Friday, February 25, 2011

My Alderman Must a Poet, I Pray; Like Bathhouse John, Be Matt O'Shea

On May 16, 2011, Matt O'Shea of St. John Fisher Parish in West Beverly, north of 107th Street, will take the oath as Alderman of 19th Ward.

Matt is a ubiquitous civil servant ( he's all over the Ward 24/7) and nice young man. The toils and troubles of elected officials are the roiling tripes of government -favor seekers, grifters, activists, cranks, crabs, and bust-outs will knock, ring and phone Matt O'Shea interminably. "Matt, I was with you the whole time and I volunteered without anyone's say-so, did you see me over by the Quaker's on Artesian ( the polling place for the 23rd precinct -A Quaker Meeting Hall - no sh . . .kidding) I was there and took off the day from Target - I'm a greeter. Hey, Matty, think I can get a spot that don't need too much heavy lifting? I hurt my back playing ball at D' back in the '80's."

Poetry allows us to tap the shoulders of our better angels -'Wake up, Cherub! Wake the #$%^-up! I require soul massage!'

Read poetry -preferably 17th & 18th Century English poets who imitated the Romans -Dryden, Jonson, Pope, Johnson. Do read Paradise Lost by Milton and pay special attention to the moral and political caveats that thicken Absalom and Achitophel by John Dryden - in this post-Daley epoch.

If not, enjoy minor poets like Ogden Nash or Robert W. Service.

Begin slowly and with, of all things, prose - Read Lords of the Levee by Lloyd Wendt and Herman Kogan (click my post title, please, do) and immerse yourself in the life and sentiment of Chicago's Politician Poet -John Coughlin and his prosaic pal Michael Kenna.

. . .Coughlin and Kenna had men who were beholden to them in every city, county, state and federal office in the city. They controlled the jobs of city workers, including inspectors and the police, and were also, as aldermen, in a position to grant favors to respectable businessmen in Chicago. They could usually count on a routine take of between $15,000 and $30,000 per year, over and above the stipend of $3 per council meeting that they received from the city. Special votes that were purchased bought them in anywhere from $8,000 to $100,000 each, depending on the importance of the matter. The two men went carefully about their business filling the requests that the financiers of Chicago were willing to pay for, such as zoning variances, permits, tax deductions, licenses and other amenities.

However, things didn’t always go smoothly and the two men did manage to get attention brought to them, both personally and professionally. For instance, one of Bathhouse’s pet projects was the construction of a zoo on land that he owned in Colorado Springs in 1902. The zoo featured a refugee elephant from the Lincoln Park Zoo who had managed to lose part of her trunk in a trap door. Princess Alice, as she was called, was purchased by Coughlin and shipped to Colorado, where she caught a severe cold in the winter of 1906. Coughlin suggested that she be given whiskey, which cured his own ailments, and so keepers gave the elephant an entire quart, which quickly cured her cold. After that, Princess Alice acquired a serious taste for the hard stuff and began searching the zoo looking for visitors with flasks. She would beg for drinks from them and when whiskey was given to her, she would sip it daintily and then go off somewhere and pass out.

Epics that he penned included titles like "She Sleeps by the Drainage Canal", "Ode to a Bathtub", "Why Did They Build the Lovely Lake So Close to the Horrible Shore", "They’re Tearing Up Clark Street Again" and others. It was later revealed though that John Kelley, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, was the actual author of many of Coughlin’s poems, which he read regularly at city council meetings. But only Coughlin would have taken credit for a terrible song that he wrote called "Dear Midnight of Love", which was performed for the first and last time at the Auditorium Theater in October 1899.

The Dear Midnight of Love has a chorus that lilts -

Dear Midnight of Love.why did we Meet?
Dear Midnight of Love, your face is so sweet.
Pure as angels above, surely again we shall speak.
Loving only as dove, Dear Midnight of Love.

Now, how could such a heart and soul as this not do the public will?
Poetry -Blithe Spirit - Bird You Ain't!

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