A few of my favorite Chicago tales:
My friend Roberta (see yesterday's blog) took me to a great neighborhood pizza-and-beer joint called Pizano's at State and Chestnut Streets. The far wall is a painting, a la the Boulevard of Broken Dreams, featuring the likenesses of Sammy Davis Jr., Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, Frank Sinatra, the two brothers who own the place, Roy and Lou, and Jerry Seinfeld, who, strangely, is holding a cigarette. Roberta and I were enjoying our "refreshing summer beverage" (the actual name of their most popular drink) and we waved the bartender over.
Why, we asked, is Jerry Seinfeld the focal point of a mural dedicated to dead Rat Packers?
Look closer at Seinfeld, he said. Can you tell who it used to be?
I squinted. No hints of anyone else. Based on context, though, I guessed Dean Martin. Wrong.
After Frank Sinatra died in 1998, the bartender explained, a few regulars started a death pool. This, of course, made the brothers Roy and Lou nervous, since they were the only two people left among the living. Roy and Lou at once commissioned a painter to transform James Dean into Jerry Seinfeld, rationalizing that they both had a decent chance of outliving the comedian. As an added precaution, they kept the rebel's cigarette intact.
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The legendary Mike Royko was in the Tribune offices one day in 1991, when a young reporter rushed up to him.
Do you know who's at the Billy Goat Tavern right now? she asked. President Bush. And he wants to meet you. He wants to know which part of the bar where you usually sit.
(Royko, in a column about the incident, wrote: "The country is going to hell in a handbasket, and the president of the United States wants to know on what part of the bar I rest my elbows? Or forehead?")
Royko, like many other Billy Goat regulars, didn't appreciate the throngs of yuppies and tourists who began showing up once John Belushi made the place famous in his Saturday Night Live "cheezbooger" skits. And President Bush, he reasoned, is "the greatest tourist of our time."
One hundred fifty Billy Goat regulars and reporters from the Washington press corps stood, stark quiet, and watched the first President Bush eat a cheeseburger and a bag of potato chips. A cadre of Secret Service men watched the regulars. Mike Royko was not among them.
"The excitement at Billy Goat's should be over by now," he reported the following day. "I hope Dan Quayle isn't in town."
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And the last story is from Sin in the Second City.
Chicago's rank-and-file press corps spent more time at the Everleigh Club than in their offices. Minna Everleigh always recalled the morning a fire erupted in a warehouse near the Levee district. Flames spread, trapping several inside. An alarm shrieked through the streets.
An editor at the Tribune called for reporters. No one responded. Sighing, he picked up the phone and dialed the Everleigh Club's phone number: Calumet 412.
"There's a 4-11 fire over at Wabash near Eighteenth Street," he said. "Any Tribune men there?"
"The house is overrun with 'em," a maid replied. "Wait a minute, I'll put one on."
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If anyone out there has a favorite Chicago story, I'd love to hear it! Shoot me an email at: email@example.com.
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Karen Abbott worked as a journalist on the staffs of Philadelphia magazine and Philadelphia Weekly, and has written for Salon.com and other publications. A native of Philadelphia, she now lives with her husband in Atlanta, where she's at work on her next book. Visit her online at sininthesecondcity.com.