Tag Archives: culture

Chicago Writers & Poets: A Poem by Mary Gray Kaye




Here’s another installment of Chicago Stories’ feature, Chicago Writers & Poets.

   Our writer this month is Mary Gray Kaye. Mary writes as a member of the Neighborhood Writing Alliance.



Little mindsets
In our country
Little mindsets
          filled with tickytack
Little mindsets
Fill the sidewalks
Static mindsets
          all the same

There’s a red one
And a blue one
And a  right one
          and a  leftish one
And they’re all made
Out of tickytack
And they all smell
          just the same

And the people
With their mindsets
Always plugged in-
          to Giant teletubes
So they stare at
Glowing boxes
Where what comes out
          is the same

There are poor folks
And some rich dudes
And some  multi-
          figure millionaires
But they’re all bound
Up with tickytack
And they all sound
          just the same

And they all will
Carry  banners
As they holler at 
          their antagonists
And they”ll bring
Little babies
Who will learn from
          moms and dads

Learn to holler
Clever slogns
They’ll believe in
          ’til the day they die
While they’ll stand on
Little boxes
But they’ll still sound
          just the same

Soon the small boys
Become big boys
And the  small girls
          try to grow up too
While the big shots
On the top tier
Fill their heads with
          sticky glue

So they settle 
Into blue states
Or they fall in-
          to the redder states
And they stick with
Gooey tickytack
And it all just
          stays the same

copyright mary gray kaye
Inspired by Little Boxes by Malvina Reynolds



Chicago Writers and Poets – A poem by Ilze Vitands

         IMG Randolph 2 

 Chicago Stories is introducing a new feature: Chicago Writers & Poets with new works by Chicagoans who bring their personal perspectives to the Chicago experience. I’ve been involved in writing groups and classes for a number of years and continue to meet and read the work of those who are capturing in words their unique take on Chicago life. I’ve been having so much fun I just want to share some of that with all of you. And I’ll be sneaking in some of my stuff, too.

A poem by Ilze Vitands.


 By Ilze Vitands                                      

                   Once inside a kitchen cluttered,

                        at the counter there I uttered

                        over many a sauce and condiment bottle

                        and knives with vinyl grips.

                        Here I paused in reverence, asking,

                        my body’s wisdom thus unmasking, 

                        after so much multi-tasking,

                        What refreshment here equips?

                        Of the best and healthy choices?

                        What food here shall pass my lips?”

                     Quoth my body, “Eat some chips.”


                 Ah, distinctly I remember

                        my reaction, this dissembler!

                        How my wise and knowing body could retort and be so flip?

                        So I spake, “I am mishearing.

                        Surely you would not be steering

                        me to such unworthy leering

                        at that yellow plastic clip

                        holding closed this bag of Ruffles?

                        “Truly, this food I should skip!”

                     Quoth my body, “Onion dip.”


              Presently, with virtue stronger,

                        hesitating then no longer,

                        “Sir,” said I, “No, wait..Madam, you must see

                        this weakness has to stop.

                        Do you not have resolution?

                        Stand against your own pollution!

                        Respect the eons of evolution

                        that will crumble from this slop!

                        Imbibe some purest mineral water!

                        Eat the green and leafy crop!”

                   Quoth my body, “Drink some pop.”


            “Be that then our words of parting!

                        Exercise I will be starting.

                        Hoist me hence from my apartment! 

                       To the vast Lake Michigan Sea!

                        There I’ll run along the paving,

                        End this self-destructive craving!

                        My own soul I will be saving!

                        Breathe the air so deep and free!

                        I’ll  run until my sweat

                        doth fill my eyes so I can’t see!

                   Quoth my body, “Watch TV.”


            So my body, glad in quitting,

                        still is sitting, still is sitting.

                        Watching reruns of Green Acres,

                        sharing pork rinds with the cat.

                        But in the dark before each dawning,

                        I plot afresh against each scorning

                        Repeating every doctor’s warning,

                        Every warning falling flat.

                        “Won’t you heed my wisdom, body?

                        Make some effort? Lose some fat?”

                   Quoth my body, “Screw all that.”

Inspired by The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

Quoth My Body was pulished previously in the Journal of Ordinary Thought. Ms Vitands writes as a member of the Neighborhood Writing Alliance.

My Apologies! Please disregard my first transmission of the March Puzzler! Haywire software.


Welcome to my latest attempt to get you scratching your head!

(Just don’t go overboard like I did.)

Chicago has had more than it’s share of unique – even kooky – events, happenings, innovations, and legends.

At the risk of  treating you like you’re back in school, I have prepared a True-False quiz that I hope tickles your knowledge of Chicago history and your ability to judge if somebody is putting you on. So here we go:

1. Chicago once had the largest cable car system the world had ever seen.       True or False

2.  Elephants stopped traffic on Chicago Avenue every morning for ten days each spring by strolling from the old Armory a block east of Michigan to the Medinah Temple at 600 N. Wabash.       True or False

3.  A strip of  motels and hotels flourished on Chicago’s lakefront in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s as a major post war tourist magnet. Bearing such exotic names as the Edgewater Beach Hotel, Lake Tower Motel, The Tropicana, The Tides, Holiday Lodge, The Sands and 50th on the Lake, this great lineup was sometimes referrred to as “The Miami of Canada.”  True or False

4.  The Excalibur nightclub is the former home of the Chicago Historical Society.     True or False

5.  Over a hundred people have committed suicide from”high bridge” in Lincoln Park, later known as “suicide bridge” which was eventually demolished.     True or False


I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

Send your answers in  a “comment” and I’ll reveal the solutions in a couple of weeks. (. . . . and remember, if you don’t know the answer give it a shot anyway. It’s true or false, so it’s 50-50 you’ll be right.)

Good luck!


Chicago’s Chicken Man

"Chicken Man" - Anderson Punch

I saw him any number of times in his last years. The Chicken Man, real name Anderson Punch, who went by Casey Jones and was also called Chicken Charley, was a Jawa. Historically, Jawas were wandering junk men and performers who plied their trades on the streets and the corners of Chicago. They are scarce now, but as late as the 1970’s they provided services and entertainment to the citizens.

Legend has it that the Chicken Man, who described himself as a show-man, had played the accordion on the streets for many years prior to his chicken phase. When his accordion was broken, he broadened his repertoire to include the chicken act. Until his death at 104 in 1974, he was well-known throughout the South Side, Maxwell Street Market and the Loop for his big white performing rooster. One wag wrote, “that chicken could do anything but talk.”

The old black man with a beard and a cumulus of snow white hair walked along with the rooster atop his ancient, ruined fedora.  He would draw a crowd by pulling out his old squeeze box from a battered tin case and playing, the chicken riding on his head the whole time. After the onlookers each put down a dime for the show, the old man took the bird off his head and laid it on the pavement. Covering it with a cloth, he told it to “Go to sleep. Go to sleep.” The rooster would lie there silently while he played and kept up a steady patter in a high-pitched, toothless voice, telling how he had trained 37 roosters during his years as a show-man. Then he would remove the cloth. The chicken would wake up, scratch-dancing around the sidewalk to the music. The rapt crowd watched as if hypnotized.

The show continued until it was either over or until a cop ran him off. I have heard people who were around in the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s who remember the Chicken Man fondly. Some say they saw him at 63rd and Halsted, his favorite corner. Many were introduced to him by their parents on Sunday mornings, bargain-hunting on Maxwell Street. Still more ran across him in the Loop, as I did in the late 60’s at the very end of his show biz career, nearly 100 years old. I’m glad I was born early enough to have the treat of enjoying one of the city’s most uniquely entertaining characters ever. I don’t know anyone who ever saw the Chicken Man describe the experience without a smile on his face. Except maybe a cop or two. 

 Note: Check out the short video: “The Chicken Man of Chicago” at this link www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6itbXNgVjc

The Sun Always Shines on the Gold Coast

The Chicago winter wind freezes my smile, breaks it into a hundred shards on the ground.  Squints my eyes against the flying whatevers it pries from the gutters. I’ve got time on my hands on the Gold Coast and the wind feels milder here.

 The elegant, youngish couple glides by heads down, evading my ordinary eyes, kidnapping my attention. The woman, brunette luxury, walks in mink matching her hair. He invites my envy in long leather shearling.  Thirty thousand in wardrobe between them. They are levitated by their imagined importance. But I know they’re only dressed up. They’re not the clout. Not on the Gold Coast.

 Not the real clout, the real money, the serious, old coin. The fixers. The amassers of power, collectors of the lives of anybody they please, hide 50 stories up. The McCormicks. The Fields. The Rockefeller progeny gaze down at the traffic, at the people who go to work.

 They puzzle why anybody would do that. Go to work? They know of no McCormick, Field or Rockefeller who has ever worked, save the founder. Having no relation, parent or cousin, who has ever had a job. In this they share common ground with the permanent poor. Just as dependent, just as unprepared, just as deprived. But they, and we, know they alone have the “screw-you money.”

 The brilliant Gold Coast sun bursts from a sapphire sky. Lighting the high-rise mountain peaks. Warming the penthouses. Casting blue-gray shadows on the storefront foothills.

 The sun always shines upon the right kind on the Gold Coast.