Recent Movie Marathon: Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)

Happy New Year! I’m kicking off 2022 by watching and reviewing a bunch of movies from 2021.

Title : Judas and the Black Messiah
Release Date: February 12, 2021
Director: Shaka King
Production Company: MACRO | Participant | Bron Creative | Proximity

Judas and the Black Messiah is a biographical story of Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), chairman of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party, and Bill O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield), an FBI informant who infiltrated the Party.  The result of O’Neal’s work was the coordinated  assassination by the FBI, Chicago Police, and Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office  of Hampton while he slept early on the morning of December 4, 1969. The movie also depicts the budding romance of Hampton and Black Panther Party member Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback), who would give birth to their child only 25 days after Hampton’s death.

I’ve long felt that Hampton is one of the great overlooked activists of American history with a unique  ability to unite people across across racial lines towards common cause.  Had he lived longer (Hampton was only 21 when he was killed), I believe that he and other people he inspired would’ve changed the course of American history for the better.  This of course is why he was targeted in the first place by J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen) and others who wanted to preserve systems of white supremacy.

Apart from doing an excellent job of telling the story of Hampton and his betrayal with great performances by Kaluuya and Stanfield, and great direction by Shaka King, this movie is deft in its storytelling and characterization. Hampton’s fiery rhetoric while giving speeches is balanced by his quiet moments of love and dedication to the people. O’Neal is treated sympathetically, albeit not without judgement, and you can understand how he was motivated by fear and misinformation.  Even O’Neal’s FBI handler Roy Mitchell (a composite character portrayed by Jesse Plemons) is depicted as sympathetic to the Civil Rights Movement and suspicious of Hoover’s unbridled racist antagonism, although none of this prevents him from stopping the plan to assassinate Hampton.

Judas and the Black Messiah is a good introduction to Fred Hampton’s story and touches on many issues that remain sadly relevant today. If you like this movie, I also recommend watching the documentary The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution and reading the book The Assassination of Fred Hampton by Jeffrey Haas.

Rating: ****1/2

Recent Movie Marathon: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020)

Happy New Year! Today I’ll be sharing my reviews of a binge watch of recent films (released within the past 18 months or so)!

Title: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Release Date: November 25, 2020
Director: George C. Wolfe
Production Company: Escape Artists | Mundy Lane Entertainment

Adapted from the play by August Wilson and inspired by the real life of “The Mother of the Blues,” Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is the story of one tense day in a record studio in Chicago in 1927. Viola Davis plays the celebrity blues singer with verve and command. She comes off as a bit of a diva, but in the nuance we learn that she’s learned that she has to give no quarter to white men when dealing with her work and her art. And capturing her voice on record is already something that they want more than she does.

The other man character is a talented and ambitious trumpeter, Levee (Chadwick Boseman in his final role) who hopes to start a band of his own. Levee argues with the other, more experienced band members (Glynn Turman, Colman Domingo, and Michael Potts) on everything from musical arrangements to religion and dealing with racism. He also develops a mutual attraction with Ma Rainey’s young girlfriend, Dussie Mae (Taylour Paige).

The movie clearly exhibits its origins as a stage play with much of it being the heated conversations among the characters in confined places. But it also takes advantage of its filmic qualities, especially the way the camera moves to follow the musicians as they perform. And, ooh the music, it is absolutely brilliant. The movie comes to an absolutely stunning climax that I did not expect to happen at all. The movie is tragic and heartbreaking but really a tour-de-force of brilliant acting.

Rating: ****

Book Review: The Assassination of Fred Hampton by Jeffrey Haas

Author: Jeffrey Haas
Title: The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther
Publication Info: Chicago, Ill. : Lawrence Hill Books/Chicago Review Press, c2010.

I learned about Fred Hampton around 25 years ago when watching the civil rights documentary Eyes on the Prize.  The more I learn about Hampton, who by the age of 21 had made considerable ground in uniting people of various racial backgrounds around shared causes, the more I believe that the United States lost the potential of his leadership when he was murdered by the Chicago police on December 4, 1969.

This book is the only one I could find available about Fred Hampton.  It’s written by Jeffery Haas, an acquaintance of Hampton’s who served as a lawyer for the People Law’s Office, an organization that offered legal representation for the Chicago Black Panthers and other clients who had their civil rights violated by the government.  At first I was put off at how much Haas centers himself in the narrative, but soon learned that this is less of a biography of Hampton and more of an accounting of Haas and his colleagues efforts to find justice for the survivors of the police raid that did not reach fruition until a civil rights trial in 1982.

Haas details the gruesome conspiracy of the FBI, through their COINTELPRO program, to have the Chicago police raid Hampton’s apartment in the early morning hours and carry out a summary execution. Part of this plot involved a FBI informer who infiltrated the Chicago Black Panthers and drugged Hampton on the night of the raid. Despite ballistic evidence that the Panthers were only able to fire off one shot in exchange of dozens from the police, the police successfully characterized the raid as a “shoot-out” and the officers involved were exonerated.

Haas and his colleagues spent twelve years in litigation on civil rights suits to find some justice for the surviving Black Panthers and Hampton’s family.  Trials were presided over by a judge with an unhidden prejudice against the plaintiffs, and the FBI and Chicago police deliberately withholding evidence.  That any measure of justice was achieved through $1.85 million settlement in 1982 is a testament to the determination of the survivors and the People’s Law Office.  Nevertheless, the clear imbalance of the government and the law towards racism and inequality makes it hard to believe in true justice in the United States.

Favorite Passages:

“Unlike the example of a centralized and hierarchical political party like the Panthers, BLM is a decentralized coalition of community groups with a common platform. They say they are “leader full,” not “leader less.” This has the advantage that the assassination, jailing, or silencing of one leader will not cause the devastation of an organization like the Chicago Panthers faced after the murder of Fred Hampton.”

“The message of Black Power resonated with Fred Hampton.  He saw Black Power not as a tool to attack whites but as a concept to bring blacks together and build their confidence.  Fred said that “blackness was what was in your heart, not the color of your skin.” But any symbol of black unity, including the modest Afro that Fred wore, threatened many whites.”

“Fred talked with particular satisfaction about seeing the children eating and Panther members serving them.  He explained this was how people could understand socialism “through participation and serving the people.”

“What good did it do to have lawyers and courts and a constitution and legal precedent if the police under the direct control of the prosecutor could murder you in your bed? I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a lawyer fighting for justice inside an unjust system or on the outside exposing the legal system as a fraud, taking direct action against Fred’s killers.”

“It always pisses off victims of the police to learn that taxpayers foot the bill. ‘It isn’t right,’ I said. ‘But the police contract requires they be indemnified.  I wish we were getting money from them too. It might deter them next time.'”

Recommended books:

Rating: ****

Podcasts of the Week Ending June 20

My favorite podcasts are increasingly becoming so focused on current events that I wonder if they’ll still be relevant on Saturday, but I’m pretty sure that all of these podcasts are still “fresh.”

All Songs Considered :: New Music Friday: Run The Jewels

A deep dive into the terrific new album, RTJF, and album that speaks to a current moment of reckoning with racial discrimination and policing.

Fresh Air :: Poet Eve Ewing Connects 1919 Chicago Riots To Today

Eve Ewing found poetry in the report analyzing Chicago’s “Red Summer” and uses it to draw parallels to systemic racism that persists 100 years later.

Have You Heard :: Arrested Development: How Police Ended Up in Schools

One of the worst aspects of overpolicing in the USA is the use of police to address school discipline issues and the perpetuation of a school-to-prison pipeline. The podcast traces the history of police in schools back to the 1960s and includes some commentary from some brilliant Boston Public School students

Here & Now :: #SayHerName Campaign; The State Of The Coronavirus Pandemic

The #SayHerName Campaign brings awareness to Black women who have suffered from police killings and police brutality, who are overlooked even as the world is focused on Black Lives Matters issues.

Planet Money :: Police Unions And Police Violence

Police unions are not like other unions, as police already have powers that other workers do not, and the existence of police unions helps perpetuate police killings and police violence.

Radiolab :: Nina

The music of Nina Simone and why it resonates with our times.

What Next :: A Politician’s Brush with NYPD Abuse

New York state senator Zellnor Myrie offers his first-hand experience with police violence during protests in Brooklyn, and how it’s translating into dramatic legislative action.

Classic Movie Review: A Raisin in the Sun (1961)

Title: A Raisin in the Sun
Release Date: May 29, 1961
Director: Daniel Petrie
Production Company: Columbia Pictures

The Younger family share a small apartment on Chicago’s South Side that provides the setting for most of this film that explores the tensions within this family and the effects of institutional racism on them.  The central conflict of the story is how to spend a $10,000 life insurance payment.  The elderly mother and grandmother, Lena (Claudia McNeil), wants to fulfill her late husband’s dream of buying a 3-bedroom house with a yard.  Her daughter-in-law, Ruth (Ruby Dee), shares this dream, especially since she’s learned that she’s pregnant with a second child. Lena’s son Walter Lee (Sidney Poitier) has a different dream of purchasing a liquor store with two colleagues in hopes of earning the family’s way into prosperity.  Lena’s daughter Beneatha (Diana Sands) is attending medical school and hopes to become a doctor.

The majority of the movie takes place in the cramped two-bedroom apartment shared by five people, which would be challenging in the best of times. The movie takes advantage of the sense of confinement to highlight the family’s struggles.  A Raisin in the Sun is adapted from a play of the same name by Lorraine Hansberry and many of the actors from the 1959 Broadway production return for the film, and the movie has a theatrical feel to it.  I particularly like the opening scene in which the youngest member of the family, Travis (Stephen Perry), reluctantly wakes up for school and the family (and their neighbors) compete to use the single bathroom.  It feels very relatable.

In addition to the family’s interior conflict, greater social issues are shown to affect the family.  Beaneatha grows a relationship with a classmate from Nigeria, Joseph Asagai (Ivan Dixon), who helps her connect with her African heritage.  Joseph is contrasted with George Murchison (Louis Gossett, Jr.), Beneatha’s suitor whose is prosperous and denies his African roots and the effects of racism.  Meanwhile, when Mama purchases her dream house, a representative of the all-white neighborhood attempts to buy the house from the Youngers to prevent racial integration.  This character is played by John Fiedler, who sounds very familiar because he is also the voice of Piglet in the Winnie the Pooh movies, which is very disconcerting.

A Raisin in the Sun veers into melodrama at times, but it features terrific acting performances by all its leads.  It is also significant for featuring an almost all-Black cast (except Fiedler) and screenwriter in 1961. I do wonder what the movie would be like with a Black director like the original play was directed by Lloyd Richards.  I was surprised that Daniel Petrie would go on to direct Fort Apache, The Bronx, a notorious movie that depicts white cops fighting against “savage” Black and Puerto Rican New Yorkers.


Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

Title: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Release Date: June 11, 1986
Director: John Hughes
Production Company: Paramount Pictures

My 12 y.o. wanted to watch this movie which was a surprise since he rarely wants to watch movies at all, much less teen classics from the 80s.  Some things you notice when you’re watching a movie for the first time in decades with your children: 1. there’s a lot more profanity than I remembered, and 2. Ferris is really a jerk and deserves to suffer SOME consequences for his misbehavior.  Maybe not so much for skipping school, but  for how he mistreats his friends and family.  At least Cameron calls him out on it.

The story, should you not be aware of it or have forgotten, is that Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) pretends to be sick in order to skip school for the 9th time in his senior year in high school (we need 8 prequels to learn what he did on those days!). He picks up his chronically-depressed and hypochondriac friend Cameron (Alan Ruck), who is also absent from school. Ferris basically steals Cameron’s father’s antique sportscar (Cameron has some good suggestions of renting a car or hiring a limo, something these kids had the means to do).  They pick up Ferris’ girlfriend, Sloane (Mia Sara), from school on the excuse that her grandmother died.

The trio drive to Chicago for the geekiest day of truancy ever.  Impossibly, they are able to to visit Sears Tower and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, dine at a fancy restaurant, attend a Cubs game, visit the Art Institute of Chicago, and then see the Von Steuben Parade, which Ferris famously crashes to lead a sing-a-long and dance of joyous Chicagoans (and since I visited Chicago in 2018, I recognized exactly where those parade scenes were shot).  Meanwhile, the school principal Ed Rooney (played by real-life sex offender Jeffrey Jones), creepily tries to track down Ferris, going so far as to break into the Bueller’s home.  Simultaneously, Ferris’ younger sister, Jeanie (Jennifer Grey), angered at her parents’ favoritism toward Ferris, also tries to bust him for faking illness.

The movie works because of the generally wholesome activities the lead trio engage in on their trip to Chicago, a steady series of gags, and all-around great performances from the cast and great chemistry among the leads.  But as I noted above, Ferris is not a hero, but more of an agent of chaos.  The real protagonists of this movie, or at least the ones who change the most, are Cameron and Jeanie.  Cameron finally reaches a breaking point where he’s able to stand up for himself to Ferris, which leads him to gain the confidence to stand up to his neglectful father.  And by the way, watching is this as a parent makes me wonder just how monstrous this father is.  Meanwhile, Jeanie is able to exorcise her jealousy and righteous rage at Ferris and attempt to just take control of her own destiny.  This, of course, means that everything works out just perfectly for Ferris, the little twerp.

Almost 35 years after its release, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is still very funny and doesn’t feel dated.  Sure, there are boxy cars and big hair, but it doesn’t scream “EIGHTIES!” as much as John Hughes’ other movies. I do wonder what this movie would be like if Ferris had a cell phone, though, considering his ability to use technology to his advantage. More importantly, it doesn’t have the inappropriate moments that make one cringe at the sexual misconduct and racism that you find in 16 Candles and The Breakfast Club.  I also appreciate the directorial style, such as viewing Cameron debating himself about joining Ferris through his car window, or how Ferris running home at the end is directed like a Chuck Jones/Tex Avery cartoon, complete with zany sound effects and music cues.

If you liked it when you’re young, watch it with your (older) kids.  They may just enjoy it as well.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009)

Title: The Time Traveler’s Wife
Release Date: August 14, 2009
Director: Robert Schwentke
Production Company: New Line Cinema | Plan B Entertainment

Based on one of my favorite books, the trailer for this adaptation never looked promising, but out of morbid curiosity I finally broke down and watched.  It’s basically a heavily-abridged version of the book.  Obviously an adaptation of a long book can’t include everything, but a good adaptation should over something for the movie viewer.  Clare in this movie comes off as far more passive than in the book, and the talents of Rachel McAdams are wasted.  Henry’s relationships with anyone else, including his father, are depicted as very superficial.  And for some reason the creepy aspect of adult Henry spending time with Clare as a child seems to be emphasized. The location shots in Chicago are pretty but other than that the best I can recommend is to read the book.

Rating: **

Podcasts of the Week Ending July 27

BackStory :: Moon, Man, and Myths

The History Guys commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing with an interview with flight director Gene Kranz, among other things.

Code Switch :: Chicago’s Red Summer

Another anniversary, of a grim sort, of the race riots 100 years ago in Chicago and other American cities that targeted African American soldiers returning from the World War among others.

Fresh Air :: 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landing

This podcast includes interviews with astronauts Michael Collins and Alan Shepherd as well as test pilot Chuck Yeager.

Hub History  :: The Cessna Strafer

A bizarre incident in 1989 when a man who’d just murdered his wife took to the air in a small airplane and fired an assault rifle at people on the ground in Boston.  This seems like a very serious crime, and yet I only learned about it a few years ago, even though I was alive and living in an adjacent state at the time.

99% Invisible :: Invisible Women

An interview with Caroline Criado Perez, author of Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, on how women are ignored in the design of just about everything, and the dangerous effects of this bias.

On the Media :: What, Me Worry?

Mad Magazine, the satire magazine enjoyed by decades of children going back to the 1950s, is going out of print.  Journalist Jeet Heer talks about the magazines importance and influence.

Running tally of 2019 Podcast of the Week appearances:

Book Review: Fire on the Prairie by Gary Rivlin

AuthorGary Rivlin
TitleFire on the Prairie : Chicago’s Harold Washington and the Politics of Race
Publication Info: New York : H. Holt, 1992.

Harold Washington, the first Black mayor of Chicago, is center to this narrative of big city politics in the 1970s and 1980s.  Rivlin establishes the background by detailing the rise of machine politics under long-time mayor Richard J. Daley.  The Chicago machine makes what I know of similar operations in Boston and New York look like amateur hour, and machine politics persisted in Chicago under Daley decades after it died out in other cities.

While Daley was responsible for perpetuating the segregation and inequality of Black Chicagoans, he was also wise enough to bring leaders from Black wards into his machine, thus making it difficult for a reform candidate to gain support among Black voters.  In 1979, Daley protege Jane Byrne ran an anti-machine campaign for mayor and upon election turned her back on reformers and the Black community.  This set the stage for Harold Washington to make his historic run in 1983.

Rivlin details the ins and outs of the Democratic primary among Washington, Byrne, and the young Richard M. Daley, running for the first time to follow in his father’s footsteps.  After Washington squeaks out a primary victory, the Democrats failed to support his campaign in the general election, with many white voters rallying to lift up the previously moribund campaign of Washington’s Republican opponent.  With a massive turnout of Black voters and the help of Latin and some progressive white voters, Washington once again eked out a victory.

Jesse Jackson is an interesting figure in all of this as the most prominent African American leader in Chicago.  He proves to actually be somewhat unpopular among Black Chicagoans both for his shameless self-promotion (several times he tries to get himself into a prominent spot to be seen on tv with Washington during the campaign) and his lack of knowledge of local concerns.  Jackson actually performs poorly in the 1984 Democratic primary in Chicago compared to other Black Democratic cities.

The celebration of Washington’s victory was short as a block of 29 city councilor’s organized to oppose his every proposal.  The Council Wars dominate much of Washington’s first term. Many of the strategies used to disrupt Washington’s agenda are very similar to what Republicans would later do to Barack Obama.  The Black community is also frustrated by Washington’s commitment to reaching out to white Chicagoans and being “fairer than fair” rather helping them take the share of the spoils they’d been so long denied.

Nevertheless, Washington is able to make some progress and win a second term in 1987.  Sadly the momentum and the council majority were cut short by Washington’s sudden death in November 1987.

I was a bit disappointed that this book largely focuses on the political horse race.  I would’ve liked to learn more about Washington, his accomplishments, and legacy in Chicago.  Nevertheless, this is a compelling narrative of city politics and the racial conflicts of Chicago.

Recommended booksThe Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson, The Third Coast: When Chicago Built the American Dream by Thomas Dyja, and Eyes on the Prize by Juan Williams
Rating: ***1/2

City Stories #4 – Let Your Mind Do the Walking

My recent visit to Chicago brings back memories of my first visit to that city back in April 1991, when I was 17 years old.  There were things I did and saw on that weekend that made a huge impression on me.  And yet, there’s a lot of detail I just can’t remember.  I kept no journal at the time and I took no photographs, and I’ve lost contact with anyone else who I encountered. I  can’t remember the names or faces of most of the people I met there.  I’m not even sure if I stayed there for two nights or three nights.  So, forgive me if this story is a bit disjointed.  If you like what you read, check out my City Stories about Brooklyn, Derry, and London.  

The final spring break of my high school career began with the death of my father.  His health had been deteriorating for more than a decade due to Multiple Sclerosis.  So the week began with attending the wake and funeral in Brooklyn, which proved to be a surprisingly cheerful family reunion.  The week ended with me making my first ever solo trip.  I’d been accepted to the University of Chicago and was going to Chicago for the Prospective Student Weekend.  The name is a bit of a misnomer as the weekend was for admitted students who had paid the deposit to enroll in the fall. I was excited about the opportunity to attend University of Chicago, but the fact remained it was the only school I’d been accepted to that I’d never actually visited, so there was still a bit of uncertainty, deposit or no.

My mother drove me to Westchester County Airport, a small regional airport on the border of New York State and Connecticut.  At that point in my life, traveling by air was a rare event for me, at least compared with my jet setting classmates from more prosperous families. I think I’d only been on six roundtrip flights, and the most recent was seven years earlier.  So here I was getting on an airplane all by myself.

I tried stuffing my suitcase under the seat in front of me, and though it was supposed to be carry-on size, the hard sides made it get stuck halfway out. The flight attendant saw my struggle and told me “That won’t do.”  She took the bag out and stuffed it under my own seat.  She didn’t have better luck getting it to fit all the way under, but there was no one sitting behind me so I guess it was okay for it to stick out back there.  I can’t imagine any of these things happening on a flight in this day and age.

I sat back and listened to music through headphones that were just hollow tubes.  One of the radio stations played a “modern rock” mix so I ended up hearing Depeche Mode’s “World in My Eyes” repeatedly while trying to Tess of the D’Ubvervilles for English class.  I took in the view of Chicago from the window, amazed less by the skyscrapers, and more by the fact that the earth appeared to be perfectly flat.  Even Lake Michigan looked flat

Arriving at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport was a culture shock after departing from the tiny Westchester Airport.  It was like a city of its own full of wonders.  A concourse lit with neon lights connected the two United Airlines terminals while a recording of “Rhapsody in Blue” blared over the speakers.  In the restroom, the toilets had a little red sensor and would flush on their own.  These became commonplace in the ensuing years, but I’d never seen an automated sensor activated toilet before so I gawked in awe and wonder like a rube from 19th century.

I took a shuttle bus for prospective students to the University of Chicago.  My first impression of the campus was walking along the expansive grassy area of the Midway Plaisance.  The Midway is a large, open park now but originated as the entertainment district of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and lends it name to the many “midways” in amusement parks and carnivals.

The Prospective Student Weekend began with a gathering where deans and faculty and students offered the usual pleasantries of welcome and inspiration.  There was also a performance by a student improve group about a potential romance between a student and “prospi” set to the music of Grease.  It final tune was a duet on “Prospi Nights” in which the male student made his move and the female prospi used a blue emergency phone to call the cops on him.  Yes, female admits were being warned to watch out for sexual harassment, but everyone had a good laugh.
For the remainder of the day (or was it that day and the next day), the prospies were able to get tickets to attend classes and other activities across the campus.  I remember sitting in on a History of the Vietnam War course which was very interesting, especially since it was taught by an Asian-American professor.  Nevertheless, since I’d awoke before dawn in another time zone, I started dozing off.  I jerked myself awake several times growing increasingly fearful that being seen as the “guy who fell asleep in class” would reflect poorly on the start of my college career. I also went to an English course, but the professor for that course was not having it. Apparently no one notified her of the Prospi Weekend and she was in a full rage at all these youngsters entering her classroom and occupying the seats.  Eventually she barred entry to any more prospective students, tickets or not, but I was one of the “lucky” ones who got to observe her angry discussion of Shakespeare.
“Wow, she was a bit nuts!” said a fellow prospi, a young man with crew cut hair and big eyes who introduced himself as Shannon after we left the class room.  We walked to the cafeteria, picking up another prospi along the way, a short bearded guy whose name may have been Randy.  Outside the cafeteria, a man with a wild beard and glasses was hawking t-shirts featuring a cartoon image of a man with a wild beard and glasses, basically himself.  As we ate we talked about the usual things – where we were from, what other colleges w applied to, what majors we were considering.  The real significance was that for my introverted self this was the longest conversation I had with fellow prospective students the entire weekend, which will gain added significance at the end of the story.
I also found time to wander the Oriental Museum and explore University of Chicago’s collection of ancient artifacts from the Near East.  And I ambled through the library, discovering the map library.  I love maps so I excitedly step past the counter to peruse the maps.  And I was just as suddenly rebuked by a map librarian for stepping across an invisible barrier that I wasn’t supposed to cross.  It was my first lesson that academic libraries and public libraries are very different things. Now that I work at an academic library I try to remember to admonish people more kindly when they stray.
The absolute highlight of the weekend was spending time with the current students.  Each prospi was adopted by a pair of roommates and got to stay in their dorm room for the weekend.  My hosts lived in a residence hall called Shoreland which was actually quite a distance off campus in a former hotel overlooking Lake Michigan.  They walked me around from room to room introducing me to other students and their prospis and our group grew as we gathered in different dorm rooms to shoot the shit.  They were the coolest people I’d ever met in my young life.
Since it was once a hotel, the rooms were carved up into different sizes and unusual shapes and the students creatively decorated them.  A pair of woman roommates had pooled together their music collections and put them on display, with over 800 cassettes and 200 CDs hanging on the wall.  I vowed to myself that one day I would also put my tapes and CDs on the wall like this if I had the chance.  By the time I actually got around to doing it though, cassettes were passe and even CDs were on their way out.
The students insisted that they needed to take the prospis to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show.   So we caravaned to an ancient movie theater somewhere on the North Side.  I had seen the Rocky Horror Picture Show on television and listened to the audience participation tape  but this was the first time I experienced the actual show.  The showing was sparsely attended but the shadow cast enthusiastically performed along with a trailer for Pink Floyd’s The Wall and a Simpsons short in addition to the actual movie.  They also made us Rocky Horror virgins march around the theater in a conga line as they sprayed us with water pistols.
On the way out of the theater I overheard one of the students rather spacily suggest “Let’s go on LSD!”  Nervous about the potential drug use, I repeated “LSD?”
“Yeah,” he said in is normal voice. “Lake Shore Drive.”  We did indeed drive back to Shoreland via Lake Shore Drive and enjoyed a spectacular view of the city’s illuminated skyline.
Well after midnight (or was it a second night?), someone suggested we go to a burrito place.  I wasn’t sure if I was up for burritos, but I was assured that they were the best burritos. I have no idea where we went that night, I just remember a long drive zigzagging through Chicago’s street grid – west, then south, then west, then south – until we finally arrived at the small Mexican cafe.  It was worth it though because they did have best burritos, and they seemed as big as your head, too.
“I wonder if someone could eat two of these?” one of the prospis asked.
“I could, if I didn’t eat anything for a couple of days,” I said.
“Your stomach would actually shrink if you didn’t eat for that long,” a student informed me.
“Oh,” I said, disappointed.  I still think I could do it.
Back at the dormitory, we sat up talking and I rested my back against the sleeping bag, pillow and sheets my hosts had set out for me.  Eventually, I just conked out in that position sitting on the floor.  I remember one of the students suggesting I could actually lay the sleeping bag, sheets, and pillows out on the floor as intended, but I was too tired to move.  I’d been awake for a full day at that point – 25 hours if you count the time zone change, so I just wanted to sleep.
The prospective student weekend ended on Saturday but my mother found the airfare more affordable if I returned on Sunday.  So I needed a place to stay Saturday night.  This came up at my father’s wake and one of my father’s old friends from New York had a son who had a best friend attending University of Chicago.  So I spent the remainder of my trip with Billy, and his roommate, and his girlfriend at their off campus apartment. I felt a bit like a fifth wheel but they were friendly, nonetheless.
I traveled home on Sunday fully expecting that I would return to Chicago begin college in August.  In fact, I would not return there again until 2004. A few weeks later, the College of William and Mary accepted me off the wait list leaving me with a tough decision.  For one thing, my family was in the process of moving Virginia, so at William & Mary I’d be close to “home” while Chicago would be even farther away.  For another thing, the tuition for one year at University of Chicago was equal to three years of out-of-state tuition at William & Mary (and in 12 months I would eligible for in-state tuition). Chicago’s financial aid package was rather stingy and not wanting to spend the money I’d recently inherited from my father all at once, I decided to go to William & Mary.  I often wonder what my life would be like if I had gone to the University of Chicago, but since I wouldn’t have met Susan and there wouldn’t be a Peter and a Kay, I don’t think of it much anymore.
In August 1991, I registered for classes at William & Mary Hall, and a few hours apart, I met up with Shannon, and then Randy.  Remember, these were the guys who were also prospective students that I had lunch with at the University of Chicago.  All these years later, the coincidence still blows my mind that the only two prospies I really talked with also a) applied to and were accepted to both University of Chicago and William & Mary, b) paid the deposit and became and admitted student at Chicago, and c) also changed their minds and ended up at William & Mary.