Category Everything is Terrible

Chicago: Designer toys, metal burgers, and buckets of blood

Situated at the corner of W Belmont and N Francisco in Chicago, the original Kuma’s Corner has been dishing up gourmet burgers with heavy metal flair for fourteen years, and I swear I’ve been hearing about it from my local friends for just about that long. At least one of those friends even made a special trip for their Bleeping Blagojevich burger in “honor” of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who was removed from office and is currently serving fourteen years in prison for corruption for what basically amounts to trying to auction off former President Barack Obama’s open Senate seat to the highest bidder–that burger was topped with a thick slice of salty balogna, had grilled cheese sandwiches as the bun, and was served with a dollar symbol emblazoned in mustard on top. Just like the cost of that Senate seat, the price of the Bleeping Blagojevich was negotiable, but not available for free.

Kuma’s Corner stopped serving that particular burger a while back, because you can’t rest on your laurels and also because no one remembers a political scandal longer than a week anymore. Our group had tried to get in a couple of evenings previous at their West Loop location (also on a corner) but it was so full that we ended up at another nearby restaurant whose name I have forgotten which is for the best because I couldn’t say anything nice about it even by accident, how do you cut up a sausage for a slider and not notice that it isn’t cooked through?  …ahem.

We found it much easier to pop into the original Kuma’s for lunch on a Monday, metal blasting from the speakers, movies playing on their screens instead of sports. Their walls are painted crimson, their ceilings and fixtures black. On the wall behind the bar, a disheveled bear reaches with arms outstretched to wrap them around the beholder, its mouth and chest covered in blood as it proclaims its desire for MEAT. Adjacent is the chalkboard that informs patrons which charity they’re helping if they order the monthly draft special. 

Kuma’s also stocks Jeppson’s Malört, Chicago’s most infamous liquor. Originally advertised as a “challenge to the braggart who claims he can drink anything”, Malort is flavored with wormwood (not gasoline, as is rumored). It doesn’t appear that any bar or restaurant outside of Illinois serves Malort, so I decided to seize the opportunity, ordering a shot along with the recommended beer to wash it down. Malort tastes like bitter dirt that is on fire somehow, and that fire infuses your tissues from your tongue all the way down. Malort’s flavor is so aggressive that its own creator concedes that “The first shot is hard to swallow!” but ominously adds “Make it past two ‘shock-glasses’ and with the third you could be ours…forever” which sounds like exactly the kind of devil’s bargain that goes down in a metal burger bar on a Monday afternoon.

I kept up my goat streak and ordered the Goatsnake: a thick, medium rare patty of their proprietary ground beef blend, topped with a hockey puck of herbed goat cheese, poblano sweet corn relish, a Cholula lemon vinaigrette, and buttermilk breaded deep fried red onions on a pretzel bun. The resulting burger is THICK, hard to pick up, hard to eat, but harder to put down because it was so delicious. It’s the kind of burger that you need to smash down a little and then hold on for dear life. I loved the flavors at play here–it brings a lot of tang to the table between the goat cheese, the lemon vinaigrette, and the buttermilk breading which pairs so beautifully with the richness of the beef. I love a mountain of fried onion so this was going to be a delight to me regardless, but that hearty pile was exactly the right amount of crunch to balance all that soft cheese. 

Hell Kitty Kitty

The same beer from above plus a shot of Malort.

The beer from above minus the Malort plus the Goatsnake and its fried onion mountain.

After lunch, we walked to nearby Bucket O’Blood Books & Records, a resale shop with a curated collection: sci fi, fantasy, horror, speculative fiction, metal, punk…you get the drift. I have some thoughts on why “romance novels” were specifically called out as an entire genre that they do not accept even though, for example, books like Kushiel’s Dart have fantasy and blood to spare, but instead of getting into it, I’ll just say that I think it boils down to a pervasive problem that rhymes with “schizogeny“, even if it’s unconscious schizogeny.  We browsed for a while; I didn’t end up leaving with anything* as I was saving my limited carry on room potential for our next stop, Rotofugi. 

Rotofugi is the other kind of adult toy store, the kind with limited edition art toys and a gallery of original work by current and emerging artists and two full aisles of blind box toys. If you’re not familiar with the concept, blind box toys are an assortment of toys sold in identical boxes but you don’t know what you’re getting until after you open it. It’s like gambling except instead of winning money, you end up with a bunch of the same toy you didn’t want, because the odds of getting the really rare toy you do want are approximately the same as you being crushed by the toy factory falling from the sky. Trading cards but non-biodegradable. They can be fun if the concept is unique or you’re not overly invested in what you get–I bought a Stink Box featuring art by Jason Limon and any plastic kitty pooping in that box would be just as funny as any other. I also bought a blind box of tiny glow-in-the-dark realistic looking magnetic mushrooms that now cling to the side of my fridge. But generally I feel that blind boxes are just ways for manufacturers to hide what they’re selling to you so they can (1) get you to spend more money and (2) sell out the edition so retailers don’t end up with a stock of less-popular figures/poses that they can’t move. The art toy world does lay claim to starting the blind box trend but I honestly can’t help but think of the utter wave of trash this trend has created and will continue to create when people get tired of having fifty dusty reminders of a TV show they used to watch. Or of a plastic kitty infinitely squatting in a cardboard litter box.

I really enjoyed browsing their art gallery, and I seriously debated buying a Jason Limon original, Cinq. It’s a 2013 piece and especially interesting to me as I didn’t know sculpture was in his body of work and yet his style translates to it clearly. I didn’t bring it home but I still think about it sometimes and I feel like it belongs in a room next to a plant in a macrame hanger.

Sea Horse Tim Shumate

A Star in the Darkness Tim Shumate

Cinq Jason Limon

*I know it’s basically a Crime Against Books to admit this but really old paperbacks that don’t belong to me gross me out, especially when they turn that awful yellow-brown and they get that extra soft texture on the page that kind of lingers on your fingers along with that musty book smell. I get that some people really dig the smell of old books but I cannot ride that ride with you. I bought a book from 1943 online for a friend for her birthday about a goat who goes around causing mischief, and when it arrived, I intended to read it (so we could later discuss goat mischief) but I could not read more than a few pages at a time because the experience of handling it was just too awful. And then, to top it off, I ran into the passage where Billy Whiskers gets racist because why not ruin an otherwise charming story about a whimsical goat with some casual racism? So of course I couldn’t even send it to her because it’s not going to be Auntie Melissa’s fault her kids learn old timey racial epithets. NO. 

Chicago: Boating & Goating

Ever since the first AOL disc was inserted into my dad’s work laptop, I have lived on the internet. Back then, the closest thing we had to social media was email message boards, where people of a common interest would sign up to be part of a group and then you’d get a digest email of messages from group members. It was like the comments section came to you, daily, and all those commenters had your email address, but you were excited about it instead of horrified. My special interest/obsession at that point in my life was The Smashing Pumpkins, and one of the things I did after I first fumbled onto the internet was join a Smashing Pumpkins email group. I was thrilled to have all of these strangers’ opinions of albums and songs and band member rankings delivered to me daily, but the overall group size was a bit overwhelming, and eventually I broke off with a smaller group onto a different Smashing Pumpkins-but-not-exclusively list, and these people transformed from strangers into friends I’d never met. We haven’t all kept in touch over the past twenty years, but some of us have. So when the Smashing Pumpkins announced a reunion tour and one of these friends floated a suggestion that we meet in Chicago to see their hometown show and make a weekend of it, I immediately agreed, because I feel like if someone is planning to abduct and murder a person, gaining their trust at 16 is a good move but twenty years is too long a time to lie in wait, so I could probably risk it. 

Our party was three: Me, Dianne, and Dee, a fellow Pumpkins fan and someone Dianne had met through their mutual interest in Sphynx cats. Dee lived in the city and wouldn’t be able to join us on the first day because of work, so we decided to hit up some tourist spots and see where the day took us. First, we walked to the riverwalk to buy tickets for a riverboat architecture tour–the next available time was in a couple of hours, which was more time than we wanted to spend just dinking around the waterfront but not really enough to do much of anything else. 

So we walked south to Millenium Park and spent a little time there. Its most well-known feature is Cloud Gate, otherwise referred to as “the bean”. Cloud Gate was designed by artist Sir Anish Kapoor and officially unveiled to the public in its final polished state in 2006. When I looked up that date to confirm it, a little bell went off as I know I had seen it before then, in 2004–it turns out, I had seen it during the brief window it was unveiled to the public before its seams were polished off.  

2004

It took me a minute to find me but then I couldn’t stop seeing myself everywhere.

August 2018

People were zumbaing across the great lawn as we walked to the Lurie garden. I grew up in a town about an hour drive north of Chicago and had an almost visceral reaction to the garden, as no smell is as immediately familiar as the smell of the sun warming the plants and dirts of your childhood, the years when you spent the most time out in among those plants and that dirt, skinning your knees, picking cattails and growing up. My nose took me back decades in an instant.

Before the architecture tour, we decided to grab a quick beverage and a snack somewhere, and settled on Le Pain Quotidien, where they defy the very laws of nature and existence itself with how long it takes them to whip some dragon fruit into a smoothie.  Parties came and went and I drank my entire turmeric latte and Dianne ate her meal and still my gloppy snack had yet to arrive. I tried to cancel the order but they took another ten minutes to pack it for me to go and carry it on my lap in the hot sun on a boat for an hour and a half and threw away afterward because for some reason a long slow warm-up in the sun doesn’t do much for an amalgamation of coconut yogurt, key lime, avocado, and cashew butter.

We made it back to the boat with mere minutes to spare before boarding…and still we were not the last in line.  When the queue got to our turn, we sat front and center on the boat, as most of the seats to the back and either side had been claimed already, which was fine by me as it meant no one’s head was ever blocking my view. I bought myself a beer for the tour, which sweated into my hand and onto the bag that held the aforementioned Warm Yogurty Mistake, I got a mild stripey sunburn thanks in part to the fancy shoulder cutouts on my shirt but mostly to my perpetual failure to ever apply enough sunscreen everywhere, and friends, I could not tell you really anything that I learned on this tour which means that I would be happy to go back and do it again anytime and see if it sticks.

We ended up going back to the hotel to freshen up and take a bit of a rest, and the struck out again with intentions to go to Girl & the Goat, a Chicago fine dining restaurant with plenty of vegetarian options which could not be said of the highly-lauded Au Cheval, which is literally across the street and where I wanted to go to all the more because it turned out Girl & the Goat was closed for a private event that evening. Never fear, just down the block was Little Goat Diner, serving diner fare with the same top quality ingredients and care they use at Girl & the Goat. 

Their menu is enormous but I went nearly as goaty as possible, with a little goat latte, a lil caesar salad, and a sloppy goat sandwich on brioche topped with coleslaw. …I may have gone a bit too goaty overall. I think the goat milk from the latte and the goat from the sandwich came from goats who clearly knew and hated one another and decided to continue to butt heads in my guts. It doesn’t look like they have the sloppy goat on the menu at present, but when I had it, I didn’t love it–it was too big, too rich, too soft, the goat flavor a little strong. But I also think that’s what a sloppy joe should be, and thus I can’t fault them for serving me what I ordered. I think I was just bad at picking what I wanted that day.

 

This didn’t deserve its own post: Texas

When I take a trip somewhere, if I don’t do a day-by-day recounting, there’s usually a bunch of tidbits left over that I either couldn’t write more than a few sentences about or don’t have any photos for or would drag out the series far beyond what any human could be expected to tolerate.  All combined, however, they make for something a little more substantial, so here’s yet another one, this time about Texas.

There’s a donut shop in Round Rock that’ll sell you a donut the size of Texas for just under eight bucks. This behemoth, weighing in at around two pounds, is the equivalent of twelve regular donuts, and it absolutely dwarfs the largest donut I’d had prior, at Universal Studios. I may, in fact, never eat a larger donut in my life…but one can hope. Round Rock Donuts sells ’em glazed, chocolate frosted, and for the indecisive like myself, a split donut. Both sides had their charms, but ultimately I preferred the glazed half as the chocolate frosting can overwhelm the flavor of the donut itself, and it’s a donut worth tasting, tinted yellow from all the golden yolks of the farm-fresh eggs they use in their yeasted raised dough recipe. But y’know, maybe share it with a friend. I was particularly delighted to know that the donut could support its own weight when being picked up to do a size comparison selfie with, say, one’s own head.

I was so excited to go to Chicken Shit Bingo at the Little Longhorn Saloon, which they do every Sunday between 4 and 8pm, in four rounds. There’s a live band, and an array of picnic tables around a central tent, providing shade and protection for a large chicken wire cage, lined with a board with 54 numbered spaces and littered with feed to encourage movement(s). The band announced a table number, and it was from that table that the first round of tickets were sold. Excuse me, “exchanged for a donation”. Tickets are sold exchanged first to kids under 13, then adults over 92 (with ID), and then they’re exchanged with whoever hustled over to the line fast enough, one per person. I saw a man straight vault over a table and determined that the only way for me to win was not to participate. When the chicken finally came out, people crowded around the cage six deep, shouting at the chicken and cheering. Between them and the whole camera crew in there, I could not see anything and I didn’t feel like elbowing a bunch of people to try and see a chicken take a shit, so I left.

I wandered by this place while waiting to get into my movie at the nearby Alamo Drafthouse. Or so I thought. You see, the nearby Alamo Drafthouse, on S Lamar, was busy with SXSW screenings, and the ticket I had purchased was actually for a movie showing at an Alamo Drafthouse in Fort Worth, which is also on S Lamar, just a mere three and a half hour drive away. 

In general, I really really liked Alamo Drafthouse and I’m pretty devastated that there aren’t any locations nearby. The food is delicious, the service is unobtrusive, and they’re serious about ensuring your good experience which includes none of the ubiquitous modern commercial advertising before the start of the movie, choosing instead to take you on a nostalgic tour through tv clips, movie clips, and old timey cartoons and ads for toys and candy, curated from what must be an extensive collection by someone who has love for media. And I cannot confirm this, but I think they may have invented the endless popcorn bowl, because I happily munched on herbed parmesan popcorn all throughout Annihilation and when the movie ended, I still had 70% of it left. Some of the volume left may have had to do with my drive to eat as quietly as possible so as not to disturb the other moviegoers with my excessive crunching. 

The Jackalope was…a bar. With a Jackalope. That I tragically had no one to take my photo riding.

Looking for dinner one night, neither Jason nor I could resist the allure of “Jason’s Deli” for obvious reasons. It was, sad to say, kind of mediocre. My baked potato was almost unfathomably big–it was like they crossed a potato with a loaf of bread and planted it in radioactive soil. But it was bland and the chili was unpleasantly sweet and I was glad I’d paid the extra whatever to have access to the salad bar.

We took a ferry from Galveston to Crystal Beach and regretted it almost immediately. Jason got some freezer burned ice cream, I used the bathroom, we laughed at the “BUY SHRIMP I NEED MONEY” sign, I witnessed a wholly brown wave crash onto the “crystal” trash-littered beach and turned around and headed back to the ferry. 

I wrote one word in my travel notebook for the Houston Space Center: “Yeesh.”  It’s almost like a chaotic evil engineer designed it so that the high pitched shrieks of children reverberate endlessly. 

I like that this building looks like a cockatoo.

Umlach Sculpture Garden

I saw lots of couples taking engagement and wedding photos in Mayfield park. It’s also a lovely place for a stroll or to sit and read a book, punctuated with the haunting, mournful screams of the two dozen peacocks and hens who have the run of the place.

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Colorado River

And that’s it for Texas! Anything I didn’t talk about really didn’t deserve its own post.