Essays, Interviews, Observations, Pop Culture, Stories, and other Dodginess

Words For Someone Who Died

Posted on January 16, 2018

Mickey’s Tavern in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood died a few years ago. One of its beloved regulars died in December.

I first met Dr. Pelz at Mickey’s when I moved to the neighborhood. It was my first night on the block and I headed over to the dive bar on Medill and Leavitt before my bags were unpacked.

It may have been Dr. Pelz who brought my first beer. It’s hard to tell. There was more than one free beer coming my way from longtime patrons who I would come to know well over the next few years.

Bill Pelz was his name but to me he’ll always be Dr. Pelz.

Dr. Pelz, a history professor at Elgin Community College,  hosted an annual Christmas party. About a day before the 2017 version, he had a heart attack and died.

“He will be sorely missed,” his obituary stated. It went on to talk about his life as an activist and prolific scholar and author. It didn’t mention Mickey’s. Says one of the lines in his obituary:

“Generations of young students in Chicago looked to Bill for inspiration, good humor, generous friendship, and political curiosity.”

I think you could say the same for young pubgoers at Mickey’s and other local establishments that Dr. Pelz frequented like the nearby Quenchers Saloon.

I had the good fortune of being treated by Dr. Pelz to lunch or dinner at various bars and eateries on the northwest side of Chicago. The owner, manager or workers at each one all knew him and treated him with respect and that of an old friend.

But most of my memories of Dr. Pelz were at Mickey’s. It’s where we saw semi-regular Mark, AKA “Mosquito” bring in three ladies once who may or may not have been Russian prostitutes. It’s where he gave advice to a friend of mine who was having his small bachelor party at my apartment. We had stopped at Mickey’s prior to the party where we drank until one of the strippers the best man hired entered and led us away.

Dr. Pelz was there when a van caught fire outside and filled the inside of Mickey’s with smoke.

He was there when I played Erasure on the jukebox. And not only was he at Mickey’s when I filmed an audition tape for one of the seasons of “Survivor” but he appeared on the video as well.

I once installed a new doorbell for him at his home.

A memorial for Dr. Pelz is being held January 28 at the American Postal Workers Union Hall in Canaryville.

Celebrating his life for an hour or two in a south side union hall. I won’t be able to make it. I already raised a pint for Dr. Pelz at Bob Inn in Logan’s Square the night he was supposed to have his holiday party. I’ll probably do the same the night of his memorial, either at Bob Inn or one of the other spots where Dr. Pelz brought inspiration, good humor and generous friendship.

Twerkin’ Urchins and the Russian Café

Posted on December 24, 2017

This past summer I was at the Pilsen Food Truck Social, enjoying a Chocrute Kabob from Dusek’s Board & Beer and reading Chicago reclusive author Clive Javanski’s latest essay, “Am I Some Kind of Asshole?” when Mosquito walked over.

Mosquito, also known as Monkey Wrench or Spider, is a longtime acquaintance who does work on my Jeep and many other friends’ cars. He’s our group’s mechanic. Mechanic of the assholes.

His hands are perpetually dirty but he gets the job done.

He doesn’t go on the Internet a lot but when he does it’s usually odd. Like the time when he found a dead mole in his backyard and was perplexed by it. He said he went online to see if moles have eyes.

Mosquito also likes to talk to girls online even when he’s not sure they are girls and sometimes he sends them money and other gifts . He does this even if they live in Ghana and the entire thing is probably a scam.

So Mosquito interrupts me on this wonderful food truck day while I was chatting up a brainy, long-legged Pakistani girl named Nyya who had cute nose freckles and was eating a Chorizo slider. We were talking about her studies at the University of Chicago, and how she can “smell math.”

“Holy cow,” he said. “My name is on a board in Russia.”

It’s fine. I knew I’d be confused about this.

Mosquito said he got a phone call from a woman in Russia. It was one of many he’s gotten lately. They all want money from him. They offer nude photos, their hand in marriage, or dirty talk. One wanted to send him her soiled panties. One time a man called, and asked Mosquito if he wanted a virtual hand job.

I met Aidan even later that night at my apartment. He had just written a new Christmas song, “Twerkin’ Urchins,” for our planned holiday EP.

I don’t know if it’s along the lines of the classic Christmas pop gem, “Merry Christmas Will Do,” by Chicago’s own Material Issue, but it has potential.

Aidan also had a bag of drugs with him. He said they belonged to one of his girlfriends, Cassie.

“Cassie’s drugs,” he said.

She left them at his apartment last night while they were writing songs together.  As he left my place to return the drugs to Cassie, I yelled out the door that it would make a good song title for the new record. “Cassie’s Drugs.”

As he ran down Medill Avenue he shouted “Cassie’s Christmas Drugs.”

“It’s a fucking holiday album,” he said.

Welcome to Austin, Assholes

Posted on November 11, 2017

Not long ago I traveled to Austin, Texas with my friend Mosquito.

We called it the “Beers, Barbecue, and Biking” tour.

“You guys don’t look ready for biking,” said the friendly bicycle rental man.

“But my man, we are ready for beers and barbecue,” I said.

The man runs Streamline Cycles where Mosquito and I were renting our bikes.  Maybe he thought we didn’t look ready for biking because it was 100 degrees and Mosquito had his bike shirt tucked into his blue jeans.

I had a cotton T-shirt and shorts that only became shorts because they unzipped from the lightweight hiking pants I wore.

We biked along the pea gravel trail around the Colorado River and Lady Bird Lake.

Just off the bike trail overlooking the river was Alta’s Café where I had a fine pint of a local pale ale.

Our first night on the 6th Street Strip kicked off at an Irish pub, of course. Some damn fine fish tacos at B.D. Riley’s Irish Pub.

We had some more beers down the street at Easy Tiger. A great selection of fine craft beer and fine men and women of Austin. We shared a few with a friendly black girl who read some of her poetry. Mosquito just wanted to talk to her about working on cars and I mostly talked about writing and shoes.

The three of us made a toast and cheered our good fortune of meeting at this Texas watering hole.

“Welcome to Austin, assholes,” she said.


Streamline Cycles and a damn fine burger joint next door.



A local pale ale at Alta’s Cafe.



Colorado River from a bridge along the bike trail in Austin.



Barbecue in Austin


Sharing breakfast with a friend in Austin.



I’d buy her a beer, not a shot.

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