Charles Ezaki came to us through the email address up there in the right-hand corner of every page on the site (plug!). We figured out that we’re in pretty much the same neighborhood and that meeting up at Hopleaf for a noon-time beer would be a great way to start off the day.
CFT: Who are you, Charles?
Charles: I’m Charles. Born and raised in Chicago. On the northwest side. Grew up over on Addison & Pulaski. Haven’t really lived anywhere else but Chicago. Moved up here [to Andersonville] about a year ago, was in Rogers Park for a year, when I first moved out of my parents’ house, you know 30-some odd years. Finally moved up to Rogers Park in a small apartment there, but found a great deal up here—guy I know owns a building. An old guy—he’s lived there his whole life. He’s 75 now, so yeah. I went to school here, went to Lakeview High School, went to Columbia College for 2 years and ran out of money. Been working the same job pretty much since ever since, like, ‘98—been working over at Central Camera. My dad started working there back in ‘85, and that’s kind of how I got the job there.
CFT: So you’re rooted in Chicago.
Charles: Yeah. He was born here in Chicago, too. My grandparents were born out in California, but were moved here—got moved to the relocation camps in WWII, so they go out of the camps, came here, and been here ever since.
CFT: So every single thing about your life, at least in that summary, is so Chicago-rooted and so place-rooted in a way that is really unusual these days, I think. Like, down to the fact that your current landlord, himself, lives in the same place he’s lived for 75 years. Have you thought about that, and is that a comforting rooting, or are you like “Ah, I gotta get out of this place someday.”
Charles: I don’t know. I think about if I moved somewhere else, what it would be like. If I moved far off to another state, I don’t know.
CFT: I’m not trying to rock your world.
Charles: I’ve thought about that, you know? I’ve always thought, if I moved somewhere else, I’m gonna have a Chicago flag lying right there all the time. First time when I first moved to the place in Rogers park, you know I have a Chicago flag, a nice cotton one. A 5 foot huge one. And that’s the first thing I hung up in the apartment. Same thing in the new place—it’s the first thing I hung up. I wanted to establish it before I hung anything else up.
CFT: I’m fascinated by this—until I lived in Chicago I don’t think I’d spent more than 4 years in one place ever*, like back to when I was a kid. So I’m very much a transplant. This is sort of like a place I found. And you aren’t the first person I’ve talked to like this. My wife grew up in the same town, in the same house for 18 years before she moved up here. So it’s just interesting to me, what that feels like. So what was the impulse to get the tattoos?
Charles: Chicago. I just love Chicago, you know. It’s the first one I got. I got this I think 10 years ago, 12 years ago? It was at Chicago Tattoo and Piercing, at their old location before they moved to where they are now. So that’s been a while. I think Mike Dalton did this. He’s not there anymore, he recently opened another shop with a bunch of other guys from Chicago Tattoo and Piercing, so a lot of them went on their own. I dont know the story of that. I got these done same place by, I think Josh Howard did the Superdawg ones. Superdawg, I’ve been up there so many times. I grew up on Chicago hot dogs. Grew up on Jimmy’s Red Hots, which is over on Grand and Pulaski. My dad grew up going there, so he took me up there. I took my girlfriend there. She likes the place, but I think she likes Gene and Jude’s better. It’s fun. I just love Chicago. I was thinking I might get another one, somewhere smaller, some more Chicago tattoos, something like the Magikist Lips. The neon sign that used to be on the highway?
CFT: I don’t think I know that.
Charles: There used to be one off the Kennedy up at Montrose. I think they tore those down in 2004? There used to be one on the Dan Ryan around 95th.
CFT: What is it?
Charles: It was a carpet cleaning company and I think they haven’t been in Chicago for a long time, since long after they were still standing—they were landmarks. The ones up on Montrose, I just grew up down the street from them. I remember seeing those almost every day.
CFT: Yeah, the things that aren’t even there anymore that define a connection to a place. Then it sort of becomes a secret code of the people who do recognize it, since I wouldn’t. “Oh hey!” Then you know that they have been around awhile.
Charles: Yeah. There’s always on Facebook “forgotten Chicago” or “grew up in NW Chi” and they talk about the Magikist Lips now and then. Every time, coming home, I knew when my mom was home, so yeah. They were fun. I remember the old Budweiser sign on the Kennedy, that used to be all neon, too.
CFT: Yeah, I remember that one.
Charles: They took that one down and replaced it with the LED light.
CFT: Your hot dogs are a lot more visible. What’s the percentage of “Superdawg!” vs “Is that a hotdog?”
Charles: It’s kinda like half and half. People who know it are like “Superdawg, that is awesome!” And “What are those, hotdogs?” “Yeah, it’s Superdawg.” “Oh, that’s the place up on Milwaukee.” I’m like “Yeah, the place on Milwaukee.” “Why’d you get em?” “cause they’re awesome, why not?” There’s other people who have them, and they’ve got a whole site & gallery dedicated to them.
CFT: Do you quiz people, on if they know their names?
Charles: Not really. You’ve got Maurie and Flaurie.
CFT: Right. I was going to show off.
Charles: It’s all good. And I got a gift certificate from them. They were like “Here’s a gift certificate for free Superdawgs!” I’m there almost like once a month—it’s once a week sometimes depending on how things are going.
CFT: Same question for the flag—it’s not as visible, but when people do see it, do they know what it is?
Charles: I think some people do, some people outside Chicago—“Oh, Illinois!” “No, it’s Chicago.” Most people try to show it off, but it was the first one I got so I tried to hide it from my parents so I got it up here. I was thinking also getting something more prominent like the municipal device. Someday. Get more money for tattoos!
CFT: It’s the balance of saving room vs saving…
Charles: Figuring out how to arrange stuff. I want more Chicago related stuff on here. And I’ve got my other Nintendo stuff I want to get. I play an original NES and all that. Still works. it’s been finicky but yeah.
CFT: Illinois. That’s a sort of a new one, of like, people getting the zone, but not…
Charles: People forget there’s the rest of Illinois and there’s Chicago and it’s a whole different thing. Like, in all the elections, Chicago’s all votes Democrat then the rest of the state is all Republican. Chicago’s got such a strong vote, it carries the whole state. That’s another fun thing with Chicago politics. Blagojevich was my congressman, and before him it was Rostenkowski. And I think my old Alderman was Kotlarz and he went to jail also. It’s tradition in Chicago politics, going to jail.
CFT: You’d hardly call yourself a Chicago politician if you haven’t been to jail a couple times.
Charles: And Rostenkowski went to jail over the dumbest thing, he was like giving away postage stamps. I wonder what Kotlarz went to jail for, I think he was skimming money off of the tollway at one point?
CFT: Oof. Crazypants.
* This is a lie—I lived in Indiana for 11 years before I moved to Chicago. But other than that, 3-5 years any one place.