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By 1967 the draft had caught up with him. Inducted into the army and assigned to communications training in New Jersey, he did his best to fail the course. "It was hard to do," he says. "Day after day you would get the same test, and you kept going, 'Dang! I'd better change that answer or I'm going to pass this thing.' This was a time when the military itself lost control. They had so many draftees that didn't want to be there, and it was very hard to control those people. More than once we went to New York for three days and they never missed us. But what were they going to do—throw me out?"In 1975, Rode, with the financial support of his wife, Nancy, rented a space across the street from Wrigley Field for $100 a month and opened up "Z Poor Polish Art Museum." (It is astonishing to think that such a thing could have once existed in Wrigleyville.) In the two years it was open, he sold exactly zero pieces of art. Rising rents forced him to the CTA. He eventually sold two pieces, he told Camper, but he missed them so much, he stopped exhibiting.
Rode's comeback show at Jettsett spans three decades of his career; even by the standards of outsider art it's extremely raw, and Rode's love of excess would make some of the "Hairy Who" artists of the 60s seem mild by comparison. Yet his pieces are usually held together by some basic unifying principles: an underlying symmetry, a balance, a pattern of forms echoing each other. They're also carefully considered.But Joe Rode was finally exhibiting again. And doesn't a Chicago life deserve to be celebrated, too?