"...a blended whiskey guaranteed four months old..."

As a bourbon drinker, I can't help but appreciate this passage from Steinbeck's Cannery Row:
Lee Chong's station in the grocery was behind the cigar counter. The cash register was then on his left and the abacus on his right. Inside the glass case were the brown cigars, the cigarettes, the Bull Durham, the Duke's mixture, the Five Brothers, while behind him in racks on the wall were the pints, half pints and quarters of Old Green River, Old Town House, Old Colonel, and the favorite - Old Tennessee, a blended whiskey guaranteed four months old, very cheap and known in the neighborhood as Old Tennis Shoes. Lee Chong did not stand between the whiskey and the customer without reason. Some very practical minds had on occasion tried to divert his attention to another part of the store. Cousins, nephews, sons and daughters-in-law waited on the rest of the store, but Lee never left the cigar counter.
The list of whiskies reminds me of my dad who, while avoiding the sort of rotgut that Steinbeck describes, still favored older brands like Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Jack Daniels, V.O. and Old Overholt. I wonder what he would have thought of the recent bourbon revival. I think he might have appreciated an occasional taste of some small-batch variety, but ultimately he would have gravitated back to his old, familiar, and cheaper standbys.

July 19, 2016 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

Opening Lines

"Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream."
- John Steinbeck, Cannery Row

"A nurse held the door open for them."
- Eudora Welty, The Optimist's Daughter

"The two grubby small boys with tow-colored hair who were digging among the ragweed in the front yard sat back on their heels and said, 'Hello,' when the tall bony man with straw-colored hair turned in at their gate."
- Katherine Anne Porter, Noon Wine

"Heraldic and unflagging it chugged up the mountain road, the sound, a new sound jarring in on the profoundly pensive landscape. A new sound and a new machine, its squat front the colour of baked brick, the ridges of the big wheels scummed in muck, wet muck and dry muck, leaving their maggoty trails."
- Edna O'Brien, Wild Decembers

"One January day, thirty years ago, the little town of Hanover, anchored on a windy Nebraska tableland, was trying not to be blown away."
- Willa Cather, O Pioneers!

"I am in Aranmor, sitting over a turf fire, listening to a murmur of Gaelic that is rising from a little public-house under my room."
- J.M. Synge, The Aran Islands

"On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide - it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills, like Therese - the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope."
- Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides

"A wise man once said that next to losing its mother, there is nothing more healthy for a child than to lose its father."
- Halldór Laxness, The Fish Can Sing

"Studs Lonigan, on the verge of fifteen, and wearing his first suit of long trousers, stood in the bathroom with a Sweet Caporal pasted in his mug."
- James T. Farrell, Young Lonigan

"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.)

July 16, 2016 in Books | Permalink | Comments (4)


"I always knew I was not going to measure up as a literary giant, so from the start I put my hopes on making myself a name as a literary pygmy, that is, one writing one great but undoubtedly odd, sui generis, irreplaceable, one of a kind, modestly immortal book." Jaimy Gordon, in her introduction to Keith Waldrop's Light While There Is Light

July 10, 2016 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


"The rhythm of a café lends itself to the writing and correcting of verses that roll onward as the cigar smoke once did. You can’t write a novel in a café." - Juan Villoro

July 10, 2016 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fading Ad: Foamcraft


I can't believe I didn't discover this fading ad earlier. I've been walking around the West Loop every day for almost a year and a half, but only just now did I finally spot this sign. Yes, it's tucked into an alley (947 W. Van Buren) but it's huge - almost half a block long, and impossible to fully capture in a single photo. Foamcraft is a manufacturer of foam packaging fabrication equipment which seems to have been originally located here, although they're now in Brighton Park on the Southwest Side. The Van Buren building is now a self-storage facility. Because when a manufacturer leaves the West Loop, it seems as if its old building can only become one of two things: condominiums or self-storage.

July 7, 2016 in Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)


“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere." - Elie Wiesel

July 3, 2016 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)


"I think art has a right — not an obligation — to be difficult if it wishes. And, since people generally go on from this to talk about elitism versus democracy, I would add that genuinely difficult art is truly democratic. And that tyranny requires simplification." - Geoffrey Hill

Speaking of, have you ever read the transcript of a Trump speech? It reads like the diction of a moderately-literate fourth grader. Talk about simplification.

July 2, 2016 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)


"I will be damned if I propose to be at the beck and call of every itinerant scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp." - William Faulkner, in his resignation letter to the U.S. Postal Service

I would guess that his customer service skills were appalling. His resignation was undeniably a win-win for both literature and the USPS.

June 29, 2016 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

From the 'L'

Excellent series of photographs taken by Angie McMonigal from inside of Chicago's 'L' trains. (Yes, that's the proper nomenclature, including the single quotes. "El" trains are New York, not Chicago.) I think this one is my favorite. Some sort of metaphor there about being in the gritty outlying neighborhoods with the train taking you away to the Oz-like towers of downtown.

(Via Coudal.)

June 27, 2016 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fading Ad: Uneeda Biscuit


Fading ads for Uneeda Biscuit are far from uncommon (or within the small realm of fading ads, anyway; here's one I photographed in 2012), but the location of this ad is somewhat unique. I found it in the Penn Quarter area of downtown Washington, D.C. (specifically, at 7th and Indiana), which was probably once filled with ads but has now been all gussied up to such an extent that they have all but disappeared. Even this ad was a hard find; I happened to spot it from a block away, and the closest I could get to it was across the street, and could only photograph it from a narrow vantage point and at an awkward angle. I apologize for the lack of sharpness; with the sweltering D.C. heat, I was eager to get back into the shade, and didn't take as much time for composition as I could have.

June 25, 2016 in Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)