Posts Tagged ‘Chicago’

Eugene’s Inferno

Posted in General on January 28th, 2014 by Eugene Finerman – 3 Comments

Dangerous Cold in Chicago

According to Dante, Hell frequently freezes over.  He imagined much of Hell to be cold.  Of course, a Florentine’s vision of a glacial perdition would be any Midwesterner’s idea of a brisk November.

When reading L’Inferno I remember thinking “I could come up with better eternal torments than that. ”  Dante’s notions would not qualify him an intern in Human Resources.  Let’s tour the Adultery Section:  Circle Two.  Tempestous lovers are trapped forever in a whirlwind.  It is a good metaphor but not much of a punishment.  No, their extra-curricular activities should be videotaped and eternally shown on late night cable television, to the standard accompaniment of appallingly bad jazz.  The embarrassment would be much worse than windburn.

(Don’t quibble that a 14th century Italian couldn’t have envisioned television and video recorders.  Dante concocted an entire cosmological system.  And if Dante needed a little tech advice, he could have asked Marco Polo what the Chinese and Japanese were working on.).

Let’s drop by another sin: gluttony.  According to Dante’s itinerary, in the Third Circle those who have succumbed to their debauched appetites lie in the garbage and waste they created.  However, I think that describes the typical college dorm room.  That may be Dante’s idea of Hell, but for most of us it was one of the happiest times of our lives.  No, the appropriate eternal punishment for gluttons would be to look at themselves in bathing suits and realize why they’re not in the Second Circle of Hell.

I really don’t have the time to worsen all of Hell, but I’d like to do one more neighborhood.  In the First Circle are those souls who had every virtue but the right religion.  The virtuous pagans (and according to Dante, that includes chivalrous Moslems) are only tortured by the thought of their inferiority.  Now, in my Hell I would really rub in Christian perfection.  Everyone in the First Circle would be reincarnated as Jerry and Millie Helper, living next door to Rob and Laura Petrie.

My Kind of Town

Posted in General, On This Day on August 12th, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments

On this day in 1833,  200 zany optimists started a settlement on land mocked by the Indians,  shunned by the French and jinxed by the U.S. government.  If you looked on the map, you’d see the geographic hub of the Midwest, where the Great Lakes and the great rivers converge.  But if you had actually looked at the land, you would have seen a swamp.   The  Potawatomi tribe certainly did not entice realtors by naming the miasma “Wild Onions”: Checagou. 

Even if the Indians were too fastidious for Checagou, you wouldn’t think that the French would be.  New Orleans was built on a sandbar.   Vicennes, Indiana was founded for its strategic control of the Wabash River.  But a Fleur-de-Lys where the Rive Des Plaines meets Lac de Michigan?  The French had their chance. In 1673, their explorers landed on those shores, and ignored them. 

Between us, I blame Pere Jacques Marquette.  The man was Jesuit, and the local Indians probably just did not meet his standards.  A Franciscan would have been eager for converts:  “Jesus and I love you, but the armed contingent with me probably doesn’t.  So a little baptism might be prudent.”  And a Dominican would have insisted on a settlement, if only for the fun of using the Indians as slave labor.  But a Jesuit would have presented the Potawatomi a 15-page questionnaire, with the essays to be answered in Latin, and concluding  “I’ll let you know if we are interested.”  (Of course, most tribes could not pass; but if the Priest infected them with small pox, they received a complimentary conversion.) 

So someplace else was named for St. Louis.  As of 1763, the Potawatomi swamp became part of the British Empire, and it remained just as desolate.   The British could not colonize Illinois when they were preoccupied trying to civilize Massachusetts.  So the strategic miasma would not be named for a British cabinet member or one of his racehorses.  Finally in 1803, someone finally realized the value of this real estate. So, on behalf of Thomas Jefferson, let me introduce you to Fort Dearborn, Illinois.  The renown of Henry Dearborn, the Secretary of War, has not lasted; neither did the fort.   The Potawatomi did not appreciate it, and the result is known as the Fort Dearborn massacre.  In the War of 1812, it was one of the few battles that actually occurred that year.

Yet, the settlers kept coming, undeterred by the swamp but with a healthy superstition about the name Dearborn. Having taken the land from the Potawatomi, they took the local name, too.  Within four years of the town’s founding, the community had grown to 4,000.  Checagou now qualified as a city, however tenuously built over a swamp.  In its corporate charter, the city assumed a more dignified spelling:  Chicago.  

How many major cities are named for a vegetable?

My RDA of Nostalgia

Posted in General on July 18th, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments

So the Sears Tower is now to be called the Willis Tower.  I am not saddened or angered that the Chicago landmark has been renamed for a British investment firm that is renting three floors of the skyscraper.  (But I am surprised how comparatively cheap is the price of fame.)  No, my personal sense of Chicago history was already shattered when Macys annexed and renamed Marshall Field.


Marshall Field was more than just a department store. It was an institution almost as old as Chicago itself. The Great Chicago Fire put on a crimp on sales, but the store obviously recovered. In the subsequent reconstruction, the building would become a landmark of the city, as much a palace as a store. It encompassed a city block in the center of the loop, imposing and beautiful. The interior was just as majestic. The store was neoclassical– if only the Romans had elevators. It was built around an atrium, and its ceiling was crowned with dazzling mosaics–a firmament of gold and blue. If Marshall Field didn’t quite overshadow the Columbian Exposition, the store was still on the itinerary of any visitor.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    
But Chicago’s feeling for Marshall  Field was not an austere reverence but a warm affection. During the holidays, the store’s display windows were one of the delightful traditions. Some fable or fairy tale would be charmingly portrayed. Every Chicagoan has a personal memory of the old store. I can tell you how much the young Eugene loved the toy department. It had an unequalled display of toy soldiers.

Marshall Field was also the standard for service and quality. It wasn’t enough for the YUPPIE Eugene that he wore Hickey-Freeman suits. Those were Hickey-Freeman suits from Marshall  Field, a double hallmark of distinction. (Of course, I would buy them on sale.)

You can tell how much I still love that old store; but it has not been that store in years. Marshall Field changed owners and character; only the name and memory remained. And now the name is gone.   And yet I–and most Chicagoans of a certain age–will always know that store by its traditional identity. We may shop at this new Macys and call it that name as a grudging courtesy to the sales clerk, but we really will be thinking Marshall Field. 




 p.s.  And let’s not forget the historic significance of this day:

Sex and the Suburbs

Posted in General on June 6th, 2008 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

I know that many of you have wondered, “Eugene, if you were a serious writer, shouldn’t you be in New York (for the fame) or California (for the money)?” Of course, with the premiere of “Swingtown”, you now know that I remain in Chicago for the olympian adultery. Yes, Lake Michigan is just our idea of a hot tub.

The fact that all the houses in my suburb look alike only facilitates the orgy. Just walk into any house; at worse, you will actually be home. As I explained to a somewhat gullible Mr. Weinfarb (after finding me hiding in the laundry hamp), he was in the wrong house. Besides, after 4000 years of inbreeding, his wife could have mistaken me for him.

If you need further proof of Chicago’s shameless eroticism, the Cubs play in the nude. Those “uniforms” are only computer graphics to pacify the prudes on the FCC. And now you know the real reason that the Cubs won’t slide to base.

Unfortunately, all of our unabashed hedonism is being televised on CBS. Let’s face it: HBO would have more graphic sensuality in a production of “Anne of Green Gables.” This is a series about adultery, but it is the only time that you’ll ever see actress Molly Parker with her clothes on.

In any case, now you understand the allure of Chicago. As the sign says at O’Hare Airport, “Mayor Daley welcomes you to sex and pizza.”