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By Cara Jepsen

FRIDAY 6

British-born artist Melanie Smith uses the color orange in her work to investigate such issues as consumerism, materialism, and the human desire for attention. "The retinal irritation that it causes unashamedly emits vulgarity, cheapness, and debasement," she says. Smith has spent the last ten days at the Randolph Street Gallery creating a new, site-specific, as-yet-untitled installation that includes found objects, video games, and, of course, the color orange. It will be unveiled at a free opening reception tonight from 6 to 8 at the gallery, 756 N. Milwaukee. Call 666-7737 for more.

The handwritten lyrics of Bono and Joan Baez are just some of the work that appears in the new book Poetry for Peace; published by the Peace Museum, the collection features the poems and artwork of 30 artists. Tonight the gallery is holding a book-release party that includes wine, hors d'oeuvres, and poetry readings by Chicago contributors Gregorio Gomez, Cindy Salach, Marc Smith, and Jean Howard. It starts at 8 at the Peace Museum, 314 W. Institute. Tickets are $5 for the party only, $12 for the party and the book. Call 440-1860 for info.

Want to critique the critic? Your chance has come with Reader contributor Jack Helbig's Kitten With a Whip. The one-act satire is about an actress who joins a theater company led by a man who's attempting to put on a musical version of The Epic of Gilgamesh. Part of Helbig's larger series--The Loves and Likes of Rebecca McTeague--the farce will be performed at the Around the Coyote festival tonight, tomorrow, and Sunday at 10 at the Trap Door Theatre, 1655 W. Cortland. It's free with admission to the festival ($3 donation). Call 342-6777.

SATURDAY 7

Mighty Sparrow, Devon Brown, Liziba, Leontene Dupree, Yabba Griffiths, and the West Indian Dance Company will be among the performers at this weekend's International Festival of Life, an annual event designed to bring together people of all races, cultures, and ethnic backgrounds. The fest features arts, crafts, and cuisine from places all over the world, including Mexico, Greece, Russia, Africa, India, and Jamaica. It's from 10 to 10 today and tomorrow in the sunken garden at the DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E. 56th. Daily admission is $10 ($6 in advance), $3 for seniors and children under 12. Call 559-1212 for tickets, 427-0266 for info.

For more than 100 years the Florsheim Shoe Company served as a sort of men's club for the middle manager--with its leather chairs, antique furniture, and sportsman paintings, it was a place where a fella could take his shoes off in peace and try on a new pair. But that's all changing, as the Chicago-based company adds women's shoes and active wear to its stock. As part of the makeover, the store's old-school furnishings go on the auction block at the Florsheim Shoe Company Furniture & Fine Art Auction. It starts at 11 (doors open at 10) today and tomorrow at the Florsheim Building, 130 S. Canal. Admission is free. Call 832-9800 for more.

Several years ago a former flame sent me a fat package. Inside was a year's worth of our gushing, romantic, and stupid correspondence. Though I can't bring myself to throw the stuff away, I still haven't perused the prose, certain nothing could be more embarrassing. Perhaps this weekend's Letters Show will prove me wrong. Hosted by playwright, novelist, and collector David Hauptschein and NPR's Ira Glass, the open-mike event offers people a chance to bring letters they've written, received, or found and read them to complete strangers. The best will be edited and broadcast September 20 and 28 at 7 PM on Glass's This American Life. The fun's from 8 to 10 tonight and tomorrow at the Lunar Cabaret and Full Moon Cafe, 2827 N. Lincoln. It's $7. There's a time limit of five minutes per reader, and you should reserve a spot by calling 327-6666.

SUNDAY 8

A 16-room Kenwood mansion, a Queen Anne row house, and homes by Frank Lloyd Wright and I.M. Pei are all part of today's Hyde Park-Kenwood house and garden tour. The four-hour tour includes a combination of driving and walking (transportation will be provided) and starts at noon at the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club, 5480 S. Kenwood. Tickets are $20 ($15 in advance); proceeds benefit the club. Call 643-4062 for tickets or info.

MONDAY 9

For years--in the U.S. at least--everyone but the Film Center and a few other artsy venues ignored Hong Kong film star Jackie Chan. Today you can see him on Letterman talking about his career as a latter-day Buster Keaton. The British-made documentary The Jackie Chan Story shows how his work has evolved from formulaic martial-arts flicks to such great full-fledged farces as Police Story and Amor of God. It'll be screened tonight at 8 at the Liar's Club, 1665 W. Fullerton. It's free. For more information call 509-4958.

TUESDAY 10

This fall Republican incumbent state's attorney Jack O'Malley will be challenged by Democrat Dick Devine, Justice Party candidate R. Eugene Pincham, and the Harold Washington Party's Lawrence Redmond. In today's lock-'em-up-and-throw-away-the-key climate, no doubt they'll all be trying to outdo one another on crime. Find out whose chest-pounding is loudest at today's debate. It's from noon to 2 in the Harris Bank auditorium, 115 S. LaSalle. It's free; reservations are recommended. Call 554-2010.

Despite all the progress women have made in the corporate world over the years, many are still finding barriers that keep them from reaching the top rungs of the ladder. Today's seminar on Breaking the Glass Ceiling will examine such strategies as implementing mentor programs and making employers aware of the need for diversity in the upper echelons. It's from 5:30 to 7 on the ninth floor of the Women's Place Resource Center, 30 E. Adams. It's $5 in advance, $10 at the door. Call 782-3902 to register.

Each fall your mom tells you to go out and get a flu shot. Each fall you refuse. Every winter you get sick. Should you have listened to your mother? Tonight's class, Don't Let the Flu Catch Up With You, will look at the facts and misconceptions surrounding the flu shot--potential reactions to it, the best time to get it, and a person's chances of catching the flu with and without it. It's from 6 to 7 at the Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation, 7320 W. Foster. It's $10, and no, shots will not be administered. For more information call 908-8400.

Over the last 40 years Central America has lost the majority of its tropical forest to development and other human factors. Tonight Norman Macpherson Chapin, director of the Center for the Support of Native Lands, will present a free slide lecture on Indigenous Peoples, Land and Natural Resources in Central America. It's at 7 at the Field Museum of Natural History, Roosevelt Road at Lake Shore. Call 922-9410 for more.

WEDNESDAY 11

Author Jamie Jenson spent three years hitchhiking around the U.S. His book, Road Trip USA: Cross-country Adventures on America's Two-Lane Highways, is a potpourri of travel yarns, trivia, and tips on the nation's best food, beer, radio stations, and parks. He'll discuss his experiences from 5:30 to 6:45 tonight at the Chicago Cultural Center theater, 78 E. Washington. It's free; call 913-9800.

Seamus Heaney, the 1995 Nobel Prize winner in literature, headlines this year's Poetry Day, an annual event sponsored by Poetry magazine and the Modern Poetry Association. Heaney, whose poetry often deals with the political situation in Northern Ireland, will read from his work today at 6 at the Art Institute's Rubloff Auditorium at Columbus and Monroe. Tickets are $15, $8 for students and seniors. Call 255-3703 for tickets.

THURSDAY 12

The latest musicians to join the commemorative postal-stamp club will be big-band legends Glenn Miller, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, and Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. Tonight's big-band party at the Willowbrook Ballroom will launch the latest faces with performances by the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, cabaret diva Nan Mason, and the Johnny Gabor Trio. There will also be swing dance lessons, which start at 7:15; the stamps will be unveiled at 8:30. It's at 8900 S. Archer in Willow Springs. Admission is $20; $50 gets you dinner and reserved seating. Call 708-839-1000 for tickets or information.

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