The ‘NY Post’ Comes to Chicago: An Appreciation

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By: Mark Fitzgerald

(Commentary) Walt Whitman, in the last “Death-Bed Edition,” of his opus “Leaves of Grass,” includes a charming poem that in just seven lines contains the themes that motivated his poetry — his marvel at America’s vast landscape, the nation’s limitless potential, and the too-often hidden beneficent faces of mankind and technology.

The inspiration of the poem is plain in its title: “Orange Buds By Mail From Florida.” In a little prose introduction, he recalls that Voltaire once argued some proofs for progress of France and civilization. Whitman then wrote:

“A lesser proof than old Voltaire’s, yet greater,
Proof of this present time, and thee, thy broad expanse, America,
To my plain Northern hut, in outside clouds and snow,
Brought safely for a thousand mile o’er land and tide.
Some three days since on their own soil live-sprouting,
Now here their sweetness through my room unfolding,
A bunch of orange buds by mail from Florida.”

Last Friday morning, I felt a little like Walt Whitman, not as Allen Ginsberg imagined him in a supermarket in California, but in my neighborhood White Hen convenience store. There to my plain Chicago street, outside December gray and bitter, the week-old snow frozen slick and grimy, was a little taste of Whitman’s beloved Mannahatta: the New York Post.

I knew that the Post had started circulating in Chicago a couple weeks before — part of its expansion far from the five boroughs — but I’d never actually seen a copy anywhere. And now here it was in the 41st Ward, with what instantly becomes the most anomalous name in all of U.S. newspaperdom: New York Post Midwest Edition.

Now we’ve got tabloids in Chicago, three of them, offering readers all they need to know about crooked pols and Bears QB Rex Grossman’s shortcomings (Chicago Sun-Times); or about drink specials and LiLo (RedEye); or sobre la redeadas de la Migra and la bella Shakira (Hoy). And we’ve got writers with real tabloid chops, like the Sun-Times’ Neil Steinberg, who also wrote for a time for the New York Daily News, and sportswriter Jay Mariotti, who managed to inspire a New York-sized meltdown in White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen this season.

But these papers, undeniably, are not the Post.

RedEye has plenty of attitude, and its sports section can be downright subversive. But you’ll never see RedEye identifying Paris Hilton — as the Post did in its Friday paper — as a “celebutard,” “celebri-skank,” and “heirhead.” And the Sun-Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Jack Higgins, for all his acerbic style, is unlikely to comment on the Iraq Study Group report by showing a shocked Uncle Sam, saying, “Just as I suspected!”, opening a bedroom door to see James Baker and French President Jacques Chirac en flagrante delecto and surrounded by such French iconography as a mime, a double-amputee frog in a wheelchair, a poodle and Pepe Le Pew.

For a Jersey native like myself, finding a same-day Post in a White Hen was like discovering a slice of real pizza in Chicago, something that could only be dreamed and never realized. (Could good pizza be on its way, too? Fahgedabout.)

It’s been months since I’ve been back East, months without reading the eloquent incoherence of Post columnist Steve Dunleavy. Friday’s piece was the kind he can apparently toss off in his sleep. “Ever been to a cop funeral?” it began, and he was off to the races. You won’t be surprised that it ends with an out-of-left-field slam at Al Sharpton.

In a weird way, too, I missed all the breathless gossip about “celebrities” I have never heard of. Who, for instance, is Cisco Adler? Or Mischa Barton, Mena Suvari, or Stacey Bendet? They all made the cut for fame on Page Six, which ran on page 16.

It was the Post in all its smudgy glory, including the always shaky copy editing. In one item about two alleged Mafia members who got into a near-fatal brawl because one guy was smoking in the other guy’s restaurant (headline: “Wiseguy is lit into for cig law”), one sentence read: “{P.J., due in court next month … could get up to 25 years for first-degree gang assault [cq actual charge].”

Well, almost everything was there. I was deeply disappointed that not a single headline used the word “perv” as in “Nab Perv In S.I. Sting.” Now that I think about it, I don’t think they used the verb “nab” even once, either.

This taste of the Big Apple in Chicago, though, packs the same kind of sticker shock as searching for a hotel room in Manhattan. The Post is winning the tabloid war with the Daily News with a cover price of just a quarter in New York. In Chicago, it?ll put you back $1.75. Considering that the Financial Times, stacked nearby in the White Hen racks, goes for $1.50, the Post is a pricy down-market alternative.

But I paid gladly, fully aware that I wasn?t really buying a newspaper so much as transportation — to the New York of real rye bread and honking horns and 16-ounce cans of Ballantine Ale and the backroom of the old Gotham Book Mart and let?s-go-Rangers! and basement Chinatown restaurants.

A New York Post in Chicago. Another everyday Daily Miracle, a latter-day arrival of orange buds by mail from Florida.






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