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TODAY

Saturday, July 21

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Detour

My paintball buddy Wingnut and I had originally planned on spending that Wednesday night earning $100 each as part of a focus group. He'd seen this ad looking for single or divorced fathers under 40 who drink flavored vodka three or more times a week and signed us up.

"Who cares if we don't fit the criteria," he said. "It's a hundred bucks! Just for drinkin' that crap!"

When they canceled the meeting at the last minute, Wingnut got really honked off, since he keeps his dance card full by meeting women at these things. That and by striking up conversations at the 24-hour Home Depot on North Avenue. Wingnut says it helps that he looks like a younger version of Dean Johnson (back when Dean didn't just pound studs but was one.)

Anyway, we're in Wingnut's Old Irving Park three-flat watching a "Law & Order" rerun and he starts going on about wanting to make a lesbian porno with actresses from the show. I've heard this before, of course, and am not in the mood for another of Mariska Hargitay vs. Angie Harmon discussion. I'm about to tell Wingnut I'd much rather do Christopher Meloni when he absentmindedly picks a copy of the Daily Barrage off the coffee table, opens it, and starts laughing.

Fig. 1. Tradition. This is the ad that started us on our journey.

He's looking at a tiny ad of a snazzy chef with thumb and forefinger in the universal A-OK gesture, urging us to attend "Atsa Lotsa Pasta!"

"I haven't been to one of these things in years!" he exclaims. "It's tonight -- wanna go?"

"Well," I tell him, "I promised Andrew that I'd review charity pasta feeds but haven't gotten started, so I'm sure he's really pissed and --"

But Wingnut's already heading for the door, grabbing the keys to the Jeep off the bass-shaped key rack that says Gone Fishin', and already I know this is going to be one of those nights.

When we arrive at Our Lady of Consternation, 5503 W. Baracus Ave., it's 7:45 p.m. and the parking lot is packed. We're directed to the bingo hall, where 100 diners watch some guy demonstrate his Motorized Spaghetti Fork.

Naturally, some broad totally lacking motor skills volunteers to try it out on a plate of angel hair, but the controls are set for spaghettoni and she sends half the pasta sailing into space.

"Enough of that," says some priest who's wiping a mop of wet pasta off his head, "let's eat!"

As the priest walks by us, Wingnut remarks, "It's always something, huh?"

"What the hell do you mean by that?" the priest says.

Later, I'd find out why the guy was so touchy, but for now, we go through the serving line and decide to stick with plain old spaghetti with meat sauce. The sauce is bland and the spaghetti tastes like it's from a can.

Wingnut starts chatting up some twenty-something chick who's clearly unhappy chaperoning her little brother's Webelo den. "This food sucks," she tells him. "Now for really good spaghetti, you can't beat B&D."

Wingnut's suddenly interested, but excitement sags when she explains she's referring to Saints Bruno and Demi Eastern Orthodox Church, 7900 N. Haney Ave. He perks up again when she says the three of us should "blow this pop stand" and head over there. Before I can suggest this isn't a good idea, they're off like a prom dress. I hop into the CJ as they swing past the door to pick me up.

"Our sauce is cooked in our members' homes over the course of a week," a woman at the door boasts. "The best thing is our secret ingredient that makes you fart."

I tell her I can't believe anybody would enjoy farting -- but without a missing a beat, she points to a table and says, "Oh, yeah? Well, go ask Bill Maher!"

Sure enough, the host of "Politically Incorrect" is stuffing his face with Demi's Veggie Dee-Lite Spaghettini. He's talking to some woman who's the restaurant critic from Crain's Chicago Business. True to form, she's complaining that the food's too salty.

Maher loses his train of thought -- he was talking about Le Petomane -- and the next thing you know, I see Wingnut dressed as a waiter and he's pouring Maher a glass of Marilyn Merlot. And that's when Wingnut casually asks, "So, what's Arianna Huffington like in bed?"

Fig. 2. It's a gas. In this reinactment, Wingnut pours the fateful full-bodied red.

Maher throws the wine at Wingnut, but misses and drenches Little Miss Too-Much-Sodium. Wingnut points to the exit -- and about a minute later he, the Wayward Den Mother and I are jammed into the Jeep speeding down Harlem Avenue.

"We still have five more spaghetti dinners to attend," I remind Wingnut.

Wingnut yanks off the clip-on bowtie and steers us around a corner onto Higgins. "Screw that," he says. He's getting some tender lovin' Den Motherin' now: she removes his button shirt, hands it to me and starts running covetous hands over Wingnut's wife-beater.

"But I need to review them for Gapers' Block," I protest.

"Just say they all suck," Wingnut replies.

"Even Saint Eustace?" I ask.

"Sucks."

"Fun4Kidz Montessori?"

"Sucks."

"Sheboppa Park Swim Team?"

"They all suck, OK?"

"OK."

Wingnut heads back to his place with Den Mommy (he later jokes about having earned the knotmaking Merit Badge) -- but first he drops me off at Home Depot. I tarry in power tools until 12:30 a.m., when this hot dude in a buzzcut asks me if I want to go back to his place and watch "Oz."

The next day, I have an amyl nitrite headache and a pocketful of someone else's laundry. As I throw the waiter shirt into the washer, a piece of paper falls out of the pocket. It's a clipping from an old Jefferson Park Barrage. It explains everything.

Fig. 3. A community's shame. Can they ever live it down?

 

About the Author(s)

Leigh Hanlon sees things a little differently at HanlonVision.

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