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Posts Tagged ‘Chicago’

Don’t You Forget About Me

August 6, 2013 | by

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Some people revere Jean-Luc Godard, others obsess over finding subliminal messages in the films of Stanley Kubrick. Much as I love the work of these masters, the filmmaker whose work I tend to think the most about is John Hughes. From the iconic films he both wrote and directed (The Breakfast Club, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles) to those he wrote and produced (Home Alone) the movies Hughes helped create between 1984 and 1991 are all classics in my eyes. (Even I will admit that after that his work gets really iffy: 101 Dalmatians, anybody?) I grew up laughing at his films, and when I eventually found myself homesick for the Chicagoland area I knew growing up, I’d revisit the copies of his films that I still watch on a monthly basis. Eventually I’d come to the realization that while David Kamp rightfully called Hughes the “Sweet Bard of Youth” in his 2010 Vanity Fair piece on the late director, I came to realize—thanks in large part to the distance between me and the place where I grew up—that Hughes was something even more; that he was to Chicago and its northern suburbs what Woody Allen was to Manhattan in the seventies and eighties. He made being from those bland suburbs seem more interesting than I recalled.

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Maps

March 26, 2013 | by

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People pretend the idea of fact-checking fiction is hilarious and a paradox and maybe even scandalously bureaucratic and wrongheaded. But when fiction gets facts wrong, people care. If a novel claims to be about a real place, people say, It should at least get the street names right. If somebody writes a story about Manhattan, and he mixes up the streets, he’s expected to fix it. 

When I first realized this, it worried me. If I ever wrote a story, I thought, it would be murder to go back and change the street names. Not because of their precious sonic qualities, the effect removing them would have on the rhythm of the sentences. But because likely I’d have done more than transpose street names. I’d have bent Broadway to intersect with Bowery so that my hero could stumble out of a Bowery bar and look up and be able to see Grace Church, for example. Moving the streets, shuffling them back or prying them apart, would ruin the effect.

Which could have been the fact-checker’s point—everybody has the real Manhattan in their head, and with it a host of associations. We love Manhattan; don’t change it. Years later, I wrote a book about my hometown, Tulsa. And after I was done I decided to call it A Map of Tulsa.

My father read it and sent a simple, complimentary e-mail. Which was the perfect thing. Then when I was home and we could talk in person and were alone for a minute, he mentioned that there was just one thing: I had gotten a few details of geography wrong in my book. For example, St. Francis Hospital being right by the highway.

Yes, I said, that’s right. I know.

Which amounted to: I did it on purpose. Read More »

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February in Chicago

February 11, 2013 | by

chicago-winterJust a few years ago, I had no idea what cold felt like, and no way to know how to prepare for it. I didn't know my limit.

Zero degrees. No degrees. None of them. Personally, that’s when I start to lose it. In this range, anyone’s capacity to describe what they are feeling—already a pretty fraught prospect—collapses into mutterings about “hanging in there.”

And then the wind comes off the lake.

February in Chicago: four weeks when it’s acceptable to shower in a hoodie and sleep in a balaclava, wool turtleneck sweater, and thermal socks. Anyone who says they’re not wearing long underwear is either lying or an idiot. I’m wearing one of my three pairs right now, and I’m sitting in my apartment. If I lean forward over the keyboard, I can feel the sun through my bay window on my face.

It’s colder elsewhere, sure. Mostly in the settings of nineteenth-century Russian novels. And as we get toward March, I keep the weather for Duluth in my iPhone rotation, just to stay humble.

But—as anyone around here will remind you over a Schlitz, or eight—Chicago is the largest American city that deals with negative-twenty-degree wind chills on a regular basis.

The wind chill last week got down to negative twenty. In this range, we all become characters in a Jack London story, fighting to keep the blood in extremities we didn’t know we had. And I start to wonder: If I needed to build a fire and all I had was an iPhone, how long would it take for me to freeze to death? Read More »

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Portfolio: The Moors of Chicago

June 26, 2012 | by

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Alberta Sings the Blues

March 1, 2012 | by

I never really got the Blues, though I have certainly gotten the blues. Maybe that’s why, until recently, I had never heard of Alberta Hunter and why her recordings and I are now inseparable. If Bessie Smith’s blues are a wail to the world, Alberta’s are a conversational tête à tête. She wrote and sang throughout her life but refused to be classified as a singer of any particular genre. “Just call me a singer of songs,” she insisted.

Last summer, a pianist friend handed me Amtrak Blues, an album Alberta recorded in 1978, at age eight-three. “You’ll get this,” he assured me. When I put it on, a frank, earthy voice radiated from the stereo speakers, and I started wondering who this lady could be. I found photos of a moon-eyed Chicago saloon singer with gold hoop earrings, a Parisian flapper in a filmy evening dress, a nurse in whites, a USO entertainer in khakis, and a sibylline old lady.

There was, as it turned out, a variegated life behind such variety. “I’ve been more places by accident than most people have been on purpose,” Alberta once quipped. A singer, actress, composer, and journalist, she was a kind of musical Marco Polo whose talents were as diverse as the many places her career carried her. Read More »

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Totaling the Ferrari: Ferris Bueller Revisited

December 26, 2011 | by

We’re out this week, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2011 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!

If Ferris didn’t happen to have a knack for phreaking, some other future would be given to him.

My husband and I watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) the other night. He’d never seen it before, to the consternation of his Facebook friends, and I last saw it a decade ago, when I remember having been vaguely entertained. Not this time, though. “God, he’s kind of awful, isn’t he?” Peter commented, about ten minutes in. I agreed but was fascinated. Before my eyes, the rentier class was daydreaming a special dream, a dream of getting away from the drudges and the scolds ...

I was not fascinated by the plot, which is thin. A high-school senior named Ferris Bueller, played by Matthew Broderick, feigns illness in order to play hooky and persuades a hypochondriacal friend and a bland girlfriend to follow him on a tour of Chicago, visiting a fancy restaurant, a baseball game, an art museum, and a German-American heritage parade. The movie depends heavily on Broderick’s charm as an actor, on his mix of too careful enunciation, direct address to the camera, and pale pink pubescence in the shower. In the opening scene, director John Hughes takes a rather large risk: Ferris lies to his parents with large calf eyes, giggling and lapsing into baby talk. What kind of movie hero consciously presents himself as infantile and duplicitous? What kind of movie hero begins by seducing his parents?

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