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#NYvCHI: A clash featuring Natalie Portman & cheeseburgers

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As the matchup between the New York Red Bulls will host the Chicago Fire looms closer (Saturday, 3:30 pm ET, NBC, live chat on MLSsoccer.com), it's time to take a quick look at the not-so-subtle differences between the two cities off the field.

So we commissioned former Brooklyn resident, Armchair Analyst Matthew Doyle, to wax nostalgic about New York, and former Red Line commuter and senior editor Nick Firchau to rep the Windy City, and they went toe-to-toe in a cultural clash.

NEW YORK

The list is long and distinguished, including sequel disasters like The Godfather: Part III and Spiderman 3; Woody Allen’s “I just need a paycheck” phase; and too many low-budget, Harmony Korine-style indies to count (including Kids, which cannot be unwatched). The winner, though – and bear in mind that I’m limiting this to films I’ve seen, which rules out the Arthur remake – is Black Swan. The whole third act of that film tracks like a Family Guy cut-away gag: “Hey Lois, remember that time I danced the second half of Swan Lake with a mortal stomach wound?”

You just pictured Peter Griffin saying that, and now you’re nodding. As far as “dumb plot twists” go, Black Swan is cartoon territory.

 

WORST MOVIE
SHOT THERE

CHICAGO

Chicago has a number of great movies (the entire John Hughes catalog, The Blues Brothers, The Dark Knight, Hoop Dreams), but they’ve had their stinkers, too. The winner here holds a special place in my heart for a number of reasons: It disgraces the iconic Wrigley Field, the great John Candy is embarrassing in a bit role and well, Gary Busey appears entirely sober. That’s just a waste of talent right there.

We’re talking, of course, about Rookie of the Year, in which the most pathetic of the four dudes from American Pie suddenly throws 90-mile-an-hour gas after the tendons in his arm heal too tightly after suffering a broken arm, and then he balances the rigors of being a pre-teen and the Cubbies’ No.  1 man. I mean, this script just writes itself. Am I right?

The first person who leapt to mind was Mike Ditka, but he might be the litigious type, so let’s just make it clear: I do not want to punch Mike Ditka in the face.

There are plenty of other options, however, since most Chicagoans have eminently punchable faces. Rod Blagojevich is near the top – there was never a point during that whole scandal that I didn’t want to punch him in the face.

But my choice is going to be Ernest Hemingway. Yes, he was a great writer, and fairly heroic at times in his personal life. Then he moved to the Idaho wilderness for two years, cut off all communication with his loved ones and shot himself in the face with a shotgun. Emo kid, cheer up or I'll hit you!

 

PERSON I'D MOST LIKE TO PUNCH FROM THE OTHER CITY

I’ll stick with Matt’s strategy and avoid any legal battles against my top choice Donald Trump, and I have a sneaking suspicion that Alex Rodriguez isn’t even really worth the time. Luckily, the majority of New Yorkers walking around probably deserve a cold cock if you ask me, so there are options.

But, because Chicago folks aren’t about to take any grief from New Yorkers, let’s pick the toughest one walking around. I’ll take Brooklyn native and former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, who, you may recall, knocked dudes out for a living for years and occasionally bit one or two of them when things got really intense. He’s a reformed teddy bear now, of course, which means that I would likely have a shot to last much longer than Michael Spinks ever did.

Every SNL skit that’s not explicitly set somewhere else is implicitly set in New York City, so I have a pretty big advantage in this category. Limiting it just to last season, I would take the Eli Manning “Little Brothers of America” sketch, which was probably the best moment of a bad year.

Remove the “last season” limit, and it’s clearly Eddie Murphy’s Mister Robinson’s Neighborhood sketches of the early 1980s. They had three minutes to parody economic inequality, white flight, consumerism, segregation and inner-city crime, and they ticked every box while still bringing the lulz. It’s some of the funniest stuff ever on network TV, and I’m almost certain they wouldn’t get away with it today.

 

BEST SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE SKIT

The easy outs here are the suburban DYI appeal of Wayne’s World or the gluttonous zenith of Chris Farley with a hula skirt stealing every shot of The Superfans. But for my money, I’ll take a skit with John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray working at the fictional Olympia Restaurant, based on the very non-fictional Chicago icon, the Billy Goat Tavern.

You want tuna salad sandwich? No. Cheeseburger. Grilled cheese? No. Cheeseburger. Coke? No Coke, Pepsi. It’s not rocket science and it’s not an insightful look into the cracks of society, but this place still operates almost exactly the way it did when these guys nailed it in the 1970s, and I dare you to order to a cheeseburger without quietly thinking “cheesburga!” That’s a cultural impact.

Nick’s going to try to claim that Al Capone wins this one for Chicago hands down, and he’s going to be wrong. Capone was a one-note, short-term minor leaguer who left Brooklyn because he couldn’t hack it there.

Lucky Luciano could. And he didn’t just “hack it,” he ran it for a long, long time. Luciano was the one who organized New York into the Five Families, and he’s the one who extended their influence across the entire country. He was known as “The Boss of Bosses,” and when the US invaded Sicily during World War II, the Navy went to Luciano first – even though he’d been in jail for seven years – because his contacts on the ground were still that good.

 

BADDEST GANGSTER
 

I won’t exactly give this one to Matt, even though he’s clearly been studying up on his episodes of Boardwalk Empire. Al Capone did start in Brooklyn, but can you really blame him for leaving New York? He seized on an opportunity in Chicago during prohibition and promptly ran that town for nearly a decade.

Yes, Elliott Ness caught up with him and he eventually served 11 years in Alcatraz, but he also spent years and years on top: rigging elections, running casinos, bribing mayors and generally causing mayhem for his competitors, culminating with his alleged orchestration of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929. If not for a nasty case of syphilis and a bum tax record, he coulda been a star.

Pretty much every country in the world has an ex-pat community in New York City, and everything goes, which means if you go out on a jaunt you could end up in the middle of anything from a Sikh holy day feast (they give you free food, which is awesome) to a Mermaid Parade.

Tragedy gave us the best tradition, however. Every year on Dec. 8 – the anniversary of John Lennon’s murder – at the Strawberry Fields memorial in Central Park, thousands of Beatles fans gather and sing songs all evening and late into the night. The monument also serves as a de facto gathering place for New Yorkers in the wake of tragedy, most notably in the days following 9/11.

 

MOST UNDERRATED TRADITION

Forget the Chicago River on St. Patrick’s Day. I’ll take the CTA’s Holiday Train, which will absolutely blow your mind if you’re slightly intoxicated or unprepared for such unbridled Christmas cheer. Here’s how the Chicago Tribune described the scene in a 2011 article: “An ‘L’ glowing with multicolored lights, staffed by elves, playing Christmas music and carrying Santa Claus atop an open-air flatcar in a sleigh.” Oh, is that all?

The CTA offers a schedule for which line the Holiday Train will ride on in December, but forget that. Just grab a spot on the platform and hope it’s your night, cause the Christmas spirit is out there somewhere, with service running from the Dan Ryan to the North Pole.

Robert Moses, the high priest of terrible urban planning, is one of the worst people in US history. Not only did he do everything in his power to destroy the City’s ethnic and cultural enclaves – replacing them with the godawful high rises that everybody hates – he also created NY’s completely broken system of Public Benefit Corporations. That, right there, accounts for 90 percent of the state’s crippling debt.

His most obvious legacy, however, comes from his emphasis on highways over public transit. New Yorkers are stuck with a 100-year-old subway system that was designed for one-10th of the ridership it currently handles, mostly because Moses wanted to make sure his friends had plenty of choices for their Sunday drives. Nice longview, Bob.

 

JERK WHO TRIED TO RUIN THE CITY

This one might not exactly be factually accurate, but the story is simply too good to pass up. Try and find someone or something more vilified in Chicago history that Catherine O’Leary’s cow, who allegedly kicked over a Kerosene lamp in a barn near present day Printer’s Row and started the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The fire swallowed up 18,000 buildings and $200 million in property, about a third of the valuation of the entire city. More than 300 people died.

It turns out, however, that Chicago Tribune reporter Michael Ahern made up the cow story for great copy, and the real culprit may have been Daniel “Pegleg” Sullivan. He was allegedly trying to steal some milk when he kicked the lamp over, but he escaped infamy.

The G Train is a nightmare. Friends of mine who’ve lived in the City all their lives still call it “The Ghost Train,” and anyone who’s stumbled onto a platform in the middle of Brooklyn at 2 am would probably agree with that assessment. There’s never anyone with you, which means you spend the entire wait expecting a mugger to materialize out of the darkness, and when the train finally does come, it’s almost guaranteed to smell. Of what... well, you usually try not to figure that out.

The one thing that could make it useful is if it ran to LaGuardia, but nope. It doesn’t even run to Queens Plaza, for heaven's sake.

 

WORST TRAIN LINE

In general, I don’t have too many qualms with the Orange Line, simply because it gets you from downtown to Midway fairly quickly and there’s a nice elevated view of the lake once you get south of Roosevelt. My issue is that when the train ends at the airport, you’ve got another lengthy wait in the parking lot and another ride of at least 15 minutes on the bus until you get you to Toyota Park for a Chicago Fire game. Basically, if you’re not flying out of town, the Orange Line serves as much point as an Amtrak to the Quad Cities.

There was talk of Orange Line expansion as part of a CTA overhaul if Chicago won the 2016 Summer Olympics, but so much for that. Should have rented a Zipcar.

It’s not often that the terms “high concept” and “brilliant” go together, but that’s the case for Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho. You’ve probably seen the film, which mostly does it justice, but do take some time to read the book.

It presents as the story of a Wall Street serial killer (that’s the high concept part), but unfolds as a pretty methodical deconstruction of 1980s NYC yuppie culture. That’s when the message becomes fairly straight-forward: If you immerse yourself in the pure, unadulterated pursuit of money, you will eventually lose the ability to distinguish between “murders and executions” and “mergers and acquisitions.” Patrick Bateman is not special, he is simply at the extreme end of what can happen if you try to out-hustle New York itself.

 

MOST UNFLATTERING BOOK

There are some less than flattering images all throughout Erik Larson’s ravenously popular Devil in the White City, but come on. Is there anything worse than characters being ground up into Durham's Pure Leaf Lard?

Enter Upton Sinclair, who in 1906 introduced the world to an immigrant couple from Lithuania and the wonderful world of the Chicago meatpacking industry in The Jungle. It was a dangerous time for both bovines and humans in the stockyards, where working conditions were absolutely atrocious for a largely immigrant workforce. At least that’s what Sinclair wanted to get across, but the American public instead focused on the fact that the boys downtown were cranking out, as Sinclair called it, “tubercular beef.” The stockyards are long gone in Chicago now, but the stain this book left on the entire scene still stinks.

Coin flip for me between Portishead at Roseland in the mid-'90s, and Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros at St. Ann’s Warehouse under the Brooklyn Bridge in early 2002. In all honesty, the Portishead concert was probably better (I think it’s the best live album I’ve ever heard), but Joe opened up with “London Calling,” and then me and a buddy – who was a roadie for The Clash on their first American tour – ended up having beers afterward with him, Martin Scorsese and Nick Cage.

Certain things seem like they can only really happen in New York, and that’s one of them. I finished that night as the sun was coming up and people were just starting their Friday morning commute.

 

BEST CONCERT I SAW THERE

Matt’s pulling a typical New York trick by name dropping Martin fricking Scorcese here, but don’t be fooled. I’ll take a night in the front row watching The Black Keys at The Vic Theatre circa 2006, long before they were the summer concert headliner they are now. They melted faces that night, and watching drummer Patrick Carney hammer away like Animal from the Muppets was more than enough to justify holding in a few Old Styles for about two hours.

No, the night didn’t end with me sipping drinks with a pair of Oscar winners, but New Yorkers always seem to do this. They define themselves by who they’re at the restaurant with, rather than who they actually are.

I left New York for California 20 months ago, and am still getting used to the slower pace and earlier nights. And that’s the best reason never to move to NYC.

You see, after a decade there, I’m programmed to feel like I’ve lost the evening if I don’t stay up until at least 1 am. I’m 36 years old, I have a job, a wife and two cats, but because of my New York state of mind, I treat myself like I’m an extra in Mad Men.

I also left the City with zero savings and fuzzy memories of everything that happened before I turned 24. I have no idea why that is, but I suspect 14-hour champagne brunches (another New York tradition) may have something to do with it.

 

REASON NOT TO MOVE THERE

You can count on two of Chicago’s drawbacks popping up with the change of seasons. In the summer, there’s almost always a frightening rash of shootings on the South Side, and every winter it gets so bone-chilling cold, you’ll considering asking your boss if your company has a Florida satellite office.

But what bugs me about Chicago most is how amazing it could be if people didn’t recede to their own corners of the city every night. It’s an incredibly diverse city but ultimately far more segregated than NYC, which encourages folks to stay in their own neighborhoods and rarely venture outside except for work. In this case, Matt, I wish Chicago was more like New York.