Tony at the Red Line Tap. Rahm’s $2 billion dollar scam.

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“Sean. I’d like a bottle of Crikveničko Svijetlo if you have any left.”

Sean furrowed his brow. “Y’know, Fred. I’m out of it. But you might like Pivnica Medvedgrad Crna Kraljica, which I do have. It’s a bock beer, not a pilsner, but it is Croatian.”

“I’ll try it,” I said.

“I’ve actually been studying Croatian and Slavic history,” said Sean. “Did you know It is recorded that in the early 7th century A.D., seven tribes led by five brothers – Kluk, Lobel, Muhlo, Kosjenic and Hrvat – and two sisters – Buga and Tuga – migrated to Dalmatia and simultaneously populated Pannonia and across Illyricum as part of the migration of the Croats. It was in the 7th century that they were officially invited to settle on this vastly depopulated area by Roman – that is Byzantine – Emperor Heraclius  in order to establish a shield against Avars for his state?”

“Uh, No,” I mumbled. “I didn’t know that. Did you know that, Tony?”

“Of course I knew that, Klonsky. In fact, my cousins Buga and Tuga are named for the two Slavic sisters.”

“But you’re not Slavic.”

“We are all one,” said Sean.

“Okay. Enough about that. I want to talk about Rahm getting permission from the City Council to borrow $2 billion dollars in bonds yesterday. Who does this help except the Wall Street investors?”

Tony looked over at me. “When I was young my cousin Kluk  had two credit cards.”

“Cousin Kluk?”

“Yep, brother of cousins Buga and Tuga. When he maxed out on one he would pay the bill by writing checks off the other credit card’s account. He went on like that for about a year.”

“Then what happened?”

“Six months at 26th and California.”

At that, Sean piped up. “Did you see New York’s Mayor Bill De Blasio on Stewart last night? He’s gonna start a universal pre-school program and said he’s charging rich people to pay for it. He said it will cost them what they pay for one soy latte a day.”

“A wealth tax!”

Sean nodded. “Instead of borrowing money to pay the debt on the debt, we could have a wealth tax. Pay off our debts.”

Tony agreed. “Negotiate a new contract with the cops for doing such a good job at covering up what Daley’s nephew – that Vanecko kid – did. And for uncovering the NATO 3 anarchist plot against our fair city.

“And pay the pension obligation?”

“Yeh. Sure Klonsky,” sighed Tony.

“For the price of a soy latte a day we can even pay the teachers their pension.”

 

 

Tony at the Red Line Tap.

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I greeted Sean and nodded to Tony.

“Bottle of Brugse Straffe Hendrik,” I said. “Room temperature.”

“Cool, dude,” said Sean somewhat garbled by his pierced tongue.

Tony stared at ESPN Classic Sports which was showing the 2008 NASCAR Nationwide Series Lipton Tea 250.

“Any news about Marty’s TV career,” I asked?

“Oh, man. She quit that. Hooked up with a mandolin player dude in an industrial rap blue grass band and moved to Austin. She got a job at a place, I think it’s called Cheer-up Charlie’s in East Austin.

“Hope she’s happy,” I said.

“Hey, Tony,” said Sean. “It almost time for the People’s Court. I’m changin’ the channel.”

“What the hell?” said Tony. “There’s still 150 miles left.”

“Sorry, dude. Gotta watch Judge Marilyn Milian hand out justice. These are real people with real cases and they have agreed to have them dismissed and settled, there, in the people’s court. See, man. I’m into the concept of a people’s court. Right on for the people’s court!”

“I miss Marty,” sighed Tony. “This kid is driving me crazy. “I keep hoping he graduates and moves on. But he’s got a triple major in philosophy, marketing and pre-law. So I fear he will be here a while.”

“Speaking of the law,” said Tony. “What’s your guess on what the Supremes will do about your pension?”

“No guess,” I said. “Are they in the pocket of Madigan? Will they stick to what the constitution says? What the intent of those who wrote the pension protection clause was? I’m thinking fifty/fifty.”

“Dude. It’s too bad you can’t dismiss the case and all agree to have it handled in the people’s court,” said Sean as Sean Penn in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

“Put Marilyn Milian on the court instead of Fast Eddie Burke’s wife!,” said Tony.

“Dude! That would be so cool. See. Judge Marilyn Milian is why I decided on pre-law as one of my majors. She is so deep and so wise. I know so much about the law from watching her.”

“Like what?” I asked, wondering if I had been pulled into a conversation from which there would be no exit. Like Alice Through the Looking Glass.” Which of course, did have an exit.

“Three things. If a dog is off leash and bites another dog or bites some dude, it’s the dude who owns the first dog’s fault. Two. Don’t work for a relative. And…”

“Most of my cousins would be unemployed if they listened to her,” mumbled Tony.

“And, dude. Most important of all. The most important principle of jurisprudence. Get it in writing. Make sure you have a contract.”

“That didn’t work for my pension,” I said. “We had a contract.”

“Take it to the people’s court, dude” smiled Sean.

Tony at the Red Line Tap.

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“Who are you? Where’s Marty?”

“I’m Sean. Marty quit.”

“Quit? How come?”

“She got hired to host a show on a public access channel in some town in Iowa. It is going to be like Check Please! Different people reviewing restaurants.”

“In a small town in Iowa? How many restaurants can there be?”

“I told her that. But she said that it’s a local public access show. Nobody watches anyway. They may just do the Hardy’s on different nights and feature the rotating specials.”

“Sean,” I said.

“What?”

“Go get me a Närke Kaggen Stormaktsporter.

“Got one cold in the back,” Sean said.

“Kid goes to Loyola,” Tony said. “Got more rings than Barnum and Bailey.”

“And what’s that thing going up his arm?” I asked.

“Ah! I asked him that very same question. He said it is a graphic representation of the Kama Sutra on his left arm and the Koka Shastra on his right.”

I looked at Tony. Tony looked at me. We nodded like two bobble-head give-aways at Wrigley.

“So. You have any thoughts on Quinn picking Vallas?” I queried.

Tony sighed as if he were in the self-check out lane at the Jewels behind a guy with a cart load of day-old donuts.

“It reminds me of my cousin Bailey.”

“And how does it remind you of Bailey?” – who I know because he always shows up uninvited at our annual holiday party and stands over the Kielbasa plate with a fork like the whole thing is a single-serving.

“Because Bailey is a Chicago precinct captain and alleged city employee. The guy has had more city jobs than the entire population of Sauganash. He screws up every job he gets, but they just bring him back somewhere else.”

“You’re right,” I said. “Vallas reminds me of your cousin Bailey.”

Tony at the Red Line Tap.

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“Hey, Klonsky,” Marty mumbled as she arranges the Doritos Cool Ranch tortilla chips on the shelf.

“Marty. A friend of mine served me some Pliny the Elder from California. An IPA. You should carry that.”

“It’s a west coast thing, Klonsky. Russian River. We can’t get it here. Have a Dog’s Head instead.”

“Okay. Where’s Tony?”

“Washin’ his hands.”

Tony walked out of the men’s room and grabbed the stool that should have his name on it.

“I was just thinking about you,” says Tony. “The first thing I was thinking was, ‘Where the hell has Klonsky been?’ And the second thing I was thinking was, ‘I wonder what is Klonsky up to?‘”

“You’re thinking about me when you go take a piss? Nice.”

“I also think about my cousin Phil.”

“Your cousin Phil? The Streets and San guy?”

“Oh, he doesn’t work for Streets and San anymore. That was years ago. He quit when they cut back on patronage work and he had to show he knew something about streets and something about sanitation. Which if you ever went to Phil’s apartment you would know right away that he was way underqualified in the sanitation area, being an old school kind of single guy with a dog that shed more hair than Yul Brynner preparing for the King and I.”

I knew that this story had more legs than you could find at the 6th race at Arlington, so I asked Marty for a bag of the Doritos Cool Ranch tortilla chips and another Dog’s Head.

“So anyways,” said Tony. “Phil was great at one thing: He could work a precinct in an election.”

“He was well versed on the issues?”

“Well versed on the issues? Hell, no. Phil couldn’t tell the difference between a budget and a widget. He was more of what you might call a relationship builder.”

“That sounds pretty new age, touchy-feely,” I said.

“Oh, there was nothing about giving Billy the Freak five bucks and a pint that is new age,” said Tony. “Billy the Freak hung out by the package  store over on Armitage. I think he used it as his home address to register to vote.  Cousin Phil had a great relationship with Billy and in the old days building relationships got the votes.”

“Does Phil still work the precinct?”

“No. He gave that up when he left Streets and San.”

“That’s the thing about fewer patronage workers,” I said. “It was just about keeping their city job.”

“Don’t kid yourself, Klonsky. There’s plenty of patronage jobs. But they cut back and Phil didn’t make the cut. “Besides,”  said Tony. “Cousin Phil didn’t do it for the job. He loved it. It’s just that’s not the way they do things anymore. Now politics is polling and data and computers and consultants. Even in a race for alderman. Phil says politics has lost the human touch. And besides, Billy the Freak moved to Mesa, Arizona. Big Cubs’ fan and Billy hated Chicago winters.”

Tony at the Red Line Tap.

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“Happy birthday, Klonsky,” said Marty as I sat down at the bar.

“Thank you, m’am. I have a taste for a bottle of the Nankasi from Eugene Oregon.”

“Got some. I like it too.”

Tony kept his eyes on the TV. It was showing highlights from the Blackhawk’s marathon against the Bruins.

“Of course you didn’t watch,” said Tony.

“Of course I didn’t.”

“You’re a sad piece of shit, Klonsky. Spending your 65th birthday sitting next to me at the Red Line.”

“I can’t think of anywhere else I would want to be and nobody else I would rather be with,” I said. “I just got back from the doctor and he was totally happy with me. I’m down 20 pounds from a year ago. In fighting shape. In fact I woke up this morning and considered two choices. I could use my newly acquired CTA senior reduced fare card to go down to Chicago and Michigan to the doc’s office. Or I could ride my bike the 14 mile round trip. I chose the bike. That’s the way to turn 65.”

Tony couldn’t take his eyes off of the TV.

“Uh huh,” he mumbled.

“Y’know, today is my grandmother’s birthday too. Esther Wainer. She would be about 125 years old. Born in Russia under the Tsar. Esther and I always had that special bond, sharing birthdays and all. She was a feminist – a political radical – born in Russia in the 19th Century. I was born in the 20th with grandkids born in the 21st Century. It’s kind of amazing when you think about it.”

“What’s amazing is that this game almost took that long,” said Tony, never shifting his gaze from the TV screen.

“Did you know this is Flag Day, Tony?” I said. “I was born on Flag Day. How crazy is that? When I was a little kid in Philly I thought they were hanging out the flags for me. You know how little kids are. Betsy Ross’s house was a tourist attraction in downtown Philly. And Philadelphia in the 50s was a patriotic town. Patriotic in all the wrong ways, of course. I remember they had this parade on New Year’s Day. Mummers. It was all these white social groups in Black face. No women or Black people were allowed to participate. Totally a racist thing. But it was a big deal. A big party. Like the Rose Parade, except for white men only.”

“Mmmm,” said Tony.

“So I told my mom that I wanted to go. But she said no way. ‘They’re a bunch of white and male supremacists. Our family doesn’t behave that way,’ she would say. Funny. My mom always called people like that ‘white supremacists’ and ‘male supremacists.” Not ‘racists.’ That was the way she talked.”

Tony stared at the screen. “Watch! Watch! This is great. I love it when Shaw tells the TV guy what a great fucking goal it was. He says, “Fucking.” Right on network TV. Guy’s fucking unbelievable.”

“See. That’s why I wanted to spend my birthday with you Tony. Love you, man.”

“Shaw, man. Fucking unbelievable.”

Tony at the Red Line Tap.

TonyattheRedLine

It was a dark and stormy night.

It seemed like Chicago hadn’t had a day without rain for weeks.

“Good for the ducks,” my mom used to say.

“What’ll you have Freddy?” Marty asks.

“Hmmm. How about a cold bottle of Lindemans Gueuze Cuvée René” I said.

“I was guessing that’s what you would be asking for so I happen to have one right here.” She reached down into the cooler.

“Do you ever go home?” I said to Tony.

“Why? What’s at home? A TV? Got that here. Some beer? Got that here.”

“What about food. Y’now the solid kind.”

“That’s why Marty stocks the Doritos Ranch flavored chips on the clips over there,” said Tony.

I just shook my head.

“I heard they might be voting on your pension by Friday.”

I shook my head again. This time up and down.

“And I hear they claim they have no money, but the governor is going to spend $12 million on new highway construction.”

I nodded my head again.

“What? You’re not talking?”

“That’s billion. Not million. And that’s what they have done for half a century,” I said. “They take retiree pension money and they spend it on other shit. They won’t raise the taxes to pay for this stuff. Then they claim Illinois is broke. And cut our pension.”

“It’s like my cousin Billy No-nose always used to say,” said Tony.

“Billy No-nose?”

“Yeh. Billy No-nose. He was a consultant.”

“A consultant?” I say skeptically.

“Yeh. He used to be a detective for the CPD. Then he became a consultant.”

“Consulted for who?”

“A company that the state contracted for highway construction.”

I hesitated to ask. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.

“He arranged for the gravel and other filler that they used under the concrete road bed.”

“Other filler?” I said.

“Uh huh. So consider yourself lucky. The governor is building his highways using your pension money. He could have hired my cousin No-nose and built his highways using you. Mile after magnificent mile.”

Tony at the Red Line Tap.

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“Richie Imperial Porter, Marty.”

“Comin’ right up, Klonsky.”

“Damn. Look who decided to drop by,” said Tony as I saddled up to the bar.

“Why do we say saddled up when we sit at a bar?” I asked. “We don’t say that we saddled up to a table.”

“Why are roads closed, but bridges are out?” asked Tony.

“It’s not like my union president demanded to saddle up to the table for pension negotiations.”

“That’s okay,” said Tony. “I try and stay away from tables anyway.”

“I kind of noticed,” I said. “Bars are definitely your oeuvre .”

“That kind of reminds me something my cousin Francois always says.”

“C’mon Tony. You don’t have a cousin named Francois.”

“No. I do. He’s from Baton Rouge.”

“Baton Rouge?”

“Louisiana.”

“I know where Baton Rouge is.”

“Yep. Old cousin Francois. He goes by the name, Tex.”

“Christ, Tony. That is the oldest joke in the book – He goes by the name Tex because he doesn’t want to be called Louise.”

“No,” said Tony. “He goes by the name Tex because he wears a white Stetson hat and Tony Lama cowboy boots. And so everybody in Baton Rouge calls him Tex. And you can always find him saddling up to a bar.”

“And why not a table?”

“Haven’t you ever seen a western movie, man? Bad things always happen at a table. There’s always some bad guy with a gun drawn hidden under the table. A bad guy  like Dan Duryea. Did you ever see the movie Winchester ‘73? They’re playing poker and the next thing you know- boom – somebody is pulling the trigger. That can never happen at a bar.”

“So what does your cousin Francois – I mean Tex – always say?”

“Never eat at a place called Mom’s. Never play cards with a man named Doc. And never lie down with a woman who’s got more troubles than you.”

“I thought that was Nelson Algren.”

“Oh. Well did Nelson Algren say, ‘Never ask for a seat at the table’?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Well, that’s from my cousin Tex. And trust me. It’s good advice.”

Tony at the Red Line Tap.

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It was late when I stopped at the Red Line Tap.

At 4:30 I had been up near Old Orchard Mall for the IFT meeting on pensions at Niles North.

Then I drove down Dempster to Park Ridge. There was a board of education meeting and I wanted to show my support to my old friends who were getting screwed by their piggish board.

By 10PM I was ready for a beer.

“Marty. How about a bottle of Pipeworks 18th Street Brotherhood Belgian Style Patersbier?”

“I may be all out,” said Marty. “Let me check.”

She had a cold one left and set it on a green coaster on the bar.

Tony said, “Why do they do that?”

“Why do they do what?”

“Put the bottle on a coaster. This bar barely has a surface. The finish is long finished. What is Marty protecting?”

“I don’t know, Tony. Why do they call it a coaster?”

“Good point. Why are you here this late, Mr. Retiree? I usually catch you in the afternoon.”

“I was hitting a couple of meetings. One on pensions and one to support my old colleagues in Park Ridge.”

“You’re addicted to that shit.”

“I suppose I am. But I’ve got a pension to protect.”

“Ha. Maybe you need a pension coaster.”

“Hmmm. Funny. You’re a regular Seth McFarland.”

“No really. Here’s the thing. You should have been making better investments. Like my cousin Victorio.”

“You have a cousin Victorio? What great investments did he make?”

“Illinois off-shore oil drilling,” said Tony.

“Tony,” I said. “Illinois is almost land-locked. And there is no oil drilling in Lake Michigan.”

“See. That’s your problem. You have no vision. No entrepreneurial spirit. Of course there’s no off-shore drilling in Illinois. That’s why the state gives you tax credits.”

“The state of Illinois gives you tax credits for investing in off-shore oil drilling? No wonder Illinois is broke.”

“Illinois, me and you. But not cousin Victorio.”

Tony at the Red Line Tap.

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“I’m buying, Klonsky,” said Tony as I draped my coat over the stool next to his.

“Uh. Fine.” I said.

“Marty. Get Klonsky an Old Style. And put it on my tab.”

I winced. “An Old Style?”

Marty gave Tony one of her looks and then saying nothing, reached into the cooler for a can.

“I’ve got something I want to ask you, Klonsky,” said Tony.

“I’m all ears.”

“It has to do with my cousin John.”

“John? You have a cousin John? Every cousin you ever talk about has some unusual name and now you say you have a cousin John.”

“He’s Canadian,” said Tony.

“Oh,” I said.

“So anyways. John is a teacher like you. He is goin’ to a conference. And he’s traveling there with a woman he’s worked with for twenty years. They’re close friends. And their spouses know each other and they all hang out together.”

“Yeh. So what’s the question?”

“They tell the head of their department that rather than get two crappy rooms, they want to share a bigger, nicer room that would actually be cheaper than two rooms. Their spouses are fine with this, but the department chair says no way. What if the kids were to find out about it?”

“How would the kids know?”

“That what John wanted to know. But, here’s the thing. I think it is homophobic.”

I go, “What?”

“Sure. Homophobic. It assumes heterosexuality. What if two guy teachers were to go to the conference and one was Gay. Or both of them were?  They would share a room. Or it is okay for two women teachers to go to a conference and share a room. It’s assumed that there is no sex involved.”

“Well it’s dumb anyway. Because two people sharing a room doesn’t mean they are going to have sex. And getting two different rooms won’t  guarantee no sex.”

“That’s not my point, Klonsky.”

“No Tony. I suppose it’s not”

Tony at the Red Line Tap.

tonyattheredline

“Jeez, it’s cold,” I said to nobody in particular.

Marty looked over from the cash register.

“Know what, honey,” I said. “Give me some of your Paulaner Brauhaus Hefeweizen from Shanghai.”

“No problem,” said Marty. “If you say ‘please’ and don’t call me ‘honey.'”

“Yes m’am,” I said and winked.

“Don’t wink,” she said.

“Okay,” I mumbled.

Tony turned halfway from his stool. “Where you been hiding?”

“Let’s skip the small talk, Tony. I’m pissed. They’re getting rid of the rat.”

“Who’s they. And what rat?”

“Scabby. That big inflatable rat you see on picket lines? The labor big shots think it presents too intimidating an image and they want to get rid of it.”

“How ’bout that,” said Tony.

“And I just saw yesterday that union membership is the lowest it has been since the depression. Do they think maybe the union leaders’ go-along tactics have something to do with that?”

“My cousin Tony has a joke about that.”

“Tony? You have a cousin Tony?”

“Sure. You think I’m the only Tony in the world?”

“How does the family know which cousin Tony they’re talking about?”

“Easy. He’s the Tony that works for a living. Construction. One of those broken nose, don’t mess with me guys. Bleeds union blood. Kind of like you. If Tony’s on a picket line, you don’t want to be no scab, if you know what I’m saying.”

I say, “Well, the union suits want a more business friendly relationship with management and Scabby represents too confrontational an image. What would cousin Tony say to that?”

“Tony would ask, ‘What’s the difference between a boss and a bag of shit?'”

“Okay. What’s the difference between a boss and a bag of shit?”

“The bag.”