Category Archives: city

SECRETS DARK AND OLD

by John Jonelis

“I still say da guy deserves what he got. He ran down dat poor animal on purpose! Hates squirrels. Says so in da papers.” So proclaims Loop Lonagan regarding Alderman Brookins of Chicago’s 21st Ward.

“Is not true! Right here in Chicago Tribune, it read—how you say—kamikaze squirrel.” Donatis Ludditis thumps a stout digit on a newspaper headline and continues in his broken English. “Creature attack alderman. Throw itself into wheel of bicycle in suicide attack! Here is proof, see?” He points to a photograph—a photograph that Brookins took himself. It shows the murdered animal lodged in the spokes of his ruined bicycle. “Newspapers in whole country print story.” says Ludditis. “Not one say alderman cruel to animals! Not one time!”

Photo by Alderman Brookins

Lonagan clutches his brow for a long moment. “So yer tellin’ me dat ever’body believes dis guy’s story?”

The Brookins story has re-surfaced in news outlets because the man is up and taking nourishment after recovering from major injuries. At the time of the accident, he was credited with some rather peculiar remarks. Apparently, because of his vigorous opposition to the eastern gray squirrel and his call for the extermination of the species, the local underworld of tree dwelling rodents staged a coordinated and premeditated suicide attack against their arch nemesis. Now he’s on his soap box, again garnering support for his cause. It makes me wonder if this guy read too many comic books in law school.

Lonagan abruptly pounds a fist against my desk. After an involuntary flinch, I roll back my chair to examine the man from a somewhat safer distance. “Okay, lemme tell you a story ‘o my own,” he says. “One fine day, I run down some neighborhood kid—on purpose—’n’ he gets stuck behind da front wheel o’ my Cadillac er Lexus, er whatever politicians drive deeze days. So whaddaya think I do?  I climb outa da driver’s seat and snap a pic o’ da corpse ‘n’ post it online. Den I say, da kid launched hisself at my car’s front wheel in an effort t’ kill me, ‘cause I been crakin’ down on neighborhood gangs.”

“I object! Loop, that’s just awful.” But I’m too late to squelch the horrid image.

Lonagan raises both arms, palms open. “See? You’se is never gonna get anybody t’ buy a story like dat. What makes dis squirrel any different?”

“I not know,” says Ludditis. “Back in old country, if you damage party member limosine, you pay! No matter how it happen. Is politics!”

Howard Brookins speaks to the medea – Nancy Stone, Chicago Tribune

During this exchange, Jim Kren’s face—never a pleasant sight—screws up tighter and tighter in what I always take as a combination of anger and spite. I’ve been watching him and waiting for an explosion. It begins with a slow leak. “You two judicial giants know nothing whatsoever of the true ramifications of this matter,” he says. “I can tell you a thing or two about the eastern bloc squirrel. Some of it will curl your hair. People know they are astoundingly cunning rodents, but there is more—much more!”

Kren looks to be on a roll. “This eastern bloc squirrel represents the most monstrous and pernicious plot against humanity since the fluoridation of water! We face a much larger threat than that posed by the proliferation of common vermin. These squirrels are more capable than rats and possess a much higher intelligence!” Kren gets increasingly loud and shrill. “Eastern bloc squirrels look out for their kind and know who is persecuting them! If you thwart their plans, they figure a way to take care of the problem! Nothing can stop them from getting what they want!”

Lonagan takes a seat, shaking his head in hopeless abandon. I’ve heard Kren utter such a sentiment before, but never an inkling of this political angle. The man bears watching.

Greedy Guts the Squirrel

“Agents of sedition started smuggling these iconoclasts to our shores decades back!” shrieks Kren. “And they now represent the dominant species! Think of it! Squirrels in your own back yard—the place where your children play! Your children! Talk about infiltration! And they remain there all night, listening to your every word! They meet in secret, pass on intelligence, and formulate plans!”

“So,” says Lonagan with a smirk. “How d’ya figure they listen in on City Hall?”

Kren doesn’t miss a beat. “Don’t be so naive, MISTER Lonagan! In an era of central heating, do you actually believe they cannot gain easy access to any building they choose through the HVAC system? Certainly, gentlemen, it is child’s play for the eastern bloc squirrel to monitor a city council meeting and plan a counter-attack! I could show you one of their secret websites! It disseminates information about these scheming rodents to their craven human allies! It’s written in a code—a code colloquially known as poetry—a cryptic language few speak any more. Let me show you an excerpt.”

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There are secrets dark and old

Things that make the blood run cold

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Facts that twist the human brain

And plunge the mind into pain

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Knowledge that is from long ago

That man was not meant to know

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But the squirrels know

Don’t have a problem with it

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.See video performance by Bob Badpoet

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“Gentlemen, what to you say to that?!!!” Krens interogatory smacks of satisfaction—like he’s busting out with a SO THERE! “If you truly want to gain an inside knowledge of the malicious nature of these animals, here is this!”

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.I am the rodent of your discontent

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From the bushes I listen as you vent

I know what you said and what you meant

For I am the rodent of your discontent

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For my services I charge no rent

I encourage every argument

Behold the rodent of your discontent

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What I do earns me not a cent

But your anger has a sweet scent

Savored by the rodent of your discontent

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Gnawing on your house until my strength is spent

Just to add to your torment

Despair of the rodent of your discontent

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I would follow no matter where you went

So that new troubles I could invent

Fear the rodent of your discontent

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See video perfomance by Bob Badpoet

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Kren leans forward and speaks in a more secretive tone. “Most do not know that these eastern bloc squirrels plotted world dominance long before the era of modern totalitarianism. Men are putty in their paws! Have any of you read the squirrel manifesto? No? It is the most outrageous collection of hate and bile uttered by any animal since the beginning of time! I keep an excerpt with me—it is written in the same foul poetic code.”.

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I come seeking nuts and seeds

To get them I do dark deeds

Fear the squirrel

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I take what I want in food

Even if it hurts your mood

Fear the squirrel

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I sneak into your house at night

At your groceries I bite

Fear the squirrel

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Many wonder how I know

Where it is your food you stow

Fear the squirrel

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Such knowledge is not hard

After all I live in your yard

Fear the squirrel

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I know secrets lost and deep

I gather them while you sleep

Fear the squirrel

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I whisper dark knowledge in your ear

Tell you what you don’t want to hear

Fear the squirrel

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Madness stalks the dreams of man

It is all part of the plan

Fear the squirrel

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Or you could leave out some sunflower seeds

Up to you

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See video performance by Bob Badpoet

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Lonagan opens his eyes wide and his nose almost touches Kren’s. “So I take it you’se is sidin’ with da Alderman?”

“Yes!” says Kren, squaring his shoulders and pushing back. “I take the good Alderman’s side on this issue—and not without reason! I know!  The eastern bloc squirrel is alien to everything we stand for! I can no longer permit alien infiltration, alien sedition, and the international eastern bloc conspiracy to sap and impurify our entire way of life!”

Time for me to pull rank. “Gentlemen,” I say. “Let us repair to the front room for some refreshment. I have another matter to discuss.”

The front room of our magazine offices is Ludditis’ bar.

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Go to Part 1 – TAKING ONE FOR THE TEAM

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Source Material & Links

Kamikaze Squirrel Gets Revenge on Ald. Brookins

Chicago Tribune

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Alderman, victimized by squirrel, still fighting trash-seeking furry rodents

Chicago Tribune

 

Bob’s Bad Poetry

You Tube

Bob Badpoet

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This magazine fully endorses Bob Badpoet but the remarks by Kren, Lonagan, and Ludditis do not necessarily express the opinions of the editor or this magazine.

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Graphics and Other Credits

Poetry by Bob Badpoet

Dead squirrel photo by Ald. Howard Brookins

Photograph of Howard Brookins by Nancy Stone, Chicago Tribune

Bob Badpoet graphic by Jennifer Jonelis

Wildlife photography and Tavern graphic by John Jonelis

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Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. Please perform your own due diligence. It’s not our fault if you lose money.
.Copyright © 2017 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved
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Filed under Characters, chicago, city, Conflict, Innovation and Culture, Jim Kren, loop lonagan, public servants, the chicago machine, The City, the great outdoors, the machine, Whack jobs

TAKING ONE FOR THE TEAM

20161201-_jaj0288tby Mark T Wayne

Howard Brookins Jr, the alderman for Chicago’s 21st ward, was biking along Cal-Sag Trail on Nov. 13, when a squirrel darted into his path. The squirrel wrapped itself in the spokes of the alderman’s bicycle. [The Washington Post.] According to the alderman, “I can think of no other reason for this squirrel’s actions than that it was like a suicide bomber, getting revenge.” [The Chicago Tribune.]

If this is revenge, there is good reason for it. Yes sir! As the Post also reports: “Brookins denounced the eastern gray squirrel in a Chicago City Council meeting and has publicly spoken out about a toothy menace.” He complains of “aggressive squirrels that undermine efforts to overhaul the city’s trash carts.” [Chicago Sun Times] He claims that squirrels are gnawing through garbage cart lids at a cost to the city of $300,000!

According our own Alexander Harbinger PhD, such behavior is perfectly normal. “Like all rodents, the teeth continue to grow during an entire lifetime. It is gnaw or die.”

howard-brookins-photo

Posted on Facebook by Alderman Brookins

As proof of the squirrel’s malicious intent, Alderman Brookings posted a photograph of the unfortunate animal on Facebook, caught in the wheel of his bicycle.

howard-brookins-closeup

Closeup of Brooking’s dead squirrel

Brookins did not escape injury from the ferocious creature’s attack. “The alderman flipped over the handlebars, fractured his skull, broke his nose, and knocked out a handful of teeth.” [Tribune]

The remedy proposed is extermination of all urban squirrels.

mark-t-wayne-2

Mark T Wayne

Revenge of the Squirrels

Of course, when faced with annihilation, any red-blooded squirrel is compelled to take action! Who can find it in their heart to condemn this animal?  But for the protection of the residents of our fair city, we must guard against further malevolent behavior perpetrated by these scheming creatures.

So far, this activity appears unique to the gray squirrels in Brookins’ 21st Ward.  The implications are startling and frightening.  These particular animals exhibit traits that must not be permitted to spread.

  • Brookins’ squirrels take a keen interest in civic matters and monitor city council meetings.
  • When action is required, Brookins’ squirrels organize in secret and plot the required counter-attack.
  • In this case, one squirrel soldier carries out a kamikaze raid on a leading enemy, Alderman Howard Brookins.

Jim Kren, our assistant editor, offered this opinion: “Squirrels are good-for-nothing vermin. They look out for their kind and know who is persecuting them. If you thwart their plans, they figure a way to take care of the problem. Nothing can stop them from getting what they want!”

But renowned squirrel expert, B. A. Christie MLS, holds a different view. “Squirrels are attractive, with fine coats and tails—a benefit to any neighborhood. They are strong, brave, loyal, intelligent, entertaining, and acrobatic. Squirrels prune and plant trees. And tough? I saw one fall fifty feet to the pavement—but after a few minutes, the little dear just hopped to its feet and ran off. Every levelheaded individual knows that squirrels are friendly. I believe Bill Murray said so in a motion picture.”

No, I am not entirely satisfied with the alderman’s flippant slur against these creatures. Nor do I entirely agree with the other opinions ventured damning them. No sir! Permit me to propose a few alternative theories on the matter:

20161201-_jaj0286

Greedy Guts the squirrel, outside my window

Cruelty to Animals Theory

Does it not seem a whole lot more believable to you that this squirrel lodged in the spokes of the good alderman’s bicycle during his hightly successful attempt to run it down? A fat squirrel lounging on a path can present a tempting target to certain personality types, and such behavior may seem quite natural to a politician, particularly an alderman. Has Brookins intentionally misrepresented the facts and blamed the true victim for the consequenses of his personal indulgence in an urban blood sport?

One strong indication of the veracity of this theory is seen in the alderman’s photograph. The squirrel is lodged in the front wheel, which indicates an attack by the alderman, not the squirrel. If, on the other hand, the animal lodged in the rear wheel, the alderman’s story might carry some weight.  Take dogs as an example.  Dogs are known to snap at automobile tires and invariably go for the rear wheel. It’s a question of catching the vehicle as it speeds by. Perhaps the ASPCA should investigate the matter. The evidence is clearly on display in the photograph published by the man himself!

 

Guilt by Association Theory

Squirrels will eat just about anything, and have been known to forage during daylight hours, when they find trash conveniently strewn about—but they do not do so at night! They sleep at night. Does the timid squirrel gnaw through a garbage can in broad daylight, vulnerably exposing its hide to every kind of predator for an extended period of time? No sir! The thought seems akin to a neighborhood bunny rabbit attacking a Pit Bull in the act of sullying somebody’s front lawn!

Nighttime is the rat’s domain, not the squirrel’s. Nighttime is the likely period for damage to ensue. Could it be that, during the daylight hours, the alderman observed some squirrels in the civic-minded act of cleaning up the nocturnal mess left by sloppy rats? This is guilt by association of the worst kind! Both are rodents, but the similarity ends there! I propose that we are dealing with an unsuccessful rat control problem.  That is where the battle must be fought.

20161201-_jaj0283

Greedy Guts gets fed

Mistaken Identity Theory

Permit me to relate a perplexing personal incident. After one fine Christmas afternoon dinner, I noted a scurry of cold and hungry squirrels—sweet, harmless, and industrious animals that every normal person loves. My wife calls the big one Greedy Guts—an admirable fellow, in my opinion. I slid open the window and tossed out a handful of peanuts to the little beggar. Little did I know that my benevolence would provoke a strong reaction from my houseguest.

Jim Kren, our guest, turned violently red and spoke in loud and vitriolic indignation, “You feed those rats?” This man hails from an affluent tree-lined neighborhood teeming with a large and healthy squirrel population. Imagine his constant horror, living in such exquisite surroundings and unable to distinguish a squirrel from other rodentia. Unbearable! It explains that nervous tick.

For those that share Kren’s malady, permit me to quell such unwarranted and hysterical fears:

  • Rats hide in dark, filthy places—squirrels live in trees.
  • Rats carry rabies—squirrels do not.
  • Squirrels behave more like neighborhood bunny rabbits.

 

Scapegoat Theory

As noted, Brooking’s 21st ward appears to be the only area of Chicago suffering squirrel damage. No other alderman or city councilman has taken up the cause. That raises some questions. I own a home in the country. Its peaceful environs swarm with squirrels, rabbits, hawks, turkey vultures, and deer. Yet our garbage bin remains intact. How can this be? Are the alderman’s cans of less quality than others? Impossible! Those receptacles reportedly cost the city hundreds of thousands of tax dollars! Is it possible that squirrels are a scapegoat for some sort of political shenanigans? I put it to you, sir! Chicagoans have learned to accept business-as-usual in our longstanding tradition of machine politics as long as one keeps quiet about it. There is no call to harm the wildlife.

20161201-_jaj0284

A squirrel is not a rat

Noble Savage Theory

But what if Alderman Brookins’ allegations were true?  Could it be that we are witnessing an altruistic and noble example of squireldom? Yes sir! Such an image of heroic sacrifice warms my heart. Faced with the the personal hatred and vendetta of one malevolent alderman—faced with the annihilation of family and friends—faced with the end of a way-of-life-as-he-knows-it—one of Chicago’s bravest takes matters into his own paws.  He takes one for the team!

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Go to Part 3 – SECRETS DARK AND OLD

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Mr. Wayne’s speculations are his own and do not always represent the opinions of this journal.

Image Credits: Bicycle photo by Alderman Howard Brookins. All other nature photography by John Jonelis.

 

Sources

Washington Post – ‘Suicide bomber’ squirrel hospitalizes Chicago politician who spoke out against squirrels

Chicago Tribune Kamikaze squirrel gets revenge on Ald. Brookins

Chicago Sun Times – Alderman says ‘aggressive squirrels’ eating through garbage carts

 

Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. It’s not our fault if you lose money.

.Copyright © 2016 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

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Filed under Characters, Chicago Venture Magazine, city, Conflict, Education, gentrification of the city, Jim Kren, Mark T Wayne

A LOOP LONAGAN CHRISTMAS

Clamps Portrait TJohn Jonelis

This is outrageous.  I’m concentrating on my computer screen when a huge mitt grabs me by the back of the belt and plucks me from my chair.  Next thing I’m dangled high over the desk, arms and legs flailing till I steady my balance and end up nose-to-nose with Big Bill Blair, our urban Paul Bunyan.

“‘Scuse me, Mr. Jonelis,” he says in a slow polite rumble that carries with it a stale smell of corned beef and cigar.

Big Bill slowly chews gum. Looks disinterested.  Acts like nothing’s unusual.

I know he once terrorized jobsites for Boilermaker Local 1, but he’s supposed to be tame now—supposed to be working for me.  Cripes, I even took him fishing this summer!  Yet this guy just reaches across my big WWII Air Force desk and picks me up as if I were a gum wrapper.

Canada 2014-8592p Bill Blaire SMALL A

Fishing with Big Bill Blaire

Abduction at Gunpoint

He turns his lazy gaze to the side. “Whaddayuh want I should do with ‘im, Mr. Lonagan?”

“What else?  Bring ‘im with.  Think yuh can handle ‘im all by yerself er what?”  I turn to see Loop Lonagan holding a huge Glock, giving the orders.  What is this?  Some kind of magazine mutiny?

Bill tucks me under an arm and we swoop out of the office (in the back room of Ludditis Shots ‘n Beer) and into the main dining area.  Between the pool tables, I see Alexander Harbinger, Mark T Wayne and Jim Kren tucking away potato pancakes while Donatas Ludditis polishes the bar.  Nobody glances our way.

ludditis-shots-and-beer-500

My Office

“Hey!  Look sharp!  Youse guys is all comin’ with me NOW!”  Loop makes menacing gestures with the oversized automatic.

First I see four sets of jaws hang wide.  Next they’re lined up behind us.  We move out to the street.

I scan for police.

Nothing.  Loop’s wagging that big pistol around and still nothing.  This is Chicago.

Like any ordinary citizen, I’m feeling a mite indignant by now and I jab an elbow into a tender place.  Bill doubles over and drops me to the cold concrete pavement.  Not wasting any time, I scramble to my feet and glare a challenge at Loop.  “What the—”

He puts two fingers to my lips.  “I’m warnin’ yuh John, don’t start up with me.   I had it up to here!” 

I pause a moment, tantalized by the thought that a clue to this madness might be forthcoming.

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A Clue to the Madness

The others crowd around, probably hoping for a fight while Loop keeps talking.  “Been plannin’ this shindig fer months ‘n’ nobody shows up.  Not a one!  Even set it a week early so nobody’s got an excuse.  My brother Boyle—” Loop’s voice alternates from angry to one pinched in mockery.  “—He’s settin’ up trains for Little Sean.  My sister Bridgett—she finally got an appointment with that oh-so-special hair dresser.  And Brianna ‘n’ her crowd all caught some kinda bug—‘n’ they’s so-so considerate and don’t wanna get me sick.  And Grandma ‘n’ Grandpa Lonagan—they’s way-way too tired after all that shopping.”   

He’s suddenly serious.  “Then my new gal Irene and her family o’ forty cancel out.  That finally sets me off.  I’m tellin’ yuh, da table’s all set—lotsa wine, sixteen waiters, da works.  More fancy food than you can eat in a month.  You guys is all invited!  Wanna come?”  

I’m stunned to silence. Do we want to come?  To a Loop Lonagan Christmas party?  I picture the sumptuous feast waiting for us and my mouth waters!  Hell yes we all want to come! Besides, everybody knows how important this is to Loop.  He cashed in millions and millions on that big deal and for months he’s been planning this huge event.  And now his lousy miserable family—many that he probably supports, the ungrateful louts—they let him down at Christmastime, the poor sweet guy.  And we haven’t seen his new penthouse yet, either.  Sure, we’re all eager to oblige!  A little thing like kidnapping can’t stand in the way of friendship!  (Such is the state of my rationalization.)

Loop abruptly moves down the street.  Blaire herds us along like sheep, but Ludditis, Wayne, Harbinger and Kren all follow grinning at one to another.  This is gonna be good.

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Man on the Street

Mark T WayneThe line abruptly halts.  Loop is talking to a street bum and I move up to hear.  “…Big Bubba?  Great!” says Loop, “and Old Man Percy?  Yeah, he can come along too.”  Then he sees me standing close.  “John, this is Fred.  I told you he’d be an asset to the magazine.  That was a long time ago and it looks like yuh missed yer chance.  He accepted the post as my personal sekertary.”  Fred shakes my hand while Loop keeps talking.  “Fred here rounded up some o’ my old street friends and a couple I ain’t met yet.”  Loop is smiling now.  “And I got Lonny and Lucile to come.  They run that terrific diner.  And Kate and Lafonda, too—they been workin’ at that joint forever.”  Loop spreads his arms in an expansive gesture.  “That makes Sixteen!  We yank all them extra spacers outa da table and it’ll be just right!  There’s gonna be one waiter fer every guest!”

Then he waves an arm.  A bright red stretch Hummer—it must be fifty feet long—slides to the curb sideways with the sound of squealing brakes and tires.  A fine, fat Santa Claus sits behind the wheel.  I think he’s smiling.  A tall, distinguished-looking man in a bowler hat steps out and holds the side door open in a deferential and inviting manner.

Naturally, we all pile in.

Some go straight for the car bar.  I sit back and watch.  Turns out the bowler hat’s name is Meadows—Loop’s new butler.  Loop hands him the Glock, which instantly disappears in his tailored coat.  I wonder how many other weapons he carries in there.

Along the way we stop and pick up various individuals and soon arrive in full celebration at a swank high rise with a view of Lake Michigan.

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Loop Lonagan’s Penthouse

Santa opens a door and we spill out like Cheerios from a cereal box except there’s nothing uniform about us.  I wonder if they’ll even allow us in this place.  True, Loop is wearing a suit that easily cost $2,000 or more and Meadows is impeccable.  Alexander Harbinger always looks distinguished and Mark T. Wayne might get away with his white flannels.  But Lonny and his crew came straight from work at the diner.  That guy still wears a greasy apron over a greasy undershirt.  Then there’s Fred and his friends Big Bubba, old man Percy, and a couple of guys named Pete and Eugene—right off the street.  And of course, Ludditis and me—I’ll leave that to your imagination.

A doorman wearing shoulder boards opens the huge glass entrance and stands at attention.  He doesn’t blink an eye as we file past.  Loop leads us to an elevator.  “This one’s mine,” he says.  The door opens to his key.

It whisks us straight to the penthouse.

Clamps and Bone 500

Clamps

It’s a strange feeling stepping off an elevator directly into somebody’s living room.  Clamps, an 85-pound bull terrier, enthusiastically greets each of us in turn, then disappears somewhere in the recesses of the room, tail wagging.  Turns out, Loop’s condo is the size of a furniture store.  A fifteen-foot-tall Christmas tree graces the room with thousands of tiny white lights and the most amazing collection of individual Christmas ornaments.  It’s flanked by piles of wrapped gifts.  Somewhere off to the side, a Swing band plays loud and lively carols.  Two blondes staff the bar and in no time, we’re all lounging on leather sofas singing along or listening to Mark T. Wayne tell ridiculous stories.  Old Man Percy sleeps in his chair.

Football Santa 500

Football Santa

Putting up my feet, I lean back to enjoy the music for a while.  Waiters rotate among the crowd balancing trays stacked with tall stems and tiny plates.  Ludditis cracks walnuts with his biceps.  He does that any time he gets a chance.  Harbinger is the only one who sits military-straight, a plate balanced on a thigh, a shot of schnapps held between two fingers.

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The Christmas Bash

Then a gorgeous buxom blonde, wrapped in a white towel, peeks out a door, bending low to best advantage.  In a heavy Swedish accent, she beckons to us.  Fred immediately floats toward her.  I’m thinking that guy’s pretty quick on the uptake.  Loop leans a hand on my shoulder.  “Hilda gives real good Swedish massages,” he says.  “And dis place’s got five hot tubs, all staffed.”

I look around and some of the other guests have already left to take advantage of the amenities.

The band plays Glenn Miller’s In the Mood.  Lonny and Lucile, now changed to formal attire, dance and they soon work up an enthusiastic jitterbug.  Kate surprises everybody by nicely filling out a slinky evening gown, bare back, neckline plunged to the waist, and Ludditis sweeps her away even if she’s sixty years younger.  They can cut a rug, too.  Lafonda, still in her waitress uniform, tugs Big Bill to the dance floor.  They make a good couple—she’s nearly tall enough for him, and certainly adequate in girth.

FREE SAMPLES - VODKA OR GIN 500

Open Bar

I’m polishing off my third round of spiced eggnog-and-cognac, when Fred emerges from the bedroom scrubbed clean, looking relaxed from his massage, wearing a big grin and a dark Hart Shaffner Marx suit.  If he’s Lonagan’s new secretary, he looks the part and then some.  After another eggnog, Big Bubba plops down beside me, decked out in spanking new Carhartts and smelling like a flower garden.  Amazing Loop had anything on hand big enough to fit him.  Eugene shows up in camo pants and an Eddie Bauer chamois shirt.  Loop says he can get these guys on the Bears roster.  If not—he just shrugs.

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Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth

Now Hilda and the other Swedish bombshells are packing the elevator, followed by a squad of haberdashers wheeling racks of clothing.

Pete sits with his drink, scrunched up, looking sour and desperately filthy.  Einstein 6bFor some reason, Donatas Ludditis is angry with the guy, and he’s waving his powerful arms in wild gesticulations.  Then the shouting starts.  “You not want Swedish massage?” says Ludditis.  “Why you not say?  Why you not give this old man a chance?  Now is too late!  Look, they all go!”

Pete utters a viscous curse and Ludditis gives it back double.  That cuts it and they’re at each other with bare knuckles.

In an amazing display of athletic prowess, Meadows grabs each by the shirt collar and hustles them to the elevator for its next trip down.  That accomplished, he brushes his hands and coughs by way of getting our attention, then announces, “Dinner is served.”

Old Man Percy jogs awake.

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The Feast

We file into a baronial dining room.  Loop must’ve scrounged the wood paneling from the Potter Palmer mansion.  The table is huge with delicately carved legs, fat as tree trunks—the sideboard enormous—the artwork of questionable taste and probably not fit for polite company.  I will not describe it here.

We sit down to an elegant setting, a waiter stationed behind each chair.  Loop asks me to pray and I do.  I thank the Lord for our meal, our companionship, and ask him to give everybody here the guts to rely on the One who paid it all because none of us will make it on our own steam.  Lonagan is already fidgeting.  Kren is clearly perturbed.  A couple others look uncomfortable.  But there are those at the table who echo my Amen.

Then the food comes and keeps coming.  Pheasant, Duck, Goose with dressing and potatoes.  Wine and exotic fruit.  All the trimmings.  This is game harvested by Lonagan himself.  Yes, he belongs to a fancy hunt club.  Owns it for all I know.

I’m happy to see Ludditis rejoin the party and we dig in with enthusiasm.   I ask him what happened and he gives me a cryptic response:  “He called plenty but chose few.”  He gives no other explanation, but the words sound familiar.

After huge helpings of mincemeat pie and ice cream, Loop sets out a mahogany box of cigars.  Fred taps a cigarette from a pack and three waiters snap expensive lighters to life.  I stagger out to the showroom and select a big soft couch for a nap.  Before I nod off, I hear Loop yell, “Presents everybody!”  The band strikes up again and brings me pleasant dreams.

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Overnight Guests

Late next morning, I say goodbye to Santa Claus and his long red Hummer.  All is well and I’m content.  And there’s still plenty of time to recover before for my family festivities get underway.  But the rest of that crowd keeps it going till after the New Year.

Deep in my heart I utter a silent, Merry Christmas to Loop Lonagan.

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For more on Loop Lonagan [click here]

Photography by John Jonelis except for Donatas Ludditis and Mark T Wayne

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Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. It’s not our fault if you lose money.

.Copyright © 2014 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

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CLOSER TO HEAVEN

Canada 2014-8843ATas told by Mark T Wayne

Danger and deprivation make up the joys of any wilderness expedition. Have you ever heard an adventurer speak of anything else? I have not, sir! Our bold band is bound for a rare excursion! Today, we hope to try our mettle against the Canadian Wild!

I wake early in a Winnipeg hotel eagerly anticipating the last leg of the trip to our remote outpost. To my disgust, this day again serves up low clouds, fog, and thunderclappers chasing in from the northwest. Time is running thin. If we cannot reach our destination today, we must return home, tails between our legs, helpless victims to the evil of modern air transport. So far, our party has lost two souls and a full day of fishing! We will not tolerate any more delays!

Bad news! Winnipeg International Airport is closed due to the perils of nature! I expect we will remain in this teaming metropolis until the weather lifts and we return to Chicago, discouraged, demoralized, and none the wiser.

Jonelis gets on the horn. I hear the name Loren Bukkett uttered and then John cuts the connection and announces he has arranged a flight! My esteem for the man moves up an inch—a mistake as events will reveal.

Mark T Wayne

A shiny new van arrives to haul eight hearty survivors to our bush plane. Bill Blair immediately crawls to the roof of the vehicle—a surface large enough to accommodate his enormous torso—and lies down for an opportune nap. We run a couple straps across his midsection, just as a precaution and the rain holds off, allowing Blaire a peaceful sleep all the way to the floatplane. His rhythmic rumble elicits rude hilarity from one-and-all. To appreciate the fidelity of his snore, one must grasp the scale of the man. Call him the Paul Bunyan of Chicago.

One wonders how a pontoon plane will break water with such a giant aboard.

That question becomes a matter of serious financial speculation among our rowdy crew. But Jonelis smiles knowingly and refuses to indulge in the wager. I admire integrity in an expedition leader. A gentleman never bets on a sure thing. And his refusal portends foreknowledge! Vision! On the other hand, he booked this trip and actually may know precisely what to expect.

I will outline the plan as I understand it: A bush plane will insert us deep in the Canadian Wilds. Our destination is 500 miles north of Winnipeg—far north of Musky habitat—a land where the ferocious Northern Pike gets its name and grows to prodigious proportions. No towns. No roads. Nothing but Jack Pine, Birch and Big Lakes for hundreds of miles! That is right sir! Our magazine staff is headed for a fishing excursion in the lake country of Northern Manitoba and maybe—just maybe we will survive the journey.

Pontoon Plane - Flintaero

 

Friends experienced in this sort of travel give me to know that it will require as many as three Cessna floatplanes and two fuel stops to haul the lot of us to such a remote locale. We will slowly wallow through the sky, each plane well over legal weight with barrels reeking of gasoline and cases of beer serving as passenger seats. Such a trip requires the entire day. We arrive near dark, our guts puked out, refusing food and barely able to walk.

I ruminate on the veracity of this horror story and whether our plane will make three trips, when our van abruptly stops at a private strip beside a neat King Air—the most lavish of executive turboprops—tricked out in soft leather seats. When Jonelis borrows an airplane, he does the job right!

This is his friend’s craft, but John betrays that it is essentially identical to one the lodge charters. Apparently, such luxurious transportation is the norm at outposts so far north.

Canada 2014-8863

Someone forgot to fit this plane with pontoons. After we untie Blaire from the roof of the van and jar him awake, I inquire.

Turns out, the typical floatplane route is impractical for such vast distances. Our outpost actually carved out a landing strip in the rugged forest, quarried their own gravel, and used the trees to build cabins. That is raw determination, sir! Perhaps in the lower States we have forgotten but the frontier spirit still lives in the North Woods!

This plane comfortably accommodates all eight of us—and by removing two seats, even Bill Blaire settles in without difficulty. He uses a convenient luggage tie-down in lieu of a seatbelt. This is real flying as originally intended. SPEED—wonderful SPEED is the order of the day, just as it was in the glory days of aviation. No execrable lines. No officious and probing security! No ground delay or gnashing of teeth! This ain’t Chicago, Mr. Mayor!

Rather than a full day, this trip will take under an hour and a half! We will be on the water and fishing by 10:00 this very morning! We are getting closer to heaven!

Bush Pilot

I have been told that I will meet a crazed bush pilot—one such as Brian Dennehy—Rosie from the motion picture NEVER CRY WOLF.

A Bush pilot’s job may seem dangerous to American sensibilities, but flight in the wilderness requires a combination of skill, intrepid resourcefulness, and dauntless courage lacking in our unionized flight crews and their innumerable regulations.

No pilot appears.

Jonelis hands a magnum of Grant’s whiskey to the vile Loop Lonagan, and while our group passes the bottle and indulges in coarse jokes and raucous laughter, my suspicions start acting up: How is it that our plane will depart when those at a major international airport do not?

Canada 2014-8091A

Once Jonelis sees us securely strapped in our seats, he personally slips into the cockpit and dons a set of headphones. I take that to mean only one thing!

No bush pilot is crazy enough to make the journey in this weather!

My instinct for survival goes into full panic mode. With wisdom born of a long life, I fumble with my seatbelt. I wish to disembark this flying coffin—IMMEDIATELY!

My hands shake and over my loud objections—before I can set myself free—the props are spinning!

Canada 2014-8852A

With no other airplane in sight, we immediately take off into the gloom!

I am now closer to Paradise than my original intention! Reversed is my strong aversion to all those meticulous safety procedures at O’Hare Field! I now favor the other side of the argument!

Dark cloud cover swallows us. Violent turbulence throws me about in the seat and I tighten my belt so as not to violently strike my head on the roof of the cabin.

Jonelis’ mad voice oozes from overhead speakers as if this were any other day. He speaks in that slow confident drawl common to all pilots. “This is your captain speaking. Due to favorable tailwinds, we will reach our destination at zero nine hundred. Please keep your seatbelts fastened in case of turbulence. In the event of a low ceiling at or destination, we will divert to Thompson.”

Canada 2014-8112A

Presently we dive then level off. Then without warning, we break free of the clouds. Our “pilot” has discovered smoother air, and indeed, the rugged ride abates—somewhat. I glimpse views of wilderness scenery.

Then that insanely calm voice again: “You may move about the cabin. Refreshments are located in the box at seat 2B. Please keep your belts fastened while seated.”

I crouch low and squeeze down the aisle to the front, where I help myself to delightfully hot coffee, a pleasant breakfast of Egg McMuffins, and five tiny bottles of Jack Daniels Sour Mash. I squirrel these treasures in my pockets and hold the rest tight to my chest as I return crabwise to my seat.

Canada 2014-8108A

While the rest of the passengers continue their wild celebration, oblivious to the danger, I speculate on the lunatic at the controls. Does he know how to land this thing?

In the space of an agonizing hour, Jonelis is circling.

Outside the little window, I spot an airstrip. Is it the right one?

As the madman shoots the approach, the aircraft again bucks and yaws like a bull at a rodeo and I spill sour mash across my fine white suit. A roaring wells up in my ears, and my head aches.

I utter my final prayers.

Canada 2014-8107

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Go to next installment – FISH STORY

Back to beginning – ROUGHING IT

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Photography by John Jonelis. except for Mark T Wayne, Patrick Dennehy from Tail Slate, and Pontoon Plane from FlintAero
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Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. It’s not our fault if you lose money.

.Copyright © 2014 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

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2 Comments

Filed under alcholics, big money, Bill Blaire., Canada, Characters, chicago, city, Innovation, Innovation and Culture, Invention, investor, loop lonagan, Mark T Wayne, new companies, The City

TOUGH LOVE

Sandee 15TTechbash – Part 5

John Jonelis

This is a story about raw love. Tough.  Rugged.  Unashamed.

I’m at i.c.stars—the premier social incubator in Chicago—and I find myself a bit overwhelmed by it all. I stop in to thank Sandee Kastrul, their President and Co-founder and she pours me some hot coffee.

“I think,” She says, “that at the end of the day, there are three things that you should know about us:

  • We’re positioned as an opportunity, not a charity.
  • Rather than exploit our interns, we exploit our CIOs.
  • We’re funded by the technology industry—not the government.

Those seem to me rather interesting assertions for a social venture. But she goes on to explain:

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It’s a Business

“If we were a charity,” She says, “it would ruin the product—destroy the brand. If you say, let’s give these poor kids a chance, give them a job—it’s charity, not business. Their job each day is not just to learn the technology—not just to learn the software—but to change perceptions about what it means to be a young person entering this field without a college degree. To be a person of color. To be someone who’s overcome adversity. icstars-hq11

“And so everything is about, not what Johnny WAS, but what Johnny DOES. We never exploit the stories in the past. One person is homeless or 30% of our folks are ex-offenders, or whatever it is—we never discuss that. It’s what Johnny DOES. That’s a very important differentiator.”

I sip my coffee. So that’s why I didn’t hear any personal histories in their introductions. I thought at the time that it was intentional but hadn’t known the reasoning behind it.

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Don’t Exploit the Talent

“Another thing is that I would much rather exploit the CIOs than our interns. We have an agreement. We give the CIOs jobs. For instance, at the TechBash event, we make them into celebrity bartenders. We get them to blog and sell sponsorships to all their potential customers. Just to be with the interns for that period of time cost them extra money and the ticket price is already $250. And so they know that they are doing their share and lending their name. That’s hard for the introverted CIOs but they do it.”Sandee 19

That takes me by surprise. “Those C-level bigshots from major corporations are introverts?”

“Oh sure—they’re technology people.”

She makes it sound so plausible, like—Of course, what do you suppose? But now she’s moving on:

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Industry Funded

“The third thing is our economic engine: We don’t have any government funding. We’re funded by the technology industry. And so this CIO network is what keeps us afloat. We’re able to leverage those relationships.”

“They see it as an investment in their own companies?”

“In talent, yes. And they’re able to grow their leadership. icstars-hq10And each of them remembers when they first started out in technology. They all went to boot camps. Whether that was GE or Continental Bank—it’s this idea of an intense experience. When they come to Tea—if that’s their first step—they’re blown away by the reciprocity, by the passion, and they say, ‘I wish my team could do that.’

“I actually heard one of them say that.”

That gets a big smile from Sandee. “When they ask our interns their questions, they get a real surprise. This is not typical. It’s not like going to business school and saying, ‘Well how did you do this?’ You know—that sort of interview routine. Here, it’s really about having intimacy and building a connection with someone.

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Alumni Evangelists

“Then the interns become evangelists for the organization.Sandee 13 That’s a very important part of changing perceptions. It’s also an important part of building our network. The more CIOs we have that are connected and engaged, the more we’re able to go after service providers, to engage with the organization.”

This I like. She’s talking about building a self-sustaining social venture. “How often do you run these—these crash courses?”

“We typically do two cycles a year. We have capacity for four but it depends on market demand. Say CDW wants to hire 10 QA analysts. That tells us, ‘All right—Jerry get your recruitment engine going again.’

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Tough Love

Do interns drop out?”

We fire people.”

I sit up in my chair and almost spill my coffee. “Fire them? After what they went through to get here?”

“We have a very strict attendance policy. You can’t be late or absent for four months.”icstars-hq2

“Not once?

“One and you go on probation. The second one, you’re let go. It’s the idea of, ‘How do you learn to take care of yourself—to show up on time?’”

I can hardly believe what I’m hearing. After that rigorous selection process, fired for missing a couple days? That’s what I call real tough love.

“What it really does,” She says, “is shine a spotlight on all those things that keep us from being reliable. And I mean substance abuse. Violent relationships. I’ve had boyfriends unplugging alarm clocks so that the woman would be late and lose her position because it was such a threat—she was learning so much—she was speaking differently—he was worried that she was going to outpace him or not need him.

“And so what that does is give us a real insight. icstars-hq8We might say, ‘Okay—here’s what you need to work on. Take six months. Fix this problem. Here are some resources. And then come back.’

“It’s not easy to come back though. They’ve got to go through an alumni interview. That’s rough. There are 13 things they have to do including a reading list. It’s rigorous. It’s not a free ride. Then the alums decide, ‘No this person shouldn’t represent our brand.’ That’s intense. But it’s important because it’s back to that idea that you’re fighting for something bigger than yourself. Can you really stake that claim?”

This calls for commitment level even higher than I realized and I seriously doubt I could stand up to it myself. icstars-hq6Getting in takes a special kind of person. Getting through is even tougher. No wonder Fortune 500 companies are so eager to hire i.c.stars alums.

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Growing the Venture

Sandee passes a hand over her brow then changes expression and I sense a change of subject.

“I’m working on expanding to Detroit, Milwaukee, and Denver.” She says. “I have a very interesting process that’s organic. Grass roots.”

What about growing this one location?”

“We’re looking at expanding the number of interns as well—getting up to about a hundred per year. But local expansion is about partnering with more organizations—it’s more of a channel strategy than trying to bring more people in here. We’re thinking through how we might plug in other organizations that are in the community. We’re exploring the concept of what a partnership would look like because there are certainly tons of opportunities in the market. It could be a primer—before i.c.stars—or a post i.c. stars plugin.

That make a whole lot of sense and it also occurs to me that more than one university graduate programs would be delighted build a program for candidates of this caliber. “So other people see your success—start up similar organizations—and that’s a good thing. I know you turn away people and it breaks your heart. I know you feel that way.”

She nods slowly. “It’s hard.”Sandee 11

Before I go, Sandee hands me some brochures—what she calls “propaganda.” But later I read it all and it’s some of the best material I’ve come across. You can download it below.

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DOWNLOAD I.C.STARS BROCHURE – (500K PDF)

GO BACK TO PART 1 – TALENT HIDES

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Contacts

i.c.stars – www.icstars.org

Sandee Kastrul, President and Co-Founder – sKastrul@icstars.org

Photos credits: i.c.stars.
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Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link . This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. It’s not our fault if you lose money.

.Copyright © 2014 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

.
.

4 Comments

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HIGH TECH HIGH TEA

Thomas EdisonTechBash – Part 4

John Jonelis

I’m at Chicago’s premier social incubator – i.c.stars. Fresh faces of their current crop of interns rim this boardroom-sized table. All neat. All professional. As the tea makes its rounds, I hear well-crafted introductions. Mannerly. In-depth. Heartfelt. Spoken by people who have known each other during months of intense struggle. It’s more like introducing family than business associates. icstarg 35And I notice something else that’s significant. The interns introduce each other—not themselves—and they do it with a high level of trust, mutual respect, and selflessness.You can’t help but be moved by the way they describe each other. This is High Tea—a curious ceremony that takes place each day and has such a big impact on those who attend the i.c.stars program. icstarg 31The introductions are for the benefit of two guests at the end of the table. They’re today’s starsC-level executives here to relate their personal stories. The man to my left takes my hand in a solid grip and explains the protocol in a low rumbling tone. “When it’s your turn,” He says, “Just tell them my name and pour the tea.” I signal thumbs-up for thanks and peek at his business card: Quashe’ Granville. Hey, this is Loop Lonogan’s friend from TechBash! I’ve read enough about this guy to cobble together a decent introduction. My cup gets filled. Now it’s my turn.

At the risk of embarrassing Quashe’, I relate Lonogan’s impressions of him. Quiet strength. Quashe GranvilleThoughtful to others but a powerful presence. An overcomer who’s looked adversity in the eye and conquered. A quick study and self-learner in this high-tech environment. A great spokesman for the i.c.stars program.

I pour his tea. Now Quashe’ is pouring and it’s just like Lonagan told me—he really does sound like James Earl Jones. The tea continues around the table .

Real Success

The two guests present themselves as ordinary individuals and tell remarkably personal stories. It occurs to me that hearing such histories from C-level executives every single day must instill an instinct for the many ways to succeed—because success is something reached by a different path every single time. Everybody is taking notes. Quashe’ slides over his personal notebook for my use. icstars-hq4 The formalities finally come to an end and regular conversation breaks out. One of the speakers talks of his first job—the mouse at Chuck E Cheese’s—then washing dishes to earn his way through college. The interns tell about i.c.stars experiences but nothing prior to that, and I take it as intentional. I hear about subjects taught by the program: Leadership. Communications. Networking. Public Speaking. And then a surprise—Civics—they teach Civics and that changes attitudes. Doing what’s right. Becoming a change agent. Asking yourself why people should want to work for you. Asking yourself what your legacy will be. How can you give back to the community? I hear about respect, trust, pride, and a passion for helping those who get overlooked. Time’s up and high tea is over. The interns take their guests on a tour of the facility. We visit a private lair for the interns—a room set aside for free thought, free expression. Whiteboards, brown paper, notes all over the walls. Raw ideas. A song of the day. A person of the day. Avatar Joy Now we’re looking at the mobile app this team is building for a major corporation. At this point, they’re making the software bullet-proof. Layering encryption. Improving the user experience. . .

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The Project

The target audience is age 5-8, and the kids learn safety before they get to do science. Avatar SalThe software makes it engaging with Better-Than-Disney avatars – Sal, Joy, Ned & Pippiand they interact in a game environment. I hear a lot of oohs and aahs in the background. I ask Quashe’ how they can build a mobile app for a Fortune 500 company after just a week of training and only three months to complete the project. “We’re using Ruby on Rails,” he says. “It’s a really easy language to learn.” I happen to know better than that and try to argue the point, but he brushes my objections aside. Avatar Ned “Everything is on the fly,” he says. “The first step is Fast Feed. We throw that code up and if it fails, we instantly stop. ‘What’s wrong? Let’s debug. Let’s get it.’ Then we throw it back up in there. If it passes, now we’re in Staging.”

The terms are new to me but I get the concept. Quashe’ continues: “If it fails at Staging, we stop. ‘What was the difference from Fast Feed to Staging? Let’s fix it.’ Avatar PippiWhen it passes that, we throw it to Production. Once everything is complete and we’re at Production and we’re passing, now it’s lunch time.”

So they crack the problem first—then stop to eat! Sounds more like the Thomas Edison approach than the Microsoft way of doing things. I like it. I hear one of them say they used to call this project their ugly baby, but it’s not ugly any more. icstars-hq7Now they’re using four laptops to show me how they broke the project into four different segments. They’ll bring those together and launch it. Before this article hits the presses, this crop of interns has graduated. What became of their mobile app? So far, the client uses the graphics and ideas but not the game itself. It’s worth checking out the site. Or see the video:

And before I leave, I have a few serious questions for Sandee Kastrul, who heads-up this organization. .

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GO TO PART 5 – TOUGH LOVE

GO BACK TO PART 1 – TALENT HIDES

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i.c.stars – www.icstars.org Sandee Kastrul – President & Co-founder – sKastrul@icstars.org Quashe’ E Granville – QuasheGranville@gmail.com

Photo credits: i.c.stars, UL Labs, Wikipedia .

Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link . This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. It’s not our fault if you lose money. .Copyright © 2014 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved . .

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THE APPRENTICE MEETS DIGITAL BOOT CAMP

icstarg 1Techbash – Part 3

VERBATIM – John Jonelis

This is a story of high expectations, high reality, and high energy. I may as well give it to you straight, because Loop Lonogan would want it that way. He’s in the lockup. Too much hard partying on Twelfth Night. His guests spilled into the street and all kinds of trouble erupted—part of it involving a policeman he knocked cold.  So I’m here at i.c.stars headquarters.  Here to finish Lonagan’s series of articles.  I’m talking to the president and co-founder, Sandee Kastrul.

The location—downtown Chicago. The workspace—all business. I start by throwing out this question: “Can I call i.c.stars a social incubator. Is that fair?”

Sandee bursts out in a smile. “I love it—I love it. It’s all about transformation. Technology is a tool of transformation. Sandee 2We teach technology because it’s creative. It doesn’t know what you look like. At the end of the day you can be a rock star.

“But what really gets us jazzed about technology is the systems thinking and the process that’s embedded in it. If you can take that and apply it to community leadership, to organizing, to service leaders, to entrepreneurship, we can literally make a change in the communities that we come from. And so we sit between the leadership and the technology side. Our vision is 1000 community leaders by 2020. So everything is about the leadership angle.”

This gal is for real and genuinely creative and intellectual. I’m going to enjoy this conversation.

Then she pauses and cocks her head. “Why was the TechBash event so special for Mr. Lonogan?”

icstarg 14

High Expectations

“When Loop visited TechBash,” I say as I lean forward, hands clasped, “he met people that deeply impressed him. Everybody wants to give back—both interns and alums. They’re all wonderful evangelists for your program. He convinced me that you’ve really got something terrific going on here. I also think he feels a deep empathy with the people he met because, as you know, he grew up in a tough neighborhood—and he profited by it. Of course, with Loop we always have to consider the open bar.”

Sandee 16Sandee laughs at that and I ask her to fill me in. 

“Reciprocity is one of our seven tenants.” she says. “It’s embedded in everything we do. Our model is all project-based learning. You spend a week doing team building, leadership training, trust exercises, cross-cultural communications, and then that Friday the team is divided up into three teams that form their own consulting companies and they’re literally competing with each other for their first bid on a project.”

Now I feel a grin coming on.  That’s the kind of interactive hands-on education that I always loved and seldom experienced.  I ask her if the project is a simulation.

“It’s kind of like The Apprentice meets Digital Boot Camp,” she says. “Leadership objectives are baked into their project. There are monkey wrenches all the way through, and those things are scripted, but the software they’re building is real, the requirements are real, it’s all very real.”

How many of your people find work in their field in six months?”

90% placement rate for our graduates—within six months probably 95-100%.”

That’s a significant statement.  Amazing in any economic climate.  So I ask her for the details. 

“Four months of an intensive, twelve hour a day, project-based learning environment.”

“Homework?”

She comes right back. Sandee 6“You do the work until it’s done. I always say the difference between school and work is: School is all about you and work is about everybody else. Sometimes they’ll be here till one in the morning working on deliverables.”

“So twelve hours or even more.”

“Yes. It’s project-based learning. The student is in a meeting and client will say, Okay, we want you to build this mobile app.”

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High Reality

“Corporate sponsors come in with real needs?”

“That’s right. And then the interns figure out how to do it. Then in the last hour, we have a subject matter expert who will come in on a parachute from the sky and help them over the last mile. And what’s important about that from a pedagogy standpoint is that you are learning how to learn—how to figure things out—how to learn quickly—and how to apply that information. Sandee 7It’s not pre-teaching for later—it’s literally learn-for-the-month. What’s interesting is that our whole program is built on the premise that people who have overcome adversity have developed resiliency. And they wouldn’t be sitting at our table without it. Resiliency is the number one thing we’re looking for in our assessment process.”

That makes so much sense to me. I know she’s right.  Of course, not everybody thrives in such a setting and it takes strength of character.  So I ask her where she finds her intern candidates.

“We recruit from all over. Most come from the South and West sides of Chicago.”

Consider the magnitude of what she’s saying. Those are some of the roughest neighborhoods in the country. So I relate to her what Lonagan described last night through the steel screen: “Some of the alums told Loop they felt helpless till they found i.c.stars. Angry. No expectations out of life. No hope. No reason to have any. But each of them somehow had the drive to try this program and somehow got accepted. Does that describe your students?”

“I think so. We’re looking for people who are fighting for something bigger than themselves. That and the resiliency piece. Sandee 9So at some point, they faced adversity in their life and said, ‘I’ll show you. You’re not gonna tell me no.’ And it’s that fight—that resiliency—that develops this tool kit that has creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, all these things. We’re taking that toolkit and providing different context for them to learn. Our assumption is they already have all the raw materials. The project-based learning environment says, You already know—we’re just giving you this other context.

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High Energy

“But you train them first—before they go into a project?”

“A little bit. A week.”

I sit straight in my chair. A week? Who can do that? She must be describing the hottest recruiting ground in the world. “So they learn to program while doing?”

“Yes. We also have night classes. Experts come in and teach a concept.”

“Where do you find the experts to teach?”

She grins. “We have about a thousand volunteers plugged in. The training program manager handles that. A technical coach is on staff. It’s a busy place.”

She’s describing a training program on steroids.  “How many recruits do you accept for a four-month internship?”

“We have capacity for 20 people at a time. We err on the smaller side.”

“I heard that you start with 3,000.”

“That is a very interesting statistic. The top of the funnel is about 400 people who are interested enough in i.c.stars to show the necessary commitment. Sandee 10What happens in that pipeline is quite rigorous: Four phases of assessment tests. At each level, people drop off. They self-select out. They might say, ‘It’s a little too intense—I’m not ready yet.’ It’s not as if we’re kicking people out all the way through—they’re saying, ‘I’m not ready.’

“The last leg is our panel interview. That really looks at resiliency. It is nothing more than seven existential questions in a panel setting. That interview has been THE greatest indicator of people’s success in the program. And on the job. And in the community. It really is looking at, ‘How do you see yourself in the world?’ Are you coming from a locus of control, like, ‘I’m a victim,’ or are you at, ‘This is what I want to do.’ Where do you sit? It’s very powerful. It’s like, ‘What are you gonna do about it?’”

Sandee 8Then she abruptly stands. “High Tea is going to happen now. It’s something we do every day. We have a different business or community leader come to the table and share their story.” She ushers me in and gives me a seat. “You’re going to introduce the person to your left.”

Introduce who—how? Suddenly I’m getting a small dose of what it means to learn while doing and it doesn’t feel comfortable at all.

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GO TO PART 4 – HIGH TECH HIGH TEA

GO BACK TO PART 1 – TALENT HIDES

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Contacts

i.c.stars – www.icstars.org

Sandee Kastrul – President & Co-founder – sKastrul@icstars.org

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Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link . This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. It’s not our fault if you lose money.

.Copyright © 2014 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

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