I felt compelled to write about this movie.  While it definitely has its fair share of flaws, it remains one of the freshest things I’ve seen in a while.  The film Lo, is about a man who summons a demon to rescue his girlfriend from hell.  Through the course of the story, he struggles to get what he wants from the demon and we learn more about the characters involved.  It’s filmed on a shoe-string budget yet holds its weight as a dark comedy/love story.

First the bad: Lo is at its strongest when it stays with the relationship between demon and summoner.  The backstory, which builds the relationship between the main character and the girl he is attempting to rescue, is pretty weak with a surplus of unconvincing dialogue and acting to go around.  Given that this is the impetus for our main character to deal with a demon in order to get her back, it is a serious flaw in the filmmaking.  Also, the scenes with the main character talking to his hand are too reminiscent of Evil Dead and don’t seem to work, especially since the main actor is no Bruce Campbell.  Topping it off, there is a musical lounge scene that would be only moderately funny even if it wasn’t 5 minutes too  long.

On the flip side, the film has a lot of strengths: the demon Lo probably being the biggest.  The character is well written, the actor does a phenomenal job portraying him and the high-quality costume gives the film a polished, professional feel.   In addition, I loved much of the writing and the concept had me engaged from the start.  The set was also fantastic.  Most of the movie takes place in a circle surrounded by utter darkness, with a cheesy proscenium stage making an occasional appearance in the void to host the replaying of the protagonist’s memories.  The idea of interdimensional contact is a tricky one, because in a way the summoner is both in his place and in hell.  The movie manages to remind us of both.  The pitch black of the set conveys the alien and dangerous territory that surrounds the circle; yet also prior to the invoking of the demon, we see the protagonist leave the circle into the darkness and hear him fumble in the kitchen for a knife.  I probably enjoy stuff like that too much.

You see, Lo explores a relationship that has always darkly fascinated me: the relationship between a demon and its summoner.  The concept behind a demon summoning is terrifying.  At least it should be.  The idea being: that you summon a demon and command it to do your bidding, and hopefully have what it takes to make it obey you.  Demons are not fond of being bossed around by humans and will do everything in their power to trick you and drag your ass screaming down to hell.  You see, it’s only that little circle that you sit in during your summoning that keeps the demon from ripping you to shreds and taking your soul.  You’ve opened the possibility simply by summoning it.  And if a toe edges over that circle line, your protection is forfeit and you’re in the hands of an ancient, powerful being with an infinite capacity for evil, who happens to have you at the top of its shitlist.

So as you can see, the interaction between demon and summoner has the potential to be an interesting one, and that is one of the movie’s greatest strengths.  You watch the relationship develop through the film.  Initially our summoner is rather bumbling, later he proves to be made of stronger stuff than initally suspected.  The story manages to give some good laughs, go to some surprising places and finishes strongly.  All in all, I’d say its not going to be for everyone.  However, I do think its just my speed.  Travis Betz, keep up the good work.

Too Rare to Live, Too Weird to Die

“We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert…when the drugs began to take hold.” – Hunter S. Thompson, July 18, 1937 – Feb 20, 2005

Fuck “Call me, Ishmael.”  The first sentence of Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas is the best opening line to any book I’ve ever read.

Five years ago today, Hunter penned a suicide note titled, “Football Season is Over,” and shot himself in the head.  In accordance with his wishes, his remains were cremated and then shot out of an enormous cannon of his own design.  Five years ago today, we lost the father of Gonzo journalism.

Hunter S. Thompson had a gift.  He was one of those rare mutants he spoke of in his writing.  Creatures like him are necessary to provide that first brave leap into the unknown so that other, less courageous souls can follow in their footsteps.  He was journalistic evolution in action.

He threw himself into the middle of his stories, took drugs, and blurred fact and fiction so that it was hard to tell the difference between the two.  His coverage of the 72 Democratic Presidential Campaign is a good example, where his reporting of Ed Muskie’s use of an obscure drug, Ibogaine, was interpreted as fact and reported by various news agencies, possibly affecting Muskie’s standings among the public.   Given Hunter’s skill for weaving truth and lie interchangeably in his stories, often with a good amount of corroborating numbers and “sources” for both, I would imagine fact-checking his work to be a nightmarish prospect.   He would often go way past his deadlines and then submit all at once, forcing most of the story to go through unedited.

He broke a lot of rules for writing in general and journalism in particular, creating his “Gonzo journalism” in the process.  Gonzo is a type of subjective journalism where the writer is immersed in the story and uses fact and fiction to convey an overall message.  You see, Hunter learned a long time ago that it was very difficult to truly report anything objectively and additionally it was not necessarily desirable to do so.  At the end of the day, reporting a point equally two ways doesn’t impart anything of real value to the reader, especially if the argument for one side has much more substance than the other.  The reporter and their story are intertwined and he was one of the first in the modern era to embrace it with wild abandon.

While you can see many different examples of Gonzo journalism online today, the reason it took off in the first place  is because it put you directly in the head of Hunter S. Thompson.  Instead of  simply reading coverage of the Kentucky Derby, you could read, “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved.”    And Hunter’s head is an interesting place to be, filled with boozed up lizards, demons covered in tits, “a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers,” and brilliance.  We’ll miss him.

Blinded By Pseudoscience

When this much condensed stupidity forces its way into my ears, I feel like I have to write or read something factual to alleviate the pain.

A friend of mine was recently ambushed by evangelicals, who wanted to interview her for their Christian apologist website.  The video at the top is an example of some of the arguments these people use to back up their disbelief in the accepted scientific consensus. It frustrates me to no end to hear some evangelicals try and “debunk” evolution. If you are a creationist and a friend of mine, I apologize in advance and you may want to stop reading now.  If you can reconcile your religious beliefs with modern scientific findings, then I can’t really argue with you.  However, when you come up with some half baked pseudo-science that “disproves” evolution, and then use it to back up your creation story which involves a magical garden, an evil snake, and a woman made out of a rib, it just pisses me off.  The fact that there are so goddamn many of you who ascribe to this crazy bullshit is also staggering.  48% of Americans believe that God pretty much created humanity in its current condition: http://hubpages.com/hub/Poll-Most-Americans-Dont-Believe-Evolution.  Ahhhhhh!

Ok.  So here is your handy dandy guide to debunking crazy, bullshit Creationist arguments.

1. Lack of transitional fossils: One of the arguments trotted out by creationists, is that we haven’t found transitional fossils.  That is, fossils that show a species that is changing into another species.  They claim that while we have found fossils from many different species that look similar or seem to show a progression, there is no actual evidence of a single species in mutation to another species in the fossil record.  Since differing species can’t interbreed, it is argued that while species can change over time, they can’t descend from another species.  Therefore, the main species in existence must have been created by an intelligent designer.  This line of logic is convenient for them, because when we do find transitional fossils, Creationists can simply claim that it belongs to one species or the other and does not prove a link between the two.  Archeaopteryx is one such example.  Most scientists acknowledge it as a link between dinosaurs and birds, but Creationists simply claim its a dinosaur with wings like the Pterodactyl.

The truth is that ALL species are in transition, since they eventually evolve into something else.  The ultimate proof these people are looking for, is an organism that is the direct parent of one species and the direct child of another, which couldn’t be verified even if it was found.  While there do exist gaps in the fossil record, they get smaller by the day.  By the scientific definition of transitional fossil, we have already found many such fossils that show a clear progression from one organism into another.  There may also be some evidence to suggest that evolution follows a path of punctuated equilibrium, that is long periods of relative stability punctuated by short bursts of rapid evolution.

Furthermore, speciation is occuring as we speak.  Simply put, an organism can branch from its original species by a few different mechanisms: one of which is allopatric speciation.  In a nutshell, this means that members of the same species sometimes, when put under different evolutionary pressures, will change until the point where they are no longer compatible with their original species and unable to interbreed with them.  This can occur when a species migrates to a different clime with different predators and prey, and evolve to deal with those new pressures.  The modern polar bear has many differences from the modern brown bear, such as its ability to swim 60 miles in freezing water, its white coat, extra fat for insulation, elongated neck and webbed paws to name a few, but can still interbreed with the brown bear.  Given more time however, the two species could diverge significantly enough to no longer be compatible.  There is even evidence to suggest that speciation can occur within the same environment.  The Hawthorn Fly is one such example, where a fly has recently evolved to eat apples (a non-native fruit) instead of the usual fruit that the fly subsists on.  This new kind of fly only eats apples, matures faster, and rarely interbreeds with the original species (about 4 to 6% hybridization rate).

2. Life is too unlikely to arise by chance: This argument appeals to common sense, but is ultimately unverifiable and useless.  The odds of a person with my exact characteristics being born are astronomical, however its ridiculous to assume I don’t exist.  The fact that we’re here, allows us to pose all sorts of questions about how unique it is that a certain set of circumstances have come about leading to our existence.  Oxygen is a poisonous, corrosive, flammable gas and we breathe the stuff.  Life found a way with the supplies on hand, so therefore the supplies on hand are of use to us.

3. Irreducible complexity: This theory asserts that we possess features that would be useless if they were only partially evolved. Therefore, they would not help the survival of a species and not be eventually developed into its current incarnation.  “Of what use is half an eye?  A circulatory system?  The blood and the heart would all have to evolve simultaneously, etc. etc.”  These are some interesting questions, but ultimately are things that evolution has an answer for.

The misconception is that the evolved feature was built like a computer, where the body had to assemble pieces that by themselves wouldn’t form any useful function until they operated together as a unit.  Evolution doesn’t work like that.  The stubs that the first tetropods developed had some use other than for walking on land.  Before the first fish made its attempt out of the water, those growing limbs offered an advantage in navigating its original wetland environment.  Lungs developed as an accessory respirator.  During droughts, small bodies of water would become starved of oxygen, and the fish able to get more oxygen out of the air had a greater chance of survival.  It also served a secondary purpose in helping to maintain density with the surrounding water and improve underwater movement.  The swim bladder in fish that evolved later makes use of that same functionality while losing the dependence on outside air.  Feathers can help to regulate body temperature, potentially attract mates and still eventually reach a size where it could offer an advantage if used for flight.

When engineering a large complex structure, it is often not done all at once.  Scaffolding is employed, until it’s no longer needed and eventually discarded.  Evolution often works the same way.  Whales still have tiny vestigial legs and we still have our appendix.  After enough time passes those features may evolve away entirely, or adapt to a new purpose.  The modern eye could have evolved, while being useful at each stage in its evolution.  Here is a quote from Ian Stewart’s “Natures Numbers: Discovering Order andPattern in the Universe”, Phoenix, 1995, pg 24-26

“A remarkable example of this kind of thinking is a computer simulation of the
eye by Daniel Nilsson and Susanne Pelger, published in 1994…. [T]he computer
analysis … starts with a mathematical model of a flat region of cells … The
mathematical model is set up as a computer program that …calculates how good
the resulting structure is at detecting light and resolving patterns …During a
simulation that corresponds to a period of four hundred thousand years .. the
region of cells folds itself up into a deep, spherical cavity with a tiny iris
like opening and .. a lens … the pattern of variation of refractive index that
is produced in the simulation is very like our own. So here mathematics shows
that eyes definitely can evolve gradually and naturally…”

4. The Second Law of Thermodynamics: This basically states that “In a system, a process that occurs will tend to increase the total entropy of the universe.”  This seems to go against the idea of  self-organizing life, because the law says that the overall organization of the universe decreases rather than increases over time.  However this argument can be misleading, since biological organisms can become more ordered while the net change in entropy for the universe can still be positive.  In addition, the second law is only true of closed systems.  With an energy source, decreases in entropy can be arranged: such as separating heat from cold in a refrigerator.  Living organisms require an external energy source, so it is not unusual that they grow more complex over time.  In addition, many examples of things growing in complexity can be seen in the real world on a daily basis: egg to organism, infant to adult, etc. and by the narrow interpretation used by Creationists that should not be possible either.

5. Disagreement with the authenticity of carbon dating: This is the “were you there and how do you know” argument.  Some people argue that since we can’t go back in time and verify that carbon dating is accurate over the course of millions of years, we can’t say for sure that it properly dates things and proves the Earth to be millions of years old.  This is a fairly weak argument, since carbon dating has been repeatedly tested and its findings verified by many.  Creationists claim to be able to fake the span of a million years using carbon dating techniques, but their findings have been questioned, as the people performing the experiments were unskilled, unqualified, and refused to submit their findings to a significant scientific organization.

6.  Why are some of the weaker species we’ve evolved from still here?  Another common argument is that if we evolved from Chimpanzees, then why are Chimpanzees still around?  This comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of natural selection and our common descent.  First and foremost, we did not evolve from Chimpanzees.  We happen to share a common ancestor with them, but we both found different ways to handle the environmental pressures our species were under.  Secondly, natural selection is not a cage match.  Things as uncontrollable as Chance can play a roll in the survival or destruction of a species.  The species who have the chance to breed produce children like them, and over time the trends that happen for one reason or another to increase survival, tend to win out.  With a strict “survival of the fittest” interpretation, you could easily come to the conclusion that there should be no prey, since predators are the “stronger” species and all prey should have evolved to “beat” them or die off.  Predator and prey can develop a symbiotic relationship that help both species to survive.  Predators reduce overpopulation, which would starve off the prey, and the successful predators are careful not to hunt their prey to extinction, which would lead them to starvation.  In this case, predators that are too ambitious would have a smaller chance of survival.  There can be many niches a species is capable of occupying.  Furthermore, migration and continental drift can easily lead to differentiation in a species, which might lead it down different roads of evolution whereby we could arrive at the chimpanzee occupying one niche, and ourselves at another.

7. The earth would be covered in fossils if it was millions of years old:  This is perhaps the stupidest of all the Creationist arguments, but has to be addressed.  In the video at the top, the man states that it is impossible for the earth to be millions of years old because the number of creatures living and dying in that period of time would be so astronomical, that we would all be standing on a giant pile of bones.  Wow.  Ok, well to begin with, fossilization is extremely rare.  Most people don’t realize it, but one of the most popular and well known dinosaurs, the T. Rex, whose species had a lifespan of approx 5 million years and who’s skeleton is easily recognizable ,only has left behind 19 fossils that we’ve found so far.  For fossilization to even have a chance of occurring the body has to be covered by thick sediment almost as soon as possible, or frozen.  Most of the fossils we’ve found have been trapped in silt beds or tar pits in order to leave them preserved enough for us to recognize.  This means it is easily possible for millions of species to have existed and leave no trace.  If we as a species died off tomorrow, in 10,000 years the last remaining visible human structure may be Mount Rushmore.  A million years later there might not be a single trace of our history here on this planet aside from what’s in orbit.   After 65 million?  Likely not a trace.  So give the fossil record a break, we’re doing the best we can with it.

To learn more about evolution, there’s plenty of information online on Wikipedia alone.  Also, many thanks to Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen for all I’ve learned from reading them.  Buy their books.

In Praise of Bacchus (and Burlesque)

Scratch another must-see band off the list.  On Oct. 30, Susan and I went to go see Type O for the first time at the Metro.

Type O Negative is like an aphrodisiac to goth girls.  Actually, I find that a good deal of women in general dig Type O.  Their sound is deep and sensual, and Peter Steele’s bass voice is pretty hard to resist, so I guess its no big surprise.  The guys who listen to Type O are an interesting mix however.  You have your mix of old-school Batcavers for whom Type O is on the heavier end of what they like, and your mix of tough biker dudes for whom Type O is their easy listening music.  Most of the dudes I saw at the Metro fell into the latter category, and while I wouldn’t characterize Type O Negative’s music as that heavy, we still saw fights break out and a bouncer drag a big dude down the stairs against his will.

Thankfully, we showed up late enough to miss the opening acts, which we were told weren’t impressive.  Not too long after our arrival, Type O took the stage and got to it.  All in all, I’d say they put on a solid show, despite the crappy acoustics of the Metro.  They had a breeze blowing continuously through the stand-in keyboardist’s hair which looked ridiculous and was a little distracting, but other than that they looked great up there.  They played all the songs I needed to hear: Christian Woman, In Praise of Bacchus, Black No. 1, Love you to death.  Peter Steele was sober enough to perform the whole show without fucking anything up, although it did look like he went through a half bottle of vodka while performing.  That’s cool.  After the show, we met up with some people we knew and headed over to The Exit.

The Exit.  Unfortunately we don’t make it out there as much as I’d like, but it was nice to go again.  Since it was nearing Halloween, we saw a ton of people in costumes.  There was also a burlesque performance going on upstairs by Vaudezilla.  I guess Susan knew one of the girls from Facebook and so we went up to see the show.  The show was great.  Aside from it being normal girls doing some great dance routines, the outfits were cool, the themes were fun, and the music was hot.  Two routines in specific stuck with me.  There was one where the girl started off in a mad scientist costume and performed her act to the song Crazy by Gnarls Barkley.  The other was a fan dance to the song The Mission by Puscifer.  The fan number was probably the best of the evening, very fluid and elegant.  I’d never heard the song before, so I asked the DJ for the name.  Anyway, all the girls were great and we’ll probably be back to see them some other time. Check them out at http://www.vaudezilla.com

Here are some vids by Type O and the song The Mission by Puscifer.

Fun With The Dead

I have walked with the dead.

A horror collectible store in Berwyn named Horrorbles, got X amount of free tickets to hand out for “zombies” to attend the Zombieland Chicago red carpet premiere.  Side note: if you’re ever in the market for anything horror related, be it zombie makeup, authentic freddy krueger gloves, giant scary clowns, etc.  this is probably your one stop shop.  Go buy stuff from Kryssie, she rocks.  Lucky for my girlfriend and I, I knew Kryssie from high school, and she graced us with two tickets to go to the event as zombies.

So after doing a little homework on the subject, I came up with my lazy how-to guide for getting zombified.

  1. Get a suit from a thrift store, the more out of date the better.  Don’t spend too much money
  2. Go drag that fucker through the mud and rough it up
  3. With an exacto knife or something, shred the bottom of the pants a bit so that it looks tattered, do the same with the sleeves.
  4. Puncture wounds and fake blood are optional.
  5. Be fortunate enough to have an onsite makeup crew handle your makeup for you. (I know nothing about this crap.)

That was pretty much how I got ready to go.   Most people did their own makeup, and some got really creative with it.  Horrorbles actually has classes on Latex and special effects makeup, so I’ll probably go for a course, since I probably won’t have a makeup team on hand the next time I think about doing this.

So we arrive, get registered, and are herded into a pen where we are to wait on makeup.  People who already were in makeup basically just hung out and grabbed at passing cars and pedestrians.  Eventually I get my makeup on and do my fair share of groaning and swiping at passing traffic.  Eventually, it’s go time and we all line up and shamble down the red carpet while some people snap pictures.  Susan and I get past the carpet, head upstairs and take our seats.  Woody Harrellson comes on out before the film and says a few words.  He tells us that he’s really a zombie fan deep down, and was just in character for the film.  We let it slide.  The movie comes on and happens to rule.

After the movie, Susan has to go home and pass out, but I head on out to the after party at Villains.  Villains has a great selection of burgers, and an impressive beer list to boot, although from my past few visits I’m less than impressed with the speed and attentiveness of the bartending staff.   Still its a nice place, that attracts a group of south side regulars who frequent the place and seem pretty cool.  I meet people quickly enough, as I order a scotch and the two other scotch drinking zombies quickly take note of my order.  I sit and talk for a while with them.  The girl is a bartender there at Villains but was also out at the show, and the guy is really nice and one of the regulars there.  Anyway we hang for a while, buy each other a couple beers and eventually I head on out home and bury my zombie clothes in a bag for another time.

I’ve been bitten.  It can now only be a short amount of time before I lose control and stagger down the streets of Chicago in search of brains or a decent zombie pub crawl.

Hau Ruck!

Once upon a time, there was Wax Trax Records!

Wax Trax was a Chicago based, independent record label that was the major producer of post-Industrial music in the late 80s and early 90s.  Wax Trax signed KMFDM, Ministry, My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult and others.  Unfortunately, I was too young to experience Chicago during that period of time when the scene was being born and some of my favorite Industrial bands were living and playing in the area.  Around the early 90s, Wax Trax entered bankruptcy and was bought up by TVT records, the label that originally signed Nine Inch Nails.  While the post-Industrial scene reached its zenith in the mid to late 90s and many new bands found fame and fortune, with the death of Wax Trax records, bands like KMFDM and Ministry began relocating elsewhere and we saw less Industrial acts coming out of Chicago.  I don’t know exactly where I’m going with this except to say that I’m proud that some of the forefathers of modern Industrial rock once had their home here in the Windy City.

Kein Mehrheit Fur Die Mitleid.  I love this band.

KMFDM was founded in Germany in 1984 by frontman Sascha Konietzko.  He was later joined by En Esch and Gunter Schultz as well as frequent collaborator Raymond Watts, frontman of the band PIG and sometimes member of KMFDM.  Initial KMFDM music resembled poppy techno more so than their current incarnation, but somewhere along the way, maybe around Naive or Angst, KMFDM was coming into their sound.  Virus, Drug Against War, Light, Godlike.  Around the time of Nihil, the group had already hit its stride and many fledgling industrial acts were being influenced by their direction.

By the time I had discovered KMFDM, they were on the verge of splitting up.  They put out their Symbols album and a little while later said, “Adios,” and went their separate ways.  While En Esch and Gunter Schultz left to form the band Slick Idiot, Sascha formed MDFMK with some other musicians to experiment with a different style.  Eventually MDFMK split and KMFDM was reborn.  Sascha remained and the new members included some former members of the band PIG and Lucia Cifarelli.

Since the band reformed, I’ve seen KMFDM play a few times and I think they’re in better shape than ever.  It seemed to take the new members a little while to gel properly, but Hau Ruck may be my favorite album of theirs with the exception of Nihil.  They’ve also put out some solid songs on Tohuvabohu and Blitz.  I saw them for the third time at the House of Blues on October 4th and all the elements were together.

Lucia and Sascha were both belting out their vocals from their respective podiums, effectively commanding the audience.  They hit some of the classics, playing Light, Godlike, Megalomaniac, and Drug Against War, but probably played more of their newer stuff which neither the crowd nor I seemed to mind.  They did two encores (by the way, how can you not love a band who made an song poking fun at themselves titled, “SUCKS,” and do encores when the whole crowd chants “KMFDM SUCKS!”).  These guys are still one of the hardest working bands out there and continue to put out great music.

Keep it coming KMFDM, More and Faster.

Falling down Ashland

I cannot escape Ashland.

I have moved three times in this city already, each time to a new neighborhood and I’m always within a few blocks of Ashland.  Now, I’ve made the trek all the way to the south side, throwing all caution and familiar surroundings to the wind and….oh wait.. there’s Ashland.

That being said, I moved to Pilsen.  A self-avowed lifetime Northsider has picked up and moved to a neighborhood I know next to nothing about, despite the fact that most of my friends and favorite haunts are littered across the north side.  Anchored by trusty Ashland, I decided to plant myself somewhere completely new in this great big city and force myself to explore it.  So far, I am very happy.  We managed to find a gorgeous loft space just in our price range, and are loving living in this neighborhood.

From my time here exploring so far, here are some things I can recommend if you find yourself down here, in my neck of the woods.

1. Try one of the amazing Mexican restaurants around the area.  I shamefully have only tried a couple so far, but they have proved to be excellent.  Neuvo Leon is rated the best Mexican option in Chicago on Citysearch based on a variety of factors and I can see why.  The region they cook from uses lard in their cooking, so the food is heavy, but delicious.  There is also a meat market right next door which they get their food from, so its real fresh.  Top it off with the fact that they are open from 7 am to 11pm and their food is very affordable and you have a winning combination.  I’ve also found myself going to Perez lately, another restaurant on 18th street, which is excellent.  Their fare seems much lighter, they make their own corn tortillas and also get their meat very fresh from a meat market they’re associated with.  They have a fantastic chipotle salsa and their diablo sauce has made a return customer out of me.

2. Between 18th and Cermak on Halsted is the Chicago Arts District.  On 2nd Fridays of the month, they open their doors and people can wander in and out of the various galleries on the street.  The National Museum of Mexican Art is also in the area just a little off the pink line on 18th and is supposed to be excellent.  I haven’t made it out to this yet, but its on the list of things to do.

3.  Check out two of the local bars, Skylark and Simone’s.  Skylark looks like a total dive bar.  It’s on the corner of Cermak and Halsted, the decor inside is far from impressive, but it does have that artistic cool, a photo booth and all the chairs are comfy and look like stuff picked up from an estate sale.  In addition, they have some really cheap beer, and really good beer for cheap.  I saw some decent craft beers on their beer list and recall none of them being more than $5.  The biggest surprise there, however, was that they have an impressive food selection.  I’ve never been to a dive bar before that served creme brulee on occasion.  When we went, my girlfriend had a caprese salad with sea scallops which she enjoyed.  I had the burger and tater tots and was satisfied with the results.  Simone’s is on the other end of the spectrum.  You’re definitely gonna find yourself dropping more money here.  On the other hand, the place is incredibly well designed with each aspect of the bar carefully thought out and crafted from the artwork to every creative piece of furniture and decoration that they adorn the place with.  They offer good craft beer and decent food.  The bartender I met on the first night we went there was really cool and knowledgeable too.  The most interesting thing about Simone’s for me, was that it really looks like a diamond in the rough.  I had no idea that a bar with an interior like that was sitting on 18th not too far from two huge empty lots and walking into it was a very pleasant surprise and feels like a hidden secret.

4. Go to Heart Of Italy.  I’m not talking about Little Italy on Taylor street.  Well…go there too, but you were already probably planning on it, or have been there at some point.  Heart of Italy is really tucked away in Heart of Chicago.  If you have the chance, take a drive down to 24th and Oakley and you will find a small piece of Italy tucked away.  That stretch of Oakley has about 4 or 5 great little Italian restaurants all in the same block and serving some excellent, authentic Italian food at a reasonable price.  I’ve dined at Bruna’s Restaurante and Ignotz, and would highly recommend them both.  When bringing the parents to Ignotz they were suitably impressed, as was I, with the service and food.  My only regret is that I filled up on so much bread, but it simply can’t be helped.  They make the stuff fresh for each table.  We ordered a fried calamari appetizer which was lightly breaded and out of this world, and also a caraffe of the house wine, which was a fine compliment to the meal.  While my baked mostaccioli was good,  the stuffed gnocchi my girlfriend ordered was phenomenal and will probably be my next order at that place when we return.

5. Check out the surrounding areas.  It’s close to Little Italy, Greektown, Chinatown, downtown and a bunch of south loop and west loop stuff.  I plan on checking out more of the west loop in the near future as it’s still pretty foreign to me and there seem to be a lot of great restaurants and galleries in that area.  In the south loop you can find Villains, which makes several great burgers and has a cool group of regulars there who all seem to know each other.  Cobra lounge isn’t too far away, over by Lake and Ashland, and also has some affordable food and drinks.  In addition, they have live bands and burlesque shows playing there occasionally.  Another place with live music in the area is Reggie’s Music Joint on State st, near Cermak.  I haven’t tried the food there, but it seems like a decent music venue and they generally have several bands taking the stage in a given night.  If you want to go to a sports bar for a Bears game, I can definitely recommend Kroll’s on 18th and Michigan, which boasts a pretty extensive beer list and some excellent butter burgers.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed about being down here so far is the proximity to everything.  For shopping, at Roosevelt and Canal there is a Whole Foods, PetSmart, Best Buy, Home Depot, Dominicks, Walgreens, Michaels, Staples, and probably more than I’m forgetting.  Target is around Roosevelt and Clark.  Work is a short el ride away.  Plus, getting smashed in the loop will not end in a long and expensive cab ride home to the edge of the northside.

Pilsen, we might be here a while.

I Jumped Out of a Plane

That’s right.  I jumped, out of a fucking plane.

During my teenage years, I decided skydiving would be one of the things I would do soon after turning 18.  Then 18 hit, and I didn’t have the cash, the people, or the drive to do it anymore.  So at the age of 26, I’d almost forgotten about it completely until my friend and old roommate had his 27th birthday.

Reed is afraid of heights.  That being said, for some bizarre reason, Reed decided to jump out of a small, rickety airplane at 14,500 feet for his birthday.  Kudos to him.  Ben is also afraid of heights I suppose, but hadn’t really come to terms with this realization until plummeting through the air at 120 mph.

Well, lets start at the beginning.  Out of the many people polled to come along and do this with us, due to factors such as price and general wimpiness, the final tally was Reed, his girlfriend Rachel, and me.   We met up at Skydive Midwest around 11 AM and I thought we were going to be jumping into a class, onto the plane, and then out of the plane.  Nope.  Hours of waiting lay ahead of us.  Eventually, we get called up for our “training” class.  The class mainly consists of the instructor popping in a DVD of really experienced skydivers doing crazy shit like jumping out of a plane in a raft, flying through hoops, doing acrobatic routines, or performing King Lear in midair (ok, I made that last one up).   The point of showing us this DVD is to impress upon us how “cool” it would be if we shelled out the $2,250 or so to get a skydiving license through them.  That fee would entail around 25 jumps or so, and ground school.    Even though I know I don’t have that kind of cash and know I’m being pitched, I have to admit it is tempting.  Once you have your license you can pretty much jump solo anywhere in the world and do it for about $25 a jump.  Anyhow, its worth mentioning that you can also get your license by doing the required kinds of jumps and training while paying one jump at a time.

Moving on… after the “time share” portion of our training is over, the instructor goes onto to the actual training part.  Here’s what you need to remember:

  1. When you get up to that open door and are fastened to your tandem jumper: toe up to the line and cross your arms across your chest.  This is to prevent you from grabbing the sides of the open door and resist falling out, like any rational person is bound to do when facing an open door with no railing at 14,500 feet.  You are also to crouch forward a bit as the door is not very tall, and fall out with them when THEY push out
  2. Once falling put your arms out and kick your legs back up to minimize wind resistance.  This seems to be the easiest position for a stable fall
  3. When landing, lift your feet up so that your tandem jumper lands first, then put your feet down or just land on your ass.  Otherwise you will land while they’re still flying,  resulting in a poor landing experience for all parties involved.

Ok.  So more hours of waiting,  then its time.  Our tandem jumpers get us suited up and we are led onto the plane.  The tandem jumpers are fucking around, joking with each other: “Geez I shouldn’t have drank so much last night, my head’s all fuzzy,” or “I shouldn’t have taken all those painkillers a few hours ago” etc.  The plane starts climbing.  I start laughing trying to let it push out the fear.  Then they open the door all the way, and we are at the proper height for the jump.  My heart starts pounding as the first person is led up to the edge and, 1..2..3.. bam, falls out of the plane.    Upon their exiting, we feel the whole plane move and sway.  There is not much time to react as everyone follows fairly quickly.  A solo jumper gets outside on the edge of the plane and jumps along with the next pair.   One after the other, Rachel and Reed in their turn toe up to the door and fall out, fairly textbook.

I’m the last in line and its my turn.  My guy starts edging us forward along the bench we’re on(there’s not much room on the plane) and all of a sudden I’m stuck.  I see that my boot has gotten caught around a seat belt on the ground.  My tandem partner can’t hear me too well at this altitude with the door open so I’m sure he thinks I’m just freaking out.  Eventually I manage to communicate that I’m stuck and we both get my foot loose.  Having something go wrong so close to my jump leaves me a little rattled as I shakingly toe up to the door and instinctively put my hands on either side of it.  Dammit, broke rule #1.  Luckily I don’t have to be corrected, realizing fairly quickly what I’ve done, and I tuck my arms across my chest and crouch over.  Before I know it, I’m falling out of the plane and completely forget rule #2.  I think my arms are still across my chest and I feel us get flipped around, looking upwards almost immediately after falling out of the plane.  I feel the guy use his leg to flip us back over and then remember that I need to play a part in our survival.  I put out my arms and legs like I’m supposed to and notice that it doesn’t feel like falling anymore.

When jumping out of a plane, if you’re able to even keep your wits about you in the beginning, it will only feel like you’re falling for the first few seconds.  There are several reasons for this:

  1. Your body has never experienced falling for longer than a couple seconds, much less a solid minute of free fall, and has nothing with which to compare the experience.
  2. As you’re falling you eventually reach speeds of 120 mph and the wind actually has a strong, physical presence.
  3. The ground does not appear to be getting closer.

Number 3 above, I think confuses a lot of people, because despite being told not to waste time staring at the ground, you can’t help but expect to be making more visual progress as you’re plummeting towards the earth.  You get no real “ground rush” when freefalling because the height you are falling from is so high that the ground does not really appear to be getting closer.  By the point you would actually get a “ground rush” kind of sensation, it likely means your parachute has not opened and its too late.

So, I fall.  And for me it seems like a long time.  I start laughing and enjoying myself, but then survival instinct kicks in and I think about whether its time to pull the chute or not.  Ultimately, I remember my tandem jumper hasn’t indicated its time yet and so try to look around instead.  Knowing that you are falling about 9,000 feet through the air, while it feels like you’re just floating in midair on heavy wind is a hard sensation to convey.  Anyhow, I don’t really think I realized I had any kind of fear of heights until that moment.  Especially since I knew that the experience of surviving a skydive and of not surviving a skydive, would be very similar for a majority of the trip.  Eventually, my tandem jumper shows me the altimeter letting me know its time and I try to find the cord, managing to pull it and save our lives (give me some creative license here).  The chute opens and I get a beautiful view.  He points out Chicago and Milwaukee from that height, and I just hang there in the air.  I start getting a little disturbed about just loosely hanging  with nothing to hold on to and so decide to just hold on to the straps of the harness for some minor psychological comfort.

It’s time to land.   I try to keep my legs up but don’t get them up quite all the way and ultimately make some contact.  I think he still landed first.  Anyhow,  No bruises or injuries.  Still, 3 out of 3 rules broken.  Maybe I need to take that training course again.  Oh well.  Once back on Terra firma, I feel the adrenaline rush through my system along with the relief of being on solid ground again.  We all go and chug the beers we bought earlier and kept in a bag of ice by the car and it feels good.

All in all, despite my bitching, I had a great experience skydiving and would highly recommend Skydive Midwest.  The staff was professional, the experience was certainly memorable and I had a lot of fun.  I’m pretty positive I’ll do it again.  Here’s some other dude’s video.  I could have shelled out 90 bucks to have gotten my own, but figured that was a little too much money to get a tape of myself crying at high altitudes.  Maybe next time.

Zombie Jesus and Friends

The writing muscles have seized up.  Atrophy sets in, then inconsistent sentence structure.  Poor subject/verb agreement soon follow and eventually all you’re left with, is a mass of run on sentences that vaguely describe an event that occurred over four months ago.  Oh well, fuck it.

Anyway, I figured it was time to sit down and start writing again before I pile up any more crap that’s worth writing about.  One such noteworthy accomplishment, that was missed during the many nights of working overtime and drinking at bars, was the inception of Zombie Jesus.

Zombies are kinda in vogue right now for some reason.  I’ve never really been much of a zombie guy, preferring instead to spend my time at the other end of the horror archetype spectrum with the vampires.  I guess zombies never really freaked me out because I figured I could always think my way out of a zombie outbreak.  Typically, zombies are slow, stupid, and you’re only really in a jam if you decide to hole up in an enclosed area that’s difficult to get out of without wading through a multitude of them.  In the event of a zombie attack, I might consider going camping, or a road trip to the nearest military base.

Anyhow, they’ve grown on me a bit as of late.  As a friend mentioned to me, the scary thing about zombies is: “it’s your friends and family.”  Hmm. Fair enough.  Also, while vampires almost embody “Cool” by definition, it will always be way cooler to get made up as a zombie in your free time than go the vampire route.  You see, no matter how cool your vampire outfit may be, it will inescapably be pretentious on some level, to dress up as one.  Sorry.  And this comes from someone who has dressed up as a vampire before…several times.

So, getting a little closer to the point, zombie pub crawls have been sprouting up all over the place over the last few months.  It’s an opportunity for people to get all gored up and wander the streets of Chicago, or their hometown, getting so shitfaced that they can take the makeup off and still look like a zombie.  In short, it looks like a lot of fun.  So, Easter comes around and its time to make an imperial IPA.  Since we were brewing on the day Jesus supposedly raised from the dead, we decided to jump on the bandwagon and made a beer in honor of Zombie Jesus.

Here are the ingredients:



1 oz Simcoe pellets

1 oz Warrior pellets

2 oz amarillo hop plug packages

1 oz glacier leaf hops

1 lb caramel 60L LBreiss (caramel/crystal speciality grains)

1 lb pale ale malt

2 Breiss Gold Unhopped Liquid Malt Extract

1 Bress Amber Unhopped Liquid Malt Extract

1 Northwest Ale Activator Wyeast SVY1332 4.25 oz



1.       Clean the fuck out of everything

2.       Steep speciality grains in 150-160 water for 30 min

3.       Strain into turkey pot

4.       Bring to boil, add warrior pellets

5.       Add 1 amarillo hop plug after 15 min of boil and then again every 15 min for 3 hop plugs in total

6.       Avoid pigeon’s crapping in your boiling wort if at all possible.

7.       5 min before finish add ½ oz simcoe pellets and glacier hops as well as ½ tsp irish moss

8.       Add cold water, until wort is at the 5 gallon mark and strain through hopback into the fermenter.

9.       Pitch yeast

10.   Shake carboy vigorously attempting to free it from the bucket it is now stuck in

11.   Give up on the prospect of dislodging the carboy from the bucket and move both into a dark corner.

OG: 1.08    FG: 1.015    ABV: Around 8%

We probably didn’t oxidize the beer as much as we should have.  So ultimately we ended up racking the beer twice in order to give it extra time for the yeast to process the sugars.  The end result was very decent.  We probably ended up with a little more yeast in the bottle than I would have liked and we probably could have either added extra malt or less hops to create a better balance.  However, when all is said and done, it is probably the best beer we’ve made so far.  Many many thanks to Nick for making us the kick ass label.

Onwards to the Pils.

Good Wholesome Fun With Bondage

Holy fucking shit!

I suppose this story really begins a couple years back.  A young, starry eyed Ben Alton was looking to find himself a nice leather trench coat and some combat boots to go stomping around in over at Neo and some upcoming concerts.  Anyhow, I went looking over at The Alley but found mostly crappy overpriced merchandise that looked like it would fall apart if I looked at it too hard.  So Susan volunteered a different place that she’d passed driving to work.  It was called Mephisto, and supposedly a “leather store.”  So we decided to give it a shot since it wasn’t too far away from us.  Upon entering the store I immediately knew what I’d walked into.  I saw my combat boots (an excellent pair by the way) next to an array of ass-less chaps, ball gags, whips, and the like.

The woman who ran the shop was very helpful.  She had me pretty much pegged right away, figuring I was a dude who was looking for some gear to go stomping around at a show and did her best to make us comfortable.  She helped me pick a great Australian duster that I ultimately opted for instead of a leather coat.  However, I left my wallet at home so had to drive back to get it while Susan stayed to hold my jacket while I was gone.  She talked with the lady for a bit and found that they make all their own leather (good stuff too) and have a bondage troupe that performs around Chicago.  I came back with my wallet, and paid for my boots and coat next to a multi-colored display of cock rings.  Anyhow, we’ve recommended Mephisto to a few people looking for leather as the quality is good and the staff is great, but we hadn’t been back since and I’d almost forgotten about the place until recently.

Fast forward to 2009.  I’ve been dying to get Fabrice to the Doubledoor while he’s still in Chicago as it remains one of my all time favorite venues.  Unfortunately a whole lot of crap seemed to be playing between now and when he went home.  Last minute though, we see a supposed “Industrial/Electronica/Black Metal” act called Defcon is going to be playing, so Fabrice suggested we go.  Now a quick note about Defcon, listening to their Myspace I was not really that impressed aside from the first song.  However, they really brought it to the Doubledoor, and sounded great.

Nothing really prepared me for the show by SS-TripleX.  As I had originally understood it, they were a female bondage fashion group, and I what I saw at first fit with my expectations.  They got on stage and modeled an array of bondage/industrial outfits including full leather suits and gas masks.  However, after they had gone on and done the whole catwalk deal, things got really different.  They start this campy silent skit to music, with two girls in latex dresses sitting on stools at a table , having a picnic and drinking champagne while acting sickly sweet to each other.  After being playful for a little while, three other girls come on in leather wearing gas masks and holding a sign for the troupe behind the skit.  The music starts getting dark and heavy.  The picnic girls keep doing their scene ignorant of the post-apocalyptic scene behind them until apocalypse leather girl #2 comes over and pretends to administer ether to both picnic girls to knock them out.  She then fixes some drink, wakes each  of the picnic girls up and has them drink it.

Then it really gets dark.  The music changes to a new heavy beat, and the apocalypse leather girls strip the top off the one picnic girl at the table, then face her naked back toward the audience while she leans on the table.  Two of the leather girls move back and forth in a mechanized fashion to this medical tray retrieving needles, then piercing skin on either side of the topless girl’s spine all the way down her back.  After a moment when it’s all complete, they repeat the process removing each needle.  A little blood starts coming from the piercings which each apocalypse girl collects in a champagne glass and drinks.  The picnic girl who was pierced then takes the fake gun from one of the leather girls and shoots one of the girls in the head, then does the same to the other girl.  She gives the gun to the third leather girl to shoot herself in the head, then sits down to finish her picnic.

Whoa.  The whole show was mesmerizing in a disturbing way, as I’d never seen a performance like it before.  The DJ was awesome too, adding some real dark industrial sounds to the performance.  Anyhow they had another skit later in the evening which was also shocking and weird but I’d recommend checking it out rather than having me describe it.  Anyhow, I thought I recognized the lady who was managing the girls and sure enough she was the lady from Mephisto who sold me my boots and coat.  She told me the name has changed now to Leather 6410, but they’re still doing their thing over there, so if you need some combat boots or a pair of ass-less chaps, give them a try.