Taking a break from barbecue

I just made what had to be my 20th trip for barbecue this winter, and I’m pretty sure I need a break. I have pulled pork where muscle should be, and sauce pumping where blood once circulated.

My plan is to try to eat vegetables again, if only for a little while, before again throwing myself at the mercy of brisket and baked beans.

Chicago never used to be a barbecue town; at least not when I was growing up. The only place I remember from my youth is Russell’s in Elmwood Park; my grandparents used to take me there all the time. After making a few nostalgia-driven trips there over the past year or so, I discovered that the food doesn’t really live up to the memories (the sauce, while tasty, is thinner than water).

It’s crazy to me that there are now dozens of barbecue choices in the Chicago area. It’s as if the city finally came to its senses and said, “Hey, we’re a fat city, and this style of cooking involves lots of meat slathered in sauce, accompanied by high-calorie side dishes. How could have we ignored this for so long?”

The best barbecue discovery I’ve made over the past year is Real Urban Barbecue in Highland Park. It’s been worth the trip up 41 for burnt ends and sides that are as good as, or better than, what you’ll find at most of the BBQ joints in the city.

I still like Smoque, though I haven’t been enjoying the sauce as much lately. Too much of it can kill a meal.

I liked the entrees, but hated the sides, at Rub’s Backcountry Smokehouse. It was recently and briefly shut down, but just reopened for business. Not a bad option for the far north side of the city, but the room fills up fast.

And what about Lillie’s Q? Holy crap, those homemade sauces are amazing (the “Smoky” is a killer, pleases-everybody-at-the-table, gotta-buy-some-for-home sauce).

To all the other places I’ve been in and out of, including Smokin’ Woodys, Smoke Daddy, Bub City, Honey 1, and Hecky’s … it’s not you; it’s me. I just need a little break from barbecue. I swear I’ll be back.

rub

Bitcoin

How fat is your Bitcoin wallet? What’s that?  You still don’t “get” Bitcoin? You’re not alone. And you may just want to stay away from it at this point.

Just weeks ago, Mt. Gox, the web’s biggest Bitcoin exchange, was essentially wiped off the internet. At the time, it was learned that 850,000 Bitcoins were missing, adding up to over 450 million real dollars. This weekend, the blog of Mt. Gox CEO Mark Karpeles was hacked, revealing account information from the Mt. Gox database. In a show of Bitcoin user solidarity, the hacker(s) wrote on Karpeles’ blog, “no user database dumps have been included … Lots of people, including us, lost money and coins.”

The message on the hacked blog opens with, “First and foremost, this is not Mark Karpeles. Fuck that bitch-titted motherfucker.”  Yep, people who lost money are angry.

The CEO of another Bitcoin exchange was found dead two weeks ago. If you believe the internet, it was suicide. If you trust official sources, the death was “unnatural,” and “no foul play” is suspected.

And then there’s Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto. Newsweek just outed him as the alleged creator of Bitcoin. He denies it. The Washington Post says that if he is the guy, he has good reason for denial.

The way I look at Bitcoin is this: imagine you meet someone that seems really attractive. The person is open, accessible–someone you think might have potential. The problem is, you’re not sure about the person’s parents, or where that person came from. And the person’s been linked to sketchy behavior and people.

The person may not be marriage material, and you know your friends will never understand. And that leaves you with a nagging concern, a voice inside your head that says, “maybe this isn’t for me.”

That’s Bitcoin. The promise never outweighs the evidence, or that gut feeling.

bitcoin logo

Suck it, Chicago winter

I can’t stand the sight of my winter clothes anymore. My boots, coat, gloves and hat just piss me off at this point. I resent any day when I have to layer up and see my breath within seconds of walking outside.

Thinking I wasn’t the only one who must be having these thoughts, I decided to have a “winter clothes burning” party; a chance for people to come by and purge apparel that will be forever associated with this year’s awful weather. Then I realized I  can’t be trusted to control a bonfire of clothes. Further, there’s surely a more responsible approach to getting rid of our collective cold weather-wear.

I decided instead to do a “winter purge” for charity. Only problem is, that’s as far as I’ve gotten with the idea. I’m open to ideas as to how to coordinate location/charity. My goal is to do it before Opening Day, Chicago’s unofficial beginning of Spring.

I’d love your input!

Mouse of the Rising Sun

I had mouse problems a few years back. I documented the vermin tales, tails, and trails here, here,here,and here. As the years passed, I built up a false sense of security. My mouse problems? Surely a thing of the past.

And then came Thanksgiving (which was also my birthday this year–yay, me!). I decided to make myself a quick peanut butter and jelly sandwich–clearly I wasn’t going to have enough to eat that day–so I went to the pantry to grab a loaf of bread. At first, I was confused by what I saw. The loaf was half-eaten, but from the side rather than the end. Then I noticed a hole in the bag. It was obvious–the mice had returned.

Further exploration of the pantry led me to find various bags of snack chips that had been penetrated and violated. And of course, the true calling cards of any mouse–tiny turd pellets–were everywhere.

After discarding all the mouse-ravaged foodstuffs, I cleaned the pantry floor. Then I covered it with an assortment of Home Depot-acquired traps and killing machines. I knew that I’d have to wait to see results–mice only come out when it’s dark and quiet.

Sure enough, while I slept, a mouse met its end in a plastic snapper trap baited with chunky Skippy peanut butter. I don’t think he was a lone gunmouse; it’s a safe bet that he has accomplices. Looking forward to seeing the body count tomorrow morning.

Sex and the X-Men

(Some NSFW language and topics follow)

It’s impossible to keep track of Marvel’s X-Men universe and the endless series of X-titles that have wrestled for shelf pace over the years. I tried to keep track of the characters and titles at one point in my life, but realized I’d feel a lot better if I gave up.

This week, I stumbled upon a new X-Men “#1″: Amazing X-Men. The cover stood out because it featured an all-time favorite character (Nightcrawler), and the artwork took me straight back to the early days of the (Cockrum, then Byrne) “All-New X-Men.”

xmen

It wasn’t just the artwork; the story itself was a flashback to those days. Just as I had myself convinced that comic book publishers had forgotten that comics can be fun, I was thrilled to discover that Amazing X-Men was cover-to-cover fun. Take, for instance, this panel with the super-brainy Beast, chasing down some of the villainous, elfin “Bamfs.” They’re accused of stealing equipment and drinking Wolverine’s whiskey:

beast

With panels and direction like that, creators Jason Aaron and Ed McGuinness crafted a comic that could have worked for all audiences. All the elements are there: great story, great characters, and a sense of fun. However, because the book’s rating is “T+,” there are a few things that prevent children under…let’s say 15… from reading it.

For instance:

xfore

That’s right–Wolverine and Storm talk about foreplay. Storm is a woman of needs, dammit, and Wolverine is sure as shit going to take care of them before they “do it.” Was this exchange necessary? NOT IN THE LEAST. In fact, the “T+” rating could have been taken down to a “12+” by simply, um, massaging the dialog a bit to not be as overtly sexual. The conversation was completely out of place with the tone set for the rest of the book. 

And just so we’re clear: everyone’s banging at the ole Mutant Mansion:

firestar

Yep, Iceman’s added another cube to his freezer, and there’s another one lined up behind her. You da man, Ice-dawg!

I don’t get the need to sexualize comic book super-heroes. Further, I don’t get why children are being frozen out (Iceman-style) of the target audience. Would the comic have suffered without the sexual references? Of course not. Did it suffer because of them? Well, younger kids can’t read T+ comics, so you tell me. Should kids be allowed to read X-Men comics? What about when the new X-Men movie hits in 2014, and they’re dying to investigate the source material?

I had the same issues with a lot of the garbage flushed out by DC Comics’ “New 52″ line of books. It’s just not right to tell a young boy, “Sorry, son, you can’t read Batman until you’re much older.”

Carla Leonardo

As Robert Feder reported, Carla Leonardo died yesterday of acute myeloid leukemia.

When I started my internship at Q101, my 40-hour week was split between working in the Programming department and helping  Carla with her local music show (then called “The Local Music Showcase”).

Carla was the best mentor I could’ve asked for; she let me take on as much responsibility as my very-green self could handle. She had no problem with letting me edit her interviews, screen music submissions, and “cart songs up” for air. I felt like I hit the jackpot when she let me help out with in-studio hospitality, and hang out with her as she recorded interviews with some of Chicago’s coolest artists (my mind was blown when I got to sit on the other side of the glass as Chris Connelly sang “What’s Left But Solid Gold”).

She was always supportive of me, and I’ve always felt that support helped me get my first paid job in radio when the Programming Assistant job went vacant in October, 1993.  Less than two years after I got that job, she left Q101 to move to the East Coast. Before she left, she encouraged me to try out for her job of hosting the Local Music Showcase. I had no on-air experience, and was totally intimidated. She helped me to get over myself. I think she said something at the time like, “What? Like they’re going to give it to (Steve) Fisher?” (For the record, Steve’s a very talented jock and a friend. Carla’s point was that local music wasn’t Steve’s thing.)

Carla had a knack for cutting through bullshit with a white-hot knife. She also had an appealing cynical streak that was less mean-spirited than it was the result of being too smart for her chosen vocation. I’ll never forget, after a round of firings and jock shufflings at the station, she introduced me to the apocryphal Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” Every time things around me go berserk, I think about her smiling as she said those words.

I fell out of touch over the years, but always enjoyed  the brief encounters we had since our Q101 overlap. When I interviewed her in 2011 for my oral history book about Q101, it was like we’d never stopped communicating. She wanted to know everything that was going on with me, from what my kids were doing to where my career was going. We talked for a solid hour…and that was the last time we spoke.

I owe an immeasurable amount to Carla, and can’t begin to thank her enough. I miss her dearly, and offer my condolences to her family, friends, colleagues, and fans.

Band Overviews in Haiku

Earlier today, a friend asked me to summarize why I liked the band Rush so much. I found myself pulling out hackneyed rock-critic jargon and bloated defenses that fumbled out of my mouth and fell right on the floor. I was trying way too hard to explain why they kick as much ass as they do.

I knew better. Less is more. I followed with, “I’ll make it real simple. Let me boil Rush down to a haiku.” Pretentious? Without a doubt. Ridiculous? Yes. And yet…

Rush
Literary words
Virtuoso musicians
Syrinx gatekeepers

rush70s
Understand, I’m not much for reading poetry, let alone writing it. However, talking about Rush took me down the dreaded HAIKU RABBIT HOLE. Here are a few more:

AC/DC
Guitar riffery
Ugly workingclass sex songs
Backseat rock and roll

GWAR
Monster aliens
Crowds bathed in blood and semen
Costumed behemoths

DEVO
Flower potted heads
New wave synth pop pioneers
Are we not men? Yes!
devo

Here’s one more:

Meet James VanOsdol
Too much free time; unemployed
Never a poet

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