Nice Knowing You, Old Friend

She is one of the absolutely coolest, smartest, quickest, funniest, most creative human beings I’ve ever known. Or was. Amy Krouse Rosenthal is dying. For all we know, she may be dead now. Or in another minute. Or maybe tomorrow.

Cancer. Ovarian variety.

I met her at the greatest coffeehouse of all time, Urbis Orbis, in Chicago’s then-hottest, hippest ‘hood, Wicker Park, back in the early ’90s. Of all the successful folk who emerged from the Urbis scene — authors, rockers, painters, poets, hustlers, sharpies, dreamers — Amy is the one who most made this crazy, baffling, frustrating ordeal we call life bearable.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal

And leave it to Amy to create, as a valediction, a call out for someone to be the next wife of her beloved husband of more than a quarter century, Jason, once she turns in her ID card. Yeah, she wrote a piece that ran in the New York Times Friday entitled “You May Want to Marry My Husband” (link below). The piece has gone viral, inspiring videos and news stories about it around the world.

She could find the humor in anything. Even her own death. I can only wish I’d be so imaginative, so, well…, funny. Here, you wanna get to know her? Read my Chicago Reader profile of her from December, 2000.

Or, if you haven’t the time or inclination to take in the whole goddamned thing, here’s a quick take:

Amy Krouse Rosenthal — book author, columnist, Yippie-yuppie prankster, and mother of three — was sitting at a table in a Wrigleyville coffeehouse when she heard from a fellow patron that Simone de Beauvoir had had her first orgasm ever in Wicker Park, one night she stayed with Nelson Algren. “They should have a bronze sign there!” Rosenthal nearly hollered. “That would be awesome. That would be the most brilliant example of insight and creativity, and they could have one of those brown highway directional signs like they have for the Children’s Museum or Navy Pier.” 

Recalling the moment, Rosenthal peers over her tortoiseshell reading glasses and sighs. “These are the ideas I get really jazzed about,” she says. Her days seem to brim with ideas too good to be true….

Longtime Chicagoans remember her famous sign, posted and taped up in taverns, coffeehouses, and other fashionable and trendy joints all around town that read, “Employees must hold hands before returning to work.” She was notorious for posting flyers and signs all around town, asking for the public’s help in finding her lost id or her dignity. She created a jacket made out of — yep — book jackets from her many titles. She gave a TED talk once outlining her Plan to Save the World.

Her project, “The Beckoning of Lovely,” was pure Amy. She put out the call for people to “make something pretty.” That’s all. The event drew an enormous crowd to Chicago’s Millennium Park. Watch the vid — I did (and I cried.)

One of my favorite stories from her: By the time she and Jason had two kids, their sex life was essentially restricted to the bathroom where they’d pile up blankets and pillows, lock the door, and enjoy their physical refreshments undisturbed. One day, they forgot to lock the door. In walked one of the kids. “Mama! Daddy! What are you doing?”

This line of inquiry was followed by the obligatory ers and ums and misdirections — “Look, honey, isn’t that a silverfish?”

Not long afterward, the kid was overheard explaining what love and sex are to another little pal. “It’s when your Mom and Dad go into the bathroom and fall down on the floor. Sometimes they put blankets down so it won’t hurt.”

Whatever made her who she was must have been in her DNA. One night at a garden party at her home, her little three-year-old daughter Paris asked me, “What if everybody’s name was Hot Dog?” Oh, the kid was her mother’s daughter. Amy might have asked the same question and then she’d follow it up with a book or a project based on that absurd premise and — you know what? — the whole thing would make perfect sense in the end!

She’s an agitator, a renegade, a subversive, but a nice one, like Erma Bombeck with tattoos and the F-bomb just waiting to escape from her lips before she breaks into her trademark grin. She’s the literary godmother of Jenny Lawson and Samantha Irby and the guys who do The Oatmeal and xkcd. That’s who she is. Or was. Peace and farewell, funny girl. I hope Jason is happy with his new wife, whoever the hell she may be. And remember to put blankets down so it won’t hurt.

Here’s a linkroll of things you should check out:

One thought on “Nice Knowing You, Old Friend

  1. janis starcs says:

    I just read the valedictory you mentioned, and I can see how you related to it, even without taking into account your acquaintance. That must have been quite a marriage. This on generated thousands of comments on the Times’ web page.


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