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By Cara Jepsen

19 FRIDAY My mother has fond memories of ballroom dancing at the now-scary Aragon Ballroom. I, on the other hand, barely remember passing out at a rock show there in 1981. Tonight the past comes back to embrace a new generation of ballroom dancers when Nancy Hays and the Bobby Benson Orchestra take the stage. They'll play from the music of Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, and Duke Ellington until midnight. From 7 to 8 and during band breaks instructors will provide pointers for dancers of all levels. The $20 event is black-tie optional, but I'd leave the DMs at home. It happens at the Bismarck Palace Theater, 171 W. Randolph. Call 644-5722 for more.

Author Bailey White writes about peoples' eccentricities in such an affectionately matter-of-fact way that you can't help but think her offbeat characters are on this side of normal. Stories in her new book, Sleeping at the Starlite Motel, include "Family Values," about generations of a family falling through the floor while using the bathroom, and "Red the Rat Man," about an exterminator who can no longer kill to make a living. She'll read and sign copies tonight at 7:30 at Women & Children First, 5233 N. Clark. It's free; call 769-9299.

Most of what you see and hear about inner-city kids is filtered through outsiders. But the work of teens involved with Video Machete and Street Level Video/Live Wire Youth Media bypasses the editor and provides the insider's point of view on subjects like gang violence. The finale of the fifth national poetry video festival, "Yo Vid! Youth Produced Video," features poetry videos and live performances from both groups as well as work by similar collectives from around the nation. It's tonight at 7:30 at Chicago Filmmakers, 1543 W. Division. Admission is $6; call 278-2210.

20 SATURDAY When two bikes were stolen from my storage room last week, I was ready to send everyone and his mother to prison. For life. But that would be wrong. The program "Control Units, Prisons and Political Prisoners," sponsored by 8th Day Center for Justice, promises a full day of events in opposition to the "insane imprisonment binge which portrays every problem as the fault of the individual rather than the result of a perverted social structure." The program will feature workshops on women in prison, the death penalty, political prisoners, the war on drugs, and prison economics from 9 to 5 today at the United Methodist Temple, 77 W. Washington. The suggested donation is anything between $3 and $10. Call 641-5151.

The city's 7,500 acres of parkland make it worthwhile to live in this midwestern Gotham. It's even more worthwhile when the parks are clean and well maintained. Today volunteers can partake in litter removal, glass sweeping and recycling, tree planting and pruning, equipment painting and repairing, and graffiti removal at Jackson, Garfield, Milton Lee Olive, and Lincoln parks as part of the Earth Day Citywide Parks and Beaches Clean-up. Free educational programs will complement the dirty work. It happens from 9 to noon. Call 922-3307 for more information.

Once you've cleaned up the place, you'll have time to grab lunch before joining the Earth Day Rally for the Environment. After the rally, which promises to be short, participants will distribute door hangers (as part of a national campaign) encouraging people to contact President Clinton and Governor Edgar in support of environmental protection. It happens at 12:30 in Lincoln Park, just north of the Diversey driving range. It's free; call 341-0814 for more.

21 SUNDAY Every suburbanite knows that the warm season officially begins when 3,000 or so youthful employees return to work--or start their first jobs--hawking balloons, guessing people's ages, and slinging overpriced Belgian waffles at Six Flags Great America. The park opens its doors today with a new 11-acre theme area, the "Southwest Territory," which includes such features as a live Western stunt show (including 11 actors and six horses), a full-service Tex-Mex restaurant, a covered-wagon ride, a strolling mariachi band, and four rides. The park, 542 N. Route 21 in Gurnee, is open from 10 to 7. Tickets range from $15.50 for seniors to $31 for adults under 60. Call 847-249-1776 for more.

22 MONDAY I see job interviews as interrogations and have responded in kind, bombing every one I've ever gone to by mumbling my answers, failing to make eye contact, and acting as if I don't deserve to be hired--all because I'm completely terrified. I hear it doesn't have to be that way. A seminar on self-marketing strategies today will teach students and recent college grads how to make themselves attractive to prospective employers. There will also be companies there to interview students for real. It's free and runs from 10 to 4:30 at Northern Illinois University Student Center, Lucinda and De Kalb in De Kalb. Call 815-753-1000 for more.

Remember Marilyn Quayle? The former Second Lady has a second career as an author; she cowrote the new political thriller The Campaign with her sister, Nancy Northcott. The plot goes something like this: "One day you are a respected senator and presidential hopeful. The next day you are a murder suspect." The story is a sequel to the sisters' first book, Embrace the Serpent (which, incidentally, was not about the Quayle vice presidency). This time around, Republican senator Bob Grant, who's making a bid to become the nation's first African-American president, finds himself on the road to ruin. Quayle will sign copies at 6 tonight at Borders Books and Music, 336 S. Route 59, in Republican Naperville. It's free; call 708-637-9700 for more.

23 TUESDAY Tonight Friends of Downtown will recognize "worthwhile contributions to downtown Chicago's well-being"--including the "coolest thing" and "best open space"--at its annual awards ceremony. The $15 event starts at 5:30 at the Chicago Athletic Association, 12 S. Michigan. Call 726-4031 for more.

Director William Wyler made two very different films based on Lillian Hellman's play The Children's Hour. In the 1936 version, These Three, he skirted the issue of homosexuality. Twenty-five years later, when Hollywood was starting to relax, he remained truer to the play and cast Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine as the proprietors of a girls' school who are accused of being lesbians by a spoiled and angry student. The Children's Hour will be screened tonight at 6 as part of the Film Center series on gender and sexual ambiguity; afterward University of Oregon teaching fellow Ronald Gregg will lecture on the film. It's at the Film Center, School of the Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson. Admission is $6. Call 443-3737 for more.

24 WEDNESDAY The Illinois Association of Non-Profit Organizations provides management training, technical assistance, advocacy, and other services to some 68,000 nonprofits in the Chicago area. Today it's holding a benefit fashion show, "Retro Chic to Modern Sleek," which looks back at styles from 1940 to 1980 and features clothes from Flashy Trash. Attendees are asked to bring an item of clothing to donate to one of several women's shelters. Tickets are $35 and include lunch. It happens from 11:30 to 1:30 in the Red Lacquer Room of the Palmer House, 17 E. Monroe. Call 708-386-9385 for more.

Why do some women sport tattoos, piercings, and leather while others dress like little girls? And what about those people you see wearing suits on Saturday? They can't all be going to weddings. Fashion writer Valerie Steele's new book Fetish: Fashion, Sex and Power explores sexual fetishism and how it relates to current fashions. She'll lecture from 1 to 4 today in the auditorium of the School of the Art Institute, 280 S. Columbus. It's free; call 899-5169 for more.

Long before rock 'n' roll and noise complaints, saloon keepers had a lot of pull at City Hall. Forty percent of the city's annual revenue came from liquor licenses, and one of every 125 men, women, and children sold liquor. Tonight University of Illinois at Chicago history professor Percy R. Duis, author of The Saloon: Public Drinking in Chicago and Boston, will give a free talk on turn-of-the-century saloon keepers and their effect on politics, business, and society. It's at 6 in Roosevelt University's second-floor Sullivan Room, 430 S. Michigan. A reception follows. Call 341-3710.

25 THURSDAY The video of the alleged police beatings of a truckload of undocumented aliens provided enough fodder to keep my family arguing through Easter dinner and beyond. What got us overheated wasn't police brutality but the topic of immigration. Tonight people who know what they're talking about will discuss this political hot potato at the Illinois Ethnic Coalition's interactive dinner forum "Yesterday's Mirror, Tomorrow's Reality." Sanford Ungar, author of Fresh Blood: The New American Immigrants, will be present. A liberal with solutions, he says that the U.S. has a legitimate right to secure its borders but that fences alone won't do the job. The event starts at 5:30 at Lindas Margaritas, 47 W. Polk; $18 includes dinner and a cocktail. Call 368-1155 for more.

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