The City Owl and Her Ghosts


Published in: on March 26, 2013 at 5:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

Black Petals


Published in: on November 28, 2012 at 12:42 am  Leave a Comment  

Trail of Tears


Trail of Tears

In 1830, the shameful forced removal of the Cherokee, Choctaw and other Plains Indians began in earnest. They were marched to the Oklahoma territories where, along the way, many died  due to disease, starvation and other privations. It remains an obscene chapter in the American experiment.

Published in: on November 12, 2012 at 8:57 pm  Comments (5)  

The Apache Weed

The Apache Weed

The word “Apache” is another of those catch-all words used to denote many tribes of first-nation peoples. Apache is, in fact, many peoples. The Navajo and the Mescalero are also Apaches. I was ignorant of this because I was only taught the history of white Europeans. Of the 562 tribes of first-nation peoples, a great many of them from the American Southwest to the Plains states can be identified as Apaches. Geronimo and Cochise were both Apache. There were Texas Apache, New Mexico Apache, Arizona and California Apache, and many, many clans contained in those tribes.

The first Americans were as different state to state and village to village as Europeans and Celts were. It is an inexcusable blind-spot in American history that the story of our first citizens are barely known to us.

My friend, the art dealer Sara Jo Romero, is a child of New Mexico and one of my favorite things in this world is an Apache “teardrop” arrow head she gave me some years ago as a gift. She’d find them all over the high dessert in new Mexico. they are lovely; made from agate, which was almost like glass and shaped into a lethal tear-drop shape that was so sharp I could still cut paper with it easily. These arrow tips were often dipped in poisonous compounds from plants–jimson weed and hemlock– to insure death in the intended target.

The Apaches were great warriors and hunters, often trading the elk, pronghorn and other hides for other goods with neighboring Apache tribes. They often raided and were considered horse thieves (a hanging offense) by other tribes and white settlers. Still, nobody much wanted to fuck around with the Apache peoples. They were ferocious in war–even the Sioux gave them a wide berth.

The Comanche (also Apache) regularly got their asses handed to them when attempting to usurp their fellow Apache tribes both the White Mountain and Mescalero Apache stomped their ass more than once.

A couple of Apache guys I know have a bristling resentment with the Navajo because their reticence at identifying themselves as Apache. “It’s like they’re Navajo before they’re Apache. They are like the Mick Jagger Apache. They piss the rest of us off.”

My friend, Hector Maldonado, who is Texas Coushatta (which are not Apache), often explains to me that nobody has a nastier opinion of other tribes like other Indians do. Like every other tribe, like the Irish, Italians, Polish and Germans, we want to be around our own kind, and are suspicious shitheels to those who are different from us.

The popular version of American history was that the Americas were virtually uninhabited when mighty-whitey got here. The ruling mythology being that the existing 526 nations were like so many rabbits and turkeys.

‘Sit on your ass, Pilgrim. . .light up a Camel. This IS the promised land.”

Thankfully, the Apache had peyote and used it in ceremonial sweat rituals to seek visions. And if you’ve ever done peyote, you know that, after the ceremonial puking up of your toenails, the visions are NO problem. That’s right, Butchie, gag down a button or two, if you don’t have any plans for the next week. . .and you bought your ticket to the aural and visual tilt-a-whirl.

I have friends that make a yearly pilgrimage to Burning Man with a stash of buttons and don’t remember a goddamn thing other than “There was fire. Big fire.” It looks like fun–a bunch of smelly hippies burning shit and fucking in the mud, all the while dressed like the cast of the Road Warrior. The website sure is fun. Friends have begged me to go and I’m always tempted but I feel like I’m too old by about 25 years for this circus. It is not lost on me that this pagan bacchanal is held right in the nut-sack of what used to be the heart of the Apache nations. I am betting there are no small amount of spirits to summon there.

I keep writing what very little I know about First Nation peoples because in 2012, in the middle of an election year, it seems they are nowhere in this conversation. It seems the stories of the 526 nations of our first Americans have been rendered disposable. That is the way history works against us. Bankers, bean counters, and bloggers now decide what is worth saving and what is worth remembering.

We want badly to forget that we took this country at gunpoint. We burned other humans in piles next to newly built railroad tracks. For all of the proud words and hyperbole being tossed about, about “honor” and “change we can believe in,” the land itself tells our story and underlines our transgressions.

When you step into the voting booth? Know this: We live on stolen property. Every sidewalk, every gated community, every 7-11. And we descend from the most successful murderers in human history.

Published in: on November 4, 2012 at 2:28 pm  Comments (1)  

Chicago Mermaid


As proud as I am of my Irish heritage, I will admit that we believe in some pretty goofy shit.

We are fishermen from way back and believe in any number of aquatic phantasms–nymphs, Jenny-Linds, Selkies, sea serpents and many other manifestations of floating apparitions.

Mermaids are the killers though. They are beautiful and imperiled, and many a Mick dipshit has dove overboard to “save” one clinging to a rock only to find that by the time he gets to her after fighting off a rolling sea.she actually looks like Don Knotts with tits.

I decided to make a Chicago Mermaid, a blues girl. Who wouldn’t do you like that. Who wouldn’t hide her beauty.  No. . .she would save you with the blues in shades of blue and green and velvety black.

This one too, is for my pal and fellow Mick, John Manion.

Published in: on October 15, 2012 at 5:27 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Path of Thieves

In his imperfect but fascinating “Nothing Like It in the World-The Men who Built the Transcontinental Railroad,” Steven Ambrose, the often suspect popular historian, tells the story of the building of the railroad between Council Bluffs Iowa and San Francisco, the many lives it took, the blasting, digging, excavating and back-breaking labor of it all. I’ve read a number of Ambrose’s books and he has often been accused of shoddy fact-checking, misquotes and outright plagiarism. Still, the old grouch wrote a damned entertaining story.

Much more entertaining is “Hell on Wheels,” AMC’s nihilistic, grim history of those who built the railroad–  freed men of color, Confederate veterans, the newly immigrated Irish and poor southern whites. Later,past the Mississippi, it would also be the Chinese and no small amount of convict labor.

All the while, the Lakota Sioux, as well as the Cherokee and Cheyenne and many, many, other First Nation peoples, were trying to hold onto their lands. The white man took it by force. The railroads were given a remarkable amount of latitude with the law. They had their own police force as well as the Pinkertons, a bunch of rent-a-cop type pukes who were mostly criminals themselves.

“Hell on Wheels” introduces us to a Confederate veteran and widower named Bohannon who has a positively biblical sense of justice, and the band of cutthroats, shysters, swindlers and and con men who built and profited from the expansion of the railroad. They are some nasty, dirty, scurvy motherfuckers.

Needless to say I love this show. The Indians are portrayed as blood-thirsty and savage and for my money, should have been more so. It is like an Oglala Sioux friend of mine once said, “We should have killed you fuckers at Plymouth Rock.” The theft of our country was intentional, savage and absolutely without mercy. Upon seeing railroad tracks for the first time, Sitting Bull referred to them as “The Path of Thieves.”

This piece is part of the visuals I’m making for Steve Earle’s next recording, “The Low Highway.” Per usual, I get to hear the record before anyone else does and it is an astonishing collection of songs. I can’t really say much more than this. Trust me. You will be rewarded if you get it when it hits the street.

Steve is an incredible student of American history and a small part Cherokee. One of the books we’ve discussed is Cormac McCarthy’s bloody and unyielding novel of the Plains Indian wars, “Blood Meridian.” It is a sobering and shaming piece of writing that led Steve to once comment to me, “Yeah, I’ve read all of the Cormac McCarthy books and he means us no good.” I understand this. McCarthy paints a grim picture of mankind altogether.

We’re bastards. And when you know as much history as McCarthy (or Steve Earle), it is easy and perhaps inevitable that this conclusion is arrived at. The difference is on Steve’s record there is always a glimmer of hope…a bolt of light…a saving grace. On some of this record there is an abiding sadness, but it never blots out the sun. In McCarthy’s sometimes pitch-black narratives like “The Road,” “No Country for Old Men” and “Blood Meridian,” though they can be mordantly funny in places, there are two kinds of hope–Bob Hope and No Hope.

If you wonder why I prattle on about things like this, I think of those bloody epochs of history as distant mirrors. We are STILL this country. Brutal, violent and unrepentant about taking that to which we feel entitled. There is a moment at the end of the film version of “No Country for Old Men” where the sheriff, played by Tommy Lee Jones, tells his wife he is giving up; essentially that he is no match for the evil in the world. It is a sunlit slice of utter despair. It is a good man deciding to do nothing in the face of evil. It chilled me to the bone.

However, on Steve’s new record, there is a psychological map of our republic drawn; one that tells us our definition as a country is still being determined; that it is not too late to find our better selves. What my my grandmother used to refer to as the “angels of our better nature.” He often channels the voices of those marginalized and rendered voiceless–the migrant worker, the addict, the hobo, the outsiders charting their own maps as they go. The people on the other side of the billboards. The imperfect, hobbled and luminous. We, the people.

Published in: on October 9, 2012 at 11:56 pm  Comments (2)  

Monument to an October Bird

One of the great worries American Indians had when the white man started encroaching was watching the depletion of nature occur at an accelerated pace. Trees were cut down, mountains plowed through, rivers damned and bridged; as well as animals slaughtered for meat, fur, hides and bones. The white man was a whirling dervish of waste and destruction. This led Native Americans to some destructive behavior of their own. They hunted the bison to the brink of extinction in an effort to deprive the white man of a primary food source. It didn’t work. the white man kept coming and ate elk, deer and antelope in lieu of buffalo. It was one of many desperate measures taken in order to stanch the inexorable march of the murderers, thieves and rapists who stole our country for us.

Of course it didn’t work, and the genocide and internment of the First Nation tribes, which exists to this day, was a fait accompli. The grinding erosion and elimination of natural resources, plants and animals also assumed a murderous pace as well. The making of this Republic was a bloody, awful business. It meant the unmaking of a natural world. Naturalists will tell you that extinction is part of nature. As the planet changes, each species’ ability to change with it is tested. The last passenger pigeon died in a Cincinnati zoo in 1912.

They were at one time so plentiful. It would take 2 or 3 days for a single flock of them to pass over head during migration. Less than a hundred years later, they were extinct. The march of mankind did them in. New emigres from Europe would feed them to their hogs. Massive “pigeon shoots” were commonplace. There was an idea out there that the supply of passenger pigeons was infinite. This, sadly, is an American thought. We devour the world in front of us because we think there will always be more. We plan…and nature laughs.


Published in: on October 2, 2012 at 11:23 pm  Leave a Comment  


Published in: on September 29, 2012 at 11:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

Yellow Dog

Yellow Dog

I love dogs–even my pal Stan’s dog which is an insane pug who bosses Stan around.  Some little dogs think they are 10 feet tall.  Ladies and gentlemen, meet Yellow Dog.  One such creature, small in stature and large of heart.

Published in: on September 13, 2012 at 12:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

Washing the Dirty Roses

Washing the Diry Roses

At the end of summer every year, you notice the beginning of how things end in the world.  Gardens and grass are more brown, more dry and less vibrantly alive. The summer big movies have been released and the studios empty out the less worthy offerings around the beginning of September. There is murderous heat and the realization of our kids that school is about to start.

This year, there is also another bitter election cycle to distract us from the sad fact that we have so much less power than citizens of our parents’ generation had. Our “leaders” don’t get it anymore. They don’t understand that they work for us–that they are public servants.   Somehow, and not all that long ago, they decided, via our inaction and apathy, that they were in charge; that they were Tarzan and we were Jane. It’s our fault, really. The political culture’s obscene sense of entitlement is an arrogance we allowed to happen. Twenty years ago, Rahm Emanuel would not have been able to get elected without the support of labor. Now he feels entitled to break unions, fuck with pensions and decide for you and me what kind of schools our kids will have.

The head of the teachers union, Karen Lewis, is not helping matters any.  She is hell-bent on brinksmanship. She is naive and way out of her depth. What she doesn’t know is that these guys have NO bottom. There is no depth to which they will not sink to get their way. They are creatures of the political back-channels and alleyways, and these are the political operatives who are down there where the lizards have no eyes.  Rahm has forgotten more about the foul arts of political vindictiveness and nastiness than Karen Lewis will ever know.

I’ve come to believe he is the worst person we’ve ever elected to any position of power in city government.  First it will be the teachers, then the CTA workers or the firemen. . .then every other union that employs public workers–letter carriers, etc.  Rahm and his crew will run the table.  They will have privatized the city like his East Coast pal, Michael Bloomberg, a similarly height-challenged, big-city mayor with a Napoleon complex.  All the while, while people are screaming about their pensions, the Emanuels of the world will be telling them, “It’s those GREEDY teachers” or fireman, or train conductors or letter carriers, or cops or. . .well, you get the idea.  Fill in the blanks.

Aldermen and politicians are exempt from this because 20 years ago King Richie helped pass a bill which inoculated them from this fate. I guess he figured, ‘Why should we take the fucking when we can pass it along to the citizens?”

There will be two kinds of people inhabiting Chicago–wealthy , connected types. . .and those who deign to serve them.

I had an odd epiphany last night, watching the parade of Republican drool cases at their convention.  At one point, they trotted out Clint Eastwood to endorse the Sphincter Twins and, albeit half-heartedly, he did.  It made me sad to see Eastwood used so cynically, and in the service of such hateful mediocrity.  Toward the end of his rather surreal and disconnected endorsement, he looked straight into the camera and reminded us, “We the People, own this country.  Not the politicians. That, at best, they are our employees.”

It kind of makes me wonder if this were not his intention all along.  To wrap his real message in a half-hearted endorsement of a haircut masquerading as a public servant.

This is another thought about the end of summer: one’s tendency to indulge in wishful thinking.  “Washing the dirty roses,” was what my grandmother called it.

Published in: on August 31, 2012 at 5:40 pm  Leave a Comment  



I always thought that if animals could stand up and walk and talk like us, they’d spend a lot of time telling us how bad we have been for them–killing them at will, fucking up their habitat (and our own) and just basically being shitty neighbors.

I think the new hunting should be hunting the hunters, while they are hunting. If you see one in a boat standing up to shoot a duck, you shoot him first.  Gut shoot him so you don’t wreck the head, (you’re going to want to mount that) complete with the glow-in-the-dark-orange-retard-hat.  Maybe tilt that bad-boy to a rakish angle and maybe have the fart-whistle in his mouth–the thing he calls the ducks with.

The slob who owns Jimmy Johns likes to go out and shoot tigers, elephants and other endangered animals for trophies. I think maybe I want a fat-slob rug for my crib, complete with a safari hat.  Maybe order one of the prick’s six-foot subs to have a party for my new trophy.
Published in: on August 29, 2012 at 12:30 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Atomic Child

It seems every summer, Hollywood rolls out an Armageddon scenario–an over-dressed apocalypse-driven popcorn vehicle for the masses. And every summer, I watch the fucker. That the Aurora massacre has not hurt the box office of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ tells us much about ourselves. If we are optimistic, it tells us we are resilient; that we’ll not let a mad man keep us from living out lives and seeking our entertainment where we want to. The more cynical will blame the movie and the culture of these kinds of movies themselves. I actually love these kinds of movies.

I loved ‘The Dark Knight’ and have probably watched it 30 times. Part of the appeal for me is just how great Chicago looks in it. I never can help liking to watch our city on film. The other part is Heath Ledger as the Joker which is one of the greatest performances by anyone I’ve ever watched. Another element is all of the action bits, and shit blowing up.

Yeah, sadly, I’m that guy. I love when the Joker walks away from the hospital in a nurses uniform and then blows the building to kingdom come. I laughed my ass off. These are one of the kinds of movies I like. It may have something to do with when I was born, roughly a decade or so after the dropping of the first atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yes, that’s how long these awful weapons have been with us. As a kid, I remember the Vietnam war on the T.V. news every night at dinner time; the horror somehow muted by the small black and white television and the idea that this was happening on the other side of the world. Before I was 12 years old, there had been the brazen and public assassinations of JFK, his brother Robert and the Rev. Martin Luther King.

In my lifetime, the world has never ceased to be a violent, scary place, full of unexpected and varied mayhems. It is not a mystery to me where the entertainments we choose come from. Does movie violence beget more violence? Years ago, I’d have told you, “no,” that movies get their ideas from people and not the reverse. Now? I’m not so sure. I’m aware that there are numbskulls out there who are way impressionable. A few months ago, the cops would have us believe that three knuckleheads here to protest the NATO conference were planning to toss a molotov cocktail at Mayor Emanuel’s, and then, President Obama’s residences. They were really going to make a day of it. The three, including the requisite ‘white-guy-with-dreadlocks’ revolutionaries, had beer bottles full of gasoline and Kung-Fu stars with which to penetrate the police presence, which was roughly that of a Cecil B. DeMille epic.


You can’t make this shit up. But it does make one wonder which video game logic informed the bong triplets that such an idea was feasible. It seems to me that THESE might be the guys who get their ideas from movies or video games. I wish the rest of it were this comical. The other nuts seem to come by their idiotic ideas via whatever tin-foil hat political tract they happen to believe.

Last year when Congresswoman Giffords was shot in a massacre in Arizona, the Tea Party moved with the speed of a bullet to disavow Jared Loughner, even though their particular brand of hate was among his texts. In fairness, this whackjob read many extreme tracts, not just theirs. If I had to guess, I’d say the culture of poisonous political discourse creates more of these drool cases than anything else. The angry white guys spewing venomous crap on cable news and radio: Hannity, O’Relly, Limbaugh, Savage and for some reason, Ted Nugent, finds himself parsing the unappetizing Tea Party line with ugly hints of assassination. . .for whom? What possible good can come from this kind of speech? I’ll defend to the death his right to it, but I’ve come to resent defending vile speech for the sole reason that we must defend even those whose ideas we find most repugnant.

Fuck, I’m getting old. I can’t quite defend the principles that protect assholes the way I used to. Politicians are always quick to blame movies or popular entertainment for acts of madness and violence rather than their own over-heated rhetoric and that of their acolytes in the cable news world. The pro and anti-gun people will bray long and loud about guns. The truth is, were there not guns, this guy would have used hammers or a can of gas. One cannot orchestrate or understand the behavior of psychopaths.

Must there be tougher gun-laws? Absolutely.

Should we outlaw Automatic weapons? Absolutely.

But this guy merely wanted a body count and his tool of choice is not the real problem here. I was looking forward to ‘The Dark Knight Rises’–the gadgets, the explosions, the cool bad-guys–all of the stuff I go to the movies for. Spectacle. Then I turned on the news and the story of one fucked-up American, with unfettered access to automatic weapons and ammunition, annihilating 12 people and injuring nearly 60 others became an unrelenting news loop; reminding us that, perhaps, we have the world we deserve.

Published in: on July 28, 2012 at 6:11 pm  Comments (3)  
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The Witness

The Witness

In the last few years, the city of Chicago has inched closer and closer to the “Big Brother” modality Orwell warned us of.  The cops and the Mayor can’t do shit about the 21 people shot this weekend (10 of them died), but blow a yellow light or roll through a stop sign, and the city is up in your crevices like sand.

There are cameras every-fucking-place, except where the homicides are being done. Chicago is rabid for its bicycle lanes, and 5K runs and making sure the retail end of town is spiffy–the “quality-of-life” horseshit the former  Mayor went on about ad nauseum.  This is the guy who needed flower pots in the middle of Ashland Avenue. You know what I need from Ashland Avenue?

Cheap shoes and good burritos, Skippy.  That’s it.  Now ambulances have a hard time getting down Ashland in high traffic-volume hours.

I’d not be surprised if all of this beautification made the city less safe.  The cameras are really a bite in the ass though.  It is another of the city government’s nauseating nickel and diming of its citizenry to death–this and the dip-shits in the neon vests who pretend they’re cops and hand out parking tickets, even when there has been no infraction.  Don’t tell me these mouth breathers don’t have quotas, either.

It used to be a more pleasant city; less predatory and punitive in its leveeing of fines for petty bullshit.  It seems to have infected us as well.

Every swinging dick in the village has a camera–every cell phone. Every simpleton act now seems worthy of recording, just because you have a cell-camera. At my gym I saw one guy filming another guys while he shaved his sack. Really? You really want to have a home movie of that?

Or the people who take pictures of their food to send you on Facebook.  People who are NOT chefs. People with earth-shaking messages to share with the world like, “I ate a Muffin.”

How nice for you.

Or the newly proud parents who send you little films of every drool, dump and  upchuck their newly hatched offspring emits because it is all so adorable.

It isn’t.  Knock it the fuck off.

It is us filming us; the sidewalks are clogged with assholes holding their cellphones over their heads at the sight of anything they deem out of the ordinary, or a bunch of shitkickers from Bettendorf, Iowa stopping foot traffic to get a shot  of “all of the traffic.  Jeez, they won’t believe this  back in Bum-Fuck!”

The cameras are everywhere–except where they are needed.

Twenty people were shot in our city over the weekend.  Six of them died. And these totals are DOWN from last weekend.

Most of them were children.

Not that I or you want to see film of this. No. We’d be happier seeing cops walking beats in these neighborhoods. Have the high-crime areas on Comp-U-Stat and flood the neighborhood with blue. Cops on foot. . .cops on bikes. . .two-man patrols.  Let the assholes know you’re watching them and taking notice in the most aggressive posture possible.

I was impressed by the restraint Police Chief Garry McCarthy used at the NATO protests a few weeks back.  It spoke volumes that he was present, on the ground, face-to-face with protesters and urging calm among his men. He is right about one idea: You lead from the front. Now it is time for all of these cameras and witnesses to do some good.

Put cops where the cameras cannot look.

Focus law enforcement on the gaping wounds and not the mosquito bites.

Hire officers of color to work the neighborhoods where white officers might be the subject of distrust. Let children see someone who looks like them upholding the law, serving and protecting.

Make sure they are present–flesh and blood–and maybe with a smile, unlike some camera perched high on a pole.

Instead of cheap  inhuman surveillance?

Bear witness to the city.

Published in: on June 12, 2012 at 12:08 pm  Comments (1)  

The White Knight

The White Knight

Published in: on June 4, 2012 at 3:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

When I Was a Kid, I Thought There Were Sea Monsters in Lake Michigan

When I Was a Kid, I Thought There Were Sea Monsters in Lake Michigan

Published in: on April 28, 2012 at 7:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

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