Ben Joravsky: Talking Chicago Politics In Polish!

A few minutes after our January show at the Hideout, my old pal, Dan Pogorzelski, comes up and says…

“I want to introduce you to my friend.”

With that I meet Malgorzata “Margaret” Ptaszynska, who hosts a talk show on Poliskie Radio, which, as the name suggests, is a Polish-language radio station.

“I want you to be a guest on my show,” she says.

Sounds good, except–I don’t speak Polish.

No problem, she says. Dan will translate.

“Dan speaks Polish?” I ask.

“You’re surprised?” asks Dan.

To prove it, he says something in Polish. Though, for all I know, it could be Greek.  I’m so bad in languages, I once mistook Japanese for Spanish. A long story, I’d rather not share at the moment.

Well, one thing leads to another and here I am in the lobby of Poliskie Radio, waiting for the show to begin.

On the wall, are photos of famous Poles who’ve been guests on the station, while passing through Chicago.

This includes the pop singer, Doda–who’s like the Madonna of Poland.

Doda once got in trouble with Polish authorities for saying she believed more in dinosaurs than the Bible because “it is hard to believe in something written by people who drank too much wine and smoked herbal cigarettes.”

My kind of girl!

Doda’s never been afraid to speak her mind…


Eventually, Margaret ushers me into the studio and explains the ground rules.

She’ll ask questions in English. I’ll answer in English. And then Dan will translate.

And so off we go…

After awhile I feel the rhythm. I learn to limit my comments to two or three sentences. So I don’t overwhelm Dan, who has to remember what I say in order to translate it.

We’re talking about this and that and Margaret asks whether there’s any hope to transform our dimwitted and corrupt political system. And I go off on this thing–as I often do–about Chicagoans being pathetic little scaredy cats who are afraid the city will jump into the lake, if they elect anyone other than the incumbent mayor.

As I watch Dan do the translation, it dawns on me: I don’t know what the hell he’s saying. For all I know, it could be:  “My name is Benny Jay and I love Mayor Rahm!”

Now I know how Bill Murray felt in Lost in Translation


That’s Margaret on the left and Dan on the right…


All of a sudden I hear Dan say “California.”

And I’m thinking–California? I never said California!

WTF–has Dan lost his mind?

After the show, Dan explains that he’d said “California falls into the sea. Cause you said Chicago falls into the lake.”

“Oh,” I say. “Like in the Steely Dan song.”


Forget it. That’s called lost in a generational translation.

Anyway, thank you Margaret & Dan for being so patient.

I hope I passed the audition and that someday my picture will go on the Wall of Fame–right next to Doda’s.