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Sex columnist Dan Savage shares his favorite Chicago memories

The “Savage Love” columnist took refuge in “arty-farty” movie palaces.

ILLUSTRATION: JOHN UELAND

“Savage Love,” the sex column known as much for its searingly witty, forthright delivery as for its solid advice, is the brainchild of Dan Savage, 46, a Rogers Park native. Savage recently launched the It Gets Better video campaign, as well as a book of the same name (Dutton Adult, $21.95), that features more than 10,000 messages of encouragement and support for LGBT youth.

What was it like going to Quigley Prep downtown?
It was fun! The Viagra Triangle wasn’t quite the Viagra Triangle yet. It was a bit more tawdry. There were strip clubs and dirty bookstores across the street from Quigley that we were forbidden to go to. [Laughs] What I loved most about it is taking the El everywhere and becoming very independent. If I wanted to go to a movie or a museum, I would march out of the house and take the El.

Are there any places you went to as a kid that you miss?
A lot of my cultural experiences as a kid and teenager were in art-house movie theaters…the Varsity…in Evanston…the Adelphi on Clark. I miss the Granada [on Sheridan]. Me and my arty-farty, teen fag friends, we’d go see Caligula one weekend and then go see Citizen Kane the next weekend, and that’s a real education. There’s one still on Southport that I still go to, the Music Box, but there were, like, half a dozen of them. We lived in them. It’s sad that they’re mostly gone…. I was also at the nightclub Berlin when it opened. I was friends with a bartender. I guess the owners might not be the same, so they won’t get in trouble, but yeah, I think I was still in high school.

What about Chicago has changed the least since you were a kid?
I never learned how to drive, never got my driver’s license. The lakefront [by bike] was how I got everywhere. So coming around the bend where the John Hancock Tower appears in the distance at Fullerton, it’s like my heart explodes. Then at one point on the rocks over on Fullerton, somebody painted one of those mud-flap girls into the rocks, you know, the girl leaned back with her tits out, and I’ve been looking at that since I was 12 years old. [Laughs] It’s like an establishment. Every time, I think, Okay, she’s still there? We’re good.

What do you think it means to be a Chicagoan?
It means you’re not afraid of Rahm Emanuel. It means you’re not afraid of different kinds of people, to share Chicago with all different types. Really, it just means you’re not afraid. Even when we were there for white flight in the late-’70s, my family never left. My family has lived in the same house in Rogers Park in a two-flat apartment building since 1917 and we never left. I remember everyone who fled, those of us who stayed behind said, “Good riddance, you’re cowards.”

Do you have any other memories of Chicago?
I once called Mike Royko because there was a video arcade on Rush by Quigley, and the video games one day had all been programmed so that when it went to “I’m waiting for another sucker to pump a quarter in me” mode, they would start flashing just say no to drugs messages. And I thought that was incredibly insidious or Orwellian. I must’ve been 14 or 15 years old, and I called Mike Royko to say, Look at this, I think this is terrible. And he said, “That’s stupid” and hung up on me. [Laughs] From one Chicago columnist to another!

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