When I was a kid, I was particularly good at Skee Ball. I remember one family vacation to N.J. to visit my Aunt Ella, stopping at some run-down arcade with Skee-Ball and rolling a high score. This talent continued through my teen years and early adulthood. When I visited NYC in the mid- to-late 1970s, I always made it a point to stop at the Playland at 1565 or 1580 Broadway and play Skee-Ball. As I recall, I accumulated enough tickets to win a metal Statue of Liberty souvenir. Back then, every neighborhood carnival seemed to have a few Skee-Ball lanes, but these dwindled over the years until you could no longer find them. Skee Ball was relegated to a a few old school game arcades and later to party venues like Chuck E. Cheese, GameWorks, Dave & Buster’s, and the like. The balls at GameWorks are made of cheap white plastic and simply don’t have the same “roll” as the originals or well-made new balls. Furthermore, one game costs four credits which is $1.00!
The summer after 8th grade, I went downtown a few times a week to take classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago Young Artist’s Studio program. The photo silk screening class was in the Pakula building at 218 S. Wabash. The painting class was in a studio on the campus building behind the Art Institute. On occasion, I would shop at the Woolworth’s on State Street and the Stop & Shop at 16 W. Washington. When I was about 18, I summoned the courage to walk into an X-rated book store located on Dearborn at Randolph, if memory serves me right. I hightailed it out of there when a freaky guy in a trench coat leered at me. Perhaps he would have flashed me, or my vivid imagination got the better of me. I was fascinated by Randolph Street, in particular the block between State and Dearborn. It had a similar kind of sleazy charm as Times Square in the 1970s, albeit on a tiny scale. The photographs featured in this blog provided inspiration for businesses to include and a search for materials such as matchbooks, postcards, and menus. This ephemera offers a glimpse at a street that was once vibrant and thriving with an incredibly cool and eclectic array of businesses. Sadly, by the time I ventured downtown, most of these businesses were long gone or had lost their luster. I primarily researched businesses between State and Randolph, west to LaSalle. Of course the beautiful Chicago Cultural Center’s north lobby is on Randolph at Michigan.
There have been many short articles about celebrities who also happen to dabble in the visual arts. But I have to say, with the risk of sounding like an art critic, that many of these folks are not very good visual artists. Come to think of it, some of them are considered mediocre at their primary pursuit – whether politics (guess who?) or acting, while others are considered pure genius. In either case, the best of their fine art would be considered the work of somewhat talented amateur hobbyists by anyone who is a trained fine artist or art critic. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is wonderful for anyone to pursue the visual arts – what I object to is when famous people who are art hacks gain renown for mediocre work simply because of their celebrity status. The purpose of this article is to shed light on a few special celebrities who have not been heralded as much for their visual art, but in my opinion, deserve to be. Viggo Mortensen This strikingly handsome actor who made many hearts melt as Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy is quite the Renaissance man. In 2002, Viggo Mortensen founded the Perceval Press to publish the works of little-known artists and authors. In addition to being a talented actor, Mortensen is a gifted photographer, painter, jazz musician, and poet. As far as I can ascertain, he is self-trained in the fine arts. This site has a lovely description of his visual art talents.
As I watch some of the events in the 2014 Winter Olympics, I am amazed at the moves that these athletes attempt and master. Olympic events that are new additions, or relatively new, have spawned unbelievable feats of grace and athleticism, while other sports have progressed so much that one has to wonder if this generation of athletes is genetically modified. I find myself gasping at the jumps and lifts in pairs figure skating, and incredible flips and moves in events such as slopestyle skiing and snowboarding, aerial skiing, and snowboarding half-pipe. And let’s not forget the great speed in skeleton and luge and the brutal impact freestyle moguls must have on knees and other body parts. If you have been watching, you know that quite a few athletes have already been injured, while others have taken nasty spills, but seemingly are alright. Somehow I think that more than their egos are bruised.
It’s a great place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there. That is what one of the many intriguing characters I met in NYC during my 10-day trip said about Chicago. I guess I feel the same way about NYC, but I have to say, it is easier to engage in discussion with people in the Big Apple. Everybody wants to tell you his or her story. This makes for great conversation and good memories, but is ever so fleeting. You could be talking to somebody really interesting on the subway … and a few seconds later, poof – they are gone without even a goodbye. John and Alfred How delighted I was upon returning from a day uptown on the first Monday of my stay, when my daughter said, “There’s John Lithgow with some other guy walking down the street in our direction.” Of course she always sees celebrities, including Hugh Jackman, who goes to her health club, but for me this was a treat. Turns out they were shooting scenes for Love is Strange starring Lithgow, Alfred Molina, and Marisa Tomei, who unfortunately was not in these scenes. This shoot literally took place half a block away from my daughter’s apartment. After we went back to her apartment, I dropped off my stuff and went back out to shoot pictures with the other gawkers gathered on Seventh Avenue. The actors seemed bemused by all of this and I got some good shots.
When I told Jeff three weeks ago that I wanted to go see Bret Michaels at Frontier Days, an annual local festival in Arlington Heights, he was a bit dumbfounded. So was I, quite frankly, because my musical taste, while eclectic, is more closely aligned with the likes of Regina Spektor, The Lumineers, Patti Smith, Bob Dylan, The Velvet Underground … you get the idea. In any case, I think I was curious because Bret Michaels is above all a gutsy survivor. Regardless of the cheesy Rock of Love with Bret Michaels reality show or how one feels about his music, it is undeniable that this guy is scrappy. So what if I was the lone person (with hubby in tow) out of 22,000 folks who wasn’t there that night to rock out, get drunk, and boogie down. I wanted to see firsthand this cool country cat who must have been blessed with nine lives. If you don’t know Michaels’ story, I urge you to read on. In addition to coping with juvenile diabetes, a series of life-threatening medical events turned Michaels’ life upside down starting in April 2010. On April 12, 2010, Michaels was admitted to the hospital with intense stomach pains that led to an emergency appendectomy. About 10 days later, Michaels was rushed to the hospital with an excruciating headache. Doctors discovered that he had suffered a massive subarachnoid hemorrhage – or cerebral aneurysm. Only 30 percent of patients survive such incidents and many are left with permanent deficits. Miraculously, just 2 weeks later, his neurosurgeon Joseph Zabramski of Barrow Neurosurgical Associates, announced that Michaels was indeed one of the lucky few to survive and he would make a full recovery. However, he wasn’t out of the woods yet.
This article is dedicated to Linda W., a generous collector who donated her entire matchbook collection to me after reading my previous blog on this subject: Matchbooks Spark The Unearthing of Long Forgotten Histories. The matches in this blog were selected from her collection – some for their visual appeal and others for the sagas that accompany the now shuttered establishments. I had no idea that Carson Pirie Scott had restaurants at O’Hare Airport until I looked at this matchbook. In fact, Carson Pirie Scott operated two restaurants at O’Hare Airport. They were both located in a building that connected Terminals 2 and 3. The formal restaurant, Seven Continents, was located on the building’s upper level and the casual cafeteria called the Tartan Tray was on the main level.
I have a fascination with amusement parks dating back to childhood. This interest relates primarily to the imagery, colors, and people-watching potential associated with these venues rather than anything practical because I actually dislike most rides. I am a wimp when it comes to roller coasters and rides that spin, although when I was a kid I could handle some spinning rides like the Tilt-A-Whirl and smaller coasters. There are a few fond memories that I will touch upon in this article, with Hollywood Kiddieland topping my list. I enjoyed this magical place from a wee tot all the way through my teen years when a high school boyfriend worked at the batting cages. I am very interested in amusement parks from a historical perspective and although I only went to Riverview Park once and never had the pleasure of exploring Coney Island, these two parks have been lifelong objects of my affection. My trips to NYC during college and more recently were too brief to justify the long subway ride, and now of course, Coney Island has changed drastically. I have been to Disneyland three times and to Disney World once, but these iconic parks really don’t rock my boat. If I had to choose one of these parks, my preference would be Disneyland.
Last night was the season opener for NCIS, which has been our favorite show for a few years – although recently Breaking Bad overtook this honor. Since last season’s cliffhanger, we’ve been highly anticipating this and although it had a somewhat satisfying ending, it was disappointing due to a number of vast plot holes. The writing was less than stellar – in fact it was downright sloppy at times. First off at the beginning there was a glimpse of the criminal/bad guy (Scott Wolf as Jonathan Cole) who tried to redeem himself by defusing the car bomb. He was dead on the ground and virtually intact. OK, we knew he would be dead because he was kneeling on top of the bomb when it went off. But considering the size of the blast, he should have been incinerated.
It was with a melancholy pang of nostalgia that I reacted to the death of the legendary Phyllis Diller on August 20 at the age of 95. While her stand-up routine was never quite my cup of tea, I admired her feisty determination and grit. She was a remarkable woman who did not embark on her comedy career until she was nearly 40 with five kids. Upon her death, there were many articles published with trivia/facts and quite a few of her jokes – these are among the most intriguing: Phyllis had a voice-over role with Boris Karloff in Mad Monster Party (1969). Phyllis appeared with bombshell Jayne Mansfield in The Fat Spy (1966). Phyllis was an accomplished pianist and although she gave it up professionally, she owned a custom-made harpsichord that she played at home. Although she used cigarette holders in her comedy routine, she was a confirmed, lifelong non-smoker. Phyllis outlived three of her children – one died in infancy in 1945 before Phyllis embarked on her comedy career – it was her son Perry (who is 62) who found his mom had passed away peacefully in her sleep with a smile on her face. Phyllis holds the world record in the Guinness Book Of World Records for most punchlines delivered in 60 seconds, averaging 12.