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When I was Your Age: The Real Version

When I was Your Age: The Real Version

Here’s a post that’s been popping up on Facebook a lot from my Buffalo people:

“I grew up on (random street name) in Buffalo, NY during the 80’s and 90’s, during a time when everyone treated each other like family. We went outside to play, got dirty, and we didn’t eat fast food, well maybe McDonald’s but not very often. We ate bologna and salami and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cooked food, and got ice cream from the ice cream truck. We ate penny candy, yes I said “penny,” because that’s how much it cost back then. We played Mother May I, 1 2 3, Red Light Green Light, Hide and Seek, Truth or Dare, Monkey in the Middle, Tag, Dodgeball, softball, basketball, baseball, kickball, football, rode bikes, and raced against each other in the street. We cried if we couldn’t go outside and play. There was no bottled water, we drank from the tap. We watched cartoons on Saturday morning, we walked to the corner store, and we rode our bikes for hours without a cell phone. We weren’t AFRAID OF ANYTHING. If someone had a fight, that’s what it was – a fist fight. Kids didn’t have guns when I grew up. The street lights were our curfew. School was mandatory and we watched our mouths around our elders because ALL of our neighbors were our parents so we knew if we didn’t we were in big trouble when we got home.

Re-post if you’re glad that you came from a close-knit community and will never forget where you came from!”

This is idyllic-binder bullshit. All of it. While this is the prevailing oral myth passed from generation to generation about Buffalo these days, I have a unique hatred for this version of it because it seems to be snaring people who I thought wouldn’t become so Buffalo-ized. In other words, I see it being posted by people whom I’ve long believed know better.

This post is the ultimate embodiment of Buffalo’s refusal to change its guard. It drives me nuts, and not just because its platitudes revolve around a generic kidsville where every Boomer claims to have been raised.

Let’s break this ridiculous sucker down. First, you’ll notice that there’s nothing unique about it. It’s the life of kids from 80’s sitcoms, which does sum up the city in its desire to stay inside its fake little bubble. A post like this says to the rest of the world, “we never moved on.” It says that yes, someone saying it has seen that the planet left the past behind, but their little corner of the world has refused to acknowledge it.

The first delusion of this post is right in the first sentence: The whole neighborhood treated each other like family. It’s true that Buffalo has some close-bonded neighborhoods, but in this case, the bonds are all a bit TOO close. If you’re thinking of moving in with the hopes of integrating yourself into the action straight off, you’re going to have your work cut out for you. What this post doesn’t say anything about is the way they welcomed the newcomers with baked gifts. That’s because that doesn’t happen. You’re going to be welcomed by a lot of closed doors and binds, and that’s in the best-case scenario. There’s a good chance the people in your new neighborhood are never going to come around, and if you’re a minority moving into a white neighborhood, just forget it. My close-knit neighborhood where everyone treated each other like family chased every minority that tried to move in right back out in a matter of months.

For next couple of sentences, the food comes up, and it’s purely kiddie food culture. You can tell because processed junk gets brought up in a nostalgic way. Now, anyone who really missed processed meat sandwiches can go out, buy the ingredients from the grocery store, and make them at home, but I’m guessing they don’t. That’s because we know it’s bad for people. That line about not eating fast food just isn’t true – fast food is one of the primary dietary staples of the city. The people of my generation in Buffalo ate it all the fucking time. They just don’t recognize anything outside of national chains as fast food, which is why all the pizza and chicken wings they chowed down aren’t being counted. I’ll give them this: At least they’re eating local fast food. But as for the platitude about not eating fast food, don’t believe a word of it. And no, nobody cooked food, either, unless microwaving frozen and boxed dinners from the grocery store suddenly counts as “cooking food.” Ice cream from the ice cream trucks was an occasional treat, but most people got theirs from grocery stores as well. And anyone who repeats that penny candy bullshit to you just needs to be smacked in their fucking face as hard as possible. Penny candy has never existed in our lifetimes, so anyone feeding you that line better be a grandparent.

Now we come to the point of the activities, which is just funny to me now. People claim they used to do these things, which got them outside for fresh air and exercise. Now the question is, what’s stopping them now? There are organized leagues dedicated to most, if not all, of those games mentioned. It’s not that someone who posted that can’t go back out and do those things. It’s that they won’t. I chalk this one up to being a bad side effect of what happens when people develop too much of an obsession with the interests and habits of “proper” adults, and that phrase holds almost no meaning in Buffalo. Proper adults drink beer and watch TV. And no one cried about not getting to go outside and play. They played video games, because this was the time the age of video games was starting.

Or they played with the toys that their favorite Saturday morning cartoons were created to sell. I hate to come down so hard on this part, because I have the same fondness for those same cartoons as everyone else in my generation. So after all my anti-corporate, anti-studio ranting, it was grounding to learn that toy companies were busy back then making cartoons to sell already-existent toy lines, and not the other way around.

The original author of this post seems to have a thing for kids bicycling. He makes two references to it. This is another thing that’s funny to me, because if the author is native to Buffalo, they probably have a cold heart toward cyclists. I’ve already spent a lot of words in this blog writing about Buffalo’s attitude toward cyclists, so the only thing to think about now is how many people who were brainless enough to repeat this post have assaulted cyclists after becoming adults. Cyclists are like door-to-door salespeople in that the older they are, the less people are eager to see them. Little kids? Great! Teenagers? Just don’t pull anything outrageous, you little shit. Adults? You need to be killed. I can only hope repeat posters are cyclists themselves, because if they’re not, there’s a good chance they hate cyclists and have verbally – and maybe physically – assaulted a cyclist at some point, since bicycle hate is a prevailing ethos in Buffalo.

My friends and I were never afraid of anything either, and here are some things we did: One friend broke another’s arm; we climbed on top of a moldy and old tool shed that was older than our parents but still being used; climbed down to the bottom of a bridge; climbed back up that same bridge using a vertical pillar with lots of sharp rocks below; ran through mazes of tall sidewalk grass while onlookers threw rocks; brought down a phone line; ran screaming across backyards which weren’t ours; fell off low-hanging tree branches; and chased cars which were driving down the street. No, we weren’t afraid of much, even if we could be killed. Fistfights were part of playtime, and bullying was seen as a toughen-up tactic rather than a mental scar. (I had a neighbor who swore by the advice that a bully would leave me alone if I ignored them. This has never been true in any time or space. I’m pretty sure said neighbor hasn’t been very far outside of Western New York.) If someone had a REAL problem with someone else, the knives came out. The Police were called in at school at least five times.

School? Mandatory? You don’t say! Well, I guess it would have to be. Where else could a teenager find a teacher to try to beat up? Yes, this happened at my school; in fact it was so commonplace that, after one particular assault which was covered on the news, the big deal in school was that the footage showed by the station was of a student/teacher attack that happened at a different school. It amazes me that anyone could write with any pride about how school was mandated, because my schools all specialized in propaganda. Most of my schooling took place in the inner city, where City Hall didn’t care for real education. They cared that we knew just enough about the American Dream to let our corporate overlords do our thinking for us and were blatantly grooming students for 50 years in the nearest factory. Or the Military.

I’m sorry, but if all your neighbors are your parents, you’re from a creepy neighborhood. People complain about how social media invades privacy, but if you’re from a place like this, you probably never had much of it in the first place.

Naturally, here was my response to this post, altered to be realistic:

“I grew up on (street deleted) in Buffalo, NY, during the 80’s and 90’s, during a time when everyone treated each other like family unless they were outsiders, who were all suspicious intruders. We chased every minority that tried to move in off the block. We didn’t go to McDonald’s; well, maybe once a week, but we fucking gorged on fast food – pizza and wings from local joints ARE fast food. We ate bologna and salami and other kinds of unhealthy processed trash, microwaved food, and got ice cream from ice cream trucks if we were lucky. We ate penny candy – yes I said “penny,” because I’ve now confused reality with stories my grandparents told me about their childhoods. We played Mother May I, 1 2 3, Red Light Green Light, Hide and Seek, Truth or Dare, Monkey in the Middle, tag, dodgeball, softball, basketball, kickball, football, baseball, rode bikes and raced against each other in the street; healthy activities that got us fresh air and sunshine but which we now get together and deride and disparage people who do those things as adults while we sit on our asses drinking beer and watching football. If we couldn’t go outside to play, we stayed inside and played video games; hell, we did that anyway. There was bottled water, but we were too smart to buy it; we bought ice water for a nickel at local fast food places instead. We watched corporate advertising disguised as cartoons on Saturday morning. We walked to the corner store for junk and rode our bikes for hours without a cell phone but but now hate and try to kill anyone we see on a bike. We weren’t AFRAID OF ANYTHING, which is how my best friend nearly killed himself climbing a bridge on Cazenovia Creek and brought down a telephone line. If someone had a fight, someone would get stabbed. Kids didn’t have guns when I grew up. They just had knives. School was mandatory but we never worked or studied. We watched our mouths around our elders because ALL of your neighbors were fucking creeps who despised anything that was different and didn’t meet their weird obsession with “normality.”

Re-post if you’re proud that you shed your when-I-was-your-age binders and have vowed to never repeat the same lines of bullshit to any kids that grown-ups used to tell you about what things were like when they were kids!”

Tradition and Colin Kaepernick

Tradition and Colin Kaepernick

I’m going to be blunt with my definition of what tradition is: Tradition is a series of things you keep doing even though they’re useless and unnecessary and useless at best and dangerous to the welfare of other people at worst. No one ever bothers to give it any thought because that’s the way they were raised, dammit, and the way they’ve always done things, so therefore it must be right. Tradition is a series of hollow, meaningless gestures which maybe – MAYBE – had some great purpose back in the Victorian era, but since then has been worn down by the demands and conditions of a surrounding society and become stupid and self-destructive.

There are good traditions, but even those hold no more meaning than the bad ones. If you’re using tradition in an argument as your sole excuse for trying to preserve a practice or an idea, you’ve already lost.

You’ll have to excuse me for wondering what all the hoopla is about when people talk about traditions. If tradition was still king, women and black people would still be considered property.

Let me be clear about this: Tradition has never had anything sacred about it. It was something someone sat down and drew up on a lunch napkin during break that blew out of proportion. It’s also used as a way to get people to ignore certain issues about the surrounding world which need to be addressed.

Take the American flag, for example. We get so busy huffing and puffing over it that we forget the root of what it really is: A piece of cloth with a specific dye pattern. Broken down, it’s not even close to sacred, and even the pattern on it which is so recognizable everywhere in the world hasn’t been solid in basically forever. Everyone knows the stars on the flag represent the 50 states in the United States. What gets lost among all the nice unity chatter is the fact that the 50th state, Hawaii, was granted statehood in 1959, right on the heels of Alaska. That’s means there’s a sizable chunk of the population both alive and old enough to remember a time when this great sacred object only had 48 stars. You can imagine what it must have been like before then, especially during the 19th and 20th century turnover, when the country was adding a new star to the flag every three years. How tiring that must have gotten.

The precious, Precious, PRECIOUS flag is steeped in a tradition which has been surprisingly fluid is what I’m getting it. They never kept the damn thing the same. Wikipedia even has a section about the United States showing the planned flag designs of the future just in case more states are added to the country. The thing changed, and it’s going to keep on changing.

That brings me to the American Flag Code. Yes, there’s an American Flag Code, a good long list of behaviors and regulations of what to do when the flag is barging around the room. It was apparently written by over 60 organizations – including the Daughters of the American Revolution, Boy Scouts, Knights of Columbus, and American Library Association – and adopted in 1923 by something called the National Flag Convention. “Written by over…” is usually a code term for “the interns punched it out in a couple of hours.” But what really gets me about the American Flag Code is that the fucking thing is COPYRIGHTED. That means if you’re dying to get access to a hard copy of it, you’re going to have to engage in the one thing about America that has always been it’s great inarguable tradition: Paying money for something which, given the unique circumstances surrounding it, should be free! It’s the American way, really: We make you think it’s cool before selling it to you.

Having familiarized myself with a little bit of the American Flag Code, it’s a shock how extensive it is and how little the general public gives a shit when it gets violated. Section 176 specifically forbids the flag’s use as clothing or drapery. But how many people would be out of their jobs if that section was honored? The number of workers in factories making American flag clothes has to be in the thousands. And not everyone stands up and salutes the flag while the National Anthem is blared over the loudspeakers, either. They’re all still milling about and socializing amongst themselves, and the Respect the Troops rhetoric that these flag ceremonies hypothetically represent is left on the shelf while I-don’t-feel-like-it takes over.

It’s funny how a kneeling quarterback suddenly reminded us how much we love the flag. Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, recently did something pretty simple: He kneeled during the National Anthem because he was tired of being forced to salute a country where no one can seem to get over the habit of treating black people as something between second-class citizens and threats. Kaepernick was protesting Police violence against unarmed blacks on the outside, but his protest gained traction because this is coming at a critical juncture. Texas has banned the use of the term “slave trade” from school textbooks, Fox News has used on-air arguments justifying and excusing slavery, and the Republican Presidential candidate might as well be BFFs with David Duke. We like to think racism ended with Jackie Robinson; in fact, the school textbooks I grew up being force-fed adopted that attitude. “Hey, there was a ballplayer named Jackie Robinson who was black! Then Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream! After that, racism went POOF! in a cloud of hippie love!” It doesn’t mention that the hippie love puff was probably a cloud of weed – it made us look for and sometimes even see something that wasn’t there.

Yes, laws changed, but that doesn’t mean the people changed. Hell, even poor Martin Luther King only hit the public school mainstream because his famous dream is the only thing people want to remember about his beliefs. The dream sticks with people because it’s warm and fuzzy and deals with the individual viewpoint. Delving further into his work reveals the pissed off writing of a very angry man who believed the white moderates who emphasized his dream were more of a threat to his people than the KKK for that reason: Their belief in order and civility above real justice. Kaepernick’s protest is starting to reveal the people King was writing about. No one seems to care about all the crimes committed by countless other NFL players and the league not giving a damn. But Kaepernick broke our sacred tradition and now we’re talking boycotts. People use a lot of different methods of hiding from a lot of real issues in the country, and by kneeling during the National Anthem, Kaepernick cut them off from one of their escapes: Football. Now he’s being accused of creating controversy, but as another famous loudmouthed athlete I like, Charles Barkley, once said, he’s not creating the controversy. The controversy was always there. Kaepernick is merely bringing it to our attention.

It’s funny to me that our obsession with tradition is the only thing that’s making Kaepernick’s action controversial. I don’t believe most other countries would raise an uproar like this. They have something that we have and claim to love but appear to secretly hate: Freedom of speech. That’s the first law written in the United States Constitution, a document which does – or at least should – mean something to the country because it’s the supreme law of the land. What’s written in the Constitution is what goes, which is why there’s been so little change in it. Kaepernick probably knew about the uproar he was going to cause, because we’ve come to accept that our flag and song mean something – god only knows what – over his own right to express his displeasure over the fact that his people are routinely shot to death on traffic stops while white rapist Brock Turner was put in jail for all of six months because the judge worried about his prison time having the kind of impact on him that prison time should have on rapists.

If you want to drag one of our stupidest traditions into it – I’m talking, of course, about religion – you should know the god of your Bible specifically forbids the creation of graven images, and that’s what has now become of the flag. It’s apparently something to be worshipped no matter what. And if you want to bring the third Abrahamic religion (Islam) into it, the Quran’s version of the story of Abraham takes a special pain to point out how stupid it really is. In the Quran, Abraham’s father was a man who made idols, and Abraham wondered if there was a contradiction apparent in creating something which you then bow down and worship. That’s why God started sending him messages. Back in the land of reality, if we weren’t so busy being outraged at someone for having the gall to not stand up because our favorite idol was now blasphemed by someone expressing a constitutional right, then we could be enjoying the new season and this whole thing never would have been an issue.

But that’s the kind of bullshit that blind obedience to tradition makes you do. Ultimately, we’re going to go home and not give another thought about it until someone breaks from the sacred flag traditions again. In the meantime, we’re going to wear our American flag Calvin Klein underwear and send kids to school to recite words they won’t even think about. I’m of course referring to the Pledge of Allegiance, which wasn’t formally adopted until 1942, and which wasn’t written in its current form until 1954. And which was originally written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy. You may want to look him up. He was an outspoken socialist.

Culture Shock: What My Buffalo-to-Chicago Move was Originally Like

Culture Shock: What My Buffalo-to-Chicago Move was Originally Like

I moved to Chicago years ago, and in many ways it became more a home to me than Buffalo ever was. Now, since I’m attempting another inter-city move in a month, here is a list of things I noticed upon moving from Buffalo to Chicago that I never quite adjusted to:

Pizza and Wings don’t go Together
It’s not fair to expect every city on the planet to weave chicken wings into the culture like Buffalo has, but growing up in Buffalo, it does seem fair to expect wings to be the tasty accompaniment to a handful of particular dishes. Namely, pizza. In Buffalo, it’s ubiquitous to pick up the phone, speed-dial your favorite pizzeria, and say you want a large pepperoni and a double hot wings. They know the request because you’re a regular customer and they’ve heard slight variations on the same order a million times in the past. We take the combination for granted so much that wherever we go, we expect our pizza with a side of wings and let our hosts know what terrible people they are if they forget the wings. When I arrived in Chicago and made friends who ordered pizza, though, it was a short flight to my realization that people there didn’t feel like the extra grease with chicken meat on the side was an essential side dish. Hell, even that’s overstating their importance – Chicagoans went about their pizza business like the pizza/wings combination didn’t exist. Fortunately, Chicago is so good at pizza that you won’t care after the initial shock wears off.

The Street Grid Makes Sense
Buffalo loves to advertise its status as America’s Best-Planned City. No less an authority than Frederick Law Olmsted said Buffalo was the best-planned city in the world, and Buffalo was planned in a radial pattern, which is extremely rare in the United States. I guess it would make sense that Olmsted and other old-school architects would think that, though; they didn’t live long enough to witness abominations like the HSBC Tower, Main Place Mall, the Buffalo Convention Center, and all those other buildings which wipe out the meticulously planned radial design. The Convention Center and Main Place Mall in particular are notorious for choking off parts of downtown which would otherwise be reached very easily from Buffalo City Hall if they weren’t sitting in the way. Compounding the architectural mistakes is a legion of one-way streets going in so many different directions that you would think the city had a deal with an oil company which would cause motorists to keep getting lost and having to buy more gas. Chicago’s layout only seemed confusing at first. Once someone explained the directional and numbering scheme to me, though, I never got truly lost again. Chicago’s blocks are blocks, and its streets mainly stick to one direction. True, some of them – like Clark Street – curve a little after awhile and slant, but generally, even with all the one-way streets – I guess some things are constant between cities – it was refreshingly easy to find my way around.

The directional system is very easy: Madison Street is the official north/south marker, while State Street marks east and west. The corner of Madison and State places you at 0/0 numerically, and numbers increase like normal in every direction. The further away from Madison and State you get, the higher the address number. Even-numbered addresses are on buildings on the north and west sides of their streets; and by a rigorous and time-consuming process of elimination, you’ve maybe concluded that south and east street sides have the odd addresses. One thing I find a little dumbfounding, though, is that State Street is the barrier between east and west. State Street gets cut off around Lincoln Park, and the east side ceases to exist.

The People Think Chicago has the Monopoly on the Word “Pop”
We get it: Using “pop” as our word for soda is a regional thing. We’re told that from birth. Chicago apparently missed the memo. If you’re from out of town, every use of “pop” as a way of referring to soda is accompanied by a wink, a smile, and the occasional elbow nudge as the Chicagoan who just used it explains to his guests that “pop” is the word they use for soda in Chicago. They seem to think they’re letting you in on the secret formula for Coca-Cola when they say it. Well, the thing about “pop” is that the region that uses it as a term for soda is fucking massive. In fact, according to The Huffington Post, a survey anyone can fill out on a site called popvssoda.com, and Discover Magazine among many other sources, “pop” is absolutely dominant along the entire northern coastline from the Pacific coast – including Alaska – to western New York, except for a small spot in Wisconsin along the Lake Michigan coast. It changes to “soda” around Rochester, New York. The point where “pop” stops being used going south varies, but it drifts as far down as Oklahoma and changes to “coke” in the deep south. “Soda” actually seems to be the minority word for soda. Back to point, though; there’s no need for Chicagoans to cling to their use of “pop” like it’s some special identifying mark or secret handshake because everybody fucking knows what it is.

Chicago is a Hate Group for Ketchup
When you move to Chicago – or, hell, even if you’re just passing through it – you’ll be forced to try one of those seven-topping hot dogs that are so popular there, possibly at gunpoint. Your first thought upon glancing the Chicago-style hot dog for the first time will probably be along the lines of “how the hell do I eat this thing?” You’re not going to shove the whole thing into your mouth to bite down, since there’s too much between the onions, relish, peppers, pickle, celery salt, mustard, and tomatoes. (And the dog itself is, of course, made of beef; not just beef, but Vienna beef, and placed on a poppy seed bun, because any other beef on any other bun will toss the universe out of whack.) Your second thought may be of ketchup, but Chicagoans will recoil in horror at that thought. Hatred of ketchup is something known to unite Cubs fans and White Sox fans. The city tries to bully people about this; some hot dog places don’t even have ketchup available. Others just have assholes at the service counter who insult you to your face for putting ketchup on hot dogs.

Ketchup is treated much the same way you would treat asbestos. The fact that these people drown their french fries in ketchup instead of eating them with salt and vinegar and that mustard is a legal form of torture never seems to bother them. Meanwhile, Buffalo introduced a type of dog called the Texas Red Hot to the planet. Unlike the dicks who vend in Chicago, no one in Buffalo cares what goes on your Texas Red Hot, and long as you’re getting the dogs themselves at a place that makes them halfway decently. There are many of them; Louie’s has its fans, but Ted’s is the consensus place to find a good hot dog in Buffalo.

The Football Fans are Idiots
You would expect to find a sizable number of mouth-breathers among a fanbase which made Mike Ditka, the NFL’s response to Donald Trump, into their patron saint. That’s a good summary of Bears fans. These are fans who bitch if their team committed to something other than outmoded run-first football and growl a lot about “Bear weather,” a make-believe home field advantage offered by Soldier Field’s location alongside Lake Michigan and the blustery winds swirling in. On one hand, you can’t blame Bears fans for looking at the team’s incredible successes on the ground: An amazing nine titles, including a Super Bowl victory in the 1985 season, and a running back roll call of transcendents like Bronko Nagurski, Red Grange, Gale Sayers, and the immortal Walter Payton as well as locally memorable runners like Neal Anderson, Matt Forte, Beattie Feathers, and Rick Casares. On the other hand, Bears fans all still seem to believe this style amounts to some insurmountable advantage. They’ll talk up Bear weather as if no other team in the NFL plays in the cold. I would remind fans that it gets pretty damn cold in Buffalo too, and Bears fans, bless their tiny dino brains, tried to argue with me about it. They’ll insist you can’t pass in a Chicago winter, even though a certain outdoor team which plays in even worse weather than Chicago has spent the past two decades showing the Bears differently. Yeah, three of those FOUR Super Bowls the Green Bay Packers have reeled in were all led by Hall of Fame quarterbacks, and that fourth title was guided by another quarterback who plays with the kind of form that leads quarterbacks to the Hall.

And about those titles: That one I mentioned from 1985 happens to be the most recent of them, and fans dwell on it like it’s the only thing that matters. Granted, from everything I’ve gathered about that 1985 team, they were quite memorable, but no other fanbase lives in its past like this. Even the Bills fans old enough to still sing shoulda coulda wouldas about those four Super Bowls set the glory years aside once the current season starts. Deadspin’s Why Your Team Sucks football previews listed Chicago’s sports loyalties a few years ago and placed the 1985 Bears over the current Bears. It was accurate.

Summer is the Real Bad Season
To paraphrase Douglas Adams, Chicagoans honk on mightily about the pleasures of summer, but if Chicagoans knew the first thing about summer, they would also be able to think of at least 3268 places to spend it, and that’s just on the same latitude. The thing about living in Buffalo is that we have the lake effect. Lake Erie might bury us on a regular basis, but come the summer, it becomes an air conditioner which prevents the heat and humidity from becoming unbearable and keeping the city relatively dry, but giving us enough rain for all kinds of gardens to sprout. The summer temperature average in Buffalo is in the low 80’s, and we get an average of three days a year where the temperature hits 90. The city just broke a streak of below-90 days in the last month which was two years long. Buffalo has never had a 100 degree day. Although Chicagoans love to play up their city’s winter weather reputation, that won’t intimidate anyone who spent a long time living in another cold weather area. The summers, though, are like saunas. If they didn’t hit the high 90’s often, it certainly felt like they did, and the humidity frequently got so high that the fish in Lake Michigan didn’t have any trouble making breaks from the lake into cleaner waters. A school of fish taking a pleasant Sunday swim along Lake Shore Drive is capable of holding up traffic and endangering bicyclists. Motorists probably don’t want to get the guts of a splattered Great Lakes trout splattered on their windshields, just because fish guts don’t seem like the kind of thing that would come out very easily if you tried to wash them out with windshield wiper fluid.

Chicago’s Toughness is a Charade
If you move from a smaller city to a major 21st-Century megalopolis like Chicago, it’s only natural to feel a little overwhelmed at first, especially if the megalopolis in question has a reputation for drawing and quartering people. After awhile, though, it will become clear that the only reason Chicago has such a hard reputation is because the local media and frat megadouchebros running around on the Near North Side of the city are the ones who are saying it. You know those guys: Every Dylan and Chad in Lincoln Park or Wrigleyville who was raised in Evanston or North Barrington and is working corporate for six figures because of Daddy’s marketing connections believing they’re suddenly hard because they’re loud, keep getting way too drunk at Cubs games, and bought every worthless piece of junk with Al Capone’s face on it.

I had lived in Chicago around a month when I figured out the city had nothing to show me on the toughness front, but one incident that happened after a few years sticks out to me: Combos – yes, the snack – had released a list of the 50 manliest cities in America, and Chicago was number 48. The only reason I know this is because the local media raised an uproar about it. Naturally, it was mentioned every other page in the following day’s Redeye, and I seem to recall something from the Sun-Times as well. I’m not sure which is worse here: The fact that Chicagoans took an innocuous list written as a promotion by a snack food corporation seriously, or that they were actually offended by it. I could only imagine the reaction if someone brought it up in Buffalo: “Hey, did you hear Buffalo was (some number) on the Combos list of manliest cities?” “The Combos what list now?”

As a close cousin, Chicago is also too under-equipped and prissy to pass itself off as a true winter city as well. It’s a city which has, more than once, run out of its snow removal budget. If there’s heavy snowfall, anyone who can’t dig themselves out will starve to death because their neighbors aren’t going to sweep in and take up the duty themselves. The highest snowfall I experienced during my residency in Chicago was around 15 inches, and it was enough to keep people off the streets for days. People barely went outside, and it was incredible to walk around days later and see how many people didn’t even shovel their front stairs.

That Infuriating Inferiority Complex with New York City
If your sole reason for moving to Chicago from anywhere in upstate New York is to escape New York City’s shadow, don’t. Every now and then there’s lip service to Chicago being the better city – which it is, except the people there don’t seem to believe that themselves. Tell a Chicago native you’re from New York City and watch them light up like they’ve noticed you’re Batman. Seeing a city which holds New York City up to the light – especially one like Chicago – is a slap in the face to someone who came from a place which was very clear about an ethos and attitude toward NYC which said “you want to live in NYC so bad, go fucking live there. Or shut the fuck up about it before we run your ass out of town on a rail.” What the inferiority complex tells everyone is that New York City – with its impossible price ranges for everything, its legions of unaccomplished intellectual nitwits who believe they’re entitled to respect only by virtue of living there, and its upper class which takes every opportunity to flaunt its wealth to the lower classes – is something to be aspired to. I have some mixed feelings about my hometown, but I do still have enough pride in it to say: Chicago, you want to live in NYC so bad, go fucking live there.

You’re not a Real Buffalonian Until…

You’re not a Real Buffalonian Until…

1 – You’ve discovered how much more you like the wing joint on your corner than Anchor Bar.

2 – You’ve mispronounced the names of every suburb.

3 – You’ve vowed to never visit a Taco Bell again.

4 – You’ve closed a bar on Chippewa and gotten stuck there because the city’s 4 AM closing time just doesn’t jibe well with the NFTA shutting down at midnight.

5 – You’ve tried beef on weck with the horseradish fixin only to realize you hate horseradish.

6 – You’ve blown up your TV while trying to sit through one of Billy Fuccillo’s ads.

7 – On that note, you’ve learned to sing the entire “we buy silver, we buy gold” ditty but can’t remember what they’re advertising for.

8 – You’ve forgotten one of the Seven Wonders of the World is 45 minutes down the street.

9 – You’ve found yourself dug out of a snow drift, but you don’t know who did it because you were too busy digging someone else out.

10 – You’ve tried taking the Scajaquada to Delaware Park but ran the length of it because you couldn’t decide where to get off.

11 – You’ve thought about moving to North Carolina.

12 – You’ve had a drive to McKinley Mall backed up because there was a Bills game that day.

13 – You complain about the snow but are repulsed by the very thought of a snow-less Christmas or the pond hockey tournament being held indoors.

14 – You regularly shop and take day trips to Toronto but claim to hate it there.

15 – You’ve learned the hard way that TITS doesn’t mean what you think it means.

16 – You’ve been suckered in by Main Place Mall advertising itself as one of the area’s premier shopping destinations.

17 – You’ve become suspicious of anyone who says they’re from New York City.

18 – Someone from South Buffalo has tried to identify you by your parish.

19 – You have trouble remembering all the country’s national anthems but know the entire playlist on 97 Rock by heart.

20 – You tell someone where you went to high school only for them to ask you when it closed.

21 – You’ve received sponge candy as a wedding favor and given out beer instead of wine as a gift.

22 – Speaking of wine, you’ve discovered an appreciation of boxed wine.

23 – You’re open about a preference for Labatt Blue or Molson over Budweiser and Miller even though they’re pretty much the same things.

24 – You forgo the common driveway basketball hoop in favor of a driveway hockey net.

Patrick Kane and Rape Culture in Buffalo

Patrick Kane and Rape Culture in Buffalo

Everyone knows that as a sports fan, I leave my heart to two teams in hockey, the sport of the gods: The Buffalo Sabres and the Chicago Blackhawks. I love them both to death equally, but they both have their strengths and weaknesses: The Blackhawks have been infinitely better as of late, winning the Stanley Cup three times in the last six years. Although the Sabres have been watchable only through sheer, morbid curiosity lately, and have finished last the last two years, they’ve been able to one-up the Blackhawks lately in one very important department: The lack of accused rapists on their roster.

Those who read my regular rantings know I’m very honest about the fact that I usually don’t care about how my favorite professional athletes conduct themselves off the field. It’s ridiculous to expect them to expect them to conduct themselves as the cool, wonderful life of the party all the damn time, slaughtering everyone during the game but reverting back to form as an aw-shucks milk-drinker once the game is over. It’s head-in-sand bullshit from the 50’s, when everyone was expected to have one color and one religion as well. Okay, if you were open-minded, you were able to accepts athletes if they were Jewish too, but the “Buddhist” thingie was WAY too out there! Anyway, I’m honest enough to admit I’ve come to terms with the fact that a lot of my favorite athletes are stupid idiots on the outside. I can also admit my line for behavior I’m willing to endure from athletes isn’t set in stone and tends to move regularly, but a few things about it are very consistent. One of them is that rape is located in the deep end of the wrong side of it.

No, Patrick Kane hasn’t been charged with the crime just yet. But frankly, I’m mortified that there is an accusation of it which is being taken seriously. That doesn’t bode well for Kane or for the Blackhawks, and let’s not even start with the poor victim. Yeah, Kane has the right to be presumed innocent until someone proves he’s guilty, but there’s also the corollary: The victim has the right to be considered honest until someone proves she made it up. And Kane isn’t going to look good in this situation no matter what because he’s a transcendent superstar whose personal history is known to everyone: Indicted for assaulting a taxi driver; photographed partying in Madison, where there’s a strong rumor that he choked a woman; dressing up in blackface at a Halloween party; constant drinking. Since Kane has constantly shown in the past that he has the behavioral capacity to do things like this, his behavior doesn’t warrant the benefit of the doubt. His accuser is reported as being a straightforward and honest person.

Yeah, as a Buffalo native and Blackhawks fan, I hope this is a moribund misunderstanding, and that Kane didn’t do anything wrong. But is anyone here thinking of the person who is accusing him of rape? As a regular, ordinary person who experienced something with Patrick Kane that was traumatizing and that she obviously thinks is important, I mean? Oh, people are certainly thinking of her, alright – they’re busy jumping on her to slut-shame her and call her a gold-digger. That’s the local rape culture kicking in. A radio station jumped onto the case, accusing the victim of just about everything except drugging the poor, innocent, privileged, rich star hockey player. The Buffalo News found a more implicit way of getting into the act as well – they had Skybar owner Mark Croce talk about what he saw at his bar, where the whole incident began. Croce famously said he was only reporting what he personally saw and that he had nothing at stake, and anyone smarter than a box of rocks knows he’s lying his ass off. Kane’s day with the Stanley Cup was to involve a big party at Skybar which, by the way, is a favorite haunt of Kane’s. Also, according to New York state law, if anything unseemly did happen between Kane and the victim, Croce stands to be sued through a civil liability law. Therefore, Croce did everything he could to portray the victim as a drunk hanger-on who was pestering Kane – whom Croce said was a sober, responsible, and chivalrous man bathed in holy light through it all – and even followed him out the door.

Soon after Croce’s uninformed yapping, another little detail emerged which threw a kink into Croce’s “viewpoint:” The victim was actually accompanying her friend to Kane’s house in Hamburg. So here’s what it comes down to so far: We have a professional athlete who is a three-time champion, a face of his league, and a transcendent superstar in his sport that even casual fans know of who’s from the Buffalo area and proud of it. There are presumably hundreds of women who would line up in order to have sex with him, and here he may have forced himself onto one of the women who managed to resist his charms.

Have we noticed a running theme so far? A lot of people – including major public sources in Buffalo – are doing everything in their power to either defend Kane at all costs or write it off and hope it blows over. Mark Croce, with his very limited knowledge of everything that happened, is walking the road that passes all the blame off onto her. The Buffalo News hasn’t gotten much information from firsthand sources from its reporters. Its sportswriters have all been silent as the grave, except for the token “we don’t know” piece from Bucky Gleason. Maybe you’re willing to count Tim Graham’s Twitter account as well, but I don’t. Somehow, Jerry Sullivan hasn’t said anything about Kane or begged the NHL to discipline him, and he’s a twit who threw a printed hissy fit about Marshawn Lynch’s behavior toward the press and suggested the NFL suspend him no matter what. Chicago is the other major city affected by this fiasco, and the reporters and columnists there have taken the opposite approach; they haven’t been able to shut up about it. Rick Telander and Rick Morrissey have both written about it for the Sun-Times; Telander, in fact, wrote about it twice. On the Trib’s end, two columns from David Haugh; one from Steve Rosenbloom. EA Sports took him off the cover of their upcoming NHL game.

I shouldn’t need to go into any detail about rape culture here, but in case you don’t know, here’s the quick summary: It’s a setting in which rape is turned into a normal thing. And we live in a society in which rape has become more normal than the people who get raped, apparently. The numbers are staggering: Some 90 percent of rapists never get caught. Some 20 percent of women get raped once in their lives. In rape cases that get reported, the investigation is invasive and the victim is shamed and told she shouldn’t have been drunk; or worn the miniskirt; or she should have just cut her assailant’s balls off. We’re about two steps up from either stoning the victims, forcing them to marry their rapists, or making rape a punishment for a crime. People don’t seem to understand what a rape really is: If the victim says no, it’s a rape. If the victim is forced into a position where they’re not able to say no, it’s a rape. If the victim is coerced into saying yes through certain forms of deception, that’s a rape too. Society turned into Cersei from Game of Thrones oh-so-casually telling Sansa that they could expect a little rape if Stannis Baratheon successfully invaded the city.

Rape culture, though, isn’t the entire problem when it comes to Buffalo’s reaction to Patrick Kane. Another significant portion of the problem is the city’s provincial culture. Everyone loves to play up the way people in Buffalo know their neighbors; one of our nicknames is The City of Good Neighbors! While it’s nice to have a neighbor dig you out for no reason when there’s two feet of snow on the ground, the good neighborliness in Buffalo also means being protective of our own to a fault. Patrick Kane is one of our own. The victim is more than likely also one of our own, but it’s Kane who turned into a national symbol of Buffalo athletic prowess. If you’re good at sports – especially football or hockey – you’re a god in Buffalo. Anything you do that’s bad is going to be glossed over and excused, no matter how flimsy the excuse pretext. The problem is that we think we know Kane because he was raised here. We’re desperate to superimpose our own values onto him and make him our brah, or our dawg, or whatever the current word for Big 10 frat megadouchebro is. Hell, we’re treating the area’s other athletic superstar – Rob Gronkowski of the NFL’s New England Patriots – much the same way we’re treating Kane. Like Kane, Gronkowski has been acting the part of a drunken, grade-A asshole since becoming one of his league’s transcendents. His behavior is not only glossed over, but actually celebrated. The big difference between Gronkowski and Kane is that so far, Gronkowski hasn’t gone out and hurt anyone other than himself. Hopefully he’ll mature before he ends up adopting Kane’s behavior.

That’s what this is all about: Hero worship gone too far. No, Kane hasn’t been charged with anything yet, but a scene like this is about as big a surprise as a two-foot winter storm given his past. He can’t be defended anymore. The Blackhawks have to take action even if he’s innocent, just to see the message gets drilled in. And if Patrick Kane is guilty, he deserves to rot properly in a jail cell and not play another game in the NHL.

51 Things You’ll Never Hear a Buffalo Resident Say

51 Things You’ll Never Hear a Buffalo Resident Say

In March of last year, Time Out Chicago published a list of particular sentences and thoughts which people who had lived in Chicago for awhile could use to identify you as not being from Chicago. People loved the damn thing, and I dropped into a few other city blogs to check if other places followed suit. New Orleans did, and Portland tried, although no one ever published a full list for that city. Now, its been about a year and a half since Time Out Chicago published it, and after giving it some thought, I’ve decided its time for a Buffalo booster to punch up a list of 51. True to Buffalo’s form, though, no one here seems to have found out about Time Out Chicago’s idea. Buffalo is, of course, always three decades behind the times and current trends, so although it took me a years and a half to create my own list in response, I’m actually well ahead of the curve in Buffalo time. Note that if you’re stupid enough to say some of these things in public here – like number six – the people in this city are legally obligated to kill you.

1 – “Buffalo wings.”

2 – “Let’s be honest: The Bills never stood a chance against the Giants in that Super Bowl anyway.”

3 – “Main Place Mall is obviously the best hangout spot. There’s always a lot to see there.”

4 – “Don’t worry about having beer if you get snowed in. Tea is a fine substitute.”

5 – “Why go all the way to Mighty Taco? Taco Bell is closer. It’s just as good.”

6 – “I’m glad Buffalo Wild Wings is in the area. They know how it’s done!”

7 – “Why go to Canada to drink underage? You can buy a perfectly good fake ID here.”

8 – “The NFTA is working exactly like it’s supposed to. It’s doing a great job.”

9 – “I got caught in a traffic jam on the skyway during rush hour.”

10 – “Dolphins are mammals, not fish!”

11 – “Buffalo ’66 needs a sequel.”

12 – “Call the ballpark by its proper name: Coca-Cola Field.”

13 – “Nobody gives a crap about Irish lineage!”

14 – “I’m sensing an impending boom in heavy industry.”

15 – “I just don’t understand the logic of carving a chunk of butter into a lamb shape.”

16 – “Look, I don’t know my neighbors, so I don’t see why I should dig them out of five feet of snow just because.”

17 – “The Convention Center really adds to the aesthetic of the city.”

18 – “UB’s North Campus is easy to get to. You just can’t miss it.”

19 – “Tim Horton may be a hockey legend, but his donuts suck.”

20 – “I would prefer the pleasant natural smells of a typical city downtown area to the Cheerio smell infesting our downtown.”

21 – “All those one-way streets make navigation downtown a snap!”

22 – “Albany really sticks its neck out for us. We’re lucky to have them.”

23 – “Why does everyone like Rob Ray so much? He was a thug who never did anything for the community!”

24 – “Not having salt potatoes for the Fourth of July barbeque isn’t the end of the world.”

25 – “Ani DiFranco? That name doesn’t ring any bells.”

26 – “Who could possibly go running in this snow?”

27 – “The people in University Heights are so quiet and well-mannered.”

28 – “Summer here is gross. An average high of 80 degrees? Way too high.”

29 – “The view from the American side is just as good.”

30 – “I wish we had more New York City-style pizza joints. They do the best pizza downstate.”

31 – “The Albright-Knox doesn’t have anything interesting.”

32 – “All those Wrights and Sullivans need to be razed for more modern steel buildings.”

33 – “The Skylon is perfect for a first date.”

34 – “The Taste of Buffalo is just a low-budget version of the Taste of Chicago.”

35 – “Coffee? Starbucks, of course!”

36 – “I’m glad Niagara Falls axed the Festival of Lights.”

37 – “The city’s 4 AM Closing Time is absurd and needs to be cut back a couple of hours.”

38 – “What’s a weck?”

39 – “No, I don’t think my relatives would be interested in seeing The Falls.”

40 – “You know, it wouldn’t kill anyone to hold the annual pond hockey tournament at an indoor rink for once.”

41 – “William McKinley had it coming.”

42 – “$700 for a single-bedroom apartment is a steal. If you get that price, jump on it.”

43 – “Tim Russert and Wolf Blitzer? Overrated. Now The Buffalo News – there’s a shining beacon of great journalism!”

44 – “Three words when it comes to grocery shopping: Anywhere but Wegman’s.”

45 – “I wish Buffalo was more like New York City.”

46 – “The 1999 Stanley Cup Final was a long time ago and Brett Hull scored a good goal. Get over it!”

47 – “Another parking lot downtown would really improve the view.”

48 – “Don’t worry about potholes. They don’t exist here.”

49 – “Why would you move to North Carolina?”

50 – “I don’t see why this city thinks it’s so tough.”

51 – “I’m still waiting for Brian Higgins to run for President.”

Health, Models, and the Fashion Media

Health, Models, and the Fashion Media

I can’t say I ever understood the appeal of those waif-thin models that kept popping up everywhere back in the 90’s. Their figures were terrible – they all looked like they would soon be whisked away in the next light breeze, plus their apparent attitudes seemed to run the gamut from neutral to indifferent. Occasionally, they might come across as surly. Sure, there was Tyra Banks, but she was an exception; the general rule of 90’s models was that if you threw them off the top of the Sears Tower, they should be able to float down, unharmed.

When Adrianna Lima first broke through in the mid-millennium, I got the sense a big shift in the modeling landscape was about to occur. Then Kate Upton appeared, and all bets were off. It would be a great lie if I wrote that Upton’s radiating sex appeal had nothing to do with her impressive chest, especially considering how often fashion designers put her in clothes which serve to accentuate it. (Let’s call this the Tomb Raider approach.) There is, however, more to Upton’s sex appeal than merely her breasts. I think the ultimate appeal of Kate Upton is that she appears to be healthy and happy working in an industry which, until recently, demanded that no one in it – man or woman – be either. Far from being the bitchy cheerleader or vapid, humorless icebox, Upton always seems prepared with a smile and a witty quip, signs of her being warm, personable, and approachable. Her body type is also different from the 90’s prototype: Although we can’t trick ourselves into believing the average Jane will ever have a body resembling Upton’s, Upton herself doesn’t seem to show any of the typical signs of starvation or deprivation that were once everywhere in the industry. Her ribs aren’t about to claw their way out of her thorax, and her skin doesn’t seem to have any abrasions or tightness which would signify her sharing of one mini-carrot a day with three other models as a diet. In short, Kate Upton takes care of herself.

The fashion media – and hell, we can expand that to include the entire high fashion industry itself – can’t seem to bring itself to figure this out. Both the industry and the media dedicated to covering it have decided that models need to look a certain way, right down to facial expressions during runway shows. Upton is, for some odd reason, assailed by fashion commentators for being too fat. Other criticisms include that she has an average face and that her waist is too large for a true hourglass figure. Upton also has a habit of speaking candidly instead of letting herself being reduced to a smiling, nodding corporate token in her interviews.

Anyone who read my last extinct list knows how I feel about the fashion media, and its appalling treatment and inability to make heads or tails of Kate Upton is a major reason why. The fashion media is the one wing of the news which is even more useless than Fox News. Everyone who covers high-end fashion seems to be even more out of touch with the public than the United States Congress. That, though, could just be the nature of the business. After all, this is a group of so-called journalists who spend all their time watching runway shows which feature clothes with space hooker designs which never seem to find their way to the masses, worn by size -3 models which, because the big-name designers have decided -3 models are the standard-bearers of beauty, the journalists have decided the designers know what they’re talking about and therefore follow suit by being disgusted by a size -2 anorexic.

Now the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue this year is featuring two models who are being constantly referred to as plus-size models. Although current Jeter girl toy Hannah Davis is featured on the cover, the newest Swimsuit Issue is being noted for the presence of Ashley Graham and Robyn Lawley. Lawley is a size 12 and Graham flaunts her size 14 figure. Both of them are drop-dead gorgeous… And both of them are being attacked in the fashion media for having bodies which, by most accounts, can be considered both attainable and normal. Hell, Lawley is deflecting shots these days because there’s a whole other crowd of people who are in an uproar that anyone would ever consider her plus-size. Graham – whose picture I’ve placed in the inset – appears to be a bit bigger than average, but she’s definitely not out of shape.

Now comes the money question: What’s the big deal? Lawley and Graham are a hell of a lot closer to what the girl next door actually looks like. Is the problem with them that Mr. Klein can’t make a bigger version of an outfit which is a dress on one leg and a pant leg on the other that is only going to be seen in show once before the plebes all forget about it? Because if that’s the problem, the uber-rich designers are probably in the wrong line of work.

2015 is shaping up to be one of the most annoying, palm/forehead smacking, bemusement-sighing years on record – it’s only February, and yet the year has already seen some of the most inane controversies imaginable. And this might be the most absurd: Two otherwise gorgeous and healthy women who happen to have very normal body types are in a magazine full of near-naked women. The outrage is being fueled entirely by a wing of the media which is apparently offended by the fact that Ashley Graham and Robyn Lawley both lack visible skeletal structures. That’s the only impetus I can really decipher behind all this animosity.

Suddenly, the days when Barbie was catching flack for her unrealistic body type don’t seem so far gone. We know more about healthy lifestyles then ever before, and there’s a growing section of the populace which is altering its lifestyle in order to be healthy. And yet, here are the vapid chimps in the fashion media, desiring and promoting a body type which little girls were literally starving themselves all throughout the 90’s in order to attain, even as most of the men called the Flockhart body unattractive. Thanks to a band of writers who apparently can’t make their livings writing things that are legit, the planet is now taking a giant step backwards in regards to healthy lifestyles. They’ve gotten so obsessive about unhealthy, impossible thinness that we’re considering normal-sized women fat.

So, how many of these commentators do you think adhere to the standard of beauty they’re busy trying to maintain themselves? My guess is that it’s not too many of them.