Opening Lines

"Dennis awoke to the sound of the old man upstairs beating his wife."
- Tim Hall, Half Empty

"Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board."
- Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

"We always fall asleep smoking one more cigarette in bed."
- Joseph G. Peterson, Beautiful Piece

"Tonight, a steady drizzle, streetlights smoldering in fog like funnels of light collecting rain."
- Stuart Dybek, The Coast of Chicago

"Beware thoughts that come in the night."
- William Least Heat Moon, Blue Highways: A Journey Into America

"'There they are again,' the doctor said suddenly, and he stood up. Unexpectedly, like his words, the noise of the approaching airplane motors slipped into the silence of the death chamber."
- Hans Keilson, Comedy in a Minor Key

"Now that I'm dead I know everything."
- Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad

"In the end Jack Burdette came back to Holt after all."
- Kent Haruf, Where You Once Belonged

"It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days."
- Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day

"I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids - and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me."
- Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

"I'd caught a slight cold when I changed trains at Chicago; and three days in New York - three days of babes and booze while I waited to see The Man - hadn't helped it any."
- Jim Thompson, Savage Night

"Since the end of the war, I have been on this line, as they say: a long, twisted line stretching from Naples to the cold north, a line of locals, trams, taxis and carriages."
- Aharon Appelfeld, The Iron Tracks

"The schoolmaster was leaving the village, and everybody seemed sorry."
- Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure

"Early November. It's nine o'clock. The titmice are banging against the window. Sometimes they fly dizzily off after the impact, other times they fall and lie struggling in the new snow until they can take off again. I don't know what they want that I have."
- Per Petterson, Out Stealing Horses

"Picture the room where you will be held captive."
- Stona Fitch, Senseless

"Elmer Gantry was drunk. He was eloquently drunk, lovingly and pugnaciously drunk."
- Sinclair Lewis, Elmer Gantry

"Bright, clear sky over a plain so wide that the rim of the heavens cut down on it around the entire horizon...Bright, clear sky, to-day, to-morrow, and for all time to come."
- O.E. Rölvaag, Giants in the Earth

"Click! ... Here it was again. He was walking along the cliff at Hunstanton and it had come again ... Click! ..."
- Patrick Hamilton, Hangover Square

"It is 1983. In Dorset the great house at Woodcombe Park bustles with life. In Ireland the more modest Kilneagh is as quiet as a grave."
- William Trevor, Fools of Fortune

"The cell door slammed behind Rubashov."
- Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon

(A compendium of memorable opening lines of novels, updated occasionally as I come across new discoveries.)

April 17, 2014 in Books | Permalink | Comments (4)

Duncan Ceramic Products, Authorized Dealer

Sievert

Duncan

Yesterday, I took a detour down a stretch of Center Street, on the north side of Joliet, that I had never driven before. Standing out amid the usual hundred-plus-year-old houses, I was very pleased to discover this old storefront building. I would guess it was originally a corner tavern or grocery (the name near the roof reads "Sievert"), though it's now empty and for sale. The decal on the front door for Duncan Ceramic Products indicates its most recent incarnation was some sort of art supply store, though I can't find any confirmation of that online through an address search. Such a store seems somewhat incongruous with the surrounding working-class neighborhood, which might mean it's been empty for a very long time.

April 14, 2014 in Joliet, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...to be lost in something so different than the life we know..."

In "The Unexamined Life", my great friend Ben Tanzer recounts his solo trip to Italy, shortly before becoming a father for the first time.

I eventually resurface to cut through an alley I believe will lead me to Trevi Fountain. It is so dark, quiet, and not crowded, however, that I question whether the previous moments were real or just the longings of a lonely traveler.

But then there is light.

I turn a corner and before me is an explosion of bearded, muscle-bound statues astride waves of all sizes and surrounded by columns and sea monsters that spring forth from every possible direction. I have stumbled onto Trevi Fountain and it is larger than life.

I sit before it, and I try to take it all in, bathed in the streetlights and the drizzle, and lost in its sheer audacity. It's magical really, and as I sit there soaking it all up I am reminded once again of why we travel in the first place, to be lost in something so different than the life we know, as if we have entered another world completely. I feel as if I could leave Rome that night if I had to, satisfied and complete...

The essay is from Ben's latest book, the nonfiction collection Lost in Space: A Father's Journey There and Back Again. Though I just got the book on Friday and had a busy weekend, I'm already halfway through it, and really enjoying it. Some of his strongest writing yet, I think.

April 14, 2014 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Huzzah!

Congrats to my friend Christine Sneed, whose novel Little Known Facts has won the 2014 Adult Fiction award from the Society of Midland Authors. Christine has been a mentor and supporter of my writing for a long time now, and she's a vital member of the Chicago literary community. This honor is well deserved, and I heartily salute it, even though it means Wheatyard (which I entered in the competition) has fallen short. Oh, well!

April 10, 2014 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

The doll at the window in Janesville, Minnesota

Quietly eccentric, small-town Midwest at its finest.

(Via Rachael Hanel.)

April 8, 2014 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fading Ad: Joliet Litho-Print

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Jolietlitho2

I've known about this ad for a while now, but only just got around to photographing it yesterday. This is Joliet Litho-Print, on Chicago Street in downtown Joliet. In the inset photo, you can make out "Service Printers", "Pamphlets" and "Catalogs", and if you look even closer, there's a lime-colored swoosh stripe (inverted, anti-Nike) just above "Litho-Print." Based on the company's limited web presence - I couldn't even find a website - it's unclear whether or not it's still in business, so I'm glad to have finally photographed this while I still could. I've been into fading ads for about fifteen years now, and have lost far too many ads by assuming they would always be around to photograph some other day.

April 8, 2014 in Joliet, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

"The Way Business Is Done"

Cj05cover

I am thrilled, thrilled to announce the publication of my short story "The Way Business Is Done", in the latest edition of CCLaP Journal, the arts journal of The Chicago Center for Literature and Photography. The story is one of my oldest, having been written way back in 2005 and previously racking up almost thirty rejections elsewhere, and tells the story of a corrupt Chicago alderman (based heavily on Michael "Hinky Dink" Kenna) and his ill-fated attempt to secure a transit monopoly for a local tycoon (based heavily on Charles Tyson Yerkes). However, I threw in a twist, given that Kenna worked against Yerkes during the latter's ill-fated scheme in 1899; Kenna's primary city council rival, Johnny Powers, was Yerkes' actual point man for buying up votes. I made the switch due to rich and irresistible personalities of Kenna and his First Ward cohort, Bathhouse John Coughlin.

My hearty thanks to Jason Pettus and Allegra Pusateri for taking on this story. CCLaP Journal is a beautifully designed publication that I am truly proud to be associated with. The journal is available in pdf or online at Issuu (like all CCLaP publications, a donation is politely requested for those reading the electronic versions), or in a fine paperback edition for $9.99. With all of the prose content and especially the color photography, that $9.99 price is really a bargain. I can't wait for my contributor copy to arrive.

April 7, 2014 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (1)

"...she had traded the anger of what should have been..."

In Laila Lalami's Secret Son, the teenaged protagonist Youssef has just discovered that his father, whom his mother has always said had died during Youssef's infancy, is alive, well and wealthy, unlike Youssef and his mother, who live in poverty in a Casablanca slum:

Always, and especially on days like this, he thought of what could have been. If he had grown up in a normal family, with a father, would he and his mother be struggling so much? The question usually made him feel melancholy, but now that he knew his father had been alive all along, he felt angry and bitter instead. Why should he and his mother be struggling so much? Perhaps that was why his mother had lied to him all these years: she had traded the anger of what should have been and given him instead the sadness of what could have been.

I like that dichotomy between anger/should and sadness/could. I had never quite thought about it that way.

April 6, 2014 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Irish March

This year's Irish March reading was pretty underwhelming. First off, I forgot all about it until halfway through the month (I was absorbed in my latest Structured Reading), and by the time I started all I could cobble together was William Trevor's The Boarding-House and some of Jonathan Swift's lesser-known satirical works. Though I loved The Boarding-House, and Trevor is one of Ireland's greatest writers, the story wasn't Irish at all, instead revolving around the oh-so-English residents of a rundown London boarding house. Then it was on to Swift, but after reading the brilliant and concise A Modest Proposal, I soon learned that A Tale of a Tub wasn't a story at all, but instead a very long and abstract essay. As I struggled to read the arcane prose, my eyes glazed over repeatedly (it was nothing at all like the imaginative and often fun storytelling of Gulliver's Travels) and I knew that even if I finished the piece it would be a long and unsatisfying slog. So with March ending yesterday, I abruptly ended Irish March as well. Next year I hope to be much better prepared.

April 1, 2014 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fading Ad: People's Gas Company

Peoplesgas1

Peoplesgas2

Here's another fading ad, one that's hiding and seems somewhat shy. I saw this from atop the same parking garage where I photographed the A.C. McClurg ad; it's the old Peoples Gas Company building at 122 S. Michigan. The ad is on the back on the building, facing west, and is mostly obscured by the taller, modern tower at the left side of the photo. Due to its height and the closeness of that modern tower, I doubt that this ad is fully visible from anywhere other than inside the tower.

March 24, 2014 in Chicago Observations, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)