A floor covered with a carefully laid-out pattern of chocolates, cakes, and petit fours is part of a group exhibition by current and recent graduate students that opens tonight at the School of the Art Institute's Gallery 2, 1040 W. Huron. The conceptual confectionery is the work of Lisa Kopelow; with it will be works by Christine LoFaso, who fools around with garments and dressmakers' patterns; Gerald Bleem, who fashions "cocoonlike vessels" out of things like corrugated cardboard; paintings from Ronald Owens; and more. There's an opening reception from 6 to 8; the show stays up through October 2. Gallery hours are 11 to 6 Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is free. Call 226-1449.
If you're into "steppin'," you're into a soulful, highly stylized ballroom-type dancing done best to the tune of your favorite dusties. Tonight radio station V-103, the biggest player of soul golden oldies in Chicago, sponsors its third annual World's Largest Steppers Contest in the Grand Ballroom of the Sheraton, 301 E. North Water. For five bucks you can enter one of two contests--original or freestyle--and hang out with actors Geoffrey Holder and Toukie Smith and V-103 DJs Herb Kent and Richard Steele. Things get under way at 8. Call 360-9000 for more.
You can celebrate the suburbs and the lawn-care demands of fall at the first National Lawn Mower Racing Championship, held under the auspices of (what else?) the U.S. Lawn Mower Racing Association, at the Lake County Fairgrounds today. Scoff if you will; USLMRA prez Gerry Smith scoffs back, "A lawn mower whipping around a course at 30 miles an hour is really a sight to behold." The association promises heats in three classes (stock, factory experimental, and tractors), a drag race, a display of antique mowers, a mower built around a 150-horsepower Chinook jet-helicopter engine, even a precision lawn-mower drill team from Arcola, Illinois. (The drill team's motto: "A group of grown men doing something absolutely useless for society.") Things get going at 11; it's $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, and free for kids. Proceeds benefit the Les Turner ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) Foundation. The fairgrounds are at the intersection of routes 45 and 120, just east of Grayslake. Call 708-729-7363 for more.
For all the carping about "political correctness" as we mark the 500th anniversary of Columbus's voyage, the revisionist view of Columbus seems to have sunken in: we'll never think the same way about old Chris or other Western interlopers. Not so with today's celebration of 100 years of Lutheran missionary work in Japan, which seems designed strictly for connoisseurs of imperialist religious work. You can check out Dr. Naozumi Eto, from the Japan Lutheran Seminary in Tokyo, who talks on "The Mission of God in a Society Without God" today at 4 at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, 1100 E. 55th St. Tomorrow morning at 9 Northwestern's Laura Hein will talk on "Japan on the Present World Stage," and Eto follows up with an encore at 10:30. The lectures are free. Call 753-0672 for more.
The Assumption Greek Orthodox Church invites you to take A Stroll Thru Athens at their annual neighborhood fest. Two bucks (free for kids) gets you music from the Hellenic Five and access to a variety of food and shopping buys on the grounds of the church, 601 S. Central. It runs from noon to 11 PM today, 2 to 11 tomorrow; call 626-3114 for more.
For six years local country rockers Pete Hunter and the Southern Express have been holding an annual Black Lung Benefit and Jam Session. This year it's at My Brother Fred's Pub, 2451 N. Cicero, starting at 4 PM. The bar has donated the food, there'll be a raffle, and the band and anyone who'd care to join them (that's the jam part) will play till 2 AM. There's a $3 cover; call 489-6497 for info.
According to the makers of The Panama Deception, George Bush's invasion of Panama had less to do with stopping drug smuggling than it did with serving the interests of the U.S. military and protecting the canal. What the country itself has seen in the invasion's wake, contends filmmaker Barbara Trent, has been a huge increase in drug trafficking and other sobering detritus like ravaged neighborhoods, mass graves, refugees, political arrests, censorship, and social unrest. The film concludes its run at Chicago Filmmakers, 1229 W. Belmont, this week, showing at 7 and 9 nightly through Thursday. It's $5, $2.50 for members. Call 281-8788 for more.
The cast of Pegasus Players' Buddy . . . The Buddy Holly Story will be under the Picasso today, dispensing a few songs from their production. The occasion? What would have been Holly's 56th birthday. They're a day off (Holly was born on September 7), but the thought is what counts, along with the cheesecake they promise. It's all free, starting at 1 in Daley Plaza, Washington and Dearborn. Call 973-3523 for more.
Financial planner Lew Altfest has a new book out with the modest-enough title Lew Altfest Answers Almost All Your Questions About Money. He'll answer questions, dispense advice, and sign copies of his book at an early evening soiree, which also includes a buffet, at Jerome's, 2450 N. Clark, starting at 5:30. Kroch's & Brentano's and Chicago Life magazine sponsor. It costs $10. Call 327-2207 for reservations.
The only one-armed juggler known to the International Jugglers Association begins a six-night stand at Zanies tonight. With his right arm atrophied since childhood, Dale Jones makes up for it with reputedly dazzling one-arm skill (and some help from feet, knees, and head). He started juggling at 15, joined Ringling Bros. at 21, and has been treading the boards as a professional comic juggler ever since. "I'm more of a fighter than people think," he says. "You don't get to be a one-armed juggler by quitting." He does shows nightly at Zanies, 1548 N. Wells, at 8:30 Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday and 7, 9, and 11:15 Friday and Saturday. Cover is $12, and there's a two-drink minimum. Call 337-4027 for more.
Comedian-slash-performance artist Reno hits town for a two-and-a-half-week run at the Goodman Studio Theatre tonight. The show--Reno Once Removed--is alleged to be a suitably over-the-top successor to her acclaimed Reno in Rage and Rehab, an off-Broadway hit and HBO special. The New Yorker calls her "a guerrilla fighter in the gender wars and a hostage to urban surrealism." "Every fiber of her being screams "Yikes!"' chimes in the New York Times. Her show opens tonight and runs through September 27 with shows Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30, Fridays at 8, Saturdays at 6:30 and 9:30, and Sundays at 2:30. Tix are 12 bucks. The Goodman's at 200 S. Columbus. Call 443-3800 for more.
Zarzuela, the mongrel opera form that began in 17th-century Spain, combines classical and popular music, theater, musical comedy, and dance. The Opera Factory will give a free demonstration today at 5:30 in the theater of the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington. The show is called Zarzuela! The Dazzle of Spain, and it's sung in Spanish, with English narration. It's free. Call 346-3278 for more.
By the time the CTA's Robert Belcaster takes the stage this evening at a Friends of Downtown dinner the crowding, confusion, and general chaos that his outlandish monthly pass experiment will engender should be apparent. (On September 1 the agency replaced the $60 pass with a $45 pass that requires an additional quarter per ride.) You can rake him over the coals tonight at the dinner at Salvador's, 185 N. Wabash. Cocktails start at 5:30, dinner at 6. It's $18. Call 977-0098 for more.