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John Cusack

John Cusack

Posted: August 14, 2008 08:59 AM

Bleary-eyed in Bangkok: Daybreak Memories of Chicago


I've had pressing business in the Far East as of late so I happened to be in Bangkok working nights when my friend, the good and great Arianna, reminded me she was launching HuffPost Chicago and asked if I remembered my promise that I'd write something about my memories of the Windy City.

"Yes, of course," I lied. "When is it due?"

"Tomorrow, darling."

Since it's August and we're in a pennant race, my mind first goes to Chicago sports:

Wrigley Field and all-things-Cubs, when Jose Cardenal was the only player who could really play. When it was Mick Kelleher and Larry Biittner and George " the Baron" Mitterwald -- and Pete LaCock on first base and "Tarzan" Joe Wallis in centerfield. And Bruce Sutter with that unhittable split-fingered fastball... Ride the El up from Evanston, change on the Howard line and take the train to Wrigley -- which I did as many times as I could scrape together $2.50 for a one-way kamikaze mission, and another $1.75 for bleacher seats, then steal hot dogs and Cokes from the vendors before taking the train home after the game...

Through the '80s, with Gary "The Sarge" Matthews hitting third, taking us to our first division title in 7 million years. The great Andre Dawson and Sammy Sosa, getting us to the playoffs but never all the way...

From Jack Brickhouse and Billy Williams to Harry Caray, liquored up on a hot summer day, down by seven runs and loaded for bear, most of my childhood was at least partially centered on this Mecca of baseball, this civic shrine that is home to the Chicago Cubs. Every visit to Wrigley Field adds six months back onto one's life expectancy -- doctors have proven this many times.

The next thing that comes to mind is the image of Walter Payton turning a corner. It wasn't a fall until Walter ran around defensive ends and then through linebackers. Walter would take the handoff, and it was Sunday, and the crisp frost of autumn was in the air, and there was nothing prettier than Walter in his prime.

Then there was watching Michael Jordan learning to win, defying physics and the Detroit Pistons over a grueling 7 or 8 years -- making the whole city stop in the darkest, coldest days of winter to watch as he performed feats of magic every time he stepped on the court. The whole city gasped in delight and awe, knowing they were seeing something that would never be equaled on a basketball court. Michael Jordan was one of the great things about Chicago winter - consistently, spectacularly brilliant every goddamn game, every goddamn night. It was a thing to behold.

And the old Comiskey Park, where Shoeless Joe and Buck Weaver played. The one-legged owner, Bill Veeck, and the players in shorts and the showers in the bleachers, and Jimmy Piersall and Harry Caray doing filthy standup in the booth. And Oscar Gamble and the South Side Hit Men, and Chet Lemon and then Ozzie Guillen and Greg " the Bull" Luzinski and Carlton Fisk and Harold Baines.

Can't forget watching old friend Chris Chelios skate for the Hawks and eating with him in Greektown after the game... thinking in a few years I'll be there for his Hall of Fame induction speech after he played another season or two. That was ten years ago and counting.

And the music -- dozens of the best clubs and bars in America, with live music of all kinds: blues, jazz, punk, rock, ska, rap, always something going on, with great venues like Metro, and the Aragon Ballroom where I saw Nirvana at the peak of their formidable power.

Plus hundreds of theaters -- some with only thirty seats. I rented out a bunch and produced plays in Chicago -- and a good time, I hope, was had by all.

And then the old Irish bar O'Rouke's with the pictures and quotes by Yeats and Shaw and O'Neill and Brendan Behan and other Irish luminaries and lunatics. Many glorious and savage nights there.

O'Rourke's is gone now but whenever I drive by, I tip my cap.

Chicago is the best kept secret in America, or so it's been said... That sounds about right to me.