Swans Commentary » swans.com March 9, 2009  



The State Of The State Of Elanoys: Waiting For Blago
(A Movie Treatment)


by Art Shay





(Swans - March 9, 2009)   Camera from high POV: Moves in on church choir in hayseed garb, singing in country twang:

So move your family westward
Bring all your girls and boys,
And rise to wealth and honor
In the state of Elanoys.

(semi-literate 19th century Appalachian folk song)

Jump cuts from "Chicago" (the movie): Richard Gere as Billy, the suave but crooked lawyer, as he tap dances and sings up and down the courtroom on behalf of his murderess client, Roxie. Momentary view of her doing the dirty deed to her two-timing husband in grungy room. Catherine Zeta-Jones (as Roxie) and Renee Zellweger (as Velma) singing, hoofing, and marveling at their defender and their newly found innocence. An ascent into Chicago virtue.

Razzle Dazzle Chicago
(semi-literate 21st century movie murder fantasy)

(Chicago's) just a noisy hall where there's a nightly brawl...

As Catherine Zeta-Jones, sexily playing ex-murderess Roxie, jiggles and sings out her "sister can you spare a paradigm" of Thirties Chicago.

Author's note: I intend to pitch this very movie script to my friend David Mamet when I give him a picture of mine he wants for the cover of his autobiography. Under David's influence I cut to the chaste (below) in the very first scene.

Music: (Irish baritone) sneaks in -- "A wandering mistrial I..."

Camera: Long shot of Chicago prison workshop, zooming in on three chastened looking white-haired prisoners stamping out Illinois license plates. These are, of course, the miscreant three Chicago-powered ex-governors of Elanoys serving out their sentences. There is a fourth press, empty, expectantly waiting for our recent governor Rod Blagojevich.

Music: Standard blacksmithy Anvil Chorus from Verdi's Il Trovatore, the beat keyed to the rhythm of the presses, then segues into "Chicago, Chicago..."

Camera: Lovingly pans three election posters on the wall, taking the time to show our heroes. A blank space awaits the definitive portrait of Blagojevich. Some clown graffitist has helpfully sketched in the outline of his face with the waterfall of hair coming down over the left forehead obscuring left eye. Closes in first on image of handsome Otto Kerner, which dissolves to Chicago Tribune clipping (crediting): "Empirical Legal Studies" of the Seventh Circuit. Kerner and his campaign:

Kerner was governor of Illinois from 1961-1968, then resigned to join the US Court of Appeals...

In February 1973, while still a member of the Seventh Circuit, Kerner and his campaign manager were convicted for "a variety of offenses arising out of their accepting bribes of $150,000 on behalf of activities involving certain racing interests..."

Voice -- March of Time timbre: Continuing this sad saga, although he took a leave of absence from the court after his indictment, Kerner didn't resign as a judge for more than a year after his convictions for bribery, tax evasion, and perjury. Starting an Illinois tradition that's alive to this very day. Kerner, fattened by infusions of money, champagne, thousand-dollar suits, and lavish contributions by all who sought contracts with the state for their companies or tracks or gaming houses, was paroled after three years because his health was beginning to fail from perquisite deprivation.

The Illinois tradition of doing a legal tap dance as long as possible, hoping the clouds of infamy will clear, is, of course, the strategy of newly indicted, impeached, and indomitably stupid Governor Rod Blagojevich, the hirsute joyboy with hair and jogging jodhpurs beloved by the TV cameras camped outside his home on the north side of Chicago. He of the big vulgar mouth so treasured by the FBI wiretappers who received as an aural bonus a fine sampling of naughty, matching epithets from his potty-mouthed wife, Patti. Why the wiretapping? Well, the government's j'accuses include many other suspected sins: They think that Blago tried to sell the empty Obama senate seat to the highest bidder, having heard that much in his own words. But was the seat to go to Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. or former Attorney General Roland Burris? A golden property in his hand, Blago averred on tape, that should be worth a lot -- you know what he meant. Some material good should come back to him. This is, after all, Elanoys. Largess to go to him in the form of amorphous campaign contributions, preferably in cash. Or minimally, in the form of a plum job to politically-aspiring wife Patti, with a (play the bleeped FBI tape here) mouth on her like -- like a wild lady alderman -- one of whom, Amanda Troutman, was this very day sentenced to four years in the slammer: mail fraud, tax fraud, charging builders big-time for digging in her ward patch. And using Black Disciple lieutenants to campaign for her at the behest of her gang-leader lover.

Making her the 30th Chicago alderperson to go to jail since 1973. The pay for play tradition in Elanoys going back to the Lincoln era. Possibly it's also enveloping as I write, Blago's rickety hack and former state attorney, Roland Burris. Did he pay for play to buy that seat? To date, Burris has given four different versions of his job-seeking quest for the hot Obama seat he now uncomfortably occupies. The first was absolute denial of contact. The last, a parsing of six contacts he said he didn't mention because the examining committee hadn't asked him the right question. Meanwhile, the Chicago Sun-Times discovered that Burris's son, Roland II, had somehow secured a $75,000 a year job with the housing authority, in part counseling Chicagoans who faced financial and mortgage difficulties. Only trouble is Blago hired Roland II some six weeks after he had been hit with a tax lien of $34,163 and a mortgage company brought suit to foreclose his house. Some advisor! School of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's refusing public aid for cleaning up after Katrina, and without a Burris scholarship from Cecil Rhodes at Oxford. Just that old Chicago moxie. So while Roland II fights to hold his job proclaiming that a lien and foreclosure are the precise skills needed for his new job, Roland the First has been seen at Oak Lawn Cemetery, wielding a laundry pen, sketching on his vulgar white marble mausoleum the exact spot he wants the stone mason to carve in his latest appellation -- First African-American to serve in the US Senate. This will come as a great surprise to the descendants of Hiram Revel, who served as a Mississippi senator in 1870.

Spurring Chicago Sun Timesman Mark Brown to compare the appointment to a guy selling his house but ordering it completely redecorated as he stumbles out the door.

Camera: Reluctantly leaves Kerner's press notices and sights ex-Governor Daniel Walker's all-American goy visage.

Voice: This is the Democrat would-be reformer Dan Walker, who walked across the state with Lincolnian strides when he was running in 1972, and shook more voters' hands than Hillary in Indiana and McCain at an army base combined.

Camera: Down from picture to his press clipping:

Jailed for having improper loans made to him from his own savings and loan institution before it went bankrupt...

Voice: It was the start of the savings and loan era. Which Senator McCain and the Keating Five would bump up to six- and seven-figure accusatoreador numbers flying through the air over the horns of various quid pro quo senate careers. A fine mess that McCain, alone of the five, was able to sidestep with only a little vomit on his alligator shoes. It was the worst time of McCain's, and ultimately Walker's life, both averred after being nailed like Jesus.

Walker (an old associate of mine in trying unsuccessfully to secure permission for two black families to buy houses in a Deerfield development) pleaded guilty to bank fraud, misapplication of bank funds, plus perjury. Why not -- he was born in Hollywood. Interestingly, McCain, an expert in the Washington razzle-dazzle tap dance, stumbled forward, his senescence possibly slowed by nine free trips to Edward Keating's savings and loan redoubt in the Bahamas. Like half of the US history of great finagles, you could look it up.

In the light of what's happened since and today, these were all misdemeanors. Happy ending of sorts: In 2007, Walker's book "The Maverick and the Machine" did pretty well for the still-breathing 86-year-old. I remember the original Mayor Daley's outraged excoriation to Dan of reform. "How many times you gotta be told Chicago ain't ready for reform?" to quote good-old Daley machine warhorse, Alderman Paddy Bauler, who coined that phrase for Life Magazine in the forties while wearing his paddy-cap on St. Patrick's Day, the year they began dyeing the Chicago River green in celebration.

Camera: Clip of green dye going into river from a green city vessel.

Voice: At the very dock of Joe Kennedy's Merchandise Mart, where his pre-furniture minions once loaded booze bootlegged from Canada into his local warehouse. Enough contraband to start a dynasty and buy movie ladies like Gloria Swanson. The prime DNA donor of Camelot, the family's first sexual swordsman, fortuitously stashed Gloria in a Cunard suite adjourning his honeymoon suite with Rose Fitzgerald, in case Rose got the vapors or otherwise dulled out during the crossing.

The foot of the Mart was exactly where the Pottawatomies hunted their deer at water's edge under the hunter's moon of myriad summers. Then the Potts traded their furs for whitey's firewater and their land, including this suburban patch I inhabit, for trinkets. A departed great Chicago philanthropist, Sidney Port, 96, a long-time friend who commissioned me for a book but died last year -- and come to think of it, contributed $25,000 toward my exhibition at the Chicago History Museum -- told me that when he was a kid in the Loop almost a hundred years ago, his immigrant father told him that just a few years back his fellow merchants still hired Pottawatomies to kill the bears that fished in the Chicago River and tried to maraud the hotel in which he was born just north of Lake Street, across the river and a block from the Mart at State Street. With their 60-pound bows and flinty arrows.

So where, one wonders, are the Indian freedom fighters bombing the shit out of the Merchandise Mart and demanding back the surrounding lands and booty?

Never mind the poor Indians! How is it that Chicago maintains its reputation as the nation's classiest segregated city? Well, to quote Chicago's only world-class barricade journalist, the late Mike Royko, "Proposals to scatter public housing, thus breaking the segregation pattern, were killed by City Hall. The city's rule was that no public housing could go into a ward without its alderman's consent. Housing for the aged was thus kept out of white wards because it might attract some old Negroes." And there would go the neighborhood.

When a human rights clash occurred over integrating a house near the mayor's modest home in Irish-German Bridgeport, Royko writes, "Through it all, Daley stayed out of sight. He didn't poke his head out of his house once and didn't say anything about the battle being fought 350 feet away. The news media cooperated by virtually ignoring the incident." The two brave blacks that had tried to buy the house were gently shoehorned out by an encyclopedia of regulations the various city enforcing agencies suddenly invoked. ("These here sockets are two inches too close to each other, all over the house. Fourteen safety violations. Our aim is to keep the city safe. And America mighty!") The shamed real estate man who had handled the move-in was left to have the excrement cleaned from his walls and find a more suitable profession.

Camera: A few jump cuts from the mayor's house, past a black couple being guarded by cops, skimming over some farmland to the prison exterior at St. Charles, thence to our license plate makers...as addition enters from right. He is (pan from his face to his poster, then down to his news clips):

Voice: George Homer Ryan --our first recent Republican governor of Illinois from 1999 to 2003...

Camera: Follows him as Kerner and Walker guide him to his place on the line. He picks up the rhythm of the stamping presses...Anvil Chorus sneaks in again, beat for beat...

Author's note: Working on a song for trio at this point, David. Maybe something like each holding up a license plate -- VIP numbers of course -- and the plates themselves sing (a la Mikado's "Three Little Maids"?):

Three little license plates are we.
Made by governors not free.
All of whom served with conviction
Way past the moment of eviction
Declaring their rights to fee... declaring their rights to fee.

Pans to clips: Scandals during his administrations included selling driving licenses to illiterate, uncoordinated immigrants, resulting in one crash fatal to the six children of a minister, all on their way from church..."Jesus musta needed some angels to stand by his throne," said the bishop at the mass funeral.

Innumerable jobs and contracts were peddled on Ryan's loosey-goosey money-grubbing watch. One lobbyist asked, "Why shouldn't contributors get the benefit of their contributions? Quid for fucking quo," as the saying goes in Springfield and its satellite, Chicago. But Ryan lied to the FBI, which has gone straight arrow since J. Edgar and his mini-nightied male assistant held sway. The FBI got Ryan for federal corruption, and his Bushie friends almost, but couldn't quite, eke out a pardon. Clinton, it turns out, had sullied the market for prominent releases. And his wife ain't that cute or rich enough to finance a library. So the Gov sits and stews in stew.

Voice: But to his credit, Ryan did light a few candles in the Illinois dark. He got the death penalty banned and someone lit a candle for him on the empty Death Row. But candles don't light the way to freedom when the church-going kids of a man of God have been killed by your -- er -- extended hand.

He's working out and the word is he's down 50 pounds. So with Tait retiring maybe the Bears...?

Music: Blair of Trumpets

Camera: Footage of Blago, most recent governor of Illinois, jogging past camera, combing his hair all the way, stopping to speak into 28 microphones.

"I'm here to say I've done nothing wrong, and will fight these accusations all the way. If I said anything untoward on the phone and they recorded it -- it's the way my dear wife and I speak to each other. X-rated sometimes. Now excuse me...I've gotta run a mile like the Indians -- in my own shoes. And I'm going to New York to prove it." Jogs off towards Lake Michigan waving computer readout tickets for plane...Reporter yells after him: "Why did you ask the Children's Hospital board for $25,000?"

Voice: This is the governor who saw himself as an appointee to Obama's cabinet with a view out the window of opportunity for a presidential run in 2012 or '16, Lincoln had the beard, Hitler the moustache, Blago the waterfall of hair. Why not in the city of miracles, the Oz of strong shoulders, the laughing stock of the world? Chicago's Capone reputation only recently gave way to Michael Jordan, and weeks ago to a man with dark skin, like most of the people on the planet.

Camera: Split screen left -- Montage of jump cuts of Blago blathering his innocence on The Dave Letterman show, The Rachel Maddow Show, and Larry King Live. Right screen shows the Illinois House and Senate members, one after another voting guilty, guilty, guilty...except for one frail woman saying, "my brother-in-law is innocent." Ends with picture of the Illinois impeachment senate with the vote-tally overlaid into fade. The vote is shown: 114-1.

Headline: Blago Appoints Roland Burris to Obama Seat .... Jesse Jackson Jr. and Burris both deny offering to raise funds for Blago. No pay for play they say. Children's Hospital Board, sick to stomach, detail how Blago threatened to hold back state funds unless they anted up $25,000 for his campaign fund. Also sickened is the editorial board of Tribune. They claim Blago threatened to cut off their lights or something if they didn't fire the miscreant editorial writer doing him dirt on their dwindling pages. His bludgeon -- withholding the state bond issue involving the Chicago Cubs's ball field. Owned by poor billionaire Sam Zell, obviously cursed in some previous life with both failing recrudescences, the Trib and the Cubs. He needed Blago like a hole in his ulcer. Meanwhile everyone denies everything, everything is up for sale at 40 percent off, and Chicken Little has been sighted running down Michigan Avenue shouting her mantra while Oprah's crew covers the entire scene for her synecdoche show.

And there's the FBI, who have been tapping Blago's phones lo these many alleged crimes ago, issuing teaser leak samples of the Blago tapes -- see above -- to the press before the big show of Blago's criminal trial. That poor crested jailbird-to-be, like his predecessor, moving downhill from selling VIP licenses to making them.

Jump cut: Misery loves company hereabouts. New, tarnished Senator Burris at his hearings before Illinois senate and house. Zoom to close-up of February 17 headline:

Senator Burris Accused of Lying to Committees about whether or not he was in touch with Blago about his appointment to Obama seat...

The FBI Blago tapes will help the citizens of Elanoys decide on these and many other questions that have taken the public hip from dodging the onrushing Depression.

As the suave but crooked lawyer Billy, aka Richard Gere, presciently tap dances and sings to his sexy client and the undecided court:

While you're singing,
Go into your dance
Razzle dazzle 'em
And you've got romance.

And from the South Side, Big Mama, Jailer and "Mutha Hen," (played by Queen Latifah) observes on pocketing a bribe from Roxie:

There's a lot of favors I'm prepared to do --
You do one for Mama, she'll do one for you!

Author's note: Having done some 60 crime stories out of Chicago for national magazines, and having moved with my Leica through its purlieus like an ever-astonished traveler from another bourne, I remain enthralled by Chicago. As my old collaborator Algren famously noted, it's like loving a lady with a broken nose. As Algren's aquiline-nosed beloved Simone de Beauvoir, and her lumpy-nosed beloved Jean-Paul Sartre, were enchanted with their own Paris and that of Baudelaire, so it was with Nelson and is with me in the rusty heart of our adopted Elanoys:

I love thee, infamous city!


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About the Author

Art Shay is the author-photographer of more than fifty books, the former staff Washington correspondent for Time-Life and Life Bureau Chief in San Francisco. Shay has had 25,000 published pictures including 1,050 covers of magazines, books, and annual reports for such clients as Ford, 3M, National Can, Motorola and ABC-TV. His pictures hang in the National Portrait Gallery (Heffner, Durocher, Robert Crumb) in the Chicago Art Institute. His work is currently exhibited at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art (through June 29, 2008) following an exhibition at the Gallerie Albert Loeb in Paris, France. The April 2008 issue of North Shore magazine (Chicago) says that "his pictures have the psychology of Dostoevsky, the realism of Hemingway, and the metaphor of Melville... He's in the Pantheon of great photographers such as Cartier-Bresson, Brassai, Strand, and Stieglitz." The Daily Herald (Chicago suburban) of May 5, 2008, called him "the pre-eminent photojournalist of the 20th century..."



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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published March 9, 2009