Miss Nikki: Cancer Queen of Comedy

What’s that old line? Don’t be and example, set an example. That’s really true for a very special woman, who some are theorizing simply had enough of Donald Trump and fled the planet. I know, that’s an odd way to remember someone, but you might not have known anyone like Miss Nikki.

This amazing lady took her final bow over the weekend. Miss Nikki, comedian extraordinaire won her battle against cancer. I say won, because, while cancer invaded her body it never broke her spirit. In fact, she laughed in the face of her disease until the very end. Night after night she took the fight to the stage, both for her and as an example of strength and defiance in the face of a disease that touches us all. The mortality rate for concern averages at 171 per 100,ooo men and women. That rate is much higher for women than it is for men, at about 145 per 100,000. A third of the estimated 1,7 million people diagnosed each year will succumb to one form or another of the disease.

We will all face cancer at many points in our lives, whether for ourselves or a loved one. How we come to that long and uncertain war is individual to us all. It is akin to pondering how we might  come to combat in a war between nations. Miss Nikki picked up the banner and led the way as an example of pride and power and endurance. And while the body may fail us, the spirit fights on.

Most of I had the sublime pleasure on a number of occasions to laugh and joke along with her. Night after night Miss Nikki would climb on stage and give a giant finger to cancer in her legendary stand up performances. There are a lot of comics who strive to be something else on stage, but with Nikki you knew it was real, which is what makes stand up such a unique form or art. So long, friend. The laughs, the tears, the spirit echoes for eternity…

Incidentally, don’t Google Image search “Miss Nikki.” That IS NOT the Miss Nikki that comes up! Here is a bit of the real Miss Nikki…


Mitch and I don’t see eye to eye…

…on much in the way of politics. We grew up in vastly different eras. Mitch cut his teeth on Chicago’s tough near West side in the 1940s and 50s. I am a child of the 1960’s and 70s. Mitch and I are neighbors, and at a glance one might think that’s about all we have in common. Maybe to wave, share a couple of neighborly non-descript words or tip a beer from time to time, but beyond that…

last week Mitch pulled out a Chicago History book, part of a series on Chicago neighborhoods and heritage. He pointed out the house he was born in during the Depression. Much of the rest of his childhood he skips, opting instead for stories from a long career as a Bell Captain and some of Chicago’s most iconic and well-known hotels. that is where he met his wife Helen. That was back when being a Bell Captain at a fine hotel was more than another service job catering to the “I’m the celebrity in my own reality TV” everybody’s Listening to stories about running elevators for President Kennedy, or giving Sinatra that extra little bit of service one begins to understand that it was, with caveats, and thick rose-colored glasses, a time of honor.

I know that world, at least a little bit. Having known city cops, shady politicians, and Made Guys from that era, I understand. My dad knows a bit of that world. He’d grown up in the Depression in a little Iowa farm town, but arrived in Chicago at a young age after the army, around 1960. But the common denominator here is the Depression, which didn’t simply congeal a nation, but underscored the bonds that held communities together. That was evident the other day when Mitch called me over.

For the last several years the Wife and I have been actively working with what seems like an ever increasing tide of homelessness. We don’t have much, so compared to the need or large organizations, it’s a literal drop in the bucket. Several years back we began working to organize HelpHouseChicagoHomeless, a neighborhood non-profit in Englewood and Woodlawn on Chicago’s troubled Southside. In truth, at least for me, it was an effort to help a man I had met amid the Occupy Chicago protests, named Tom Turner.

Tom and I have had these conversations. I tease him about being shot and stabbed so many times that I’m considering nicknaming him “Swiss Cheese.” Tom has a temper and makes bad decisions a bit too often for his own good. Not criminal or dangerous, mind you, but the sort of decisions that keep sliding him back from the progress he so sorely wants and needs. Some of it is his doing. Some of it is living a life in which one solves crisis-Thomas doesn’t have problems- on the fly. That, the hardscrabble life on the Southside, education, a criminal record all have a weight in everything he does, and that hurts him. That could easily engender negativity and frustration, but with so many folks, like Thomas, for a world of reasons struggling at the margins, true friends understand how fine a line that is to tread, and that slipping from time to time is inevitable.

The thing is, I’ve known Thomas for going on 7 years now. I have seen him in damn near every possible mood and state of mind. I would trust Thomas with my life. he is family to me. I don’t babysit the man. We are about the same age. I help when I can, Sometimes that’s a bit of cash. Sometimes it’s advice, mostly it’s just being a friend. That same sense of honor in a seemingly unending crisis that I’ve seen in Mitch or my dad is what I catch in glimpses of Thomas when he struggles. I met Thomas when he was homeless, and though he may not see it, there has been progress. He has a job. It doesn’t pay much, but it does keep a roof over his head. Still there is that margin, and slipping or tumbling from it is all too easy this close.

Mitch came across the yard and said, “Helen and I want to help for all the work you do to help the homeless.” He reached out to shake my hand, a $20 Dollar bill tucked in his palm. He wasn’t interested in making a big deal, though to me it was. Thomas had called just the day before, worried because he was a short on rent a few dollars because he needed food and a bus pass to get to work. It felt like a loop had been closed, that something else wanted to see Thomas catch a little break, if only for a moment…

A Mystery of Languages Solved?

After more than two decades studying and travelling in the Balkans there was one recurring question. I can honestly say that I had the same vexing conversation with dozens of people throughout the former Yugoslavia over the years, from acquaintances at cafes to various professors, intellectuals, artists, historians and a philosopher or two. Is it possible that the answer lay right under our noses, or more specifically, under our tongues?

For all of my Slavic friends, family and acquaintances: I have long wondered where the Serbo-Croatian and overall Slavic languages designation for German and Germany come from, Nemački, Nemačka, respectively in Serbo-Croatian. travel back in time to the 3rd through the 6th Centuries AD when Slavic tribes migrating into Europe came into fuller contact and competition with Germanic tribes whose language they could not understand. The S-C word for mute is Nem or Nemy. Possibly the term was a bit of a perjorative by Slavic nations as they came into contact with Germanic tribes. It is the best theory to the origin of the word whose derivations extend to the Hungarian német, who arrived in Europe around the time of the Slavs, the Turkish, Nemçe and Almanca, who borrowed from the Bosnian/Serbian in the 12th and 13th centuries as the Ottoman Empire occupied souther Europe to the gates of Vienna.

Loneliness: The most powerful photo I’ve ever taken

Loneliness: The most powerful photo I’ve ever taken

A few years back, hurrying to work, I nearly missed him. He was sitting along the wall beside the AT & T building in Chicago’s Loop, stoic and still among rushing throngs of office workers, tourists and students. To either side were his two dogs, A cart with the man’s world belongings were beside him.

I didn’t know his story or where he came from, and I have not seen him since. It was a moment in which the paths of our lives crossed for a perfect and powerful moment.

What I find in looking at this man becomes less of a narrative about him as it is an insight to my own heart. Still, it is impossible to escape the torture of his eyes, one that speaks to pain and lonesomeness. In that face are a thousand stories and possibilities. Perhaps he ran afoul of the law when he was young, or made poor choices in life that brought him to this place. Maybe it was drugs or alcohol, or even mental illness. Maybe it was none of these things. Life can bring any soul to the precipice of despair. Not everyone comes to that fight with the same strengths. Some are crushed under the weight. I have felt that strain before. I have people who love and support me. Those blessings are simply not the case for all of us.

There is a certain wisdom tinged with exhaustion in his eyes that suggests at a life of tough breaks and  a lack of family and support. It could well have been an illness or the loss of someone close that he could not recover from. In the end, the story one makes about the man tells more about them than about him.

One thing that is without question is the loneliness in his stare. The dogs are his companions and family, but there is little to suggest in the evidence that the story of their shared lives will end happily. And that is where I will leave it…

hierarchy of suffering

An interesting post from a friend about pain and victimhood and the dangers of hierarchical assignments of suffering and pain by individuals, communities, groups, nations, what have you. This was my brief reply:  Was interesting in Rwanda during the genocide, and in Sarajevo during the siege the very natural human tendency towards competition of suffering. However, can’t throw the bay out with the bathwater. There is a therapeutic aspect on some level of understanding, acceptance and perspective gained by the individuals suffering. Also seen this, and it is actively encouraged among vets suffering PTSD, but I get your point, verbalizing and communicating one’s pain should not become a hierarchy of suffering. Always someone, somewhere suffering worse than you. That doesn’t diminish your pain or mine, but means your pain is as valid and substantial to you in your life as my pain is to me. That should be the place where we negotiate the community of our pain; the ultimate truth for each of us.

Dr. Lora Chamberlain on Illinois gubernatorial candidate Chris Kennedy…

but love her or fear her, the good Doctor calls it like she sees it, knows the issues, and is an unflinching Progressive who never pulls her punches. Thought this post was critical as the race heats up towards the election; one that may decide the future and fate of the state and it’s people, and whether it returns to the people or is looted to insolvency and ruin by Rauner and the oligarchs. Doctor:  

Kennedy – Is He Our Progressive Champion??? A report from the Gubernatorial campaign trail:

I have been going to multiple forums with the candidates trying to push them on a IL State Bank, fracking / climate change, single payer health care, progressive taxing solutions, I toss out as many questions as I can get in.

Yesterday I saw Chris Kennedy at Horner Park. A couple of thoughts: Wow, he really does have a temper – this was the second time he has berated me, without my attacking him, I was just stating some truths, I am not liking that very much!

He does seem to be really angry at Madigan and the IL power elites for their corruption, he wants to end conflicts of interest in Springfield by disallowing them of serving as property tax assessment attorneys, and ending other conflicts of interest, and get everyone back to public service – this is very good.

He states that he wants to bend the rules of the economy to benefit the poor and the average folks – this is very good.

He is very concerned that our youth are leaving the state, that our University system is being dismantled by Rauner, and that 75% of high school graduates across the state are not college ready.

He is for a Progressive Income Tax and something he calls a “Jupiter Island Tax” – (“Some of the wealthiest people in the United States live in Jupiter Island: Worth magazine ranked it #1 in the country for having the highest median home sale, and it has the highest per capita income of any inhabited place in the country”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jupiter_Island,_Florida ). This “Jupiter Island Tax” will be levied on executives or anyone who does business transactions in Chicago, even if they are employed elsewhere – (I am pretty sketchy about this tax and tried to get more details from him last night and could not seem to get him to come forth with any). But it sounds like it would tax who we want to tax – the rich folks.

He does not think a transaction tax would work, he thinks they will squirm out of the tax and get away with it.

He does not want to legalize pot and tax it, (he thinks legalization requires more research – he would be more inclined to support decriminalization, he is pretty conservative on this one).

He is for getting to a Single Payer Health Care System eventually, even on the State level if the Feds destroy Medicaid and Obamacare, but was again very sketchy on the details and did not mention California’s steps in that direction.

He thinks that fracking is not part of our energy future but he thinks that coal will stay at the same percentage of our energy mix that it has right now – I was personally aghast at this comment – his brother is Robert Kennedy Jr. who is a very significant environmentalist, it does not seam that they talk very often about this issue.

I really tried to push Kennedy on the economic issues last night. He was for maintaining our obligations to our pensioneers, but seemed to be behind Rahm’s attempt last winter to come to a pension bargain – this did not make sense to me.

I asked him how we could tax the 25% of corporations that pay no tax in this state, I have to say he was not forthcoming – he asked me if I wanted to get into the weeds of corporate tax issues and I said “yes” and then he did not answer my question.

My sense of him is that he prefers not to be questioned about the details around his policies, he is a bit of an elitist, and he wants us to trust that he is going to act in our best interest – well Mr. Kennedy that just does not fly any more in American politics!

He also was not very happy at the end when we brought him a copy of: “Here Come the Kennedys” https://jacobinmag.com/…/chris-kennedy-illinois-governor-ra…, – a must read about some aspects of Kennedy’s background, but he did not have much to say about it.

I was hoping that Kennedy was our independent progressive in the race who had the balls to take on Madigan, Cullerton, and the rest of the power elites in this state – and this would call for a serious set of kahunas! But I get the sense that Kennedy is really a centrist Democrat, similar to Pat Quinn, with a few pet progressive issues. I am going to continue to push him on a IL State Bank, and some of the other progressive issues – I will let you know if I get anywhere.

…and I will let you know what she finds…

Left or Right?

Have to agree with Annie Froelich from a previous post. This is less a sign of Left vs Right, as it is about anarchy(save you posts anarchists) it is about a society that equivocates on everything, which tilts towards the wealthy and white, then pardons, overlooks and explains away their crimes. It is a white cop murdering a Black man on camera, then deciding afterwards he was “afraid for his life.” It is about Sandra Bland. It is about the devaluing of individuals for the purposes of consolidating power and excess. It is about a deficit of moral leadership in the White House deepened by administration after administration. It is racism, consumerism, lawyerism. It is about describing a worldwide religion as terrorists, or a race of people “illegal.” It is a generational assault on education, information and enlightenment in favor of spin, opinion and a beer-swilling, foreigner-hating, big truck-driving, slack jawed nationalism. It is news media for profit. It is profit above community, by corporatists in America who put profit above their nation, and then are protected by media. It is, if the president or congress or the corporate spokesperson lies to get what they want, or to escape guilt and justice. In short it is an American cultural and moral cancer that will prove the ultimate demise of this nation. And all of us allow it to happen.