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The Crowded Media Market

A new magazine about Chicago for . . . suburbanites? The Amish?


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To my left a woman in a halter top was wearing a beige adhesive patch on her biceps--I wasn't sure if it was for birth control or nicotine. In the corner I spied stretch-marked areolae overflowing from a too-tiny jacket. In front of me rhinestone snakes swirled up the calves of a pair of metallic boots with silver stiletto heels and the price tags still on.

When I get cranky at a party I turn into the fashion police. It was no different at last Saturday's birthday soiree for Rockmond Dunbar (C-Note on Fox's Prison Break), which doubled as a birthday party for Dunbar's gorgeous wife, Ivy, whose birthday is in the same month as her husband's, and tripled as a launch party for GRO magazine, a glossy full-color publication getting inserted into the Sun-Times the first Sunday of the month starting in February. (GRO, which stands for Grand Overview, pays for the privilege.) Dunbar's on the cover of the January issue, available for free in boxes scattered around the city.

The event sounded pretty fabulous, especially since it was held at the Victor Hotel, Jerry Kleiner's newish West Loop club inside an old freezer building. I hadn't been there yet--I generally avoid anything I've seen on a "what's hot" list, which is silly of me. The place is decorated like a mod hotel lounge, and I mean in a truly glamorous way, not some douchebag corner-cutting plastic knockoff way.

Dozens of Eames office chairs and puffy burgundy leather cubes seemed to float on taupe suede shag rugs. Black-and-white photos featuring a gazillion boobs from Kleiner's days running the 80s hot spot Shelter--as well as some iconic David LaChapelle images, such as the one of Pamela Anderson hatching out of an egg--decorated the vast, airy space. Most of the walls were white and the floors were cement, but somehow the room felt warm. Best of all, there was tons of light--who wants to sit in a dark booth in a corner after who knows who was doing god knows what in there the night before?

But maybe dim would've been the way to go on this night. In the main room several tanned women much too old to dress like Catholic schoolgirls danced on blocks in teensy-weensy plaid miniskirts and men's T-shirts tied in a big knot in the back. One brunette was voguing at warp speed, twirling promotional blue glow sticks with the Hpnotiq liqueur logo--a bartender said those were supposed to go into the promotional cataract-blue Hpnotiq cocktails to make them look...what? Less disgusting? "I don't know what I'm doing anymore," the dancer told me, panting.

Just then a tall older gent in red pants, black jacket, fedora, and the kind of flashy tie most guys only wear on Halloween when they dress up as pimps started freaking on her. She excused herself to use the restroom, and right when she got back a flat-assed man who looked like an ancient turtle started doing a sort of shuffle gyration up against her. I felt really sorry for her.

No one seemed to be having any fun--most seemed like they, like me, came simply because they were invited. There was lots of meandering around, which meant no one was finding anyone good enough to have an extended conversation with.

I talked to Amanda-Grace Serafin, the sweet and enthusiastic 25-year-old editor in chief of GRO, who also runs a greeting card business featuring her dog Pickles (proceeds pay for Pickles's chemotherapy and help others struggling with vet bills), about her goals for the new mag. "We're not underground," she said. "We're not rich and exclusive. We're in the middle. We're everyday Chicagoans doing everyday things."

Actually Serafin isn't a Chicagoan at all, strictly speaking. She lives in Wood Dale, near O'Hare. "I've always lived in Wood Dale," she said. "But I've always had a strong connection to Chicago. I went to Columbia College. I go down to Chicago frequently, and I keep connections with my friends and the people I know there."

She says she hopes GRO will eventually replace Red Streak. What a pair of crap-filled shoes to step into, I thought, but I couldn't say anything negative to her face because she introduced me to her family as the first person to interview her.

But they're not around now, so I can say that the story Serafin told me was her favorite in the current issue, Karen E. Armijo's "Anomalies of Six-Way Intersections," turned my gut to stone. "Driving into a six-way intersection can become quite hairy, so buckle up, hold on tight, and tell your family you love them," Armijo writes. "Before you know it, you're in a cluster of flying metal hunks squeezing through a ghetto of traffic. . . . These six-way intersections can cause even the most easygoing drivers to enroll in a behind-the-wheel anger management class."

I can't imagine an "everyday Chicagoan" writing something that sounds more like an Amish transplant's take on the perils of the Big City. And the list of offenses goes on: the restaurant section is called, disgustingly, "Feedbag"; the models in the fashion section are dressed in mommish 1990s sack dresses; stand-up comedian Kyle Kinane suggests that you put on a grass skirt over your long johns and pretend you're in Hawaii this January. Throughout the issue you'll also find lots of things in "quotes," in bold for no reason, italicized for unnecessary emphasis, and OBNOXIOUSLY CAPITALIZED AND ENDING WITH AN EXCLAMATION POINT! (Publisher A.D. Edwards, one of the magazine's principal investors, says in his letter on page one, "Feel free to tell people 'IT'S A CHICAGO THING, YOU WOULDN'T UNDERSTAND!'")

When I got home I dumped out my swag bag. There was a copy of GRO; a T-shirt advertising Clos Du Val, a Napa Valley winery that had cosponsored the party; and a very large pair of gold silk boxers. I guess the theme was supposed to be "seduction." That night, in my dreams, prehistoric turtles kept jumping on me.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Yvette Marie Dostatni.

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