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The Irish Invasion: When summer’s in the meadow, J-1 eyes smile on Chicago

Living Arrangements, Memoirs & Miscellany 3 Comments »

Irish Flag outside Pint in Wicker Park. Pint hired three Irish J1-ers for seasonal work this summer.

By Laura Hawbaker

It’s the end of May, and the invasion has already begun.

Every summer, an influx of Irish flock to Chicago. Like migratory birds, 1400 to 1500 Irish students descend upon the city with J-1 visas in hand. The J-1 is a three-month work visa for students between college semesters. Usually 19-21 years old, they seek out seasonal work—furniture removal, scooping ice cream at Navy Pier, slewing drinks in the beer gardens of an Irish pub. For the span of the summer, these “J-1-ers” work and party hard, sleep by the dozens on air mattresses, then return home.

“J-1-ers don’t tend to travel in ones or twos. They come in twelves,” says Paul Dowling, a former J-1-er who now serves as the Director of Social Services at Chicago Irish Immigrant Support.

Of the thousands who come, anywhere from 550 to 700 make their way to Armitage Hardware, its nondescript windows lined with Girl Scout cookies, tiki torches and barbecue grills for sale. They come seeking one man: Dan O’Donnell.

O’Donnell sits at his paper-strewn desk in the cellar of the hardware store. On the phone, a girl from Sligo asks, “Am I talking to Mr. O’Donnell? He’s a legend over here in Ireland.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Real World

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By Michael Nagrant

In May of 1995 I’d just completed my freshman year at the University of Michigan, a year that kicked my ass faster than the thirty-second first-round drubbing Mike Tyson gave Marvis Frazier in 1986. It was the second hottest summer on record in the Detroit area since 1870. As a child of air-conditioning (the ambient temperature in my parents house always hovered at sixty-eight when my father wasn’t kvetching over electricity bills and worrying the thermostat), and with no window or central AC unit in my cheap summer rental, a second-floor walk-up, the incessant heat of that summer wrung sweat from my pores like water from a dish towel. Sporting a constant sheen, I would have been a perfect extra in the Kathleen Turner and William Hurt noir film “Body Heat.” It was also the first time living away from my parents without academic responsibility and I was ready to blow off some steam. Read the rest of this entry »

Summer in Avondale

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By Stephanie Ratanas

“I tried to clean as best I could.”

Randy made absolutely no effort to appear sincere. Though the apartment was small, his voice bounced and echoed slightly in the hollow space. We stood facing each other in the empty two-room studio I was about to sublease from this man, a battered plastic broom leaned against the wall between us. Dust and hairballs sat next to it in a gray, miserable pile.

“So. Do you want a broom or not?”

I looked down at the broom, then back up at Randy, who appeared to be sweating through his gray short-sleeve button-up shirt, which didn’t make a lot of sense since it was only June and not close to the sweltering heat the summer would eventually introduce. His graying, balding head was sickeningly analogous to the pile on the floor. Read the rest of this entry »

The Summer of Living Dangerously: A writer’s remembrance

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By Martin Northway

It was an L-shaped second-floor apartment in Old Town with a bay window in the crook of the L. It looked southeast with a clear view of the Hancock. My Shaker-simple desk was placed such that I was backed against the gorgeous view. I would pound at my typewriter—no computer as of yet—and fling crumpled wads of paper on the floor till the end of the day because I didn’t have a wastebasket.

It was my summer of writing dangerously. Grieving estrangement from my ex-wife and family in southern Indiana, I’d come back to Chicago’s South Side, labored a while as an A/V scriptwriter along Michigan Avenue and thrown that aside for the urgent need to simplify and write short fiction. The landlord was desperately trying to sell the building and most tenants had fled, but Bad Penny had friends there and brokered a space for me. Cheap, no lease, and the neighborhood was gentrifying all around St. Michael’s “Catlick” Church, whose bell extolled its provenance on the hour. Read the rest of this entry »

Summer Internship: Lessons learned on these mean streets

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By Joshua Fischer

I spent the summer of 1997 as a Michigan college kid living in Chicago, getting an education that my suburban eyes had never seen from my temporary home in Logan Square.

That summer introduced me to a world where an army of pushcarts patrolled the streets leaving a trail of chimes in the air; sirens howled and police lights flashed nightly; open fire hydrants relieved ecstatic children from the oppressive heat; the murderous Good Humor truck blasted “The Entertainer” nonstop; and ubiquitous Puerto Rican flags in apartment windows waved to low-riders and family vans. Part of the week, I worked a soul-destroying office admin job. The other part, I, along with my roommate Alec—a fellow indie-rocker from Michigan—interned for college credit at an independent punk record label. Read the rest of this entry »

Doggy Dos: Where you can party with your pooch

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It’s 7am at the bark park. Blue-green waves crash against the cement shoreline just south of Addison. Red wings bicker with blue jays over nesting rights in the tree-tops. And everywhere–dogs. I have two myself. Two little shits, really. Sage and Disney. Mother and son. A few years ago, little Sage, all of seven pounds, went out and, much to Bob Barker’s spay-happy dismay, bred with a whipper-snapper yapper of a Yorkie. A few months later, out came this needy Ewok of a creature, Disney. Bark park is just about their favorite place in the whole wide world. Ah–a dog’s life. But Chicago has lots more to offer pooch-people than just one stretch of Lincoln Park. Read the rest of this entry »

The Complete Summer

Amusement Parks, Baseball, Food & Drink, Living Arrangements, Outdoor Concerts, Parks & the Great Outdoors, Road Trips, Summer Romance, User's Guide to Summer No Comments »

Before you can say “cold front” it’ll be September and you’ll be wishing you hadn’t spent all summer watching reruns on TV. There’s a whole world around Chicago, and for three months, it’s not as icy, bitter and unforgiving as a jilted lover. The sun glistens of the concrete, steel and glass menagerie we call home. But since it’s such a pain to find out what’s going on, and to plan things, NewCity did the work. From hot air balloons to Binti the ape who save lives, we tell you where to go to make you want to sing like Brian Adams about the Summer of ’97. Read the rest of this entry »

Roadtrips to Weirdness: Mapping out a summer’s worth of festival fandangos

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By  Tom Clynes

Done all the local festivals? Looking for an excuse to roadtrip? Within a day’s drive of Chicago, the Heartland summer is heaving with festivals and celebrations. Here’s a sample of Midwest happenings:

• Madison, Nebraska’s Days of Swine and Roses combines humbuggery and haute pork.  Highlights include a hog-calling contest—and the related husband-calling event—as well as the challenging Farm Olympics and the breathtaking Women’s Chore Outfit Fashion Show. Stay downwind of the Smelly Boot Competition, but line up for the mouth-watering pork BBQ and the new Kiss a Pig Contest. Madison lies about 100 miles northwest of Omaha on U.S. 81; for information call 402.454.2251. Read the rest of this entry »

Nature calls: Close camping

Living Arrangements, Parks & the Great Outdoors, Swimming & Beaches, User's Guide to Summer No Comments »

The only real cure for the city is to get out of the city. Luckily for Chicagoans, there are literally thousands of camping opportunities, many of them 100 miles or less from that little patch of green in your front yard you call nature. Within the tri-state area (Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan)a number of parks and preserves offer everything from hang gliding to hiking that will take you far enough to forget the office, but close enough to still be in cellular range. The following is a mere sampling of what is available to the weekend camper. Read the rest of this entry »

Disorder in the Courtyard: These apartments seemed made for summer, but….

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By Rennie Sparks

The courtyard—that’s what sold me on the first apartment I rented in Chicago. It was May, and my future landlord led me across the beginnings of green grass to show me the place. I imagined barbecues and building parties, idle Sundays spent playing checkers out in sun-splashed greenery. Heck, maybe I’d even grow tomatoes.

Of course, I didn’t know that only a month earlier there’d been a body bag left leaking blood on the grass of this same courtyard, while the firemen who’d been called to the scene of the suicide were puking in the bushes. I didn’t know that in this same courtyard skinheads had once emptied an entire apartment through a front window, and that every summer at least one person went insane in that courtyard. Read the rest of this entry »