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“...out by the airfields in Cicero watchin' the big planes comin' from California...”

Doc, he'd follow him one night to the Y.M.C.A. on Wabash 'n the next to some cheap hotel on Harrison. He never stayed in the same place two nights runnin', Doc said, 'n never registered under the same name twice neither. One night he stayed up all night out by the airfields in Cicero watchin' the big planes comin' from California 'n those fancy fellas in knickers gettin' out of them with their fancy dames. Me 'n Doc set in a tavern acrost the way keepin' a eye on him, 'n Doc was that scared the boy was gonna take off in one of them things he couldn't hardly set still.

- Nelson Algren, "Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone" (from The Neon Wilderness)

October 31, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...never rising quite to clarity.”

Now a lamp burned in the kitchen. Men were talking there. He leaned on the gate, he listened intently: their voices came to him in a slow, curving murmuring, in a wave that broke and fell, never falling quite to silence, never rising quite to clarity. They perhaps had been plowing all day. Plowing the brown earth.

- Nelson Algren, "The Brothers' House" (from The Neon Wilderness)

October 31, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...his fingers fumbled, weak as water...”

That night the mild-mannered youth dreamed of the legless man. Lying on his rented bed, he heard a slow and heavy clumping, down some endless gaslit stair well. The legless man was coming. The light was on and he was sitting upright, paralyzed with an unknown terror, watching the doorknob turning slowly, hoping uselessly that it would be too high for Shorty to turn all the way. He still had time to lock it - the key was still in the lock. Moving like a man wading in a slow-motion sea, stiff with dread, it was almost too late, and saw, as the door opened slowly, that there was no one there. No one down a long and fog-lit hall. No one - he knew for sure - in the whole vast hotel. In an access of terror, his fingers fumbled, weak as water, at the key. And wakened at last with the light still burning and the key still in the lock, glinting a little from the light's reflection.

- Nelson Algren, "The Face on the Barroom Floor" (from The Neon Wilderness)

October 30, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...rubbing rawly against the cold sweat of his palm...”

He leaned far over the counter and banged the cash drawer open and saw bills piled there just for him. Tens and twenties and singles and fives rubbing rawly against the cold sweat of his palm - and then the shining dimes and quarters and halves in the last drawer over! He reached over, so far over that he was tottering, and the liquor began coming up in his throat. His lips moved as he leaned, drunk with greed. Heard a coin go tinkling along the floor, saw it was a quarter rolling toward the men's goods department, and followed it anxiously.

- Nelson Algren, "Poor Man's Pennies" (from The Neon Wilderness)

October 30, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...whose brother, right now, was doing ninety days in County.”

When I got home Sissie has already told my old man where I'd been. But the whipping was nothing at all compared to the sense of manhood attained by an afternoon in the clink. It was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to us. For days we bragged to each other about our various parts in the escapade: who was the most scared, who wasn't scared at all, and whose brother, right now, was doing ninety days in County. For us the kid whose brother was doing a stretch was as distinguished as a kid in another neighborhood whose brother was a college football star.

- Nelson Algren, "A Lot You Got to Holler" (from The Neon Wilderness)

October 27, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...everybody else had always been moaning for home.”

And what, he asked himself abruptly, did he have to go back to Memphis for anyhow? He couldn't sing, he wasn't a pug, he wouldn't shine shoes, and he couldn't boogie-woogie worth a damn. He couldn't play an instrument, he never clowned, and making up berths for the Pullman Company had the same warm appeal for him as shining shoes. He wondered whether he really wanted to go back at all. Maybe he only thought so because everybody else had always been moaning for home.

- Nelson Algren, "He Couldn't Boogie-Woogie Worth a Damn" (from The Neon Wilderness)

October 27, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“The captain didn't look like the sort who missed.”

The boy jerked toward the officer: Adamovitch was laughing openly at him. Then they were all laughing openly at him. He heard their derision, and a red rain danced one moment before his eyes; when the red rain was past, Kozak was sitting back easily, regarding him with the expression of a man who has just been swung at and missed and plans to use the provocation without undue haste. The captain didn't look like the sort who missed. His complacency for a moment was as unbearable to the boy as Adamovitch's guffaw had been. He heard his tongue going, trying to regain his lost composure by provoking them all.

- Nelson Algren, "A Bottle of Milk for Mother" (from The Neon Wilderness)

October 27, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...got dark with a roaring...”

Banty put his hand across his eyes because a light was in them. He saw a string attached to the light and stood up to pull it, to make everything dark like everything should be.

Everything got dark all right, and got dark with a roaring; the dark was a roaring in his head and he came to hearing the thunder of the Garfield Park local overhead and seeing the littered places, between the beams, where the gray cats lived. He heard the local slowing toward Damen. Saw Murphy opening a familiar door.

- Nelson Algren, "Stickman's Laughter" (from The Neon Wilderness)

October 26, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...strictly in the family tradition.”

Baby Needles was a slow-moving, slow-thinking, slow-mannered sort of devil who'd always taken his time and, until he'd met Wilma, had never wanted anything very much outside of a flop and a bowl of beer. He'd been born on a reservation, a quarter-blood Cherokee with a little Mex tossed in. He came of a long line of ne'er-do-wells and was strictly in the family tradition. He didn't know who his old man was, but it was a cinch it wasn't anybody who worked for a living. The little he knew about fighting he'd picked up around East Texas oil country, when money had been easy and opposition wasn't too tough.

- Nelson Algren, "Depend on Aunt Elly" (from The Neon Wilderness)

October 25, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...ain’t there no last time, ever?”

That Joe who used to come up here last spring, he was a no-good Joe for true. He was the first guy I picked up on the street my whole damned life. I told him so. I thought he'd be nice to me then.You know what he said when I told him that? "There's always a first time," he says, "for everythin'," 'n laughs.

Why ain't there no last time, then, for anythin'? I mean, ain't there no last time, ever? For the same old thing?

- Nelson Algren, "Is Your Name Joe?" (from The Neon Wilderness)

October 24, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...the springs overhead squeaking half the night...”

Thus it came about that the nights of Roman Orlov became fitful and restless, first under the front-room bed and then under the back-room bed. With the springs overhead squeaking half the night as likely as not. The nights of Roman's boyhood were thereafter passed beneath one bed or the other, with no bed of his own at all. Until, attaining his young manhood and his seventeenth year, he took at last to sleeping during the day in order to have no need for sleep at night.

And at night, as everyone knows, there is no place to go but the taverns.

- Nelson Algren, "How the Devil Came Down Division Street" (from The Neon Wilderness)

October 24, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...an unpossessed twilight land...”

Such men haunted the Captain. In sleep he saw their pale lascivious faces; watched them moving like blind men beneath the thousand-columned El, where a calamitous yellow light filtered downward all night long. In this tragic and fluorescent dream they passed and repassed him restlessly, their faces half averted, forever smiling uneasily as though sharing some secret and comforting knowledge of evil which he could never know.

They lived in an unpossessed twilight land, a neon wilderness whose shores the Captain sometimes envisaged dimly; in sleep he sought that shore forever, always drawing nearer, like a swimmer far out to sea; yet never, somehow, attaining those long, low sands. He would awaken feeling unnatural, dreading the evening and the yellow showup's glare.

- Nelson Algren, "The Captain Has Bad Dreams" (from The Neon Wilderness)

October 23, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


“Funny how people who accuse their rivals of being unpatriotic worship men who engaged in armed rebellion against the United States.” – Paul Krugman

October 10, 2017 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Will County Tour, completed

Today, Maddie and I were able to complete the Will County Tour that we started in June. Ten more communities, including the smallest municipality in the county, Symerton (population, 87). I was surprised that it took us six hours to cover a much smaller portion of the county than the first time, though we did get derailed by the many antique shops in Wilmington. Here are photos from each town. 



Symerton Tap & Grill, Symerton. 



Motorcycle club house, Ritchie.



Mar Theater, Wilmington.



Former railroad bridge, now a pedestrian trail, Custer Park.



Alley door, Braceville.



Illinois Route 66 Mining Museum, Godley.



The King, Polk-A-Dot Drive In, Braidwood. 



DuPage River Dam, Channahon. 



DuPage River, Shorewood. 



Masonic Lodge, Plainfield. 


October 9, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Booth and Boynton

What a lovely confluence: Sandra Boynton's latest children's board book, Here, George!, is based on the image of one of George Booth's irascible dogs. Booth is one of my favorite cartoonists, and Maddie loved Boynton's books as a child. (And I did, too: I still say "moo, bah, la la la" now and then.) And the new book isn't some ripoff: Boynton is a huge admirer of Booth, who gave her his blessing and support. This Paris Review article includes some delightful repartee between the two, during a visit by Boynton to Booth at his New York apartment. 

October 9, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Opening Lines

"I’m not here by choice."
- Giano Cromley, The Last Good Halloween

”Even standing still, finally, Ray Welter's body remained in motion and subject to inner tidal forces beyond his control."
- Andrew Ervin, Burning Down George Orwell's House

"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.)

October 6, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (4)


"It comes at a time when the world is uncertain about its values, its leadership and its safety. I just hope that my receiving this huge honor will, even in a small way, encourage the forces for good will and peace at this time." - Kazuo Ishiguro, on winning the Nobel Prize for Literature

October 5, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...we heard once more the steam whistles of vessels that have long ceased to be..."

 In "A River Reverie" (1882), Lafcadio Hearn muses elegiacally on life along the Mississippi and other western rivers.

Wonder whether the old captain still sits there of bright afternoons, to watch the returning steamers panting with their mighty run from the Far South—or whether he has sailed away upon that other river, silent and colorless as winter's fog, to that vast and shadowy port where much ghostly freight is discharged from vessels that never return? He haunts us sometimes—even as he must have been haunted by the ghosts of dead years.

He goes on to invoke another former captain, now a literary sensation (presumably, Mark Twain), and ponders if the famous man wouldn't trade all of his success for the simple, long-ago days of his younger life. Lovely piece. 

October 1, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)