order of oddfish cover

The Order of Oddfish


The Death of Dark Yellow

Our dear friend Dark Yellow turned thirty, so last Friday Heather and I hosted a surprise funeral / birthday party for him. (We call him Dark Yellow because that was the name of his old one-man band. I hated the name so much that I vowed to call him “Dark Yellow” for the rest of his life. Now mellowed in age, Heather and I just call him DY).

Brad, Liz, Nathan, Stephanie, Maria, Cynthia, and Paul secretly came over during the week to prepare. We built a coffin, painted it pink, and lined it with a glittery purple cushioned interior. We spelled out “DY” in dark yellow flowers and mounted it on the wall, and decorated the house with ridiculous pictures of him from throughout his life.

About forty-five people came. When DY came in, everyone was dressed in black and crying. Nobody paid any attention to him; he was dead.


I took him aside, put him in the coffin we had built, and then we all lined up for the “viewing.” One by one, everyone passed his corpse, commented on how natural he looked, or muttered under our breaths we’re glad the rascal is dead.

Then the eulogies started.

I’m wearing white here because it’s the happiest day of my life.


Paul Hornschemeier (who did the wonderful illustration for my story in the Chicago Reader back in 2004) delivered a hilarious speech revealing his and DY’s secret life as longtime companions.


Brad did a slide show of Zelig-like photos of DY.


Heather read the will.

Stephanie Morris, the designer of this website and the other half of DY’s current (good!) band The Pawners’ Society, led a tearful sing-along of “Come As You Are.”


Paul Hornschemeier also led a sing-along, but his was of a song from DY’s high school band “Citrus Boy” — the mortifying “Jock Girls Suck.”

DY’s girlfriend Cynthia did a speech too, as well as Maria, Nathan, and Jon Rosenblatt. In terms of sheer comedy, the best speeches of the night were from the aforementioned Paul Hornschemeier and Jonathan Messinger, below.

Jonathan met DY at Pioneer Press, where DY still works as a reporter (and has a blog). Jonathan read us ridiculous ledes from news articles DY had written:


“Smelly. Gross. Disgusting. That’s how most people think of garbage.”


“He’s no Jack Sparrow, but he’s no landlubber either. Peter Fray may live in Oak Park, but he’s a man of the sea.”


“If a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet, would a brick by any other name still pave your street? Residents on a two-block stretch of Wenonah Avenue in Oak Park don’t think so.”


Possibly just to exasperate me, DY’s favorite movie is Weekend At Bernie’s. To culminate the eulogies, I announced that DY’s dying wish was that his corpse be used in a remake of Weekend At Bernie’s. So I handed out scripts and we all did the party scene from the movie with DY as Bernie. Infuriatingly, DY was able to mouth along all the lines.


At the end of the eulogies, we did a ritual and resurrected DY. A magnificent bastard like him just won’t stay dead.


Saturday Heather and I escaped our still-uncleaned house and went to a fun beer-tasting party at Kate and Mitch’s. Various beers were placed in unmarked containers and we had to rate them; those guests who brought the winning and losing beers received appropriate prizes. The comments were read aloud at the end, which turned into a gleefully vulgar, absurd version of when Sebastian and Charles raid the Marchmain wine cellars ( “It is a little, shy wine like a gazelle.” “Like a leprechaun.” “Dappled, in a tapestry meadow.” “Like a flute by still water.” “And this is a wise old wine.” “A prophet in a cave.” “And this is a necklace of pearls on a white neck.” “Like a swan.” “Like the last unicorn.”)


On Sunday Brilliant Pebbles played with Secret Chiefs 3 and The Scarring Party at the Double Door. Wicker Park Fest was going on just around the corner, but luckily, it didn’t seem to hurt the draw too much. I was very excited to have a poster done by Nate Murphy, our old friend (and Monika’s former housemate). Unfortunately, he moved to Atlanta right when I started to get to know him. I love his obsessive-compulsive attention to the smallest detail. Check out the poster above: both the ghost and the goo from which it rises are made entirely of tiny, furiously interlocking worms! That’s all hand-drawn!


The opening band, The Scarring Party, was from Milwaukee. Based on their Myspace, I had described them on our promotional email as the “ye-olde-tymey-apocalypse jingles of The Scarring Party, whose peppy, accordion-banjo-tuba-clarinet dirges sound like a gamblin’ riverboat preacher come to rain twangy hellfire on your picnic.” That turned out to be fair. The accordion player sang in a nasal, 1920s-y drawl into an old-fashioned microphone about how “people are the evil of the world,” or about writing a novel at the bottom of the sea, as the banjo-man and tuba-lady plinked and puffed along, and the percussionist occasionally used a typewriter or large iron bell to keep time. I liked it.


We went on second, and I was mortified that once again, in the very first song, my bass strap broke and the instrument went crashing to the floor. And then it fell off again, in the second song! (I must remember to buy locks for that strap.) And yet the crowd didn’t seem to mind. It was a chaotic, just-barely-held-together set — Monika was nowhere to be found when we had to start the first song, so we played half of it without her — and yet this was the most positive response we’d ever received. I was frankly intimidated to play with a band as polished, pedigreed, intense, and just plain amazing as Secret Chiefs 3, but to my astonishment they honestly seemed to like us.

Dengue Fever and other things…

Brilliant Pebbles played the Empty Bottle last Friday. We’d been anticipating this show for weeks. Cambodian pop revivalists Dengue Fever headlined and they sold the place out. They deserved it. They were mesmerizing. Here’s their singer, Chhom Nimol:

An incredible beard also occurred.

For our set, Monika and I planned that, between our second and third songs, while Philip kept drumming, we would run out into the crowd banging cowbells and shaking maracas to get people to dance. Nobody did dance, but we built up some goodwill. Or amused pity.


Philip had messed up his arm and shoulder in a bike accident a month ago. He was so badly injured we thought we might have to back out of our summer shows, but he gritted his teeth and drummed through the pain like a pro. I think he prepared himself with a fistful of ibuprofen.


Monika was in tip-top form, lunging, growling, screeching, trilling like a punk parakeet. At one point she dragged a big orange traffic cone onstage – I still don’t understand where it came from – and decided it was a hat.

My bass strap broke off at the end of the last song, I collapsed along with the guitar, and I ended up playing on my back. Before Brilliant Pebbles, the last time I’d really played bass was 1997. By contrast, Sam is a classically trained musician, and Philip has been drumming for about twenty years. One day, the rest of the band will come to realize what a novice I am, and quietly but firmly ask me to leave.

Saturday night Heather and I went to see the very talented Carol Enoch act in “The Mysterious Elephant and the Terrible Tragedy of the Unlikely Addington Twins (*Who Kill Him)” at the Chopin Theatre. I had high expectations going in, and they were exceeded. The whole thing was ingenious. I wish it had run longer so I could tell more friends about it. I hope the Chopin revives it like they did with the also-brilliant “The Strangerer.” Carol offered to introduce me to the playwright, Emily Schwartz, but it seemed like all her family was there and I didn’t want to intrude.


On Sunday Heather and I went with Dark Yellow to see Cynthia do a fun bunraku performance in Millennium Park. A woman played “Pictures at an Exhibition” on the piano while some goblin puppets bothered a big man-child puppet. A butterfly and a little boy got killed, but then a wizard set everything right again. Wizards! Is there anything they can’t do? If there is, I don’t want to know about it.


My brother-in-law Max, along my niece Freya and nephew Theo, caught up with us at the end of the show and we took the trolley to Navy Pier. One of my friends from high school, Kathleen, is married to Jamie, the captain of The Pride of Baltimore II, a tall ship in the style of an early-1800s clipper that’s docked in Chicago for a week or so. Sam, Monika, and Becky met us at the pier, and Jamie showed us around the ship.

Jamie told us about how the ship was “dismasted” during a squall off the coast of France. That is, the bowsprit broke in two, causing both the fore and main mast to break and collapse. Luckily nobody was hurt – though the main mast smashed into starboard side, missing some of the crew by as little as six feet. The crew had to work continuously for five hours to salvage what was left and repair the ship enough to get it to port. You can read the incredible story here.


Just for perspective, when I’m talking about the main mast, I mean this:

I attended Jamie and Kathleen’s wedding back in 2003. They were married on his ship (at the time he was captain of a different schooner named Sultana). Kathleen waited on shore in an orange dress, and Jamie and his crew were assembled on the Sultana, wearing uniforms appropriate to 1800s sailors. Jamie bellowed out, “First mate, fetch me my bride!” and the first mate rowed to shore, helped Kathleen onto the rowboat, and rowed her out to the ship. Then Jamie and Kathleen were married on the Sultana’s deck. The reception was at the old-fashioned playhouse that Kathleen managed at the time. The maid of honor was the buffest maid of honor I’d ever seen: it turns out she held the record for the bench press in her weight class. One of the best weddings I’ve attended.


Later the same day, Heather and I took Jamie to see yet another play our friend Cynthia was in (a busy woman, Cynthia), called “War Garden.” Each weekend the Walkabout theater group puts on the play in a different community garden around Chicago; this weekend it was the garden around the corner from our house. It was a beautiful day for it.

The premise was about a women’s gardening club during World War I that butts heads over land use with Captain George Streeter, a real figure from Chicago history. (Captain Streeter had claimed the Chicago neighborhood now known as Streeterville as his own sovereign fiefdom.) The Captain was played with exuberant, scenery-chewing gusto by the playwright, Seth Bockley.

The ladies’ gardening club achieved a very amusing prissiness, but Captain Streeter stole every scene with his Barnum-by-way-of-Beetlejuice ranting, twitching, panting, and bellowing. The story culminated with a cabbage catapult used to great effect.

Later that day, Heather noticed that Jamie had new-looking stitches on his forehead. It turned out he and his crew were out carousing in Chicago when someone threw an orange traffic cone at him, slashing open his head! Jamie was going to stitch it up himself on their ship, or let someone in his crew do it, but he decided to go to the hospital.


The doctors stitched Jamie up and he returned to his ship. But later, while eating a late-night snack, he noticed something red on his sandwich. He didn’t remember putting ketchup on there; it turned out he was bleeding on his food. So he went back to the hospital and they added another stitch or two to close off the stray blood vessel. Perhaps he should’ve stitched himself in the first place.


It wasn’t until later that I realized that, during that weekend, orange traffic cones approached both me and Jamie in a mysterious, threatening way: ominously materializing onstage at the Empty Bottle, and flying through the air at Jamie’s head. Luckily I emerged unscathed, and Jamie had only a minor injury. But what did those traffic cones want from us?