No Good Samaritans...
Years ago, while driving home from my first post-college job, I happened to blow out a tire making an ill-advised u-turn in Highland Park, an affluent suburb north of Chicago. I was just able to pull the car into a self-service gas station at the corner of U.S. 41 and Route 22, and set about changing the tire. The car was already six years old at the time, and my college-era budget had left me with little cash for maintenance. I quickly discovered, to my chagrin, that six years of sitting outdoors had left the lugnuts securely rusted in place. They simply would not budge, no matter how I threw my weight into the lug wrench.
No problem, I figured. There were plenty of cars coming in and out of the gas station. Somebody would stop to help me. Car after car, BMW after Mercedes, pulled into the station. Every driver, undoubtedly unimpressed by my 1982 Chevy Cavalier and sensing that I was just passing through town, made only the briefest glance of indifference as they drove by and proceeded on their way.
After twenty minutes of this, I gave up and headed towards the pay phone to call my auto club's road service. On the way, I noticed a gasoline tanker truck idling, refilling the station's tanks. The driver was a large, burly man who would have been even more lowly-regarded by the locals than I was, had they bothered noticing him at all. At least I was wearing a suit. He was clearly not from the area. I decided to give it a shot.
"Excuse me," I said hopefully. "I've got a flat tire over there. Do you think you could give me a hand?"
"You've got a flat? Sure, I'll help you out," he replied amiably.
He strolled over to my car and picked up the wrench, and with the easiest twist of his hefty forearm loosened the first rusted lugnut. He quickly loosened the others in mere seconds, without expending even a single drop of sweat. He handed me back the wrench.
"There, you should be all set," he said with a smile.
"Thanks, I really appreciate this," I said, reaching for my wallet.
"No, no," he said, holding up his hand, stopping me. "No problem at all."
He walked back to his truck while I removed the flat. I put on the spare tire, and was soon on my way.
My conclusion to all of this? The only Good Samaritans in Highland Park are from out of town.
Quote of the Week
"Terrorism is the war of the poor, and war is the terrorism of the rich."
-- Peter Ustinov
In additon to being an amateur writer, I'm also an amateur photographer. Which means I've taken thousands of photographs that I've never been paid for. No matter, I guess, as long as I enjoy it. Here's an example.
It's the Grand Hall of Union Station, in case you're wondering. Here's my entire online gallery, so far:
Walking through the train concourses at an empty time of day can be a rather ominous experience. I say empty, rather than quiet, because that time is anything but quiet. Take away the shuffle and murmur of hundreds of commuters that drowns out all ambient noise, and all you hear is twenty different loudspeakers echoing, in a cold and mechanical voice, "Track number five", "Track number twelve", and so on. The identical voices repeat in endless and unsynchronized loops, at first seemingly random but ultimately blending as one into a unified, though stuttering, chorus. The effect is eerie, like something out of A Clockwork Orange or a particularly avant-garde work of multimedia art.
Much too busy at work and at home to write lately. Here's another item from the archives.
”Now, Joseph, you take extra good care of yourself today,” the woman said, zipping up his coat to the collar. The car stood idling at the curb of a far too busy street, with its passenger door standing open and the motorized cart waiting nearby. It was far from ideal as a dropoff point due to the traffic, but it had to do. She couldn’t get him any closer to the entrance to his office building.
“I’ll be fine,” the man replied.
“I really wish you didn’t insist on working today,” she continued. “You’re really under the weather. And you’ll have to get yourself the rest of the way. I can’t leave the car here.”
“I know you can’t leave the car. I appreciate your help, but I wish you wouldn’t treat me like a child,” he said gently. “And I have to work.”
It had to be. It was part of his being, even more so than the motorized cart and the inevitable looks of sympathy. But he left that all unsaid.
The Algren Nickel, Redux
Nelson Algren is my literary hero and role model. In 1998, I wrote the following:
The Algren Nickel
I'm holding an old nickel in my hand. It's very worn, and fairly dirty: small hunks of dark matter are wedged into the letters on the heads side (especially in "God", oddly enough) and along the edges of Monticello on the tails side.
I got the nickel in change somewhere, but didn't really take notice of it until I happened to fish it out of my pocket one morning while pumping gas. In that awkward time when the tank is filling and about the only way to keep busy is to watch the numbers zip past on the pump as the gallons add up. It was the only coin in my pocket, so I looked at it absently, only to be struck by the date on it.
1951. Algren was in his prime then. Chicago: City on the Make was published that year, and he was halfway between his twin triumphs, The Man With the Golden Arm and A Walk on the Wild Side. City was published, only to be panned by happy-sunshine, Chamber-of-Commerce Babbits like the Mayor's Office and the Tribune. Some do-gooders managed to get it banned from the Chicago Public Library, somehow claiming that it presented a distorted view of the city. What made the Babbits uncomfortable was that it presented, in gritty detail, the very underside of the city that the Chamber types, in promoting the city's virtues to business owners and upper crust tourists, didn't want to admit existed.
And just yesterday, as I happened to be just finishing another re-reading of Algren's classic 1947 short story collection, The Neon Wilderness, I came across another very worn nickel in a handful of change. The date on this one was 1947. Strange, isn't it, the way this world turns?
Essential Links to Pass the Time
No writings for now. Here's a few essential links to pass the time.
LAST PLANE TO JAKARTA
First Blogadictory Efforts
I'm new to this blogging business as of today. Fortunately, I have quite a few writings in my backlog all ready to go. Here are a few to get caught up.
I saw a man walking down Riverside Plaza today who could have been my father, thirty-five years ago. Neat, brown suit; brown fedora with a plain brown band; sturdy but unflashy black dress shoes; leather attache case; and an old-fashioned, non-retractable umbrella hanging on his forearm. The only thing missing was a London Fog trenchcoat. I am absolutely certain he wouldn't be grabbing a latte at Starbucks; he drinks his coffee black, bitter and scorching, served by a fireball named Rosie along with his bacon and eggs.
It's national Take Your Children To Work Day, and it's nice to see kids downtown. Particularly the mother of two, who was walking down Riverside Plaza with each hand holding that of a child. Heartwarming, except for the cigarette she had shoved in her mouth, which she fired up within seconds of leaving the train station. It's so nice to see how much you care about your children.
As Inspired by Calvin Trillin
TV news creatures of today
Tanned, coiffed, and impeccably toothed
Eyes that are contacted to a perfect hue
One would be as pressed as one of
Their rich and immaculate suits
For a sincere response to "Is the sky blue?"
At the Ashland Avenue El stop, a young man stands facing the southwest, awaiting his train, brightly illuminated by an overhead light. Dressed neatly in all black, tailored slacks, impeccable wool coat; austere, rigid, and self-consciously cool. Further down the platform are two shadowed, unlit figures, one standing and the other seated.
The train rolls on, past Cermak Road, where a homeless man's squat sits silently underneath the concrete pillars of the El. Scavenged garbage bins line a humble promenade which leads to a humbler shelter of plywood sheets and a roof of discarded silver-colored tarpaulin. The man, who has been spied but once, is nowhere to be seen this morning. Two decrepit bicycles lie alongside, waiting, vying to transport him to wherever it is that he unhurriedly needs to go.
Outside Union Station, a tired family of five, clearly from out of town, walks aimlessly up the sidewalk. A mostly empty McDonald's bag clutched at the mother's side reveals the extent of their city exploration. They are likely here only to change Amtrak trains, on their long way home.
It has grown rather cold again. Snow flecks the air, and the wind blows steadily, somewhat biting, out of the north. A new year.
Name: Pete Anderson
Aliases: Booga P, Marlin (from Finding Nemo), Potor, Rancid Pete, Viking Pete.
Residence: Joliet, Illinois (Mottos: "City of Champions", "City of Stone and Steel", "Home of Rudy", and "No, I Haven't Seen Jake and Elwood") for the past eight years.
Former Residence: Chicago (various North Side neighborhoods).
Family: Wife Julie (entrepreneur, crafter, mom and homeschooler of dazzling versatility), daughter Madeleine (eight years old and already well on her way to being twice as smart as me), plus the usual parents, siblings and in-laws.
Education: University of Illinois, for both bachelors' and graduate degrees. The school so nice, I went there twice.
Actual Career: Commercial credit analysis, currently within the commercial banking industry. Often tedious, though it will do for now. Health insurance and a 401K are hard to beat, especially considering the following...
Aspiring Career: Fiction writer. Inspirations include Nelson Algren, Studs Terkel, Aleksandar Hemon and Ralph Ellison. All of whom I'm so deeply in awe of that, realizing I'll never measure up to any of them, sometimes I feel I should give up writing completely. But I soldier on. I have three novels in various stages of completion, a story chapbook which is still seeking a home (publishers! show some love!) and a dozen-plus stories published so far (see sidebar) with various journals.
Other Passions: Voracious reading, photographic jaunts, coffee, quality time with family, under-the-radar music.
Former Passions: Baseball and most other spectator sports.
Primary Non-Passions: Yardwork and all other home repair, pretentiousness, the Bush Adminstration.
Favorite Film: On the Waterfront
Favorite Book: Hunger by Knut Hamsun