December 23, 2012
It's not every day that the ruthless mayor of Chicago, the Rahmfather, can be humbled and overcome by a spectacular Christmas gift presented by a newspaper columnist.
"It's a Hanukkah gift!" he insisted.
Whatever. I wasn't going to argue, especially since he was tearing excitedly at the tasteful Snoopy Santa wrapping paper.
Either way, just the sound of the mayor pulling at that paper was enough. All I needed was a pipe, slippers, a cardigan sweater and a big chair, from which I could smile bemusedly while watching the fun like the dad in "A Christmas Story."
But I stood.
"I'm so excited about this, you have no idea," said the Rahmfather, beaming. "Oh, my God, this is absolutely fabulous!"
And there it was, the Rahmfather holding his very own gorgeous edition of the absolutely cool and mysterious portrait "The Rahmfather" — Emanuel as Michael Corleone from the movie "The Godfather: Part III."
Emanuel was himself, which means we can't use all the video from the solemn gift exchange. It was a tad salty. But he had fun. And so did I. He gave me gifts too.
The ceremony of the gifts took place in his City Hall office the other day. Members of his staff were there. Also there were my friend Old School and the famed graphic artist Eric Brightfield, who created it, and his son, Evan, who inspired it all.
For those of you worried about my relationship with the mayor, relax. I'm not going to sit in his lap, and he's not going to sit in mine. The portrait was donated by the Brightfields, and my additional costs were nominal, around $50. I'm not going to become Commissioner of Lotsa Stuff. He's not going to become my buddy. And there are issues boiling over, from contracts at O'Hare to the police code of silence, and we'll tangle.
It was a year ago last December when the original "Rahmfather" arrived at the Tribune, an amazing work.
I'd been calling the mayor The Rahmfather for quite some time, and Evan Brightfield had an idea, to create a portrait on canvas of Emanuel as Corleone. Eric executed the design perfectly.
"I want you to know that when I saw it in the paper, what did I do? What did I do?" asked the mayor.
You called me and said ...
"I need it," he said. "I need that."
It has that effect on people. But I'd never part with mine. Still, a mayor asks for something of little monetary yet great symbolic value, you do what you can. So Brightfield made another copy for the mayor.
Paul Davey of The Practical Angle frame shop in Streeterville fixed an engraved plaque with Brightfield's name and mine.
We also added a special, cryptic phrase in Greek from ancient days, from the time of Homer and heroes. But we had it engraved in English letters, so the Rahmfather could read it aloud phonetically, as could all his visitors.
"What is it?" asked the mayor.
I told him:
Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.
"Oh," he said.
Things were chilly for a moment, but he warmed up and said there were gifts for me as well.
"I know how much the bike people hate you," Emanuel said, referring to columns about hooligan bike riders who take over downtown streets, disobeying traffic laws and getting their spandex in knots because I dared suggest City Hall start treating them like drivers and squeeze them for much-needed revenue.
The mayor wants me to ride a bike.
"I got you Chicago bike socks … and I got you a bicycle owner's manual because I know you don't ever get on a bike."
I started to say that I thought he'd do the pedaling while I rode in the sidecar, but he interrupted me with more treasure:
A mayorally autographed bicycle helmet too small for my rather large head. I tried it on, but the helmet was far too tiny.
"We got the biggest one we could find," said an aide. Yeah, right.
There was something else: tiny training wheels.
"You keep those near you," Emanuel said.
Emanuel then walked us from his formal office to his inner sanctum. The previous mayor had this sanctum brightly decorated, like a bed-and-breakfast. But the Rahmfather's sanctum is somber, as befitting the Rahmfather.
"I'm going to hang it here," he said, picking a place, and I thought of visitors asking him what that strange sentence on the plaque means. I hope he doesn't pry it off.
The Rahmfather — who legend has it once sent a dead fish to a political enemy — just loves the Godfather movies, except for Part III. But no one likes III.
"The best lines," he said, "'Make me an offer I can't refuse.' You know another great line? 'Never go against the family.' And the line at the funeral."
The one where Michael is told that whoever offers to provide security at the meeting with Barzini is the traitor?
"Yeah," said the Rahmfather, a glint in his eye.
As I left, he pulled me aside. "Thanks," he said. You're welcome, I said.
The Brightfields loved meeting the Rahmfather. And it's good that the father credited the son with the idea for the piece.
"I think, of course, he liked it," Eric said. "His face lit up. You can tell when someone likes it. "
"Yeah," Evan said. "He was like a kid on Christmas. He was like a kid on Hanukkah."
Have a happy one, Mr. Mayor.
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