Category Archives: Ever-So-Secret-Order-Of-The-Lamprey

Hot Air

The Smart Set

So, Albert Einstein was a smart guy, no?

That’s a tongue-in-cheek line, natch. From the 1920s through 1950s and even into the ’60s a bit, people used to call smart guys Einsteins. Conversely, when someone did something mind-bogglingly stupid, people might say, “Nice goin’, Einstein.”

I’m thinking about AE because yesterday a college-aged woman and her parents came into the Book Corner, browsed for a while, and then the young woman came up to the counter to buy the Penguin Classics edition of Einstein’s Relativity: The Special and the General Theory.

Book Corner

Neat, I thought. I told the young woman I’d read once that you really need to have studied about fifteen years of advanced math in order to fully comprehend Relativity. She smiled, shrugged, and said, “Well, I’m going to give it my best shot.”

“That’s precisely what I did,” I told her.

And then I wondered why it’s so odd that a young woman would be buying a copy of Einstein’s magnum opus. The answer is simple: We live in a weird world where the genitalia you possess dictate how smart you should allow yourself to be.

Then again, we seem to be sliding into an age wherein even people with penises thumb their noses at brains. At least in this holy land.

For instance, we have no commonly-used nickname for smart folks. When’s the last time you heard somebody call another a Hawking or a de Grasse Tyson?

Streaker

Nice Goin’, Hawking!

Matter of fact, I think I’m gonna start that trend.

Anyway, here’s as neat a quote as I can imagine, spoken by Einstein to the noted theological scholar Thomas Merton [pointed out by a former member of the Ever-So Secret Order of the Lamprey, Michael Bulka]:

My passionate sense of social justice and social responsibility has always contrasted oddly with my pronounced lack of need for direct contact with other human beings and human communities. I am truly a “lone traveller” and have never belonged to my country, my house, my friends, or even my immediate family with my whole heart; in the face of these ties I have never lost a sense of distance and need for solitude — feelings which increase with the years. One becomes sharply aware, but without regret, of the limits of mutual understanding and consonance with other people. No doubt such a person loses some of his innocence and unconcern; on the other hand he is largely independent of the opinions, habits, and judgements of his fellows and avoids the temptations to build his inner equilibrium on such insecure foundations.

I hope I’m not being presumptuous when I say I want that to describe me in some small way.

Einstein/Merton

Einstein & Merton

As a coda to the story of the young woman, I told her I was happy she was reading Einstein. I learned she’s not studying physics or any other hard science; she just wants to learn about Relativity. For the hell of it.

I said: Wow!

Her mother, taking note of my amazement, piped up: “Hey, that’s why we sent her to college; so she can read books like that!”

That’s rare. And it’s too bad that’s rare.

Lotus Fest Sked

That’s it, kiddies. Lotus Fest 2014 wraps up today with one final performance.

Sunday, September 21st

● 3pm: World Spirit Concert: Arga Bileg & Derek Gripper Buskirk Chumley Theater, 114 E. Kirkwood Ave.

Gripper

Derek Gripper

Your Daily Hot Air

Lying Liars And The Lazy Louts Who Love Their Lies

How many four-flushing, lick-spittling, two-faced, hypocritical bullshit artists live in this holy land?

Oh, at least 19.

That’s how many US Senators and members of the House of Representatives groveled and sniffled for shares of Affordable Health Care Act dough from the federal government in letters recently dug up by The Nation mag. The beauty is, each of these 19 has publicly condemned the Act (which they dismissively call Obamacare) and each of the Congressbeings has voted to kill the Act numerous times.

Here’s a separate Nation piece about Tea Party fluffer and failed veep candidate Paul Ryan begging for AHC Act bucks (paywall alert). You recall, of course, Ryan doing handstands to convince us all he loathes the very sound of the words affordable, health, and care (when, in reality, he really loathes the sound of the words President Barack Obama.)

Obamacare Opposition

The truth is, it’s not that I’m stunned about pols lying. It’s that so many goofballs in this country eat their lies up. So these fabulists wring their hands and turn all teary-eyed over death panels and creeping communism while their fans nod like bobble-head dolls before flipping to Beverly Hills Nannies.

Damn, can’t we criminalize stupidity around here?

The Bare Facts

The 10th Annual World Naked Bike Ride took place last night in cities around the globe. Hundreds of pedalers in various stages of dishabile covered a 14-mile route in Chicago.

Radical street lawyer (and one of my old Ever-So-Secret Order of the Lampreys pals), Jerry Boyle, is a driving force behind the Chi-ride.

He posted this on Facebook Friday:

WNBR

I mean honestly, what other possible reaction can there be to a parade of half- and fully-nude bicyclists cruising by?

WNBR participants wiggle their naked butts on bike saddles for the express purpose of demonstrating that there are ways of getting around town other than cranking up the gas guzzler. Chicago’s WNBR website trumpets the motto: “Less gas more ass! Burn fat not oil! Nude not crude!”

Speaking of alternative transportation, one of the cool things about living here in B-town is the fab bus service. The Loved One and I are lucky to live just a few steps away from the farthest outpost of the No. 6 Campus Shuttle bus route. Well, I’m lucky; T-Lo has never stepped foot on a Bloomington Transit vehicle.

From Flicker

Riding The No. 6 Bus

Anyway, there’s really little reason to drive to the IU campus or downtown in this burgh. And I don’t even have to get naked to convey that to you. You’re welcome.

Take The A-Train

Speaking of public trans….

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“I’ve never really had a hobby, unless you count art, which the IRS once told me I had to declare as a hobby since I hadn’t made any money with it.” — Laurie Anderson

ARTISTS AND GALLERIES OPEN HOUSE

First things first — you have to go to the GO! page today. Click the logo now.

Bloomington is humming with events and activities on this first day of June. Leading the way is this weekend’s Summer Arts Blast. Tonight, galleries around downtown will throw their doors open for the Arts Walk. Painting, photography, poetry, film, music — you name it. Just go to GO! for all the info you’ll need.

Tomorrow and Sunday we’ll have the Open Studios Tour wherein artists around town let people into their homes and studios to see how their art is made.

Which reminds me of the annual Pilsen East Artists Open House that would take place in September in my old Chicago neighborhood. East Pilsen was a designated arts community, chock-full of artists, musicians, playwrights, authors, sculptors and others who were habitually late with their rents.

Pilsen East Artists Collective, The Lampreys

The arts walk happened over a weekend and usually began at noon and ran through 8:oo or so.

One of the artists loved telling this particular story.

Many of the people who would pass through the studios and homes of the artists were young professionals with brand new families who were more concerned with checking out the neighborhood to determine if they should buy in rather than with the art on display.

Now, this type of creature was roundly loathed by the artists for several reasons. One, they were really nothing more than transplanted suburban yuppies (bet you haven’t heard that word in a million years) who would only live in the city until their children were old enough to go to school, at which time they’d flee back to places like LaGrange or Highland Park.

Ooh, We Love The (White, Safe Part Of The) City!

Second, their presence in an arts neighborhood signaled, essentially, the end of said arts neighborhood. See, in Chicago, arts neighborhoods serve as transition states between neighborhoods filled with brown people and those filled with detestable white pseudo-hipsters.

By the time the neighborhood would be washed clean of its brownness, the artists would be priced out.

Anyway, one Saturday morning the artist in question was chatting with some art walkers who’d stopped in and were sincerely curious about his work. A husband and wife came in pushing a luxury stroller that had about as many extras as a Mercedes automobile and, for all the artist knew, probably cost as much as well.

Nothing’s Too Good For Our Little Man

Since the stroller was nearly as wide as a Mercedes to boot, the husband was dashing about in the artist’s home, moving things to make a path for the stroller’s precious princely contents. The artist watched this in amazement.

Suddenly, the young messiah in the stroller announced he was thirsty and only juice would do. So, like that, the daddy-o marched over to the artist’s refrigerator and, without asking, began rummaging around for the juice his heir demanded.

Now, the refrigerator contained only the usual artists’ provisions: a half carton of out-of-date eggs, an almost-empty salsa jar, and store-brand mayonnaise. So the artist didn’t make a move to stop the man from rifling through his private space. He wanted, instead, to watch him.

Maybe Some Vintage Philadelphia Cream Cheese, Too

Eventually, the daddy-o concluded that his golden boy, who by this time was shouting for his juice,  would go ungratified, at least in this particular spot.

So the father closed the refrigerator door and turned to the artist. “Don’t you have any juice here?’ he demanded.

“No,” came the reply

“No?” Pops asked, incredulous.

“No.”

The couple and their squalling kid left the premises forthwith.

The artist and his other guests merely laughed.

So, here’s a tip. Stay out of the artists’ refrigerators this weekend.

Otherwise, enjoy the open houses.

THE CREAM OF THE VINTAGE FASHION SHOPS

While you’re traipsing around downtown digging the art, make sure to stop in at Brynda Forgas’s Hidden Closet in its new location directly behind the Book Corner.

The Hidden Closet

Brynda’s throwing a big opening party for the place staring at 5:00pm. The entrance is on the Kirkwood side. Trust me, it’ll be worth your while; she’ll will be serving cream puffs.

WELL, IF YOU REALLY MUST BE A WRITER….

As if there isn’t enough to do this weekend, get ready for the IU Writers Conference starting Sunday.

Featured scribblers include Lynda Barry (arguably one of the coolest people ever to draw a breath), Dan Chaon, Jean Thompson, Erin Belieu, Lou Berney, Jenny Browne, and James Canary (apparently, he has no website).

Lynda Barry’s Self-Portrait

The shebang runs through Friday, the 8th. One highlight will be a featured reading Monday night by Dr. Susan Gubar, whose book “Memoir of  Bebulked Woman” recounts her struggle with blade-happy surgeons who carved her up in an effort to rid her body of ovarian cancer.

Each day from Monday through Friday is packed with classes for writers and those aspiring to the maddening vocation.

As of this AM, all classes and workshops were still open for registration so get on it, baby.

Here’s a tip from a writer who’s been clacking the keyboards professionally since 1983: unless you’ve got an insatiable jones akin to heroin addiction to put your thoughts, imaginings, and/or fever dreams on paper (or LCD screen) get out while the getting’s good.

Writers, by and large, are whacked-out, half-drunk, personally unendurable, and usually broke. And those are the successful ones.

If, on the other hand, you can’t stop yourself from stringing words together, then by all means sign up for some IUWC sessions.

PAPERBACK WRITER

Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?

It took me years to write, will you take a look?

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“Most artists work all the time. They do, actually, especially good artists. They work all the time. What else is there to do?” — David Hockney

FROM THE CHELSEA TO EAST PILSEN

Reading about the time Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe lived in New York City’s Chelsea Hotel got me thinking about a few years that I spent living and working in a similar milieu.

The Chelsea was the storied Manhattan locus of artists, writers, actors, musicians, and many other ne’er-do-wells. Arthur C. Clarke lived and wrote there — he penned “2001: A Space Odyssey” in his cramped room. Dylan Thomas wrote and died there. Mark Twain spent time there. So did O. Henry, Leonard Cohen, Arthur Miller, Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams, Allen Ginsberg, Brendan Behan, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Thomas Wolfe.

The Chelsea’s visual artists included Christo, Julian Schnabel, Frida Kahlo, R. Crumb, Jasper Johns, Claes Oldenburg, Willem De Kooning, and Henri Cartier-Bresson.

More musicians than can reasonably listed here called the Chelsea home as well. People from Edith Piaf to Iggy Pop received their mail at the Chelsea.

The Chicago art scene at the turn of this century was centered around the East Pilsen neighborhood just southwest of the Loop. In 1998, I moved into a first floor apartment on 17th Place and, later, lived at Carpenter Avenue and 18th Street. I spent my days clacking my keyboard at the Hardware Cafe coffeehouse on Halsted, one of the neighborhood’s social centers.

The Chelsea mixed creative types with drag queens, hookers, and poet-wannabes. East Pilsen melded working artists with gang-bangers and people who claimed to be artists mainly because they couldn’t keep a day job.

One night I watched two neighborhood toughs stroll out of Pauly’s Tavern at 18th and Union, conversing and laughing, looking for all the world like the best of friends until one guy cold-cocked the other, dropping his pal to the ground like a sack of sugar. The puncher picked up the punchee, brushed him off, and the two resumed conversing and laughing as if nothing had happened.

The writers, actors, painters, sculptors, and other societal misfits of East Pilsen learned to steer clear of the thugs and hellions. But we found each other. We were not as celebrated as the Chelsea artists, but we worked as hard. Then again, none of us labored as diligently as our New York counterparts at becoming celebrated, so there is that.

Below, I present a reprint of a story I wrote for the Chicago Reader 12 years ago.

ON EXHIBIT: A SECRET SOCIETY SHOWS ITSELF

A year ago this month I was abducted by a tough-looking character with a filterless Camel dangling from his lips. He placed a callused hand on my shoulder and said, “Come with me.” I hesitated. “Don’t worry,” he said. “You won’t get hurt.”

He brought me to a nondescript storefront in East Pilsen, where I was forced to listen to a CD of some Deep South banjo picking. A group of people got up from a table full of steaming food, danced around me, and placed leis and chains around my neck. A cape was draped over my shoulders and a titanic sombrero balanced on my head. A fellow who looked to be the leader of this mob handed me a two-foot-long pipe brush. “This is your scepter,” he said.

“Welcome to the weekly meeting of the Ever-So-Secret Order of the Lampreys,” this fellow — we’ll call him K — said. “You’ve been selected as our adjudicator. It is your duty to judge the art that’s been made over the last week by our members. Tonight you are all-powerful. You are a deity. Wield your power wisely.” He motioned for me to sit in a chair.

For the next two hours I watched and judged as some two dozen sculptures, drawings, paintings, poems, and musical pieces were paraded before me. All the artwork, I learned, was inspired by a single word: “bodacious.” The Lampreys fittingly are a bodacious bunch.

“A couple of years ago I was sitting around thinking, ‘All I ever do is make stuff for clients,'” says K, a tall guy with a Dixie accent and hair that changes colors as often as the wind changes directions. “I do architectural ironwork and ceramic and marble work. I enjoy making objects; it’s a good way to make money. But I like to make sculpture. I like to make useless objects. So I brainstormed with my buddy S, my roommate at the time.”

K and S had met when S crashed one of K’s parties. K throws parties at the drop of a hat. He’ll even celebrate the night before a party. His semiannual pig roasts are known far and wide, attracting hundreds of artists, musicians, old hippies, bikers, manic-depressives, bookies, and schoolteachers. K took an immediate shine to S, a sculptor from Australia, and hired him to work in his metal shop. A couple of weeks later, S and his girlfriend, L, moved into K’s spare bedroom.

“We were drawn together,” K says. “He had a similar problem.” S spent every waking hour making art for his portfolio. His only concern was the business of making art. K and S brooded over glasses of whiskey one night. They mooned over their idealistic days as aspiring artists. “It was a blast back then,” K says. “Then we started taking ourselves too seriously.

“So we decided to make an object once a week that’s not related to our portfolio, our clients, to anything. It would be absolutely non-marketable. L told us about this big Sunday brunch at her family’s house in Australia. Everyone had a standing invitation and would get fed well.”

K found it impossible to pass up yet another excuse for a party. He and S planned to make new pieces for a brunch the following Sunday. “That first week, there were the two of us,” K recalls. “L thought it was kind of cool, so the next time there were three of us. Someone heard about it, and the next week we had four.” Within months the revolving cast of artists and hangers-on numbered in the dozens. Soon the brunch became a ritual that had to be codified.

“We decided we would no longer own our pieces,” K says. “They would become property of the group. We also figured if we were going to present our pieces formally there should be some kind of ceremony with someone chosen to preside over the presentation.” Thus began the tradition of kidnapping some unsuspecting sap to be the adjudicator.

“The adjudicators are dressed awfully silly,” K acknowledges. “You cannot have a secret society that doesn’t have a set of absurd rules. With this comes a great deal of pomp and circumstance. We take it to the extreme by allowing the adjudicators to believe they are all-powerful. There was one adjudicator who demanded that we all get naked. We thought about it but then realized there were some members who didn’t want to. So there was a coup. We shouted, ‘The King is dead; long live the King!'”

The adjudicator bestows an array of fanciful awards. A scrap of polished wood is known as the False Gem of Hope. A well-worn wig is the Matted Hair of Revulsion. The Sardines of Delusion is a can of (what else?) sardines, while the Banana of Ill Repute is a two-year-old black, shriveled banana.

“This whole idea caught on,” K says. “Everyone we invited to the meeting started participating. We come from a lot of different backgrounds. We have trolley drivers and carpenters. There are some people who’ve never made art before. One guy, a computer programmer, joined us for the word ‘spicy’ and sewed 400 chili peppers to a pair of boxer shorts and wore them and nothing else, dancing into the room.” With so many making art, it became obvious a weekly theme was in order. So at the end of his or her term, the adjudicator has the task of choosing the next week’s word. “Our first word was ‘structure,'” K says. “Then we had ‘symmetry.’ We had ‘beef.’ Then there was ‘lagniappe,’ a little something extra. Then there was a made-up word from sci-fi, ‘grok.'”

Early on someone suggested the group needed a name. A lightbulb went off over K’s head. “Society has always viewed artists as lampreys, sucking on its soft, fleshy underbelly,” he says. “We decided to claim the name. We suck.”

These being artists, a late-morning starting time for the brunches was as welcome as a 3 AM alarm clock blast. The Lampreys began to gather later and later in the day. Now dinner is served at around 8:30 or 9 PM.

In November 1998 the Lampreys erected an altar to the memory of scientist Nikola Tesla for a Day of the Dead exhibit. “Tesla was a nut,” K says. “He was a Lamprey.” Someone described it to Chuck Thurow, director of the Hyde Park Art Center. Thurow dropped in on a Lamprey meeting and decided, almost on the spot, to offer the gallery to them for an exclusive show.

“3½ Months of Sundays” will open this Sunday, March 5. The group will erect altars to such overlooked geniuses as Sen No Rikyu, who several centuries ago elevated the simple Japanese afternoon tea to a formal ritual, and Philo Farnsworth, who invented the TV picture tube but had to sue RCA to earn royalties. The altars will surround a centerpiece containing 2,000 Lamprey pieces, displayed together for the first time.

“One of the problems with showing Lamprey work is it’s not very commodified,” K says. “It’s not something we can sell. We can’t be shown in a typical gallery because there’s no money to be made off us. It’s more about the process and the meeting each week. The object becomes de-emphasized and less precious. The collection becomes fascinating.”

I was fascinated that Sunday night a year ago. After I’d reviewed all the art and passed out the awards, K told me I had one final duty: choose the next week’s word. I pondered for ten minutes and then wrote on a big chalkboard the word “mortar.”

Immediately K stripped off my royal raiment. “Now you’re nothing,” K shouted gleefully. The tough-looking character with the filterless Camel dangling from his lips smirked. “You’re just like one of us,” he said. I couldn’t wait to come back the next Sunday.

The opening party for “3½ Months of Sundays” will be held from 4 to 6 PM this Sunday at the Hyde Park Art Center, 5307 S. Hyde Park Blvd. A closing party will be held from 5 to 9 PM on Saturday, April 15. Call 773-324-5520 for more information.

— M

(Originally published in the Chicago Reader, March 2, 2000)

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