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Dave Hoekstra has been a Chicago Sun-Times staff writer since 1985. He has contributed pieces to Chicago Magazine, the Chicago Reader and Playboy magazine. He has written books about the Farm Aid movement, travel and kick ass country music. His latest book is about minor league baseball in the Midwest.

He likes sunsets over cool waters.

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  1. Looking for Silver Linings


    The Chicago River on a December day

    December 26, 2012—

    And so there were clouds.

    In recent years my Christmas Eve ritual has been to see a movie by Navy Pier, followed by a long walk through the still of Chicago.

    This year’s fare was “Silver Linings Playbook,” a film with the bright look and colorful optimism of the late-1950s. I’m seasoned enough to know life doesn’t always end this way, which may be why I dropped tears.

    But “Silver Linings Playbook:” sure beat the Christmas Eve where I screened the documentary “Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy.” That night the Chicago north side theater consisted of me and three silver-hared female film buffs.

    “Silver Linings Playbook” attracted more people than the Ron Jeremy dick-flick. There was the usual holiday gathering of strays and tourists. In the lobby I saw a couple people wrapped in old coats, framed by ragged shopping bags of random items. I don’t know if they were homeless, but they were displaced like silver bows that had slid off Christmas gifts.

    After the film I walked down North Michigan Avenue, which was quiet as a museum hallway. I turned past the site of my former office, now a Trump Tower glistening in an opulent glow. Every golden Christmas light counted for a moment of fun in the now-razed building.

    I rambled across an empty bridge over the Chicago River. I considered boat trips that began in Lake Michigan, went through the Chicago River, the Illinois and Michigan Canal, the Illinois River and the Mississippi River to New Orleans,

    Connections made on sunny days.

    Connections lost in dense clouds.

    It takes a certain amount of grit and generosity to make those connections. I adjourned for a beer and a shot of warm tequila at the Matchbox (here’s Mark Konkol’s sweet postcard to Jackie and Dave). Bartender Graham’s soccer pals came in. Like me, they had bad teeth. They were full of piss and vinegar, cranked up about Boxing Day (Dec. 26) matches in England. Boxing Day is where the upper class helps out the needy and bosses give gifts to their employees…….


    ……..I’ll leave that punch line to Albert Brooks, who is the funniest guy in America outside of BIll Linden.

    Before I retired for my long’s winter nap on Christmas Eve, I read the current Vanity Fair Q & A between Judd Apatow and Brooks (Brooks plays a neurotic older dad in Apatow’s new comedy “This is 40.”)

    At the end of the interview Brooks talks about how he was influenced by the minimalism of comic Jack Benny.

    I want to share this with you:

    A.B. “I knew him a little. He was very sweet to me once. I did a bit on The Tonight Show, early on, this bit Alberto and His Elephant Bimbo. I was a European elephant trainer. I came out and was dressed up with a whip, and I was distraught because the elephant never arrived, and I said, “Look, the show must go on. The Tonight Show, all they could get me was this frog, so I will do my best.” So I took a live frog and put it through all these elephant tricks. Every time he did a trick I threw peanuts at him. And the last trick, I said, ‘I call this trick ‘Find the nut, boy!’ I gave the peanut to somebody on the stage. I walked over and gave it to Doc Severinsen. ‘The elephant will find the peanut!’ I took this frog. I threw this black, huge cloth over him, the one I said I used to blindfold the elephant, and this black rag started hopping all over the place till it eventually hopped over to Doc Severinsen. It actually found him. I didn’t know what the hell the frog was going to do. So after the bit I sit down at the panel and Jack Benny was on. There was always that last two minutes where Johnny was asking people, “Thank you for coming—what do you have coming up?” And during the last commercial Jack Benny leaned over to Johnny Carson and said, “When we get back, ask me where I’m going to be, will you?” So they came back. Johnny said, “I want to thank Albert, Jack, where are you going to be performing?” And Jack Benny said, “Never mind about me—this is the funniest kid I’ve ever seen.”

    J.A. “Wow.”

    A.B. “And it was this profound thing. Like, Oh, that’s how you lead your life. Be generous and you can be the best person who ever lived.”