Sunday, February 08, 2009

Ecdysiasts and Chicago

You would not think that there could be another remembrance that could combine strippers with the city of Chicago in my repetoire. Ah, but then you would be wrong. This story, however, does not come from my childhood. It comes from my father's.

My father's side of the family, the Fausters, liked nothing better when getting together, to sit around and reminisce. It could have been at a Christmas gathering or perhaps at Thanksgiving. Those were the occasions for the big get togethers, usually at Aunt Marg's, if it wasn't at our house. My mother was never interested in just sitting around and talking. Probably because she was doing the majority of the work in the kitchen and getting crabby about being left there. I'm not sure when I first heard this story, but it was repeated several times over the years, so of course, I accepted it as gospel.

In 1933, Chicago had a World's Fair. My father was 9 years old. His Grandfather Fauster, or "Gramps," decided to drive to Chicago and take it in and also to take his grandson, "Johnny Bill," with him. So they arrived and wandered all over and ate good things and viewed the sights, when Gramps decided that he wanted to see Sally Rand, the fan dancer. She apparently was quite the sensation at the time. So he paid the admission for he and Johnny Bill and they wandered into the auditorium and sat down. Eventually the lights dimmed and Sally Rand appeared with her trademark gigantic boa feather fans, doing whatever she did with them.

Johnny Bill, according to the story, got more and more outraged as he watched the performance. And he started insisting to his grandfather that there was something very wrong going on on the stage. Gramps tried to shush him which only succeeded in making Johnny Bill more agitated. Finally Johnny Bill stood on his chair and shouted down to his grandfather, "But Gramps! She hasn't got any clothes on!!!" At that, thoroughly chastened, Gramps picked up Johnny Bill and removed them both from the venue.

I imagine the ride back to Defiance was pretty quiet most of the way.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

A Chicago Reminiscence

Okay, I blame all the folks over at Nancy Nall's blawg. They get to talking about places and things that I visited when I was last a resident of Ohio (1955-69) and the memories start coming back. Hooray for them!

This came back to me as a result of a discussion of notable Chicago restaurants and hotels.

For several years, when my four siblings and I were kids growing up in Defiance, OH, our parents would take us on the train to Chicago right after Thanksgiving. We would stay at the Pearson Hotel, which is no more–the fancy downtown shopping center Water Tower Place rests on its bones. I had my first English muffin ever when we had breakfast at the Pearson, which was served by a waiter who remembered all of our orders without writing them down.

After breakfast we would motor over to Marshall Fields, where we would Christmas shop with all of the money we had saved up, and gawk at the decorated windows with the moving tableaux, and eventually purchase plenty of Frango mints to take home (who knew that they actually originated from the Seattle Department store Frederick & Nelson? we didn’t that’s for sure).
Each time we’d go, my folks would take us out for one very nice dinner at a very nice restaurant. I can remember two of them.

One was at the Kungsholm, a Scandanavian restaurant where I had my first pickled herring at the grand buffet that they served in the evening. Mother remembers that we amazed the wait staff when the five of us kids ate all the watermelon they had reserved for the evening buffet that night. After dinner, we went downstairs where they had a puppet show on a small stage and gave performances composed of the music from Broadway shows. We saw “Damn Yankees” that way. There was an older gentleman sitting in front of me with a toupee that fit very badly–it was much too small in the back. But I bet he really liked being able to be a red head late in his life.

The other dinnner was more spectacular. It was held at the Conrad Hilton (although my mother maintains it was at The Palmer House) and we took a taxi from the Pearson to get there, which was a real event since there were 5 kids and two parents squeezed in to one taxi. I recall the taxi we took had two seats that popped up from the floor to make sure there was enough seating for seven people. We arrived without incident, were seated in the level above the main restaurant floor, and ordered dinner. My younger brother John had some sort of tantrum during dinner and refused to order anything or just ordered an appetizer, can’t remember exactly what happened. That was a rare occasion when one of us would cross the parents. And things were rather tense after that.

However, the raison d’etre for going to the Conrad Hilton was revealed after all but the coffee cups and dessert plates were removed. The stage in front of the two tier restaurant drew back and there in all its crystal glory was an ice rink. With ice skaters skating to music. Just like Holiday on Ice only smaller. What a nice evening’s entertainment to take the kids to!

Until the last act. The orchestra cleared its collective throat and roared into a rousing rendition of “The Stripper” as a woman covered entirely in balloons skated out and the other skaters took to skating around her while popping those balloons with pins. I’m sure in retrospect, she must’ve had a body suit on, else the frostbite would’ve been compensable, but it was truly a moment of horror for my parents. 5 children under the age of 16. My brother John put his head down on the table, and brother Mark crawled under the table where he stayed until it was over and the lights came back up. I can’t remember what Barbie and Peggy did.

But it was an evening that I will never forget. Though I have no idea if the food was any good or not.

Friday, February 06, 2009


I have one more story about dogs, love, and death but I posted this remembrance at Nancy Nall's site and thought it was worth republishing here.

In 1995 I was working for the Washington Attorney General's office. That year, the head of the Antitrust section of the Washington AGO spent a year in Belarus, teaching lawyers and other government officials about the laws of competition in the US and Europe. When his year was over, heconvinced the attorney general and the governor's office to pay for a delegation of Belarussian officials to come over to the US for a several week visit (with their KGB handlers too) to learn more about capitalism up front. When the delegation arrived at the SeaTac airport, they set off all the dogs in security, because along with the copious amounts of vodka in their suitcases, they had packed large quantities of pig fat which they believed, if they ate before drinking their vodka, enabled them to drink that much more vodka.

Well two other couples and my ex and I hosted the group for dinner one night and they brought their vodka, lots of their vodka with them. One of the first things they did however, was to open the refrigerator and the stove in the kitchen to make sure that they were real (they’d been told that American’s houses were stuffed with fake appliances for appearances sake). Then they got down to eating our grilled salmon and drinking their vodka neat, which they did with furious and dedicated abandon, toasting all of us numerous times, and eventually singing many long Russian songs in minor keys quite loudly. We’d been warned about the hazards of drinking with the Russians, so all of us took very tiny sips and nursed our shot glasses for most of the evening. All except the ex.

The ex was two sheets to the wind as a result of his attempts to keep up with the Russians, and although extremely jovial and outgoing for 3/4 of the evening, he eventually became very vocally and extensively sick thereafter (I have blackmail pictures somewhere). We poured him into the family car, and I drove him home where he slept it off.

But our Russian guests left 3/4 of a bottle of vodka with us as a parting gift for the evening. I put it in my freezer and it lasted for almost two years. It was extremely good. I still have the bottle and the top name on it in cyrillic is ‘rapevka’ only the e is backwards and the v is upside down. and there are two dates to either side of that: 1893 on the left and 1993 on the right. The number 100 is prominently displayed in silver under the other name on the vodka bottle which looks like ‘kpbiwtavb’ again with the v upside down.

PS. The other good story to come out of the Belarussians visit (at least the one that is printable generally) was when they were taken on a tour of Costco. The first question from a group member to the Costco representative was, “But what do you do when you run out of all this stuff?” I wonder if that has changed for them now.