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time out chicago

  • Writing for Time Out Chicago: "DIY Acupressure"

    DIY Acupressure 

    I’m an acupuncture devotee, but getting several treatments each months is pricey—I’d rather funnel that cash into my footwear habit. So I decided to teach myself acupressure, which mimics the pressure-point system of acupuncture sans needles. Acupressure Techniques: A Self-Help Guide by Julian Kenyon (Healing Arts Press) includes instructional drawings organized by ailments. After bookmarking relevant pages (foot pain, insomnia). I apply direct pressure to the correct points for each ailment—the inside of my foot and my inner ear for foot pain, and points on my shins, ankles and wrists for insomnia. After three days fo doing this twice daily, my heel pain has eased a tad and my insomnia has improved slightly (but that could also be due to my new nighttime ritual of hot apple cider with rum.) All told, it’s no substitute for the spacey, peaceful feeling I get while my acupuncturists’s needles work their magic. Still, it’s a decent option for those frigid winter days when I can’t muster the energy to leave the house. –Gretchen Kalwinski

  • Venus Zine: Spring 2006: "Memoirs of a Muse"

    Venus Zine; Book Review; Memoirs of a Muse


    Published in Venus Zine, Spring 2006
    Memoirs of a Muse by: Lara Vapnyar 

    This first novel by Lara Vapnyar tells of a modern muse living in New York and obsessed with the great Russian writers, Dostoevsky in particular. The main character Tanya emigrates from Russia to the States, after deciding in adolescence that she is not gifted in her own right and asking, “could I fight death by living my life to the utmost degree?”

    Tanya’s ideas about muses went far back into childhood, when her grandmother warned her about the trials and tribulations of the role. Still, Tanya is so impressed (and turned on by; she masturbates while thinking of Dostoevsky) the great writers that she decides to achieve immortality by inspiring another person’s work. Vapnyar’s lyrical style is notable for its fine detail, economy of words, and tight, crackling dialogue, best evidenced in the gender-interplay between Tanya and Mark Schneider, the writer that (in the absence of Dostoevsky), she takes up with. Mark is confident, with well-honed tastes in everything from coffee to clothing to architecture, and he enjoys schooling Tanya on the tenets of his sophisticated world, paying for her clothes and food, and letting her live with him. In turn, she listens to his childhood memories, discusses his work, brings him coffee while he writes, sleeps with him, and undresses the way he requests, until the affair turns up its eventual pitfalls. 

    However, the reasons why a modern-day woman would choose this role instead of pursuing her own path, are left unanswered. After all, which of us in adolescence had a declared passion, other than the prodigies or geniuses? Why did Tanya lack the curiosity to find and develop a talent of her own, rather than glomming onto some dude? We never discover why Tanya decides on such a lazy route at such a young age. To be sure, muse-dom is a complicated notion to tackle, especially since muses are usually female and have roles similar to that of “kept” wives and mistresses. In the latter half of the book, Tanya begins to understand what her role entails, and Vapnyar handles the contradictions of a muse’s role with intelligence and dry humor and earthy, womanly insight. 

    -- Gretchen Kalwinski
  • Time Out Chicago-”Concrete Canvas”

    "Concrete Canvas"

    By Gretchen Kalwinski

    "The artists installing this “guerilla” art (mostly in the warmer months and the dark of night) call themselves street artists and often hide their identities from cops by using nicknames. But don’t confuse their work with gang graffiti or tagging: It’s illegal, but there’s an altruistic mission to their madness..."
    July 24, 2008. Issue #178.

  • Time Out Chicago; Article; Pierogi Festival

    Published in Time Out Chicago / Issue 22: July 28–Aug 4, 2005

    Stuffed with fun 

    Fill up on pierogi at this surreal street fest

    By: Gretchen Kalwinski

    Northwest Indiana's prosperous industrial days may be gone, but there's still a reason to celebrate: really good pierogi. To bolster community pride, the small town of Whiting (so close to the Illinois/Indiana border that the neighboring town boasts the "Illiana Yacht Club") honors its Eastern European heritage each year with its three-day Pierogi Fest, where the tried and true Polish/Slovak dumplings are fried or steamed with butter, and chock-full of different fillings like meat, cheese, potato, mushroom, berries and apricot.

    On the main strip you'll find newly erected "old-fashioned" lampposts just down the street from a grade school and church with a primitive wooden antiabortion sign on the lawn. Farther down the street, amidst dozens of pierogi stands, there will be costumed polka dancers, drunken bystanders, a magic show, carnival games, booths selling pierogi paraphernalia, a beer garden under the pavilion and a John Waters–esque show by the Mr. Pierogi Musicale Players (mostly preteen girls in tights with curled hair and stage makeup, directed and choreographed by the town's drama guru), performing "Whiting, Indiana" to the tune of "Gary, Indiana."

    The dumplings come mainly from nearby delis and restaurants in Whiting and Hammond, as well as Hegewisch, Illinois. Those made by the Slovak ladies at St. John Catholic Church are also sold frozen if you need to stock up. The festival's motto is: "We're stuffed with fun." Come for the irony, stay for the food.—GK


  • Time Out Chicago; Book Review; Ruins of California

    Book review published in:
    Time Out Chicago / Issue 50: Feb 9–Feb 16, 2006.

    BOOK REVIEW: The Ruins of California
    By Martha Sherrill.
    Penguin, $24.95.

    The Ruins of California begins with the divorce of seven-year-old Inez Ruin’s parents in 1969 and chronicles 1970s California life through her eyes. Her home split in half, she travels between her father Paul’s elegantly bohemian existence in San Francisco and her primary home in suburban Los Angeles with her mother Connie, a dancer described as “one of the great flamencas of her generation.”

    Sherrill’s depiction of 1970s California is vivid, and the Ruins epitomize the decade’s multicultural ideals. Her Peruvian-Mexian mother gave up dancing for the creature comforts of suburban life, while her hippie half-brother Whitman grew up on a commune to become a surfer.

    And in stark contrast stands the blue-blooded grandmother Marguerite Ruin, who coaches Inez on niceties like music lessons, horseback riding and afternoon tea. Her father Paul’s string of beautiful girlfriends soon begins introducing new ideas to Inez—Buddhism, tarot cards, love beads, motorcycles—that form crucial coming-of-age impressions. As time passes, their bond becomes increasingly intense. And though Paul prefers being a friend rather than a father figure to Inez—offering pot, speaking frankly about sex and inflicting few rules—it becomes clear that if she is to break out of her role as a passively observant deer-in the-headlights it will be via her distant but loving father.

    Everywhere, the accoutrements of the 70s are present, particularly the sensibility that nothing is a “big deal.” Throughout, Inez becomes much like California itself: a receptive guinea pig, a litmus test for the new. Surfing and beaches are omnipresent, and Sherrill brilliantly uses the movement of water as a tool for her unfettered prose, which is as languid as the era. Despite constant action—births, deaths, affairs ending and beginning—the language and pace make events simply wash over and leave faint impressions. This style lends complexity to the story and catapults the reader into a new set of realizations. It’s akin to riding a wave and landing on a calm Californian beach where everything is suddenly different, but you’re not exactly sure what has changed.

    —Gretchen Kalwinski

  • Time Out Chicago; Book Review; My Sister's Continent

    Published in Time Out Chicago Magazine / Issue 44: Dec 29, 2005

    My Sister's Continent
    By: Gina Frangello.
    Chiasmus Press, $12.
    Review By: Gretchen Kalwinski

    After her twin sister's mysterious disappearance, narrator Kirby Braun responds to a therapist's mistaken diagnoses of her family—laden with sexual secrets and feminine angst—by carefully piecing together details from Kendra's life. While sifting through memories, Kirby muses, "How do I tell the story of a life...that is outside my own experience, wrapped in shatterproof glass and secrets that have everything to do with me?"

    While Kirby is complacent and domestic, Kendra was passionate and bohemian. Devastated after an injury ended her promising career at the New York City Ballet, Kendra returned to family in Chicago only to become increasingly withdrawn before disappearing entirely. Though Kirby was considered the "good" twin, she is inwardly troubled: no career, a banal sex life and health problems that become a serious threat to her wedding plans. It is difficult to deal with female sexuality without exploring issues of body, consumption and purging (of food, thoughts, memories), and the novel's strength is how intricately these themes are linked. Between Kirby's digestive troubles and Kendra's depression, both girls lose weight rapidly, mirroring one another's bodies even while their personalities conflict.

    Kendra's sadomasochistic relationship with an older man functions as a "therapy of humiliation," and it is in these scenes that Frangello's lush and poetic style is at its most lyric. The cat-and-mouse style of their coital dialogue is an annoying but necessary device in conveying their sex games, and during one particularly sophisticated conversation, Kendra muses, "I prefer my sex less civilized and urbane than this cigarette-lighting Noël Coward routine you call being direct."

    Frangello's debut novel is akin to a woman's archeological dig into another life, as well as a modern retelling of Freud's famed "Dora" story. As such, it cannot help but be rather bleak, evoking a similar anomie as The Ice Storm and The Virgin Suicides. It is also an intriguing and darkly psychological look at and investigation of identity, the façades that cloak us and the complicated habitat of private, inner lives. —GK

  • Punk Planet; Book Review; Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs

    The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs
    Written by: Irvine Welsh
    Review by: Gretchen Kalwinski

    In Bedroom Secrets, Danny Skinner is a rakishly handsome, carousing restaurant inspector living in Edinburgh, plugging away just fine until Brian Kibby arrives as his co-worker. Kibby is seemingly unthreatening--quiet with "cowlike" eyes and a bit of a mama's boy, but generally inoffensive. However, Skinner immediately hates Kibby with an intensity that even he doesn't understand. Via his contempt and competitiveness, some of his long-languishing problems, long-clouded by booze begin to rise to the surface and throw his whole life into upheaval and disarray. He begins to pester his formerly punk-rock mother about his father's identity, (which she'll only jokingly give as Joe Strummer of The Clash), and throws away whatever was left of his relationship with Kay, a beautiful dancer who's been finding his drinking bouts increasingly tiresome.

    Skinner eventually puts a curse on Kibby that results in the Star Trek and model train-obsessed boy beginning to suffer the damage of Skinner's abusive lifestyle. This sets in motion Kibby's declining health and Skinner's gleeful indulgences in even more booze, drugs, fighting, and sexcapades. Simultaneously, Skinner's search for his father's identity takes him to San Francisco and back via information he learns in a book penned by an obnoxious TV chef. Once he returns home, Kibby starts approaching death and begins to learn the ins-and-outs of the curse and how he might be able to reverse it.

    This is Welsh's eighth novel centering around gritty, urban environments and one common critique of his work is that he's never departed from stock characters and themes from Trainspotting. It's true that the ho-hum-by-now grit is Welsh's schtick, but he's also got substance in spades. For all of his stock use of transgressive
    content -- booze, drugs, orgies, sickness (and gratingly flagrant use of the c-word, by the way) -- Welsh knows how to tell a story in the old-fashioned sense of the word, a narrative that subtly builds tension in increasingly complex characters, delivers unexpected plot twists and resolutions, and conjures a reader's genuine investment in outcomes. Few writers handle the-beauty-of-ugliness themes as well as Welsh and the warm humanity of his deft language coupled with his insights into ego and the dark side of human nature makes Bedroom Secrets a compelling read.

    --Gretchen Kalwinski

  • Centerstage Chicago; Theater Review; Once Upon a Time


    Once Upon a Time (or the Secret Language of Birds)

    Joe Meno injects Redmoon's aesthetic with his particular brand of unsentimental yet pathos-laden humor.

    Tuesday Feb 13, 2007
    by Gretchen Kalwinski

    Redmoon Theater is known for its outlandish productions that employ puppets, carnival aesthetics, gymnastics and whimsical, otherworldly sets and costumers. But sometimes their performances can suffer from a lack of narrative arc—the fantastical, beautiful scenes are entertaining in their own right, but aren't always held together by a strong plot.

    But for "Once Upon A Time," Redmoon hired a writer to piece together parts of their concept and form a cohesive script. Enter Joe Meno, acclaimed Chicago novelist and playwright, who also has a penchant for the whimsical. Meno promptly injected Redmoon's aesthetic with his particular brand of unsentimental yet pathos-laden humor, creating a modern fairy tale about Emily, a lonely and lost girl living in a tenement in the 1920s. After realizing she can speak to and understand the chirping of birds, her loneliness is eased.

    The engaging plot that follows revolves around the theft of "all the world's birds" and the corresponding loss of human dreams. With some clues to guide them as to the whereabouts of the stolen birds, Emily and her friend Bruno (a retired wrestler and giant) embark on a dangerous quest to retrieve them.

    The lovely and unusual set is comprised of a small puppet theater at center stage and a large screen above, which the puppet action gets projected onto. Narrator Lindsey Noel Whiting does double-duty providing voices for all the characters, while the puppets—made up of entertaining, disproportionate photos—are maneuvered by puppeteers via sticks. All this is set against local musician Kevin Donnell's haunting atmospheric music.

    The puppet theater itself is an intricate masterpiece, which the audience crowded around when the play ended. Aside from the illustrations and little mini-sets built into it, the theater also employs a clever, wheel-driven mechanism (designed by jack-of-all trade artist Erik Newman) for moving panels of scenery back and forth on hemp-string. Others members of the stellar artistic team include director Frank Maugeri, Kass Copeland (puppet theater design), Seth Bockley (assistant director), Tracy Otwell (toy theater design), Angela Tillges (art director) and Jim Lasko (Redmoon founder).

    The ticket price is a bit steep: $30 for adults and $15 for tots. But the haunting mood that Redmoon creates with its visual dynamism, along with the warm humanity of the tale, makes it a perfect wintertime family outing that's well worth the cost of admission.

    "Once Upon a Time (or the Secret Language of Birds)" runs through April 8 at Redmoon Central, 1463 W. Hubbard Street, Chicago. Shows 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Sunday; 3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, $15-30; call (312) 850-8440.

  • Time Out Chicago; Book Review; Children's Hospital


    Book review published in:

    Time Out Chicago
    / Issue 85: Oct 12–Oct 18, 2006

    The Children’s Hospital
    By Chris Adrian. McSweeney’s, $24.

    -4 stars-

    Forget everything you know about doomsday lit. In his debut novel, Chris Adrian turns the concept on its head with his disaster tale of a flood covering the earth with a seven-mile-deep layer of water, leaving the inhabitants of a magically engineered and angel-commissioned children’s hospital as the only survivors.

    The hospital staff members continue to dutifully perform their jobs attending to sick children, sure that they’ll soon hit land. The protagonist is Jemma Chaflin—medical student and all-around tragic figure—whose entire family has previously perished by either gruesome accidents or suicide, leaving Jemma to believe that anyone she loves is cursed. As months pass, they float uneasily, fighting madness, suspicion and fear, eventually shedding their Old World ways and breaking from the social order they instituted. Jemma stands out when she starts exhibiting mystical healing powers and is whispered to be everything from a Jesus figure to a demon.

    The 600-page tome is flabby in parts and heavier editing could’ve excised the slow midsection. But Adrian has a way with weirdly arresting images, and the religion found here is of the palpable, God-fearing, apocalyptic kind, all sprung from his singular imagination.

    Gretchen Kalwinski

  • Time Out Chicago; Book Review; Alligator


    Book review published in:
    Time Out Chicago / Issue 82: Sept 21–Sept 27, 2006

    Alligator
    Lisa Moore. Black Cat, $12.
    By: Gretchen Kalwinski

    Alligators are only incidental to Lisa Moore’s novel, but the symbolism of a deceptively slow-moving monster is apt in this tale. Alligator’s plot creeps along more quickly and desperately than apparent, and there are a lot of murky happenings taking place beneath the surface.

    The vividly drawn characters include eccentric, aging filmmaker Madeleine, recently widowed Beverly, teenage ecovandalist Colleen, Russian thug Valentin and disastrously unlucky lonely guy Frank. They’re all oddballs: Colleen ritually watches beheadings on the Internet so that the victim is not alone; Madeline is crazed with finishing a film about “everything” before she dies; and Frank is a desperately hardworking hot-dog vendor. Though the plot is nonlinear, with constantly shifting perspectives, Moore inhabits the disparate worlds of her characters elegantly. The challenging structure adeptly builds tension as simultaneous events move the plot along, and there is the building sense that all are heading toward strangely connected climactic events. Moore’s prose is tight, tough and stunningly original; when an ex-lover booty-calls, he craves a “languid tussle.” Midway through, we were invested enough in the characters to enter the throes of page-turning headiness, even though we still weren’t sure how they were connected.

    A prizewinning short-story writer, Moore makes her first turn as a novelist with this book and she succeeds magnificently for the most part. Our only beef came at the end: We were engaged and waiting for the kind of emotional wrap-up that someone like Eugenides delivers, but the last five pages fell flat. We just wish she hadn’t taken us nearly to the finish line only to stop short and meander off the track. —GK

  • Time Out Chicago; Feature article: SKALD competition

    Time Out Chicago / Issue 73: July 20–27, 2006

    The tell-tale art

    The annual SKALD competition brings the art of storytelling out of the dark ages and onto the stage.

    Back in the days of Vikings, skald was a term for someone who told stories and performed poetry in exchange for jewels, cash and other booty. Evidently, human nature hasn’t changed much in the past few centuries: The annual SKALD storytelling competition, which offers such modern treasures as a $150 gift certificate from Borders and $250 in cash, has grown so popular that even the City of Chicago wants to get in on the action.

    SKALD was born out of a 1999 WNEP Theater (a theater and comedy troupe) audition in which an actor told a two-minute story instead of performing the usual monologue or scene, WNEP’s founding director Don Hall recounts. These auditions were so entertaining, and company members were so eager to do it again, that storytelling quickly became its own show, SKALD. “In fact, most wanted to do it once a month,” Hall says. “I knew then that the concept had legs and decided to make it an annual thing.”

    In past years, stories performed ranged from the irreverent—like the one about a man who gets a desk coffeemaker and becomes the office stud—to the creepy, like “a school janitor who used a classroom doll to…pleasure himself,” recalls SKALD competitor Rebecca Langguth. “It sounds darkly funny, but was heartbreaking.” Hall’s favorite story was performed by Jonathan Pitts about Pitts’s father David (an Ice Capades performer who skated with a chimpanzee named Spanky), and the duo’s encounter with a serial killer. “It was a true story, and Pitts showed the audience a blowup of the 1960s newspaper article at the end of his tale,” Hall says.

    At this year’s SKALD, Hall hopes WNEP’s new partnership with the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs will lead to its biggest turnout yet. The city sponsorship means SKALD’s program is greatly expanded from last year, so this event includes more than the big storytelling competition on July 29. There’s also the MAELSTROM contest on July 28 (see sidebar), in which competitors are given ten seconds to create a three-minute story based on audience prompts. Young’uns will hear some tales at KIDSKALD, and a panel composed of storytelling experts such as Leah Guenther, executive director of Dave Eggers’s 826CHI writing program, and Greg Allen, the founding director of the Neo-Futurists. In addition, Hall will lead free workshops for adults while WNEP member Jessica Rogers teaches kids on Monday 24 and Tuesday 25.

    In past years, competitors were admitted on a first-come, first-served basis, but this year’s high demand forced Hall to hold auditions. “We whittled it down to the best 16—six for MAELSTROM and ten for the [main] SKALD competition,” he says. SKALD contestants have six weeks to prepare their story, and Langguth says she plans to use every moment until then. “Last time I participated [in 2001], I practiced with an egg timer,” she says.

    She also almost passed out from nerves. “I can still remember pulling the host aside and telling him that I didn’t think I could go on,” Langguth says. “Five years later, you’d think I’d have some kind of calm, but just thinking about it makes me nauseous. Maybe that’s what makes it such a wonder of a thing. Folks standing up and sharing something of themselves. It’s very intimate, in a way.” SKALD is about sharing stories, but it also involves competition. Yet Langguth’s got nothing but love for other participants: “Every year, there are new stories that break your heart or make you bust a gut. Last year, [eventual winner] Brad Norman told a fantastic story about a man who likes to bake. He made the most delicious chocolate-and-peanut-butter cake, and shared it with the audience afterwards.”

    When asked about how she plans to demolish these other talented competitors, Langguth says, “It’s not about annihilation. I really want everyone to tell the best story, if only for my own entertainment.”

    But then she quickly adds, “Don’t get me wrong—I want to win! Badly!” Just goes to show that things haven’t changed that much in the past few centuries: People still rally when booty is involved.

    SKALD’s story time runs from Monday 24 to July 29. 

    Stories on the spot

    How good are this year’s MAELSTROM contenders? We gave four of them an idea and 10 seconds to improvise the beginning of a tale for us.

    Competitor: Scot Goodhart Suggestion: “Cigarettes on the beach” Chrissie goes to the beach to “get fucked up.” The idea was that she and James would fill a Styrofoam cooler with Natural Light Ice and Marlboro Mediums, then take the 78 to the beach. They’ve been together for two months; he just moved in with Chrissie and her daughter Kaytlyn, who’s not his. The first thing I heard Chrissie say was, “It’s God’s fucking ashtray is why!” just before she swung at the guy confronting her about where she was depositing her butts. The last thing I heard her say as she was placed in the patrol car was, “I just wanted to get fucked up.”

    Competitor: Mike Rosolio Suggestion: “Antlers” There are a few circumstances that no one, no matter how battle-hardened and worldwise, can be totally prepared to deal with. One of these is waking up in a foreign country. The world makes so much sense when you’re stationed in a log cabin–themed hotel in Seattle, and the clarity and comfort found there enhance the stark contrast of stepping off of a train car, blurry eyed from sleep deprivation and $2 mojitos, expecting to see the San Francisco Bay and finding instead the cruel beauty of British Columbia. While there wasn’t actually any danger of being detained against my will, and I was able to find a ticket back to the Golden State within a few hours, the point is instantly made that the future, no matter how scheduled it seems to be, is impossible to know, and that it might be among the wishes of fate to deliver you to the land of socialized medicine.

    Competitor: Michael Brownlee Suggestion: “Breakneck” Samantha’s aching lungs fought to pull in enough oxygen to keep up with her pumping legs. “Faster. I need to go faster.” The footsteps behind her were closing in quick. She lowered her head and pushed herself harder. She could hear the panting breaths of her pursuer. She arched her back and lunged for safety. It was too late. She felt the hot hand on her back and cringed as she heard those awful, breathless words: “Tag. You’re it.”

    Competitor: Cholley Kuhaneck Suggestion: “The postman rings twice” I don’t like getting mail. This offends my mail carrier. He tried marking all my mail return to sender. I was happy to see it go. He stuffed anything that was not addressed to anyone in particular in my mailbox. It backfired on him. He now had to move beyond Newtonian physics to make everything fit. Finally, he put my mail in everyone else’s mailboxes. All night my neighbors came by with pieces of mail for me. I put a note in my mailbox. “I promise I’ll get my mail weekly.” He left a note, “Write it a hundred times.”—Gretchen Kalwinski

  • Time Out Chicago; Feature excerpt; Lake Michigan Activities

    Time Out Chicago / Issue 69: June 22–June 29, 2006

    10 things we love about the lake
    Lake Michigan defines Chicago, both literally and figuratively. We think it’s time this underappreciated wonder got its props.

    By: TOC Staff
    Excerpt by: —Gretchen Kalwinski and Rod O’Connor

    ...2. It’s our own public water park
    The lake offers plenty of ways to hold your own personal X Games. Howza ’bout kayaking? You can join Chicago Kayak  which offers free rentals to members and departs from Leone and Wilson Beaches up north. You can get a yearlong club membership and a free introductory lesson—which is required to join the club—for a mere $130. If windsurfing is more your speed, Windward Sports offers private lessons for $50 an hour from June–September. But for our money, the most exciting water sport is kitesurfing, in which harness-wearing participants combine surfing and kite-flying to navigate a board propelled by a huge kite. Chicago Kitesurfing launches from Montrose Beach, and offers expert instructors, classes and equipment. All that’s required is water and wind (no waves needed). It’s a pricey hobby— a three-hour lesson (with equipment provided) costs $150–$250, and if you decide to buy your own gear, you’ll pay $1,000 to $3,000—but as any adrenaline junkie knows, you have to pay to play.

    Plain, old-fashioned surfing is an option, too. Every day, Lake Michigan longboarders watch cold fronts closer than Tom Skilling, and when the winds hit 25 miles an hour, it’s time to slip on the wet suit in search of the perfect wave—calendar be damned. “I surf all year round, until the lake freezes over,” says Jim Hoop, 43, Chicago’s unofficial surfing ambassador. “I’ve surfed excellent waves on New Year’s Day.” If you wanna join the fun, hit Third Coast Surf Shop in New Buffalo, Michigan (269-932-4575, www.thirdcoastsurfshop.com), for lessons. And since surfing isn’t allowed in Chicago proper, head to Michigan City or Whiting in northwest Indiana, good spots when there’s a west or north wind.

  • Time Out Chicago; Feature; Strange Lake Tales

    Strange but true lake tales
    You may think you know all about Lake Michigan, but we dredged up some offbeat lake lore that is sure to float your boat.

    Excerpt by: Gretchen Kalwinski

    Making waves

    You know how when you look across the lake, the other side looks really, really far away? It is. But some dude swam across the lake in 41 hours. See, ultramarathoner Jim Dreyer was running out of terrestrial body-punishing feats of endurance, so in 1998 he took to the water. Swimming the 65 miles between Two Rivers, Wisconsin, and Ludington, Michigan, in a little less than two days, he smoked the previous Lake Michigan distance record (held by IIT research chemist Ted Erickson, who swam the 44 miles from Chicago to Michigan City, Indiana, in 36 and a half hours). Though he was already a marathon-trained athlete, Dreyer had to add “meteorological expert” to his resumé in order to look out for potential hazards on the lake. But his real secret weapon: replaying Aerosmith and Beatles tunes in his head while he swam. (We’re hoping it was the older, pre–“I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” Aerosmith.) After a blitz of media attention, Dreyer continued his long-distance swimming in the four remaining Great Lakes and nabbed 13 world records, all to raise funds for Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum (www.shipwreckmuseum.com) in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Here’s the kicker: He’d only learned to swim in 1996. Traumatized by water after almost drowning as a toddler, he finally decided to venture to his local swimming pool, where a kindly lifeguard gave him beginner’s lessons. “My swimming career had real modest beginnings, for sure,” Dreyer said. He plans to keep undertaking running and swimming challenges for charity; track his progress at www.swimjimswim.org. —Gretchen Kalwinski

  • Time Out Chicago; Book Review; Afterlife

    Afterlife
    By Donald Antrim.
    Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, $20.

    Review by: Gretchen Kalwinski

    This is not your typical memoir: Each of Antrim’s stylistically unconventional essays, originally published in The New Yorker, revolves around an image or object that spurs memories of his dysfunctional family: a landscape painting, an expensive bed on which Antrim is unable to sleep because he’s convinced it’s “alive with my mother…pulling me down into the bed to die with her.”

    His alcoholic mother, Louanne, was both anchor and burden to her family, forever drawing them to her and pushing them away, even to the extent of twice marrying and divorcing Antrim’s father. The book is lush with the details of how alcoholism and other dysfunctions (e.g., depression, affairs) leave their imprint on families. “Grandiose hopes and dreams” were, Antrim writes, “the story of my alcoholic family.”

    As Antrim self-deprecatingly examines how the past affects his present, the scenes with Louanne’s blackouts, guilt trips and assertions of her artistic merit (as an avant-garde seamstress) emerge as the most engaging, even while the spine chills at her misguided “image of herself as a heroine on a journey.” Antrim’s storytelling skills are undeniable: He ripples outward from themes into darkly humorous insights on kin, work and addiction, always returning to his premise with heavier baggage.

    The patchwork chronology provides no distinct time line as a guide, and the order of events is perplexing; readers are obliged to piece together the puzzle of Antrim’s life themselves. Yet what the chapters lack in narrative momentum, they make up in thoughtful, cynical, deeply felt revelations. —GK

  • Time Out Chicago; Recent Restaurant Reviews

    Two new restaurant reviews for Time Out Chicago, below.

    Crepes Cafe
    410 S Clark St
    Loop/West Loop, Chicago | Map

    312-341-1313

    El: Blue, Brown, Orange, Pink, Purple (rush hrs) to LaSalle 
    Description
    Those who crave the stuff of San Francisco crêpe stands can find a suitable substitute until their next Bay trip at this cheerful Loop café. The $7–$12 price point may seem stiff for a little French pancake, but savories (mushroom, beef Stroganoff) come with salads and desserts are a la mode. Plus, while the namesake crepes may be thicker than the lacy-edged ideal, they’re jam-packed with fillings, the best of which include a seafood-studded frutti di mare option. Hours--Lunch (Mon–Fri).

    Papa Smiles
    This charming south side ice cream parlor/candy shop is owned and managed by “Papa” Ron Kozak, whose mother ran a beauty shop in the building. The quaint decor—an old-fashioned soda fountain, jukebox, and walls plastered with historical photos of the 'hood—hearkens back to a simpler time. We recommend the generous portions of Homers & Hershey ice cream (especially pistachio), Papa’s greasily delicious chili- and corn-dogs and housemade taffy apples (peanut, pecan, walnut). Eat outside on benches or at antique tables loaded with games for the rugrats.
    6955 W Archer Ave between Newland and Sayre Aves (773-788-0388). El: Orange to 62H Archer bus. Bus: 62H. Lunch, dinner: 12-9pm daily during late March through November (weather permitting). Average item: $3.

  • Time Out Chicago; Hilary Clinton Event, 2008

    Time Out Chicago / Issue 163 : Apr 10–16, 2008

    The scene

    Hillary Clinton at the Civic Center in Hammond, Indiana, March 28, 2:32pm By Gretchen Kalwinski

    Borderline state: Most of Indiana votes Republican, but Northwest Indiana (a rust-belt region that calls itself a Chicago ’burb) is populated with blue collars and union Democrats. Due to the state’s increasingly important May 6 primary, Hillary Clinton planned a Gary, Indiana, stop; but after Gary Mayor Rudy Clay endorsed Obama, she rerouted her Hoosier Economy Tour to Hammond, mere miles from Obama’s South Side base. Bobby Kennedy was the last presidential candidate to visit Hammond, so thousands turned out with signage: NWI IS CLINTON COUNTRY and 2 FOR 1: HILLARY AND BILL: KEEPING THE DREAM ALIVE. Undeterred by Clinton’s posse being two hours late, the crowd ate concession-stand hot dogs and politely endured a high-school chorus’s Beatles/ Footloose medley during the wait. Clinton’s talk was crowd-appropriate: “It was from Northwest Indiana that so much of the steel came from that built this country;” “My campaign is about jobs, jobs, jobs.” She invoked Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, rumored to be her potential VP, and Bush-bashed—“Won’t you be happy to see him walking out of the White House?”—while the crowd cheered wildly. One sign-holding mom scolded her daughter when she slumped back in her chair, saying, “This is history: Stand up!”

     


  • Time Out Chicago; Features; Polish bars

    Time Out Chicago / Issue 157 : Feb 28–Mar 5, 2008

    Global drinking | Poland

    Warsaw packed: Vodka abounds as do bottles of Zywiec and Okocim. Na zdrowie!

    POLE POSITION Martini Club’s cold vodka and hot bartenders may make you a little lightheaded.
    PHOTO: MIREYA ACIERTO

    The Polish party spot Martini Club (4933 N Milwaukee Ave, 773-202-9444) nestles in the blue collar ’hood of Jefferson Park, but it’s attempting to draw an upscale, clubby crowd. Exhibit A: swank decor like gilded mirrors, a translucent bar lit up underneath by red lights, a DJ area near the front window, glowing red candles, leather booths, exposed brick, disco balls and laser lights. In a city that abounds with Polish shot-and-beer joints, this bar reaches out to those whose names may not end in ski while still retaining its Polish roots.

    As is the custom for any Polish bar, the place is stocked with impossibly good-looking female bartenders (who understand just enough English to chat with non-Poles). Before 9pm, the joint’s littered with men buying drinks and watching the bartenders and whatever game is on the TVs; the mood is mellow, and occasionally someone uses the free Wi-Fi to type on his laptop.

    Poles are a naturally suspicious people—hey, their country has been invaded a lot —so non-Poles may receive a standoffish reception. But once a drink is ordered and cash is out on the bar, bartenders get chatty and smilingly suggest vodka drinks from their menu. “You been here before?” one minidress-wearing bartender asks a man sporting an outfit and a baseball cap in the Polish flag colors of white and red. “You want me to tell you best drinks on menu?” He does.

    Beer drinkers go for bottles of light, crisp Zywiec (ZHIV-yetz), or Okocim (oh-KO-chim) on draft, which tastes “cleaner and sharper” than the bottled stuff, according to one friendly old man who downs the traditional vodka shot before taking a sip of his beer. Another shot option: the gold-colored Krupnik ($3), a honey-lemon vodka infused with herbs. This stuff burns as it travels down the pipes, but many Polish bartenders (and grandmothers) tout it as a cold remedy; “It’ll kill whatever germs you’ve got,” says Mark (Marek in Polish), a first-generation Pole in his fifties whose parents met in a post-WWII relocation camp. He speaks Polish, “but not as well as I used to,” he says.

    After a few drinks, Marek loosens up enough to try some Polish on the bartender, so he says “thank you,” “Dziekuje” (jane-KOO-yeh), and clinks glasses with his friend while reciting the traditional Polish toast, “Na zdrowie” (nah STROH-vyeh), which means “to your health.”

    Soon there are signs the boisterous birthday party in the back booths threatens to take over the bar—the place is suddenly full of balloons, the TVs change from sports to European music videos and laser lights flash around the bar. “I’m out of here,” Marek says, laughing, and though the bartenders try to press another drink on him, he leaves to make more room for the young Poles, who are toasting, “Sto lat!” (“100 years”), to the birthday girl.

    --------------------

    Slow burn

    Pick up our two favorite Polish vodkas.

    PHOTO: SHMURA CAMPBELL

    Zubrowka (joov-BROOV-ka), pictured, is an herby-tasting vodka infused with bison grass grown in Poland’s Biaowie forest; there’s a blade of it in each bottle, which gives the stuff a pleasing greenish-yellow color. Poles like to drink it with apple juice or cider. (3394 N Milwaukee Ave, 773-286-4482).

    For straight-up great-tasting vodka, go for the sharp, clean, no-aftertaste Wyborowa (veh-bo-ROW-va). It holds its own against Belvedere and Ketel One—but costs substantially less. Grab a 750ml bottle for $12.99 at Foremost Liquors (2300 N Milwaukee Ave, 773-278-9420).


    SIMILAR SPOTS

    Zakopane (1734 W Division St, 773-486-1559). The same old men have been drinking Polish beer and mid-range vodkas here since time began. Only now there’s an actual bathroom door instead of a sheet, an improvement made sometime in the late ’90s.

    Cavalier Inn (735 Gostlin St, Hammond, IN, 219-933-9314). If you’re hitting traffic on the way back from Michiana, exit I-90 for reliable Polish drinks—Zywiec (beer), Zubrowka (bison-grass vodka) and jezynowka (blackberry brandy). Order some pierogi to soak up the booze before heading home.

    Karolinka Club (6102 S Central Ave, 773-735-0818). This polka joint serves Tyskie, a popular lager often sweetened with raspberry or strawberry syrup.

    Accent Café (700 N River Rd, Mount Prospect, 847-298-2233). On weekends, young Poles here drink the Polish flag shot—cherry juice with vodka.

  • Time Out Chicago; Features; 2008 Spas Issue

    Assignment: Get fancy spa treatments and write about them? Yes boss, I can do that. See below or click here for the full article.

    Time Out Chicago / Issue 155 : February 14, 2008 - February 20, 2008

  • Eco-Maniac, Features article; Time Out Chicago

    Time Out Chicago / Issue 129: August 16–22, 2007.  Click here or scroll down to read entire piece. 


  • Time Out Chicago; Books Article; O Street

    Time Out Chicago / Issue 107: March 15–21, 2007

    Chicks and balances

    A debut author upends chick lit with an unflinching look at poverty.

    By Gretchen Kalwinski

    If there existed a polar opposite to chick lit, Corrina Wycoff’s O Street (OV Books, $17.95) would exemplify the genre. The debut author isn’t interested in romanticizing love, motherhood, hardship—or anything at all, come to think of it.

    O Street collects ten short stories about Beth Dinard, who spends her Newark childhood caring for her mentally ill, homeless, junkie single mother. “Visiting Mrs. Ferullo” shows Beth following a neighbor home, longing for the home-cooking aromas that waft from the woman’s apartment. In “The Wrong Place in the World,” adult Beth is in Chicago trying to stabilize her life even while her brutal memories affect her relationships and attitudes about class and work. When she gets a phone call informing her of her mother’s death, it triggers a relapse into old, destructive patterns. It’s tempting to read the tightly linked stories as a novel, but Wycoff stresses the importance of the form.

    “In a linked-story format, I can present other points of view as short pieces of contrast,” she says. “I wanted to structure the book so that it begins and ends with a death, because I wanted it to read as a cycle. Linearity, to me, seems more of a construct than cycles.”

    A single mother herself, Wycoff says the stories should not be confused with autobiography.

    “They are based on a political truth: Single mothers fall through the cracks in this country, and the cracks grow in proportion to these women’s economic challenges, making inaccessible the so-called American Dream,” she says. “When my son was born, I’d not yet gone to college, and money was extremely tight. I drew on that experience…but by the time I wrote about it, [I] had changed enough that it didn’t resemble my ‘real’ life at all.”

    In one scene, a depressed Beth wishes that she could “grow into someone new—someone who could easily have had two parents, good breeding, hearty suppers and piano lessons.” Passages like these strike unexpected chords. Though many contemporary narratives deal with women’s physical and spiritual transformations, few do so at the poverty level. This is, of course, no grand coincidence: Poor women face even more barriers than their male counterparts in getting their stories told.

    “The second of these I wrote when my son was two years old,” says Wycoff. “I wrote it, in part, in reaction to all of the sentimental, dreamy writing about motherhood. ”

    In Chicago, Wycoff met UIC’s Cris Mazza, an award-winning author who has waged a one-woman war against the chick-lit genre. Since then, Mazza has become both her creative muse and mentor.

    “Twelve years ago, I read How to Leave a Country, and decided I needed to read everything she’d ever written,” Wycoff says. “She was the reason I chose to go to college and, later, graduate school at UIC, and she helped me see that the disparate single-mother stories I’d written could be linked.”

    Because of the book’s gravitas (the title story is especially harrowing), getting O Street published wasn’t easy.

    “I got about seven rejections over the course of four years, all from small presses,” she says, “many of whom called the collection ‘too dark.’”

    Indeed, Wycoff portrays the gritty, sorrowful elements of her characters’ lives head-on and offers no easy solutions—no one’s riding up on a white horse, but neither are the stories bleak. Instead, drama and tension are delivered in such a subtle but detail-infused way that the reader becomes invested in Beth’s plight early on in the collection. The collection will likely elicit Dorothy Allison comparisons for its depictions of poor women and lesbian relationships, .

    Wycoff is working on a novel now, and is planning another about teaching at a community college.

    With chick lit down, it looks like the vaunted “university novel” may next.

    Wycoff reads this week.

  • Writing for TOC's "DIY" issue

    I wrote a few pieces for Time Out Chicago's recent "DIY issue," including a piece about making your own deodorant (so cheap! so easy!) and another about teaching myself to sing that actually inspired me to start voice lessons at the Old Town School of Folk Music. See below or read more here and here

    Dated: Apr 23–29, 2009 / Time Out Chicago; Issue 217: DIY 

  • Time Out Chicago; Travel to Springfield

    In celebration of Abe Lincoln's 200th birthday, I spent a weekend in Springfield, Illinois, and wrote about it. And now I never need to return to Springfield, Illinois. 

    Issue 206; Feb 5

  • Time Out Chicago; Travel to Birmingham

    Birmingham, Alabama: it's prettier and hipper than you thought. Here's my travel essay about what to do during a weekend trip to the Magic City.  Issue 201; Jan 1

  • Time Out Chicago: Blog Post: Obama in Grant Park

    In 2008, I attended the historic Obama rally in Grant Park last week and wrote a TOC blog post (now defunct) about it the next morning. It was the very first time I felt patriotic.

    Yesterday, feeling the Obamaramic excitement starting as soon as I woke up, I did something I haven't done before: I purposely wore the colors red, white, and blue together. In the past eight years, sad to say, I've actually gone out of my way to avoid those colors, lest anyone mistake my point of view with that of the Bush administration's policies and doctrine.

     
    Waiting with 20 friends at the Hilton for the results to start coming in, that energy grew as fast as the stash of empty beer and wine bottles discarded in the hotel bathtub. Many of us had canvassed and donated to the Obama campaign and we'd all supported it from the get-go. Some of us were native Chicagoans; some were born and bred in different states: Indiana, Ohio, Virginia. As those state's results came in, the feeling that had been building all day grew exponentially: the feeling that we actually DO have a voice in our nation's path and history and in our own destiny. 
     
    When we left the hotel room, Indiana, Ohio and Virigina well in hand, our crowd of thirtysomethings felt more than optimistic—we felt something new: Patriotic. This is an entirely new emotion for many in my generation, a generation who's mostly come of age under a Bush administration. Since 9-11, we've shuddered hearing the McCarthy-esque phrase "un-American" casually tossed around to describe those who opposed the administration's views. We've seen, to our great horror, our American flag used as a thinly-veiled threat against "outsiders," or anyone expressing dissent against the government–the ideals on which this country was founded. We've watched politicians be judged on whether or not they were wearing flag pins. We have only known what we've considered to be a political "dark age" in our adult lives.
     
    But last night, we reclaimed our patriotism. We grabbed American flags and waved them around while braving the throngs waiting to get in the Obama rally. We kept that flag up and waving all night, taking turns keeping it up in the air, (one saying, "every time my arm gets tired, I think of Studs Terkel and put the flag up higher.") After Florida's results were announced, we waved it harder and smiled big in anticipation as the Grant Park rally got louder and louder. And when Obama was officially declared President-elect, after the initial moment of shock, my group—and the rest of the crowd—hugged and sobbed and screamed happily, welcoming in what we believe to be a new era of not only "change," but inclusion, peace, and optimism.
     
    Before Obama came out to give his classy, somber speech about the direction of our country under his watch, the crowd of thousands said the Pledge of Allegiance together.
    For the first time in my adult life, I pressed my hand firmly to my chest and said the pledge with utter pride. Oddly, I remembered  Francis Ford Coppola's Peggy Sue Got Married, where Kathleen Turner's 40-something Peggy Sue time-travels to the 1950s of her teenage years and sings "My Country 'Tis of Thee" in a classroom with teenage peers; in contrast to their bored, lackadaisical singing, she stands up straight and sings proudly, loudly. Watching it with my parents as a kid, I joked about how nerdy she looked and they rebuked: "That's because adults are actually proud of their country. Kids take it for granted."
     
    Now I get it. This is what it's like to be an adult who is proud of your country. This is what it feels like to be a patriot. This is what it's like to feel hopeful about the future. This is what democracy looks like.
     
    Now, where can I get one of those flag pins?  - Gretchen Kalwinski, associate Features editor