is no reason to go to college. And that it is just a way to perpetuate academic inflation and, socio-educational elitism. “Not so!” says I. After all, isn’t that what we have been striving for, the chance for all kids to go to college. Haven’t we always asserted that  all people, from stock boy to realty broker, would benefit on a personal level by having a higher education. And I think we all agree this is still the case. It’s just that an interesting and unforeseen side effect has occurred. Namely,  the market is flooded with over qualified individuals who all have been promised their dream job. And while this is unfortunate, it really is not the fault of the institution of academia. It didn’t say in any of my college recruitment letters, “Come on down, Dave, cause after all your pain and toil you’ll totally have a job!”

So how does one destroy the college myth? They wake up from their musings of tomorrow and realize what college’s uses are. Personally, I think college was great. It was fun, it was enlightening, and it taught me much. But it did not give me a job, nor ensure my success. College should be seen as a place for personal growth, and personally driven education. It should be undertaken by those who simply want to learn more, those who are willing to work hard enough to be in that top 10%, and for those who can flat-out afford it. And perhaps no one else.

There is one thing that the institution could do for us that would help take down the myth, though they have no obligation to. They could tone down the academic inflation ever so much, so that those of us who do want to learn for learning’s sake can afford to do so without selling a kidney. Just a thought.

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Zen and the Art of Eating Oranges

Sorry for having not posted in some time, but life has been hectic as of late. To spare you most of the details I will just say that a number of problems have been compounding and it has taken my full attention to get everything back to a reasonable working routine.

At some point during the confusion and stress that has been happening lately I came to the conclusion (this morning) that the best way to combat increasing stress, unfair placement of responsibility or blame, and/or being ignored after asking for a raise is to eat an orange. The orange truly is the master of Zen fruit.  It has been a while since I have had an orange, and I had forgotten how rewarding it can be if done properly. There is a ceremony to it, a ritual, which among other things, is entirely calming.

I took out my pocket knife, and cut a slit in the side, then peeled the entire orange by hand. Following that I broke off each piece and individually removed as much of that off-white stringy sticky stuff that hangs out on the orange.  I ate each piece as soon as i had cleaned off as much as I could drawing out the experience. I was careful not to bruise the fruit, I was mindful of seeds and I was aware of the aroma that I was creating.  It smelled amazing. Soon my hands were covered in zest and my keyboard had little dots of orange juice on them (I would later get a wet paper towel). Looking down at my hands I realized that eating anything is an experience enjoyed by all of the senses, not just that of taste. The smell, texture of the fruit; it was all worth recognition. Eating that orange took 15 mins, but I think it is perhaps the most fulfilling 15 mins I have had all morning.

Usually I just cut it open and start eating, and while this successfully gets vitamins and calories to my body it is also a horribly rushed experience. Usually I leave all those white bits on, giving me a drier more cotton-mouth-ey experience, by the end everything is messy and there is orange juice dripping down my hands. Worst of all usually I don’t take the time to identify what I am doing. I don’t really remember that I am in fact eating an orange, simply that I am eating… or perhaps I am watching TV and eating is just kind of tangentially involved.

Today I gave the fruit, and the task of eating the respect they were due. I let the experience of eating an orange encompass the entirety of my thoughts and dispositions. I let the recent distractions, negative emotions and problems reside outside that process of doing something so simple, something I too often take it for granted. And after the task of eating was complete I was ready to work, to get back into the swing of things and to continue fighting the good fight.

Now I am not saying I became one with the orange, nor am I saying I was enthralled while pondering the platonic form of ‘Orange’. All I am saying is by the end of the experience I was relaxed, I was full (as my stomach had time to actually process how much food and orange is), and I was happy.

So the next time life is handing  you an endless supply of lemons, eat an orange.

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Skylarks: Free Music, Tater Tots, and Beer

When I moved to Chicago a couple months back I had no clue where one went on a Friday night after work. And while Chicago is known for great food and killer nightlife in the downtown area, I definitely did not feel like paying downtown prices. After a lot of trial and error I have found some pretty cool bars that both have great atmosphere and are easy on the pocketbook.  I realized now that it would have been a lot easier to get my bearings if someone had started a list of great places for us regular folks. Thus I present the second installment in the poor hipster’s guide to nightlife.

The Bar: Skylarks

Location: The corner of Cermak and Halsted right in the shadow of 90/94

The scoop: When you walk up Skylark’s you will probably ask yourself, “Do I really want to eat here?” Truth be told from the outside this place looks rundown and washed up. It is a little corner bar with tiny windows a crumbling facade and graffiti adorning one side (the other day I may have actually saw a Banksy original). But when hunger and curiosity get the better of you, you find yourself opening the door and showing your ID to the bearded, fixed gear riding, gauged earring sporting doorman. Do not be afraid, go in and sit down I promise you will not be disappointed. Along the northern wall is a long wooden bar adorned with stools. On the south wall are four or five circular booths that you can pack up to about six people and scattered throughout the room are tables for two and tables for four.

The decor is… well it’s kinda like someone raided their grandpa’s attic and just put a bunch of old stuff on the walls. Near the door there is a slightly elevated stage with some couches a coffee table and a magazine rack with an ancient rifle above it on the wall. Over the bar are several masonic looking banners. Everywhere the walls are littered with old pictures, and shelves are piled with trophies, knick knacks and awesome vintage junk. There is even a vintage photo booth set aside in one corner.

Perhaps the coolest part of the atmosphere is the people who visit Skylarks. It is a great bar to people watch, and on any given day you will find artists scribbling in note books, students studying over in a corner both, and  established businessmen who have just come in to have a drink after work. There are the neighborhood bar flies, and even a few vintage hipsters, last week I saw a seventy year old man a red velvet blazer (I can only hope to be that baller one day). And of course you will find musicians.  Skylarks being appropriately named after a Jazz standard, is a swinging jazz bar on Monday nights. On Mondays the bar will be packed with Jazz enthusiasts of all ages and skill levels. You’ll see elderly beat poets, and old Louisiana bluesmen sharing a booth with  young pseudo-intellectual college grads and card-carrying, Macbook toting, hipsters, mustaches decked out in full regalia.  The Jazz is good and more importantly its free that’s right, NO DOOR FEES.

The beer list is great, upwards of 20 beers on tap and another 20-30 bottled. Looking for something dark and creamy? Get an Old Rasputin.  Something a little more summery? Try the original sin hard cider. This place has a fairly large selection of  beers but more importantly every beer they serve is a winner.

The food menu is kinda small consisting of about six entrees, eight appetizers/sides, and additionally there is a white board on the wall with specials and seasonal foods. While the menu is not all that large it is pretty varied. Looking for a small snack? Try the fried potato and cheese pierogi with sour cream and homemade apple sauce. Friend is a vegetarian? Order the roasted eggplant sandwich. Personally I suggest trying the pulled pork (one of my favorite sandwiches in the Chicago area). When you order you will have your choice between mixed greens and tater tots, and trust me, go for the tots. I mean, its kind of a thing and to tell you the truth nothing compliments a beer like tots. Try it with their homemade BBQ and you will swear off fries completely.

Rating: I would rate this bar at 3.5-4 our of 5 stars just as a really cool neighborhood bar with great food and a good drink selection. Add on top of that the use of breakfast potatoes to accompany beer and the fact that you get free music, in a city of door fees and you are looking at a solid 4.5 stars.

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Week One Bar One: Grabbing a Beer at Jimmy’s

When I moved to Chicago a couple months back I had no clue where one went on a Friday night after work. And while Chicago is known for great food and killer nightlife in the downtown area, I definitely did not feel like paying downtown prices. After a couple months of trial and error I have found some pretty cool bars that both have great atmosphere and are easy on the pocketbook.  I realized now that it would have been a lot easier to get my bearings if someone had started a list of great places for us regular folks. Thus I present the poor hipster’s guide to nightlife.

The Bar: The Woodlawn Tap (Jimmy’s)

Location: on 55th and Woodlawn right across the street from the University of Chicago

History: The Woodlawn Tap, or more affectionately ‘Jimmy’s’ named after its original owner Jimmy Wilson, is a little piece of Chicago history. Back in day, circa 1940’s-50’s the University was not happy with the condition of its neighborhood in Hyde Park and threatened to pull out unless the city of Chicago conducted an Urban Renewal program to “beautify” it. And while that did mean cleaning up the streets, maintaining parks, and renovating rundown houses, it also, frankly, meant raising the cost of living for poor minority households, ultimately segregating them from university neighborhood then foreclosing and reselling the houses at a ‘professor’s’ discount to the predominately white demographic associated with the university. Additionally the city passed an ordinance that prohibited the selling of alcohol within 300 feet of a school or a church to in Hyde Park. Now if you have ever been to Hyde Park you know you can’t throw a stone without hitting a school or church. DISCLAIMER: DO NOT THROW STONES IN HYDE PARK… NOT COOL HOMES.  So what the law effectively did was shut down almost every bar in Hyde Park. And yet in the midst of all the closings Jimmy Wilson, resident cool guy, whose establishment sits across the street from the University itself, got a free pass. In fact on Jimmy’s 70th birthday he received and honorary degree from U of C for creating a space conducive to the sharing of cultures, academic thought, and artistry. After Mr. Wilson’s death the bar shut down for a year or so, until a couple of die-hard Jimmy’s fans convinced the city to let them buy and reopen it. And the history making continued; Jimmy’s was one of the bars also responsible for the Illinois smoking ban passed in 2008.

The Atmosphere: When you walk up to the door of the Woodlawn Tap you will pause and question the fact as to whether or not you are walking into the back of the Starbucks located right next door. After deciding to walk through the black featureless nondescript door you will find a dimly lit old timey room with a wooden bar running down the span of the west wall adorned with bar stools all the way down.  Along the eastern wall is a row of tables that seat four and the all-powerful ATM, as it is cash only. Above the bar is a food menu consisting simple bar food like burgers, hot dogs, fries…etc., about ten different items total. Admittedly there is not much diversity here but it makes up for in price. You can order a burger a side of fries, and a pint for under 9 bucks. To drink there are about 8-10 beers on tap and about 20 bottles to choose from, along with a full bar of liquor.

After you order both food and drink from one of the three regular bartenders (seriously I don’t think they go home) you’ll have to find a place to sit. The front room is usually full up with  U of C students and professors alike. The second room has smaller tables and is usually quieter than the first and during the day it is a perfect place to grab a beer, and catch up on some reading or studying. The third room has 5 long tables the easily seat 6 or more, and on busy days a second bar that opens up on the west wall. This room can get a bit hectic especially when whole departments from U of C meet to have a drink after some school function.

I would have to give the Woodlawn Tap 4 out of 5 stars. As far as dingy neighborhood bars go this one is awesome. With fair prices, a friendly staff, and a great amount of character this is one of my favorite hang outs. Get a few friends together and head over to the Woodlawn Tap. I’ll probably be there in the second room writing. If you get lost just pull over and ask any student along the way, “Which way to Jimmy’s?”

Posted in Chicago Night Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Finding a Job and Selling Out.

When I moved to Chicago last fall I had a few hundred dollars to my name, a decently priced apartment on the south side, and a whole lot of debt staring me in the face. To combat this I worked all over, bookstores, bakeries, coffee shops, you name it. I was working around 55 hours a week between 2 jobs and just making enough to cover rent/bills/and the occasional friday evening at the bar.

I was working at a Borders in Hyde Park during its final days of business when one of the customers asked me to work for her. She thought I had spunk and showed initiative and asked if I would be an office administrator and receptionist for her company. She offered to pay me 1 and 1/2 times the salary I got at Borders, full-time employment and weekends off. To me it sounded like heaven.

Several months later I have come to the realization that I hate office life. I never thought I would say it but I actually miss food service. I miss being the quirky coffee shop barista who always dressed in a vest and tie.  I miss making latte art, mixing teas, creating something tangible, something real. I miss interacting with people. I miss being a poor hipster kid with a shit job and very little responsibility.

But I have graduated and become a nine-to-five-er. It’s better pay, it is more versatile, and frankly, even if I wanted to continue being a barista, fewer and fewer places will hire me at this point. In the realm of coffee shops I am an old man so I suppose I have graduated to being a suit. That having been said I would like to share with you all a simple truth that I have discovered.

Working in an office is a lot like working running a race waist deep in chocolate pudding.

Working in an office is a lot like working running a race waist deep in chocolate pudding. It’s slow, it isn’t that interesting to watch, and somewhere in the back of your mind you know it is messy, wasteful, and probably morally questionable. I suppose if you went to some sort of business program you would be used to the psychological abuse, the lack of judgment, and the mindless inattention to efficiency that is required to move up in an office setting. For the normal Joe Liberal Arts Graduate it is a horribly vexing exercise, which inevitably will end in blood shed and a tyrannical Machiavellian takeover of the water cooler and the surrounding coffee pots.

That being said if anyone would like a beverage they must first swear allegiance to the Beverage Baron!

Posted in Coffee Shoppe Philosophy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments