My life as a writer in the kleptocracy of Chicago | Bleader

My life as a writer in the kleptocracy of Chicago


Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe


Northwestern University
  • Titration451/Wikimedia Commons
  • Northwestern University
In honor of Soul Week at the Reader I went to Northwestern University and listened to Mick Dumke sing some of his favorite soul songs of all time.

At one point Mick got so excited he started break dancing.

Well, that's not entirely true. Mick didn't sing or dance. He did run through several of his favorites as we headed over to the school. Though that’s not really the reason I'm writing this bit. Just wanted to get in on "Variations on a Theme" before it ended.

No, Mick and I went to Northwestern to speak to a political science class taught by Don Gordon, the Rogers Park activist who ran for 49th ward alderman in 2007.

It was a bitterly contested race that came down to a runoff decided by a relative handful of votes.

That was back in the day when Rogers Park was divided into warring political camps. If you wrote something remotely nice about one, you could expect the other to come at you tooth and claw.

In fact, I’m hoping that just by mentioning Joe and Don I’ll ignite an outpouring of unattributed hate—c'mon, just for old times' sake!

Back to Don….

As I recall I wrote a stinging thing or two about Gordon in that race. Nothing too bad—he obviously doesn't hold it against me.

Of course, I may have written a tough thing or two about his opponent, Alderman Joe Moore, who probably does hold a thing or two against me. (Admit it, Joe—that Loyola TIF deal sucks!)

Not that I care about all the things people in this town hold against me.

Well, maybe a little.

Damn, I’m getting soft with age.

Oh, wait—the Reader's Regrets Week's not 'til next week….

Anyway, Don had Mick and me in to talk about TIFs, the parking meter deal, the lack of transparency in city government, and other aspects of life in a plutocracy—or kleptocracy, as my old friend Bodhi calls it.

After we'd been going on for awhile, this young man raised his hand and asked a brilliantly-phrased question that basically came down to this: If nothing you write ever causes anything to change, what's the point of writing it?

And my response was….

Well, actually, I had no response. Because really, people, what response could I have? Instead, I lay on the table and wept at the meaninglessness of my existence.

Didn’t really do that, everybody. You know, I'm always looking out for the more gullible readers in Bleaderland.

Here’s the happy ending. After the class a bunch of the kids gathered to talk. One guy said he wanted to be a community organizer on the south side. And a young woman said she wants to be a crusading investigative journalist.

And another young woman made some withering remark about the way Mayor Rahm runs his empire.

And Mick and I got so fired up that we went out and wrote an absolutely, positively kick-ass story about the G-8/NATO summits.

It’s a must-read saga that will come out real soon. After that, it will undoubtedly be turned into a movie starring George Clooney as me and Johnny Depp as Mick.

On the soundtrack Mick will sing his version of Bobby Womack's "Across 110th Street," speaking of great songs, soul or otherwise.

And I have no doubt that this will be the story that changes everything in this town. Just you wait!

Happy Soul Week everybody.