My Favorite Thing is Monsters Embraces Creativity and Differences in Brilliant, Dark Story

I thought I left comic books behind in early adolescence, however, Jeff convinced me recently to read Saga, an intriguing, often risqué, beautifully illustrated 7-set graphic novel volume based on the comic. So began my sojourn back into the world I left behind, albeit on a completely different level of existence than the fluffy comic books of my youth. While I enjoyed Saga, after hearing her interview on Fresh Air, I looked forward to reading My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, the first graphic novel by Chicago illustrator Emil Ferris. Her personal story of perseverance is remarkable and tugs at your heartstrings, but even without the back story, this book is so incredibly brilliant, I found myself mesmerized. About 15 years ago, Ferris contracted meningitis and encephalitis from a mosquito infected with West Nile Virus, losing her speech and suffering from partial paralysis which impacted her right hand. As a child, she suffered from severe scoliosis, which was exacerbated by childbirth years later, leaving her spine quite vulnerable to infection. Her then 6-year-old daughter duct-taped a pen to her right hand and she arduously retrained her brain and hand to draw. She developed the fantastic, truly unique dense crosshatching technique employed in Monsters many years prior to that. The book is printed on lined paper with a facsimile spiral spine, resembling a typical composition notebook. Ferris used Bic pens to draw the images and Paper Mate Flair felt tips for the text.

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Old Town Through Rose-Colored Glasses … Looking Back at Wells Street

Lately I have been thinking about how much I adored North Wells Street in Chicago’s Old Town in my youth. My parents took us to Old Town on occasion and every single trip was imbued with magic. I’m not alone in this adoration – in my research I found quite a few blogs devoted to this unique street. Of course Old Town is far more than Wells St. – it consists of the charming, tree-lined residential and historic district defined by the triangle formed by North Avenue, Clark Street, and Ogden Avenue. Commercial Old Town is the busy stretch of North Wells running from Division Street roughly north to Lincoln Avenue and a small piece of North Ave., east and west. To residents in the 1960s to 70s, North Wells was a fabricated medley of oddities targeted at suburbanites and tourists looking for an edgy, artsy thrill in the big city. This June 7, 1964 Chicago Tribune article certainly implies North Wells was a Disneyfied tourist attraction. “It’s far from the true Bohemian atmosphere the tourists think they are savoring, but North Wells street is fascinating, lively, colorful, crowded and a pot of gold for the merchants. Like any night-life addict, Old Town’s Wells street sleeps until just before noon when it opens one reluctant eye to welcome the day’s first visitors: the suburban matrons. Sleek and well-dressed, they motor in from the north shore or the far western suburbs to infiltrate the shops and restaurants. ‘They arrive at 11:30,’ says Kris Perkins, co-proprietor of Charlie’s General Store, citing their movements as precisely as an almanac predicts the orbits of the heavenly bodies. ‘They eat lunch until 12:30, then shop until 3 O’clock when they all leave at once to beat the traffic and get home before their husbands.’”

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Defunct Discount and Department Stores – Lincolnwood and Nearby

This article is strictly about discount and department stores with locations in Lincolnwood and nearby. I am saving some stores for my next article on Skokie. I won’t be waxing nostalgic about Marshall Field’s here, because such a venerable store deserves a post of its own. I covered select Chicago area stores in a 2011 blog called Windy City Memories … of the Way Department Stores Were. I may mention a few of the same stores again, however, in such instances, I’ve endeavored to unearth new intriguing facts and photos. Shoppers World opened on August 15, 1962 across from Lincoln Village at 6211 Lincoln Ave at McCormick. Shoppers flocked to the opening as seen in the photo. I really don’t remember Shoppers World because I was too young, but do have vague recollections of Community Discount, which I believe acquired Shoppers World in the late 1960s. When Community Discount closed, Zayre opened at this site. By the end of 1966, Zayre had 92 stores with major concentrations in Greater Chicago, Miami, and its home base Boston. Zayre Corp. wanted to buy the Marshalls chain, which didn’t pan out, so they founded and opened the first T.J. Maxx in 1977. Ten years later, T.J. Maxx was acquired by TJX Companies, the parent company of Marshalls and subsequently other stores. Zayre went belly up in 1990 after several years of financial losses. I still find vintage socks and other sealed items marked Zayre. Home Depot has been at the 6211 Lincoln Ave site for a number of years.

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The Village Once Called Tessville – Lincolnwood, Illinois Part 2

In my first Lincolnwood blog, I was determined to feature businesses for which I could find images, with a few exceptions. There were also some I didn’t mention – either because they bit the dust too recently or I forgot about them. I tried to focus primarily on Lincolnwood in the first article, although I included Hollywood Kiddieland, Lincoln Village, and a few business in West Rogers Park and Edgebrook. For this blog, I expanded my scope and included additional businesses in areas of Chicago and Skokie close to Lincolnwood. I will devote an entire blog to Skokie in the near future, due to the availability of a vast number of images and more abundant information. There will also be a third part dedicated to defunct discount and department stores due to the fact this article got a little too long! In any case, when you are writing about a topic both subjective and near and dear to so many people, there are bound to be a few oversights. Thank you to everyone who responded enthusiastically to the first article … your invaluable suggestions helped me identify oversights and inspired part 2, which I present here! This blog is dedicated to all the former Lincolnwood residents who passed away, including two guys I grew up with – Mitch Tarczynski and Ian Goldman, who I only found out about recently as a result of writing the first Lincolnwood article. A special shout out to the late Leroy Kaplan, whose daughter Roberta commented on the first article. In 1974, Leroy and Elaine founded Lincolnwood Girls Softball with Fred Hosfield. Elaine Kaplan, who was very sweet, owned Gift Motique (on Touhy east of Crawford) with her sister. Leroy supervised the Lincolnwood Girls Softball Umpires – he was a character with a heart of gold.   Restaurants & Bars   The top photo shows the…

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Lincolnwood, Illinois – A Trip Down Memory Lane

In 1959, my parents moved from Rogers Park to Lincolnwood, a quiet Chicago suburb with a current population of about 12,697 people. My dad broke the mold of all his physician friends, many of whom moved from Hyde Park or South Shore to North Shore suburbs such as Wilmette, Winnetka, Glencoe, and Highland Park. They all thought he was a little nuts for choosing this somewhat obscure, unassuming village. However, he had the last laugh because Lincolnwood is an easy commute to North Michigan Avenue, where nearly all of them practiced and my dad has since 1958 – and still does part-time at age 93! My dad could have bought a house in the Lincolnwood Towers, famous for its extravagant Christmas decorations. Back in 1959, there were very few if any Jewish families living in the Towers, so instead he opted for a house in the Lincolnwood Terrace section just east of the Towers. My dad loves recounting the story of live reindeer with a manned sleigh that graced one homeowner’s front lawn when they first moved to Lincolnwood! Actress Barbara Eden looked at a house in the Towers at North Shore and Navajo when she married Charles Fegert, a Chicago Sun-Times advertising executive, but they ended up living in Water Tower Place (1977-1983). Lincolnwood is just a stone’s throw away from Chicago – Sauganash and Edgebrook are the lovely communities closest to where I grew up, near Pratt and Cicero. When I went to college on the East Coast, nobody heard of Lincolnwood, however, when I mentioned Skokie and Evanston, that elicited a glimmer of recognition. I wrote before about Lincoln Village, which was just over the border in Chicago on Lincoln Avenue between Kimball and Kedzie and the adjacent Hollywood Kiddieland. I discuss both beloved places later in this blog. A Short History Incorporated as Tessville…

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Antique Employee Badges Offer a Unique Glimpse into American Industry

It seems appropriate to be posting this in honor of Labor Day, which is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. A few years ago I picked of a mixed lot of vintage and antique ephemera at a Pace Auction. I sold most of the items – which ranged from political tie tacks to celluloid pinbacks, but held onto one piece for quite a while. Pictured above, this was a well-worn, but intriguing employee photo badge of a woman, circa 1940s from the M.H.R. Company. I’ve always been drawn to vintage photographs of random people and have collected a few over the years, including daguerreotypes in beautiful tooled leather cases. I love doing research, especially in the realm of Americana and defunct industries, so this type of collectible is a perfect fit for my sensibilities. These badges offer a glimpse into yesteryear – back to a time and place in America where workers sometimes toiled long and hard hours in poor conditions. I found out that these badges are highly collectible and most of them are well out of my price range. I wonder why they are so sought after – are others as fascinated by the visual qualities and historic aspects as I am? The finest examples sell for as much as $200 – while even poor, damaged badges sell for $25 and up. Since my interest is primarily historic, I don’t need to own any to fulfill my fascination with the companies’ history, so I sold mine. Alas, it only fetched about $20.00, likely due to the obscure company. While some have the names of the employees, most are random faces and employee ID numbers of workers who have grown old and passed away. Only surviving relatives would possibly know who they are, but nevertheless, they possess an intriguing aura. Here is a selection of…

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When Being Honest Is Not Worth the Steep Price – Obamacare!

When I first signed up for health insurance under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – aka Obamacare, like many other people, I experienced glitches including outages. Based on my income, I supposedly qualified for Medicaid, which turned out to not be true. I ended up starting a new application in the Marketplace and outsmarted the system by declaring income just above the Medicaid-qualifying amount. In fact, a very competent person I spoke to at my local Medicaid office provided this tip. Apparently, there were several phantom accounts already under my name, so I was forced to create a new account with my maiden and married name. No big deal … my premium was affordable and a huge relief compared to what I experienced the prior year – getting screwed big time by Humana. That is a whole other saga, but in summary, they investigated me as if it I was a witch in Salem, all prompted by an MRI of my neck. I had to fill out pages and pages of medical history which resulted in a declaration of a preexisting condition and out-of-pocket costs of $3,000 for the MRI!

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Matisse and Monet – the Artists and Our Kitty Cats

When we adopted two kitties in May of 2015, it took a little while to come up with two perfect names. I never had a kitten and did not have cats growing up. Sweet Pepper came into my life fully grown when I met Jeff in 1998. I fell in love with him, but it took a few more years to fall head over heels in love with Pepper and truly become a cat person. Pepper succumbed to kidney disease at age 19 1/2 in December 2014. While I thought we would never get over this loss, I have to say that Matisse and Monet have filled the collective hole in our hearts. Jeff let me choose the names Matisse and Monet for our male and female kitties – he liked the names right away, but now he cannot imagine any other names for our two little characters. Aside from the fact that we are both artists and these were two of the greatest French artists of all time, the names are beautiful, rolling off the tongue like music to the ears. I love van Gogh as an artist more than Matisse or Monet, but I could not see naming our male cat after the talented and tortured Dutchman – when you pronounce it the correct and guttural Dutch way, it’s not so pretty! When I first told my dad the names of our new kittens, he said, “Monet is a man’s name,” and yes – Claude Monet was a guy – and an immensely talented one at that. However, Monet is also a girl’s name, as in Monet Mazur.

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Woolworth Memories ~ From Main Street to State Street

The F. W. Woolworth Company, also called Woolworth’s or Woolworth, delighted children and their parents alike for more than a century. In Illinois, 25 Woolworth stores, mostly in Chicago and the suburbs, were shuttered forever in July 1997. In the UK, the stores lasted a decade longer, going out of business in December 2008. The very last thing I bought at Woolworth’s when the store was liquidating stock, was a pair of Barbie roller skates for my then 9-year-old daughter. The store closures symbolized the end of quite a run that began on February 22, 1878 when Frank Winfield Woolworth opened “Woolworth’s Great Five Cent Store” in Utica, New York. The first store failed after a short time, however, the second store that opened on July 18, 1879 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania was a big success. When he launched the Lancaster store, Frank enlisted his brother Charles Sumner Woolworth to join the business.

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The Achingly Beautiful Journey of a Timeless Genius

My obsession with Patti Smith began in 2011, after reading Just Kids, her brilliant, touching memoir about coming of age in NYC with Robert Mapplethorpe. When I was an art student at RISD, I was aware of her music because my freshman roommate Katherine played Horses over and over again. Her music back then was too raw and visceral for my immature tastes, so I did not worship her like many of my art school peers. However, by my senior year, I worshipped Robert Mapplethorpe – strictly for his bold imagery – which inspired my marble carvings of nude muscular males. I met him at the Young Hoffman Gallery in 1982, where he was standing all by himself – a handsome, soft-spoken cowboy whose demeanor completely belied his promiscuous sexual proclivities and frank sexual imagery. As I wrote in a prior blog, by a stroke of serendipity, I briefly talked to Patti Smith in December 2012 at a little Nepalese boutique in Soho that was going out of business. When I read Just Kids, I found myself sobbing at times, and it was this poignant book that provided my opening line, so I endeavored to maintain some composure. While she was nice enough to engage me for a few seconds, she turned her back before I was done talking and clearly wanted her privacy. I will never forget this chance encounter, as fleeting as it was.

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