"...throw it to hell and gone..."Harry Mark Petrakis' "The Passing of the Ice" tells the story of Mike, one of the last icemen who once delivered big blocks of ice to businesses and homes every day before the trade finally ended with the rise of commercial refrigeration. Mike's world is slowly vanishing, which he grimly acknowledges.
"Sometimes," Mike said, and there was a fierce edge to his voice, "I want to drag out that ice and cut it down and throw it as far as I can, throw it to hell and gone. I want to empty the big house once of every last block and scatter every last damn chunk over the hill. Make the fat man sit up. Make everyone understand that after forty years an iceman don't just lay down his pick and tongs with a goddam whimper."Mike's vow is poigantly echoed in the final scene of the story, which I won't spoil here. I've always been fascinated by industries that are in their dying days, and have long been aware that Petrakis wrote a novel about Chicago icemen, Twilight of the Ice, which was published in 2003. After reading this story (first published in 1962) and a summary of the novel, it's clear that Petrakis expanded the kernel of the story into the later novel, which I'm now very eager to read. Now if I can just readily find it.
Greatest ever Chicago book?Chicago Reader names the winner of The Greatest Ever Chicago Book Tournament, which is...um, a book which focuses on three individuals, only one of which has anything to do with Chicago. And as much as I loved the runner-up, Studs Terkel's Working, I've never thought of it having a particular focus on Chicago. Apparently I greatly differ with the judges on what, exactly, a Chicago book is. Of the books in the tournament, my top two choices would have been Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and Nelson Algren's Chicago: City on the Make; and only recently have I realized, and been baffled by, the tournament's complete omission of Alex Kotlowitz's There Are No Children Here, which just might be the greatest Chicago book of all.
"Tonight and all the other nights."In Harry Mark Petrakis' story "End of Winter", Wally - married, with two kids and third on the way - has been cheating on his wife, Della. And, as anyone who has watched Mad Men or any other domestic drama of the past forty years will not be surprised to hear, he finally gets caught.
"There was no meeting tonight," she said. "Lawrence called for you. And then I thought of all the other meetings late at night that you have attended the last few months. All the other things that suddenly fall into place. Then I knew it was a girl."I like what Petrakis does here with verb tenses. Della first says "it was a girl", as if hopeful the affair is in the past, or soon will be. But instead of confirming her suspicion by repeating her verbatim, Wally says "there is a girl", as if he's not quite ready to put the affair behind him. Then, after seeing her strong reaction, he downplays the significance of the affair, switching from is to was, and saying that the affair didn't mean that much to him - past tense, insisting that it's now behind him. But when she repeats him, she changes the verb to present tense. She's saying that although the affair might be over (but not necessarily over, I think - Wally seems to have enjoyed it too much for that) she will never forget or forgive his unfaithfulness. It seems highly likely their relationship will never be the same. Very subtle, and very well done.
Her face was naked and her flesh tight across her cheeks.
"Yes," I said. "Tonight and all the other nights. Yes, there is a girl."
She must have expected me to say that, but still her face loosened as if the bone beneath the skin had suddenly broken. I was sorry I had not lied, that for a little while I had not indulged all the heated denials.
"Do you want a divorce?" she asked.
"Del," I said. "It was just a girl. I don't want a divorce. It didn't mean that much to me."
"It means that much to me," she said.
Quote"It’s a very, very grim play. Nevertheless, it’s a play that is full of extraordinary, touching scenes of real love and real devotion of Cordelia to him and him to Cordelia that don’t redeem the action on the stage, but do something to elevate the spectator or the reader in a way that I find very moving.
That’s what good literature can do. It doesn’t evade any of the terrible things in life. It faces them and faces them squarely, but puts them in a context in which they have a richer meaning than they would as simply raw, descriptive facts."
- Anthony Hecht, on King Lear
Fading Ad: Graphic Arts Finishing Co.
While walking back to the office after lunch yesterday, I happened to glance down a long, narrow alley and saw this ad. After discreetly allowing a restaurant worker, who stepped out from a side door, to pass (photographing signs in an alley is already weird enough without also having to explain yourself) I slipped down the alley and took the photo. The ad is on the back of a building at 119 N. Peoria, in the West Loop. The company seems to have moved to Melrose Park quite a few years ago, but it's nice to see that in addition to the usual loft condos, the building is also the home of Threewalls, an arts organization and gallery space. Which seems fitting, given the building's former usage.
Bukowski, via WaitsI haven't read much Charles Bukowski (though I did include a reference to the poet in Wheatyard), but after hearing Tom Waits' beautiful reading of "Nirvana" (on the third disc of his album Orphans), I finally tracked the poem down, and really like it. Here's a taste:
And the young man watched the snow through the window.
And he wanted to stay in that café forever.
The curious feeling swam through him that everything was beautiful there.
And it would always stay beautiful there.
I can just see this entire narrative, playing out in my mind.
Faded Ad: Culicchia & Co.
Quote"Just you wait. I'll become famous after I'm dead about ten years." - Jim Thompson
It's Opening Day but I really couldn't care less, having lost my passion and almost all of my interest in baseball years ago. Which is remarkable, given how much the game consumed me until I was around thirty. Opening Day used to be almost a holiday for me - I went to five or six openers at Wrigley Field, despite it always being raw and cold there in early April. (One opener I attended was snowed out. I spent most of the afternoon in the concourse beneath the grandstand, waiting for the inevitable cancellation announcement, standing - oddly enough - elbow to elbow with film critic Gene Siskel and Chicago Bear players Gary Fencik and Brian Baschnagel. This was the pre-skybox era, when local celebrities still mingled with the riffraff.) And the regular season was an endless six months of watching every Cub game (and quite a few of the White Sox, and even the Braves on cable), scouring the box scores and calculating statistics by hand.
I can't pinpoint exactly what drove me away from the game. Certainly the obscene amount of money involved has something to with it, and the steroids, and the over-amplified, ad-infested spectacle that the teams and TV networks forced on what was once a quiet, pastoral game. And the 1994 strike, which took away the daily rituals that I thought were essential but suddenly learned I could live without.
That said, I'm still interested in the older traditions of the game as it once was. Which is why, on Friday night, I took Martin Gardner's The Annotated Casey at the Bat: A Collection of Ballads About the Mighty Casey off the shelf, and finished it last night. I've long loved Ernest Thayer's immortal comic poem, having memorized it at age eight (and recited it during a few family gatherings) and much later wrote a short story ("Mighty Casey") which was published by Zisk Magazine in 2006.
Gardner presents several of Thayer's versions of the poem, but even more interesting are several dozen parodies of the poem written by both the famous (Grantland Rice, Ray Bradbury) and the totally anonymous. Most of the parodies aren't very good - repetitive verse that copies the original meter and rhyme pattern, and offer only a slight narrative twist: Casey rebounds the next game with the winning homer, Casey emerges from the stands decades later as a 68-year-old substitute to again be the hero, Casey's wife and kids later play in baseball and softball games, striving to restore the family's honor, etc.
But there are some real gems, including Bradbury's Casey/Moby-Dick mashup and Mad magazine's 1960 version of the original, rewritten in hipster-beatnik lingo. And this stanza from "Casey at the Plate", by an unknown author, made me laugh out loud:
The pitcher threw, and Casey swung; he hit the empty air.
Another pitch and Casey made his strikes an even pair.
And then a lusty bleacher voice, a helpful thought advanced:
"Go get the guy a snowshoe! Let him have a sportin' chance!"
As much as baseball has changed, one thing that will always stay the same is the fickleness of its fans. Cheer your heroes one minute, boo them the next.