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"...signs and portents..."

Joseph Mitchell recalls his friend Ralph Ellison.

I remember a conversation I had with Ralph the last time I saw him, which was at a party celebrating his eightieth birthday. It was held in a restaurant on the Upper East Side. I arrived early and so did Ralph and we went to the bar and ordered martinis. Ralph asked, "How’ve you been?" And I said that reading the New York Times was beginning to get me down, and that I was seeing all kinds of signs and portents in it. I said that invisible man fought his way out of invisibility but that I was afraid he was in danger of becoming invisible again. Ralph laughed and it was his old-time deep, hearty laugh, which pleased me. "You never got over the depression, did you Joe?" he said. "No I did not," I said. "Nor did I," Ralph said, "But this is an excellent martini—almost as good as the ones Fanny makes. So let’s drink these good martinis and talk about those signs and portents some other time."

June 29, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)


"I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Some day, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed." - Christopher Isherwood

June 25, 2017 in Books, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Will County Tour

I've lived in Joliet for seventeen years, but have visited only about half of the towns in Will County. So yesterday, near the end of my four-week sabbatical from work, I tried to rectify this, by visiting every town in the county, along with various unincorporated areas that are significant enough to have formal names. I targeted thirty-five communities, and Maddie rode along for most of the trip.

Long story short, I didn't even get close to my goal.  I only made it to twenty-two, for several reasons. First off, Will County is pretty damned big in terms of acreage. There is also only a meandering route for visiting every town, often on slower two-lane roads, plus I focused on the eastern end of the county (I live at the western end), where I had never been before. Lastly, Maddie and were pretty worn out by the end, and didn't want to keep Julie waiting for us until dark. We completely missed the southwest corner of the county, where there's a relative cluster of old coal mining towns, unlike the spread-out farm towns in the center and eastern end - so maybe, some Saturday, Maddie and I can do the remaining towns. 

The entire excursion lasted from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., with only two bathroom breaks and one stop for coffee. Maddie and I had a great trip. We still got home in time to enjoy a hearty dinner, at roughly our usual time.

Below is a photo from every town and hamlet we visited.



Memorial garden for Lidice, Czechoslovakia, Crest Hill.



Former schoolhouse, Romeoville.



Defunct bingo parlor, Bolingbrook.



Shelter built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, Lockport. 



Messenger Marsh, Homer Glen.



Marley Community Church, Marley.



Former grain elevator, Mokena.



Water tower, Frankfort.



 Governors State University, University Park.



Bandshell, Steger.



Al's Barber Shop, Crete. 



St. Paul's Church, Monee. 



Former livery stable, Beecher. 



Peotone Bowl, Peotone. 



Storage shed, Andres. 



Farm, Wilton. 



Abandoned store, Wilton Center. 



Creamery ice cream store, Manhattan. 



Fire station, New Lenox. 



Lily pond, Elwood.



Defunct laundromat, Rockdale. 



Barber shop (and former camera store), Joliet. 

June 24, 2017 in Photography, Travel | Permalink | Comments (1)

"The Piano Teacher's Pupil"

What a lovely surprise: in The New Yorker, a short story (previously unpublished, I assume) by the late William Trevor.

In the dark she pushed all that away, not knowing where it came from, or why it seemed to belong with what was happening now, but always it came back, as if a truth she did not understand were casting its light over shadows that had beguiled her once. Was theft nothing much, the objects taken so small, and plenty left behind? If she spoke, her pupil would not come again, even if she said at once that she forgave so slight a misdemeanor. Knowing so little, at least she was certain of that, and often did not look to see what was no longer there.

June 19, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)


"Through its lack of creativity, slowly but surely this country changes by the men we admire. It is not difficult for people to be snookered, particularly when the most successful movies deal with superheroes — Batman, Spider-Man. These are the big franchise movies that make money. Not just with kids, but adults. So, because of lack of imagination, maturity — many people in this country wanted a superhero. And then this TV guy comes along and says what? Only I can fix it...Only I can do this..." - John Mellencamp

June 18, 2017 in Current Affairs, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)


"There is no American capital; there never has been. We have a network instead. A French poet may plausibly know all other French poets by living in Paris. The smallest of American towns contains major poets, and all other kinds of artists. In no other country does such a distribution of mind appear." - Guy Davenport

June 16, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Philip Levine

Lovely reflections here at the NYRB on the life of the great poet Philip Levine, including this wonderful comment from his mother:

“Philip set out to prove there is social mobility in America, so he got born smack-dab in the middle of the middle class, grew up in the lower middle class, and then as an adult joined the working class.”

I will definitely seek out The Final Shift, his newly-published final collection. 

June 11, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Opening Lines

"No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water."
- H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds

"We slept in what had once been the gymnasium."
- Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale

"Marley was dead, to begin with."
- Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

"The first sound in the mornings was the clumping of the mill-girls' clogs down the cobbled street. Earlier than that, I suppose, there were factory whistles which I was never awake to hear."
- George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier

"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.)

June 11, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (4)

Summer of Classics: H.G. Wells

For this year's Summer of Classics, I'm reading nothing but H.G. Wells. Since I was eight years old, I've owned a boxed paperback set of seven Wells science fiction novels: The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, The Island of Dr. Moreau, In the Days of the Comet, The Food of the Gods and The First Men in the Moon. (He certainly liked "The..." titles, didn't he?) After all of these years, I've only read the first three, and since I'm woefully under-read in sci-fi in general, I decided to tackle these this year. The books are reasonably short (the longest is 250 pages) so I should be able to finish them all by the end of August.

First up is The War of the Worlds, which I'm enjoying so far. The narration is strange, though - most of it is in first person, though the narrator is physically distant from the Martians, so we mostly see only their destructive aftermath. And the remainder is the narrator relating the experiences of his brother during the Martian attack, in far greater detail than seems plausible. I just finished the first section, and I believe the focus of the second section moves from the invasion and attack, to English life under Martian rule. I'm interested to see the conclusion - having first read the book so long ago, I don't remember the ending, but I do remember the ending of Orson Welles' infamous radio play adaptation. Considering that Welles moved the action ahead fifty years, and from England to New Jersey, I'm wondering how much he tinkered with the conclusion.

June 11, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...a freedom to simply be..."

Elizabeth Strout, on small-town Maine versus New York City.

The sense of disappearing immediately when I step out into the streets of New York City has been a continual comfort to me. This gives me a freedom to simply be, to absorb all that goes on around me. But when I am in Maine, where there are very few people on the streets, I am encumbered by that sense of self – who is watching me?

I admire her fiction's focus on small towns, despite her obvious love of city life. Because, let's face it - we probably need a ten-year embargo on NYC stories to allow the fiction world to de-saturate itself.

June 10, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fading Ad: Ruettiger's Tire Service


Ruettiger's Tire Service - Vulcanizing - Road Service Dial 4153. Cass and Herkimer Streets, Joliet. (Yes, that Ruettiger family.) I've known about this ad for a while now, but just recently the newer canvas ads that covered most of it were removed. 

June 8, 2017 in History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fading Ad: Shields Farr Printing & Engraving


Shields Farr Printing & Engraving, Rosa Parks Boulevard, Nashville, Tennessee. I couldn't find any historical info on this company online, but from my Google results I was pleased to see that my good friend Frank Jump already found this ad, seven years ago

June 7, 2017 in History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fading Ads: Chattanooga, Tennessee

Without much effort, a short stroll after dinner around the Warehouse Row neighborhood in Chattanooga yielded several good ads. 


Graham Wholesale, Market Street. 


Grand Hotel, Market Street. 


Grand Hotel and Coca-Cola (which Julie thinks has been repainted), Market Street. 


Clyde's Auto Glass, Main Street. 


Spaghetti House, Market Street. A faded ad of sorts - an inlaid stone doorstep. 

June 3, 2017 in Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)