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Welcome to Chicago! You’ll Convince Yourself You Love It

As my friend Brian Beardmore prepares to move to Chicago this weekend, I feel it necessary to let him in on some of the city’s secrets and tricks. True Chicagoans hold these dear as a matter of pride and survival. (This is a list. I hope BuzzFeed doesn’t sue me for writing a list without its permission.) Understanding this knowledge is what defines every Chicagoan as a true Chicagoan.Skyline

• Rich people root for the Cubs. You, Brian, will root for the White Sox.

• Never, never, never, put ketchup on your pizza.

• A hot dog is best served in a deep dish.

• Registered republican voters are to Chicago what homosexuals are to Indiana.

• Mayor Rahm Emanuel lost his finger when Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis bit it off.

• Most of us have no idea what the Chicago flag represents.

• Call the Willis Tower the Willis Tower. It’s no longer the Sears Tower. It hasn’t been for years. Get over it. Those who are unable to get past this are clearly living with a mental disorder that prevents them from accepting change. That, or they’re extremely immature. Too immature to operate a vehicle and should, therefore, not be allowed to drive. If they are a parent, their children should be taken away because this type of thinking will only lead to irrational and irresponsible teachings, therefore, endangering the child(ren). Not able to accept that a building is called the Willis Tower is the same as not accepting that vaccines and other scientific advancements can help the global healthcare system.

• Macy’s on State Street is, and always will be, Marshall Field’s, goddammit.

• The CTA Red Line is for public masturbators and yuppies. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between the two.

• If you read the RedEye with any routine frequency, you will be dumber than you were before you moved here.

• Fort Dearborn was made of pillows and blankets.


• Malort isn’t delicious. But it’s not as bad as people say it is.

• Rats.

• Avoid dating anyone who lives in a high rise. It makes the eventual breakup that much worse when you have to wait for the elevator.

• When you drink in Wrigleyville, you will always have a good time. But you will always regret it and be embarrassed by it.

• North Avenue Beach is a great place to spend time with friends during the summer.

• The bathrooms at the Castaways Bar & Grill at North Avenue Beach is a great place to discover a new strand of the AIDS virus.

• Living with Chicago weather is like living with a bipolar person: You know that things are going to get really terrible, you’re just never quite sure when.

• The parking, the traffic, the politics, the schools, the sports teams (Blackhawks excluded and sometimes the Bulls), the weather, the cops, the bartenders in aprons and beards all suck. Despite this, you will convince yourself, just like the rest of us have, that Chicago is the greatest city on the planet. And like the rest of us, you’ll kick and scream about it every time anyone mentions New York, Los Angeles or Lincoln, Nebraska.

The Harassment of Witnessing a Stereotype

This is true:

Dude on the Orange Line from Midway Airport walks across the car with his hand pulling at the sagging crotch of his sagging trousers. He sits across the aisle from a young woman wearing her earbuds.

“Where you from?” he asks.

“Chicago,” she responds, unengaged.

“Me too. What part?”

“The city part.”

“I know that. But what part?”

She doesn’t say anything. Just gives a small grin and goes back to looking out of the window.

“You don’t want to have a conversation?” he says.

“I don’t want to talk right now.”

“Why not? Come on.”

“I don’t want to talk right now,” she says again, nicely but more steadfast this time.

“Am I ugly or something?”

She doesn’t respond.

He sits there for moments looking at her. She gives him nothing in return.

“Psshht,” he says as he stands and walks back to the seat he was in before she boarded and sits down commandingly. He pulls a bottle of Olde English malt liquor from his bag. It cracks and hisses as he twists the top off. He takes a pull of it, returns the cap to the bottle and the bottle to the bag. Then a pack of Newport cigarettes. He places a cigarette in his mouth and continues to command too much space for the woman sitting next to him. He is trying his best to not look beaten. His best isn’t good enough. He is defeated.

It could have been far worse. It could have been uglier. Thankfully not this time. But maybe next.

And he is a stereotype worth every ounce of our fears and hatred. And unfortunately, our disappointment in the knowledge that sometimes stereotypes are a terrible truth. He is but one stereotype that can poison the well that quenches the thirst of the narrow minded—the too often masses. It would be easy to make this stereotype, this young man so full of outward bravado and inner loathing the bad guy. To put him in the wrong. Somehow, however, it seems that everyone and everything in this situation is wrong.

CSUN Senators are Not Doing Their Job

Within eight days, three CSUN senators have resigned. RJ Peltyn resigned to become a rock star, James Altman is going to write the next Great American Novel and Suzy Roberts resigned because of poor time management.

It must be hard to balance classes, work and going to a meeting once a week. And if you make a wrong turn, maybe, just maybe, you’ll serve your required office hours.

Senate President Steph Davy had to scold the senators two weeks ago because they didn’t do anything a student senator is supposed to do. Yet this week, Davy put a time limit on what the senators felt was an important issue involving the election rules for the executive board. The senators were so bewildered by this short discussion that at one point they voted away all election rules.

Senator Marissa Geffen (Urban Affairs) asked me why UNLV Rebel Yell reporter Thomas Carrow laughs during the senate meetings. I told her that Tom has trouble understanding stupid people.

But they’re not all stupid. It could be that they’re tired by the time the 6 p.m. senate meeting is called to order on Mondays. They do have to study and work. We know none of them are at the CSUN sponsored events. Davy has even begged senators to go to something, even if it is Altman’s book signing.

CSUN has done a fine job of hiding their faults. Part of that could be because there are only two CSUN justices as opposed to the required seven. How can we check and balance if no one is there to check? That’s where I come in.

Student Body President Paul Moradkhan is wasting meeting time reminding the senators and directors to not leave the keys to the CSUN golf cart at home. That’s not where they belong.

Not everyone is an abuser of your money. Senators Geffen, Samra Dayani (Urban Affairs), Jaime Homampour (Liberal Arts), Sarah Bowers (Business) and David Fauske (Hotel) are always discussing the items on the agenda and putting actual thought into the ultimate decisions.

“It all started with meat,” Dustin Williams, Hotel senator said in Monday’s meeting about why technology was important. Although it was a clever attempt at reason, I don’t see how it has to do with anything. And neither should you.

Granted, any wannabe senator like Ed Bernstein could do this job, but, even then, some thought has to go into it. A job is a job and a job not done properly is a job you should not have. The senate controls $800,000 each year. Maybe with their $50 per meeting 12-credit waiver, the senators should also get a work ethic stipend.

Upon resigning, Altman said he came in with big expectations but was sincerely let down. Altman didn’t even accept a paycheck because he doesn’t feel public offices should be paid positions. And certainly, nobody should get paid for bickering.

You know, being a senator is a lot like meat.

Go Rebels!

Originally published February 8, 2001 in the UNLV Rebel Yell.

Deflate Your Ego, We’re All Blessed

With Hanukkah beginning tonight on the eve of Thanksgiving, I implore you, my fine friends, to resist the urge to brag about how blessed you are this holiday.

God-loves-meBy saying that you’re blessed because of your great family and safe travels and wonderful friends and delicious food, you’re stating an obvious point that only aggrandizes you and subsequently makes you seem just a little shallow and entirely self-absorbed.

Because if you truly feel that you are blessed, that means you believe that God is active in your life. And if that’s the case, you probably also believe that God loves everyone. And if you believe that, then you must believe that everyone is blessed. So, when you say you’re blessed, you might as well be saying, “I have skin.” Because everyone has skin. And those who don’t, such as burn victims, might then feel that they’re less blessed and that God doesn’t love them. And then you’d be responsible for someone’s crisis of faith. You don’t want that on your conscience.

OK, maybe it’s a stretch and what does this have to do with Hanukkah? Glad you asked… You see, the biggest problem I have with the Jewish faith, is the notion that the Jews are the Chosen People. Saying something like that diminishes all the other people in the world. Being chosen or blessed is something we all are, lest you think you deserve better treatment from a God who has favorites. If you think that, OK. I don’t. And that’s why I had to give back my Bar Mitzvah money.

All I ask is that you be inclusive this Thanksgivingukkahkahkah, or whatever it is we’re calling it. Because if God loves us all, then we’ve all been chosen and we’re all blessed. Well, maybe not all of us. Maybe not those who are stuck out in the cold. Those without family and food. The sick and injured and generally unwell. 

So, if by chance, you feel you’re being overwhelmed by all the blessings bestowed upon you and your family, maybe you can give a few of those blessings to the others.

Me? I think God spares me far more than he blesses me. Really, I hate to think he’s wasting specific blessings on what so many of us already have—a bunch of shit for which to be thankful.


Lady Gaga is So Famous

Let’s all be sure to thank Lady Gaga for being famous so we can adore her for whatever the hell it is she does.


I admit that I can be a bit of a music snob. I’ll listen to anything more than once, but I have high standards.

I don’t like music with lyrics that are too tongue in cheek, which is why I hate Fall Out Boy. I don’t like overly sentimental songs written for the sake of sentimentality, which is why I have a hard time liking The Lumineers. I don’t like musicians who take themselves too seriously, which is why Bon Iver can throw himself off a goddamn bridge.

I like honest songs. Songs that tell stories. Songs with a message. Songs with a driving beat. Songs that don’t try too hard. That’s why I like Simon and Garfunkle and  most 1970s-early 2000s Punk and your basic Rock ‘n Roll and a chunk of that early 90s emo stuff before emo was turned into whatever Dashboard Confessional was crying about.

And I like Pop music. I love the bubble gum of Leslie Gore and Rickey Nelson. The sweetness of New Edition and Debbie Gibson. The fun of Katy Perry and Michael Jackson. And I like Disco, too because that was all about a good time. But I hate Lady Gaga.

She makes Dance-Pop music, so by all accounts I should think she’s boat loads of fun. However, she’s unoriginal—even for Pop music. And she’s more about making the trend on Twitter than putting out anything worth listening to. She knows it, and she knows that we know it. And I would respect her for so blatantly being in on the joke, except I don’t think she’s joking.

I do think, however that with her first album, she had every intention of being simply a screwy pop star. But when she saw the market to become a hashtag and take on gay rights by living in an egg or wearing a meat dress or whatever the fuck that was, she lost me. Lady Gaga is after headlines rather than hits. And meat dresses ain’t never gonna help civil rights.

Her latest single is called Applause. I listened to it. It’s catchy enough. But its theme and lyrical content sounds like they were born from the brain of a needy, middle child teenage girl who nailed her solo at the spring choir concert. This wouldn’t bother me so much except that this song, and the subsequent singles released from her new album, will be played ad nauseum in clubs, at festivals, in bars and on the radio simply because people want her around so she can do something zany. Plus, it gives Eric and Kathy on Chicago’s Mix 101.9 something to talk about in the morning.

But if Lady Gaga really wants to do something zany, something we’d never expect, she should retire. Stop making music, stop making headlines, stop making videos and appearances, and just retire. That would blow us away and would be one of the greatest moments in music history.

Slaving Over the Real Passover

As many people sit down to the seder table tonight to celebrate Passover, we should not forget what the holiday is celebrating.

Moses kills the Egyptian whipmaster while defending a fellow Hebrew. Then he hides the evidence and flees the scene.

Moses kills the Egyptian whipmaster while defending a fellow Hebrew. Then he hides the evidence and flees the scene.

It’s the story of an abandoned baby, a man getting away with murder and the systematic slaughter of a race of children, which culminates in the escape of a worn down group of religious followers as they set out to navigate an unforgiving desert with little food or water in search of a land that was not technically theirs because God is an Indian giver. It’s also the story of the terrors of slavery and oppression. Even though the world did get some pretty fascinating pyramids out of it.

Happy Passover. Be sure to leave some hooch for Elijah. Just don’t tell his sponsor.

New Year, New You… New Headline

Writing isn’t easy. I know, I’ve been doing my best to do at least a mediocre job of it for too long already. The one thing harder than writing stories in any form, is writing headlines. Trying to convey a complete summation in only a few words is tricky. But that’s no excuse to be lazy.

I am often saddened by the diploma hanging on my wall that proves I earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Not because it’s taken me 10 years to earn what it cost me to go to school for four, and not because I earned that degree from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, or UNLV—where the ‘N’ stands for knowledge. I am often saddened by my degree in journalism because journalism is a joke.

It wasn’t always this way. But it is now. Journalism is lazy. Because beyond the Murdoch Monopolies and the mail-it-in partisan op ed pages of nearly every remaining news paper in the nation, and the echolalia made by the cable news channel pundits and hosts, and the trite interest in cupcake shops and bacon infused whatevers found in alleged alternative magazines, and the increasing number Associated Press bylines in so-called major newspapers—online and otherwise—every January, far too many news outlets use the headline, “New Year, New You.”

There’s this one. And this one. And this one. And this one. And this one. And this one. And there’s also this one. And this one. And this one. And this one.

And that’s a short list. And there are major news outlets in that list. Big ones. The ones with the money. The ones that can afford the best writers and editors to create new ways of saying the same thing. Because, yeah, January reaffirms in all of us the desire to renew the way we live our lives. From the way we eat to the way we shit, read and screw. So, yeah, it’s topical. But it is our job as the creatives, as the media, to develop innovation. If we cannot do that, we fail.

I am the managing editor of a health magazine. Do you know how easy it would be for me to publish a story with the headline, “New Year, New You?” But I haven’t, and I won’t. Because I want my magazine to be better than that. Sure, sure… I could publish a story like that and the Google gods will direct the Internet nomads to my site because of my SEO savvy. But that’s not the reader I want. Let those readers go somewhere else to get their fix of vanilla. I want to be better than that. I don’t want to get lost in the fray of assimilation and boredom. I already have an iPhone just like you. Enough is enough.

Yes. Journalism is lazy. And it breaks my heart. Then today, the day that Marty McFly goes back to the future with Doc and Jennifer to save his kids, I saw this piece from New York Magazine that points out the hack journalism from the once beloved Hill Valley Telegraph. I don’t know how I didn’t catch this schizophrenic editing before. Maybe I’m too lazy…

So how about this… Since it’s a new year, and everyone is pushing for a new you, why don’t we try for a new headline. It’s a start anyway.

National Novel Writing Month is for the Weak

“Remember above all things, Kid, that to write is not difficult, not painful, that it comes out of you with ease, that you can whip up a little tale in no time…” –Jack Kerouac

November is National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo as its abbreviated. It’s a call to action for professional and amateur writers alike, to spend exactly 30 days drafting a story of fiction at least 50,000 words long. It’s a big task to take on, no doubt about it. But as someone who makes his living as a writer, someone who fantasizes pervertedly about selling a novel and having it reach literary legend status, this is an idea and a challenge for weaklings.

Jack Kerouac is lauded as one of America’s—if not one of the world’s—greatest writers. He defined a movement, he changed the way we read, write and perceive. If he had only published one book, On the Road, his affect would have remained the same. He wrote On the Road in just three weeks. In the copy of the book I own, his story spans 307 pages. The average word count per page is 250. That means that his masterpiece is more than double that of what NaNoWriMo is encouraging its writers to complete—minus seven days.

Kerouac was a maniac. Most of the greats are, but most of the greats didn’t write their defining work in less than a month. When he said that writing was easy, he was half right. If you know your story and you commit yourself to telling it, yeah, it’s a goddamn breeze. And it’s fun. But if you are trying to make something up from where there is nothing, or you don’t have the tools and the training and the discipline, it’s a wretched exercise in masochism. Most would be better suited to gargle nails or spend an afternoon discussing the benefits of deductive reasoning with Ann Coulter than to subject themselves to the self-doubt not being able to write can bring.

I didn’t know it was National Novel Writing Month until I saw a story on BuzzFeed just a day after returning from a week-long, self-imposed writer’s bootcamp. One of the greatest friends I’ve ever had and a fellow self-loathing employed writer, Jarret Keene, retreated with me to Michigan with the strict intention of each of us writing 50,000 words in seven days. We were idiots for thinking we could do it. But it had to be done. We had stories to tell. Stories that have been banging against the inside of our heads for years. It was time for the stories to come out. And there was no way we were ever going to complete these novels by finding time in our regular lives to write them.

Because our regular lives are filled with commitments, monied projects, friends, wives, kids, girlfriends, parents, meals and bathroom breaks. All these things simply get in the way of the writing mission and so, we turned off the Internet, shut down our phones and set up a writer’s sweatshop in a gorgeous and quiet hideout far away from any one and any thing that would deter from the mission. No TV, no women, no booze.

Because the important thing is discipline. Those participating in National Novel Writing Month, will need that above all else. And if these participants can do it, I applaud them. But not loudly. Because I can’t help but think National Novel Writing Month is just a big circle jerk of literary heroes and wannabes. Because here’s the thing; if you want to write a novel, you’ll write the damn novel. You shouldn’t need a special month set aside to do it. Because in addition to the stress and mental pains you’ll incur throughout these 30 days, you have that terrible deadline of November 30 staring you in the face. Deadlines are good. Most of us work better on them, I know most writers certainly do. But a hard stop for a novel with only 30 days to do it, is just absurd. You’ll be writing against time instead of writing to your story. That makes it dishonest. And no one likes a liar. Ask James Frey. (Unless of course you come right out and say it’s fiction, then everyone loves a liar and hopes you lie more.)

For seven days, Keene and I were liars. We wrote from mid-morning until early morning of the next day stopping only for egg and bologna sandwiches, to make another pot of coffee and to walk around our camp, fearing if we didn’t move our bodies out of the chairs, we’d end up dead from embolisms.

The first day there, I wrote approximately 5,000 words. The next day, I threw them all away and wrote another 5,000 words. The day after that, I panicked. I didn’t know how to tell the story, though I knew it well. I stood up from my chair across the long wooden table where Keene was steadily chopping away at his work and barked, “Christ! I can’t do this. I need to figure something out… I’ll be back.” I grabbed a few books we’d brought with us and ran out of the house raving about my inadequacies. After several hours of reevaluating the story, the process and everything I knew about myself, I had my story structure back in place. Keene came looking for me. By that time, I was wandering the grounds trying to understand the effect erosion has on property value. I couldn’t explain this concern to you today if I tried. It was pure mania.

We headed back to the sweatshop, he poured me a cup of coffee and I wrote out my plot and the characters on several pages of a legal pad. This is important to note because I did not use a Moleskine notebook as Molly Horan mentions writers might do in her BuzzFeed story. Moleskines are too small and too fancy for my purposes. I’ve never used one. Never will. I need something big and cheap because my handwriting is terrible. Plus, legal pads are harder to lose among piles of notes and coffee cups. And after four hours of scripting out my book, I started to type it. Six hours later, it was well into the next day and I had churned out over 6,000 words. And they weren’t all that bad.

When we were in it—our stories—punching away at the keys, man, I tell you we flew, we thrummed, we were machines, we were gods. It was when we stopped for the bit of sleep we did allow ourselves that things got bad. Keene howled at the walls as he lay in his bed. Moaning with pain, “Why? What am I doing?” I had dreams that I was still writing. When I woke 20 minutes later, I was heartbroken to realize that I hadn’t written what my subconscious had. We said to each other, “What are we doing here? Why are we doing this? What sort of monster writes a novel? This is hard.” We both understood why so many of our favorite writers ended up blowing their brains out—it’s a whole lot easier than writing. 

We didn’t reach 50,000 words in 7 days. We knew we wouldn’t. But we had to chase that goal. What we did get was about 25,000 words each in 7 days. That’s half a novel. So, now we’re stuck back home with our responsibilities, but we’ve got a helluva start. Half of two decent first drafts. We’ll finish them at a much slower pace with the howling and the sleepless psychosis in polite check. But we will finish them. And when we do, we’ll re-write them because the first draft is never on the bookshelf. Even Kerouac made edits to his On the Road manuscript.

And when we sell these novels and they do make it to some bookstore somewhere, we’ll want to make even more edits. Because the stories might be finished. We may have reached the conclusion, but a novel is never finished. Not in seven days, not in three weeks and not in a month. It’s cute that people want to think so. And it’s cute that they want to try. There’s a romance to writing a novel, a glamor, I get it. But the real truth is that there’s nothing glamorous about it. There are no shattered scotch bottles on the floor. There are no cigarette stains or half-dead hookers strewn about. There is, however, speed delivered from coffee and anxiety and adrenaline and a lot of yellow-lined pages of notes crumpled up at the table legs.

Perhaps I’m feeling a bit superior to the National Novel Writing Month participants. But that’s because if we could financially afford to take another two weeks away from the paid work, we’d have finished our novels and even had time to do a re-write. I wonder if these people taking part in National Novel Writing Month are going underground or just trying to squeeze this work in among their human daily activities. If so, I warn them against it. Their work may suffer. If they want to really bang something out, they need to disassociate themselves from their lives.

Because when you make the commitment to go quiet for a while with the sole intention of turning out a true piece of fiction, you end up taking yourself apart and seeing what you’re really made of and what’s really in there among the guts and bones and blood. And once you realize it’s all just junk and shit and bile, then you can find a quiet place to write your story and commit to making it good. And you won’t do it for some collective online glory with strangers, you’ll do it for yourself, then in hopes of someone somewhere one day reading what you wrote and think, Damn. That was good. I feel something. I want to read more.

But you won’t wait until November to do it. You’ll wait until you’re alone. Or at least with another equally lonely psychopath ripping his insides up, too.

Rosh Hashanah Goes Burlesque

I remember a time as a young, dogmatic Jew when High Holy Day services at Temple Anshe Sholom were the place to be for any other dogmatic Jew in the south suburbs. Aside from the children’s services, nearly every seat in the joint was occupied from the Rosh Hashanahh Evening Service to the Yom Kippur Memorial Service. From underneath the rabbi’s nose all the way back to the adjoining social hall and onto the social hall’s stage, pews and folding chairs chairs were filled with reformed Jews ready to celebrate the New Year and repent their sins.

Over the years, however, numbers at the temple dwindled. Still the folding chairs were set up in case, and in hope, that families and guests would fill them. I don’t know the reason membership declined. It could be that fewer Jewish families live in the south suburbs now. It could be that religion is becoming passé. It could be that parking is such a hassel. Whatever the reason, like most businesses, Anshe Sholom is desperate to get people through the door. And this year, the temple pulled out all of the stops.

After completing an intense demographic study on social behaviors and norms, the temple adjusted its approach to celebration, prayer and faith.

As is customary at Rosh Hashanah, the New Year according to the Old Testament, Jews celebrate by eating apples and honey to symbolize a sweet new year. This year, Apples and Honey were the names of the two burlesque dancers hired to shimmy, shake and twirl their tassels on the bima while the rabbi and cantor led the congregation through the Gates of Repentance prayer book. The tassels, of course were traditional tzitzit taken from the temple’s old tallit collection.

The choir, usually, a mish-mosh of temple members, most lacking in vocal training, was replaced by the choir from South Chicago’s Salem Baptist Church and backed by the famed Grand Rapids, Michigan Christian band Uptown Praise Band. While the music at Temple Anshe Sholom has always been, in my opinion, nice, the rabbi, cantor and temple officers felt that this conglomeration of sound would liven the spirits of the Reformed Jews seeking annual routine celebration. Seasonal songs were still sung and performed, but Uptown and the Salem choir added a much needed flare that had been lacking for decades.

It was like being at a Christian revival concert for people with who give money to Israel.

Celebrity was not lost on the rabbi when he invited the rapper Snow to the pulpit to recite the popular Ve’ahavta. Although Snow’s relevance was lost on most congregants, since his peak came in the early 1990s with his hit Informer, everyone seemed to enjoy his Canadian-honkey-reggae styling of the prayer. When asked why Snow was chosen, Rabbi Paul Kaplan replied, “He fit the budget.”

The blessings over the Torah were chanted by a spot-on Woody Allen impersonator. Rather, they were nervously stuttered. Then a Mel Brooks impersonator read the passage flawlessly before David DeLuise, son of the late Dom DeLuise, a friend of the real Mel Brooks, ran in from the back of the social hall and up to the bima to read the English translation. He then reminded everyone he starred in Disney Channel’s Wizards of Waverly Place and proudly confessed he had Selena Gomez’s personal cell phone number memorized.

 The most fun was the drinking game instituted by Rabbi Kaplan: Every time the word “Israel” was said, each congregant, 21 years of age and older, had to take a shot of Smirnoff Green Apple flavored vodka. The one drawback to this was that there was a seven car pile up on Joe Orr Road following Monday morning’s services as attendees headed to the Egg & I restaurant. Sticklers for tradition, approximately 90 percent of Anshe Sholom’s members simultaneously embark the few blocks to The Egg & I for brunch in a way that recalls the flight from Egypt in Exodus. And hungry, drunk Jews at the wheel does not make for safe driving conditions.

I have to admit that while the approach was completely erratic and could have been thought up by an angry, developmentally challenged 10-year-old or Chicago-based PR firm, it was the most exciting and interesting service held during the temple’s 50-plus years in existence. Not all of the seats were filled. But the clergy and the officers are hopeful that Yom Kippur will have people fighting to get in.

My brother Steven, who lives in Los Angeles called me this morning and said, “I heard about temple. Pretty cool. I also heard they’re going to have Jon Stewart do the sermon at Yom Kippur.”

“No,” I told him. “They’re getting Lady Ga Ga to dress like Jon Stewart. And she’ll be reading the Mourner’s Kaddish.”

On the way out, each member was handed a pamphlet and an envelope, which asked for donations to Israel. Those who avoided the pile up in front of the Egg & I then ignored the nice homeless man in the parking lot asking for leftovers or a dime.

It was agreed that this approach to attract new and old members to the temple was a much better one than the Rabbi’s earlier suggestion to pass out magnets to attendees promoting his podcast where he recaps his weekly sermons.

Someone Teach Me to Strike

I’m having a hard time understanding the Chicago Public School (CPS) teachers strike. Since Monday, the union teachers have traded their lesson plans and business casual attire for picket signs and red T-shirts while they demand a more favored deal from CPS despite 10 months of arguing.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis negotiates with CPS.



The union’s president, Karen Lewis, has been soapboxing for higher pay, better benefits and dependable job security. And teachers should have those things. There have been complaints from teachers—and the union—to parents, the district and the mayor about a lack of necessary supplies like quality books, teacher training, air-conditioning in the classrooms and toilet paper. And teachers should have those things, too. So should the students.

Teachers are important—knowledge is power and all that—and for a majority of the calendar year, for most of the days in that year and for most of the hours in those days, teachers are responsible for filling our kids’ heads with useful information that will hopefully turn them into well adjusted, functioning, intelligent adults who will make the world a better place to live. Sadly, teachers are hard pressed to do this because of faulty programs like No Child Left Behind, being forced to teach to the test and not being able to wipe themselves after using the bathroom.

As it stands, CPS has offered what sounds like a pretty sweet deal. Over the next four years, union members will receive a 16 percent pay increase, paid maternity leave, short-term disability coverage as well as freezing the rising cost of healthcare for two-thirds of the union’s members. The total proposal laid out by the district will cost around $400 million of taxpayer money. That’s a lot of dough to spend, especially for a district that can’t seem to spring for a decent HVAC system or a roll or two of Charmin.

Yeah, that’s a real good deal. A guaranteed raise of 4 percent every year for four years is a perk found in few other industries. Many, if not most industries, are barely giving cost of living increases to their employees, much less annual raises. Times are tight. When I worked for Clear Channel Radio, there were a few years when we didn’t get any cost of living bump. I did the math once. Because of a spike in sales taxes and gas, etc., it was literally costing me money to go to work. “Thanks, Lowry Mays, for the opportunity to have a job. The check is in the mail.” And that was back before the recession tossed the economic system on its ass.

According to the CPS annual financial report, the average salary for a teacher in the district in 2011 was over $67,000. Some reports are claiming it was over $76,000 during the 2011-2012 school year. They have received a 4 percent hike every year for the past eight years, which is alien to most other employed American workers. Like the deal on the table, that ain’t bad. So union teachers get a decent wage, a guaranteed bump every year and benefits with the possibility of their healthcare costs not going up, while the rest of us scramble to pay more. The Chicago Board of Education has even offered to work with the teachers to improve the way they are evaluated. So, really, there’s little to be upset about. And what there is to be upset about, certainly isn’t worth walking out over.

If teachers remain on strike, this little girl will grow up to work for the government.



I have many friends that are teachers. And they often gripe about the wretched conditions they have to work with; the terrible kids, the maniac parents, the moronic principals… Yeah, work sucks. We all have bad bosses and deal with waterbrains on a daily basis. That’s just the way it is. And we’d all like bulletproof assurances that our jobs are safe. But we’re not China and our empire is crumbling. Fear of losing our job has become a skill set for the resume.

Teachers get great vacations, too. Granted, they’re kind of restricted as to when they can run off to sandy beaches or hop a cruise line, but they get winter break, spring break and summer break. More or less anyway. (I know not all districts work like this, but the vast paid-vacation package is there.) My good friend Liese is a teacher in the western burbs and she takes at least one big trip with her husband every year. Recently, it was to Australia and New Zealand. How nice.

I haven’t had a proper two-week vacation since 2005. I’m not complaining. I’m not saying it’s unfair. You won’t hear me cry about it because I chose to be a self-employed writer. Like everyone else, I hustle and struggle for every dollar I make, but if I’m not working, I’m not earning. A paid vacation is not a luxury I can afford. And this is a choice I make every single day.

In 2007, when I first moved back to Chicago and was just beginning my near three-year stint of unemployment, I considered going back to school to become a teacher. I figured I would earn a bankable buck I could depend on and use my summers to write books and plays. I decided against it for no other reason than I didn’t want to be a teacher. I wanted to be a writer. That was, and continues to be my choice.

While 67 or 76 grand is nothing to scoff at, there’s no secret that being a teacher is not a fast track to becoming independently wealthy. Certainly not a teacher outside of a university system without a doctorate anyway. And most people that become teachers know this. They know they’re going to be dealing with horrible kids and awful parents and stupid bosses. And they choose to do it anyway. And they continue to choose it. Until they go on strike.

Early suggestion for the teachers strike uniform. Red T-shirts were eventually decided on instead.



And for what? The union is asking for preferential treatment above many other working-class drones. I’m anti-entitlement. I think most of the country is. Screw the 1 Percent. They take and take and then they go on lunch break before coming back to kill the afternoon robbing form the poor some more. That’s not right. For those evil Wall Street bastards, enough is never enough. And right now, I get that same feeling from the teachers union. They have an amazing deal before them. A deal most Americans would kill for. But instead of taking the deal, they’re stomping their feet screaming, “No. We deserve better. Because we said so.”

It is extremely unacceptable that students don’t have the proper books or best tools at their reach for learning. It’s not OK that classrooms are kilns in the early weeks of the school year. That’s a systemic problem within CPS. The city of Chicago and the State of Illinois seem to pride themselves on having no idea how to properly budget money. Chicago has the highest sales tax in the nation, we pay hundreds, if not thousands of dollars a year in tolls for roads that are already paid for. We even pay an amusement tax in Chicago when we buy tickets for a play. What the hell is that? All of this money (and more) coming through the door and our kids and teachers still can’t find a damn roll of T.P. in the building. Obviously, there’s a problem.

Teachers, parents and unions need to be focusing on the source of that problem—the system. This requires more demands from elected officials and voting responsibly at the polls based on performance, not party or tradition like we did with Daley. Teachers, parents and unions need to remember that the kids, the students are the casualties of this faux friendly fire.

Still, the union strikes. Three days now. Parents are having to pull more money out of their already tight pockets for daycare. They’re having to adjust their work schedules because summer vacation isn’t over yet. This brings an unexpected additional expense to the household. Not only is the CPS budget screwed, but now thousands of family budgets are too because the teachers aren’t happy with their raise. And there are those families that can’t afford daycare while both (or the single) parents work two jobs just to scrape by. There’s a reason crime increases during the summer months.

In all my years of schooling, I can name one teacher that made a profound impact on my life. One. My creative writing professor in college at UNLV. He became my mentor and I learned a whole lot more from him than how to structure a narrative in a short story. What will these kids learn from their teachers on the picket lines today? How to bite the hand that feeds you? How to blame others for your own choices? How to be a cry baby and take your ball and go home when you don’t get your own way, right away? Teachers are meant to set an example for the students to follow. Instead, they are acting like cranky kindergartners in need of a nap.

What might happen is that these kids could grow up with a half-assed education after years in a hot, teacher-less classroom and end up working for CPS. Then history repeats itself because the deranged idiots are at the wheel again.

What does this strike mean? What is it going to do? The money they’re asking for isn’t there. The piggy bank is empty. CPS, while at fault for a great many things seems to be doing all it can. It’s not asking too much for teachers to show a little solidarity, good faith and responsibility, and continue mature negotiations while keeping our kids’ education as the main priority. Or they could just take the deal rather than turn the gift horse into glue.

I support teachers and their rights to a decent workplace, a proper living wage with benefits and raises and advancement opportunities. I support those rights for everyone. Right now, teachers need to go back to the classroom to brush up on the term Compromise.

But they should probably go to the bathroom at home first because the district can only do so much for them—wiping their asses is not something CPS is willing to bend on.