Saturday, December 7, 2013

Howe Gelb in Chicago, 12/6 (Report pt. 1)

A snapshot by Dubravka Juraga:

I've seen Howe Gelb live twice now, and I've been listening to his music since the early '90s Giant Sand. The first time I saw him was about 5-6 years back, the second time was last night. Both shows were great, but the energy was different this time. The previous time, he was playing just his guitar, and I think he was backed by a slightly larger band. Last night he played guitar and piano equally and was backed by two guys. He wasn't talking much at all in-between songs 5-6 years ago, as I recall, and no jokes (again, my memory might be failing me). I don't expect musicians to tell stories or jokes in-between songs, not at all. I come to hear their music, everything else is bonus. But what last night made me realize is that it does wonders for the show when a great musician like Howe Gelb switches back and forth between his guitar and his piano, playing older songs and new ones, and then strings it all together with unforced, economic, precise and sometimes funny commentary. He was genuinely calm and at ease this time around, as if everything has fallen into place as completely as possible for him. Maybe it's also that threshold between the middle age and the old age that, in the best-case scenario, brings a kind of calmness. It makes me look forward to my mid-to-late-fifties. (Yeah, I realize that's a very naive and immature thing to say.)

There's much to be admired about the grain of Howe Gelb's voice. His singing is very minimalist, but if you listen carefully, he conveys a lot of different emotions and attitudes with very subtle changes within a song and an album. Add to that the changes that come with time, and you have a wealth of material to study. Or just enjoy. It's not all about dissection and theorizing.

Dinner guests will arrive soon, so I'll have to continue tomorrow.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Broken Records Promo Page

Soon folks will be able to download this book as a PDF (free) or order a print-on-demand physical copy (for a fistful of dollars). Cover by Gretchen Hasse.

Sunday, April 7, 2013


Our book is out, thanks to Jovan Gvero and SKC NS!

This story, published in Feminist Review, Issue 99 (2011) in an earlier version, is about the friendship and activism behind this book. (This version is from an unpublished book Broken Records.)

Neo AFŽ: Revolution without Premeditation

1) Manifesto

WE ARE TEARING DOWN the existing patriarchal consciousness.
WE ARE TEARING DOWN stereotypes and prejudices against those who suffer
WE ARE TEARING DOWN the borders that divide that which is inseparable.
WE ARE TEARING DOWN the artificial differences and values set up by force.
WE SEEK the right to the individualization of values.
WE SEEK a celebration of the diversity of people and their ways of life.
WE SEEK a space to create, express ourselves and work freely.
WE SEEK an exchange of critical views.
WE DEMAND equal opportunities to access knowledge and information for everyone.
WE DEMAND complete freedom for everyone as they create and search for knowledge.
WE DEMAND the immediate cessation of violence against national minorities and non-
heterosexual people who are fighting for their rights.
WE DEMAND the unconditional recognition of our activity in the context of the
tradition of progressive women’s movements.

Ivana Percl and I wrote the manifesto one summer day in 2001 on the island of Vis, sitting at a massive table in the front yard of the former Yugoslav People’s Army barracks, a complex of stone buildings once occupied by countless 19-year-old boys on their mandatory 12-month-long service. But in the early 2000s, the barracks stood mostly empty, except when in the summer they were rented out as an affordable seminar venue to not-for-profit organizations strapped for cash. The barracks had not been renovated at all, and remnants of the past were scattered all around the complex. We found a framed color photo portrait of Josip Broz Tito on the floor in the corner of a room, and then Ivana and I had a friend take a picture of us squatting and holding hands in front of it. We all slept on the cots with their thin and worn-out spring mattresses that had been used while the army was still there in the decades prior to 1991. The cots caved under our bodies like bumpy, wiry metal hammocks, but we were in our 20s, and too excited about our projects to care about comfort. It was there that Ivana and I decided to print our manifesto in a zine that we’d type up, cut and paste by ourselves, then xerox and hand out for free, mainly using the office supplies we could help ourselves to at work. We decided we wouldn’t ask for money for Neo AFŽ, and that we wouldn’t register as a NGO or a not-for-profit organization, that we simply wouldn’t register at all, that we would work clandestinely, with hardly any operating cost.

The manifesto finally appeared in the first Neo AFŽ zine in November of that same year, after we’d collected enough submissions to fill five double-sided sheets of paper folded in the middle, to create a small booklet. The copy that I have with me in Chicago, where I live now, is probably a third-generation photo copy of that first zine. The grainy cover photo features a friend of ours smirking as she burns a fascist poster on a Belgrade wall. On the next page, we address “fans of utopian ideas, and idealists,” we define Neo AFŽ as “a group of radical feminists practicing subversive theory and activism,” and we urge readers to make their own photocopies of the zine to distribute further. The facing page features the “We Are Tearing Down” manifesto setting the stage for the political and personal, critical and creative prose and verse, drawings and photographs that would fill all the subsequent issues of the zine.

We were eager for some kind of street feminism that would need to be reinvented, especially in Croatia. Belgrade at least had the Women in Black, and we respected the stoic, silent vigil they had been conducting every Wednesday at noon on the square in front of the National Museum to demand peace and justice. We had also taken part in student protests in the late 1990s, massive performances that may or may not have helped the demise of Tuđman’s and Milošević’s fascist regimes. By 2000, those regimes had been replaced by liberal democratic political forces, and that was supposed to be the end of it: now it was supposed to be smooth transitional sailing into the European Union, which is of course heaven on earth. But Ivana and I were itching for something more radical in nature, even if smaller in scope: with our little photocopied zine, we at least wanted to express our desire not just to replace whoever was in power with whoever was in the opposition, but for a system free of patriarchy and heteronormativity first and foremost. Throughout it all, we also cultivated a sense of humor, as we saw how vastly disproportionate our ambitions were to our power. Ivana, whose expertise and educational background were in marketing, would write letters to the editors of national publications to protest against and dissect various misogynistic commercials, and she always signed those letters Neo AFŽ, not so much to hide her identity as to promote our group and what we stood for.

2) Dubrovnik

Before there was Neo AFŽ, there was the beginning of my friendship with Ivana. The setting is again the Adriatic: we met in the late spring of 2001, at a feminist course at the Inter-University Centre in Dubrovnik.

One evening probably mid-way through the week-long course, after a day of heavy theory, we students from various parts of the post-Yugoslav region gather on a beach to relax and drink, sitting on the sand between the Adriatic and the old city walls. To compensate for all the intellectual work we’ve been doing over the previous few days, we get silly and loud, and we play a type of charades where you are supposed to guess the celebrity name scrawled on an index card taped to your forehead, asking yes-or-no questions until you can guess the name. ‘Am I a woman? Am I a singer? Am I alive?’ As long as answers are ‘yes’, you can continue; if you get a ‘no’ you have to wait till all the other players have taken a turn and you can begin again on the next round. You have the sea murmuring nearby, you sip your wine enveloped in the warm late-spring night, and the slightest blunders you and the other players make become a cause for uproarious laughter.

The game of beach charades takes us back to childhood while time gallops ahead. I am the one who tapes the name of Jura Stublić, leader of the 1980s pop band Film, onto Ivana’s forehead, for no reason except perhaps that I subconsciously remember his old hit ‘Ivana’, about an older man who is having an affair with a girl whose age is an ‘unlucky number’ she is trying to conceal. Ivana finally guesses, ‘I’m a male singer, I’m alive, I used to be cute and now I’m an old has-been, I was fronting a band in the 80s, it wasn’t Haustor. Wait, was it Film? I’m Jura Stublić!’ And she recalls how back in the late 1980s, when she was indeed 13, she fantasized that Jura was actually singing to her. We all laugh until we cry, recalling that when we were kids we didn’t realize how creepy the song was.

3) Ambivalence and Alternatives

In February 2002, we participated in the City of Women manifestation in Ljubljana. Issue 4 of the Neo AFŽ zine that came out in the summer of the same year was the only publication in the country to devote an entire issue to the writings by the organizers and participants of the first Zagreb Gay Pride demonstration-parade.

One of the clearest memories I have of the summer of 2002 is of tasting the sting of the tear gas that almost broke apart the Zagreb Gay Pride celebration in the Zrinjevac park after our first successful parade, which happened the day before my flight to the US.

We walked around the city protected by a private security firm as well as police in riot gear. On the sidewalks of the streets along our route were people of all ages, mostly admonishing us, throwing pieces of melon at us, spitting at us. I protected myself from the spit with a copy of the official Zagreb Gay Pride poster that spelled three words in shades of pink:


One of the anti-Gay Pride spitters was a furious local Nazi skinhead shouting “sieg heil,” raising his arm repeatedly like a robot. Another was a middle-aged woman some recognized as an English missionary known as “Sister Ruth.” The woman was balancing a huge statue of the Virgin Mary on her shoulder. The woman was also raising her arm and shouting “sieg heil.”

Our walk was not the caravan of unbridled, carnivalesque, erotic, celebratory (and commercial) energy that Gay Pride parades are in the West. We were tense with trepidation at a possible attack by the homophobes all around us, right there, wondering what would happen if they tried to break through the security. One of them threw tear gas into our small crowd in the park, and we started running, trying to resist the urge to wipe our watering eyes and running noses. It turned out it was just a small amount of the chemical, easily blown away by the breeze, and we soon calmed down. The fucker must have enjoyed watching us scatter in panic, if for a short while.

After the program was over, most of us quickly dispersed to our homes. About thirty of those who stayed around in bars and cafes downtown were sought out and beaten up by the homophobes when the police were out of sight.

4) The Name

I don’t quite remember exactly how we came up with the name Neo AFŽ. But it definitely rang a bell for our audience members: AFŽ was of course Antifašistička Fronta Žena, or the Antifascist Front of Women, an organization that originated in World War Two (founded by the Yugoslav Communist Party during World War Two) and lasted into the early 1950s. Considering that the organization had been gone for fifty years, the acronym was still used remarkably widely, and I remember how people in Vukovar would often joke about contemporary women’s organizing, calling us the AFŽ, not without a touch of nostalgia. In Croatia and Serbia in 2001, as the nationalist parties from 1990s were replaced by the more European-oriented opposition parties—although the change seemed merely cosmetic—Yugonostalgia seemed to grow ever stronger, and for an obvious reason: it grew of frustration with the then current state of events, the joblessness, the corruption, and the hundreds of thousands of families torn apart and displaced as a result of the wars of 1990s. Vukovar in particular was and still is technically divided from top to bottom, and children from kindergarten age all the way though high school have attended segregated classes and schools ever since the war ended. When one is unable to imagine a better future, one re-imagines the past as near utopia.

But Neo AFŽ tried to turn these nostalgic tendencies into something productive, and instead of idealizing the past we tried learn as much as possible about it, and especially about the triumphs and defeats of women’s movements. When the Communist Party dissolved the AFŽ in the 1950s, some feminists of that generation continued working quietly within the confines of the regime. Socialist women (our grandmothers’ generation) kept their jobs and hard-earned rights, but were not relieved of their traditional domestic duties and thus the double-burden compromise with patriarchy was established as the norm. The next generation of feminists came of age in 1960s and 1970s (our mothers’ generation), completely at odds with the generation that raised them. Instead of building on past efforts, they began their own struggle seemingly from scratch, inspired by their French and Anglo-American peers in the 1970s, focusing on consciousness-raising and finally opening women’s centers in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Neo AFŽ was a part of the third, post-socialist generation of feminists, and we intentionally built alliances with both of the previous generations, wary of falling into the same old traps.

5) Factory Girls: An Interview

(Originally published in the zine NEO AFŽ, November 2001)

Stoja Žabić is my grandmother. She was born in 1924 in the village of Karajzovci (near Banja Luka), and she’s been living in Borovo since 1946. I decided to interview her and learn about AFŽ first hand.

Q: When did you join AFŽ?
A: I was a member of SKOJ and us girls founded AFŽ chapter in our village in 1943, I think.

Q: A couple of you SKOJ girls founded the AFŽ?
A: No. The Party founds AFŽ, and SKOJ girls participate, lead it. Our village was near Liberated Territory Gornji Podgradci, it was right below Bosanska Gradiška, which hadn’t been liberated yet. Gornji Podgradci had it all: the municipality office, headquarters, all of it. The Gornji Podgradci Party headquarters decreed the founding of AFŽ in our village.

Q: What were the women in charge of, specifically?
A: During the war it was the woman’s duty to help the People’s Liberation Struggle, the wounded. Women and SKOJ members were in charge of securing food for the partisans. Securing food, and everything, knitting wool socks…. I didn’t knit a single pair, don’t worry. (Note: Grandma has always refused to do any kind of needlework ever since childhood.) Besides, SKOJ and AFŽ were in charge of convincing the folk to help the PLS.

Q: Was there any word about women’s societal position?
A: Oh yes, at length. Women didn’t even have the right to vote before then, can you believe it?!

Q: What did people think of women partisans?
A: The opinion of women with guns was positive, it was equal, they were equal.

Q: Tell us a remarkable story about some female comrades, for the zine, make it interesting, you know?
A: There was one girl from Dubica, and another one from Gradiška, they were in SKOJ. They joined the struggle as soon as 1941—their names were Bora Batos and Mira Šimik. They met in Borovo, by chance, in 1938, can you believe it?! One of them came here with her dad, one had already been living here…. They became best friends, of course, both originating from the same part of Bosnia. They worked together with Jovica Brandajz at the factory.

Q: He’s the one who turned them on to progressive ideas?
A: No doubt. Jovica Brandajz was killed in Dudik in 1941, and they went to the Kozara mountain and got organized there. They joined the local SKOJ chapter and recruited all the other progressive folk. Other women gladly joined, that was the only way for them to really aid the struggle. Ach, listen, Nana, everyone wanted something to improve after the war, women were no exception.

5) Tied to the Stove

Yugoslavia remained a rural country well into the 20th century, but my grandparents’ generation left their villages in droves after World War Two, when they were young, and took jobs in cities around the country. Borovo in particular, a city less than two decades years old, must have been a haven of youth figuring out how to live away from the village norms they knew, how to come up with a new system. The former peasant girls cut their hair and donned a new wardrobe, and tried to emulate the city-born chicks they met upon arrival. They joined AFŽ and the Party, began voting, some even running for office, leading workers’ meetings, rebuilding infrastructure with the guys. Once the babies came, their guys began watching the little ones and doing housework. But in 1953 the Party dismantled the AFŽ and the brief experiment in equality began deteriorating. Men simply went back to the old ways of going to work, from work to the dinner the wife would make, after dinner a nap, and after that TV or card games. Wives—the concept seamlessly transitioned to my parents’ generation—worked, cooked, cleaned, took care of the children, sometimes they nagged, and sometimes promoted patriarchy with glee, favoring sons and teaching daughters how to be docile and obedient.

Neo AFŽ exists largely in the past, but it’s not entirely stuck there. There is a bilingual book titled “Po(jest)zija/Po(eat)ry” Ivana and I worked on for years after I moved to the US: we wrote free-verse poems and poem-recipes that you can actually follow and prepare simple meals. The irony that half of our manuscript is comprised of recipes, that we return to the kitchen as if in a bad parody of a defeated radical feminist movement, as if in some awful misogynistic scenario in which bitches get tamed, does not escape us. And so the recipe-poems are in fact satirical and easy, while the non-recipe poems tend to be quite oblique, and we are saying: read and write complicated poetry, and in the meantime, prepare simple, quick meals to nourish yourself for the struggle, don’t waste precious time in the kitchen. We don’t want to live in the world where cooking is complicated and demanding, and poetry is reduced to one-dimensional aphorisms.

And even though the zine stopped coming out in 2003, we didn’t reduce our existence to just writing, reading, and getting by. We kept attending and organizing numerous street protests in Zagreb, Wilmington, NC, and Chicago, (animal rights, gay rights, unionizing, against the Iraq war, for immigrants rights), and we stayed active in local music scenes, as promoters and performers. Hardly a tame lifestyle.

revolution without premeditation

at. ''''''''''''''' to ape the adolescent sects apply a pat
that '''''''''''' of glitter on your lips, wear rhinestone jewelry, a hat,
apart. '''''''''' anything in order to open the art-
at last. '''''''' ificial respiration center by the salon next door, past
at last. '''''''' the stylized beehives, the mast-
er ''''''''''''''''''' pieces—style 2003. you may pass if the - - symbol
at rest. '''''''' is next to your driving lane. (maneuvering rest-
ricted.) '''''''' at night, patrols ___
''''''''''''''''''''''' __________turn the caesura into a solid line.

revolution without premeditation

a kilo/kilo & ½ of dry beans
three spoonfuls (tbsp) of barley (four is okay)
one carrot (home-grown or not)
a tablespoon of oil
two cloves of garlic

soak a kilo of beans until morning. in the morning, put the pot of beans on the stove and let the beans simmer. add the carrot, sliced or not, a tablespoon of oil, minced (or whole) garlic, and let it all simmer until softened. add salt, a lot of it. in the meantime, bring a pot of barley to a boil, and then let it simmer. when the barley softens, combine it with the beans and let everything stew together. for how long? approximately, for a while. in the end, gently thicken the stew by pouring it, stirring constantly, over the flour browned in a larger pot. serve to a group of several people. note: never serve to just one person. lettuce garnished with all kinds of tasty additions goes well with this main course. instead of lettuce, you can serve peppers, not thermically treated (raw). make sure you serve bread.

the amount of serious love-sickness

she stayed. she cared mostly for the delta
[especially the branching kind]
not so much for the spring, river, or ocean.
delta. delta. we called her
/you are guessing/ simulation.
she liked her earth to be silty
water muddy
she could sing swamp scales, always
somewhere in-between
the tones desirable to us
coming from the sea level
or above the sea so we
left, she did not.

the amount of serious love-sickness

1 packet of instant mushroom soup
1.5 liters of water
2 eggs
vegeta (salty spices)

pour the content of the soup packet into the lukewarm water and stir it with a ladle to prevent the formation of lumps. if lumps occur, they must be broken apart. you do it by pushing the lumps to the walls of the pot and then pressing them. stir constantly. add a teaspoon of salty spices. when the soup begins to boil, throw in two beaten eggs, but not all at once. let the eggs drip into the soup, and stir constantly. reduce the heat and continue cooking for about ten minutes (because of the eggs and salmonella). eat while it’s hot. nothing on the side. it’s soup.

obedience is not a virtue. obedience is slavery. a gradual diminishment of creativity, with a dulling tendency. disobedience is often unjustly confused with naughtiness. it’s a tendentious and intentionally incorrect misconception. disobedience is a self-sustaining category.

women’s disobedience is the death of patriarchy.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Past the Ten-Year Mark

Last July I celebrated the ten-year anniversary of my arrival in the United States. I met friends at a comedy variety show, we played guitars, had a few drinks.

Eleven years ago, twenty years ago, thirty years ago, all the way back to my birth, I was in Europe. Mainly the Balkan part of Central Europe. Since moving to the States, I've visited Europe three times. One summer, one winter, another winter. I'll probably go there again in December. When I think about Europe, I don't think about those past or future visits--those are mere brief parenthetical statements in the long-winded sentence of my post-European life. Europe is now a place that exists in the past no one can access. I can access only the synecdoches of that Europe. I can look up old Olympia typewriters for sale from various online suppliers that respond to this demand for the past. If synecdoches worked outside of language, I could purchase one of those and possess my Europe distilled into an obsolete machine. Of course, more than a West German typewriter exported to America, I am a synecdoche of Europe. I never possessed any of it in the first place. That's in part how I was able to leave.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

March in Chicago

March in Chicago, on this warmed globe, will be meteorologically volatile: there's snow today, but there might be an 80-degree day in a couple of weeks, and everything in-between, complete with insane winds and rain, prompting me to wear all the clothes and shoes I own over the course of thirty-one days in an futile attempt to stay comfortable. I got over a bad cold in Feburary, so March should be sniffle-free at least.

But don't get me wrong--I'll greet any sign of spring with proper seasonal euphoria, boasted by the festivities this month packs. March is the month in which I celebrate important dates like the International Day of Women on the 8th, and the International Day of Snezanistan on March 13. The latter is international mainly because it's a big deal for my closest relatives who happen to live in several different nation states. Along those same lines, we will celebrate the International Day of Zorica (sister) on March 14 and the International Day of Stanislav (brother) on March 31.

I'm also a volunteer singer-songwriter, and March is when I get out of my winter hibernation and play a live show. This year, the venue is extra tres chic cool: Transistor. It's a record store that exhibits art, casts pods, and sells not only records, but also books and electronics. As a person who loves the wares a store like that peddles, but has zero expendable income, I typically don't dare go in there. But I've now been hipped to the tip that the store has weekly acoustic shows, free to get in, and you can bring a drink to sip while you take in the sounds. Caren found out they were looking for a duo to book, put me in touch with them, and--voila--I'll play there on March 15, with Frank on bass duties as usual.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Poem & Fave Blog

Nabreklina ispraznosti is one of my favorite blogs. If you can read Serbo-Croatian, you'll find there a unique mix of posts on science, family, philosophy, reminiscence of youthful escapades, art, being a parent, and so on. To me, it's the combination of things I'm well versed in and things utterly unfamiliar that makes the blog so fascinating. It's author, Nikola, has been a friend of a friend for many years (decades?) now. Lately, he hasn't been posting much (nudge, nudge), so I ended up prowling the archives of the blog. And wrote this poem, which is really me translating/paraphrasing certain lines from the archives of Nabreklina (plus an article by Hrvoje Juric, again only for those who can read Serbo-Croatian).

Is It Not?

This is true: not much can be solved through peaceful negotiations.
Kids didn’t like the wall and they simply tore it down.
To remain passive in the face of fascism is worse than violence.
Squirrels are often perceived as docile creatures,
But they’re capable of devouring everything along their way.
No one can predict which one of our actions will influence
Everyone’s future and how. So take responsibility.
Someone said once. Proletarians of the world, I don’t know
Even which imperative to use. I just know that when we lived
In your grandma’s house, we danced naked to Jello Biafra
Later brought girls home, making sure grandma knew nothing of.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Paul Kelly Alone

(Photo credit Ms. Caren Jeskey)

Outside Paul Kelly's native Australia, the mention of this troubadour's name elicits one of two responses among people: 1) "Who?" 2) "I love Paul Kelly." Those of us in the second category know every line of three of his most widely distributed albums: Gossip (1986), Under the Sun (1987) and So Much Water So Close to Home (1989).

On January 17, Paul Kelly appeared on the stage of The Old Town School of Folk Music alone, with an acoustic guitar and a bag of harmonicas. He announced that this was his first live show of the tour in support of Spring and Fall, a cycle of eleven songs released (internationally, unlike his albums between 1989 and now) in November 2012 and that he would try to do the entire album first. The first ten songs chronicle a love affair that lasts less than a year, the eleventh one a coda that shows us the middle-aged narrator-protagonist a few years after the break up, suffering from "little aches and pains." After the three-and-a-half seasons distilled into about forty minutes, Paul sang us a selection of songs from his previous sixteen albums, ignoring, as usual, his first two albums from '81 and '82 that he'd rather everyone forget ever existed. But check out "Alive and Well" from '82. Sure, I'm biased, but that sounds great, and I'm digging the punky look (though I'm glad he discovered food later in life).

As opposed to the charmingly awkward skeletal spaz in the video for "Alive and Well," Paul Kelly is now a veteran comfortable with the fact that he'll forget a chord change and then quickly recover, with a disarming smile, and that an audience member will have to remind him what the opening line of an old song is.

He's never been a guitar hero or "the voice" anyway. And he never forged radical new paths as a songwriter. What he does is pick up select threads from the traditions of pre-recording-technology folk, pre-90s rock, and poetry going back to at least the British Renaissance, and he weaves the tightest yet supplest sonic and poetic bolt of fabric he then uses to fashion new songs and deliver them without pretension or forced eccentricity. That makes his best songs perfect and the rest really really good. They are typically brief, composed of simple open-chord progressions upon which the singer builds stories about characters dealing with relationships, family, hardship and triumphs, enduring and causing pain, sharing joy, the gamut. These stories are mostly set in Australia, and thanks to Paul Kelly I've learned a bit about places, things, and people like Adelaide (fifth largest Aussie city; my geography classes covered maybe only the top four: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth), MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground), Silver Top (taxi company), the Buttery (rehab center), Vincent Lingiari (freedom fighter).

You'll get each song when you first hear it, that's how transparent the words and music are, how much you can relate to the characters and narratives depicted, and how convincing a conduit Paul Kelly is, but then you'll keep listening to those songs for decades, and never get tired of them. How come? Because every syllable is there for a reason, nothing extra to dangle and distract.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Nick's Review Essay Inspired by Django Unchained

I always thought Spurious Bastard would be a platform for writing not just by yours truly, but friends and collaborators. That never really happened. Until today! I present to you the new contributor to Spurious Bastard, Nick Garcia aka Bob Rok aka Nicky Zabic:

How to Fall in Love with Chicago

By Nicky Zabic

Tal Rosenberg, you're fired. I read your review of Quentin Tarantino's newest film “Django Unchained” in The Chicago Reader (1/3/12) and it was as boring and lifeless as the Chipotle you wrote it in on your lunch break. Much like the purpose of getting a journalism degree, you missed the point of the film entirely. Instead you went on a poorly written rant about why you don't like Quentin Tarantino's latest work. Now I shall best you. Why? Because I am the Good Will Hunting of being a smart ass. (And I drank a cappuccino after 6.)

Chicago winter is here and for a lot of us that means a lot more time indoors. Like any Chicagoan, I get whisked away by the home luxuries of internet, television, and bathtub sex, but one must venture outdoors. I decided to ask my wife on a date and we were off.

A couple trains and a nice stroll down Lincoln avenue lead us to the charming Davis theater in Lincoln Square. I call it charming because it's super old and kind of dirty, the seats are bigger than the screen, and the place hasn't changed since I was a child. Other theaters look like deranged manifestations of a crazy person. Why is ice cream in pill form? And why are people so excited about 9 dollar “Hottie Dogger bites”? My point is, this is the theater that Quentin Tarantino wants me to see “Django Unchained” in and while I'm certain he accepts profits from everyone equally, I know what I'm talking about.

The movie begins and I'm a little nervous that film’s violent reputation might be too much for my wife to sit through. After all, before we came here, she suggested we see a French film about a middle-aged man questioning his validity in the world and existence itself.

The film is scored well and the sight of men in chains makes me a little sad. Still, I realize that with every film Tarantino is modernizing genres for a new generation. “Kill Bill”--kung fu, “Inglorious Basterds”--war movies, “Django Unchained”--period piece. Of course a lot of people are gonna go after Tarantino for making a spaghetti western/revenge fantasy full of plot holes. When is the last time you watched a John Wayne western and started asking yourself why the Indians are wearing tan cargo pants? Give me a break. I suppose you'll tell me “Lincoln” (playing in the next theater) was any more accurate. Steven Spielberg hasn't made anything watchable since he stuck his old grey hand up a dinosaur’s ass. He's doing the same thing as Tarantino, which is making the movie he wants to make. The movie is super violent; maybe it's because I haven't been to a movie in a while, but at first it's kind of disturbing. It makes me think about all the shootings that have happened lately and how we shrug off the idea of people just filling one another with bullets all the time. “Django Unchained” is number 2 in the box office, which means a lot of us are going to see it. The thought floats away and I wonder of where I would have been during that time. I'd like to think I would be fighting to abolish slavery in one way or another. I can't imagine America was much more loving towards Mexicans at that time. On the other hand, I might be at a theater with my wife taking in a show and putting it out of my mind altogether. I consider how atrocious of an act slavery was and how people shrug that off too as if it wasn't this nation’s collective history. Slavery exists in many forms today; after all children are not only our future, they are also the makers of our shoes, clothes and toxic electronics. (I'm typing this on one.)

I notice a recurring theme in the film. “Business.” “Flesh for cash”. Two men crossing this nation killing men who profit from enslaving other people. All of them justifying their actions with business and the intention of human will. All the characters are reserved gentlemen or cold-blooded murderers. An important scene it the movie sums it up well. Dr. Schultz and Django are exposed the extremely savage murder of a slave. German Dr. Schultz is visibly disturbed while Django masks his contempt. When asked why he isn't as disturbed as his partner he replies,

“I deal with Americans a lot.”

I think the film is urging America to ask itself: What are we willing to ignore for in the name of business? Who are the polite killers in our society? And when are we gonna gain the nerve to kill our masters? Or at least liberate ourselves?

The movie ends and we stroll down the block to a bookstore where I look for but don't find Stephen Colbert's new book “America Again: Rebecoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t.”

After a little more browsing we find nothing and agree to go eat somewhere in the neighborhood. Trattoria Trullo looks way too nice to walk into with a hoodie I haven't washed since Christmas but we decide to splurge. After rejecting their beer selection and ordering the pasta dish most parents order for their picky children from a curt Italian server, I wondered, Is there an Italian word for “emasculated American who orders meat sauce”? The meal and the conversation were as delicious as the picture of “Christopher Columbus's Shame” I drew on the paper tablecloth. Remember guys, always carry a sharpie. I left a few extra dollars out of guilt and we walked off our hearty meal heading to the Damen bus. On the way we saw a cafe where a friendly hipster whipped up a pretty tasty cappuccino at “Perfect Cup” and while I would never take in music or use drugs with that young man, he made a great drink. I ranted between sips about how corporate companies introduced coffee culture to America, but the small businessman was preserving the quality of the product. I thought about how I might run a business and how doing something I loved by myself in the coming years might be a good way to liberate myself and preserve the quality of something I love.