Chicago Re-Cap

In these horribly stressful times, personal, political, cultural, every-fucking-where, a re-commitment to personal relationships feels like a necessity. I flew out to Chicago this weekend to surprise my friend Mitchell, showing up unannounced at his show (which he created himself: it’s made up of personal monologues, and songs sung by the glorious Meghan Murphy, another friend). I knew Mitchell had been working hard to create this thing, he had never done anything like this before (create a show from scratch, made up of his own personal material), and – just out of curiosity, I checked flights to Chicago and they were outrageously cheap for this holiday time of year. So out I went. It required much subterfuge and outright lying on my part, and I roped in Meghan’s help as co-conspirator. All went well. My presence remained undetected by Mitchell, until I sent a card backstage saying, “Can’t wait to see your show tonight.” (Apparently, he burst into tears. Meghan – who was backstage – texted me – sitting out in the theatre – a play-by-play of his reaction.) I flew back early Monday morning.

The polar vortex hit while I was in Chicago. I was there for such a short time, I couldn’t see Kate, but I did have a nice lunch with Ann Marie (before Mitchell’s show. And – silly me – we were in Mitchell’s neighborhood, so we basically skulked around undercover hoping not to run into him.) The show, a holiday show with Mitchell telling stories from his life, and Meghan singing songs to put “buttons” on each of the beats – was fantastic. A nice crowd had shown up in the midst of the polar vortex. That’s Chicago theatre for you: hearty and devoted. Mitchell told many stories I know by heart, and I starred in one of them (our ridiculous and hilarious living situation during Mitchell’s first year in Chicago) – also stories about his family and finding a home in Chicago. He addressed me from the stage, like: “Sheila?? You’re here?” It was very emotional, the entire show was. We have been friends for so long. Most of our lives. We met when we were scrappy freak teenagers. We found each other. We refer to one another as “space twins.” (I signed the bullshit card I sent backstage: Love, your Space Twin.) It was a treat because Christopher, Mitchell’s boyfriend, was also at the show, and his whole family was up from Kentucky to see it as well, so I got to meet them (they are all wonderful). We went out after for drinks.

Sunday was snowy and freezing. Sunday night, Mitchell was heading down to Second City to see a friend’s debut on the main stage (a huge deal), and I was heading uptown to the Uptown Underground to see Meghan’s Christmas show (their 6th year): Big Red & The Boys: A New Home for the Holidays. But until then, we had jack-squat to do. We lay around in Mitchell’s apartment (known by everyone as The Nook), and talked and watched TCM, and watched a 40 Years of Soul concert on PBS and then started scrolling through YouTube clips. We also took a couple of hilarious Snap Chat breaks. It was a perfect day. At one point, Mitchell was standing in front of the bathroom mirror, naked and shaving, and I was talking to him, standing in the doorway. Mitchell said, “I really like Demi Lovato” and then I began a rant – not about Demi Lovato but she made me think of certain strains in mainstream feminism that drive me insane so I went OFF on it, and Mitchell kept shaving, throwing in comments, but mostly listening and nodding. And shaving. At some point, when I took a breath (I ranted for about, no word of a lie, 15 minutes), Mitchell said quietly, “All I said was ‘I like Demi Lovato.'” We are still laughing. I am laughing as I type this. Some things never fucking change. This is our friendship.

At the Uptown Underground, I ran into a couple of friends, who were also there attending the show, so it was really fun to catch up. Meghan and the “boys” (5 of them) put together a beautiful mix of classic Christmas songs, original songs – like “Chicago Winter,” which went over like gangbusters since we all were living it – and it had a beautiful and friendly energy, a collective energy, that is so essential to maintain in the current atmosphere.

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Desolation uptown

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The lit-up L train rattling above the snowy streets

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8 a.m.

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Nook collage: Little Christmas tree. Judy Garland album. Biography of George Cukor

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Meghan Murphy, aka Big Red, singing a solo at her holiday show

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Heavy snowfall

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The descent into the Uptown Underground.

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Watching “Letter to Three Wives”, and whaddya know, there is the phenomenal character actress Florence Bates, who also happens to be our great friend Rachel’s great-grandmother. She wrote an awesome essay about this extraordinary woman.

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Patti Page singing “Tennessee Waltz”, on some PBS special

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The most adorable couple in the world. Post-Mitchell’s show.

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Chicago cracks my heart with its stark rough beauty

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Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh in “Holiday Affair.” So good.

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We watched “The Bishop’s Wife.” We’ve both probably seen it 40 times apiece. We love it so much. We had lengthy discussions all along the way: Cary Grant’s magic. Loretta Young and Clark Gable and the whole baby thing. The career of Gladys Cooper. How GOOD she was. She is SO GOOD in her one big scene in this. David Niven – hilarious, stuck to the chair. Elsa Lanchester. She’s so funny in this. And then, right on cue, we began to cry.

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Frightening. The facial hair in particular.

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An extremely Space Twins kind of photo.

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12 Responses to Chicago Re-Cap

  1. Ed Carlevale says:

    An incredibly beautiful post, somehow I have tears in my eyes because of you, as much for your writing as for your friendships.

  2. Sheila, have you ever discussed Blithe Spirit? I finally got around to watching it (TCM streaming, unfortunately full of glitches) last night and was entranced by Margaret Rutherford.

    • sheila says:

      Jincy – I did a search, and you know what? I haven’t. I love Margaret Rutherford – I should re-watch. That script is riotous!

  3. Melissa Sutherland says:

    Sheila, no words. It’s like going back to another life, isn’t it? And you look beautiful.

  4. Stevie says:

    Oh Red, I’m so glad you had this opportunity – and seized it! The Universe just pulses better when you two are together. Delighted you watched Letter to Three Wives, one of my current obsessions. Love you! xx Stevie

    • sheila says:

      Is it one of your current obsessions?? I love that! Linda Darnell is so TOUGH.

      Love you too – and happy holidays to you. xoxo

      • Stevie says:

        I’ve watched it over and over, at least three times a week, for the last six months. Guess that qualifies as an obsession! I have an affinity for Ann Southern because, except for the hair color, she reminds me of my mom, but Linda – what a dame! I love her, love her character, love when she freshens her makeup while “listening” to the radio at Ann’s house. Total perfection. Plus Thelma!!!! The movie is a treasure trove.

        • sheila says:

          Oh my God, Thelma – yes! WHAT an actress.

          I love Linda’s character too. She’s smart. She can handle herself. But there’s that vulnerability too – it’s a very grown-up movie!

          Plus the HAIR and the CLOTHES.

          I love that you’ve been watching it 3 times a week – this is fabulous. What is it that is touching you? What nerve is it striking? I remember going through that with Only Angels Have Wings once – I just couldn’t stop.

          Love you.

          • Stevie says:

            It’s the whole look and feel of the movie, starting with the music, the font of the opening credits, the purring voiceover from the inimitable Celeste Holm, Addie Ross’s stylish printing in her letter, the wowzer hair and clothes (I particularly like Ann Southern’s jaunty outfits and her jaunty walk), the houses, the wrong side of the tracks “Finney Mansion” and how everybody stops in the middle of whatever they are doing when the train comes by, the whole amazing idea of these housewives going on a riverboat picnic followed by some dancing at the country club, Ann Southern and Kirk Douglas going around the living room putting out fresh cigarettes and candy and liquor for their dinner party, all of Kirk Douglas’s rants about the value of teaching and the desecration of life by radio, and pretty much every moment and movement of Linda Darnell. That’s just to name a few of the pleasures to be had from this amazing movie! It’s sophisticated. The characters are grownups. It somehow captures the life I aspired to when I was a very young boy – an upscale, adult version of the Leave it to Beaver suburbs. I was never going to be the Beave, and my mother had nothing in common with June Cleaver, but I could see myself as Rita Phipps, writing radio programs and wearing tailored jackets with contrast trimming! Love you!

          • sheila says:

            Stevie – this is the best comment!! You have captured the appeal of it – it’s all so rich and detailed (“contrast trimming” – Yes!) – and you’re so right: it’s a movie about grown-ups and for grown-ups. Member when Hollywood used to do that?? Sigh!

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