On a Sunday afternoon not long after Mayor Rahm Emanuel was forced into a runoff in his bid for a second term, Jesse Jackson sauntered through the men’s locker room of the Wicker Park sauna Red Square wearing nothing more than a towel and flip-flops. The reverend’s six-foot-three-inch frame entered my line of sight while, beer in hand, I rested on a chaise lounge in front of a bank of TVs aflicker with sports. I was most of the way through a two-hour regimen of steam and heat and water at polar ends of the temperature spectrum, so I believed my tired eyes were playing tricks when Jackson stopped directly in front of me to peep the score of the Cavs game. I had certainly heard tell of Chicago political figures, mafiosos, and writers all loosening their limbs side by side at the fabled Division Street Russian and Turkish Baths. (Jackson reportedly sought sanctuary at the bathhouse following the scandalous revelation in 2001 that he had fathered a child in an affair with a Rainbow/PUSH Coalition aide.) Still, that period seemed to be over: the building was boarded up for three years before reopening as the far more polished Red Square in 2013 following a gut rehab that brought the place up to speed with the rest of modern-day Wicker Park, which isn’t exactly old country. Through the changes, though, Jackson remained a regular. And as the rev strode toward the hiss of the showers and the Slavic accents echoing off of the tile walls, we chatted about local politics. Was he happy that Rahm was in a runoff with Jesus “Chuy” Garcia? “Happy?” Jackson said with an impish smile. “I’m delighted.” After a few more minutes of rumor and innuendo, Jackson turned, hung up his towel, and disappeared into the mist.
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