November 2009: Bryan Smith, Joe Meno, Richard Babcock, Robert Krughoff, Saverio Truglia
Quietly, quickly, heroin use flared up in the western suburbs, starting in the late 1990s. Describing the circumstances of the drug-related death of a St. Charles teenager in 2007, Bryan Smith examines the epidemic in Trashed. “It takes a dramatic event—a cold, ugly death like this—to shake a community out of denial,” says Smith, Chicago’s writer-at-large. “Expert after expert told me that people in an affluent community like St. Charles don’t want to acknowledge that their children could be involved in something like heroin,” he says. Nevertheless, money, access to cars, and more potent heroin combined to lay out the kindling, waiting for a spark.
JOE MENO is a writer with an expected sort of day job: teaching at Columbia College. James McManus, a writer and the subject of Meno’s Books article, “America’s Game,” teaches too, but he also has a more unusual day job—playing poker. Meno doesn’t exactly see an inconsistency. “There is this element of similarity between being a gambler, taking risks, and someone who has decided they’re going to pursue being a writer,” he says. Writer/gambler does have some shock value, though. Meno analogizes: “If this teaching thing doesn’t work out, I might get into horse racing.” Meno is working on a screenplay of his novel The Great Perhaps, which was published in May.
Resonances from the 1930 killing of the mob-entangled Chicago Daily Tribune reporter Jake Lingle spurred RICHARD BABCOCK to write Prince of the City, the story of Lingle’s murder and its aftermath. “I looked over the political landscape of the state and city and saw the unending crush of corruption,” Babcock says. Just as the star reporter’s venality surfaced after his death, even self-styled political reformers can get indicted. “The good guy turns out to be the bad guy,” Babcock says. In addition to serving as Chicago’s editor in chief, Babcock has written two novels.
This month’s Checkbook article, “Bicuspid Bliss,” presents data from the services-research magazine Consumers’ Checkbook, led by its president, ROBERT KRUGHOFF. After surveying thousands of patients, Checkbook identified for Chicago 40 outstanding dentists in the area—a methodology that’s different from Chicago’s biannual Top Doctors lists, which start with interviews of doctors and hospital administrators. Both avenues merit study. “I think the two things reinforce each other,” Krughoff says. And with Checkbook, as with Top Docs, more research props up the surveys. “We’re always trying to figure out, just as a reporter would, where there’s information that will tell us something about quality,” Krughoff says.
SAVERIO TRUGLIA, who constructed the photograph of dogs playing poker with James McManus for “America’s Game,” worried that McManus, the author of the poker history Cowboys Full, would object to his image appearing in a kitsch icon. Fortunately, “when we proposed it to him he was all over it,” Truglia says. “He even mentioned these kinds of paintings in his book.” Getting the confused dogs to be responsive photographic subjects was a challenge, but so was persuading McManus to emote. “He was poker-faced all the time,” Truglia says. “Trying to get Jim to do something was harder than getting the dogs to do something.” Truglia’s work has appeared in Time, Rolling Stone, and Fast Company.
Photography: (Smith) Megan Lovejoy, (Meno) Joe Wigdahl, (Truglia) Richard Lech